Shela Lekha
For the week of June 16, 2012 / 26 Sivan 5772
Torah: Bemidbar / Numbers 13:1 - 15:41
Haftarah: Joshua 2:1-24


Getting on the Right Road

And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. (Joshua 2:11; ESV)

The other day someone asked me about how people in the days of ancient Israel were made right with God. Actually the question was more along the lines of how people in the Old Testament were saved, but I am translating. Part of the challenge in answering a question like this is due to the categories in which many adherents of the New Covenant (or New Testament) think. It seems that many Christians view the human condition in very strict spiritual terms. A person according to this way of looking at life is categorized as being either on a road to heaven or a road to hell. Believing in the Messiah therefore is some sort of mechanism whereby we are placed on the heavenly road.

Thinking this way makes a story like the one we find in this weeks' Haftarah (the supplementary synagogue reading for this coming Sabbath day) difficult to understand. Here we have two Israeli scouts checking out the land prior to the conquest under Moses' successor Joshua. They end up in the house of a prostitute named Rahab. What they were doing there of all of places, we do not know, but as it turned out, there was something very special about this particular lady apart from anything else.

It seems that she and her people were aware of the people of Israel and the things that happened to them the past 40 years, from the parting of the Red Sea to their military victories in the wilderness. Somehow she knew that the God of Israel had given his people the very land in which she was living. Somehow she knew that the God of Israel was not a localized private deity of a bunch of nomads, but rather that "He is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath." She knew that the God of Israel was not just a god, but the God.

This understanding caused her to relate to the scouts in a particular way and preserved their lives at risk of her own. As a result when Israel invaded she and her household were saved and lived among Israel from then on (see Joshua 6:25). In fact, we read in Yeshua's genealogy that she became a mother in the line of King David and Yeshua himself (see Matthew 1:5).

Was Rahab saved? Oh yes! But this salvation is more than finding oneself on the heavenly road. Her trust in the God of Israel completely transformed her life. She who was born into a nation destined for destruction, living a life contrary to the ways of God, was now integrated into the plans and purposes of God. More than getting on a road to heaven, she was now on the road from heaven, no longer living in the darkness of sin, but in the light of God's truth. As for her eternal destiny, she could be confident that her life was safely in the care of the one to whom she had given herself.

This then begs the question, do we really need to believe in Yeshua to be saved, to be in right relationship with God? Isn't it enough to think correctly about God and his nature to be accepted by him? Isn't this what happened with Rahab? Not really. Rahab was confronted with the plans and purposes of God in her day. It wasn't just that she just had good theology in her mind; it was that she responded in faith to the situation that God put before her. For her it was the Israeli scouts at the brink of the conquest of the land of Canaan. Since the coming of Yeshua, the same God calls everyone everywhere to repent and follow the Messiah. We cannot pretend that we live in another time in another place. These are the days of the Messiah and it is to him we must give our lives or else we will find ourselves on the wrong side like Rahab's people.

One of the things we learn from the Rahab story is that getting on the right road is not about acquiring a mental state of religious affection. To truly follow God we must embrace his plans and purposes. Knowing the true God led Rahab to make a difficult and risky decision that had enormous positive implications for her, her household, and human history. Those who know the reality of the God of Israel through faith in the Messiah should expect nothing less.

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