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The Scarlet Thread and the Holy Cross

By Thomas Kincaid

“And men, when you get in there, remember to look for the scarlet thread.”

The promised fall of Jericho had been a long time coming for Israel’s army. There had been the promise, then the spies, then the mobilization, then the encampment. And all of that was the precursor to six days of silent marching around the city’s impregnable wall. “On the seventh day they rose early at the dawn of day, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times” (Josh. 6:15)

And the time had come. Joshua’s final instructions to his army about their next steps after the wall came down were mostly what you might expect. He had instructions about how the soldiers should behave — “keep yourselves from the things devoted to destruction” —  and what to do with the spoils — “all silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are sacred to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord” (Josh. 6:18, 19). All what fairly typical to the moment.

Except for the reminder: “Rahab the harlot and all who are with her in her house shall live” (Josh. 6:17).

Look for the scarlet thread.

Rahab’s salvation—and that of the whole of her father’s household — hinged upon that scarlet thread. Nothing else would save them except a single run of red.

Seeing the scarlet thread of Rahab as a precursor to the scarlet blood of Christ is by no means an original thought. And yet, as we marvel this Holy Cross Day in the glory of our scarlet-tinged salvation hanging from a tree, Rahab’s thread hangs from a window to remind us how great a glory we are seeing.

What is required for Rahab to be spared at the sacking of Jericho? Must she provide ongoing intelligence to the invading Israelites? Must she have food ready? Medical care? Is the house to become a weapons stash?

None of that is required of Rahab. All she has to do is hang the scarlet chord.

Hers is an offering without much merit at all. It is a simple act of obedience in response to an undeserved gift. She had hidden the two spies, but that was hardly enough to warrant free passage to the back side of the Israelite camp for her whole unvetted clan — military age men included. Yet, all that required was a simple show of acceptance of the gracious salvation offered to her.

And yet, Rahab’s offer — the simple scarlet chord from the window — is not meaningless. Her acceptance of the salvation offered her exposes her to at least some risk. And, more to the point, she must be at least this obedient — she must indicate her desire — in order to be saved.

As encounter the cross of Christ this day — and every day — we must recognize anew, again and again, that in our simple obedience to its call we have so little to offer, and yet, we should offer at least that little bit we can. The scarlet blood and water flow from our Lord’s side, and yet it remains an ever-pressing question whether we believe that fountain is for us.

One more bit for us to remember about Rahab’s scarlet thread on this Holy Cross Day. Her faith — and the merits of that faithfulness — was contagious to those around her. In a completely patriarchal environment, it wasn’t Rahab’s unnamed father who saves the family. Instead, Rahab makes sure her deal includes “my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them” (Josh. 2:13).

Our own faithfulness will be contagious by the Holy Spirit to others — including people we might not expect. Those whom we have no authority over might find themselves drawn to him he hangs upon the holy cross by our witness.

Likewise, of course, we would do well to remember God is at least just as likely — if not more likely — to speak to us by those the world tells us are less than ourselves, be that our children, the poor, those in our employ, or any number of others.

As we pray this day that the “God whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross . . . might draw the whole world unto himself,” we should make sure we look for the scarlet thread hanging in the window of a world which will not survive what comes. For on that thread hangs our salvation.



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