“Someone may well say, You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18 NASB).
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The Bible portrays many worthy individuals prior to the Gospel Age who exemplified faithfulness to the Heavenly Father. These three Old Testament women, Rahab, Deborah, and Ruth, faithfully served Jehovah. Their lives provide encouraging lessons for the consecrated at the end of this age.
Rahab: From Harlot to Heroine
The family was the core of Israelite life, so it seems implausible that Rahab — described as a harlot in nearly all English translations of the Holy Bible — was one of two women named in the “Faith Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11 for putting faith into action.1 “By an act of faith, Rahab, the Jericho harlot, welcomed the spies and escaped the destruction that came on those who refused to trust God” (Hebrews 11:31 MSG).
As an Amorite, Rahab was in an idolatrous Canaanite culture in Jericho bound for destruction. God’s promise to Abraham was, “I have given this land to your descendants … from the border of Egypt to the great Euphrates River” (Genesis 15:18 NLT). The scriptural passage then enumerates the ten peoples that occupied the area.2
After leading the Israelites through the wilderness, Moses died on Mt. Nebo (Deuter‑ onomy 34:1‑5). Joshua,3 an Ephraimite, was chosen to lead the Hebrews into the Promised Land; and he was assured by God that “No one will be able to stand against you as long as you live. For I will be with you as I was with Moses. I will not fail you or abandon you” (Joshua 1:5 NLT).
Planning to conquer the walled city‑state of Jericho, “Joshua secretly sent out two spies from the Israelite camp at Acacia Grove.4 He in‑ structed them, Scout out the land on the other side of the Jordan River, especially around Jeri‑ cho. So the two men set out and came to the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there that night” (Joshua 2:1 NLT).
When the king of Jericho was told that some Israelite spies were lodging at Rahab’s house, he sent word to her to bring out the spies. She told the king’s messengers the men had been there but left at dusk before the city gate closed. She said she did not know which way they went, but perhaps they could be found if the king’s men quickly searched for them. In fact, Rahab had hidden the two Israelites on the roof under stalks of flax5 laid out to dry (Joshua 2:3‑6). “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” (Joshua 2:7 NIV).
Rahab went up on the roof and said to the spies, “I know that the LORD has given you this land 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 in fear 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” (Joshua 2:9‑13 NIV).
(1) Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was the other woman noted for her (Hebrews 11:11).
(2) Genesis 15:19‑21.
(3) Strong’s H3091 — Joshua’s name means deliverer or savior — “Jehovah is ”
(4) Hebrew Shittim was Israel’s camp before crossing the Jordan River into Canaan.
(5) Rahab, having sheaves of flax on the roof, suggests that she may have made
The spies assured Rahab that they would keep the promise to save her family when God gave them the land, if she did not betray them. Since Rahab’s house was built against Jericho’s wall, she let them down by a scarlet rope 6 through the window and told them to go to the hill country and hide there for three days (Joshua 2:14‑16).
Before leaving, the spies told Rahab that they would be bound by their agreement only if she followed their instructions: “When we come into the land, you must leave this scarlet rope hanging from the window through which you let us down. And all your family members… must be here inside the house … If you betray us … we are not bound by this oath in any way” (Joshua 2:18, 20 NLT).
The terms were accepted and Rahab left the scarlet rope hanging from the window. The spies went into the hill country for three days; and the king’s men returned to Jericho without them. When the spies reached their camp, they told Joshua what had happened. “The LORD has given us the whole land, they said, for all the people in the land are terrified of us” (Joshua 2:24 NLT).
Rahab kept silent about the Israelites’ mission when they miraculously conquered Jericho. She and her family stayed in the house and displayed the scarlet7 cord and were saved. Her family was absorbed into the Israelite nation and Rahab married Salmon, a [military] prince of Judah. She gave birth to a son named Boaz, who later married Ruth.
It is unlikely that a woman with Rahab’s reputation would become an ancestor of Jesus! Matthew’s genealogy traces Jesus’ royal lineage from father Abraham through Joseph, Jesus’ foster father. Luke’s record lists Jesus’ biological roots from his mother back to Adam, “the son of God.” In both cases, the ancestry includes Boaz, the son of Rahab and Salmon (Matthew 1:5, Luke 3:32).
Lessons from Rahab
What are some lessons from reflecting on Rahab’s experience? Her example is not upheld for lying to the king’s men, but we remember her for proving her faith by her deeds. James 2:25 (NLT) affirms, “she was shown to be right with God by her actions when she hid those messengers and sent them safely away by a different road.”
She is especially remembered for having a remarkable understanding and faith in the sovereignty of the one God — “the LORD your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below” (Joshua 2:11 NLT).
She was brave and trustworthy. She exhibited a concern for others — the spies and her family. She turned from her idolatrous, sinful past to become a true heroine of faith. A new beginning from sin may come knocking on the door to our heart. If so, we should energetically follow Rahab’s faithful example for a full deliverance for us and for our families.
Let us strive to faithfully “say what we mean and mean what we say.” “You have heard that it was said to our people long ago, Don’t break your promises, but keep the promises you make to the Lord” (Matthew 5:33 NCV).
The story of Deborah portrays the Israelites’ bondage and oppression by Jabin, King of Canaan, and Sisera, his military commander. The Israelites implored God for deliverance from 20 years of suffering. Deborah sent for Barak, to go against Sisera, assuring him that God had promised a victory. “Go, march to Mount Tabor! Take with you 10,000 men from Naphtali and Zebulun! I will bring Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to you at the Kishon River, along with his chariots and huge army. I will hand him over to you” (Judges 4:6‑7 NET).
Barak was reluctant to go against Sisera unless Deborah went with him. Perhaps his uncertainty was because Sisera had a huge military advantage of 900 chariots of iron. Be‑ cause of Barak’s lack of confidence, Deborah prophesied that victory would be won, but the glory would go to a woman instead of to Barak. “Very well,” she replied, “I will go with you. But you will receive no honor in this venture, for the LORD’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a woman” (Judges 4:9 NLT). At first, it might have been presumed that Deborah referred to herself, but that was not the outcome.
As agreed, Deborah accompanied Barak and the soldiers up to Mount Tabor. Sisera responded by moving his massive army with its iron chariots to the Kishon River Valley.8 Those flatlands could have been advantageous to Sisera and his iron chariots, but God caused it to rain, the river overflowed, and Sisera’s retreating army of chariots was swept away. “Barak chased the chariots and the army … Sisera’s whole army died by the edge of the sword; not even one survived” (Judges 4:16 NET). Just as Deborah prophesied, God gave a miraculous victory to Barak and the Israelite army; and her song of triumph confirmed it.
(6) This valley is a fertile plain, also known as the Plain of Esdraelon, and the Plain of ex‑ tending to the east is the Valley of Jezreel.
“The river of Kishon swept them away, that ancient river, the river Kishon” (Judges 5:21).
Sisera abandoned his chariot and escaped the battle. He fled to the tent of Jael where he sought protection (the Kenites were friends with King Jabin). Jael agreed to conceal Sisera and she gave him some milk to drink.
After he fell asleep from exhaustion, she killed him by driving a tent peg through his temple. When Barak arrived in pursuit of Sisera, he discovered that Deborah’s prophecy had been fulfilled: a woman, in this case Jael, received the glory for victory over Sisera (Judges 4:17‑22).
Lessons From Deborah
What can we learn from the example of Deborah’s godly leadership? She was sought for her wise decisions. She was recognized as “a Mother in Israel” (Judges 5:7). She boldly spoke God’s commands. She honored and praised God in a song of victory (Judges 5). She lived up to the meaning of her name — bee, busy, patient, industrious, useful. There were no scandals or controversies about her life and Deborah’s godly leadership brought peace to the nation of Israel for 40 years.
We can follow her example and make sound decisions and wise choices, emulate courage and faith in the overruling providence of God, and show a concern for the needs of others. We are reminded that “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self‑discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7 NLT).
(7) The scarlet cord utilized to protect her household could have been made from the coarser flax fibers, woven together into twine, and then braided into
(8) Scarlet — This resembles the Passover of the first‑ born, described in Exodus 12:13, when the Israelites remained in the house, “covered by the ” It also symbolizes the shed blood of the ransom sacrifice of Jesus.
Deborah — A Judge and Prophetess
Israel was primarily a patriarchal society. Deborah was the only woman recorded as a judge during the period before the nation became a monarchy. It was when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25 NASB). She was revered as a wise leader. “She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites came to her to have their disputes decided” (Judges 4:5 NIV).
The Hebrew word for judge is Strong’s H8199 shaphat. In scripture, it means to deliver or to rule. A judge in Israel sought guidance from God through prayer and meditation before making a ruling. Some judges were also prophets who delivered a word from God. Their responsibility was not limited to settling controversies, giving verdicts, and executing judgments. They also followed Jehovah’s instructions to provide leadership for military action against Israel’s oppressive enemies.
The book of Judges records a continued pattern of misbehavior by the Israelites. Seeming to forget God’s overruling providence, they turned to idolatry and wickedness, which inevitably led them into bondage. In their distress, they repeatedly called upon God to rescue them. Moved with compassion, He provided deliverance.
Ruth — A Faithful Daughter‑in‑Law
During the time of the judges, a famine in Bethlehem‑Judah caused Elimelech and his wife Naomi and two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, to move east to the country of Moab. Elimel‑ ech died. The sons each married a Moabite9 woman — Mahlon married Ruth and Chilion married Orpah. Within ten years the sons also died and the three widows remained in Moab (Ruth 1:1‑5).
When Naomi heard that conditions in her homeland had improved, she decided to return to Bethlehem. She encouraged each of her daughters‑in‑law to return to her mother’s home and remarry. Reluctantly Orpah left. “But Ruth10 said, Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16 NASB).
The barley harvest was beginning when Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem. To help with their support, Ruth went to glean11 in a nearby field. The owner of the field was a wealthy man named Boaz. He was generous to her because he knew about her loyalty to her mother‑in‑law. Ruth told Naomi of Boaz’s kindness and continued to glean in his field through the remainder of the harvest (Ruth 1:22‑2:23).
Naomi knew Boaz was a close relative of Elimelech’s family that could fulfill the Levi‑ rate12 obligation to marry Mahlon’s widow, Ruth, to carry on the family inheritance. Naomi sent Ruth to Boaz’ threshing floor at night and told her, “When he gets ready to go
(9) A Moabite is a descendant of Moab, Lot’s son with his eldest daughter, who seduced him after making him drunk with wine (Genesis 19:31‑33, 37).
(10) Ruth’s name aptly means friendship, Strong’s
(11) “When you gather in the harvest of your land, you must not completely harvest the corner of your field, and you must not gather up the gleanings of your harvest You must leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 23:22 NET).
(12) Levirate law directed that if a married man died with no children, the duty of a brother or near kinsman was to marry the widow. The son of that union would be considered the offspring of the first husband (Deuteronomy 25:5‑10).
(13) to sleep, take careful notice of the place where he lies down. Then go, uncover his legs, and lie down beside him. He will tell you what you should do” (Ruth 3:4 NET). Ruth did exactly as Naomi had advised.
In the night Boaz was startled to find a woman lying at his feet. When he inquired who it was, Ruth answered, “I am your servant Ruth … Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian‑redeemer of our family” (Ruth 3:9 NIV).
Boaz blessed her and agreed to do all that was required, further noting that “everyone in the village knows that you are a worthy woman” (Ruth 3:11 NET). Though he was a close relative, he disclosed that there was a nearer relative than he. He would talk to the other man; and he did not spread his cloak over her at that time. She remained at his feet until morning (Ruth 3:12‑14).
Early that day, Boaz discussed the issue with the other male relative before ten elders at the city gate. The other man was willing to purchase the land from Naomi, but he declined to risk losing his own inheritance by marrying Ruth. He surrendered his right of redemption and confirmed the agreement. “It was the custom in Israel for anyone transferring a right of purchase to remove his sandal and hand it to the other party. This publicly validated the transaction. So the other family redeemer drew off his sandal as he said to Boaz, You buy the land” (Ruth 4:7‑8 NLT). Boaz was then eligible to marry Mahlon’s widow, Ruth.
Boaz and Ruth married and had a son. “And they named him Obed. He became the father of Jesse and the grandfather of David” (Ruth 4:17 NLT). Ruth was the daughter‑in‑law of Rahab and the great grandmother of King David. Her loving story in the book by her name conveys that she was courageous, industrious, steadfast, and compassionate. It illustrates that faith in God can lead a believer from living an ordinary life to an extraordinary future.
A review of the lives of these women in ancient Israel illustrates how their faith was demonstrated through their deeds. Although they were Gentiles, Rahab and Ruth each recognized and believed that Israel’s God was the one true God. Rahab risked her life to hide the two Jewish spies. Ruth left her homeland and family to live with God’s chosen people. Their faith was greatly rewarded, as they both were assimilated into the nation of Israel and became ancestors of Jesus through Boaz, Rahab’s son and Ruth’s husband.
Rahab is listed in Hebrews 11:31 for her unwavering conviction that God’s people would spare her life and the lives of her family. Although Deborah is not specifically named, four other judges — Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah — are included in the next verse (Hebrews 11:32). Barak followed God into a formidable battle against a threatening enemy, relying on Deborah’s reassuring faith as she accompanied him.
Let us encourage one another on to victory by remembering the words of our Master: “What is impossible for people is possible with God” (Luke 18:27 NLT).
“Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 NIV).
Let us follow the one true God and strive to do His will, regardless of circumstances and possible consequences. “Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants. Then all your other needs will be met as well” (Matthew 6:33 NCV).
“So then, dear brothers and sisters, be firm. Do not be moved! Always be outstanding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58 NET).