In reading the Old Testament, you might get the impression that the Lord didn’t care much for Gentiles. He specifically ordered the Israelites to kill every man, woman, and child within the Promised Land, and he forbade them from making any type of treaty or negotiation with the Canaanites. Unfortunately, God’s people didn’t obey him in this regard, and just as he predicted, the Canaanites who lived among them swayed them away from worshiping the Lord into idolatry, which eventually led to their utter destruction.
However, if a Canaanite (or other Gentile) was willing to completely forsake their gods and wholeheartedly follow the one true Lord, then he'd welcome them with open arms. Every time a Gentile in the Old Testament really turned to the Lord, then the Lord would accept him, forgive him, and honor him with a place among his people. The problem was always religion, not race. Our Lord Jesus had at least two Gentiles in his lineage, and one of them has their story told in today’s passage.
Rahab had plenty of strikes against her. She was a prostitute, as James makes clear. She was a Gentile, and even worse a Canaanite, so she was under God’s death sentence. She didn’t have the benefit of the Torah or Moses’ leadership. The only things she knew about the Lord was what she'd heard second-hand from rumors and stories about what he'd done for Israel in Egypt and in the desert. But this was enough for her to switch sides, not just by declaring her allegiance to the Lord and his people, but in risking her life.
Why is it that in this entire city the spies only found one friend? Presumably the rest of the city had heard about what God had done for Israel. In fact, according to Rahab, the entire city’s “hearts melted in fear and everyone's courage failed.” There’s no indication that the city attempted to surrender to Israel. Instead, they trusted in their own gods and their own resources, and they tried to capture the spies who had entered Jericho.
What was the difference between Rahab and her neighbors? The difference was that when she heard about what the Lord had done and what he planned to do, she acted on it. She hid the spies, and she followed their instructions about marking her house with the scarlet cloth which would preserve her life and the lives of everyone in her home when God’s final judgment fell.
What was the Lord's response to her? He forgave her past, he adopted her into his family, he incorporated her into the lineage of Jesus, and he held her up as an example of faith in action for us to follow, not once, but twice in Scripture.
No matter what your background, God stands ready to forgive and restore and honor you. The other point to remember: How much you know is not nearly as important as acting on what you have. To those of us who were raised in the church and have benefited from a lifetime of Bible teaching, Jesus' words should give us cold sweats: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
Lord Jesus, please change me. I want, I need to live up to what I already know.