The Scarlet Thread
Israel were about to cross the Jordan to take possession of their inheritance, and in preparation, two spies were sent, commissioned by Joshua to spy out the land and its doomed inhabitants. Yet unknown to them, God had already gone before and worked in the heart of a poor pagan prostitute as only God can. Rahab was her name—a name which is inscribed prominently in the roll–call of the faithful (see Heb. 11: 31), and resonates down the ages for the place it occupies in the genealogy of the Christ Himself (see Matt. 1: 5). Well we might say with the apostle “O depth of riches both of [the] wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable his judgments, and untraceable his ways!” (Rom. 11: 33).
And so the two spies entered Jericho strangers to everyone within it, but with their steps directed of God to the harlot’s house. Soon their arrival was reported to the king, who sent a message to Rahab demanding their surrender, but she concealed them instead. The reason for her conduct came out as she talked with the spies under cover of darkness on the roof of her house. While God had been leading Israel to the bank of the Jordan opposite to Jericho, He had been working in Rahab who, with all her house, He designed to save from the destruction impending over her people. “I know” she said “that Jehovah has given you the land, and that the dread of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard that Jehovah dried up the waters of the Red sea before you when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did to the two kings of the Amorites that were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and to Og, whom ye utterly destroyed. We heard [of it], and our heart melted, and there remained no more spirit in any man because of you; for Jehovah your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath” (Josh. 2: 9–11).
What was Jericho, with its walls and battlements, if the hearts of its defenders had melted within them? But fear is not faith. Jericho feared—Rahab feared as well, but she also had faith. She told the spies what she knew and what she and the rest of her people had heard. All had heard of the Lord’s actions on behalf of Israel and were afraid, but all did not know that Jehovah had given them the land. Rahab knew, and, furthermore she knew and confessed that the Lord their God was the one true God, the God in heaven above, and the God on earth beneath. Remarkable knowledge! In the midst of abounding iniquities, and surrounded with idolatry and all its filthy rites, this immoral and degraded woman had learnt and knew, that Israel’s God was the true God, and that He had given them the land. She had no doubts. Her language was clear and precise: ‘I know’. How God can teach a soul, and that in a way that nothing can shake, however unfavourable, humanly speaking, the surrounding atmosphere might be, is beyond our tiny minds to take in. ‘I know’! Like the blind beggar who, when his eyes were opened, brushed away as cobwebs all the specious arguments of his opponents with his simple and crushing announcement: “One thing I know, that, being blind [before], now I see” (John 9: 25), so Rahab, speaking of herself and for herself, unhesitatingly said, “I know”. “We heard” is not the same as “I know”. What a difference exists between the two. She had heard, as had her people, but she also knew, and had given proof of her faith by hiding the spies under the stalks of flax on her roof. She had taken their side and God’s side, against her people and her country. The God of Israel was the God of heaven and of earth. As such He must prevail and it would be hopeless to resist Him. If He had given Israel the land, then the doom of those who opposed them was certain. Judgment on her people and on her land was at hand. She did not doubt it. She knew it even before a single soldier of the host of Israel had crossed the Jordan.
Her people could boast of cities “great and walled up to heaven” (Deut. 1: 28) and “the sons of Anak” before whom the children of Israel were “as grasshoppers” (Num. 13: 33), but that one word I know (for so it is in the Hebrew original), settled everything for her. Hence, after telling the spies what she knew, she put before them what she desired. Nothing could satisfy Rahab but the promise of salvation for herself and her family. She spoke as one over whom an awful doom was hanging. A vague hope or a fair speech, resting on no real foundation, could not satisfy her. She wanted an assurance on which she could rest, and a certain sign to which she could turn. But the men were strangers to her. What did she know of them? Nothing. She would, therefore, bring God in, and make Him a party to the matter: “And now, I pray you, swear to me by Jehovah, since I have dealt kindly with you, that ye will also deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a certain sign, that ye will let my father live, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that belong to them, and deliver our souls from death” (Josh. 2: 12, 13). Uncertainty she could not tolerate, certainty of deliverance from the coming judgment she craved. And by making God a party to the agreement made between herself and these strangers, she evidenced her confidence in the faithfulness of their God. What she asked she got. She asked for a solemn engagement on their part. They gave it her on the condition that she kept their visit a secret. She asked for a certain sign by which safety would be ensured to her and to all in her house. She got that as well, for the men said to her: “We will be quit of this thine oath which thou hast made us swear. Behold, when we come into the land, thou shalt bind in the window this line of scarlet thread by which thou hast let us down; and thou shalt gather to thee in the house thy father, and thy mother, and thy brethren, and all thy father’s household; and it shall be, that whoever shall go out of the doors of thy house into the street, —his blood shall be upon his head, and we shall be innocent; but every one who shall be with thee in the house, his blood shall be upon our head, if any hand be upon him. And if thou make known this our business, we will be quit of thine oath which thou hast made us swear” (vs 17–20).
So the men departed. As yet there was no appearance of the coming invasion. The spies had to hide three days in the mountains before they could venture to cross the Jordan. Would they ever even reach the river, and rejoin the camp of Israel—for the city had been aroused, and the country was being searched to find them? Again, was the danger of an invasion really imminent? Looking at the Jordan now in full flood, the men of Jericho might have taken heart. They might have very naturally thought that the river must surely subside before the army of Israel could reach them. But Rahab knew she must act now, and so she put the scarlet line in the window in accord with the word of the spies. Anybody, everybody might see it, but only she knew what it was the confession and the sign of—the confession that she sought salvation from the coming judgment, the sign that she would be delivered from the doom of her people. Did she wait until the city was under siege, and all hope of its relief was cut off before putting the scarlet line in the window? No! How or when Jericho would be captured she had no idea, but as to its capture she was clear. She had got the certain sign and so “she bound the scarlet line in the window” (v 21), confident that if the thread was there, then safety in the midst of judgment was assured to her.
Her confidence was soon put to the test. The Jordan was opened up by divine power, and the host of Israel unexpectedly entered the land and surrounded Jericho (see Josh. 3 – 6). For six days they marched round it. Not a shout from the people was heard, not an arrow was shot into the city. For six days these tactics must have appeared to those within as a show of power without reality. The walls were just as strong on the sixth day as they were on the first. One can fancy the beleaguered garrison regaining confidence as they saw the victors over the Amorite power east of Jordan acting in that fashion day after day. Did Rahab remove the scarlet line when she saw the city still intact? No! She knew the judgment would surely come, whatever might be the delay, and she knew her only hope of safety lay in the scarlet line being seen in the window.
But when would the crisis arrive? Who in Jericho knew? God had fixed the day, and had acquainted Israel with it, but no one knew within the city walls. The seventh morning dawned. The host of Israel again went round the city doomed to destruction, but this time seven times instead of once. For the seventh time the trumpets were blown, and then for the first time the people shouted, and the walls of Jericho fell down flat. But where was Rahab? Her house was “upon the city–wall” (Josh. 2: 15). The walls fell down at the shout of the people, but her house must still have stood intact for the spies went into it, and brought out into a place of safety all who were inside (see Josh. 6: 22, 23). That her house remained standing, though the walls right and left had fallen down flat, demonstrates that God watched over her at that solemn moment and over all in her house. She found, and they found, that there was security and salvation from destruction for all who took shelter behind the scarlet thread.
At such a moment as the capture of a city, the assailants are not apt to be careful in their actions, but no one in Rahab’s house had a hair of their head hurt, or lost one thing that they possessed. The spies “brought out Rahab, and her father, and her mother, and her brethren, and all that she had” (v 23). The word of the spies was proved to be true. The thread was all that was needed. What a thing it is to be safe from judgment in the very place where it is being executed! The way of security had been pointed out to Rahab: her part was to obey, and to trust. She did what the spies told her, and she trusted what they said. She found it was all that was required. She had put the scarlet line in the window, and she waited in confidence behind it. Those outside the city could see there was one within it who counted implicitly on the promise of God.
So should it be with men now. Judgment is coming on the unbelieving and ungodly. We know who is to reign, and who is to have everything put under His feet. God, who has revealed this to us, has told us of the way of salvation in the words addressed to the Philippian jailer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house” (Acts 16: 31). There is security now for all who avail themselves of it. Rahab asked for herself and for her kindred. She desired salvation for them all, though at that point perhaps none of them knew what she knew. She learnt that they could be saved as well as herself, but only if they availed themselves of the shelter of the scarlet thread. They could be saved with her, but none of them could be saved if they stayed outside her house.
Every believer on earth now is in a position similar to that of Rahab between the departure of the spies and the fall of Jericho. The world may discern no catastrophe impending. Peace and safety may be its cry, but the believer, like Rahab, knows otherwise. Rahab knew she was safe only when she had got the scarlet line bound in her window. Similarly, the believer knows now that he is safe because he has trusted Christ, and has trusted to the efficacy of His blood. Each member of Rahab’s family could be assured of safety when he or she had crossed the threshold of her house—safe not simply because Rahab believed the spies, but because each one had taken refuge with her behind that scarlet thread. None could be lost who kept inside that house. What a company it was! Each one morally no better than anyone else in Jericho (and some possibly worse) and yet they were marked out as separated from all the rest through having taken refuge from coming judgment behind the cord in the window. Behind that line, and within that house, was the only place of security, not because of the position of the house, or because it was well built, but simply and solely because of the scarlet line which was kept displayed in the appointed place. So it is with Christ and the believer.
What a simple illustration of the way of deliverance from eternal punishment is given by the history of Rahab and her household! “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with the unbelieving, having received the spies in peace” (Heb. 11: 31). Remarkable faith!