Revive Our Hearts Radio

The Scarlet Thread

Leslie Basham: Nancy Leigh DeMoss says the biblical character Rahab communicated something very important by taking one small action.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Faith led her to obedience. Her faith produced the fruit of obedience, and her obedience was precise, even in something seemingly so insignificant and trivial as “hang this cord outside your window.”

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Thursday, February 23.

Do you ever feel like God couldn’t possibly love you? Well, stop what you’re doing then, and listen as Nancy Leigh DeMoss gives hope to everyone despite any past sins. She’s in a series called, Rahab and the Thread of Redemption.

NancyI love the story of Rahab that we’re studying in this series because she’s such an awesome picture of the great redeeming God we have. We see in her life, in this account, some hints of the gospel, hints of the way that Christ came to this earth to redeem sinners. We’re going to see that as we continue in this story.

If you’re following along in your Bible, we’re in the book of Joshua, chapter 2. Rahab has just told the two spies who have come to her house . . . Rahab is a prostitute by background, but we’re seeing that faith has been planted in her heart.

It’s not clear to us whether she was still involved in prostitution at this point. Commentators disagree on that, and I think the reason is because we don’t know for sure what the timeline in her life was, but the more I study this passage, the more I believe that in the recent past, she had come to place her faith in the God of Israel based on the story she had heard—just limited information—faith had been awakened, quickened within her heart.

I believe she was if not already converted, she was in the process of being born again in Old Testament sense, and either had just left her trade, or was certainly on her way to leaving her trade as she got more knowledge of the Word and the ways of God.

She makes this incredible declaration, this statement of faith, “I have heard; I believe that your God is the God of heaven and earth, but the gods we’ve been worshiping in Canaan all these years, all my life, they are not real gods. I believe in your God.” She has asked those spies, knowing that the Israelites are going to take over Canaan, are going to destroy Jericho, it’s marked for judgment, she said, “Please spare me, and please spare my family.”

So let me pick up again in verse 12. She says,

Please swear to me by the LORD that, as I have dealt kindly with you, [by not turning you in, by sparing your lives, swear to me that] you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death (vv. 12-13).

So she appeals for mercy. She knows she doesn’t deserve it, but she’s appealing to the God of Israel, Jehovah, that these men represent, to have mercy on her. She asks these men to make an oath. Some of your translations say “a pledge of truth.” Swear it to me, promise, make an oath that you will deal kindly with me and with my family, and that you will spare our lives as I have spared yours.

In verse 14 they make an oath, a promise to spare her.

And the men said to her, "Our life for yours, even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours [if you don’t give us away] then when the LORD gives us the land [which she already had told them she knew was going to happen, when the Lord, not if, but when the Lord gives us the land] we will deal kindly and faithfully with you.”

Then they give her three conditions that are necessary for her to keep in order for this oath to be binding. Verse 17, the men said to her,

We will be guiltless with respect to this oath of yours that you have made us swear. Behold, when we come into the land, [here’s the first condition, number one:] you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down. [We’ll come back to that in a few moments.]

Number two:

You shall gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household. [If they’re going to be spared, they’ve got to come into this house, your house.] If anyone goes out of the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we shall be guiltless. But if a hand is laid on anyone who is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head.

Here’s the third condition in verse 20,

If you tell this business of ours, then we shall be guiltless with respect to your oath that you have made us swear.

So three things. First of all, she’s got to take this scarlet cord and tie it in the window. (We’re going to talk today and the next session about that scarlet cord.) Number two, you have to bring all your family into the house, and number three, you can’t give us away. You can’t tell anyone else. You’ve got to be sworn to secrecy. Verse 21:

And she said, [and I love this response] "According to your words, so be it.”

According to your words, so be it. She took them at their word. She believed them.

Then she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.

What’s the first thing she did after they left? She met the first condition. No delay. Immediately she does what they have told her to do. You get the sense there is nothing more important that she could do next. There’s the sense of urgency. “If he has said, and if this God that they represent has said that I must tie this scarlet cord in the window, then that’s what I must do.” She obeys instantly.

So we see this progression in the life of Rahab the prostitute, the Canaanite. First, she saw her plight. She saw her need. She was part of a city that was marked for destruction, and she was one of the sinners in that city who deserved to die. Then she realized that she was unable to save herself. She didn’t say to these men, “I think I’m going to try to get out of this city. I’m going to try to get my family to escape.”

She knew that there was no way that she could save herself, (we’re seeing hints of the gospel in this account) yet she believed that she could be saved. So what did she do? She went to the lifeline. She laid hold of the God of Israel for mercy. She knew He was her only hope.

Then she evidenced her faith that God had already put in her heart by obeying the condition that she was given. And what was this first condition? Tie this scarlett cord in the window. She tied it in the window. She obeyed. That obedience evidenced her faith. She demonstrated her faith. She believed that she would be spared, so she put out that scarlet cord, hung it out her window over the wall of her house, which you remember was on the city wall.

So her house was perched on top of the wall and that cord would hang down, we don’t know how long it was, but it would hang down the wall of her house, and it could be seen from anyone approaching the city from outside the wall.

Now I want to just expand this whole concept of this scarlet cord. We see in that cord a symbol of a couple of different things.

First of all, I see in that cord a symbol of this woman’s sin, her guilt, her shame. I think of the term "red light district." You think about this woman's trade, her background in prostitution, and how dirty she must have already felt now that she was coming to know Jehovah was a God of holiness. Now she has to further identify herself with this scarlet cord hanging out her window.

Imagine people passing by in the hours and days that followed and pointing to her house and saying, “That’s where Rahab the prostitute lives.” People scoffing at her, scorning her, mocking her, and yet we see in her putting this scarlet cord out the window that she’s a sinner who is willing to let others see who she really is. She’s not trying to pretend that she doesn’t need to be rescued.

When you come to experience the lovingkindness, the faithfulness, the mercy of God, you come to the point where you know you’re a sinner, and you’re not really afraid of anybody else finding out, because you know you’re in the same boat with every other human being who’s ever been born. Nothing to hide. Nothing to cover.

She's not trying to be pious, trying to be religious, "I'm a good church person. I don't need to be rescued. I don't need to be redeemed." Here it is. It’s scarlet.

God doesn’t waste details. Why the detail that it had to be a scarlet cord? I think, in the first place, that it’s a picture of her sin. It’s a picture of her shame. It’s a picture of her guilt. But she didn’t have to hide her past sin. She didn’t have to hide her lifestyle. She didn’t have to hide her failures. She didn’t have to cover up and pretend she was something better than she was. She had come to know, in just the little infant stages of growth, she had come to know the God of Israel.

Yes, she knew He was a God of judgment, but she also was learning that He was a God of mercy and grace, and she knew that her sin could be covered; that she could be restored; that she could be redeemed; that she could be rescued in spite of her lifestyle.

The spies didn’t say to her, “Well, we could spare you, but we notice here that you’re running a house of ill repute, and we think you need to do something to clean up your act first.” They didn’t put that kind of condition on her being rescued. They knew who she was. God was in a position of rescuing her life. She wasn't going to stay a prostitute. As she got knew revelations of God's ways, she responded to the light she had, and there was evidence that she was going to continue to respond to new light. They said, "You can be rescued."

I think of that verse in Isaiah chapter 1, where God says, “Come now, let us reason together . . . though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though [your sins] are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (v. 18). Now why did God liken the sins of His people to scarlet and red and crimson?

I think in that context it’s a sign of the blood that was on the hands of God’s people because of their sins. As you think about your past, it’s possible that you may have gone so far as to actually take another life, and may have that kind of blood on your hands.

I interviewed a woman recently for Revive Our Hearts who told the story of how she had an abortion at the age of 19, and she spoke of the moment, years later, when it hit her that she had killed her baby and realized, “I have blood on my hands.” Only through the mercy and the grace of God had she come to find cleansing and release and rescue.

You think, “I’ve never done that. I’ve not had an abortion. I’ve never murdered anyone. There’s not blood on my hands.” I want to tell you, we all have blood on our hands. Remember that moment when Pilate, Pontius Pilate the governor, tried Jesus and found Him to be innocent. Pilate said he’d done nothing wrong, but the mob demanded that Jesus be crucified? Matthew tells us that Pilate took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. See to it yourselves.” And the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matt. 27:25).

The blood of Christ who went to Calvary, the innocent Son of God, shed His blood for sinners, and His blood is on our hands. Our sins are as scarlet. They are red like crimson. Yet God says, “You can be white as snow. You can be as wool. You can be clean. You can be free from the guilt. You don’t have to live with that scarlet letter. You don’t have to live with scarlet reminding you of your sin.”

Scarlet can be a symbol of the sin, the guilt, and the shame that so many women wear today, including some in this room who are still living with that sense of guilt and shame. To those who are living with that guilt and that shame, scarlet represents your sin. But I want to tell you, scarlet represents something else. It represents her means of salvation.

Rahab and her family, she was told by the spies, must be in the house when the judgment came, with the scarlet cord hanging on the outside.

That brings to mind the night that took place forty years earlier, one of the most important nights in the history of the Jewish people. Now these two young men, these two spies might not even have been alive that night, but they would have heard that story many times.

You read about it in Exodus chapter 12, as God was getting ready to deliver His people out of captivity in Egypt, and God said each family was to select a lamb from the flock, a lamb without blemish, and on the fourteenth day of the month, they were to kill those lambs, each family killing its own lamb, at twilight.

Then Exodus tells us that "they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintels of the houses in which they eat it" (v. 7). Kill the lamb, take the blood, and wipe some of it on each of the doorposts and on the lintel above the door in each of your homes where you’re going to eat this lamb.

Then God said, “I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast.” God is coming in judgment to Egypt, and He says, “On all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt” (vv. 12-13).

How similar is that to this story of Rahab where she is told, “Let the scarlet cord down through your window so it marks your house, and it becomes a symbol, a symbol of the means of your salvation. When the Israelites come in to take over your land, they will see this cord, the color of blood, and while they’re judging all the other houses on behalf of God, the righteous judge, they will see that blood-colored cord in your window, and you will be spared. We will pass over your house.”

You see, that night of the first Passover, the Israelites were no less sinners than the Egyptians. Don’t think the Egyptians were more wicked than the Israelites. They were all born sinners, rebellious against God. They were all deserving of God’s judgment, and “the soul that sins, it shall die,” God’s Word says. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). So there had to be a death in each household. Either the firstborn would die, or a lamb would die, an innocent substitute, a sacrifice would have its blood shed.

So in the Egyptian houses, the firstborn sons died, but in the houses of God’s people, a lamb died, and the faith of those Jews back at that first Passover was evidenced when they applied the blood to the two doorposts and the lintel of their home.

Now in Rahab’s case, every family member who was inside her house with the scarlet cord when the Israelites came in, every one would be spared. If they left the house, they’d be out from under the protection of the promises of God and of that scarlet cord. They would die, and their blood would be on their own head.

Rahab had made a profession of faith. She had expressed her desire to be saved from God’s judgment. The spies had promised to preserve her life, but she still would have perished if she had not demonstrated her faith by hanging that scarlet cord outside the window of her home. Her life depended on it, and in a sense, she was placing her faith in that red cord. Not in the cord itself, but in all that it represented. She was placing her faith in the ones who had made this promise to her. She could not be saved; her life could not be spared; she would perish apart from that red cord in her window.

That scarlet cord was visible. She made a public profession, expression of her faith. She was willing to go on record, and that cord became an external evidence of the faith that was in her heart. Her faith led her to obedience. Her faith produced the fruit of obedience, and her obedience was precise, even in something seemingly so insignificant and trivial as “hang this cord outside your window.” The fact that she obeyed even in that seemingly little matter was an evidence that her faith was genuine.

I read a sermon by a Canadian pastor on the life of Rahab, and let me read to you what he has to say at this point. He says, "When you think of it, a single scarlet rope doesn’t seem to offer a lot of protection from an invading army." It seems an especially flimsy defense when you consider how God brought about the destruction. Those walls just came tumbling down. How is that cord going to spare your life? 

When you think of it, a single scarlet rope doesn’t seem to offer a lot of protection from an invading army. Hearing that the blood of Christ keeps us safe from God’s wrath might sound a little foolish, yet this is God’s promise. If we want to find refuge from God’s anger against our sins and lack of faithfulness, we will only find it in the scarlet blood of Christ.

Take refuge in His blood, even as Rahab took refuge in her home behind that scarlet cord. Trust that even when the world is falling down around your ears, eternal destruction will not touch you because Jesus’ blood washes away our sin and keeps us safe from God’s wrath.

Even as we’ve been talking about being spared from the wrath of God, I wonder if there might not be here in this room one or more women who have never placed your faith in Jesus Christ as the only means of your salvation for your sin. To you that scarlet cord has only represented your sin, your shame, your guilt, and you feel like you've worn it like a scarlet letter "A" around your chest. You’ve lived in the bondage and under the weight of that shame and that guilt.

Let me say to you, that scarlet cord represents the blood of Jesus Christ, and it is not only a reminder of your past sin, but it is a reminder, more importantly, of the blood of Jesus Christ that saves us from all  sin.

You say, “How do I get saved?” You find refuge in Jesus Christ. By faith you say, “Lord, I believe. I place my faith in Christ to save me. Not in my works, not in my own effort, not in any good thing that I can do, but in Christ and Christ alone to save me from my sin and from Your righteous wrath.”

Today, if God is speaking to your heart by His Holy Spirit, He’s drawing your heart to stop right now and say in your heart, “Lord, I believe. I believe. I believe in Christ. I believe He died for me, and when You come to judge this world, as You will, will You look at Christ and look at His blood applied to my heart by faith, and thank You that you will pass over, because the sinless Lamb has already been killed, the blood has been shed, and my life can be spared.”

Let me say to you, if you’re a child of God, don’t ever forget that you have no other hope for eternal salvation than what Jesus Christ did for you when He shed His blood on that cross.

That's your life; that's your hope. The evidence of your faith will be your obedience in the big things and the little things. It's a life of saying, "Yes, Lord," because I trust You; I believe You. I will do what You have said.

Lord, I pray that this would be the day of salvation perhaps even for someone in this room. Thank You, Lord, for the blood of Jesus that saves us, cleanses us, washes us, purifies us from sin. Thank You that, though our sins were as scarlet, we can be white as snow. Thank You for cleansing and washing us by the blood of Jesus, in whose name we pray, amen.

Leslie: If you just prayed with Nancy, putting your hope in the blood of Christ for the forgiveness of sin, we want to send you some information about what it means to walk in new life. Let us know about your newfound faith and ask for the book. We’ll send it to you at no cost. Our number is 1-800-569-5959. You can also contact us by visiting ReviveOurHearts.com.

Today’s program is part of a series called Rahab and the Thread of Redemption. She literally hung a scarlet thread out her window that saved her, but she also joined the thread of redemption running through Scripture, joining the lineage of Jesus, our ultimate redemption.

I hope you’ll explore the life of this prostitute who learned what mercy and forgiveness is all about. When you order the complete CD series, you’ll hear longer versions of Nancy’s teaching segments than we’ve had time to air, and you’ll be able to take your time and learn from Nancy, read the Bible and get to know this encouraging story.

Order Rahab and the Thread of Redemption when you visit ReviveOurHearts.com, or ask about it when you call 1-800-569-5959.

Women are often held back from enjoying God’s forgiveness by the feeling, “God couldn’t forgive my sin. What I’ve done is too bad.” Nancy will address that thought tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts is an outreach of Life Action Ministries, and my mom is a true woman.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version.


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