Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:21–26, ESV)
Today's passage lists two well-known Bible characters who demonstrated their faith through their works -- Abraham and Rahab. James illustrates the point he made in the previous verses by providing two examples of what God expects from us.
The first was Abraham. His faith was demonstrated by willingly offering his son Isaac upon an alter when God asked him to. What faith! Hebrews 11:17-19 tells us that Abraham simply expected that God would raise him from the dead -- just like that! (FYI: In case you haven't read the story in Genesis 22:1-10, God stopped Abraham just before he plunged his knife into Isaac. God then provided a substitute sacrifice -- a ram which served as a portrait of Christ who became our substitute on the cross).
The second example is Rahab, a prostitute who lived in Jericho many years after the time of Abraham. When the Israelites came in to spy out the land God had promised to them, Rahab hid them from their enemies -- which were actually her own people (Joshua 2:1, 8-13). What a step of courage and faith in a God she'd only heard rumors about! Her faith is once again commemorated in Hebrews 11:31.
Two thoughts come to mind as I read James' examples: