Surprising faith (Faith part 3)
Last week and the week before, I talked about how faith is related to trust. Ultimately it’s not a head condition, but a heart condition. As such, actions, while they don’t save you, play the primary role in giving evidence of faith. Let me be clear, performing lots of good actions will not get you saved or let you get faith. Likewise, having faith doesn’t mean you suddenly do everything correctly. Fundamentally, though, faith is rooted in grace. It is a trust, one that is sometimes irrespective of doctrine, upon the grace of God. Perhaps an example, or two, will help.
Aside from the marching around the walls and shouting, there are two interesting episodes that happened at Jericho which are mentioned. The first centers around Rahab, the pagan prostitute (Joshua 2 and 6). The second around Achan, the Israelite soldier (Joshua 7). It ended well for one, and poorly for the other. What was the difference? I would argue that it is faith.
Let’s look at Rahab, first of all. What does she know about Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews. It seems relatively little. She knows that Yahweh (written the LORD, in most English bibles) is the God who led the Israelites out of Egypt, parted the Red Sea, and from this she has assumed the Yahweh is God in “heaven and on earth,” that is that Yahweh is very powerful. Note, though, she doesn’t seem to be monotheistic yet. She knows there is a God Yahweh, and she believes He is stronger than her gods, but, in all likelihood, still believes her gods exist. She also doesn’t seem to get how grace works.
It’s a terrible theology, when you think about it. She thinks she is saved because of a bargain she strikes with the Israelite spies: she hides them and so, for her to keep up the ruse, she demands they ensure their God will save her. That’s not how grace works, that’s not how God works. Also, she is a prostitute, which in all likelihood means she was tied to the pagan religion of Jericho. She’s not just in the midst of the pagan religion, she has an important role for it. She also doesn’t pray a prayer, or offer a sacrifice, or anything like that. All she does is tie a chord to hang out her window. That’s it. That’s her demonstration of faith. Yet, James (in chapter 2) commends her as a great example of faith.
And the thing is. It works. She is saved, and even moreso, is part of the lineage of David and Joseph who was called the father of Jesus. She becomes part of the covenant people with her terrible (some might say heretical) theology. What? And not only her, but everyone in the house with her. How does that work?
Now let’s look at Achan. He’s a soldier for Yahweh. He’s part of the new generation, and so had been prepping for the invasion of the holy land his whole life. He walked across the Jordan river on dry land when the people crossed into the territory. He had been told all the rules about the conquest, and he saw, firsthand, the power of God as the walls of Jericho crashed down. It is probably safe to say that he had a theology that was much more sound than Rahab’s.
Yet, in Joshua 7, we learn that in the aftermath of the battle, he performs a faithless act. Even though the people were told not to take any of the riches or spoils from the land they were conquering, because God was going to provide them their inheritance (they weren’t like other conquering nations), Achan takes some very pricey items. He could probably say the right things, but it was as though he was hedging his bets, he wanted a back up plan. So he made his own inheritance instead of trusting. And he is killed. Possibly along with his family, it turns out. What?
So here we have two examples: someone who has a mostly pagan theology, but where God has started to make inroads and she decides to trust those few inroads, and someone who has a very good theology, who is a warrior for Yahweh and part of His covenant people. And the first is saved, along with her household, while the latter is condemned, along with his whole household. How does that work? It turns out, faith is full of surprises. Those who we would expect to be saved might not be, and those who we would think never would be saved suddenly are, and in a huge way.
And it’s not just because of a radical encounter with God. Not everyone is Paul on the Damascus road. We think that someone at the very core of the pagan culture and religion would need a radical experience. But it’s Achan who has been fed by God everyday with manna, and received water in the dessert. It’s Achan who experiences the miracles firsthand his whole life. Since he was part of the invading generation, he had never known slavery, so God had always demonstrated that He was actively for his people.
Rahab, on the other hand, just hears about it. She hears about these things and decides to take a chance. We can’t even pinpoint where her act of faith was. Was it tying the chord? Was it arguing with the spies? Lying to the soldiers searching for them? Hiding the spies? Allowing them to stay in her home and place of business (there’s a whole different thorny knot)? Or did something happen when she heard about these things in her heart? We aren’t told. Maybe faith isn’t quite so exact. Maybe she can’t pinpoint the date herself. Maybe there isn’t a moment, but a movement of transformation taking place in ways she was never aware of until they had already happened.
It doesn’t really matter. In the end she takes a chance. She trusts that Yahweh is better than what she had known. And something about that results in her salvation. She becomes part of the kingdom of God. Faith, it turns out, is full of surprises.