Courageous Faith - Hebrews 11:31,32
In our study of faith from Hebrews 11 we have looked at some of the heroes of faith: Noah, Abraham, and Moses. It is easy for us to conclude that only exceptionally gifted people will ever have great faith. In essence, we “let ourselves off the hook” by concluding this kind of faith is beyond our reach. We study faith, make observations about faith, talk about how we wish “we had that kind of faith” and then we move on feeling we have done “all we can do”.
This morning we look at two accounts found in just two verses. What makes these verses remarkable is that these are common people; people like you and me. We see that faith is possible for everyone.
It is interesting that we jump from the Exodus to the time of Joshua. Both verses we look at this morning come from this time.
30 It was by faith that the people of Israel marched around Jericho for seven days, and the walls came crashing down.
31 It was by faith that Rahab the prostitute was not destroyed with the people in her city who refused to obey God. For she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.
The Lesson of Jericho
When the Hebrews finally reached the Promised Land after wandering in the desert for 40 years, Moses died. God allowed him to see the land that had been promised but he was not able to enter that land because of an incident where Moses took credit for something God had done. This left the nation under the leadership of Joshua.
Joshua was also a good leader. He organized the people to conquer the land God had set aside for His people.
Some people have a problem with the children of Israel coming in and taking this land. They were told to kill everyone in the land. To kill only a few of the people would be like getting “most” of the cancer in a surgery. What was left could eventually kill you. God wanted to protect His people from the pagan influences. Remember: the land did not belong to the Canaanites; it belonged to the Lord. He could give it to anyone He wanted to give it to. Second, we are told that the people of Jericho would not submit to the Lord. God is the Judge and He is just in deciding when He judges those who rebel against Him.
Since this was a major undertaking, the Lord sent an angel to commission and strengthen Joshua. The angel reminded Joshua that it was the Lord who would fight for them. Israel would not win in their own strength, but in His.
Perhaps we would be wise and pause for a few beats to hear that message for our own life. We do not face any situation alone. The Lord is with those who have put their trust in Him. He is faithful and it is our job to trust Him.
The first obstacle to be overcome was the town of Jericho. Jericho was a heavily fortified city with thick walls and a skilled fighting force. The city had its own water source so they were self-sufficient. There was no way to put a siege on the city and eventually force them to come out. It seemed impregnable.
This was an important battle for the Israelites. It was the first battle in this, their Promised Land. This battle would set the tone for all the battles to come. A defeat here might plunge them back into despair and mutiny.
Because the Hebrew entourage may have numbered close to a million people, they were not going to sneak up on anyone. In Joshua 6 we are told the gates of Jericho were securely locked.
The Lord appeared to Joshua and gave him the plan for taking Jericho,
2 But the Lord said to Joshua, “I have given you Jericho, its king, and all its strong warriors. 3 You and your fighting men should march around the town once a day for six days. 4 Seven priests will walk ahead of the Ark, each carrying a ram’s horn. On the seventh day you are to march around the town seven times, with the priests blowing the horns. 5 When you hear the priests give one long blast on the rams’ horns, have all the people shout as loud as they can. Then the walls of the town will collapse, and the people can charge straight into the town.” (Joshua 6:2-5)
This is where we see the faith of the Israelites. God’s plan was simple: for six days in a row march once around the city blowing their horns and then go back to camp. On the seventh day, they were to march around seven times, then blow the trumpet one long blast and shout. Then, said the Lord, the walls will fall down. Be honest, how would you respond if that was the military strategy your General brought to you?
Think about what these people had to overcome. First, they had to overcome fear and the inevitable ridicule this plan would bring. I suspect the first day the people of Jericho trembled as they waited to see what Israel was going to do. As they watched, it must have seemed like Israel was just having a parade! There is nothing threatening about a parade (except maybe the clowns or those really giant balloons . . . but I’m sure they didn’t have either of those in this parade.). By the third day, I suspect the people of Jericho stood on the walls hurling insults and perhaps rocks at the people. I suspect the Hebrews may have felt pretty foolish.
We have to tell the truth here: sometimes doing what God tells us to do will bring abuse from the world. The world does not understand God’s idea of forgiveness, or grace, or reconciliation. The world sees these things as a sign of weakness. We are often ridiculed for our moral values and are called stuck up or prudish in our values. Adopting values of humility or meekness are not viewed as positive traits by the world. Jesus warned us that as the world persecuted Him, so they would persecute us. If we are going to walk in faith, we must be prepared for some ridicule.
Second they had to overcome their own sense that the plan was absurd. Who conquers a city by simply marching around the city and then shouting? This is where they needed faith. They had to trust that God’s plan was good even if it seemed absurd.
Jesus said a number of things that sounded absurd to lots of people. He told us the last will be first and that the one who serves will be more honored than the one who is served. He told us to give generously and God would multiply our blessing. He said we should become as trusting as little children. The world scoffs at such gullibility. The Bible tells us the more we are committed to Christ the more freedom and fulfillment we will know. The world around us just doesn’t believe this.
Third, they had to overcome their impatience. They had to march around the city 13 times before they saw anything happen. Seven days they put up with the abuse of the people of Jericho. I am sure there were people in the crowd saying, let’s just shut these people up! It takes faith to have patience; It takes faith to wait on God’s timing,
When the healing does not come
Where you work hard but financial security remains illusive
When you pray for someone you love but they don’t seem to have any interest in the things of God.
When you search for God’s place for you but every door seems to be closed.
When you have much love to give but no one to be the recipient of that love.
Patience requires faith. These people remained patient.
You probably know the end of the story. On the seventh day the people of Israel marched around Jericho seven times. The priests again blew their horns. I suspect that everyone in the city was aware that something different was happening this seventh day. Each lap of the city raised the anxiety level of the people. They were on heightened alert.
After the seventh time around the city a long horn blast was sounded and the people that was the signal to shout. When they shouted the walls fell outward and provided a ramp of sort for the Israelites to enter the city. (Archaeologists have discovered that the walls of Jericho did indeed fall out and away from the city).
Some scholars try to dismiss this supernatural event by saying Jericho was on an earthquake fault line. Many people believe this to be true. I don’t see why it matters. Perhaps an earthquake did make the walls fall. However, the fact that there was an earthquake at the exact time the Israelites shouted still seems like a pretty amazing miracle.
In the end Jericho was conquered and the city was completely destroyed. God was praised and the children of Israel were more confident.
Let’s apply this: Do you have a Jericho in your life? Is there a seemingly unconquerable fortress standing in the road before you?
An addiction that has seemingly overpowered you
A relationship that seems hopelessly shattered
A relentless Antagonist or bully
A diagnosis that seems hopeless
A co-worker who is relentlessly hostile to your faith
A financial set-back that threatens to take everything you have
An injustice that seems impossible to forgive
A temptation to take a shortcut and cheat to get ahead
Whatever your Jericho, this situation is where you have the opportunity to exercise profound faith. This is your time to stand with Him. It will mean listening carefully to what God is telling you in His Word. It will mean fighting off the negative thoughts that say His plan is foolish or that He is unable to do what He has promised. This is your moment to trust Him! It is your time to keep walking with your eyes fixed on Him and not the problem.
The Story of Rahab
The second example (also from the Jericho Story) is Rahab. Rahab was not a Jew; she was a gentile. Rahab did not have a good job; she was prostitute. Yet, inspite of her reputation, she had a godly heart. Rahab was a resident of Jericho. We find her story in Joshua 2.
The Israelites sent spies into the city of Jericho. When these spies arrived they got a room at the home of a prostitute by the name of Rahab. Since all the people of Jericho knew about the approaching army of Israel they were on High Alert. People were to report any suspicious activity (and any unattended baggage).
Someone noticed the spies coming into the city and likely followed them to the home of Rahab. They went and reported this to the authorities. Rahab easily could have saved herself and been at least a temporary hero by turning the spies over to the authorities. However, instead of turning the men over to the authorities, she hid them and lied to protect them. Let’s look at the story in Joshua 2.
4 Rahab had hidden the two men, but she replied, “Yes, the men were here earlier, but I didn’t know where they were from. 5 They left the town at dusk, as the gates were about to close. I don’t know where they went. If you hurry, you can probably catch up with them.” 6 (Actually, she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them beneath bundles of flax she had laid out.) 7 So the king’s men went looking for the spies along the road leading to the shallow crossings of the Jordan River. And as soon as the king’s men had left, the gate of Jericho was shut.
8 Before the spies went to sleep that night, Rahab went up on the roof to talk with them. 9 “I know the Lord has given you this land,” she told them. “We are all afraid of you. Everyone in the land is living in terror. 10 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. 11 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.
12 “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 13 when Jericho is conquered, you will let me live, along with my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all their families.”
14 “We offer our own lives as a guarantee for your safety,” the men agreed. “If you don’t betray us, we will keep our promise and be kind to you when the Lord gives us the land.”
After saving them from the hands of the soldiers, Rahab asked the men if they would return the favor. Rahab believed in the God of Israel. She trembled before Him. She had saved their lives and she hoped they would be willing to save hers. They told her they would spare her but when they attacked, only those family members physically in her home would be spared.
Rahab had faith in the spies. When she saw the Israelite army approaching I am sure she contacted family members to come to her home. It was a risky move. If the Israelites were not successful, it would almost certainly be discovered that Rahab had been gathering her family for rescue. They would brand her a traitor. Rahab did what she believed was right. She stood with God and His people. She had faith.
This is not the end of Rahab’s story. She joined the Israelite community. She even had an Israelite husband by the name of Salmon. We learn this, in of all places, the gospel of Matthew:
4 Ram was the father of Amminadab.
Amminadab was the father of Nahshon.
Nahshon was the father of Salmon.
5 Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab).
Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).
Obed was the father of Jesse.
6 Jesse was the father of King David. (Matthew 1)
Yes, Rahab was the great-great-grandmother of King David! When you follow the genealogy you discover Rahab was one of the forefathers (or mothers) of Jesus!
So, lets draw some concluding lessons about faith. First, from these stories we learn that the Life of Faith is Possible for Anyone. Rahab reminds us that ANYONE can have faith. Rahab was an outcast, a Gentile, a Prostitute but she had faith.
Rahab’s life up to this point may have been pretty bad. I would think that the life of a prostitute was one of being used by others and then tossed aside. She was surviving but life was surely hard. One author asks, “What nightmares could possibly haunt her dreams that would overshadow the nightmare that comes when she is awake?”
In trusting the Lord she found a new life, a new family, and a new hope. But before any of that could happen she had to take a step of faith. She had to risk trusting the Lord. It is that same risk that we need to take in order to find the life that God has to offer.
You don’t have to be “special” to have faith; you simply need to be willing to take that step of trusting the Lord. You and I can walk in faith. We too can dare to hang on to the Lord and then see Him work in ways that astound and surprise us.
You don’t have to imagine what it would be like to exercise faith. You CAN do so. It is a process of one step. Followed by another.
Second, we learn from these examples that faith overcomes. The faith of Israel overcame the fortress in Jericho that seemed impenetrable. The faith of Rahab turned her life around. The faith of Moses led Israel out of slavery and into freedom. The faith of Abraham resulted in the birth of a new nation. The faith of David gave strength to take on a giant. The faith of Paul enabled him to keep preaching even in the midst of great hostility. The faith of missionaries has resulted in entire communities becoming followers of Christ.
When we exercise faith we give God a chance to work in our lives and through our lives. We open ourselves to the power of His Spirit. God’s Spirit is powerful enough to overcome the mountains in your life . . . and in mine. No matter what that mountain is, God is more than equal to the task. Faith is trusting God with our future.
Faith is when we depend on Him rather than on what we can do in our own strength. When we do this, God is given the chance to shine.
I don’t know where God might is calling you or me to step out in faith. However, I pray that when that time comes, we will be ready. God is faithful. He simply asks us to trust Him. That is what faith is all about.