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The Scarlet Cord: Echoes of Passover

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The Scarlet Cord

Echoes of Passover

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It was early spring when the two men set out on a dangerous assignment. It was a secret mission involving a hike of two or three days. They were to ford a river, cross into enemy country and spy out military information. They were nearly captured and had to be lowered down a city wall to escape.

A token left behind of a "scarlet cord" became rich symbolism for Christians ever after. The color red would be 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 wasn’t too much 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.

The story tells, however, 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. It’s strange he didn’t send armed troops. He seems to have expected her to do it. Perhaps this suggests Rahab was of some influence and standing in the city.

A Chance Meeting?

Now emerges a remarkable turn of events. In this "chance" meeting the spies discover Rahab knows much about Israel. She is, in a way, "counting the cost" of leaving her polytheistic background. And we deduce her family members are similarly agreed in her newfound belief. Could God have led the spies directly to her, as He did Peter to the gentile centurion Cornelius? Did God intend to call her to the faith? We can’t 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 with her fledgling faith is more concerned about saving the spies than about telling a misleading story to the king. By her subterfuge the king’s troops are misdirected to the fords of Jordan. Rahab instead hides the Israelites under drying bundles of flax on the roof. After deceiving the troops, she makes a remarkable confession to the spies. 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 recounts her newfound faith.

"I know that the LORD has given this land to you," she says (verse 8, New International Version throughout). This is a belief in the power of the true God.

"A great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you." This offers some of the military intelligence the spies are to report back to Joshua. It shows 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 for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed." This was a remarkable statement. The defeat of the two kings was a fairly recent happening across the other side of Jordan. But the Red Sea event was some 40 years previous. How old was Rahab? When did she learn this? Did it come from her parents when she was a child? It shows significant awe of biblical events had spread during the wanderings and shows how 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 believes God is with the Israelites, and she is now converting to Israel’s God. Also remarkable is how her parents, brothers and sisters all seem equally believing. We see this because the spies tell 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 (Genesis 19:14 Genesis 19:14And Lot went out, and spoke to his sons in law, which married his daughters, and said, Up, get you out of this place; for the LORD will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked to his sons in law.
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). Here they are 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 they were safe to cross the Jordan and had reported to Joshua.

The Scarlet Cord

Now the remarkable illustration of the scarlet cord.

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

Where the scarlet cord came from isn’t 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.

She lowers them down from her window on the wall after they first establish that in order to be protected she must tie the scarlet cord in the window. This way her house would be identified to an Israelite search party (verses 18-19).

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 fell. Did it mean ALL the walls, or enough of the wall structure to enable the troops to rush in and take the city? It implies all the walls. It must have been astonishing when the dust settled to see the section of wall where the red cord was tied to a window still stood upright. What an amazing deliverance! What a lesson of trust and faith, not just for Rahab and her family, but also for Joshua and the Israelites. (Yet how short-lived was the awe from this miracle for Achan as we see in Joshua 7. But that’s another story.)

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 means there is little evidence among the archaeological sites at Jericho to enhance this miraculous event.

The Blood of the Lamb

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 that was 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 seems to symbolize 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, 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, as did Ruth, 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 may be compared to the use of the scarlet cord by Rahab. What Christ’s poured-out blood on the stake did for mankind’s sins, the red wine symbol each Passover similarly renews 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. UN

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