THE APOSTLE JAMES is considering faith and works. It is not sufficient to have only faith in God, it needs to be shown by what we do. He draws two examples from the Old Testament. One is the revered patriarch Abraham (James 2:22–24), and the other is an unlikely example—the Canaanite prostitute Rahab. ‘Was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?’ (v. 25).
Why choose Rahab? Let’s look at the background. The nation of Israel had left Egypt and was about to enter the Promised Land. Their leader Joshua sent spies over the River Jordan into the nearest city, Jericho. The plan to remain undetected involved going to a house where there would be lots of men coming and going. However, the king of Jericho had been informed and demanded that Rahab hand them over (Joshua 2:1–3).
Not being an Israelite, Rahab had no reason to care about the spies. But instead of giving them up, she did something unexpected and incredibly courageous. She hid the spies and lied to her king (vs. 4–7). Why did she jeopardise her own life to save some enemies who were spying out her city? Rahab told them:
I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you… As soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath (vs. 9–11).
Rahab had heard about God’s miraculous dealings with Israel and she understood that He had given them the land of Canaan. As marvellous as this is, how does it relate to James’ inspired argument about faith and works?
All the Canaanites saw the advancing Israelite army and knew that their powerful God was with them, and were afraid. But Rahab recognised their God as the God of the heavens and earth. She had faith. Had she not acted on that faith, two of God’s people would have been executed and the invasion of Canaan would have been compromised, and she would have perished.
She acted upon her faith with courage and determination. She is therefore a tremendously powerful example concerning the vital role of works in the justification of believers.