The story of Rahab offers us a beautiful illustration of the sovereignty of God and human responsibility. This has been a much debated topic. Those who emphasize the God's sovereignty must guard against the temptation to be fatalistic. Scripture is clear that we are responsible for our actions and decisions. On the other hand, those who emphasize human responsibility must guard against the temptation of make God less than Who He is - making Him controlled or manipulated by human actions. The Scripture is also absolutely clear that God is God and can and does according to His Own will and none can oppose Him. While as finite human beings we can never completely understand the infinite God and His ways, we can find the Truth He has revealed. And He has revealed both that He is sovereign and we are responsible.
Let’s look at this as illustrated in the historical story of Rahab. First we will look at it from the perspective of the Sovereignty of God and then from the perspective of human responsibility.
God chose Rahab as a daughter before the dawn of time [Eph. 1:4-6]. Before the worlds were even created God was looking at her. While she was trapped in a heathen society enjoying the pleasures of sin, the Holy Spirit was at work molding her heart and opening her eyes. Since not one drop of Christ’s blood can be wasted, Rahab needed to be reached.
When the timing was perfect [Gal. 1:15-16] God sent two spies into Jericho to reach her. The spies thought they were there to find weaknesses in the city’s defences. God knew that was pointless - He was going to knock down the walls. Their real mission was to find Rahab and give her the opportunity to escape destruction. We are not told how they ended up on Rahab’s doorstep, but it was according to the sovereign will of God.
In addition, it was God’s will that someone spotted the spies and figured out what they were up to. If there had been no danger, then they would have quietly slipped out of the city taking a useless report back to Joshua and missing their real mission, It was vital that they met with Rahab and that she had the opportunity of helping them.
The Holy Spirit had worked on Rahab’s heart so that when the spies came knocking at her door she was ready to help them. At the risk of her life, she first hid them and then deceived their pursuers. She then gave the spies advice on how to avoid capture and, after securing their promise of saving her and her family, she helped them escape.
So we see that the Sovereign God was at work, choosing Rahab, softening her heart, opening her eyes, and orchestrating her deliverance.
When we look at it from the perspective of human responsibility we see that no one in this historical story was forced to act against their will. They all made choices based on what they desired or thought was best.
The king of Jericho and his people knew about the power of the Israelite’s God and that they were preparing to invade the land and they were afraid. But they chose to express their fear in resistance - not surrender. They put their trust in their gods and their walls and prepared for battle. In this we see how they could be responsible for their actions - they had the physical ability to make the right choice, but their moral commitment to evil would always prevent them from making that choice.
Joshua choose to send the two spies into Jericho. He did not know of God’s plan for the walls so it made perfect military sense to him to try and get some "intel" on what they were facing. In ancient warfare it could take years to conquer a well-defended city. The more they knew the better. It was his free choice to risk the lives of two of his men for this information.
The spies, of course, made the choice to go into the city and somewhere along the line they made the choice to seek refuge at Rahab’s house. Perhaps they considered it would seem natural for two strangers in the city to go to a known harlot’s house and perhaps the fact that it was on the city wall with the potential of giving them another avenue of escape played in their decision…but it was their decision.
Rahab also had to make her own decisions. She had to decide that she wanted to reject the only society she had known and join a strange people and serve their God. She had to decide to risk her life in protecting the spies. She also chose not to rely simply on their “good will” but made them promise to save her and her family And in order to receive her deliverance she had to choose to follow their instructions exactly…or no deal.
So we see that everyone made the decisions they thought were best for themselves. The sovereignty of God did not override their will or their responsibility and yet God’s will was accomplished.
Someone has said, “We need to live as if everything depends on God and work as if everything depends on us.” There is a kernel of truth there. As Christians we can walk out into life confident that the Sovereign God is in control. There is nothing that can happen to us that He does not allow for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God and our benefit. We can launch out in faith [not presumption] and take risks because we know the sovereignty of God.
On the other hand, we cannot excuse inactivity, laziness or fearfulness with the idea that since God is in control we don’t have to do anything. We have the ability and the responsibility to discern the will of God and operate our lives according to it.
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