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Rahab’s Lie

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
May 10, 2023 12:01 am

Rahab’s Lie

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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May 10, 2023 12:01 am

Is it ever permissible for a Christian to lie? Today, R.C. Sproul approaches the ethical questions raised by the story of Rahab, who protected the Hebrew spies by lying to the king of Jericho.

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Renewing Your Mind
R.C. Sproul

We know that this woman lied. Now, how is it possible that somebody who is apparently so bankrupt morally, that she was involved in the practice of prostitution, that she was involved in civil disobedience, she was a traitor to her own country, and she was a liar of the highest magnitude in these circumstances, how can a person like that be deemed an archetypal representative of a godly woman? Hebrews 11, often called the Hall of Faith, features many great saints of old like Noah, Abraham, and Moses, but it also includes a prostitute who told lies. Hi, I'm Nathan W. Bingham, and thank you for joining us today for Renewing Your Mind.

All week R.C. Sproul has been helping us understand some of the hard sayings of the Bible, verses that are either difficult to understand or difficult to accept. And today we come to the story of Rahab, which raises the question, is it ever okay to lie?

So here's Dr. Sproul as we wrestle with this ethical dilemma. We continue now with our study of some of the hard sayings of the Bible. And today I want to turn our attention to the book of Joshua, where we meet a very strange person who does some very strange things for which she is remembered in the annals of church history.

But one of the most remarkable things she does is that she tells a lie that is quite effective. I'm referring, of course, to the harlot Rahab, whose story is recounted for us in the second chapter of the book of Joshua. And we recall before we look at that that she gets to the hall of fame, the roll call of the heroes and heroines of the faith that are found in the book of Hebrews. And so it's significant that this person who tells this lie is elevated to such a role of heroism in the New Testament. We read in chapter 2 of the book of Joshua, verse 1, these words, Now Joshua, the son of Nun, sent out two men from Acacia Grove to spy secretly, saying, Go, view the land, especially Jericho.

Now let me just comment before we get to Rahab and her lie about some of the background of this. We notice that Joshua is now the general of the Lord's army. He is the successor to Moses, and he is now instigating and initiating his campaign of conquest of the land of Canaan, the land that God had promised to the fathers. And we realize that before chapter 2 begins, God had already promised Joshua that God would give to Joshua every place where Joshua put his foot. And so we might ask at the beginning why he would even bother to undergo this risky business of sending two of his elite soldiers, his Navy SEALs or whatever they were, the Green Berets, to go into this hostile territory at the risk of their lives when it seemed to be unnecessary because God had already decreed that Joshua would be triumphant. Well, I think we have to understand a principle here that we find throughout Scripture, that even though God has decreed certain things to come to pass, and we know that his will will be fulfilled even in the life of the church, we know that he will gather his people from the four corners of the world, but we are still given the responsibility to be doing the diligent things that God uses to bring that to pass. We're still called to preach the gospel and so on. We could just rest back and say, well, God, all your people are going to be redeemed anyway, so I might as well sleep in them more.

That is a posture of disobedience towards the Lord God. Even though Joshua is given the promise by God of victory, he still is required to act as a diligent commander in chief. And so part of that is to assess the strength of the enemy stronghold that he is going to be moving against. I think it's significant, however, that when Joshua selects spies to spy out this hostile environment, he only selects two of them. We remember earlier when spies had been sent into Canaan, there were many more than two, and they came back with all this pessimistic information, the land's filled with giants, how are we going to be able to ever conquer them, where there were two faithful spies that returned and said it's a land flowing with milk and honey, their eyes weren't on the giants or on the strength of the enemy, but on the promise of God and the opportunities were there. Well, of course, we remember that those two faithful spies who were then granted the privilege of entering the promised land were Caleb and Joshua himself. So I think Joshua eliminated this business.

He took two men he knew were like him, two faithful spies, and he said, that's all we need are two, and you guys go and spy out this land and give us an intelligence report. And so we read that they went and came to the house of a harlot named Rahab and lodged there. Now, of course, the Bible doesn't say why they went to Rahab's house.

We know this about Rahab's house, that her house was part of the wall of the city of Jericho. So it was a marvelous place to provide them with a vantage point to see what was going on in the whole city. Second of all, if there's any place in an ancient city like this where foreigners would not be obtrusive or stand out by their presence, it would be in the house of a prostitute, as prostitutes then and now have a tendency to cater to those in commercial centers, tradesmen that are in and out of town, in ports of call where sailors are disembarking from ships and so on.

So that where prostitution abounds, there is also a certain anonymity that people prefer to have to be engaged with such practices. And so from a strategic military operation of being concealed, as the spies would want to be, this would be a good location. There's no reason to assume that these spies were themselves lecherous men looking for an occasion to be with a prostitute. But in any case, we're speculating at this point as to why they went there.

I'm only saying there are possible good reasons for their going to the place of a harlot, and that was not necessarily bad behavior on their part. And we read in verse 2, and it was told the king of Jericho saying, Behold, men have come here tonight from the children of Israel to search out the country. Now, if the strategic reason for their visiting the house of Rahab was to help conceal them and to keep their cover, it obviously didn't work because very quickly the word got to the king of Jericho that these strangers who were identified as Israelites were present in the city. Now, keep in mind that the army of Israel was camped 14 miles away, and it was a huge throng of fierce warriors that was camped out there. And I can guarantee you without any real need for speculation that the king of Jericho already knew the whereabouts of the army of Israel because that kind of thing was communicated very rapidly in the ancient world, and you don't hide a whole army that is that close to the walled city.

So, the king of Jericho, we read in verse 3, sent to Rahab saying, Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house, for they have come to search out all the country. Then the woman took the two men and hid them. So she said, Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And it happened as the gate was being shut, when it was dark, that the men went out. Where the men went I do not know.

Pursue them quickly, for you may overtake them. Parentheses, verse 6. But she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order on the roof.

Then the men pursued them by the road to the Jordan, to the fords, and as soon as those who pursued them had gone out, they shut the gate. Now this woman is a Canaanite. Her allegiance is supposed to be to the king of Jericho. So the first thing Rahab is guilty of is civil disobedience. She disobeys her king.

The second thing she's guilty of is telling a manifest falsehood to the representatives of the king. Listen again to what she said. Yes, the men came to me.

So far so good. She's telling the truth. But I did not know where they were from. That's a lie. And it happened as the gate was being shut, when it was dark, that the men went out. That's another lie. Where the men went I do not know. That's another lie.

Pursue them quickly, for you may overtake them. That's not a lie. It's just intentionally fraudulent advice. So we know that this woman lied. Now how is it possible that somebody who is apparently so bankrupt morally, that she was involved in the practice of prostitution, that she was involved in civil disobedience, she was a traitor to her own country, and she was a liar of the highest magnitude in these circumstances, how can a person like that be deemed an archetypal representative of a godly woman?

That's our hard saying for today. How are we going to make sense out of this kind of behavior and the kind of exaltation that the Scriptures give to her as a great heroine of the faith? Well, before I try to answer that directly, let me continue with the narrative to the section of the text that I call the Sermon on the Roof. In verse 8, Now before they lay down, she came up to them on the roof, and said to the men, I know that the Lord has given you the land, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are faint-hearted because of you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sion and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.

And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted. Neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. Now therefore, I beg you, swear to me by the Lord, since I have shown you kindness, that you also will show kindness to my Father's house and give me a true token, and spare my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death. And so the men answered her, Our lives for yours, if none of you tell this business of ours, and it shall be when the Lord has given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with you. Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the city wall. She dwelt on the wall. And she said, Get to the mountain lest the pursuers meet you.

Hide there three days until the pursuers have returned. Afterward you may go your way. So the man said to her, We will be blameless of this oath of yours which you have made us swear, unless when we come into the land you bind this line of scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down. And unless you bring your father, your mother, your brothers, and all your father's household to your own home, so shall it be that whoever goes outside the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we will be guiltless.

Whoever is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head if a hand is laid on him. And if you tell this business of ours, then we will be free from your oath which you made us swear. And she said, According to your words, so be it. And she sent them away, and they departed, and she bound the scarlet cord in the window." Now, in a sense, the plot thickens because now it seems like, as in her sermon on the roof, that she is letting the cat out of the bag that the reason why she's helping these men and concealing them is because she is terrified of the wrath of the Jewish army that is encamped 14 miles away. She said, We heard about the savage exploits of your army. All of us had our hearts melt when we understood that we were next on your list.

And so, I'm doing this kindness to you to hide you so that you will protect me and my family from the onslaught that's inevitable that's going to come with this invasion and siege of Jericho. So now it seems that the motive for her involvement in trying to help the spies of Israel is purely self-serving for herself and for her family. However, if we listen carefully to the words that she uses in this discourse, she makes it clear that she believes in the God of Israel, that she is a believer in the Lord. And we don't know how that came to pass. It was probably of recent origin, and we don't have to assume that she is continually involved in the practice of harlotry.

Perhaps this is a newly converted person. We don't know that, but what's significant that we might miss in passing over it is that the people in the ancient Mideast who had their gods, their national gods, believed that their gods, the gods of their nations like the god of the Philistines and the god of the Canaanites, Baal and so on, were not the only gods that existed. They believed that there was also a god for the Philistines and a god for the Assyrians and a god for the Babylonians and all of that.

And that they were what we call henotheists, believing that there was one god who reigned supreme over one ethnic group or one national territory. But we notice in Rahab's speech here that she acknowledges that the god of Israel is not merely a territorial or ethnic deity, but he is the god of heaven and earth, that he is the creator, that he is the most high god, so that she is giving a remarkable confession of faith in the essence of the doctrine of the Jewish believers and revealing her Jewish faith at that point. Now, what also is remarkable here is how this woman takes charge of the whole situation. Here are these two elite soldiers come to her house, and she has to mother them like a mother hen, scurry them up to the roof, hide them under these stalks of flax, tell them be quiet, she'll take care of the representatives of the king of Jericho.

She goes down. She sends the soldiers from Jericho on a wild goose chase while the fierce soldiers of Israel are trembling in fear underneath the stalks of flax on this woman's roof. Talk about men hiding behind a woman's skirt.

Here it is with a vengeance. And so she is taking great risk for her own life to tell the lie and to deceive the representatives of the king. Now, again, the ethical question we face is, is her lie justified? Now, historians and theologians are in disagreement on that point. Some great theologians in church history have argued that Rahab is called a great saint in spite of her lie, not because of it, that if she really believed in divine sovereignty, if she really believed in the providence of God, she would have told the truth to these representatives of the king of Jericho and then trusted God to intervene and save the spies.

I don't agree with that position. I think that her lie was not only morally acceptable, it was heroic. Now, to understand that, we have to go to the broader ethical issue that the Scripture reveals with respect to the sanctity of truth. The reason why lying is wrong is because it violates God's righteousness. It violates the justice of God. But for centuries, the moral theologians of the church have understood that at the heart of the concept of biblical justice is the principle that justice requires that we give people what is their due. We reward those who have earned a reward, and we punish those who have earned the punishment.

That's what justice is all about. And the principle that is used in understanding these circumstances is the principle that we are obliged always to tell the truth to whom the truth is due. We are always to tell the truth when righteousness requires us to tell the truth, when righteousness and justice require us to tell the truth.

But we are not required to tell the truth to someone who has no right to it. And in this circumstance, her duty is to protect these representatives of God from the wickedness of the King of Jericho. And so her civil disobedience and her lie are both justified because she is obeying the mandate she has from God. She is not to participate in the destruction of God's people in this circumstance. It's just like people who hid Jews in their homes during World War II. They were doing the ethical thing by concealing the truth from the wicked who were seeking to destroy them.

The same sort of thing that the midwives did when they lied to Pharaoh about the destruction of the Jewish babies for which God pronounced His benediction on them. And so I conclude this by saying that Rahab was being courageous in her actions in the case of warfare to protect the godly from the unrighteous King of Jericho. One of the little side lights of this narrative that we've looked at today of Rahab the harlot is the pact that she entered into with the spies, that she wanted to make sure that her family would be spared when the Jews came to attack the city. And the spy said as part of the agreement that if you don't tell on us, if you hold your tongue, and if you bring your family into this house, you will be protected. But if some of them stay outside, we won't be able to know who they are, and their blood will not be in our hands if they get killed in the conflict.

So you make sure that you have them in your house. And we have to have some kind of sign that all of the troops of Israel will be able to recognize that this house is off limits to destruction. And they told her to put a scarlet cord in the window as a sign to the Jewish army not to harm this house. And we read that she let them out of the house down the wall with a rope. And as soon as they left, and she again told them where to go and how to hide and do all the rest, she had given them that kind of guidance, but no sooner did they leave, she knew it would be days if not weeks until the army would come. Immediately she obeyed the terms of the covenant that she made with the spies and put the scarlet cord in the window. How fitting that the sign of her redemption was marked in red. How fitting that it was the same sort of sign that was given to the doorposts of the homes of the Jewish people when the angel of death passed over. Because again, the judgment of God will pass over the household of Rahab when they see the sign of God in her window.

That was R.C. Sproul helping us understand Christian ethics as he examined this particular hard saying of the Bible. Rightly understanding the Word of God is vital, even those hard sayings, which is why I'd encourage you to share Renewing Your Mind this week. You can find the links to those messages at or share the podcast and encourage people to subscribe. If you'd like access to the complete series, its 27 messages, we'll make it available to you digitally as our way of saying thanks for your donation of any amount at Throughout this series, Dr. Sproul considers some of the hard sayings of Jesus, the apostles and prophets, and other verses throughout the Bible. So when you give your gift at or by calling us at 800-435-4343, you'll receive digital access to the series as well as a new companion book, Hard Sayings, Understanding Difficult Passages of Scripture. So give your gift today at to add this resource to your digital and physical library. Today we considered the ethical dilemma of Rahab and her lies.

Well, here's a preview of tomorrow's episode. This covenant promise that God makes to Abraham and to his seed is not based on any thing that they deserve or any merit on their part. And so now God reminds them when they're about to enter into Canaan that He's going to give them a land to use that they did not clear and establish and cultivate and build. He's going to give them cisterns and wells that they didn't dig, that they can use for their own refreshment, vineyards that they didn't plant. And when you go in there and you enjoy the fruits of somebody else's labor, don't allow that to puff you up in pride so that you forget the gift of the Lord your God. So how is it that Israel received land they didn't cultivate or vineyards they didn't plant? Well, join us tomorrow for another hard saying here on Renewing Your Mind. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-10 05:57:31 / 2023-05-10 06:06:20 / 9

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