AFTER THE DEATH OF Moses, the LORD said to Joshua, “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them” (see Joshua 1:1-2). This indicates a passing of the mantle from Moses to Joshua. You might recall that Joshua and Caleb were the only (two) spies who brought back a good report, believing God would help them defeat the “giants” and occupy the land (see Num. 14:36-39). Joshua sent two men secretly 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” (Joshua 2:1, ESV).
The king of Jordan learned of these interlopers and sent men to confront Rahab: “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'” (2:3). Rahab lied to the king’s men in order to protect Joshua’s spies: “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” (2:4-5). But Rahab had brought the men to the roof and hid them among stalks of flax. Some biblical scholars condemn Rahab’s lie, but the ethics of this scenario are not addressed in the passage. Rather, Rahab’s actions are seen as a means of protecting the men in the context of impending war.
Before you were born, God knew you, God loved you, God chose you, God cherished you.
Rahab was not a very likely candidate for a heroine of the faith. She was a citizen of a wicked city that was condemned by God—part of a corrupt, depraved, pagan culture. Yet, she agreed to help the spies escape, provided that she and her family were spared in the upcoming battle. The men agreed to her request, giving her three conditions: she must distinguish her house from the others by hanging a scarlet rope out of the window so the Israelites would know which home to spare; her family must be inside the house during the battle; and, she must not later betray the spies. Because of Rahab’s courage, the spies were able to escape the city. Upon returning to Joshua, they said the “whole land was melting with fear” (2:24). Joshua and the Israelites subsequently crossed over the Jordan River, into Canaan where they laid siege to the city of Jericho. Everything was completely destroyed, and every man, woman, and child killed; only Rahab and her family were spared.
Rahab, a woman of a disrepute, makes it to the list of the heroes of faith.
A closer examination of the life of this remarkable Gentile woman can lead to deeper insights into God’s plan for His church and His dealing with individual believers in grace and mercy. It is also possible that Rahab’s faith, and her new allegiance to the LORD and His people, justified her deception. The footnote to 2:4 in the ESV Study Bible says, “Thus she helps them in their warfare, and she expresses her new allegiance by protecting the spies with a ruse” (1). The writer of Hebrews says of her, “By faith, Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies” (Heb. 11:31). Although Rahab was saved by her heroic act of faith, true faith requires a corresponding action. She had to put the scarlet cord out of the window.
The scarlet thread represents the blood of Christ, shed for the redemption of all who believe in Him. Theologians sometimes refer to a “scarlet thread running through the Bible.” By this, they mean the Bible’s theme is of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for the redemption of mankind. In my master’s degree class “The Bible and Progressive Revelation,” we discussed how redemption progressed throughout the entire Bible. Although redemption was not permanent prior to the sacrificial death of Jesus (requiring routine blood sacrifices) we can see it woven into the story of Christianity from the time of our First Parents (and their need for a “covering” of their sin and disobedience) until the second coming of Christ.
Immediately upon disobeying God’s command to not eat of the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, Adam and Eve both realized they were guilty. They tried to cover their guilt and shame from God, but they chose a poor covering. Man-made solutions for sin and guilt never work. We cannot “cover” our sin, nor can we atone for it under our own power. Actually, we are powerless over our sin nature. I find it fascinating that blood had to be shed in the Garden. God sacrificed an animal and fashioned clothing out of the skin of the deceased critter. Progressive revelation of sanctification allows for a clearer understanding of God’s desire for believers (under the Old and the New Covenants) to come out from the world and be set apart for His glory.
The color of Rahab’s rope is no mere coincidence; the scarlet color is significant. The rope in her window was a sign of her faith and led to her salvation, as she and her family were not destroyed with the rest of Jericho. The scarlet rope—the color of blood—worked for Rahab just as the blood of the Passover lamb worked during the exodus. The scarlet rope is essentially a faithful announcement that “my life is different now and I belong to God.” Rahab admitted that she did not live a very worthy life; rather, hers was a life of sin, shame, regret, and fear. She had what we would call a “bad reputation.” But our past is why Jesus was born. Moreover, throughout Scripture and in daily life, God uses those “with a past.” More accurately, God uses us despite our past. It is such individuals who know their hopelessness and can honestly see their depravity and their need for a Savior.
Applying “Rahab” to Our Lives
The tale of Rahab transfers seamlessly into our daily lives. We are plagued by whispers of our past: unworthy, sinful, broken, disobedient, too far gone. Yet, Jesus takes our broken past and turns it into a pathway forward. It is easy, I know, to focus on our “mess” rather than our purpose. And sometimes our past makes us feel unworthy of being saved by Christ or used by the Father. I love Mark Twain’s adage that the two most important days of our lives are the day we were born and the day we find out why. God sees beyond our “outside,” our “failed past,” and instead looks into our hearts. He knows our “why.” It is clear to me that when Rahab recognized the godly and important mission of the two spies, she was moved by faith to take action. Out of her depraved and sinful existence she found her purpose; the reason why she was born. Because of her “faith in action,” things that she heard about the God of Abraham changed her belief, and her new belief changed her behavior.
“If it’s true You use broken things, then here I am Lord, I am all Yours.” (2).
Rahab was a woman of action. When the spies asked her to hang a scarlet cord on her window, she wasted no time and responded immediately with faith. Rahab showed “knowledge” of God’s will when she said, “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” (Joshua 2:9). Ultimately, Rahab married Salmon, an Israelite from the tribe of Judah. Her son was Boaz, the husband of Ruth. Not only was Rahab no longer viewed as an unclean prostitute, she became the great great grandmother of Jesus, worthy through God’s grace to be part of the lineage of Jesus. James 2:17 says faith without works is dead. Paul said to Timothy, “Though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent… I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Tim. 1:13). God used Paul to take the gospel to the Gentiles in spite of his past. He wrote thirteen books of the New Testament.
When walls break down, we can see the horizon. Jesus is standing there, arms open wide, and we begin to walk toward Him.
When we turn from our sinful and unrighteous past and seek Jesus as our Savior and Lord, he does not say, “What took you so long.” In fact, He says nothing that would discourage us, does not blame us for “dragging our feet,” or condemn us. There is no condemnation in Christ (see Rom. 8:1). Instead, Jesus stands in front of us, arms open wide, and says, “I am so glad you came. Let’s get to work.” James wrote, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 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?(James 2:14, 20, 25).
Rahab by faith believed in the sovereignty of God. She heard of the miracles God performed to save Israel, and believed His promises were always fulfilled. She understood the only way to escape His wrath was to submit to Him. Her decision to help the two spies, then wait to be rescued, proved that she grasped the principles of divine faith (3). The spies were conscientious and considerate in their promise to save Rahab and her family from the impending wrath of God. The scarlet cord reminds us of our security under the atoning blood of Jesus, shed for us as He was whipped, scourged, and crucified for our salvation. This symbolism was also used during the Passover, when lamb’s blood on the lintel and door jam of those who believed God for salvation allowed the angel of death to pass them over. Henry writes, “The same cord Rahab used for the saving of these Israelites, was to be used for her own safety. What we serve and honour [sic] God with, we may expect he will bless, and make useful to us” (4).
Henry reminds us that it is wrong to profess mere notional belief that salvation is “the whole of evangelical religion” (5). Notional means “existing only in theory or as a suggestion or idea.” It seems a notional Christian will have a nominal attitude regarding the story of Christianity. Nominal means “in name only.” A nominal Christian claims to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, yet his or her life, fruits, true inner beliefs, works (even the things done in secret) is unrepentant and contrary to the Word of God. In anticipation of nominal Christianity, Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness'” (Matt. 7:21-23). Rahab believed God’s promises. In faith, she stepped up and saved the two spies and believed she and her family would be spared from the wrath of God.
What can we learn from the story of Rahab? First, what does your past whisper to you? What from your past still haunts you? Rahab had such a past, which made her feel blemished and inherently evil. How could she ever rise above her sinful life? Yet, she had hope. She knew of the God of Israel and the many miracles He performed on behalf of that chosen nation. In faith, and with hope, she surrendered and said to the spies, “The LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath” (Joshua 2:11). Her faith sustained her during the seven days that Joshua and his men marched around Jericho sounding trumpets. She did not waiver when on the seventh day the walls of Jericho came crashing down. It must have been as if an earthquake hit the city!
We need to remember that God saves those “with a past.” Moreover, God will use that past for his glory. Our past ceases to be a liability, and instead becomes an asset. Our “past” is part of our life’s story; a journey God ordained before we were born. Our dead end streets are turned into pathways. God rescues us and refines us. He removes our sin, our shame, our hopelessness, our chains, our self-contempt, our rejection, our fear. We are given “right standing” before God through the righteousness of Christ. God does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called. He picks us up from along the road, dusts us off, and equips us to start all over again. It is, therefore, our reasonable service (our spiritual worship) to present our body as a living sacrifice unto God, and align ourselves with His will and purpose.
Steven Barto, B.S. Psy., M.A. Theology
(1) “2:4 I did not know,” ESV Study Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 396.
(2) Matthew West, “Broken Things,” on All In, released Sept. 21, 2017, Sparrow Records.
(3) Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Henry, Inc., 1997), 218.
(5) Ibid., 1225.