Before we get to the second woman in our Christmas story, we need to take a very brief look at Joshua and the children of Israel. They were just wrapping up an arduous forty years in the wilderness, a journey fraught with peril (much of it self-imposed). Now they stood on the banks of the Jordan River, and the Lord spoke to Joshua, in great detail, on what was about to happen as they occupied the Promised Land. God told Joshua to “Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
I’m sure Joshua was strong and of good courage, but he was also prudent. So he sent a couple of spies to see what was happening in their future home. The spies went to Jericho, a formidable walled city, where they went to the house of the harlot Rahab. Why did a couple of soldiers go straight to the house of a prostitute? While the cynic in me says a couple of soldiers heading into battle will do the obvious when opportunity presents, let’s give our spies the benefit of the doubt and say they went where they were led. There is, of course, the obvious intel aspect of a local madam knowing everything going on in town, as Rahab’s clients surely liked to talk (as any reader of good spy novels will attest).
The story recounted in Joshua 2 tells us that the spies went to her and lodged there. Word got out fast to the powers that be that the Israelites had spies in town, and even faster the news spread that they were in Rahab’s house. So much for spying – their cover was blown on day one. The king sent to Rahab and demanded that she bring out the men, so she did the obvious.
Actually, she fabricated a compelling story about how some men did indeed come to her, but (in your best Sergeant Schultz voice) she knew nothing. Nothing, I tell you, but that the men went on their way out the city gate. She added they better hurry if they wanted to catch them, which they did, and, interesting detail, once the pursuers had left the city the gates were closed, locking them out.
She’s a clever one.
Of course, she did know quite a bit, as everyone in town was afraid of the advancing people of Israel with their formidable God. She hid them on the roof under flax stalks and came up to render a complete narrative – she knew about their flight from Egypt (incredibly, that was forty years before, probably before she was born), the parting of the Red Sea, their destruction of the kings of Sihon and Og. Word had gotten around, and the tribes of Israel were local legends in the great city of Jericho, long before social media, TV, radio, or even newspapers. Mostly, though, she knew they were all doomed, because, as she said: ‘for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath”. So, being a shrewd businesswoman (much like Tamar before her) she made a deal.
Rahab begged to be spared, her and her whole family, from the impending destruction. And she asked for a token, or pledge, to guarantee their safety (remember Tamar and her pledge?). The men readily agreed, having few other options, and she let them down a rope from her house on the city wall. She advised them to head for the hills, and hide there three days, until the local heat cooled down.
And then we decorated a tree, opened presents, and roasted a turkey while Silent Night played softly in the background. Not so fast – while this is an important part of the Christmas story, we aren’t there yet.
The spies gave very specific instructions, to wit:
17 So the men said to her: “We will be blameless of this oath of yours which you have made us swear, 18 unless, when we come into the land, you bind this line of scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you bring your father, your mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household to your own home. 19 So it shall be that whoever goes outside the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we will be guiltless. And whoever is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head if a hand is laid on him. 20 And if you tell this business of ours, then we will be free from your oath which you made us swear.” Joshua 2:17-20
It was a heckuva deal, and Rahab signed on the dotted line, so to speak.
But what’s this got to do with Christmas? How is this remotely involved with God’s plan for the redemption of mankind? You’re just like a kid at Christmas, ready to tear into the packages, but let’s finish our story first. And keep that scarlet thread in the front of your mind while we do.
Fast forward four chapters to Joshua chapter 6.
As expected, the Israelites showed up at Jericho. There was an elaborate plan to take the city without firing a shot (okay, they only had swords and spears at best) but that’s a whole other story. Suffice it to say, the city of Jericho fell, and the only inhabitants spared were Rahab and her family, all who had hunkered down in her house on the city wall as instructed. The scarlet thread had been the indicator, the pledge given by the spies, to the Israelites as to the location of those to be saved. Joshua 6 closes with this:
“And Joshua spared Rahab the harlot, her father’s household, and all that she had. So she dwells in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.”
Rahab knew what was coming, knew she didn’t stand a chance, knew her government couldn’t protect her. She may have been a prostitute, she certainly wasn’t a Hebrew, but she knew there must be something to this God of Israel. And she loved her family, enough to risk all she had to secure their safety. What if Jericho held, and was victorious? She would not only be ruined as a businessperson, but certainly executed as a traitor. But Rahab had a secret weapon.
She had faith.
Rahab believed in something bigger than herself. She was willing to lay it all on the line, to seek shelter from the storm that was coming. She boldly put that faith into action by helping advance the plans of God and trusting in His messengers. And that scarlet thread. Over a thousand years later, these words were written:
By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace. Hebrews 11:31
Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? James 2:25
Many years ago I listened to a fine Baptist gentleman expound on The Scarlet Thread of Redemption, a subject he was obviously well-versed in and passionate about. God shed the blood of an animal to cover Adam and Eve. The Israelites killed a lamb and painted the blood on their doorposts to be spared in Egypt, as the angel of death passed over their homes. Of course, animal sacrifice was a common element of Hebrew worship. Our heroine from Part 1 of this story, Tamar, gave birth to twins, and a red thread was tied around the wrist of her first son.
Many theologians like to weave (pun intended) these stories together to lead to the shed blood of Jesus on the cross. And rightly so, as the entirety of the Bible has only one purpose: to lead us to Christ and his redemptive work on that cross.
Which brings us back to our famous lady-of-the-evening Rahab. It was no mistake that the spies gave her a scarlet thread to hang out of her window. But it wasn’t the red rope that saved her, it was her faith in the power of God to redeem her. And a non-Israelite, a woman of ill repute, this person, and her family, surely headed for destruction, were saved.
So deck the halls with bows of holly. Stockings will be stuffed, cookies baked and decorated, gifts wrapped and tied up with a bow. Here where I live, we will celebrate a tender Tennessee Christmas, and our tree will be decorated with care (although we are long past hoping that Saint Nicholas would soon be there). And the two large wreaths hanging on the front of our home will be complete with red – scarlet, if you will – bows.
Coincidence? I think not.
The second woman mentioned in Matthew’s telling of the Christmas Story had no hope and was headed for certain destruction. She put her faith in God’s messengers, believed their message, and accepted their terms of salvation. A scarlet thread. Of redemption.
For there to be redemption, there first had to be the birth of the Savior. And as we head into the final week of Christmas, we pause and remember that very reason for His birth would be His death.
Tamar sensed that; Rahab was aware something big was up. And we have two more women left in our Christmas story…