Well, I think you are all familiar with that theme song from Mission Impossible. From James Bond to Maxwell Smart, Ethan Hunt to Jason Bourne, our culture has always had a fascination with spies and their exploits. We like the danger and the intrigue, their artful disguises and technological gadgets, and the way they always come out on top against impossible odds.
Last Sunday we began a new worship series we’re calling “Be Strong and Courageous” by examining the Old Testament record of Joshua and learning that God made each of you to be a leader and the Scriptures reveal some principles for how you can lead and influence others in a good direction. Here are those principles:
You will lead well if you are willing to serve.
You will lead well if you are faithful to God.
You will lead well if you empower others.
You will lead well if you hold others accountable.
You will have led well if others reach the place God intends.
Now this week we are going to get immersed into a real-life spy story with all the thrills of a Hollywood production including covert insertion behind enemy lines, a damsel in distress, a secret coded message, a daring escape and even some romance.
Let’s look together at the book of Joshua, chapter 2:
1“Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.
2 The king of Jericho was told, “Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” 3 So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.”
4 But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. 5 At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.”
6 (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) 7 So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.
8 Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 9 and said to them, “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.
10 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. 11 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.
12 “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 13 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.”
14 “Our lives for your lives!” the men assured her. “If you don’t tell what we are doing, we will treat you kindly and faithfully when the Lord gives us the land.”
15 So she let them down by a rope through the window, for the house she lived in was part of the city wall. 16 She said to them, “Go to the hills so the pursuers will not find you. Hide yourselves there three days until they return, and then go on your way.”
17 Now the men had said to her, “This oath you made us swear will not be binding on us 18 unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house.
19 If any of them go outside your house into the street, their blood will be on their own heads; we will not be responsible. As for those who are in the house with you, their blood will be on our head if a hand is laid on them. 20 But if you tell what we are doing, we will be released from the oath you made us swear.”
21 “Agreed,” she replied. “Let it be as you say.” So she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window. 22 When they left, they went into the hills and stayed there three days, until the pursuers had searched all along the road and returned without finding them.
23 Then the two men started back. They went down out of the hills, forded the river and came to Joshua son of Nun and told him everything that had happened to them. 24 They said to Joshua, “The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.” – Joshua 2:1-24
Now what I want to do this morning is draw out of this historical account some Characteristics of Wise Leadership.
And in doing so, we must recognize that God says in His Word, the book of Proverbs, that wisdom begins or originates with a fear of the Lord.
That means if you want to lead your family, in your workplace, your church, with your friends or lead in any way with wisdom, you are only going to have access to that capability as you respect and worship God. So that truth forms the foundation for everything else we say this morning.
Here’s what we can learn from this ancient spy story:
Characteristics of Wise Leadership
Wise Leadership is not directed by popular opinion.
“Joshua secretly sent out two spies.” – Joshua 2:1
I’ve pulled this particular emphasis out, because it’s so different from what happened when the 12 spies had been sent into Canaan 40 years before. You remember what happened.
Ten of the spies, all except Joshua and Caleb, reported to all the Israelite people that the land was beautiful and productive, but it was inhabited by giant warriors who lived in fortified cities that they could not defeat. And all the people grew fearful and they wanted to turn back and travel back to Egypt. They said if Moses won’t lead us back, we will stone him and find a new leader!
And it was because of that rebellion that the people of Israel were consigned to wander in the Sinai wilderness for 40 years until all the adult generation who had been disobedient to God passed away.
Joshua learned then that you can’t allow popular opinion to set your agenda or control your actions. He didn’t tell the people that he was sending spies into Jericho, and when the spies returned with their report, they gave it only to him, instead of holding a big meeting where everyone could have their say.
Now the point here is not that you should only do what you think is best without taking into account the advice of others. In fact God often says in His word that His children are to seek wise counsel in matters to find success. But understand, wisdom is often not found in what the crowd or the masses think.
God speaks about this in His Word, too:
“The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” – II Timothy 4:3
Folks, we live in those times. Here is the truth (God’s Word). Here is wisdom. The wise application of this truth into every situation in our contemporary society comes from the leadership of the Holy Spirit, not from what the culture says is popular or trendy or in step with modern sensibilities.
Young people, if you want to be wise, if you want to lead, if you truly want to make a difference in this world, you will do well to always question the groupthink. But you will test it, not by what seems right to you, but against that which is reliable, that which is foundational, that which has shown itself to be true – God’s Word.
Let’s go on to the second characteristic:
Characteristics of Wise Leadership
Wise Leadership chooses honoring God as first priority.
“The woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, ‘. . . I don’t know which way they went.” – Joshua 2:4,5
Now passages like this in the Bible cause some people trouble. Because Rahab lied. She deceived. She committed treason against her own government.
And doesn’t the Bible say “do not lie?”
“Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.” – Exodus 20:16
“Speak the truth in love.” – Ephesians 4:15
“Do not lie to each other.” – Colossians 3:9
So did Rahab sin and God approved her sin? Or it’s okay to sin if it is for the greater good?
The answer to both questions is NO. Rahab did not sin. She chose to honor God as her first priority.
It’s interesting how God is at work here when you consider the whole story, the complete history. It’s recorded all the way back in Genesis chapter 15 how God told Abraham that his descendants would settle in Canaan after many generations. First, they had to be enslaved for 400 years, and during that time God would be patient with the people of Canaan, the Amorites, giving them time to repent of their worship of false gods.
When you jump ahead to the Joshua record, that time is past. God is going to allow the people of Canaan to reap the consequences for their faithlessness. But not for those who believe. Rahab wasn’t a particularly virtuous woman. She lived in a godless culture. But when it came time to choose, she chose God and life over godlessness and death.
As the Apostle Peter told the Jewish high priest when he was commanded not to preach and teach about Jesus anymore, “We must obey God rather than men.”
This is what the Hebrew midwives did when they ignored Pharaoh’s orders to kill all the newborn male babies. It’s what Corrie ten Boom’s father and her family did when they hid Jews from the Nazis in their home and helped them escape rather than turning them in and allowing them to be sent to their deaths in concentration camps.
Now will you ever be in a situation where you have to take such a courageous stand? Maybe so.
Perhaps you will have to say to friends, I won’t do that. Or I won’t treat someone that way. That goes against God’s teaching. And you may lose some relationships.
Maybe you will have to choose honoring God over some action that your workplace dictates. Will you remain loyal to God and His commandments when it may threaten your livelihood?
It’s possible that churches here in our country in the days to come may have to choose either to honor God or conform to government and cultural standards. If those things are in conflict, what should we do? Find a way to get along and not offend? That’s a worthy goal, but is it the first and most important principle?
Wise leadership will choose to honor God as the first priority.
Characteristics of Wise Leadership
Wise Leadership trusts God’s power and goodness.
“We have heard how the Lord dried up the Red Sea for you, . . . 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.” – Joshua 2:10-12
This explains why Rahab chose to honor God. She believed God’s power and trusted His goodness. Think about this – she is referring to an event that happened more than 40 years ago to the people of Israel as they left Egypt, before they had ever arrived on the doorstep of the land of Canaan there at the Jordan River.
You see, what God is doing in this world is not happening in secret. Rahab and her people saw God at work in and through the lives of His people. And unlike her fellow Amorites, Rahab’s response was to leave her sinful lifestyle and embrace a personal God.
She refers to the Lord as “Yahweh.” That’s not the Canaanite name for God. It’s the covenant name that the Hebrew people used for the God that they had a relationship with. Rahab is saying, “I believe the Lord your God is truly God, and I want what only He can give me. I will put my trust in Him.”
She’s a great example for us! When the culture around you questions God’s existence and undermines Scriptural truth and belittles your faith, you can be strong and courageous because you know that God is in charge, and He is going to deliver on all His promises. While there can be loss and suffering in following Jesus, God says that whatever you give up is not worthy to be compared with what He is doing in you and for you for eternity.
Wise leadership will trust God’s power and goodness when tough choices must be made.
Last one now:
Characteristics of Wise Leadership
Wise Leadership leads to greater blessing than can be imagined.
“Joshua spared Rahab with her family, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho, and she lives among the Israelites to this day.” – Joshua 6:25
Okay, skipping ahead to Joshua chapter 6, we see that the story turns out well for Rahab and her family. This is the blessing that we would expect, and it’s just what she was looking for as she expressed her faith to the two Hebrew spies.
But let me tell you the rest of the story:
Scarlet Thread of Redemption
Rahab – Salmon (son Boaz)
Ruth – Boaz (son Obed)
Jesse (King David)
King David (Jesus, both Matthew and Luke record as son of David)
You see, when Rahab expressed faith in God and hung that scarlet cord or thread out the window, our Holy God not only saved her and her family, but also worked through her life in a powerful way that brought redemption and grace to all of us.
After the fall of Jericho, Rahab married a Jewish man named Salmon whom tradition says was one of those two spies (this is the romance aspect of the story) and together they had a son named Boaz.
Boaz later became the husband of Ruth (whose own story of redemption is told later in the Old Testament) and the father of Obed which would make him Rahab’s grandson.
And then Obed was the father of Jesse, who was her great grandson.
And Jesse was the father of David- King David-who was her great, great grandson.
And not only that, but as the Gospels tell us, out of the line and lineage of David and his great great grandmother came Jesus, the Christ, the only Son of God.
God blessed you through Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute. Who would have believed that?
Do you think she knew how much influence she was going to have with her faith? No way. No way.
The best part of the story is always what God is doing. He is at work in history, in events and circumstances, in every moment of your life to bring His redemption and blessing to you and through you into the lives of others.
This is what He made you for. To know Him, to trust Him, and to enjoy His goodness forever. That scarlet thread hung out the window foreshadowed the crimson blood of Jesus that would be spilled on the cross for your sins, so that through your faith by God’s grace you might be saved.
Maybe today is the day for you to quit letting other influences lead you away from God.
You are ready to believe Him, to trust His power and goodness, to repent of your sinful, self-led life so that you can look to Jesus as your leader day by day.
The moment you make that choice, you will being to experience the redemption and the blessing that God always planned for you to enjoy.
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