Scripture references: Numbers 25; 31:15-16
Date: About 1410 b.c.
Name: Cozbi [KOZ-bih: “voluptuousness”]
Main contribution: Her attempt to corrupt the Israelites failed.
When the Israelites approached the land of the Midianites on their way to Canaan, the Midianite ruler was frightened. He called for Balaam, a man reputed to have influence with supernatural powers, to curse Israel for him. But God intervened, and each time Balaam attempted to curse God’s people he was forced to utter a blessing instead.
Still eager to please his employer, Balaam suggested that the Midianites attempt to get the Lord to curse His people for them! Balaam reasoned that if young Midianite women were sent to the outskirts of the Israelite camp, they would be able first to seduce Israelite men sexually, and then induce them to worship their idols (cf. Num. 31:15, 16). Balaam reasoned that God would then turn against His unfaithful people, and the threat to Midian would be removed.
The king of Midian immediately activated Balaam’s plan. It succeeded, and a number of Israelites committed harlotry with the women of Moab. These invited the Israelites to sacrifice to their gods, “and the people ate and bowed down to their gods” (Num. 25:1, 2). This chapter identifies Cozbi as the daughter of an influential Midianite. She was so wanton that at the moment Moses was rebuking the Israelites, Cozbi entered the tent of an Israelite man “in the sight of Moses and in the sight of all the congregation of Israel” (Num. 25:6).
The Midianite plot aroused God’s wrath, but Balaam had not understood either God’s grace, justice, or God’s commitment to His covenant people. The guilty were punished and the community purified. God’s commitment to bless Israel was unshaken. What those who plotted against Israel did was to turn God’s wrath against them. In the end it was the Midianites and Balaam who lost their lands and their lives.
Cozbi was delighted to help Balaam carry out his plan to seduce the Israelite men and then get them to worship their gods. Even these pagans knew that God would not stand by while His people were sexually promiscuous and bowed down to other gods! But she wasn’t counting on godly men doing what was right. Phinehas, grandson of Aaron, “took a javelin in his hand; and he went after the man of Israel into the tent and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her body. So the plague was stopped among the children of Israel” (Num. 25:7, 8).
COZBI, AN EXAMPLE FOR TODAY
God does not want His people to be seduced away from Him by illicit sexual behavior or any other sinful behavior.
God does not want us to fall into the role of Cozbi and become a seductress causing others to sin with us.
Our culture tells us that if it feels good, do it. But God tells us to be obedient to Him and He will bless us.
THE DAUGHTERS OF ZELOPHEHAD
Scripture references: Numbers 27:1–11; 36:1–13; Joshua 17:3–5
Date: About 1400 b.c.
Mahlah [MAH-luh: “weak, sickly”]
Noah [NOE-uh: “rest,” or “comfort”]
Hoglah [HOG-luh: “partridge”]
Milcah [MILL-kuh: “counselor”]
Tirzah [TUR-zuh: “delight”]
Main contribution: These daughters of a sonless father brought about a significant clarification of inheritance law.
On the last stages of the journey to Canaan, Moses set down a process for dividing the Promised Land after the Israelites were victorious. Land would be given to each family and was to be held by that family in perpetuity as a gift from God.
Like other societies of the era, Israelite society was patriarchal in structure. This meant that land would pass from father to son with the provision that sons would support their widowed mothers and unmarried sisters. But a man named Zelophehad, who had been among those rescued from Egypt and later died on the journey to Canaan, had five daughters but no sons. The process for dividing the land that Moses outlined made no provision for passing the inheritance of a man who died with daughters but no sons.
Rather than sit back quietly, the daughters of Zelophehad brought their complaint to Moses and the leaders of the congregation.
Moses listened to their complaint and took it to the Lord. God responded, “The daughters of Zelophehad speak what is right” (Num. 27:6), and laid down a series of principles covering cases in which a man died without having a son eligible to inherit his property.
This incident is significant, for the story told first here in Numbers 27 is repeated in Numbers 36. And Joshua 17 makes it clear that these five daughters did inherit their own lands.
The incident is significant not only as an account of a clarification of biblical inheritance law, but also for the insight it provides into the relationship of women to those in authority. Apparently women as well as men were free to bring their concerns to Moses in this era. Apparently, too, women’s concerns were evaluated on the merits of the case rather than summarily dismissed. While Moses was convinced by the daughter’s argument, it was not Moses’ place to modify the divine Law. Moses transmitted the Law; God originated it. Moses’ decision to inquire of God was appropriate.
Scripture references: Joshua 2:1–24; 6:17–25; Matthew 1:5; Hebrews 11:31;
Date: About 1406 b.c.
Name: Rahab [RAY-hab: “broad”]
Main contribution: Rahab trusted Israel’s God and not only found personal deliverance when Jericho fell, but married an Israelite and produced a son who was in the line of David and Jesus Christ.
When the Israelites under Joshua crossed the Jordan River into Canaan, their access to the heart of the country was blocked by the fortified city of Jericho. The massive fortifications made the city invulnerable to storming, and Israel was unprepared for a long siege, which would have given the Canaanites time to unite and send an overpowering force against them. Joshua sent two spies to look over the city. They were discovered, the city gates were closed, and the city guard set out on a house-to-house search to arrest them.
The two spies found refuge in the house of Rahab, whom the text calls a “harlot,” or a prostitute. Two kinds of prostitution are mentioned in the Old Testament. One type is ritual prostitution, in which sex acts are engaged in as an element in the worship of pagan fertility gods. The other type of prostitution had commercial but no religious significance: it was simply the transfer of sexual favors for payment. Archaeological discoveries have made it clear that commercial prostitution was common in drinking establishments and inns. Some have even argued that in identifying Rahab as a harlot, the author of the biblical text is simply saying that she was an innkeeper. The professions were so closely linked that to call one an innkeeper suggested that sex was one of the services ordinarily provided.
Whether Rahab was a prostitute when the spies entered Jericho is, however, quite irrelevant to the story. The frequent reference to her as a harlot reminds us that God offers His salvation to sinners, not simply to those whom society classifies as “good.”
Rahab’s choice (Josh. 2). When the spies appeared at Rahab’s door she was faced with a choice. She could turn them in or hide them. Rahab chose to hide them, but only after making a bargain with them. Rahab’s dialog with the spies reveals clearly that the people of Canaan knew what God had done for His people, and were terrified at the appearance of the Israelites on their borders.
What is striking is that while all the Canaanites apparently had this information about God, Rahab was unique in her response. Rather than resist Him, Rahab was determined to commit herself into His care. And so she bargained. Rahab would protect the spies, but when Israel took Jericho, the Israelites promised to spare Rahab and her immediate family. The spies made this commitment, and Rahab made sure that they safely escaped.
At Jericho’s fall (Josh. 6). God did display the power that the Canaanites feared. Jericho’s walls fell. When they did, Rahab and her family survived. The text states, “And Joshua spared Rahab the harlot, her father’s household, and all that she had. So she dwells in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho” (Josh. 6:26).
In the New Testament. While the text of Joshua tells us no more about Rahab, her name shows up three time in the New Testament.
In the genealogy of Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:5). It is well for us to remember that it is not people’s past that defines them. Rather people are defined by the choice they make when they become aware of who God is. It was Rahab’s choice rather than her past that defined her for all time to come.
In faith’s hall of fame (Heb. 11:31). Hebrews 11 reviews the wonders faith has worked in human lives. Of Rahab that passage simply says, “by faith Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.”
In James’s definition of a living faith (Jas. 2:25). James 2 has troubled some people because at first glance the writer’s references to Abraham and to Rahab seem to teach a salvation by works rather than by faith alone. This verse asks, “Was not Rahab also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?”
In chapter two, James contrasted “faith” with “faith.” Often we use the word “faith” to mean no more than an agreement that certain things are true. In the context, James points out that even demons have this kind of faith in God. They know that He exists and they tremble in fear!
But Christian faith is far more than intellectual agreement or even intellectual certainty. At its root, saving faith involves a trust response to what is known. What James argued is that any person’s claim to have saving faith, and even God’s declaration that Abraham had faith, is justified – that is, shown to be true—by the response [works] that a true faith produces. Can we say with certainty that Rahab truly possessed the faith ascribed to her in Hebrews? Yes, without doubt. For Rahab “received the messengers and sent them out another way.” Her works did not save her. Her works demonstrated and thus justify the claim that Rahab truly was a woman of faith.
RAHAB: AN EXAMPLE FOR TODAY
Rahab demonstrates that we don’t have to be perfect for God to use us in significant ways. We do need to deal with Him in faith and with integrity. If we do, He will, as He did for Rahab, melt away the impurities of our character and mold us into the kind of women and men He would have us be.
God is free to use who He will. We pass judgment on what we see, but we can only see the outward appearance. God also passes judgment on what He sees. But He sees inside and out—yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Rahab reminds believers not to be judgmental. All have sinned, and but for God’s grace, all would be doomed. God extends us grace and we must extend grace to others.