I just finished reading a great book about a chapter in WWII history that I had not heard of before. Apparently, I’m not alone in that because the title of the book is, The Forgotten 500. It chronicles one of the greatest rescue and escape stories ever—but until recently it was virtually unknown—hardly anyone had heard about it.
And there’s a reason for that. You see, the U.S., British, and Yugoslav governments withheld details of this story for decades. It was labeled “TOP SECRET.” So—I’m letting you in on some classified stuff today! Aren’t you glad you came?!
The book tells about a time in the war when the allies were bombing Nazi oil fields and refineries in Romania. The bombers—mostly B-24’s—flew out of bases in Italy and several of those planes were shot down forcing hundreds of allied airmen to parachute into Yugoslavia. These airmen were fed and protected by the people who were under the leadership of a Serbian general named Draza Mihailovich. Understand—the people who helped our G.I’s were peasants.
They were poor—but they shared their meager resources with these downed airmen at great personal sacrifice. I mean, they went hungry so the Americans could eat.
And Mihailovich and his forces were no better off. They were poorly armed and trained but they bravely hid and protected these men—right under the noses of the Nazi’s. Many of his soldiers died to protect the airmen.
Well, when the U.S. heard rumors that over 500 men—many of them wounded—were in Yugoslavia they sent in four spies—members of the OSS—to investigate. These spies saw firsthand the good work that Mihailovich and his people were doing and they came up with a plan to rescue these guys. They directed the peasants and any of the downed airmen who were physically able to construct an airfield on the side of a mountain. Cattle grazing there fooled German bomber pilots who flew over the area into thinking it was nothing but a pasture. When the airstrip was finally done C-47’s flew in and took out 12 airmen per plane at a time—in a series of multiple flights including fighter escort until all 500 were safely home.
One of my favorite parts of the book was when the airmen were finally on board the planes and about to take off—knowing they had a long cold flight home—they all threw their boots and coats out of the planes—to give to the peasants who had taken such good care of them all those months. It shows the bond that developed between these airmen and Mihailovich and his people.
Anyway, it was an amazing success and to help you see HOW amazing—do you remember the famous allied escape from a German POW camp portrayed in the movie, “The Great Escape?”
Well, it involved only 200 men and only 76 were successful. The reason this rescue of 500 guys was kept secret for so long—the reason these 500 were forgotten—is because of the work of another spy—a communist spy who held an important position in the British government. He was able to convince allied leaders that Mihailovich was a bad guy—and that another general in Yugoslavia, a man named Tito was a good guy. That became the political mindset of the allies.
I mean this communist spy was very good at his job. With that kind of thinking—with those “politics” firmly in place—the allies begrudgingly worked with Mihailovich to get the allied airmen out—but they refused to help him in his struggles against the Nazis. All the aid went to Tito and in this way the Allies unknowingly helped him become the communist dictator of Yugoslavia after the war.
Well, these 500 airmen could care less about politics. They would NOT remain silent. They lobbied their government to do something to thank Mihailovich. And finally their voice was heard. In 1948 President Truman awarded Mihailovich the Legion of Merit. Sadly, that was two years after Mihailovich was executed by Tito and the communists. To make matters worse, even then the award was kept secret for several more decades when it was finally presented to Mihailovich’s daughter—sixty years after the amazing rescue.
The Forgotten 500 is a great book because it shows the power of spies—-for good or ill. I mention it—not to suggest a potential “beach read”—but because the next person in the Bible I want us to “connect with” had a lot to do with spies. In fact, she ended up marrying one. Her name is Rahab and we read about her life in Joshua, chapter 2. Open your Bibles to that chapter.
Now to make sure you truly appreciate the excitement and fully understand the lessons we can learn from this true-to-life spy adventure—let me give you more information about the SETTING of today’s text. Four decades prior to the events in this part of the Bible, the people of Israel had arrived at the Promised Land and Moses sent 12 spies in to do some recon.
Ten of those twelve came back saying it could not be done. They said since the land was occupied by giants, it was unconquerable. There was no way they could win. The Canaanites were just too big! But two of the spies—Joshua and Caleb—vehemently disagreed with this hopeless assessment. They recommended an immediate attack—-because they believed God would give them the victory. Their courageous words had no effect because the other spies had already started spreading their “it can’t be done” message throughout the community. All night long the Israelites grumbled against Moses once again longing for the “good old days of slavery” under the pharaoh. They did not want to go into the Promised Land.
Well, sometimes the best punishment is to do what a rebellious child says—and this is what our Heavenly Father did. He basically said, “You don’t want to go into the Promised Land? Okay, you don’t have to.” And He banished an entire generation of His people from entering, except for two people: Joshua and Caleb—Nabal’s distant relative. These rebellious childish people wandered in the desert forty years, until they died out.
That brings us to our text from Judges 2. This time of punishment has passed. Moses is dead and Joshua is in charge. He’s about to lead the next generation of Hebrews to cross the Jordan river and enter Canaan. Now—understand this is still occupied territory and things haven’t changed much in the past forty years. If anything, the cities would have become more heavily fortified and the people would be just as big—but that’s okay because in their wanderings, the Hebrews have matured to the point that they have learned winning battles isn’t about them. It’s about God. They’ve learned to trust God to empower them to win. We would be wise to learn the same lesson as we face life’s giant-sized struggles!
Well, they are finally about to enter Canaan. So, in a sense, it’s the day before D-Day. And, like any good commander, before the invasion begins Joshua wanted to gather information about the enemy. As it says in Joshua 2:1, “Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. [He told them] ‘Go, look over the land—especially Jericho.’” Now—the Hebrew nation was camped about seven miles east of the Jordan. Jericho was located about seven miles west of the Jordan almost directly opposite them. And Joshua specifically mentioned this city as the focus of this particular reconnaissance mission—because it was a formidable fortress city guarding the pass leading westward into the mountainous regions of Canaan. Conquering it would give Israel an important foothold into the Promised Land, which is no doubt the reason Jericho was so fortified in the first place.
Well, in Joshua’s mind it was important to find out as much as possible about its defensive capabilities before they mounted an attack. No doubt this brand-spanking new leader wanted these two to bring him information of Jericho’s walls and gates, its state of preparation—the number of its inhabitants, the size of its army, etc. One thing I would point out is that the people of land had been marked for destruction way back in Genesis 15:16 when, after foretelling the exodus from Egypt, God said to Abraham, “In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here [to Canaan], for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
Well, the time had now come. The Amorites had used their God-given freedom of choice to continue in their sin, to turn away from God, such that their culture had degenerated past the point of no return—degenerated to the point that it had reached God’s maximum tolerance level.
Understand: our Heavenly Father didn’t cause this to happen, but He knew it would, so He had promised this land to Israel.
I also want you to note that the activities of these two spies were absolutely top secret. Unlike the 12 spies who had entered Canaan 40 years earlier, the work of these two was known only to Joshua. In my mind they were similar to television’s Mission Impossible teams—only the highest level of government knew of their assignment. Perhaps they received their orders on a special scroll designed to self-destruct after telling them that if they were captured Joshua would disavow any knowledge of their actions! That’s stretching things a bit but Joshua did have them go secretly. None of the Israelites knew of their assignment. These two were to report back to Joshua and Joshua only. And understand: He wasn’t asking them for feedback, just to gather the information and get it back to him. He wasn’t going to give them a press conference when they returned—so the people could discuss what they found out among themselves and then decide whether to cross over the Jordan or not. No, only Joshua knew they were going, and only he would hear their report when they returned. This wasn’t about public opinion. Conquering Jericho was God’s orders.
So, these two men probably left camp under the cover of darkness in the wee hours of the morning while everyone was asleep—and after a brisk two-hour walk they arrived at the Jordan. I imagine that after swimming across they changed into clothing similar to the residents of this area—“Jericho outfits” they had carefully assembled and kept dry holding them above their heads. Then after changing they had another two-hour walk before arriving at the gates of Jericho in time to blend in with the morning rush hour.
Now, in those days there was no centralized government in Canaan. Instead, each city ran its own affairs. Jericho was sort of like D.C. in that it was independent from other states around it.
Actually, it was more of a “city-state” than a city. It had its own army and king or “kinglet.”
Well, apparently the spies were able to at least enter Jericho undetected. It was a large city and people came and went all the time. Perhaps they posed as traveling merchants or traders. Verse 1 says that once they were within the city’s thick walls, they entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and they stayed there. This sounds like something James Bond would do, but not two Jewish spies. Right?
So, why would two members of God’s chosen nation enter a house of ill repute? There are several potential reasons.
- First, the presence of strangers in this kind of establishment would not arouse undue suspicion.
Traveling foreigners were common there so they wouldn’t stand out.
- Plus, someone in Rahab’s line of work would be knowledgeable of public affairs, no pun intended.
I mean a house of ill repute was a good place to gather information.
- And then, the fact that the house was located on the top of the wall would make it a great place to complete their assignment.
They could look out over the city and monitor troop movements and defenses.
- Another reason to choose her house was that it offered a method of escape since it was located on the exterior city wall which meant its windows faced outward.
But, you know, I think the main reason they went to Rahab’s house was that God led them there.
We’ll talk more about this later, but for now suffice it to say that God sent them there because He knew the desires of her heart. He knew Rahab yearned to know Him and serve Him. Well, unfortunately the spies failed in their efforts to remain undetected. Perhaps their disguises weren’t good enough or maybe a client overheard as they identified themselves to Rahab. But someone found them out and told the king, perhaps hoping to claim a reward for catching spies of the huge Jewish nation that everyone knew was camped directly across the river. And the king immediately dispatched soldiers to Rahab’s house, no doubt expecting Rahab to do her patriotic duty and turn the spies in. But instead she committed the capital offense of treason. She hid the men under stalks of flax which she had laid on her roof, stalks that were probably always kept there in case a client needed to be hidden from his jealous wife.
I can’t help but remember one of our mission trips to the D.R. We arranged for some of our team to stay in an air-conditioned motel with hot water showers instead of Pastor Carlos’ un-air-conditioned cold-water showers compound. And that’s okay—no criticism inferred! By the way, Carlos has air-conditioning now—still cold showers though. Anyhow, it turned out that the motel they used was actually more of a brothel—a place for romantic rendezvouses. The rooms didn’t have flax stalks to hide under—but they did all have little “escape” doors for the “extra guest” to enter and leave without being seen. We never put a group there again.
Well, when the guards came looking for these to agents, Rahab said they weren’t there and sent the soldiers on a wild goose chase. After the soldiers left, Rahab asked the spies to spare her life and the lives of her family when the city was destroyed. And the spies agreed. As a secret code, they instructed her to leave a scarlet rope hanging in the window of her home so that the Jewish army would know not to destroy it. Then she helped them escape via a rope from a window on the wall—giving them instructions so that they could avoid capture and return to Joshua and the rest of the army.
Okay, that is basically the story. What can we learn from it? How does Rahab’s story connect with ours? Or, keeping with our spy theme: What vital information did these Israeli agents uncover in their covert operation?
(1) Here’s one thing. These spies discovered that: GOD SHOWS.
In other words, lost people NOTICE when God is at work in His people. GOD SHOWS. After the soldiers left on their wild goose chase, Rahab spoke to those two spies. She told them that she had heard of the miracles God had been doing with and for the people of Israel. Perhaps her customers, travelers from afar, had brought her news of how God had dried up the Red Sea so that the entire nation could cross on dry ground—and that He had led them to conquer the Amorite Kings Og and Sihon, including the total destruction of their walled cities.
But somehow this lost, pagan woman had heard of the mighty works of the God of Israel and it made her believe in His power. In fact she spoke of the takeover of all Canaan by the Hebrew people as if it were already an accomplished fact. In Joshua 2:9 she says to them, “I know that the Lord has given this land to you.” Rahab also said that all of Jericho was afraid of the people of Israel. Listen to her words: “A great fear has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you.”
In short, Rahab and her countrymen saw God at work in and through His people! But, unlike her fellow Amorites, Rahab’s response was to leave her sinful lifestyle and embrace a personal faith in God. In essence, Rahab said, I believe in your God. I believe He is the one TRUE God. Or to use her words, “I believe the Lord your God is God in Heaven above and on the earth below.”
Now, in this statement she referred to God as “YAHWEH.” She didn’t use a Canaanite name for God, but the covenant name that the Hebrew people used for their personal God. And this reminds us that, even today, when people like Rahab see things happening in the lives of other people that can only be explained by their relationship with God—well it makes them yearn to have that kind of covenant relationship with God as well. They believe that God really is God because they see His people doing things that could only be explained by His presence and power. And you know, if Rahab thought that what she had heard about God’s power was something—she need only wait a few more chapters to see firsthand His power flowing through His people.
You remember the story: acting on God’s instructions the people of Israel marched around the huge, impregnable walls of Jericho for seven days. And on the seventh day they marched around it not once but seven times and on the seventh time they gave a loud shout and a miracle happened. Just as God said, the mighty walls fell down—all of the walls that is—except the portion containing Rahab’s home. All the residents of Jericho were destroyed, except Rahab and her family.
Rahab heard with her own ears and then saw with her own eyes the power of God working in and through His people. This made her long to know Him even more. So, the investigative work of these spies helps us to see that a genuine, deep, faith-relationship with God involves an individual or group of individuals—trusting God enough to allow Him to use them to do things—VISIBLE THINGS—things they could not do on their own. When we foster this kind of co-laborer relationship with God the world can’t help but notice. What they see makes them hunger to know our wonder-working God as well.
Now, how many of you have heard someone say, “God will never give me more than I can bear” or “God will never ask me to do something I can’t do?” Well, the Bible does not say that.
If I have real faith in God, He will definitely ask me to do things I can’t bear—things I can’t do on my own! In the Bible God continually gives people tasks that they cannot accomplish on their own strength. He ordered Gideon to reduce the size of his army from 32,000 to 300 so that it would be obvious that victory had God’s power as its source. He empowered Samson to defeat an entire Philistine army using only the jaw bone of a mule as a weapon. Jesus commissioned His first followers, a handful of men and women, to turn the world upside down and then empowered them to do exactly that. 2nd Corinthians 4:7 says God does this kind of thing, “to show that the power is from Him and not from us.” Henry Blackaby writes, “The kind of assignments God gives are always God-sized. They are always beyond what people can do, because He wants to demonstrate His nature, His strength, His provision—and His kindness to His people and to a watching world.”
Christian, people are watching.
And when they see us doing things that can only be explained by the power of God, it awakens their hunger for faith as it did in the heart of Rahab. The world pays attention when we let God use us to accomplish God-sized tasks—whether it be responding to illness or hardship or the death of a loved one with an incomprehensible faith-fueled hope, or whatever. I mean a genuine faith relationship with our living God is one in which people look at the way you live your life and say, “God is in that. God is doing something in that person’s life.”
Now think about it Redlander. What kind of faith relationship do you have with God? Is it a safe but shallow one in which you only do what you can do? Do people see God at work in your life? Remember Jesus said, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to Me.” (John 12:32) Rahab’s faith story shows that if we lift God up by allowing Him to do impossible things through us, our peers will notice, and they will be drawn to Jesus!
Romans 10:17 says that “faith comes by hearing…” Well, what are people hearing about you and your faith? What God-sized thing is God doing in your life? Here’s a second lesson these spies and their experience with Rahab can teach us.
(2) GOD REVEALS
God REVEALS Himself to ALL people who seek Him. I mean, these two spies learned the amazing fact that God’s love wasn’t limited to the Hebrew nation. They learned—even before Peter penned these words—that “God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2nd Peter 3:9) They saw that God loved even the Amorites—that it was they who rejected Him, not the other way around. They discovered this because when this Amorite woman sought God, He answered. When she reached out to God, she found Him reaching back to her! These spies learned that as God says in Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.” They found that as Isaiah 30:18 says, “The Lord longs to be gracious. He rises to show compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him.”
Listen. God knew that Joshua didn’t really need to know the city’s defenses. God knew how He was going to enable them to conquer that fortified city. But He didn’t stop Joshua from sending the spies, did He? Why? Why did he let Joshua send those men on an unnecessary and potentially dangerous mission? God did it because their mission (unbeknownst to even them) was not to scout the city’s defenses but rather to get to Rahab, this woman God knew longed to know Him.
The situation here is similar to that in John 4:4 where we are told that Jesus, “had to go through Samaria.” Well, Jesus didn’t have to take the Samaritan road because it was the only road to Galilee; it was not. Usually another way was taken. No, He had to take that road because there was a seeker, a lonely woman thirsty for God, residing there. And so Jesus entered Samaria to save that woman and the rest of her village who would respond to His message.
Well, in a similar way these two spies were sent to Jericho to save Rahab. This is why they had to go to Jericho. God sent them there to a woman who was seeking to know Him. He did that because God wants us to seek Him. He loves it when we do.
When Harry Truman became president, he worried about losing touch with common, everyday Americans, so he would often go out and be among them. Those were in simpler days, when the president could take a walk like everyone else. One evening, Truman decided to take a walk down to the Memorial Bridge on the Potomac River. When he grew curious about the mechanism that raised and lowered the bridge, he made his way across the catwalks and came upon the bridge tender—who was eating his evening supper out of a tin bucket. The man showed absolutely no surprise when he looked up and saw the best-known and most powerful man in the world. He just swallowed his food, wiped his mouth, smiled, and said, “You know, Mr. President, I was just thinking of you.” According to Truman’s biographer, David McCullough, it was a greeting that Truman adored and never forgot. God is like that. He loves it when we THINK about Him. He responds when we SEEK Him as he did here with Rahab. That’s why God let Joshua send those two spies.
At this point, let me remind you of a very important principle, something all Christians should never forget. In a very real sense you are a spy. As a child of God you live in a dangerous, fallen world as an alien behind enemy lines. You may think you are here to make a living. You may think you are here to enjoy your leisure time. But the real reason you are here is to make an eternal difference in the lives of lost people by telling them about the love of Jesus. And the best agents, the most mature Christians, know this. So, they are always listening for the Spirit’s call to go and witness to a seeker, a co-worker, perhaps someone who came to the ROC to play basketball or volleyball. They know that they could get orders at any moment, orders to minister to a friend, or a co-worker or a neighbor, someone who yearns to know God. So, as Peter puts it, they are always prepared, “to give an answer to everyone who asks them to give the reason for the hope that they have.” (1 Peter 3:15)
Do you get my drift here? We don’t have to WISH we were secret agents, because in a very real sense, we already are! Well, fellow agent, let me urge you to be ready, be attentive, because you could get orders any day and every day because this world is full of Rahabs—lost people, people who have heard of God and want to know Him but don’t know how.
Here’s a third truth these spies “uncovered” —a third way Rahab’s story intersects with ours.
(3) Through His amazing grace, God SAVES
This spy adventure underscores the fact that our salvation is based on the GRACE alone. Think of it. Rahab had nothing going for her, humanly speaking. She didn’t deserve to know God. She was a Gentile—a foreigner to the covenant between God and the Hebrew people. She was an Amorite, part of a corrupt and vile nation that had been marked for destruction, people who sacrificed children in their depraved religious practices. She was a prostitute, someone who made their living by breaking God’s law. Yet when she reached out to God, in His amazing grace our Holy God reached back and not only saved her but went on to use her life in a powerful way. You see, after the literal fall of Jericho, Rahab was taken back to live with the people of Israel. She married a Jewish man named Salmon whom tradition says was one of those two spies (this is the romance aspect of this story) and together they had a son named Boaz. Boaz was the husband of Ruth and the father of Obed which would make him Rahab’s grandson. And Obed was the father of Jesse, who was her great grandson. And Jesse was the father of David—yes, the King David—who was her great, great grandson. And not only that, but as Matthew Chapter 1 reminds us, out of the line and lineage of David and his great great grandmom, came Jesus, the Christ, the only Son of God.
So, in His amazing grace God used Rahab, in spite of her sin. She’s a perfect example of the principle of grace that we find in 1st Corinthians 1:27-29 where Paul says, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised.”
Rahab’s life shows that we don’t receive God’s gift because we deserve it. We aren’t given eternal, abundant life because of what we do, but because of our faith in what He has done.
We are saved because of our faith in His grace, His power. Do you remember the secret code that the spies gave Rahab to prevent her home from destruction when the city fell? She was to hang a scarlet chord out her window, and if she did her life would be spared. In my mind this is a symbol of the fact that we too are saved from destruction by our faith in the crimson blood of Jesus. As 1 John 1:7 says, “The blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin.”
LET US PRAY