Faith, the Foundation
“The righteous shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17, ESV).
By Matt Kerry
God appreciates those who love and trust Him (Proverbs 3:5-10). They are precious in His sight (Psalms 116:15). As their lives and wills are submitted to God, He develops in them an abiding faith.
The Apostle Paul and James describe the importance of both faith and works. Faith is vital. But true faith is accompanied by works that demonstrate faith. Thus, James observes, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). Faith should spur us to action consistent with a life of love and devotion to our Heavenly Father.
The scriptures speak more often of men, they also testify of many women whose lives and conduct testify of their faith — judges, disciples, prophetesses, and deaconesses, who are noble examples, worthy of our appreciation and emulation. Their examples may lead us to helpful introspection. Is our faith strong? Are we motivated by faith? Are we induced to submit to the will of God, as they were?
Rahab, Jephthah’s daughter, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, all displayed resilient faith with supporting works that show the importance to them of the will and providence of God. The faith of these women demonstrates their trust in God’s will, which caused dramatic and sudden changes in their lives.
Israel’s escape from Egypt and their subsequent military victories over the Amorites, Bashan, and others became legendary. Rahab learned of God’s protection and shared with the two spies that the fear of their God across her land was great. “For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. And when we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (Joshua 2:10-11, NAS).
For a person in Jericho to hear these stories and then believe in the power of the Almighty God (who was not worshiped in Jericho) is compelling. But for Rahab to be moved to action by her faith is genuinely remarkable. We may assume that if the leaders of Canaan learned of Rahab’s betrayal, she would have been killed. For Rahab to provide refuge and the means of escape to the spies who were coming to destroy her city was an act of great risk, and vulnerability, and required great faith. If her daring plan had not succeeded, everything she had worked for would have been lost.
Imagine risking our profession, traditions, hobbies, comforts, community, way of life, and comfortable daily routines before knowing God was “in our corner” to protect us. Before we even knew Him. Could we envision risking everything in a single day? Could we leave all our life behind? Rahab chose to help the spies because she had faith that God was with them and could not be defeated.
Rahab stands as a figure of powerful and determined faith. She could have killed the spies and sent a message of fear back to the Israelites. She could have handed them over to the king for political advantage. A lesser person, determined to defend their way of life, would first consider those options. Instead, Rahab instantly told the spies the stories of their miraculous deliverance that she had heard. Perhaps her faith strengthened the faith of the Israelites when they heard about her support of their remarkable deliverance by God.
How refreshing it must have been for Rahab to leave behind her sinful profession and join a people committed to righteousness. Her decision reminds us of Jesus’ Parable of the Pearl of Great Price, which describes the value of the Kingdom of God. Rahab abandoned “all” she owned to obtain a much better future under the guidance of God. We do not see a life changed instantly like this again until Jesus says “follow me” to the Apostles on the seashore.
The account states that Rahab had flax on her roof, the raw ingredient for making linen. Rahab is like the flax on her roof. Just as fine linen represents the purity of the saints, a work completed by God, perhaps the flax on Rahab’s roof is indicative of the work God was preparing to do in her life. We see God’s work continuing in her life and lineage. Her son Boaz, her child, would be included in the lineage of Jesus (Ruth 4:17, Matthew 1:5). What an example of faith Rahab gifts to us! God is worth giving up all our possessions to choose Him!
Jephthah, the son of a harlot, was born because of his father’s adultery. His angry brothers cast him out of his family because of it (Judges 11:1-2) and he fled to Tob. But Jephthah became a “valiant warrior” and rose to command the Israelite army against Ammon when the Gileadites asked him to come back and fight for them against the king of Ammon. As he leaves his new city of Tob, Jephthah travels about forty to fifty miles south to defend the very people who had cast him out as worthless and undeserving. The night before the battle, he asks God for victory and seals his request with a fateful promise: “If you will let me defeat the Ammonites and come home safely, I will sacrifice to you whoever comes out to meet me first” (Judges 11:30-31, Contemporary English Version).
Jephthah’s promise to sacrifice “whoever” comes out to meet him from his house is unusual. However, during this time, animals would sometimes live on the first floor of some homes. We learn this from 1 Samuel 28:24, where a woman kept a “fattened calf in the house,” and from the parable of 2 Samuel 12:2-3 where a “poor man” kept a “ewe lamb” that “it did eat of his own morsel, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter” (ASV). Therefore, some who were poor had animals live in their homes with them.
The scriptures indicate that Jephthah was also poor since he was associated with “worthless fellows” (Judges 11:3, NAS). Therefore, we may reasonably assume that, with animals living in the house, Jephthah did not expect his daughter to be the first to emerge. When she was the first to emerge from the house, he faced an unimaginable choice: not fulfilling his oath to God versus sacrificing his daughter — his only child — to God.
Contrary to our first impression, this sacrifice would not have been a sacrifice that required her physical death. God abhors the sacrificing of humans (Jeremiah 32:35). However, Jephthah may have not realized this since he “rent his clothes” (Judges 11:35). Instead, the sacrifice would have been a commitment to the service of God. As such, of being devoted to God, she would remain celibate (Judges 11:37-40). With her life in front of her, Jephthah’s teenage daughter likely looked forward to having her own family, with children, and a husband who might love and care for her.
Through no fault of his own, Jephthah’s life experience included the constant disdain of his brothers because of his father’s poor choice. Surely one of Jephthah’s humble hopes would have been for his daughter to enjoy a much better life than his, with perhaps a family of her own one day. But God had other plans.
One of the most impressive responses of humility and faith to our Heavenly Father in the Bible is recorded by Jephthah’s daughter. “And she said to him, ‘My father, you have opened your mouth to the LORD; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the LORD has avenged you on your enemies, on the Ammonites” (Judges 11:36, ESV). Perhaps Jephthah initially thought he would have to sacrifice her to fulfill his promise to God. If so, the calming voice of his daughter and her understanding of the character and love of God would enlighten her father that her sacrifice would be fulfilled by her living a life of service to Him. Her immediate acceptance of this life of service displayed great faith.
A decision was made for her for the rest of her life. Her reaction was, “I will do it, especially considering what the Lord did for my father.” This young woman placed her life in God’s hands. It demonstrated a strength of faith especially remarkable in one so young.
Obedience to her father’s promise to God shows her love, respect, understanding, and selflessness for her father and for God. It shows that her father’s intentions were pure, and she trusted that God orchestrated these events.
There is a lesson for us hidden in this account. One of the most pleasing acts in the Bible comes from this young woman whose name is not recorded. As we think of the precious Hymn 229, “O, to be Nothing,” let us remember her selflessness. She voluntarily devoted her life with faith and acceptance and was happy to do the will of her Heavenly Father, even though her own father’s promise was made to God without her knowledge.
May we all exhibit faith, trust, and hope in God that accept His leading in our lives without “murmur nor repine.” Let us hear Jephthah’s daughter’s words from ancient times and follow her example of offering ourselves to the Lord. He is worthy of our life and trust.
Mary, the Mother of Jesus
“Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38, NAS). These are the words of a servant who has laid down her preferences for God. Mary’s statement is full of devotion, obedience, love, and faith. Her trust and conviction said that God was worthy. When Mary spoke these words to the angel Gabriel after he had proclaimed that she would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah, the Son of God, her words showed that the humble and accepting faith of God’s servants is sacred. How our hearts leap with joy when we read these words. Our Lord was to be born to save us, and this virtuous young woman gladly accepted the task of raising him.
“Without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6, NAS). Mary could not have found favor with God unless she first had faith. Thus, when Gabriel spoke and said, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God,” her faith was one fruit of the Spirit she possessed (Luke 1:30 NAS). She truly believed and lived according to her faith.
Mary’s simple words of acceptance and gratitude resonate with us today. Like Abraham, she was told that she would miraculously have a child. Like Esther, she would deliver a hard truth to her betrothed, and trust in God’s providential care that the message would be favorably received.
What profound shame she could have endured should a rumor have spread that she was unfaithful. According to the Law, she could have been stoned to death. But instead of worrying about these things, she told Joseph of Gabriel’s message. She joyously went to her cousin Elizabeth to see the other miracle of John the Baptist unfolding. What joy these two women must have shared — an intimate relationship of faith they experienced together.
Mary showed us an excellent example of how to react when we see God’s plans unfolding in our lives. When God gives us direction, we should not worry about what could go wrong. Instead, we should praise Him for His trustworthiness in what will go right, beyond our comprehension and ability to foresee. God is trustworthy.
While we cannot see every detail of God’s plans for our future, we believe in Him and follow His guidance. Are we sometimes afraid to tell others of the glad tidings of Jesus? Are we afraid to stand out to our coworkers or others? Are we sometimes concerned with our finances and worldly occupations? Have we had plans and visions for life and worldly affairs?
It is helpful to shift the gears of thought. Would our life, if read by others, inspire their faith, strengthen their character, or inspire them to also give up their life to serve God? Do the lives of these faithful women inspire our faith in God? Most people will never face scenarios like Rahab, Jephthah’s daughter, or Mary, the mother of Jesus. However, God’s calling to each of His faithful followers essentially asks the same of us — “give up your life.” Devote yourself by renewing your mind (Romans 12:2) until the “desires” you had in the world become “desires” of faith in God.
These faithful women of God show us that a life of faith is where a worthwhile life begins. We cannot start to walk the narrow way to God, unless we first believe that serving God with all our heart will be more exciting and fulfilling than anything the world may offer. Let us listen to these women’s lives, be moved in the spirit, be strengthened in faith, and devote ourselves fully to His service.
Categories: 2023 Issues, 2023-May/June, Matt Kerry