Were People Saved in the Old Testament?
Recently, I read through the Book of Joshua and came across a striking example of Old Testament salvation in the story of the harlot Rahab. The way I’d like to proceed with this examination is by establishing New Testament guidelines for how one is saved and then see if Rahab, an Old Testament character, meets them.
In Romans 10:10 Paul writes about salvation. He writes, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” For Paul, salvation occurs when a person believes or has faith [in Christ through the gospel Rom 1:16] and makes a positive confession of that faith. The apostle James adds a layer in James 2:17 when he says, “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”
- Good works
You may have noticed that there is nothing mentioned in our guidelines about a few key elements of salvation. Among these absences are; Election, Calling, Conviction of sin, Enabling Grace, Indwelling of the Holy Spirit, Perseverance. All of these are being assumed as being in operation for the sake of brevity. Some would also fall in sub-categories under one of the three guidelines.
For example, the indwelling of the Spirit is the basis of a person’s ability to make a positive confession in Christ. This is seen clearly in a text like 1 Cor 12:3, which says, “Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says ‘Jesus is accursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.” Evidence could be given for all the other elements of salvation as well, so for our purposes, our “boiled down” guidelines will suffice.
Now let’s look at Rahab’s account in Joshua 2 and see if she meets these requirements. Here are the relevant passages:
“But she [Rahab] had brought them [Jewish spies] up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof. Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. 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 devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you [hidden them from danger], you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death…Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household.” (Bold is the author’s emphasis).
Does Rahab Hold Up?
Does Rahab meet the New Testament standard laid down by Paul and James? The highlights in the text above from Joshua 2 indicate points where her account fits our criteria. We will look at each one individually in order to see clearly that even in the Old Testament salvation begins with faith, has an element of confession and is accompanied by good works.
“I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. 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 devoted to destruction” (Jos 2:9-10). God’s own exploits had reached Rahab’s ear. She knew about God’s deliverance from Egypt through the parting of the sea and the subsequent military campaigns waged by the people of Israel under Moses and then Joshua. She knew what God had done and it created faith in her heart to believe that Jericho could not and would not stand before God and his people.
Rahab did not simply stop at believing. Her belief led to a positive verbal confession. She declares, “for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath” (v. 11). Lest we minimize the importance of verbal confession in the saving of a person’s soul consider Mt 10:32 in which Jesus says that our confession [ESV uses acknowledgment] of him before men is directly connected to his confession or acknowledgment of us before the Father in heaven.
Rahab’s Good Works
However, in order for Rahab’s account to meet our criteria she needs more than faith and a positive confession, she needs action. This is what we find in verse 6 of Joshua chapter 2. “But she [Rahab] had brought them [Jewish spies] up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof.” Rahab’s faith in the ability of the God of Israel whom she confessed was God to take the city caused her to take drastic action. She hid the Israelite spies and in so doing put herself and her loved ones in peril.
We know from reading the conclusion of the account that Rahab’s faith was not misplaced and that she and her family were saved from the destruction that came upon Jericho. Rahab surely was saved in both a literal and a spiritual sense and we see that she does meet all three of our New Testament criteria. Rahab, an Old Testament saint, was truly saved by faith just as you and I are today.