The Bible: The Scarlet Cord
Scott Bayles, pastor
Blooming Grove Christian Church: 3/10/2013
Nearly every family has a set of beloved stories they tell over and over. It may be how Grandpa came to this country with five dollars in his pocket. Or of an ancestor who fought in a famous battle. It may be the story of a romance, or a child’s rescue, or a moment of accomplishment. I enjoy telling the story of Ashley proposing to me.
In some ways, the stories we remember—and tell—shape us. They explain where we’ve come from. They shed light on who we are. They guide our steps as we move forward in life. That is one of the reasons the Bible is so important, or should be, because it is the story of all of us, from the first words of Genesis to the last lines of Revelation. And the stories of the Bible are more than just stories—they are the history of God’s relationship with humanity.
That’s why, all through the month of March, we are revisiting some of the most compelling and dramatic Bible stories, with the help of clips from the made-for-television miniseries called, appropriately enough, The Bible. It started airing last Sunday night on The History Channel and will continue tonight and through Easter Sunday evening. I hope everyone got the first episode. And, if you’re like me, then the most disappointing part of the series is how much of the Bible wound up on the cutting room floor. The first episode spends about an hour on the life of Abraham and an hour on Moses and the exodus. So many more stories could have been told, but then each episode would have to be six or eight hours long.
Tonight, one of the stories you’ll see and the story we’ll focus on today is the story of Rahab, a story almost hidden away in the first chapters of the sixth book of the Bible––the book of Joshua. But in many ways, it is also my story—and yours—and it’s as current as this morning’s headlines.
But in order to fully appreciate Rahab’s story, we must understand the backstory, which involves the Exodus––the deliverance of God’s people from slavery in Egypt. So as today’s story begins, the background is this: God’s people had been delivered from slavery in Egypt, led through the Red Sea, and had wandered in the Sinai wilderness for forty years. There, they had received God’s Law and coalesced as a nation, but they were still nomads. They still had no home.
The Promised Land was not yet theirs. In order for that to happen, they had to conquer the most heavily fortified city in the entire land—Jericho. And so Joshua sent some spies into the city to scout things out, which is where this clip picks up.
NEXT SLIDE—CLIP WILL PLAY AUTOMATICALLY
For those of you familiar with this story, you probably noticed some artistic liberties and a little more action than what the Bible describes. But we’ll dig into the Scriptures to get a more complete picture of Rahab’s story as we go. And, as I’ve said, this story isn’t just Rahab’s story; it is yours and mine, too, at least in several ways, and the first way is this—Rahab’s story begins with a sinful choice.
• A SINFUL CHOICE
The Bible says that Joshua sent these two spies from the Israeli camp across the river to check out the situation on the other side. And “They arrived at an inn operated by a woman named Rahab, who was a prostitute” (Joshua 2:1 TLB). All through the Bible, whenever her name is mentioned, right there next to it is that word—prostitute. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for prostitute and innkeeper is the same—Rahab was apparently both. They say the key to a successful business is location, location, location. And Rahab couldn’t have asked for a better one.
With her inn built right against the city wall, she could see whenever travelers came to the gate and all she had to do was call down and bat her eyes at attractive young customers to get their attention.
Now, it’s very likely that Rahab was a widow and sadly many widows in those days resorted to prostitution just get by. But Rahab, unlike other women, wasn’t without resources. She owned an inn which could have been run as a legitimate business. She had family living right there in town with her. Yet, she was still soliciting sex. She was trading pleasure for profits. What I’m saying is that she wasn’t a prostitute because she had to be, she was a prostitute because she wanted to be. And that tells us something about her character. Rahab chose to live sinful lifestyle. She made a sinful choice.
But before we look down our noses at Rahab, let’s be honest—we’ve all made some sinful choices. And sometimes those choices get us into trouble, like the burglar who chose to break into a nice house in a wealthy neighborhood.
As he was stealing the valuables and loading them into his duffle bag, he heard a voice out of the darkness that said, “Jesus is watching you.” He froze and looked around, but didn’t see anyone so he thought maybe it just his guilty conscience getting to him. He started to grab some more stuff, but then he heard it again, “Jesus is watching you.” So he flipped on his flashlight and noticed a bird cage with a cover over it. The words came from the cage, “Jesus is watching you.” So the thief pulled off the cover and saw a parrot. “And what’s you name little fella?” the thief asked. The parrot said, “Moses.” The thief replied, “What kind of person would name a parrot Moses?” The parrot answered, “The same kind of person that would name a Rottweiler Jesus.”
It was the preacher Billy Sunday who said “Sin can be forgiven, but stupid is forever.” When we’re honest with ourselves, though, we know we’ve made more than our share of sinful and stupid choices. We all have a past. We all know what it is like to live with regrets. Maybe you’ve done things that you’re ashamed even to admit. Maybe you’ve even doubt at times that God could ever really forgive you.
But when God looked at Rahab, he didn’t see a prostitute; he saw potential. She was not beyond the reach of a loving God. Rahab’s past reminds us that no one is beyond the grasp of God’s amazing grace. Like Rahab, we’ve all made sinful choices, but the turning point in Rahab’s story comes in the form of a sincere confession.
• A SINCERE CONFESSION
One of the details that the clip we watched leaves out is that the Israelite spies actually spent the night at Rahab’s inn. They probably figured that two travelers spending the night at a prostitute’s place wouldn’t arouse much suspicion. But they were wrong. Somehow word got out that the spies were staying at Rahab’s and the King of Jericho sent soldiers to her door.
Suddenly Rahab faced a decision. She could have turned the spies over to the soldiers. She didn’t have to help them. The safe choice probably would have been to stay out of the line of fire. But given a choice between the side the Lord was on and the other side, she chose the Lord’s side. She hid the spies under some stalks of flax on her roof, and then told the soldiers that they had already left.
I think something was happening in Rahab’s heart. I think she was ready to be somewhere else. I think she was ready to be someone else. Because after sending the soldiers away, Rahab goes up to the roof and makes this heartfelt confession, “I know the LORD has given this land to your people. You frighten us very much. Everyone living in this land is terribly afraid of you because… the LORD your God rules the heavens above and the earth below!” (Joshua 2:9-11 NCV).
Rahab had apparently heard the stories about God leading the Hebrews out of slavery, how he parted the Red Sea and destroyed the Egyptian army. She heard of Israel’s other victories east of the Jordan. She didn’t really know the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but she knew enough to recognize that he was the real deal—that Joshua’s God was the God of heaven and earth. She didn’t know very much about him, but what little she knew was enough to ignite a spark of faith within her heart.
Rahab certainly had a long way to go spiritually, but a darkened conscience is only gradually enlightened and faith has a way of helping us turn our lives around and make the right decisions regardless of our past, what others may think or what the consequences may be. Rahab had just taken the very first step in a life-long journey with the God of the universe.
Rahab’s story is our story too. Many of you here today, who have been walking with the Lord a number of years, can probably remember the moment your heart became convicted like Rahab’s. Maybe it was a particular sermon, maybe it was a traumatic event or just the gentle encouragement of a loved one—but at some point you realized that this God is the real deal and life without God just didn’t make sense anymore.
Some of you may not be at that point yet. But wherever you are on your spiritual journey, Rahab’s sincere confession of faith encourages each of us to step out on faith and put our lives into the hands of God.
• A SCARLET CORD
Now, the final chapter in Rahab’s story is marked by a scarlet cord.
In return for their safety, the spies vowed to protect Rahab when the Israelite assault began, provided she abided by two conditions. The spies told her, “We will be bound by the oath we have taken only if you follow these instructions. When we come into the land, you must leave this scarlet rope hanging from the window through which you let us down. And all your family members—your father, mother, brothers, and all your relatives—must be here inside the house” (Joshua 2:17-18 NLT).
A scarlet cord. Red, like blood. Hanging outside the city wall.
One of the last few lines in the clip is “you’ll be passed over,” which is a reference to the Exodus, forty years earlier. It is a recognition that something like that is happening again for Rahab and her family. 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. That scarlet cord became a symbol of her salvation.
And, of course, you know how the story ends. Israel’s army surrounded the city and marched around it every day, for seven days. When the walls fell, Israel’s army took the city but spared Rahab. Not only was Rahab protected during the battle, but she was accepted into the community of Israel. She eventually met a man who loved her for who she was rather than what she could do. In time, they married and had a child together. That child’s name was Boaz, who would later marry another woman of faith—Ruth. Through Boaz and Ruth, Rahab would become the great-grandmother of King David!
Rahab’s life was changed by that scarlet cord. I’m convinced that God sent those spies into enemy territory just for Rahab—just to save her.
Through the years that scarlet cord has come to be a symbol of our salvation as well—a symbol of the scarlet blood Jesus shed on the cross for you and me. What the scarlet cord in the window was to Rahab, the blood of Jesus is to us.
The fact is—Rahab’s story is our story too. Like her, we trust in the promises of a Man who came to our sinful world, left, and pledged to return. But he didn’t come just to look around. He came for you. Even if you were the only person on this entire planet who believed in him, he still would have come—just for you. We don’t deserve to be saved any more than Rahab did. Like her, we’ve all made sinful choices. Yet, God still demonstrates amazing love and matchless grace to anyone and everyone who puts their faith in him.
What Joshua did for Rahab, Jesus does for us.
I want to encourage everyone to watch the next episode in this series tonight.
In the meantime, maybe you’re ready to take a step of faith like Rahab did. Maybe you’d like to hang a scarlet cord from your window. Maybe today will be the start of a new chapter in your story. If you’d like to talk with someone about your life or your relationship with God or if you’d like to make your own confession of faith, please come forward while we stand and sing.