The Scarlet Cord

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The Scarlet Cord

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Two men set out on a dangerous assignment. It was a secret mission involving a hike of two to three days. They were to ford a river, cross into enemy country and spy out military information. They were nearly captured, and they had to be lowered down a city wall to escape. A token of a scarlet cord left behind became rich symbolism for Christians ever after. The color red is powerfully significant in salvation. It holds special significance for New Testament Christians at Passover.

The men were spies Joshua sent to search the land, especially Jericho (Joshua 2:1 Joshua 2:1And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying, Go view the land, even Jericho. And they went, and came into an harlot’s house, named Rahab, and lodged there.
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). They apparently had no fear of mixing with the locals as they entered the city. Possibly their dress and speech was not too out of place. When they walked the streets, they may have browsed for a while before seeking somewhere to stay the night. They ended up at Rahab’s inn for lodging.

However, as the story unfolds, they were nonetheless observed and identified as Israelite spies. Perhaps their dialect gave them away. Maybe others listening close by might have observed Rahab’s animated conversation with them after she deduced they were Israelites. The king sought their arrest by sending Rahab instruction to deliver them up.

A woman’s faith

Now a remarkable turn of events emerged. In this chance meeting, the spies discovered Rahab knew much about Israel. She was, in a way, counting the cost of leaving her polytheistic background. And her family members were similarly agreed in her newfound belief. Could God have led the spies directly to her, as He led Peter to the gentile centurion Cornelius? Did God intend to call her to the faith? We cannot say for sure from the account, but we can read how her faith is commended twice, in Hebrews 11:30-31 Hebrews 11:30-31 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days. 31 By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.
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and James 2:25 James 2:25Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
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Rahab in her fledgling faith was more concerned about saving the spies than about telling a misleading story to the king. By her subterfuge, the king’s troops were misdirected to the fords of Jordan. Rahab instead hid the spies under drying bundles of flax on the roof. After deceiving the troops, she went to the spies in a remarkable confession. In Joshua 2:8-11 Joshua 2:8-11 8 And before they were laid down, she came up to them on the roof; 9 And she said to the men, I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that your terror is fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. 10 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, that were on the other side Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. 11 And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you: for the LORD your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.
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, Rahab recounted her newfound faith: “I know that the LORD has given this land to you” (verse 9, New International Version throughout). This was a belief in the power of the true God.

“A great fear…has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you.” This offered the military intelligence the spies were to report back to Joshua. It showed God’s hand already at work to bring the overthrow of Jericho.

“We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea…, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites.” This is a remarkable statement. The defeat of these two kings was a fairly recent happening across the other side of Jordan, but the parting of the Red Sea was some 40 years previously!

How old was Rahab? When did she learn this? Did it come from her parents when she was a child? Significant awe of God’s miraculous intervention had spread during Israel’s wanderings, and neighboring nations were familiar with Israelite history. The defeat of the two kings suddenly brought everything into sharp focus for a city across the Jordan next on the list. Rahab believed biblical history and now converted to Israel’s God.

Also remarkable is how her father, mother and brothers also believed. We know this because the spies told her all must remain in the house and not leave. It appears they obeyed. Their belief is in sharp contrast to Lot’s family members who just mocked the angelic warning. In this case they were saved through Rahab.

She acknowledges, “The Lord your God is God” (verse 11). The spies now had to trust her to not tell the king of their escape until it was safe to cross the Jordan and report to Joshua.

The remarkable scarlet cord

In return for their safety they vowed to protect her when the Israelite assault began, provided she abided by two conditions. First, she and all her family must stay inside her house during the attack. Second, she must tie a piece of red cord to her window to identify her location to attacking troops.

Where the scarlet cord came from is not revealed. It may have been in Rahab’s house or with the flax bundles. But we might wonder whether the spies had it with them to tie their clothes, backpacks or sleeping gear. We also can ponder whether God intended the event to become a symbolism for all time.

The spies explained that in order to be protected she must tie the scarlet cord in the window. That way her house would be unobtrusively identified to an Israelite search party (verses 18-19). And with that Rahab lowered them down from her window in the wall.

We assume the section of the wall that enclosed her house was the only section still standing at the collapse of the city walls. But the red cord tied to the window was to be the proof of her faith. The two spies no doubt excitedly explained all these events to Joshua who, in response, accepted the vow to protect Rahab and her family.

As the Israelites approached Jericho, God explained He would collapse the walls (Joshua 6). Joshua must have wondered how the vow would be honored when the walls were to fall. Did it mean ALL the walls, or enough of the wall structure to enable the troops to rush in and take the city? It implied all the walls.

It must have been astonishing to see, when the dust settled, the section of wall where the red cord was tied to a window still stood upright. What amazing deliverance! What a lesson of trust and faith for not just Rahab and her family, but also Joshua and the Israelites.

Joshua immediately told the spies to take Rahab and her family outside the Israelite camp (they were gentiles). Then they burned the city. The biblical directive means it must have also included the standing wall of Rahab’s house. Millennia of erosion mean there is little evidence among the archaeological Jericho sites to enhance this miraculous event.

Its meaning for us

Now let’s consider why Christians are impressed with the scarlet cord in the window. It forces itself upon us in the light of Scriptural teaching about the blood of Christ. Red blood from slain lambs splashed over the doorposts of Israelite homes in Egypt protected them from the “slayer of the firstborn” (Exodus 12:13 Exodus 12:13And the blood shall be to you for a token on the houses where you are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.
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). The scarlet cord symbolized in type Rahab’s acceptance of the “lamb’s blood” in her life. What the blood on the doorposts on the first Passover night in Egypt was to the houses of Israel, so the scarlet cord in the window was to the house of Rahab. It became Rahab’s identification as one to be saved in a day of calamity. It was the acting out of her faith. Her sinful years overlooked (Acts 17:30-31 Acts 17:30-31 30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands all men every where to repent: 31 Because he has appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he has ordained; whereof he has given assurance to all men, in that he has raised him from the dead.
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) she became the ancestress of David and of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:1 Matthew 1:1The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
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, 5-6).

What the blood of the first Passover did for the Israelites, the scarlet cord did for Rahab. What Christ’s poured-out blood on the stake did for mankind’s sins, the red wine each Passover similarly symbolizes for believers.

Christians celebrate deliverance from the bondage of sin. Despite human weakness, God views cleansed believers as unleavened (1 Corinthians 5:7 1 Corinthians 5:7Purge out therefore the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, as you are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:
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With that confidence we march on, as did the Israelites, towards the Promised Land.

Recommended reading

We invite you to read the following free literature: Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion, What Is Your Destiny? and The Bible and Archaeology.