By Doug BatchelorAn Amazing Fact: The largest rope made from all-natural materials measured 823 feet long and 7 feet, 2 inches around. Made from rice straw, it was used for a game of tug of war by citizens of Uiryeonggun, South Korea, during the Righteous Army Festival on April 22, 2005. But even weighing an immense 120,000 pounds, it was still not as strong as the cord of genuine faith.
“By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace” (Hebrews 11:30, 31).
When addressing the link between faith and works, the apostle James mentions two people: “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? … Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and 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).
No one would be surprised to see James’s reference to Abraham, the father of the faithful, but who would think to include Rahab the harlot? Yet in Hebrews 11, where Paul chronicles the heroes of faith, he writes, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace” (vv. 30, 31).
Two women are called on by name in Hebrews chapter 11—Sarah and the harlot Rahab. Did you know that Rahab was one of the ancestors of Jesus mentioned in the first chapter of the New Testament? (Matthew 1:5). Furthermore, she was the great-grandmother of King David. Obviously, the story of Rahab deserves our serious consideration!No Surprise Ambush
“Now Joshua the son of Nun sent out two men … to spy secretly, saying, ‘Go, view the land, especially Jericho’ ” (Joshua 2:1). 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 had 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 the nearly three million Israelites camped on the plain just across the river. The people in the city likely understood that their new neighbors intended to dispossess them and reclaim the land God had promised to their ancestors. They had heard how God miraculously delivered them from slavery in Egypt and parted the Red 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.
No wonder the people of Jericho were anxious about Israel’s presence across the river!Unwelcome Visitors
Joshua told the spies to go view the land, especially Jericho. “So they went, and came to the house of a harlot named Rahab, and lodged there” (Joshua 2:1).
Now, don’t think these spies went on a pleasure-seeking jaunt into the red-light district of Jericho. In these pagan cultures, big houses by the city gates would often serve as the city hotel for traveling caravans. Rahab and her family operated one of these inns right on the wall where wayfaring travelers would pass. Often these 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. Evidently, perhaps because they dressed a little differently and talked to each other in low tones with foreign accents, other customers recognized them as Israelites and made a beeline to warn the king. “And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, ‘Behold, men have come here tonight from the children of Israel to search out the country’ ” (v. 2). If Joshua is a type of Jesus, then the king of Jericho naturally represents the devil. Take note that the devil knows when God’s messengers are invading his domain.
“So the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, ‘Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house, for they have come to search out all the country.’ Then the woman took the two men and hid them. So she said, ‘Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. And it happened as the gate was being shut, when it was dark, that the men went out. Where the men went I do not know; pursue them quickly, for you may overtake them’ ” (vv. 3–5).Rahab’s Risk
This is one of the acts for which Rahab is immortalized. Rahab lived in Jericho, and by allying herself with God’s people, she was laying her life on the line. What made her do that? Jericho was situated on a main highway at the crossroads of three continents. People from many different religious backgrounds would stop at her hotel, and she would observe their peculiar customs. Yet none of these other religions had impressed her so deeply as the God of the Israelites.
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 of the hundreds of miracles they’d experienced. Any God who could do such powerful things—and 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 the providential opportunity for which she had been praying, and she began to demonstrate her faith by action. It’s what we are called to do when we accept Christ as our Savior.
When Rahab realized that her king intended to harm the spies, she found a perfect hiding place for them. “But she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order on the roof” (v. 6).
Flax was a plant of which the finer parts were used for making a soft linen 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 dyeing 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 seem as if there was any escape for Joshua’s spies; the Canaanites were swarming the city and countryside looking for them. These two Israelites had to trust their deliverance to a pagan prostitute. The Lord often uses humble instruments to do great things.
You might wonder how God could bless Rahab—after all, she lied, and lying is always a sin. However, the Bible record is faithful and records even the failings of God’s people. (For instance, in 1 Samuel 19:12–17, David’s wife Michal told her father, Saul, that David was sick in bed and, in reality, she had let David out the window to save his life.)
Yes, Rahab was dishonest. She might 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. “Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked” (Acts 17:30).
In the Bible, a woman represents a church, and Rahab is a symbol of God’s church. Have there been times when God’s church has been unfaithful? “When the LORD began to speak by Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea: ‘Go, take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the LORD’ ” (Hosea 1:2).
Unfortunately, God’s church has a record 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 is that God can forgive and change someone like Rahab. She ended up being an ancestor of Jesus. And if God can change the hearts of people like Rahab, He can change ours as well.Making a Covenant
After Rahab diverted the soldiers, she returned to the roof to commune with her refugees. After expressing faith in the God of Israel, she said, “I beg you, swear to me by the LORD, since I have shown you kindness, that you also will show kindness to my father’s house, and give me a true token, and spare my father, my mother, my brothers, my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death” (Joshua 2:12, 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.”
“So the men answered her, ‘Our lives for yours, if none of you tell this business of ours. And it shall be, when the LORD has given us the land, that we will deal kindly and truly with you.’ Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the city wall; she dwelt on the wall. And she said to them, ‘Get to the mountain, lest the pursuers meet you. Hide there three days, until the pursuers have returned. Afterward you may go your way’ ” (vv. 14–16).A Visible Sign
What sign would be given to Rahab to assure her safety?
“So the men said to her: ‘We will be blameless of this oath of yours which you have made us swear, 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’ ” (vv. 17, 18).
What line were they talking about? She had just lowered a red rope out the window, a scarlet cord, with which the men would safely descend from the high window to the ground outside the city. And unless the red rope was hanging from her window when the Israelites came to conquer 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. What might this red rope represent?
Read carefully the words of the spies: “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” (v. 19).
Like the Passover blood on the Israelites’ doorposts that indicated their trust in God’s mercy, the red rope symbolized Rahab’s covenant with Joshua through his messengers. This is the story of salvation! It is through faith that we cling to the red “rope” of Christ’s sacrifice for sin and escape eternal death.
When Joshua and his troops later came to Jericho, they marched around the city 13 times—once each day for six days. On the seventh day they marched around the city seven times. Then they blew the trumpets, shouted, and the walls fell down flat (see Joshua 6).
There were probably many people hiding in their houses when those mighty walls fell. Was it enough to be saved? No. Just as the Israelites needed the blood of the lamb on the doorposts of their homes for the angel of judgment to pass over them, so 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 multifaceted. 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. 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?
As soon as Rahab sent off the spies, she didn’t delay a moment and bound the scarlet line in her window (Joshua 2:21). She made certain that her salvation was secure before she spread the news to her family.
Now, back to our spies. After three days of hiding in the mountains, the two men returned to their camp and reported to Joshua, “Truly the LORD has delivered all the land into our hands, for indeed all the inhabitants of the country are fainthearted 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 our actions.Faith for Today and Tomorrow
Let’s look ahead a bit further. The Israelites were getting ready to blow the trumpet, the wall was about to fall, and everyone in Jericho was going to be destroyed. Joshua, who represents Christ, had some final words of counsel for them:
“The city shall be doomed by the LORD to destruction [a representation of the second coming], it and all who are in it. Only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all who are with her in the house [a symbolism of God’s church], because she hid the messengers that we sent” (Joshua 6:17).
When the walls of Jericho fell, there was a mighty shout, trumpets blew, and a great quake shook the earth. It was a deliverance for God’s people that the Bible says will be repeated in the future: “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
Those two messengers sent from Joshua represent the Word of God, the law and the prophets. Like the two witnesses in Revelation and the sword with two edges, these two spies represent God’s message of salvation found in the New and Old Testaments: “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm 119:11 KJV).
When Christ was nailed to the cross, a rope of blood flowed from His body. It’s only those who have received His Word and are in the body of Christ when Jesus comes back that will be spared that final destruction. Only those who cling by faith to the “rope” of Christ’s righteousness will survive.Hang On
In 1936 the Germans built an enormous, 804-foot-long airship called the Hindenburg
. As they were getting ready to maneuver the blimp into the hanger, about 100 men on the ground were hanging onto the zeppelin’s ropes. Unexpectedly, the huge airship rose up with tremendous force.
As soon as it lifted, 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 went up with the balloon but couldn’t hang on forever. Their arms and hands grew weak, so they let go and fell to their deaths.
Soon the Hindenburg
began to hover and drift with the breeze several hundred feet up. Yet one man remained hanging from the airship. The people on the ground wondered how long he could last. They chased the Hindenburg for about three hours. Eventually it lost altitude, landed, and the lone man was able to let go and walk away.
The stunned onlookers asked, “How did you hang on for so long?”
He replied, “Once the blimp took off, I tightened my grip. I soon realized that I couldn’t hold on forever. So, while hanging on with one arm, I used my free arm to wrap the remaining rope around my waist and then tied a knot. For three hours I just hung there, trusting the rope, and enjoyed 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. We have to tie the rope in our window, then tell our friends and family to get into the house, because Joshua (Jesus the Savior) is coming back soon with an army of angels to deliver those who have stretched out a red rope of faith, just like an unlikely hero named Rahab.