by Doug Batchelor
An Amazing Fact: Gordius was a Greek peasant who became king of Phrygia simply because he was the first man to drive into town after an oracle had commanded his countrymen to "select as ruler the first person who would drive into the public square in a wagon." In gratitude, Gordius dedicated his wagon to the god Zeus and securely tied the tongue of the wagon in the temple grove with a thick, strong rope. The knot was so intricately entwined that no one could undo it. Many tried, but all failed. A prophet said that whoever succeeded in untying the difficult knot would become the ruler of all Asia. Hearing this, young Alexander the Great attempted to untie the complex Gordian knot but was also unsuccessful, so he drew his sword and cut it through with a single stroke. Alexander of course went on to become the ruler of Asia and beyond. The expression "to cut the Gordian knot" is now used for resolving a difficult problem by a quick and decisive action.
But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? … Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (James 2:20, 21, 25, 26).
James mentions only two people when he addresses the relationship between faith and works. We're not surprised to hear him refer to Abraham, the father of the faithful, but Rahab the harlot?
In Hebrews chapter 11, where Paul chronicles the heroes of faith, he writes: "By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days. By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace" (verses 30 and 31).
Only two women are specifically mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11-Sarah and the harlot Rahab. Did you know that Rahab was also one of the ancestors of Jesus mentioned in the first chapter of the New Testament (Matthew 1:5)? In fact, she was the great-grandmother of King David. Obviously, the story of Rahab deserves our serious consideration!
Joshua and JesusThe book of Joshua tells about the children of Israel finally taking possession of the Promised Land. It's important to remember that "Joshua" is the same as the name "Jesus." Joshua is the Hebrew form, and Jesus is the Greek form. The name Joshua means "Yahweh saves or delivers." In the Old Testament there are two prominent characters named Joshua. Joshua the son of Nun was the captain and leader who led the children of Israel from the wilderness into the Promised Land after Moses died (Deuteronomy 34:9). This Joshua is a symbol for Jesus, the captain of our salvation who leads us, spiritual Israel, into our promised land-heaven (Hebrews 2:10).
The other Joshua was the high priest who accompanied the Jews from Babylon to the Promised Land. He also represents Jesus, our heavenly High Priest who leads His people out of spiritual Babylon (Hebrews 8:1). These two Old Testament Joshuas were symbols of Christ in the New Testament.
"And Joshua the son of Nun sent out … two men to spy secretly, saying, Go view the land, even Jericho" (Joshua 2:1).
Joshua was among the 12 spies that went on the first espionage mission into the Promised Land about 38 years earlier. He didn't go the second time-he sent representatives. Joshua is a symbol of Jesus in this story. Jesus came in person 2,000 years ago, and now He sends us as His messengers to bring back a report of the Promised Land.
No Surprise Ambush Jericho was a crucial city in the conquest of Canaan, and it became the site of a beachhead battle to enter the Promised Land. When Joshua surveyed Jericho with the 12 spies 38 years earlier, they noticed its massive, menacing walls looming up to heaven, but Joshua was not intimidated.
Jericho was situated near the Jordan and the Canaanites could plainly see about 3 million Israelites camped on the plain just across the river. The people in the city understood that their new neighbors intended to dispossess them. They had heard how God miraculously delivered them from slavery in Egypt and parted the sea for their escape. They had heard the stories of how the Israelites conquered other pagan nations. At night they could see the glowing pillar of fire rising from the camp of Israel. By day they watched the pillar of cloud hover above the tabernacle, shading the camp from the desert sun while the people gathered the manna that had fallen from heaven the night before. You can see why the people of Jericho were apprehensive about Israel's presence!
Unwelcome VisitorsJoshua had told the two spies to go view the land, especially Jericho, so "they went, and came into an harlot's house, named Rahab, and lodged there" (Joshua 2:1).
Please don't think these spies went on a pleasure-seeking jaunt into the red-light district of Jericho. In Bible times, especially in the pagan cultures, big houses by the city gates would often serve as the city inns. Rahab and her family operated one of these inns right on the wall where wayfaring travelers would pass. Often these bed-and-breakfast establishments had a little extra emphasis on the "bed" available for the right price. That's how Rahab got her title.
So the spies came to Rahab's inn and lodged there. They seemed to dress a little differently and talked to each other in low tones with a foreign accent. Evidently, some other customers recognized them as Israelites and made a beeline to warn the king. "And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, Behold, there came men in hither to night of the children of Israel to search out the country" (Joshua 2:2). If Joshua represents Jesus, then of course the king of Jericho represents the devil. Notice, the devil knows when God's messengers are invading his domain.
"And the king of Jericho sent unto Rahab, saying, Bring forth the men that are come to thee, which are entered into thine house: for they be come to search out all the country. And the woman took the two men, and hid them, and said thus, There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were: And it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark, that the men went out: whither the men went I wot not: pursue after them quickly; for ye shall overtake them" (Joshua 2:3-5).
Rahab's RiskThis is one of the acts for which Rahab is immortalized. Rahab lived in Jericho, and by her allying herself with God's people she was laying her life on the line. What made her do that?
Operating an inn by the city gate and entertaining caravans and travelers from around the world must have been like living next to the CNN headquarters! Rahab knew what was going on. She was listening and looking for truth and the meaning of life. She knew about the many different empty religions of the world with their cruel rituals.
In her heart, Rahab believed that the religion of Jericho was just as foolish and futile as the others of which she'd heard. All of her life she'd been hearing reports about how this nation of slaves had been saved from Egypt and about the hundreds of miracles they'd experienced. Any God who could do such powerful things-who loves His people that much-was the God Rahab wanted to serve!
I believe Rahab began praying to the God of Israel to spare her and her family from the certain impending judgment on Jericho. When the two spies came through, she believed it was a divine opportunity, and she began to demonstrate her faith by action. She was ready to lay her life on the line.
If you were caught for treason in Bible times, they'd pluck out your eyes, cut off your tongue and hands, and drag you half-alive through the streets of the city before they stoned you as a traitor.
When she received the messengers from Joshua into her house, she was taking a tremendous risk. Likewise, when you decide to be a Christian, you are receiving the messengers from Jesus into your life. You too must be willing to resist the king of sin that you've been serving.
The Red RopeWhen Rahab realized that her king intended to harm the spies, she found a perfect hiding place for them. "She had brought them up to the roof of the house, and hid them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order upon the roof" (Joshua 2:6).
Flax was a plant. The finer parts of the plant were used for making linen, a soft cloth. The coarser parts of the plant were woven together into twine, and the twine was eventually braided together into rope.
Like many in her day, Rahab probably had a little family business on the roof of dying cloth and cord. She specialized in red, just as Lydia was a seller of purple (Acts 16:14).
When the soldiers went out to search for the spies, the city gates were locked (Joshua 2:7). It didn't look as if there was any escape for Joshua's spies, for the Canaanites were swarming the city and countryside looking for them.
These two Israelites had to trust their deliverance to a pagan prostitute who believed in their God. The Lord often uses humble instruments to do great things.
Was Rahab Dishonest?I know we all wonder how God could bless Rahab-after all, she lied, and lying is always a sin. However, the Bible record is faithful and even records the failings of God's people. Do you remember when David pretended to be crazy to escape Achish the king of Gath (1 Samuel 21:12-15)? How about when David's wife Michal told her father, Saul, that David was sick in bed and then let David out the window to save his life (1 Samuel 19:12-17)?
Yes, Rahab was dishonest. She may not have known better at such an early stage in her experience with God. Yet her action came from faith in Him, and the Lord looked on her sincere heart. "And the times of this ignorance God winked at" (Acts 17:30).
Rahab, God's ChurchIn the Bible a woman represents a church, and Rahab is a symbol of God's church. Have there been times in the history of God's church where she has been unfaithful? "And the Lord said to Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from Lord" (Hosea 1:2).
Unfortunately, God's church has a record in the Bible-and in the present-of sometimes playing the harlot. As a baptized Christian, you are symbolically married to Jesus. You make vows when you commit your life to Him. If you turn from Him and deliberately follow the temptations of the devil, you are committing a form of spiritual adultery.
The good news in this story is that God can forgive and change someone like Rahab. She ended up being a mother in Israel and an ancestor of Jesus. And if God can change the hearts of people like Rahab and Mary Magdalene, He can change yours and mine as well.
Making a CovenantAfter Rahab diverted the soldiers, she returned to the roof to commune with her refugees. "I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. … For the Lord your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath" (Joshua 2:9, 11). Obviously, Rahab had faith in their God as the ultimate Creator.
She goes on to say, "Now therefore, I pray you, swear unto me by the Lord, since I have shewed you kindness that ye will also shew kindness unto my father's house, and give me a true token: And that ye will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death" (verses 12 and 13).
Rahab wasn't concerned just with her own salvation, but also with that of her family. This should be a characteristic of God's church. As soon as we say, "Lord save me," our next prayer should be, "Lord save my loved ones." In the Lord's Prayer, we don't say, "Give me this day my daily bread," but we say, "Our father," "our bread," "forgive us," and "deliver us" (Matthew 6:9-13).
Rahab also asked for a sign of their agreement. "Our life for yours," replied the spies (verse 14). This is the essence of the gospel. By dying on the cross, Jesus in effect said to you and me, "My life for yours." The men agreed to intercede with Joshua on behalf of Rahab and her family. They knew that Joshua was a just and merciful leader.
"And it shall be, when the Lord hath given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with thee. Then she let them down by a cord through the window: for her house was upon the town wall, and she dwelt upon the wall. And she said unto them, Get you to the mountain, lest the pursuers meet you; and hide yourselves there three days, until the pursuers be returned" (Joshua 2:14-16). How long was Jesus in the tomb? Three days.
A Visible Sign"And the men said unto her, We will be blameless of this thine oath which thou hast made us swear. Behold, when we come into the land, thou shalt bind this line of scarlet thread in the window which thou didst let us down by" (verses 17 and 18). What line were they talking about? She had just lowered a red rope out the window-a scarlet cord-down which the men would safely descend from the high roof to the ground outside the city. And unless the red rope was hanging from her window when the Israelites came to conqueror the city, no one in her house would be saved. The rope by which she delivered the messengers would be the same rope that delivered Rahab and her loved ones.
In the Bible, windows represent our witness. Remember when Daniel prayed with his window open? What might the red rope represent? Reread Exodus chapter 12, the story of the Passover. The angel of judgment killed all the firstborn of Egypt, save only those who had spread the blood of a spotless lamb on their door posts. These messengers in Jericho used the very same symbol. Let's look at what happens.
"Thou shalt bring thy father, and thy mother, and thy brethren, and all thy father's household, home unto thee. And it shall be, that whosoever shall go out of the doors of thy house into the street, his blood shall be upon his head, and we will be guiltless: and whosoever shall be with thee in the house, his blood shall be on our head, if any hand be upon him" (Joshua 2:18, 19).
Like the blood on the Israelites' doorposts indicated their trust in God's mercy, the red rope symbolized Rahab's covenant with Joshua via his messengers. This is the story of salvation, friends!
Safety in the HouseYou know the rest of the story. Joshua and his troops marched around Jericho 13 times. One time for each of six days; then after resting the Sabbath, on the seventh day of marching they encircled the city seven times. Then they blew the trumpets, shouted, and the walls fell down flat (Joshua chapter 6).
There were probably many people hiding in their houses when those mighty walls fell. Was that enough to save them-to be in some house, somewhere? No; just as it was vital for the Israelites to have the lamb's blood on their doorposts when the angel of judgment passed through Egypt, it was crucial to be in Rahab's house with the red rope in the window when the walls came down.
The spiritual significance of this story is multi-faceted. Not only does it tell the story of salvation, but it also has practical application for Christians today. Does it matter if we gather in God's house? Yes! It's very important as we approach the end of time that we do not forsake the assembling of ourselves together and that we attend church. If we do not have enough faith to get us to church once a week, how can we expect to have enough faith to get to heaven?
When the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost (Acts chapter 2), don't you think the apostles were glad they were all in the right house? The Spirit didn't fall on every house in Jerusalem. It was a certain upper room of a specific house; and they were gathered together praying when it happened. Likewise, in the last days there will be many churches, but we must be in God's true church.
Victory in JesusNotice that as soon as Rahab sent off the spies she didn't delay a moment and bound the scarlet line in the window (Joshua 2:21). She made certain that her salvation was secure before she spread the news to her family.
After three days hiding in the mountains, the spies returned to their camp and reported to Joshua; "Truly the Lord hath delivered into our hands all the land; for even all the inhabitants of the country do faint because of us" (Joshua 2:24).
The spies knew they were going to win the battle because the people in Jericho had lost heart. They did not come back and report on Jericho's fortifications, armaments, or soldiers. Instead, they said, "The Lord's going to give Jericho to us because we have faith and they don't."
Remember, we are saved by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8). However, if that faith is real, it will be demonstrated by action. For instance, when David went to fight Goliath, he said to the giant, "Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts," (1 Samuel 17:45). Did David use a weapon? Yes, he had a sling. Those stones represent the works that sprang from his sling of faith.
Faith for Today and TomorrowDo you sometimes get discouraged and fainthearted? When we lose heart, we lose the battle. But as Christians, our faith not only gets us to heaven, but also helps us get through each day on this earth. We must not give up on God, no matter how bleak the circumstances may look. "Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world" (1 John 4:4).
Let's look ahead a bit further. The Israelites are getting ready to blow the trumpet, the wall is about to fall, and everyone in Jericho is going to be destroyed. Joshua, who represents Christ, has some final words of counsel for them.
"And the city shall be accursed, even it, and all that are therein, to the Lord [symbolically, this is talking about Jesus' second coming]: only Rahab the harlot [God's church] shall live, she and all that are with her in the house, because she hid the messengers that we sent" (Joshua 6:17).
When Christ was nailed to the cross, there were ribbons of blood that flowed from His body, just like a rope. It's only those who are in the body of Christ when Jesus comes back that will be spared that final destruction.
Truly, we are saved by faith. We are also saved by one work. "Then said they unto Him [the Jews talking to Jesus], What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent" (John 6:28, 29). That is the single most important work everybody must do to be saved-we must choose to believe in the One He sent.
Hang On, Have Faith, Enjoy the ViewBack in 1937 the Germans made an enormous airship called the Hindenburg-it was 804 feet long! One time they were getting ready to launch it, and they had about 100 men on the ground hanging onto the zeppelin's ropes, trying to maneuver it into its hanger. They don't know exactly what happened, but suddenly this enormous airship rose up with tremendous force.
As soon as it started shooting up, some of the men let go of the ropes, dropped to the ground, and didn't get hurt. Others waited until they were 50 or more feet off the ground before they let go, and when they fell they broke their ankles and legs. A few others panicked and instinctively tightened their grip. They kept going up with the balloon until soon they couldn't hang on any more, let go, and fell to their deaths.
Soon the Hindenburg began to hover and drift with the breeze several hundred feet up. One man remained. The people on the ground wondered how long he could last. They chased the airship for about three hours, and it eventually lost altitude until the man was able to let go and walk away.
The stunned onlookers asked. "How did you hang on for so long?" He said; "Once the blimp took off, I tightened my grip. Eventually I realized that I couldn't hold on forever. So I held on with one arm while I took my free arm and wrapped the remaining rope around my waste and tied a basic knot. For the last three hours I was just hanging up there, trusting the rope, and enjoying the view!"
Rahab's red rope is ultimately a symbol of faith. We must tie a knot in the promises of God and hang on. It is also a symbol of the blood of Christ.
You and I can't get to heaven trusting in what we've done. We've must have faith in the rope-the blood of Christ that saves us and carries us to safety. This one thing will make the difference for everyone. Like Rahab, we must receive the messengers that come from Joshua. Those two messengers represent the Word of God, the New and Old Testaments, the two witnesses, the sword with two edges. As we hide God's Word in our hearts, the Bible promises it will keep us from sin (Psalm 119:11). We have to tie the rope in our window, then tell our friends and family to get into the house, because Joshua is coming back soon with an army of angels to deliver the ones who have the red rope in