Scripture Joshua 2

COVENANT AND FAMILY

(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg


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Joshua 2 NIV

1 Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. "Go, look over the land," he said, "especially Jericho." So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.

2 The king of Jericho was told, "Look! Some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land." So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: "Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land."

4 But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, "Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, the men left. I don't know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them." (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.

8 Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, "I know that the LORD has given this land to you 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, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and that you will save us from death."

14 "Our lives for your lives!" the men assured her. "If you don't tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the LORD gives us the land."

15 So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall. Now she had said to them, "Go to the hills so the pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there three days until they return, and then go on your way." The men said to her, "This oath you made us swearwill 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. If anyone goes outside your house into the street, his blood will be on his own head; we will not be responsible. As for anyone who is in the house with you, his blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on him. But if you tell what we are doing, we will be released from the oath you made us swear."

21 "Agreed," she replied. "Let it be as you say." So she sent them away and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.

22 When they left, they went into the hills and stayed there three days, until the pursuers had searched all along the road and returned without finding them. Then the two men started back. They went down out of the hills, forded the river and came to Joshua son of Nun and told him everything that had happened to them. They said to Joshua, "The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us."

Brothers and sisters in Christ:

Last Sunday we looked at this very same passage and we asked the question: How was Rahab saved? And we found that she was saved because she placed her trust in a scarlet cord that was hanging out of her window, a scarlet cord that symbolized an agreement (a covenant) that she had made with two spies. In connection with that, we asked how YOU are saved, and we found that for us the answer is very similar. You, I are saved by placing our trust in a scarlet cord, the sin washing blood of Jesus that will never loose its power, the crimson tide from the heart of God, the scarlet cord hanging from the window to eternity, Christ's sacrificial death on the cross which seals for you and me an eternal covenant in which God will remember our sins no more. We found in this passage a profound picture of the covenant that God makes with each of us.

We asked that question of ourselves, each as individuals. How are YOU saved? Nothing but the blood of Jesus will do.

But this passage has another theme that sounds very foreign to the ears of North Americans who wear the glasses of individualism, where citizens proclaim by their consumerism and political action - "me, me, me," where magazines are called "Self." This foreign theme is the theme of covenant with family.

This passage not only talks about the saving of Rahab, it talks about the saving of her family. When she made the agreement with the spies, who were very familiar with covenant, she made an agreement that included her whole family.

Listen to her words again:  "Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and that you will save us from death."

The spies included her family, her father, mother, brothers and sisters and all who belonged to them, in the covenant that they made with Rahab.

My first point this morning is this: This passage is a profound picture of the covenant that God makes with each of us and that covenant includes our families.

That theme is repeated throughout the scriptures in both the Old and the New Testaments. To Abraham, the one who walked by faith before he was circumcised (Romans 4) God gave the promised blessing to him and his family, his descendants! God deals with us as families. In the opening liturgy of this service, we heard about the new covenant that God made with the house of Israel. Notice he does not say the country of Israel. The house of Israel was Jacob's family, his 12 sons, and their children, generations down the line, chosen and special to God because when God deals with us, he deals with our families.

The argument is often used: That was the Old Testament way that God dealt with his people. In the New Testament, he deals with us as individuals, and each one of us must individually come to faith and be baptized.

Now without agreeing or disagreeing with that statement, listen to what the new Testament scriptures say:

Acts 2:38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off--for all whom the Lord our God will call."

1 Corinthians 7:14  "For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy."

You might remember the story in Acts where God rescued Paul from prison, and the jailer, seeing that his prisoners had escaped was about to take his own life. When he saw that all the prisoners were still there, he cried out to Paul, "What must I do to be saved?" And Paul answers with the terms of the New Covenant, and they are terms that apply to family!

Acts 16:31 ""Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved--you and your household." Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized."

When God deals with us, God deals with our families.

That has very profound applications, and we regularly apply that to our children.  We baptize our children in the confidence that the covenant is to them as well as us, and the work of God's Spirit that calls us to faith is in them as well as us. When God makes deals with us, he makes them also with our families.

The application however is much broader; it extends to husbands and wives, to parents and great grand children. When God saves us, his covenant extends to our families!

That is a wonderful truth in scripture that should encourage each one of our hearts because each one of us, who have been included in Christ, have family, older than us or younger, family whom we love like Rahab loved her family. There is very good reason why we treasure the teaching of the covenant that we find in scripture. We love our families. And we deeply value the truth that God is doing a special work in their lives, even though at times, that work is so hard to see. There are times when we can only bank on the promises of God.

The doctrine of the covenant is a wonderful doctrine.  Yet the doctrine of the covenant has been misunderstood in a variety of ways. One of the main ways in which this doctrine has been misunderstood has a history as long as the nation of Israel, it might be called the misunderstanding of presumption.

Israel presumed that because they were God's people, that their children were God's people, that they were automatically in, no matter what their practices in life were, no matter what idols they worshiped, no matter what - they were in - in the covenant - in God's good graces. They would say "We have Abraham as our father." and on that statement assume their status as the people of God. In response to them, Jesus said ' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.'

I have had people say to me that their relatives are "in the covenant" even though their lives from beginning to end have been marked by a clear rebellion against God. This is the error of presumption. God does not honor this error, no matter how hard we hold onto it. James tells us clearly:  Show your faith by how you live.

In Rahab's circumstance, the sin of presumption would have allowed her family to be in the streets of the city, doing what the people of Jericho did, fighting as hard as they could against the Isrealites, and Rahab would have assumed that simply because they were her relatives, they would be saved.

The clear answer to this covenant agreement, which pictures for us so well the agreement that we have with God in the new Covenant, is that those outside of her home would not be included in salvation.

Listen again to the words of the spies.

"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. If anyone goes outside your house into the street, his blood will be on his own head; we will not be responsible. As for anyone who is in the house with you, his blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on him. But if you tell what we are doing, we will be released from the oath you made us swear."

This covenant was a wonderful covenant offering salvation to her family where this was not an option to anyone else in that city. Yet, there was no opportunity for presumption here. Only those who were with her, in her house would be saved.

It does not take a lot of imagination to figure out what Rahab had to do to save her family. She had to get them all to her house and convince them to stay.

It seems to me that that would include at least a number of different dynamics.

First, it would have to include rebuilding broken family bridges. Rahab was a prostitute. In that culture as in our culture today, prostitutes were used people, shamed people. Who here would acknowledge with pride that they have a daughter who is a prostitute? Rahab probably had severed quite a few ties to become the person she was. I suspect she couldn't call up her dad and say: "Dad, why don't you come over and sleep at my brothel for a few days!" "Mom, would you come over and cook for my guests for a few days?"

Those requests would not work. Rahab would have to go deal with relational issues that had grown between her and her family. Offer apologies where they were necessary. Undo the damage she had done. If she had any pride, she would have to bury it. If she had any stubbornness, she would have to curb it, discipline it to useful purposes. In this situation, the benefits of the covenant demanded obedience to its stipulations, love your neighbour as yourself! In returning to love she would enable them to enjoy the benefits of the covenant with her.

For us too, if we want our families to enjoy the covenant benefits with us, God calls us to the disciplines of loving one another, dealing with wrongs that have been done, cleaning our house so that they are fitting places for the covenant. Some of us have parents who do not believe, some of us have spouses who do not believe, some of us have brothers or sisters who do not believe, some of us have children who do not believe, for the sake of their participation in the covenant, we are called to be bridge builders to them, loving them as we would love ourselves, so that they with us may enjoy the benefits of the covenant.

Rahab had to rebuild bridges. Heal the wounds she had left. Rebuild the distrust she had broken. There is no doubt that she had a lot of work to do in those next few days.

Rahab also had a lot of persuading to do! We might imagine that having rebuilt the bridges to her family, she might have invited them over for dinner. Maybe she would have tricked them into salvation by inviting them over at just the right time. Scripture very clearly disallows that possibility. For a number of reasons:

First:  Rahab did not know when or how the Israelites would attack the city. Right after the spies left, she hung that scarlet cord out of her window so that she would be ready at all times.

Second, when Israel did come, they marched around the city for 6 days. And you can well imagine the reaction of everyone in the city of Jericho: "To Arms! To Arms! The Enemy is outside the gate!"   Rahab's family would have heard that cry. Rahab's family would have prepared for battle. Rahab's family would die, unless they like Rahab, put their complete confidence in that scarlet cord, and stayed in her house.

Again, it does not take a lot of imagination to understand the kind of persuasion that Rahab would have to do.

"Mom, Dad, brother, sister - you know those Israelites that are on the other side of the Jordan, they're going to kill us all. The whole city will be destroyed."

"Don't be so negative!"

"Their God, the God of heaven and earth, Elohim, is with them and he is going to destroy us for what we have done."

"You mean, what you have done!"

She would have to convince them of their destiny, that their future was grim indeed. And then she would have to convince them of the covenant...

"Dad, there is a scarlet cord hanging out of my window, and its a sign that I made an agreement with two of their spies."

"HOW COULD YOU?"

"How could you betray your own people?"

"Dad, its our only chance..." and you can imagine how the conversation, arguments might continue for hours...

There is absolutely no doubt that Rahab would have to pull out every persuasive tool in her arsenal to convince her family, her brothers and sisters, parents etc. to come to her house and put all their trust for their future in that scarlet cord hanging out the window!

And she convinced her family at incredible personal risk. If she would have kept this covenant to herself, it would have been easy to keep the significance of the scarlet cord a secret. But as she tried to convince her family, what if one of them had chosen to betray her and tell the king of the city? Her life and the portion of her family that had sided with her would have been killed in a moment.

She would have to do all she could to persuade her family to place and keep their trust for life, in a scarlet cord hanging out of her window!

This passage is a profound picture of the covenant that God makes with each of us and that covenant includes our families.

You see, to presume that our children, our families are saved because they are "covenant members" is a dangerous presumption. And how often I have seen parents hope against hope that somehow their children were saved just because they were baptized, even though when they came to an age of responsibility, they refused the gospel. The covenant has no power to save if responsible people refuse the heart of the new covenant - Jesus. And how often I have seen parents as their children grow up, just assume that they will adopt at an age of responsibility, the faith of their parents. And how often I have seen Christians for the sake of maintaining relationships, stop trying to persuade their loved ones.

You see the truth of this passage is this. For the sake of the eternal futures of our families, eternal life, we as Christian need not only to constantly be bridge builders with our children, our parents, our brothers and sisters, we also need to do everything within our power to persuade them, persuade them that only the blood of Jesus has the power to save.  This passage calls us to use words, use emotions, use scripture, use habits, use affirmation, use love, use prayer, use words of destiny, use whatever you have at your disposal to persuade, even if at times that persuasion is relationally expensive. Your family will see, by your willingness to risk rejection with your message, how seriously you mean what you say. And where we with our message break relationships, they can always be rebuilt.

This passage is a profound picture of the covenant that God makes with each of us and that covenant includes our families.

I invite you, as you reflect on this passage today, to spend some time putting yourself in Rahab's shoes. What would it take from you to convince your family to put its trust in a scarlet cord hanging out of your window?  What would it take from you to convince your family to puts its trust in Jesus Christ and the sacrifice he gave to secure for us the new and eternal covenant?

Scripture concludes the story of Rahab with her covenantal success. It says: "Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho--and she lives among the Israelites to this day."

Matthew 1:5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, the ancestor of Jesus.


(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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