STUDIES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
“By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.”
Hebrews 11 has been called “The Honor Roll of the Faithful.” Sometimes, however, it is worth noting not only who is on such a list, but also who is not. Hebrews 11:29 includes on this list the Israelites crossing the Red Sea after their Exodus from Egypt. However, the next mention of the faithful (verse 30) is forty years later, at the Battle of Jericho. Who is left off the list? It is the complaining “wilderness generation” of Israelites who could not enter the Promised Land because of their unbelief—the very opposite of faith (see Hebrews 3:16-19). In this Honor Roll of the Faithful, the Holy Spirit skips over them and goes directly to the later-generation Israelites who faithfully did what God commanded them.
Regarding those faithful Israelites, verse 30 of our text notes the amazing manner in which they were able to defeat the fortified city of Jericho: the walls of the city were toppled by the power of God. God told Joshua to have the Hebrew men of war march around the city once a day for six days, and then seven times on the seventh day, followed by the blast of a ram’s horn and trumpets. If I had been one of those soldiers, I think my faith would have been sorely tried. “But Joshua,” I might have said, “why don’t we just use a battering ram? How will merely marching around the city and raising a ruckus get us inside?” It must have taken very strong faith, demonstrated by obedience, for the Hebrew soldiers to simply follow this command of God. Nonetheless, as Chrysostom1 said, “The sounding of trumpets, though one were to sound for ten thousand years, cannot throw down walls, but faith can do all things.”
The next entry on the Honor Roll of the Faithful is not even an Israelite; it is a heathen prostitute, Rahab. We know from Joshua 2:11 that by the time the Hebrew spies entered Jericho, Rahab had come to faith in the one true God. Rahab tells the two Israelite spies that “. . . [T]he Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.” Interestingly, the Hebrew word used here for God in what Rahab says is Yahweh, or Jehovah, the “proper name” of the God of Israel. Unlike the rest of Jericho, Rahab knew the God of Israel as the one true God, and that faith showed itself in her actions toward the Hebrew spies.
Rahab’s faith is contrasted to the unbelief of the other inhabitants of Jericho. The Greek word used to describe the unbelief of the “wilderness generation” mentioned in the first paragraph above has the same root as the word translated as “did not believe” in connection with Rahab’s fellow residents. However, the literal meaning of the root word is not “unbelieving,” but actually “to disobey”; and that realization gives even greater depth to our understanding of this passage. R. C. H. Lenski comments, “Unbelief is at times called disobedience because it is nothing less and is also the source of disobedient conduct.” Here we are given some insight into the relationship of faith to works—the product of faith.
Rahab, a heathen prostitute, then a believer, is on the Honor Roll of the Faithful. An additional honor is found in Matthew 1:5. She was an ancestor of Jesus, the Savior of the world. She is well placed on the Honor Roll of the Faithful.
Craig Owings is a retired teacher and serves as assistant editor of the Lutheran Spokesman. He lives in Cape Coral, Florida.