James 2:25 ‘And in like manner also was not Rahab the harlot justified?’
This Week’s Focus Passage: James 2:25
‘And in like manner also was not Rahab the harlot justified?’
Justified by works? This was the great difficulty for Martin Luther; making it difficult for him to accept the epistle of James into the canon of Scripture. He called it ‘a right stray epistle,’ likely a reference to the words of the apostle Paul in his first epistle to the church at Corinth, chapter 3, verse 12, when he wrote, now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw; this straw not being suitable for that foundation. Luther felt strongly that James was actually opposing the doctrine of ‘justification through faith alone, not of works.’ It is too easy to criticize this wonderful saint of the past; we should always be cautious about taking such directions. We might wonder that he didn’t get it; he didn’t seem to gather the argument of James, in the context, that ‘faith without works is a dead faith,’ ‘show me your faith by your works,’ he wrote. James, in the context of our focus passage this week, makes use of Rahab the harlot, as an example of faith demonstrated through activity; in her case, the activity of enabling the spies sent out by Joshua to spy out Jericho, presumably for the best manner of taking the city. The historical account is provided in the book of Joshua, chapter 2:1ff:
And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men as spies secretly, saying, Go, view the land, and Jericho. And they went, and came into the house of a harlot whose name was Rahab, and lay there. And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, Behold there came men in hither tonight of the children of Israel to search out the land. And the king of Jericho sent unto Rahab, saying, Bring forth the men that are come to thee, that are entered into thy house; for they are come to search out all the land. And the woman took the two men, and his them; and she said, Yea, the men came unto me, but I knew not whence they were: and it came to pass about the time of the shutting of the gate, when it was dark, that the men went out; whither the men went I know not.
But she lied; she had hidden them on the rooftop of her house beneath a covering of stalks of flax. They were able later to escape out of the city to return back to Joshua with their report. But Rahab had lied. How is it, then, that we find James actually commending her behavior in his epistle written centuries later? And in like manner [like Abraham, James’ previous example of ‘faith wrought by works.’] was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works, in that she received the messengers, and sent them out another way?
Pulling out one of the earliest acquisitions to my library, and glancing at the writer’s remarks on this episode, as the Israelites were approaching Jericho; note was taken by the owner (me) of this particular commentator’s view of the behavior of this woman of Jericho. There was, underlined, the brief, terse, statement of his view. It said, simply, but unmistakably, “IT IS NEVER RIGHT TO DO WRONG.” That appeared to this present writer, at the time, as a declaration fully worthy of being printed on a refrigerator magnet that it might a reminder every single day. But then the question arose, sometime afterword reading the second chapter of James, ‘How can these things be?’ How is James to pronounce Rahab to be justified, even when he says it was because, it was; in that she received the messengers and sent them out another way: again, how can these things be?
Shall we consider the argument of aforementioned commentator? He wrote:
“The prevarications of Rahab unto the king’s officers is appealed to by the Jesuits in support of their pernicious dogma “the end justifies the means”, that if aim at a praiseworthy object it is permissible to use questionable or even evil means to attain the same—a principal which has regulated many so-called Protestants during the past century, and which is flagrantly flouted before our eyes today throughout Christendom, as seen for example, in the carnal and worldly devices used to attract young people to ‘religious’ services. But “let us do evil that good may come” is a sentiment entertained by no truly regenerate soul used to attract young people to ‘religious’ services. But “let us do evil that good may come” is a sentiment entertained by no truly regenerate soul, rather it is detested by him; and Scripture plainly declares of such as are actuated by it, that their ‘damnation is just.’”
He goes on, “Some have pointed out the exceptionally trying position in witch Rahab found herself, arguing that considerable latitude should be allowed her therein. We are aware that appeal is often made to that aphorism “Circumstances alter cases”, and while we are not sure what its originator had in mind, this we do know, that no “circumstances” can ever obliterate the fundamental distinction between good and evil. Let the reader settle it in his mind and conscience that it is never right to do wrong and since it be sinful to lie, no circumstances can ever warrant the telling of one.” This found a place on the refrigerator of my mind having, for some reason, grown up with a serious hatred of lies, long before conversion.
How may we deal with this ‘apparent’ contradiction between the ninth commandment, Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor, which has in many minds, been transliterated into Thou shalt not lie. How may we deal with this? A very helpful volume was written in the nineties which sets before the reader many more illustrations, in the Scriptures, of cases similar, in principle, to that of Rahab. The sort of lie told by Rahab is considered as a third type of lie, ‘A lie of necessity.’ It is that which is known, in America, and other places around the globe, as a ‘little white lie.’ It is a falsehood uttered with the motivation being to avoid embarrassment or harm to another individual, or perhaps even to protect yourself from such. Cases in the Word of God, alongside that of Rahab, include the Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, in Exodus 1:15ff. These women were commanded by the king of Egypt that when they did the office of midwife, and if the newborn proved to be a son, they were to kill that infant. But Scripture informs us that these midwives feared God, feared God more that they feared the Egyptian king, we might presume, and so they did not kill any Hebrew infants, and lied to the king, contending that the Hebrew mothers were delivering their children in such short time, that Shiphrah and Puah had not opportunity to do the murder the king of Egypt had demanded. Their ‘excuse’ was not directly challenged so that they did not suffer death themselves. And, most importantly, Moses, the human author of Exodus, relates, in Exod. 1:21, that because the midwives feared God, that he made them households.
There are also allusions to the use of deception in battle, especially in the battle Joshua fought against Ai. Joshua was told, expressly by Jehovah, to set a trap for the citizens of Ai, to use deception to draw them out of the city to utter defeat. It is more than impossible to dispose of these occasions where falsehoods, or lies, were not only allowed but directed.
We still struggle with the aphorism, “It is never right to do wrong,” but may we be enabled by the wonderful grace of our God to know when such occasions may warrant us to bend the truth, as they say. May the love of God be our compass.
David Farmer, elder
Fellowship Bible Church
More in This Week's Focus Passage
October 1, 2022This Week’s Focus Passage: Jeremiah 6:16 ‘But they said, we will not walk therein.’
September 24, 2022This Week’s Focus Passage: James 1:18 ‘Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth.’
September 17, 2022This Week’s Focus Passage: Luke 24:27 ‘He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things conce