When I was a kid, the teacher would sometimes decide to take us outside to the field so that we could all play baseball. The first task to be completed was to form two teams. That wasn’t as easy as it seems. I don’t know how you did it when you were a kid, but we always formed teams by picking two captains. The captains would then look over the rest of us and begin to pick players, one by one. Do you remember? Finally, you’d get down to the dregs – the people that neither team really wanted – and you’d take turns until everyone was on a team. Then the teacher would yell, “Play ball.”
There were two parts of this exercise that I hated: waiting to get picked, and then when it was my turn to bat. I hated waiting to get picked because it was humiliating. I was never the first to get picked, and it was embarrassing to wait and wait until it was my turn. I was never the last, either, but it was humiliating enough to be a middle player.
The other part that I hated was going to bat. I used to like fielding most of the time, because you would spend a lot of the time just watching the others do their thing. If the ball ever came your way, you could look at the person standing next to you and glare at them like, “What’s your problem? Why didn’t you catch that?” But when it was my turn to bat, there was no question about who was supposed to perform. I couldn’t glare at anybody else when I struck out. The pressure was immense. I mean, nobody else could play worth beans, but that didn’t matter. I didn’t want to be the kid who struck out at the bottom of the ninth. I was always glad when gym class was over when we were playing baseball.
Sometimes in the major leagues today, a manager will take a utility player and put them in a critical place in a game. The game may be a washout, and the manager doesn’t want to waste a pitcher’s arm to complete the game, so they put in a third baseman to pitch the rest of the game. The expectations are never that high, but occasionally strange things happen and that player does fairly well. Most of them are just happy to make it to the end of the game.
If you take a step back for a minute and think about God, I think you would agree that God has a lot of choices when he wants to build a team or accomplish something in this world. There’s no doubt that God is on the move. The Bible is all about God moving throughout human history, and the Bible teaches that he is actively working in human events to accomplish his purpose, and that God uses people in order to move his plan ahead. When I look around me, I see some great people that God has used – people who are gifted and capable. And sometimes I wonder, “Can God really use me?” God can use others who are more capable than me, for sure. I’m pretty sure that God would pick other people first to take the critical roles in what he’s doing, and that I’d be a middle player – part of the team, but mostly somebody who would glare at the other players when a play isn’t made. If I ever got up to bat, I would worry that I wouldn’t connect, wouldn’t do as well as others. It’s easy for all of us to think that God couldn’t use us.
Thousands of years ago, God was at work in the nation of Israel. God promised Israel that he would lead them to the Promised Land, and when we pick up the story today, they’re finally ready, after a forty year wait, to enter the land. They had a new leader, and that new leader was about to lead Israel to risk everything to enter into the land. At this crucial, pivotal point in history, God could have chosen to use anyone. Today we’re going to see that God chose a very unusual person to play the main role in a decisive moment in history. This individual actually became part of history because of what she did. Here’s the lesson: At pivotal points in history, God uses unlikely people who risk everything to serve him. That’s just the way that God works.
If you have your Bibles with you, please open them to Joshua 2 (page 241 of your pew Bibles). Joshua had just completed a big speech to encourage his people as they were about to begin battles to win the Promised Land. This was the first test of Joshua’s leadership. Joshua did something smart. Joshua 2:1 says, “Then Joshua secretly sent out two spies from the Israelite camp at Acacia. He instructed them, ‘Spy out the land on the other side of the Jordan River, especially around Jericho.'” It says that he did this secretly – not just secret from the enemy, but also secretly within Israel. Nobody knew about this reconnaissance mission into enemy territory. Verse 1 continues, “So the two men set out and came to the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there that night.”
This is one of those times that you stop when you read your Bible and reread the verse again asking, “Does it really say what I think it says?” Some people try to soften the way this verse reads, but it does mean exactly what it says. Staying at the house of a prostitute actually made a lot of sense. It was probably the only house that they could visit without being detected. Nobody would ask questions about a couple of men going to visit a prostitute. To top it off, we find out later that her house was located on top of the wall, so it had an easy escape root. It was the perfect place for them to carry out their mission.
Unfortunately, their plan to remain undetected didn’t work. Verse two says, “But someone told the king of Jericho, ‘Some Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.’ So the king of Jericho sent orders to Rahab: ‘Bring out the men who have come into your house [your clients]. They are spies sent here to discover the best way to attack us.'” Under law at that time, a prostitute was required to hand over any men who were accused of spying. The spies were in a very precarious position at this point. I certainly wouldn’t want my life placed in the hands of this woman at this point. But then again, GOD USES UNLIKELY PEOPLE – PEOPLE I WOULDN’T CHOOSE – TO DO HIS WORK. Let’s read what happened.
Rahab, who had hidden the two men, replied, “The men were here earlier, but I didn’t know where they were from. They left the city at dusk, as the city gates were about to close, and I don’t know where they went. If you hurry, you can probably catch up with them.” (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them beneath piles of flax.) So the king’s men went looking for the spies along the road leading to the shallow crossing places of the Jordan River. And as soon as the king’s men had left, the city gate was shut. (Joshua 2:4-7)
People have debated for years whether or not Rahab was right to have told a lie to protect the lives of these spies. There are all kinds of theories to explain what she did and why she did it, but don’t mistake what Rahab did. She didn’t just lie. She just committed treason. She just turned her back on her own city and people, and sided with an enemy nation that was about to attack and destroy her own city. Why would she do this? We don’t know the full story. We don’t know how God had been at work in her life to prepare her for this moment. We don’t know how long she had been debating how to handle this situation, or whether she had to decide on the spot. We do know what motivated her, though. Listen to what she said, beginning in verse 8:
Before the spies went to sleep that night, Rahab went up on the roof to talk with them. “I know the LORD has given you this land,” she told them. “We are all afraid of you. Everyone is living in terror. For we have heard how the LORD made a dry path for you through the Red Sea when you left Egypt. And we know what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River, whose people you completely destroyed. No wonder our hearts have melted in fear! No one has the courage to fight after hearing such things. For the LORD your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below. Now swear to me by the LORD that you will be kind to me and my family since I have helped you. Give me some guarantee that w hen Jericho is conquered, you will let me live, along with my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all their families.”
God uses unlikely people – people that you and I wouldn’t choose – and he prepares them in ways that we couldn’t expect to play important roles in his plan. If I were one of the spies, I would probably be thinking, “Wait a minute – isn’t this a prostitute speaking?” Rahab talks as if God has already conquered the entire land. She makes an amazing confession of faith – “The LORD your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below.” Whenever I think that God couldn’t use somebody like me, it’s good to remember that God can do amazing things in the heart of the most unlikely person. God can work with people that you and I wouldn’t even choose.
What is it that makes you think that God couldn’t use you? We all probably have those doubts. You may think it’s a question of your abilities. You may sometimes look at all the events that have happened in your past – the times that you haven’t come through. It really doesn’t matter if you’re not the type of person who gets picked first, or if you’ve choked when you’ve been at bat before. YOUR CURRENT OBEDIENCE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOUR PAST FAILURE. When Rahab risked her life and confessed her belief in God, she became usable by God despite all of her past failures and mistakes. With God, your current obedience – your risk of faith today – can count more than any of your failures in your past. God could use an enemy prostitute at one of the most pivotal points of a nation’s history. God can use you as well.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus looked at people like prostitutes and tax collectors – people that were called the worst kind of sinners, people who were far from the kingdom of God – and say that they would enter the Kingdom before the Pharisees, the religious leaders of thee day, who were presumably closer to the Kingdom?
It’s because Jesus measures people differently than us. We measure people on their current position – what they’ve done, how they behave. Jesus measures people on their direction – their movement and direction. That’s why God could use an enemy prostitute. That didn’t count as much as the fact that she was willing to take a risk of faith and set her direction toward the true God. Your current obedience counts much more than your past failures.
A woman came to a church. She actively practiced Wicca; she always wore black; her body was heavily pierced. Normally, we would look at someone like that and say that she couldn’t be reached, that she couldn’t be used by God – just as we would have looked at Rahab. One of our interns at that church looked at her and said, “You know, she wouldn’t be hanging around here at all except that God is at work in her life. And I believe that the trajectory of her life, even though she is far away, is in motion towards the center.” Since then, she’s continued to move closer to the center – closer to Jesus.
Let’s read what happened next with Rahab. The spies made a pact with her, and in verse 15 we read, “Then, since Rahab’s house was built into the city wall, she let them down by a rope through the window. ‘Escape to the hill country,’ she told them. ‘Hide there for three days until the men who are searching for you have returned; then go on your way.'” The spies set a few more conditions on their deal, until we read down in verse 21, “‘I accept your terms,’ she replied. And she sent them on their way, leaving the scarlet rope hanging from the window.” The plan worked. The men hid for three days, and then safely made their way back to Joshua and reported in verse 24, “‘The LORD will certainly give us the whole land,’ they said, ‘for all the people in the land are terrified of us.'”
Then in chapter 6, we read what happened when Israel conquered Jericho. Joshua 6:21 says, “They completely destroyed everything in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep, donkeys—everything.” But read verse 25: “So Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute and her relatives who were with her in the house, because she had hidden the spies Joshua sent to Jericho. And she lives among the Israelites to this day.”
A happy ending for Rahab and her family, because at pivotal points, God uses unlikely people who risk everything to serve him. But even that’s not the end of the story. There’s more. I want to tell you what we know for sure about Rahab, and then I want to tell you about what tradition says about Rahab which may or may not be true.
Thousands of years later, just as Jesus is about to be born, the Bible records Jesus’ genealogy – a list of his descendents, in this case to show that Jesus was a descendent of Israel’s King David. In the middle of this list, we read in Matthew 1:5, “Salmon was the father of Boaz (his mother was Rahab).” This is probably one of those verses that you skip over when you read your Bible, but there is a point – a very deliberate point, since women weren’t usually listed in genealogies. Rahab became part of the line that led to Jesus. Somebody who was part of an enemy nation, engaged in an immoral business, was used by God, along with some other shady characters listed in this genealogy, to prepare for the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
Then we read more about Rahab later, in a book written to Christian Jews that lists examples of people who were motivated by faith to serve God, despite the difficult circumstances that they faced. Hebrews 11:31 says, “It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute did not die with all the others in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.” And then there’s one more verse that singles out two people for their faith – Abraham and Rahab. There’s a strange combination. Abraham, the father of the nation, and a prostitute. James 2:25-26 says:
Rahab the prostitute is another example of this. She was made right with God by her actions—when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road. Just as the body is dead without a spirit, so also faith is dead without good deeds.
This is what we do know for sure. She’s mentioned twice in the Bible as one of the best examples of faithful obedience to God. She’s also mentioned as part of a line that led to Jesus coming to earth. Here’s what tradition tells us about Rahab. This isn’t in the Bible, but according to Jewish tradition, Rahab married Joshua – the leader of Israel after Moses died – and became an ancestor of eight priests. She’s mentioned as an ancestor of two Biblical prophets, according to tradition – Jeremiah and Ezekiel. She’s also listed as one of the four women in the Old Testament of surpassing beauty
She was a woman, a gentile, an outcast – all strikes against her at the time in which she lived – yet she became one of the most dramatic examples of grace in the Old Testament. Even though God had commanded that all the residents be destroyed, she survived because she called out to God, just as Joel 2:32 says: “Anyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.”
You may still doubt that you would be the first that God would pick as he forms his teams and looks at the available players. You may doubt your own abilities when you’re up to bat, and even fear that you’ll choke. You may look at your past – even your present – and think that disqualifies God from using you. But God has a history of using the most unlikely people, at pivotal points in history, if they will turn to him in faith and risk everything to serve him.
Picture again with me the image of a captain choosing a team. You’re standing there. Maybe you’re used to not being the one chosen during the first few picks. You’re usually chosen in the middle, even the end. That’s not how God works. God doesn’t pick the people that you and I would pick. He chooses unlikely people. He does this over and over. He’s choosing you.
Where you are right now, no matter what your past, no matter what your lifestyle, yo u can reset the direction of your life toward the center, toward Christ. Your present obedience can become more significant today than all of your past history. God’s call to you today is to respond to his call in obedience, and to never again doubt that God can use you, because at pivotal points, God uses unlikely people who risk everything to serve him.
Never again doubt God’s love for you. Never again doubt that despite your past, despite even your present, that you can reset the direction of your life toward the center, toward Christ. Rahab is an example of the fact that “Anyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved.” I want to give you an opportunity to call out on the name of the LORD today – to maybe even reset the direction of your life to follow Jesus Christ.
Ability isn’t the key. History isn’t the key. Your obedience – your willingness to risk everything in obedience to God – is what counts. Stop doubting your ability; that’s not the key. Start by focusing on your ability – by committing today to risk everything for him – your house, your business, your investments. Because at pivotal points, God uses people just like you who are willing to risk everything to serve him.
Father, we want to serve you and be used by you. Forgive us for thinking it’s a matter of our ability or our worthiness. It’s a matter of making ourselves available for you to work through us.
Today we surrender whatever it is that’s keeping us from serving you. May we be used to help build your Kingdom, to play a role in what you’re doing. In the name of Jesus our Savior, Amen.