For This Very Reason, Grow!
"The Good Faith of a Bad Girl"
(Delivered Mother's Day, Sunday, May 8, 2005 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)
Over the past few years, we've been making it our Mother's Day tradition to highlight the story of one of the great 'moms' found in the Bible. I've never really had much trouble finding a great 'biblical mom' to talk about, because there are so many wonderful moms in the Bible. My big problem is usually that of deciding which one of the many to spotlight!
And that leads me to this morning's "biblical mom of faith". It hasn't occurred to me to preach about this particular woman on Mother's Day before; and I suppose that's because, at first thought, she seems like a very unlikely woman to talk about on such a day. You see; Rahab 'the harlot' is more likely to be classified among the "bad girls" of the Bible than among the "moms of faith".
But I hope that, before we're through this morning, you'll agree with me that Rahab deserves to not only be considered one of the greatest heroines of faith in the Bible; but also - surprising as it may seem - one of the greatest "moms" of the Bible too!
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Some Bible scholars have been uncomfortable referring to her as a 'harlot'. Even the ancient Jewish historian Josephus seemed to avoid bringing that fact up - preferring to simply say (perhaps with a hint of euphemism) that she 'kept an inn'.1 But the Hebrew word that the Bible uses to describe her (zãnâ) can't really be interpreted to mean anything but that she was a prostitute.2 Harlots were associated in the Bible with "harlots' houses" (Jeremiah 5:7); and so even if she was an "inn-keeper" - which it clearly appears she was - we can guess what kind of an inn it was that she was keeping!
But I don't believe we should hesitate to say the truth about this remarkable woman. She truly was a woman of sin; there's no doubt about it. And in that respect - before the eyes of a holy God - she was no more 'hopeless' in her sin than any one of us. And yet, God graciously delivered her from her deep condition of sin, and made her into a wonderful trophy of His great grace. And in that respect - no matter how hopeless we may seem in our own sin - her story can be a source of encouragement and hope to the rest of us needy sinners.
And what's more, God responded to her simple faith by holding her up as an example of an outstanding believer! For the relatively short appearance she makes in the Old Testament, she is mentioned quite a bit in the New Testament. She has the distinct honor of having her story of faith forever preserved in God's word for our benefit and edification. Clearly, God has some very important things to teach us this Mother's Day through Rahab the harlot.
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So; let's begin by turning to the Old Testament book of Joshua; and learn together from . . .
1. THE STORY OF RAHAB'S FAITH.
We don't know how old Rahab was when she made her first appearance in the Bible; so I'm making an educated guess in saying what I'm about to say. But I believe that, in the providence of God, she was born in the land of Canaan very close to a time when a huge moral failure occurred in the lives of the Israelites.
God had brought the people of Israel out of their bondage in the land of Egypt and through the Red Sea. He promised to bring them into the land of Canaan - the land that He had given to their great ancestral 'father' Abraham. God met with the Israelites at Mount Sinai, gave them His law, and declared them to be His covenant people. And then, He ordered them to march to the land of promise - the land of Canaan - and take possession of it as their own.
As they approached the land, God commanded Moses to send twelve spies to spy out the land and see what it was like. They did so; and found that it was everything that God said it was - a truly prosperous and good land; a land that 'flows with milk and honey'. But they also saw that the people who dwelt there were large and intimidating; and ten of the twelve spies discouraged the rest of the people from going any further - saying, "We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we" (Num. 13:31). Only two of the spies, Caleb and Joshua, trusted God, and sought to quiet the fears of the people - encouraging all the others to go forward and trust God for the land. But it was to no avail.
As a result of the bad report from the ten spies, the people of Israel refused to take the land. In fact, they rebelled against God and against Moses and made plans to return to Egypt. They were even preparing to stone Moses to death; when God appeared to them and informed them they had lost their opportunity. They would be forced to wander about in the wilderness until that entire generation died off. Only Joshua and Caleb would survive to see the land; and it would be the next generation who would go forward in obedience to God and conquer it. But this disobedient generation had lost its opportunity!
Now, there was another tragic event that I need to tell you about; and it happened shortly after the first one. The people of Israel were allowed to conquer the armies of the Amorite kings on the other side of the Jordan River from the promised land - that is, the armies of King Sihon and King Og (Numbers 21). But the people of Moab - who were understandably fearful of the Israelites, as they wandered around in the wilderness - sought to turn them from this mighty God. And they did so by encouraging the people of Israel to join them in the worship of their false gods and to commit 'harlotry' with the women of Moab.
This strategy of 'harlotry' worked well - sadly. God greatly punished Israel for this; and they would remember it with great remorse throughout their history. The place in which this tragic laps happened is important. It was a place called "Shittim" - or, as it's translated in some of your Bibles, "Acacia Grove". It was a place that would forever be associated with shame; because it was a place in which the people of Israel fell grievously into harlotry - both physically and spiritually.
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With that background in mind, look at how Rahab's story begins - thirty-eight years later. That old generation has died off; and their children are now ready to enter into the land of promise and take it as their own. And we find that Joshua (the very same Joshua who was a spy thirty-eight years earlier) sends two men off from that very same place of harlotry (Acacia Grove) to spy out the first major city of the land of promise - Jericho.
Now Joshua the son of Nun sent out two men from Acacia Grove to spy secretly, saying, "Go view the land, especially Jericho" (Joshua 1:1a).
And that's when our heroine enters the story. We're told;
So, they went, and came to the house of a harlot named Rahab, and lodged there (v. 1b).
It's hard to miss the significance of this, isn't it? They even launched off from the place of harlotry in order to gain a great victory in the land through the aid of a harlot! Two spies were unable to persuade the people to march forward the first time; and now, two spies will investigate the land a second time for an assured victory. Our God surely is a great God of second chances, isn't He?
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Now lest anyone raise an eyebrow at the fact that they went to the house of a harlot, let's consider the situation carefully. The Bible doesn't suggest to us that they went to her house for anything other than lodging. In fact, it was probably a very strategic thing that they did so.
Rahab was a harlot who ran an inn; and this means that it was a place that was accustomed to having many travellers sneaking in and out who didn't nose into other people's business - and who certainly didn't want a bunch of questions asked their business either. As you probably know, there's a city a few states away from us that currently has the rather unfortunate slogan, "Whatever happens here stays here"; and my suspicion is that the same slogan could have hung on a sign outside "Rahab's Place".
The harlot's house was one of the first places logistically that these two spies would have come to; and it was a house conveniently situated high up on the city wall. It had a roof that would afford a very clear view of the lay of the city. It was really the perfect place for two spies! Who - in the immense and very immoral city of ancient Jericho - would have thought much of two strangers going there?
And as for the two men themselves, it's hard to imagine Joshua - remembering what had happened thirty-eight years in the past - would have entrusting this important task to anyone but two men of outstanding moral character and reverence toward God. As we will soon see, the high esteem for the God of Israel that Rahab communicated to these two men suggests that she saw them to truly be men of honor and moral purity.
In short, I believe we can safely keep our eyebrows down on this one!
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But no matter how they may have tried to blend in, these two spies from Israel couldn't pull it off completely. They apparently had a distinctive look and a distinctive way of talking. And besides; everyone was already gossiping about Israel because of the things God had done through them. In spite of their failure to take the land in the past, the children of Israel still had a fearsome reputation among the Canaanite people groups - or perhaps it would be better to say that the God of Israel had a fearful reputation through the Israelites! The two spies were apparently noticed. So, we read;
And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, "Behold, men have come here tonight from the children of Israel to search out the country." So the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, "Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house, for they have come to search out all the country" (vv. 2-3).
And here is where I wish we knew more of the story. Just when or just how, we don't know; but the God of Israel had clearly been working in the heart of the harlot.
Think about it. She had known what everyone else among her people knew. She had heard the stories of how God had delivered the people of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt. She had heard of how He had caused the Red Sea to dry up so they could pass through on dry land. She had heard of how the Egyptian armies, who chased after the Israelites, were destroyed by God. She had also heard of how God had given the Israelites victory over the kings on the other side of the Jordan River - and how the armies of Israel had utterly destroyed them. She knew that God had promised the land of Canaan to the people of Israel. And what's more, she also knew that absolute terror had fallen upon the people of Jericho because of the Israelites.
She had known all these things - just as everyone else in Jericho knew them. After all, in her line of business, the local news was easy to come by! But she responded to these things differently than the rest of her people did. God had worked His grace into her heart; and she responded to these things, not by resisting the God of Israel, but by believing on Him. And as a result, she knew many things more than what everyone else knew! As we will see, she knew this great God of Israel by His covenant name - that is, as Yahweh (translated LORD in our Bibles); the I AM of Israel (Exodus 3:13-14). And even though she had grown up in a paganistic and idolatrous culture, she knew that the God of Israel was the "God in heaven above and on earth beneath" - the Creator and Sustainer of all things; the one true and only God.
And what's more, she knew that this great God of Israel was a God of mercy. She knew that if she - a poor woman of sin in the midst of a sinful people - would turn from her sins and from the sinful culture she had been so much a part of, and if she would believe what this God had said that He would do, and if she would trust the God of Israel for mercy, He would deliver her from the destruction that was about to come.
We know that she genuinely knew these things - and truly believed them - because he acted on them. We're told that, at the time the king had sent his 'posse' out after the spies;
Then the woman took the two men and hid them. So she said, "Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And it happened as the gate was being shut, when it was dark, that the men went out. Where the men went I do not know; pursue them quickly, for you may overtake them." (But she had brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order on the roof.) Then the men pursued them by the road to the Jordan, to the fords, and as soon as those who pursued them had gone out, they shut the gate (vv. 4-7).
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Now this part of the story also raises another matter. I really don't know how else to account for what Rahab did than to admit that she lied. In fact, she told a big, huge whoppers of a lie! How do we account for the fact that the Bible commends her so much, and she's held up as such a great example, when the simple fact is that she lied?
In dealing with this, we have to take note of the fact that, in all the ways the scriptures commend her action, they never commends her method. The Bible doesn't say, "Now, take Rahab as a great example of good behavior. She lied - and God greatly blessed her for it." It commends her for the fact that, by faith, she received the spies of Israel when they came to Jericho; and it commends her for the fact that she sent them out another way. But the word of God seems very careful NOT to commend her lie.
The fact that one of the ways God protected the spies was through Rahab's lie doesn't itself justify the fact that Rahab lied. It was God's sovereign purpose to protect the spies one way or the other; and it was perfectly within the power of God to have protected the spies without her lie as much as through it.3 When someone means something for evil, it is God's way to mean that same thing for the good of His people (Genesis 50:20); but this doesn't mean that it's okay for someone to then say, "Let us do evil that good may come" (Romans 3:8). God may permit certain means to accomplish His ends; but that doesn't mean that He approved of the means to those ends, or that He doesn't hold the person morally responsible who employed those means to those ends. I believe we should be careful not to use this story to justify doing a good thing in a bad way.
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So let's admit it: Rahab lied. But I don't think we should let ourselves get too hung up on Rahab's lie, either. Clearly God blessed Rahab; and what He blessed was her faith - imperfectly expressed as it may be. And it's her great faith that God is seeking bring to our attention.
And so, look at how she verbally communicated that faith! After she demonstrated her faith by sending the king's men running off on a wild 'spy' chase, we're told;
Now before they 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, that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land are fainthearted because of you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were on the other side of the Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. And as soon as we heard these things, our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. Now therefore, I beg you, swear to me by the LORD, since I have shown you kindness, that you also will show kindness to my father's house, and give me a true token, and spare my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death. So the men answered her, "Our lives for yours, if none of you tell this business of ours. And it shall be, when the LORD has given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with you" (vv. 8-14).
Do you notice the confident trust the spies had in God? It wasn't "IF the LORD has given us the land"; but "WHEN the LORD has given us the land". I believe that God used Rahab to encourage these spies. Thanks to her, they now knew - with absolute certainty - that God truly was with them!
This reminds me of the story of Gideon. He was to lead a small band of Israelite soldiers against the armies of Midian. He was uncertain; and God gave him some signs to encourage him that he would succeed. One of the signs God gave him was to tell him to draw near the camp of the Midianites and eavesdrop on their conversation. He did so; and he heard one soldier tell another a dream:
"I have had a dream: To my surprise, a loaf of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian; it came to a tent and struck it so that it fell and overturned, and the tent collapsed." Then his companion answered and said, "This is nothing else but the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel! Into his hand God has delivered Midian and the whole camp" (Judges 7:13-14).
God used the news of this dream to encourage Gideon. And I believe that, similarly, God used this report from Rahab to encourage the spies.
But I wonder if you also notice the courage of Rahab. We're told that after she spoke these daring words to them;
Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the city wall; she dwelt on the wall. And she said to them, "Get to the mountain, lest the pursuers meet you. Hide there three days, until the pursuers have returned. Afterwards you may go your way" (vv. 15-16).
In hiding the spies and speaking these words to them, and then in helping them escape, she was basically undermining her people and their whole ungodly culture. If her king had found out about it, she and her entire family would have surely been killed on the spot! But she had so come to believe in the God of Israel that she was willing to take the risk in faith for His cause - and even to suffer loss and destruction for doing so. As Francis Schaeffar wrote, Rahab "had a faith that had teeth to it".4
From the standpoint of the evil and ungodly culture in which she lived, she was considered a traitor! But from the standpoint of God's truth, she was a woman of courageous faith. And make no mistake about it: People of conviction are always going to be considered 'traitors' by a culture that loves sin. The pressure upon us to compromise with an ungodly culture for the sake of 'peace' and 'personal safety' will almost be overwhelming at times. But Rahab sets a great example for us. She was willing to pay the price. She stood virtually alone against the ungodly culture which surrounded her; and in standing against the "seen" world, she stood for the "unseen" God.5
May God give more of us the courage and conviction of Rahab today!
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Now God, in great mercy, looked out for this poor harlot who trusted in His promise to Israel. No sooner did the spies hit the ground than we read;
So the men said to her; "We will be blameless of this oath of yours which you have made us swear, unless, when we come into the land, you bind this line of scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you bring your father, your mother, your brothers, and all your father's household to your own home. So it shall be that whoever goes outside the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we will be guiltless. And whoever is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head if a hand is laid on him. And if you tell this business of ours, then we will be free from your oath which you made us swear." Then she said, "According to your words, so be it." And she sent them away, and they departed. And she bound the scarlet cord in the window (vv. 17-21).
Personally, it's hard for me not to see great symbolism in this cord. It was very specifically identified as "red" - and that reminds me of the blood of the lamb that the people of Israel were commanded to smear onto the doorposts of their houses on the first Passover. The blood was a sign to the people of Israel; and when God saw that blood on their doorposts, He passed over them in administrating His judgment on the people of Egypt (Exodus 12:7, 13). The Passover blood has always stood as a picture of the trust we're to place in the blood of Jesus - our Passover Lamb.
And what's more, there may be great significance in the fact that the Hebrew word for this cord (tiqwã) is synonymous with the Hebrew word for "hope".6
As we read on in the story, we find that the spies safely returned to Joshua and reported that "Truly the LORD has delivered all the land into our hands, for indeed all the inhabitants of the country are fainthearted because of us" (v. 24). At the command of God, the armies of Israel surrounded the walls of Jericho, marched around it, and blew their trumpets; and God caused the walls to fall.
But, we also read that they kept their promise; "And Joshua spared Rahab the harlot, her father's household, and all that she had" (6:25). We're told that, at the time of the writing of the Book of Joshua, Rahab was still dwelling among the people of Israel; "because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho" (v. 25).
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Now before we end our look at Rahab this morning, there's two more points I need to make very quickly. The first has to do with a question you've probably asked yourself during all this. "I thought this was a Mother's Day message! What's Rahab the harlot got to do with motherhood?"
Well; I'm glad you asked (if you did). You'd be surprised at how much Rahab has to do with motherhood! Let's consider briefly . . .
2. THE LEGACY OF RAHAB'S MOTHERHOOD.
Her story, as you might suspect, doesn't end with the Book of Joshua. Here are the facts about her that we learn elsewhere in the Bible.
After she came to live among the Jewish people, she married a man from the tribe of Judah named Salmon. Salmon was a 'prince' of Judah - being the son of Nashan, the first man to make a special offering as the representative of his tribe at the dedication of the tabernacle in the wilderness (Numbers 7:12). She and Salmon had a son together. And perhaps you've heard of their son. His name was Boaz - the man who married Ruth; whose story is told to us in the Old Testament book that was named after her.
Boaz was a man of outstanding godliness and character. My suspicion is that his mother had a great influence on him with all the stories of heroic faith she had to tell! And Boaz and Ruth had a few children as well. They had a son named Obed; and Obed had a son named Jesse; and Jesse had a son who became rather famous. He was David - the one who became king (Ruth 4:18-22; also 1 Chronicles 2:11-12). That means that Rahab the harlot was the great-great-grandmother of King David. Who knows? She may have even lived long enough to see him grow up and tell him her story to him personally! What a proud great-great-grandmother she would have been!
So you see; Rahab is truly a great "mother of faith" in the Bible. But it gets even better! She is even listed as a mother in the most honorable genealogy that the world has ever known; because she was the ancestor of our precious Savior Jesus Christ, according to the flesh. She gets a special privilege in the genealogy; because while ordinarily only the fathers are mentioned in the genealogy of our Lord, we read in the Gospel of Matthew that "Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab" (Matthew 1:5).
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And that leads us, finally to . . .
3. THE LESSON'S OF RAHAB'S LIFE.
God has given us some very specific lessons we're to learn from her. The first is that she is an example to us of how God rewards those who place their faith in His promise. Rahab is given honorable mention in the Bible's great "Hall of Faith" chapter - Chapter 11 of Hebrews. There we read;
By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were enclosed for seven days. By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies in peace (Heb. 11:30-31).
She heard that God had promised the land of Canaan to the people of Israel as their possession; and she believed that promise. And because she believed, she didn't perish with those who did not believe! What a great lesson she teaches us about the rewards of faithful trust in the promise of God!
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Second, she serves as the example to us of the kind of faith that saves. The apostle James wanted to teach his readers that we are saved by faith in the blood of Jesus - and not by our works. But he wanted to make it clear that he wasn't talking about a kind of faith that was somehow separated from good works. Rather, he wanted to show that saving faith is a kind of faith that demonstrates itself BY good works.
To prove this, James pointed to the greatest example of "saving faith" in the Old Testament - Abraham. But immediately after mentioning Abraham, James points to another great example of a faith that 'works':
Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? (James 2:25).
Rahab didn't just believe "intellectually" that God had promised the land to Israel. She believed it in a very practical and active way. Her faith showed itself in "works" when she hid the spies that came from Israel to spy out the land. She teaches us that it isn't enough to simply have "faith" in our head and on our lips. To be a "saving" faith, our faith in Christ must be the kind that passes down from our heads and our lips, and out through our hands and our feet - that is, a faith that transfers down to the level of action, and that demonstrates itself in our works. That's what God's commendation of Rahab's faith teaches us!
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There's one more thing - and I'd be very remiss if I didn't mention it. Rahab gives us a wonderfully clear picture of just how far God's redeeming grace will go to reach us poor needy sinners.
I believe that, after Rahab was rescued from the destruction of Jericho, she left her former business; don't you agree? I have no doubt that she lived life of a redeemed woman from then on. But why is it that, even in the New Testament, she has to carry along that awful name - Rahab the harlot? Why does the Bible insist in continually bringing her sin up all the time?
I believe that God wants us to look at how far He took her in His grace, and see all the ways that He blessed her, and used her, and gave her to us as an example - but He never wants us to forget that He did all of this for a harlot! It's like what the apostle Paul said about himself:
And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
I believe that "Paul, the former blasphemer and persecutor and insolent man" would have considered it a great honor to be classified with "Rahab, the redeemed harlot". Both are "patterns" to those who would believe on Christ for everlasting life. No one - no matter what they may have done - is so much of a sinner that they cannot be saved by faith in the promise of God through Jesus Christ.
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Well; I still don't know why we haven't spent time thinking about this wonderful "mother of faith" before! I mean, put all the pieces together! The Bible tells us that Rahab was not only a "mother" of great renown, but she was said to be "justified" (James 2:25); a woman of "faith" who "did not perish with those who did not believe" (Hebrews 11:31); and a woman who - with her own words - testified to a belief in the God of Israel as "God in heaven above and on earth beneath" (Joshua 2:11). She was a woman who chose to dwell for the rest of her life among God's covenant people (6:25).
God saw to it that this redeemed harlot was forever recognized in His word as a great "mother of faith". And she certainly was! If you have followed her great example of faith, and have placed your trust in God's promise through Christ, then you can be sure that you will meet her in heaven.
1Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, 5.1.2.
2The argument that she should be referred to as an 'inn-keeper' seems to have been based on the proposition that the Hebrew word zãnâ has z-un ("to feed") as its principle root. But there is no evidence that this truly is its root. (See R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr. and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament [Chicago: Moody Press], vol. 1, p. 246). The Greek word used to describe her (pornê) - both in the Septuagint and in Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25 - means 'a prostitute' or 'harlot'. And so, while it may be that she was an inn-keeper, the Bible purposefully identifies her not as an inn-keeper but as a harlot.
3For more on this, see John Murray, Principles of Conduct (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1957), pp. 138-9; also Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward Old Testament Ethics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing Corporation, 1983), pp. 271-3.
4Francis A. Schaeffer, Joshua and the Flow of Biblical History (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975), p. 79.
6See The New Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon, p. 876; also Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, p. 791.
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