Scarlet Cords in the Manger

“And Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab…”
–Matthew 1:5

Four women decorate the list of Jesus’ progenitors in Matthew, Chapter One. Some people, especially Matthew’s contemporaries, would have said rather that they spoiled the list. Yet God chose to include them, despite what people thought of His lax standards.

Rahab is the second in line. Another woman with a past. She is the woman whose name is never mentioned in Sunday school classes without its suffix—“The Harlot.” How many kids grow up thinking that was simply her full name—“Rahab Theharlot”? Most Sunday School kids have no idea what the word even means, and few teachers are brave enough to explain.

Rahab’s story is found in Joshua 2, where she takes the Israelite spies onto her roof and hides them from her countrymen who would kill them. Basically, on top of being a prostitute, she commits treason and treachery against her own country. This just keeps getting better and better.

Much has been written about Rahab’s sinfulness. Perhaps students of Scripture should be reminded that more often than not, prostitution is not a voluntary occupation. It’s one plied by women who are either stolen and forced into the situation or widows and orphans who have no other means of avoiding death. We don’t know her details, so we don’t know her choices. One choice, though, we do know. It’s the one where she defends the two men of God by risking her own life, and affirms,

“I know the Lord has given you this land. For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below.”

And she begs them to rescue her. She is talking about rescuing her and her family when the Israelites come into the city of Jericho and it falls. The scarlet cord she hangs from her window assures her that she and her family will be noticed and saved. But I think she’s talking about more.

Rescue from her way of life. Rescue from her empty idolatry that promised happiness but delivered slavery. Rescue from the hatred of and simultaneous use by men. Rahab’s story is an old one, and it is a current one, too. Women still live in slavery to men’s lust for ownership. But that is not the last word.

“For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.” (1 Peter 1.18-19)

Rahab needs rescue. I need rescue. Humans need rescue. And Matthew includes her in Jesus list of ancestors because that’s precisely what He came to give. Rescue from an empty life that teases us with gold and gives out dust.

The good news of Christmas is that there is rescue. We are not doomed to remain harlots to whatever we have given our lives to that isn’t healthy and whole. We can choose to cling to the scarlet cord that is Jesus’ blood and take the rescue he offers.

Rahab is one of Jesus’ foremothers for a reason. The baby of the manger pleads your case. He offers a scarlet cord. He chooses to rescue, at his own cost.

“Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce him through,
The Cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word Made Flesh…”

Jill Richardson
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