by Katie Sanders
Guest preacher from Upper Room
Good morning… my name is Katie Sanders. I am the Associate Pastor of Formation at Upper Room and I am so honored to be with all of you here today. I want to take some time this morning to tell a few stories and ask a lot of questions. And I am going to trust that God will speak to each one of us the word He wants us to hear.
Will you pray with me? God, we thank you for the chance to gather in this place… to worship you and be strengthened in community. We ask that you would speak this morning. May your voice be the loudest voice in this room.
The story of Rahab falls in the midst of some of my favorite stories from the Old Testament. In many ways her story is a bookend to the story of the Israelites’ journey into the Promised Land. Because of this, her story is best understood in the backdrop of God’s bigger story. So I want to take a few minutes this morning to remind us of what was happening in the Israelite community leading up to this point.
I am a big believer that sometimes we have to go back before we go forward so let’s rewind the clock a little… To understand this tale of 2 spies we have to first understand the tale of the 12.
God’s people are in Egypt.
The root meaning of the word Egypt in Hebrew means narrow place.
We know that Egypt is geographically narrow. Could it be narrow in other ways?
What do you think of when you hear the word narrow?
…closed off, limited, scarcity, stuck?
Now Egypt had not always been a narrow place metaphorically for the Israelites. Joseph’s brothers, the sons of Jacob, head to Egypt during a famine and the Pharaoh at the time has this to say to Joseph: “Now that your father and brothers have joined you here, choose any place in the entire land of Egypt for them to live. Give them the best of all the land in Egypt.
But, eventually a new king comes to power in Egypt who knows nothing about Joseph or what he had done. So the Egyptians make the Israelites their slaves.
God’s people are in Egypt. They are slaves to the Egyptians. And it is not good.
God declares to the Israelite leader Moses, “I have seen the suffering of my people. I know all about their pain. I am going to deliver them from the oppression of the Egyptians and bring them into a good land. I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your very own possession — a land flowing with milk and honey.
It is the story of God making good on a promise He made generations ago. He is declaring that he will lead them from this narrow place to the Promised Land… a place of abundance.
Some rabbis refer to this as their Sacred Future, a place of sacred abundance. Take that in for a second. God is leading His people from a narrow place to a place of sacred abundance — to a place of possibility and new life.
Do any of you out there feel stuck in a narrow place? How might God be leading you from a narrow place to a place of abundance? How does this narrative play out in your life? What might be your sacred future? What might be our sacred future as a little community of Jesus followers?
So they are leaving the narrow place and God has promised to take them to Canaan, a place of abundance. God starts the journey off with a bang–one of the craziest miracles right before their eyes. They leave Egypt behind and cross the Red Sea on dry land.
Sometimes I think we just pass over this a little to quickly.
Take this in for a minute.
Imagine yourself as an Israelite. You just watched God reign down 10 plagues on Egypt. You just witnessed God part a sea. You just walked across dry land and your enemies were stopped in their tracks.
Have you ever had those moments when you feel like God showed up big time? You KNEW He was there. Real. Seeing you. Providing for you. What does it look like/feel like in present day to KNOW that God sees you and is providing for you?
Here is what happens next:
By day 3: the Israelites have lost their faith in God to provide
By day 30: the Israelites are so defeated they actually wish the Lord had killed them in Egypt
By day 60: the Israelites were convinced that the Lord had abandoned them
But in the midst of all of that, God is caring for His people in really tangible ways even though they can’t see it. He provides for them every step of the way.
At each and every turn.
He leads them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
He provides manna everyday to feed them. He sends water from a rock.
He even leads them a roundabout way through the wilderness b/c the shortest route to the Promised Land runs straight through Philistine territory and He knows if the people are faced with a battle, they would change their minds and return to Egypt.
I have always loved these stories because they are so filled with God’s faithfulness.
He knows them better than they know themselves. He is caring for them.
At one point they come to the edge of the Promised Land. They stop in the Wilderness of Paran. It is here that the Lord has Moses send 12 men to explore the land of Canaan. Moses tells them,
“See what the land is like, and find out whether the people living there are strong or weak, few or many. 19 See what kind of land they live in. Is it good or bad? Do their towns have walls, or are they unprotected like open camps? 20 Is the soil fertile or poor? Are there many trees? Do your best to bring back samples of the crops you see.”
So these scouts travel into Canaan, a round trip of about 500 miles
They bring back grapes and pomegranates and figs. A single cluster of grapes is so large that it takes two men to carry it on a pole between them. The twelve men bring back a report. The land is indeed everything they thought it would be and more. But there are there are giants and they will surely destroy us.
One of the twelve, Caleb, tries to quiet the people and says, “Let’s go at once to take the land,” he said. “We can certainly conquer it!”
But the other men spread a bad report about the land among the Israelites: “The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there.”
Of course the Israelites respond with, “If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!” Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?”
Then they plot among themselves, “Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!”
The result of their unbelief and disobedience?
God forgives them BUT DECLARES the current generation of Israel would never live to see the Promised Land. Joshua and Caleb would be the only ones.
And God says, “You said your children would be carried off as plunder — well guess what, I will bring them safely into the land! And God says, You will wander in the wilderness for 40 years — a year for each day the men explored the land
A journey that could have taken 11 days turns out taking 40 years.
And when we come to the story of Rahab, those 40 years have passed and God is about to yet again deliver on His promise.
By this time Moses has died and Joshua has become the new leader. God keeps reminding him to be strong and courageous. Do not fear. Do not be discouraged. I am giving you this land.
Joshua sends two spies – much like Moses did 40 years ago. What’s different is that he sends them in secret. I wonder if he did this as to avoid a potential community meltdown — rumors spreading — like the one that happened 40 years ago, causing them to wander in the desert for 40 years.
They are told to look over the land, especially the city of Jericho. Jericho was one of the strongest and most heavily fortified cities in all of Canaan. If Israel could conquer it, the whole land would be before them.
So the spies enter Jericho and end up at the home of Rahab. As we heard in the reading, Rahab has a bit of a questionable profession. The spies likely end up at her home because it is the kind of place where no questions would be asked in return.
As we head into the reading, the King of Jericho hears some Israelite spies have entered the city. And he sends word to Rahab to bring out the men who have just entered her house. But here is where the story gets good. Rahab hides the spies. She lies to the King’s men saying she does not know where they are.
When the coast is clear she goes to the spies and has this to say: “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt. When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.
Then she makes her request, “Save me, save my family, show us this kindness.
The men assure her, “Our lives for your lives! If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land.
She lets them down by a rope through her window but before the Israelite spies leave they say, “This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house. Rahab agrees and says, “Let it be as you say.
She sends them away and as they depart she ties the scarlet cord in her window.
After three days the spies return to Joshua and have this to say, “The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.”
And the rest is history.
The Israelites miraculously cross the Jordan River. God cuts off the waters and they walk across on dry land. They take the city of Jericho. Many of you know this story. The Israelite army marches around the city for 6 days. On the 7th day they march around the city 7 times. The priests give a loud blast on their trumpets and the entire community of Israel gives a loud shout and the walls come tumbling down.
The entire city is destroyed but Rahab and her family are spared.
A couple of years ago I was studying the first half of this bookend to Rahab’s story. The part where the Israelites ALMOST made it to the Promised Land. When those 10 spies returned to say, “God is setting us up for defeat!”
Those first spies (with the exception of Joshua and Caleb) — they saw a god that was setting them up for defeat and not a God of unfailing love and redemption.
They saw a god of destruction and not a God of compassion.
They saw a god of withholding and not a God leading them to their sacred home.
They let their fear tell them how to live… and
They let their fear dictate their picture of God.
And their fear won out. Fear said with great convincing, “You can’t trust Him. He is setting you up. He won’t really come through. You can’t take Him at his word. This is just a trick.”
How many of us have ever felt those words? Lived those words? How many of us have let our own fears convince us that God is not loving or present or willing or good?
From my own journey I know there are times when God is silent. There are times when God leads us the roundabout way. There are things we will never understand. And those seasons of waiting or loneliness or pain or grief can be especially hard. Those are seasons when seeds of distrust are so easily sewn. But I also think they are part of what it means to be human and to be on this journey.
Fast forward forty years to our story today. Two spies scouting the land and two return to say God is on our side.
They trust. They believe that God is not setting us up for defeat.
They believe He will give them the land.
And then we also encounter Rahab. A woman who had NO reason – ZERO reason at all to believe in God, and beyond that, believe in His goodness. But she did.
How could, why would this pagan, Cannanite, occupationally questionable woman put her life on the line for two Israelite spies? Why in the world would she trust them or their word?
How could, why would this woman make such a beautiful confession of faith?
I wonder if it is the same reason she is held up as an example of sincere faith in both the book of Hebrews and the book of James.
And I wonder if it is the same reason this unlikely woman is part of the lineage of Jesus.
Rahab deeply, sincerely, unexplainably believed in the goodness of God. That He was real. That He was powerful. That He was able to take care of her. And that she could trust Him at His word.
She didn’t let her fear tell her how to live. She didn’t let her fear dictate her picture of God. I wonder if her faith only strengthened the faith of the spies.
I’d like to say I am more like Rahab and those two spies who believed.
That I don’t let fear get in the way. That I always trust that God has my back.
That I have the upmost confidence that he is taking care of me every step of the way. But if I were to be honest, my days and my prayers are often full of fear and wrestling and questions and doubt.
How do we become the kind of people who believe that God loves us and wants the best for us? How do we become people who move from mistrust to trust?
How can we let the faithfulness and goodness of God paint the picture and not our fear?
I ask questions without really providing you answers.
I think your journey will look oh-so-very-different than mine.
But there is one thing I want to leave you with this morning. And that is hope.
Hope shows up secretly in this story… but in the most beautiful of ways.
Before the spies depart Rahab says, “Let it be as you say. A vow of hope.”
After the spies depart she ties the scarlet cord in her window. A symbol of hope.
The word for cord in Hebrew is this word tiqvah. Which means cord but it also means hope and expectation. The hope for things to come.
We see this word tiqvah in places like Psalm 62:5
Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.
Rahab let her hope in God resound more loudly than her doubt and fear.
I have a situation in my life right now where I am aching to believe with this kind of hope. It is what I think about when I go to bed at night. It is what I think about first thing in the morning.
For several years now Travis and I have been struggling with infertility. It has definitely been an unexpected journey. And if I were to be honest, these days my soul is quite weary. Waiting is hard. Not being able to control outcomes is hard. Living with such an ache in your soul is hard. Feeling like you were made to do something and not being able to do it is hard. And all of that plus a little more makes my soul weary. Yet I am incredibly thankful for Travis. We are in this together.
Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.
My soul is waiting on the Lord.
And in this waiting there is wrestling.
I am wrestling with God almost daily to let my hope resound more loudly than my doubt and fear. And hoping does not means it all turns out like I think is best. Hope means trusting that God is there and God is faithful and God will work His good. And hope means being honest and real, trusting that God is big enough to handle my hurt and anger and questions and tears.
Some of you are listening to these words, and you know in your bones that you need this kind of hope. Here is my encouragement to you.
Don’t stop wrestling. Don’t stop asking or seeking or knocking. Be very clear with God about your longings, your questions, your fear. And know that this journey can be complicated and exhausting. You might be fighting for dear life to believe the truth of who God is and how he loves you despite your past, present, or future circumstances. This kind of hope is not delivered in a box with a fancy pink bow. This kind of hope is messy and full of ugly cries and salty tears. This kind of hope is literally hanging on by a rope and choosing to believe to the tips of your toes that God really does have each and every one of us.
We don’t know the end to our stories. But God does. And we know his promise that He is right there with us. He will never leave us and He won’t let us down.
I am giving to each of you a red ribbon as a symbol of hope. I ask you to take it as a reminder that we can put our hope in God (like Rahab). And for those of you who do not need to cling to hope… I encourage you to take one and pray for someone who does. Maybe it is a family member or a friend. And then put the ribbon in your Bible, on your rear-view mirror or in your wallet as a reminder. As the ribbons are being passed out, I would like to share a song that has been my personal prayer for hope over the last couple of years. It is called “We Won’t Give Up,” by EastLake Music:
Breathe deep, breathe it all in
Breathe ‘til you can’t take anymore
Hold fast, with all that you have
Hold ‘til you can’t take anymore
And put this world behind, so far behind
Cast your cares upon Him now
God knows that love can be so hard to find
But we can’t give up
So we won’t give up
The Son of God has come for us
He has come, He has come
Let’s Pray: God we need you. We need a real and true picture of you. Help us not to let our fear or doubt dictate our picture of you. Grant us the grace to believe and to trust like those two spies did THAT you are on our side. Help us, like Rahab, to choose tiqvah, to choose hope. To choose to believe that in the end it really will be ok if we put our hope in you. Amen.