Before the Hebrews entered the Promised Land, there were occasions where spies were sent across the border to study their Canaanite opponents they would face during the Conquest. They would look at the topography and the food and water resources.
When they entered the Promised Land, as recorded in Joshua 2, there is no hint that they enter Rahab’s home because they were sexually promiscuous and looking for a cheap thrill. They chose her home because it would be inconspicuous. It wouldn’t be a place you would expect to find Hebrew spies. Her house would be on a city wall (vs. 15) on the edge of the city, which would allow them to come and go quickly. So the spies came into the city when evening was drawing to a close, and probably blended in with all the other travelers that would go in and out of the city.
Rahab sent those officers of the king elsewhere explaining to them she didn’t know where they were. She hid the truth from them (vs. 7-14). Then we read,
“15 Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall, so that she lived in the wall. 16 And she said to them, ‘Go into the hills, or the pursuers will encounter you, and hide there three days until the pursuers have returned. Then afterward you may go your way.’ 17 The men said to her, ‘We will be guiltless with respect to this oath of yours that you have made us swear. 18 Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household. 19 Then if anyone goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we shall be guiltless. But if a hand is laid on anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head. 20 But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be guiltless with respect to your oath that you have made us swear.’ 21 And she said, ‘According to your words, so be it.’ Then she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window”
“22 They departed and went into the hills and remained there three days until the pursuers returned, and the pursuers searched all along the way and found nothing. 23 Then the two men returned. They came down from the hills and passed over and came to Joshua the son of Nun, and they told him all that had happened to them. 24 And they said to Joshua, ‘Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands. And also, all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us’” (Josh 2:25-24).
So here is Rahab; she protected the spies by not telling the king’s men where the spies were located. And yet, Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25 commends her faith.
Keep this in mind: Rahab didn’t need to lie. God is not limited by someone’s deception to save another person. God didn’t need her to lie about the whereabouts of the spies in order to protect them He can do fine on His own with the whole protection thing.
Let me give you just a few observations from the narrative and hopefully this will answer any questions you might have about Rahab.
- Rahab was an immature follower of God. She knows something about Him (vs. 9-11), but not very much. She probably had no idea what God’s view of being truthful was all about. In fact, she is still called a prostitute in Joshua 2. Immature believers do not behave like people who have been walking with God for 50 years and Rahab – we would speculate – was a very new believer.
- There is a difference between lying and deception. Lying breaks trust when we have a duty to tell the truth; it is keeping the truth from someone that deserves the truth. Deceit breaks trust with someone who has forfeited that right because they have violated the rights of others. I prefer to say that Rahab deceived the men of Jericho. The men of Jericho were not for the cause of God; they wanted to capture or seize God’s spies for their own selfish gain. So Rahab – an instrument of God – deceived them. She protected the spies because these men wanted to violate the God-given rights of these spies. We deceive almost every day don’t we? (e.g., leaving your lights on in your house when you leave giving the impression someone is home, surprise attack in war). So I would say deception is different from lying and outside of God’s expectation for the Ninth Commandment. Rahab was told to deceive to prevent evil men from a greater sin – murder.
- Rahab is never commended for her deception; she is commended for her faith. In fact, up to this point in her life, she is the lowest of the low when it comes to morals. She probably broke all Ten Commandments daily. Her very vocation of prostitution depends upon the other partner lying to his spouse in order to sleep with Rahab. She is praised for not only hiding the spies but then not selling them out – literally – when she had the opportunity. That was her faith. She put her life on the life to please God and His cause.Martin Luther didn’t use the word “deception” but still thought her deception was justified. He said, “This is a good hearty lie for the sake of the good and for the Christian Church, a lie in case of necessity, a useful lie. Such lies would not be against God.” I wouldn’t say it the way Luther does because it sounds too much like he is justifying lying, but I do believe Rahab was deceiving.
Thus, I would conclude you can never make a cause there is lying that is justifiable because upon the example of Rahab. Why? Because it was not lying. It was deception and it was used of God as a part of His plan for the spies’ protection. And it is extremely rare if and when we should use that excuse for not telling the truth.
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