There’s no way around the obvious truth about the kind of woman Rahab was. We read her story in Joshua 2-6. The massive assembly of Israelites is poised to cross the Jordan River, finally ready to go in and possess the land as God promised them forty years earlier. The last of the rebellious generation has died out. Joshua takes up the mantle of Moses’ command and sends two men in to spy out the first city they will battle, Jericho.
Rahab lives on the city wall, running a house of prostitution. Both the Old and New Testament describes her as a harlot, using the Hebrew word zānâ and the Greek word pornē, leaving no doubt as to her profession. The two spies take refuge in her house, the only place where their presence in the city would be less likely noticed. Rahab was an immoral woman, but she recognized immediately her only option. She knew without a doubt that the God of Israel would give the city into their hands, so she asked for mercy in exchange for hiding the men from the city officials.
The men agree; Rahab’s act of faith exposed a heart change. Instead of stubbornly clinging to her past, she abandoned all loyalty to her old life and surrendered her future, placing her trust in the God these two men served. The men give her one simple instruction to secure her life and the lives of her family members. She must tie a cord of scarlet thread in the window and gather her loved ones under its protection. When the armies of Israel arrive, the scarlet cord will signify to the attackers that those inside are to be allowed to live; they will not suffer the coming judgment.
Immediately upon the spies’ departure, Rahab hangs the scarlet cord in her window. She knew it would take three days for them to return to their camp. She was fully aware that the massive amount of people had yet to cross the Jordan. She surely surmised it would take a few days to make a battle plan. Yet she did not delay in placing herself and her family under the protection of the scarlet cord. She did not know when her rescuers would arrive, but she wanted to be ready. She had committed her life into the hands of the God of Israel, and there was no turning back or hesitation.
That scarlet cord…what a beautiful picture of the sacrificial blood, not only of the Passover lambs that protected the last generation of Israelites from the angel of death sent to slay Egypt’s firstborn, but a picture of the precious, saving blood of our Rescuer, Jesus. It’s not random that the two spies chose a bright red cord to mark the house of a harlot who placed her faith in Jehovah. God doesn’t do random. The scarlet cord is an intentional illustration that when we come to God, we come through the cross and the shed blood of our Savior. Only Jesus’ blood is able to protect us from the wrath of God against sin.
When the armies of Israel brought Rahab and her family back to the camp, they were first brought only outside the camp (Joshua 6:23). As Gentiles, they were unclean; there would have been a time of needed ceremonial cleansing before they were welcomed into the midst of God’s people. Outside the camp is where the remains of the sin offering were taken, a picture of the place Jesus suffered outside the gate the day He died for the sins of the whole world (Hebrews 13:11-13). Two verses later we read that Rahab and her household lived in the midst of Israel to this day (Joshua 6:25). Her obedient, immediate, expectant faith in God brought her near as she embraced the commands and culture of her new family.
Rahab married a man named Salmon; they had a son named Boaz, who became the great-grandfather of King David. Trace that genealogy all the way to the New Testament, and we learn that Rahab is included in the ancestral line of the Savior, Jesus! A harlot in the line of Christ? Oh, yes, indeed. Aren’t we thankful, because in our heart, we were all adulterers, caught in our own sins, before the scarlet thread of redemption wove its way into our world, our lives, and rescued us from wrath.
Rahab’s faith was a faith that acted immediately. She did not wait until she saw the armies assembled around the city and then scramble to hang the cord in time. When offered redemption and rescue, she made her decision without delay, anxious and relieved to be under the protection of the scarlet cord.
How’s your faith? Have you heard the good news that God came to rescue you from your sin, but are delaying your decision because you don’t see the need quite yet? Has your faith waned, and you’ve gone back to your old life, not seeing the need for fully committing just yet? Have faith like Rahab, who fully obeyed, immediately. Make a stop outside the camp to kneel at the cross, then come and gather with God’s people. The only safe place, both from enemy attacks and God’s judgment against sin, is in the shelter of the scarlet cord of the cross of Christ.