The last Sunday that we attended Elkhart County Community Baptist Church, the Sunday School class was about Rahab and, I guess, how God can use anyone, no matter their status, to accomplish His goals. I say “I guess” because this lesson seemed to cause the majority of people in the room some discomfort because not only was Rahab a prostitute, but she lied. These two issues, while not even the focus of the story, or I assume even the lesson, were major points of contention. So, while the members of the class went round and round about whether or not it was okay to lie in certain circumstances or not and whether Rahab had repented of her prostitution at any time, I started looking around in the Rahab story and the other times she was mentioned within the Bible.
I remembered that she was mentioned in Hebrews as one of those “heroes of faith,” so I flipped quickly over there and found something that really surprised me. Here’s the verse.
By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient. (Hebrews 11:31 TNIV)
Next to the word “disobedient” in my Bible is a little superscript “b.” A lot of times, when I am just reading a series of passages in the manner that I was that day, I skip over those, but I looked this time and noticed something interesting. The note next to that “b” reads, “Or unbelieving.”
I thought that this seemed strange at the time, so I continued flipping around for her story and found her again in James.
And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? (James 2:25 ESV)
Being one who believes that we are saved by faith, these two verses stood out to me. Especially the statement that the disobedient, or unbelieving, were the ones killed. This idea that disbelief and disobedience are interchangeable is something you don’t hear a whole lot of. Thinking that maybe the TNIV was rendering for consistency’s sake, when I got home, I opened up my e-Sword program and did some word studies.
The word used in Hebrews is the Greek word ἀπειθέω (apeitheō), which literally means “to disbelieve (wilfully and perversely): – not believe, disobedient, obey not, unbelieving.” Lest you focus on the belief part, its Greek root is the word ἀπειθής (apeithēs), which carries the meaning of disobedience specifically. ἀπειθέω is simply a way of connecting belief and obedience. Or rather disbelief and disobedience.
This is the same point that James is attempting to make in his entire epistle. A reoccurring idea within the book of James is this idea that our deeds have a salvific quality about them. In the case of Rahab, she was justified (made holy) by what she did.
But the opposite is true as well. Our disobedience can condemn us in much the same way as our disbelief. In the case of the story of Rahab, the disobedient/unbelieving were killed.
This is very similar to an idea that Jesus once taught. He says the following in Matthew 6:
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:12,14-15 TNIV)
Our being set free from our sin against God is in direct correlation to our wilingness to set others free from their sin against us. If we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven.
This is the same idea being proclaimed by James. We are not made holy just because we believe. What we do sets us apart.
And this is the same idea that is cleverly tucked away in the book of Hebrews. What we are unwilling to do just might get us killed in the end.