Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Scarlet Woman and the Scarlet Thread of Redemption

Today is the third day of week thirteen, reading the Bible through in a year.  Our scriptures today are:   Joshua 1-4; Luke 14; Psalm 143.

In the OT, we have finished the Pentateuch, or Torah (the first five books that are traditionally attributed to Moses), and begin a new era in the history of Israel.  Today, I want to focus on the story of Rahab the prostitute, in Joshua chapter 2 (ESV):

The Harlot of Jericho and the Two Spies, c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902)

And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there. And it was told to the king of Jericho, “Behold, men of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land.” Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land.” But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. And she said, “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out. I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them.” But she had brought them up to the roof and hid them with the stalks of flax that she had laid in order on the roof. So the men pursued after them on the way to the Jordan as far as the fords. And the gate was shut as soon as the pursuers had gone out.
Before the men 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, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. 10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. 11 And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. 12 Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father's house, and give me a sure sign 13 that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” 14 And the men said to her, “Our life for yours even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours, then when the Lord gives us the land we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.”

15 Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall, so that she lived in the wall. 16 And she said to them, “Go into the hills, or the pursuers will encounter you, and hide there three days until the pursuers have returned. Then afterward you may go your way.” 17 The men said to her, “We will be guiltless with respect to this oath of yours that you have made us swear. 18 Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and you shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father's household. 19 Then if anyone goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we shall be guiltless. But if a hand is laid on anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head. 20 But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be guiltless with respect to your oath that you have made us swear.” 21 And she said, “According to your words, so be it.” Then she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.

22 They departed and went into the hills and remained there three days until the pursuers returned, and the pursuers searched all along the way and found nothing. 23 Then the two men returned. They came down from the hills and passed over and came to Joshua the son of Nun, and they told him all that had happened to them. 24 And they said to Joshua, “Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands. And also, all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us.”

The story of Rahab is a fascinating one, because this woman is one of the people whom God had declared detestable, worthy of total annihilation.  Not only was she a member of a marked people group--she was a prostitute (therefore worthy of death according to Hebrew law) to boot!  Yet, she believed in God, and her faith saved her.  In fact, because of one person's faith, Rahab and her family were invited to join the Jewish family of God.  Joshua 6:22-25 (ESV) says:

22 But to the two men who had spied out the land, Joshua said, “Go into the prostitute's house and bring out from there the woman and all who belong to her, as you swore to her.” 23 So the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab and her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. And they brought all her relatives and put them outside the camp of Israel. 24 And they burned the city with fire, and everything in it. Only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. 25 But Rahab the prostitute and her father's household and all who belonged to her, Joshua saved alive. And she has lived in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.

This paints for us a vivid picture of the sinner who, once doomed to destruction because of his sin, places his faith in Jesus and is saved.  Many Bible commentators point out that the scarlet cord that was placed in her window no doubt had a symbolic connection to the blood of the Passover lamb that the Hebrews used to anoint their doorposts.  Just as the death angel had passed over the Israelites whose homes were marked, so death would make an exception for all who gathered in Rahab's home that was marked by the scarlet cord.

Many have called this the "Scarlet Thread of Redemption," a narrative theme that runs throughout the entirety of the Bible.  This scarlet thread begins with the blood of the animal that was slain to cover Adam and Eve's nakedness in the garden, and ends with the blood of Christ that was shed for the redemption of the world.

Here are a couple of other amazing things about this lowest-of-the-low prostitute from Jericho.

First, Matthew 1:5 records her as an ancestor of Jesus!  This means that on that day, when the spies entered Jericho and received Rahab's hospitality, if she hadn't responded in faith or if they hadn't responded with grace, our Lord would have had to make other plans as He chose a family through which to enter the world.  Certainly, Jesus would still have come to redeem us, but look at the blessing that an entire family line can claim, because of the faithfulness of one person!  What blessing will your descendants be able to claim, because of your faithful decisions today?

Second, the NT mentions Rahab again in Hebrews 11:31, calling her a person of faith.  Her decision wasn't  simply a self-serving act motivated by fear of conquering people, but a faithful obedience to the Lord.  James 2:25 says, "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?"

In the midst of a "kill-'em-all-and-let-God-sort-'em-out" plot line, Rahab's story shows us that it wasn't quite so simple.  It gives us hope that God is always willing to preserve those who place their trust in Him.  That was a marvelous thing for Rahab and her family--and it is a glorious thing for us as well.

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