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.” The men said to her, “We will be guiltless with respect to this oath of yours that you have made us swear. 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. But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be guiltless with respect to your oath that you have made us swear.” 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.
One of the trickier aspects of interpretation circles around seemingly useless pieces of information that make us wonder why it is in there in the first place. This aspect of interpreting Scripture is valid but you have to be as careful with this as things like numerology and prophecy. All of these can be very enlightening into the unity of the Scripture and that incredible wisdom of the Spirit of God mentioning things that seem incidental (and should be kept that way) but may give us a clue to the sovereignty of the divine author even if the earthly authors may not have understood the significance of what they were writing.
Joshua 2 records the two spies entering the Land God promised to Israel to check it out before Israel moves in to take possession. Joshua one is the preparation for possessing the Land. Chapter two records two of the spies interacting with Rahab the harlot who lived in the city of Jericho (2:1). Rahab confesses her fear of the Lord and humbles herself before these spies. The make a deal: if she does not expose them and protects them, the spies will make sure that she is protected when Israel invaded Jericho. The way Israel will know who is protected from harm is to tie a scarlet cord / threadin the window. When the armies see it they will know that everyone inside that household are not to be harmed.
In some ways understanding this small detail is very simplistic. The scarlet cord is simply a sign to Israel that Rahab is the one who protected the spies and was promised that no harm would come to her; the sign to indicate this was simply to hang a scarlet cord in the window. What could be simpler, end of interpretation and all is well. But there are questions that may surface when reading this that most people will never think of asking. Why use a scarlet thread as a sign? Why did they not pick something else? Why is this thread / cord scarlet or crimson? Why not pick a red cord?
For some of you I have already lost you… who cares what color the cord was? What difference does it make? A sign is a sign, correct? Is this purely circumstantial? If there is significance in this what possibly could it be?
Let me propose a few things to think about:
1. Scarlet is used 49 times through the Bible. It refers to several different things from sin (Is. 1:18), to wealth and luxury (2 Sam. 1:24), military uniform (Nah. 2:3), and the robe of royalty (Matt. 27:28).
2. Scarlet describe a primary material in the garments of the High Priest and some articles of the worship in the tabernacle (Exodus 38-39; Numb. 4:8).
3. The only other specific reference to a scarlet cord or thread only shows up is with the purification of a leper in Leviticus 14:4, the Red Heifer sacrifice that cleansed a person when they came in contact with a dead corpse (Num. 19:6) and for setting apart and cleansing the tabernacle and its vessels of service (Heb. 9:19).
So the obvious question is what does this mean, if anything?
· Some of these things are completely unrelated and have nothing in common directly or even if we were thinking about principles.
· The most obvious connections was that scarlet was the color of the garments of the High Priest and a number of items in the tabernacle. Not much to go on here since Rahab was a harlot and not qualified in any way shape or form to the priestly ministry of Israel.
· The one aspect that may connect is that a scarlet thread was used in the offering to cleanse a person from leprosy or if they came in contact with a dead person – hence the Red Heifer sacrifice as part of cleansing. Rahab did not actually have leprosy but she was a harlot that made a living in an immoral way.
Did the spies in this narrative choose a scarlet thread just because that is all that was available or that it was specifically chosen for a purpose?It is possible that the scarlet thread was used not just as a sign that the spies made an agreement to protect Rahab’s household. It may also have had spiritual overtones symbolized by the scarlet thread because of her faith in the God of Israel (2:8-14) a scarlet thread was used as a symbol that Rahab and her household had been given a status of being cleansedfrom their uncleannessbecause of her faith, at least in the language of the Old Testament.
Some of you might immediately say that we are stretching this a bit. But there is one other piece of evidence that supports this proposal.
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab,and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.
Remarkably Rahab is also included in the genealogy of Jesus Christ as recorded in Matthew! This means that Rahab and her family were not just spared and left to fend for themselves or taken as slaves. Somehow she married Salmon who gave birth to Boaz who then married Ruth (that is an Old Testament book too).
Many of the uses of “scarlet”are clearly not helpful and completely unrelated to our text. But there are a couple references that even though they do not have a direct connection since they were related to sacrificial system are connected to Rahab’s situation on the basic principle of its use in cleansingthings. We might dare to jump one step further: if this scarlet thread has been drawn from the example of the Red Heifer sacrifice which cleansed people from their uncleanness from contact with dead corpses it might provide a spiritual insight into how God may have viewed Rahab’s faith. This does nothing to change the meaning of the events and regardless if the spies understood what they were doing or not, it may help us understand the mercy and compassion of God towards anyone who believes Him and reaches out to Him in faith. It is interesting that the very nature of our new covenant relationship with Christ is being made alive with Christ and passing out of death into life. This of course is not developed in the Old Testament in any way shape or form but a good example of how we can learn even from very small, apparently incidental or trivial statement in the Scripture. These superficial statements might be more remarkable than we think.
In His grace, for your consideration,
Pastor Brad Little