What about Situational Ethics?

One passage that oft is misinterpreted to conclude that sometimes God allows sin, and approves of it, is found in the second chapter of Joshua.

The account is that of Rahab the Harlot, and how she protected the spies that Joshua had sent to Jericho to spy out the city. Recall from Hebrew history, that Joshua sent two spies into Jericho to determine what the situation was. As the Old Testament book gives the account of the chain of events, it is revealed that the spies “. . .came into an harlot's house, named Rahab, and lodged there” (Josh. 2:1). The king of Jericho, being made privy to the their presence, calls upon Rahab to bring the two spies to him. Her response is that she was not aware from where they came, nor what their purpose was, and that they had already left. If the king hurried he could send some men to capture them: she lied to him. Instead of betraying the spies, she deceived the king of Jericho.

So, the spies were kept safe, the Israelites conquered Jericho, and Rahab was saved alive. The astute Bible student will notice that two particular passages in the New Testament commends Rahab; first in Heb. 11:31, and James 2:25. Wait a minute! How is it that Rahab, having lied and deceived, would be so well commended (by the Holy Spirit) for such behavior which is clearly in contradiction to God's law that he had given to the His chosen people just 40 years prior,, “Thou shalt not bear false witness” (Ex. 20:16)? Are we to understand, that under certain circumstances, God allows, and approves, of sinful behavior, like lying? Those who promote the idea of situation ethics (that sin is a matter dependent upon the circumstances at hand) would like it so. This would introduce a bar which can be lowered conveniently at one's whim, being only subjective in nature. But, let's not be too hasty. Just what was Rahab commended for?

Heb. 11:31 By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.

Note carefully that for which she was commended: she perished not with them that believed not. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is often referred to as the great hall of faith of the Bible. In it the Hebrews writer lists a number of Old Testament God-fearing people who had exhibited their faith by what they did. Their belief had motivated them to action. This passage reveals that Rahab had faith that God had given the land to the children of Israel. Because of this belief Rahab hid the spies, having received them with peace. She gave no credence to the common belief of all of her fellow residents, in the strength and height of the walls, nor the level of fortification and preparation for assault.

In Josh. 2:9-11 She related how the hearts of all of the people in the land melted when they had heard that they had passed over the Jordan River at flood stage. The report was that the God of the Israelites had “dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, and that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed.” This could only have been accomplished by the power of their God. Her faith caused her to request safety when the assault began. She was told what to do to ensure their safety, both her and her family. Her faith caused her to obey the instructions given her by the spies. Then, and only then, would she be saved. Furthermore, they made it clear, that if she did not do those things specifically, then her blood, and the blood of her family would not be upon their heads, but upon hers.

James 2:25 likewise, also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? 26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

In this passage James proves that faith cannot be separated from the things which one does. As he said in v. 18, “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” In other words, ”If I can't see your faith in action, with no evidence to indicate to me otherwise, then you do not have faith to begin with.“ So it was with Rahab: she exhibited her faith by doing the things she was commanded to do; and, thereby found salvation from the destruction which came upon Jericho. Her faith was not dead; it was alive! And that faith saved her!

Careful observation of these two passages shows that Rahab was commended for her faith, and was not given “clearance” nor approval to lie in her risky situation. The spies did not order her to lie for them; that was her own decision. Rahab was not commended for her sins, but for her faith. Just as Abraham's, Davids, and other's activities were reliably recorded in the Bible, Rahab's lying was included as a matter of fact. The facts were reported without making a judgment call on her behavior. The accounts of these Old Testament characters' actions were not white-washed to try to leave one with the impression that they had not sinned. They were people, just like all of us, and the narrative did not color the events by leaving out those actions which are clearly sinful.

When Paul was addressing those Athenians, using the altar dedicated “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD” as a launching point to bring to their attention their errant polytheism, he said:

Acts 17:29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device. 30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: 31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead.

The days had passed when God would overlook their sins in bowing themselves to idols. Now God commands everyone, everywhere to repent. Why? Because God has appointed a day when all the world will be judged in righteousness.

Curtis A. Little, Royse City, TX

Curtis A. Little
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