The Scarlet Cord
( Originally Published 1921 )
RAHAB AND THE SPIES
A number of frightened people were running back and forth upon the city walls. From the strong towers upon those walls warriors were anxiously watching a cloud of dust darkening the horizon. It had been there yesterday, but today it was rolling nearer and nearer to Jericho. Not a dweller in the city dared venture outside the gates, which were closed and heavily barred. Only those who were fortunate enough to have a house upon the wall could know what was going on outside and see how rapidly that fatal cloud was approaching them. I can hear some of you children ask why a cloud of dust should frighten the people of a rich and strong city like Jericho, filled as it was with fighting men of valor. It was because behind that dust was an enemy that everyone feared, an invading army coming to conquer and to destroy.
The white-faced people inside the gates with trembling hands were trying to hide their valuables—their gold and silver, their jewels, and costly garments. Some looked sadly upon their homes. Would they be homeless tomorrow, they were wondering, and would all they loved be ashes by another day? Mothers held their children closer to them. By to-morrow they might not have them, or, what would be still worse, the little ones might be mother-less and fatherless and left to the mercy of strangers. Fathers with swords in their hands gathered together. Every weapon of war had been seized by them to repel the dreaded foe.
"It is the army of Israel!" cried the watchers in the towers. "No people has been able to withstand it." Despair was in their hearts, and their spirit was sick with fear—a very poor condition for a people to be in when it is necessary to meet and conquer a foe.
"But why should they be afraid of Israel?" you boys and girls are asking. "Didn't ten of the spies return to Moses badly frightened and declare that the Israelites were as grasshoppers in the sight of their enemies?"
Yes, but since the time of that story forty years have passed and Moses no longer leads the people. Israel is advancing now under its leader Joshua. All these years the Hebrews have been in the wilderness. They had abused the love of their great leader, Moses, had found fault with him always, and only a few had been gracious enough to appreciate what he had done for them. Moses had spared them under every trial. All they had to do was to murmur because there was no water and his rod made it gush out of the rock ; or if it was meat they craved, their complaints brought forth from him a prayer that Jehovah would grant them their desire and in reply quail rained upon them.
Under Joshua's leadership it was different. He was brave and true like Moses, but every man with him had to earn what he wanted. Joshua had said to them, "Be strong and of good courage." It was his watchword, given him by Jehovah after the death of Moses. All these years the Israelites had fought their way through the wilderness. Little by little they had overcome enemies, and their courage had grown with every victory, until now as they were approaching Jericho there was not one among them, child, woman, or warrior, who was not certain that Jehovah their God was with them and would give the city into their hand.
You remember that little Benjamin and his sister Sarah had sadly followed their parents back into the wilderness from which they had just come. They had turned again to those burning plains and dry sands because the Hebrew people had not the courage to enter the land God had promised them. But now, in the time of this story, it was not a host of weak slaves but a conquering people armed with faith in their God and confidence in their leader, which was marching upon Jericho. Forty troubled years in the wilderness had made their enemies, and not themselves, seem like grasshoppers.
All day the watchers upon the walls and the people in the city were waiting for Israel. At last gleaming swords and flashing shields told the watchers in the towers that the enemy they feared was near. But not a sound was to be heard. No shout of victory, no demand that Jericho should surrender, came from the Hebrew camp, silent before the doomed city. Not an arrow was shot over the walls, no missile of stone fell in its midst, no battering-ram stormed against its gates. There was only a sickening silence, so great that it filled the hearts of the people with a fear worse than the noise of battle could have caused.
The sun set in blazing colors and tinted with lurid hues the tents of Israel, encamped for the night on the plains of Jericho. Camels were watered and cattle fed, while little children fell asleep in their mothers' arms after eating their supper of manna—that manna which for forty years had been Israel's bread in the wilderness. How they hated that manna ! Perhaps had they known that the evening on which they camped before Jericho the manna would fall for the last time, they would have eaten it with greater relish. Do you ask me why the manna ceased to fall? It was no longer needed. Israel had entered the promised land.
Soon darkness fell upon both the frightened city and the silent Jewish camp, until the moon, slowly rising, touched with silvery tints the tents of Israel and threw a white shroud over the battlements of Jericho. Years before, the Hebrews had watched this same moon rise, and as its full radiance shone upon them had hurried out of Egypt. Then the silvery rays of the moon disclosed red stains like blood upon every Hebrew doorpost. Thereby were the Hebrews separated from the Egyptians when the angel of death visited Egypt. It was in memory of this deliverance that as they halted before Jericho they silently ate the passover. But the first-born of man and beast of the Egyptians died on the night when the angel of death passed over the land.
As years ago the moonlight had touched the scarlet stains upon the doorposts of the Israelites, so to-night the wind, moaning about the battlements of the city, as it shrieked past a window in a tower upon the wall tossed into the moon-light the fluttering strands of a gleaming scarlet cord bound firmly to the casement. In the tower is Rahab, the innkeeper. Gathered about her are her family and all her kindred. No fear is in their faces, for the Jewish camp out-side brings to them, not danger, but deliverance. And why, you ask, should this woman and her household be spared? Are they not Canaanites of Jericho? They are, but when you read Rahab's story and know why that crimson cord flutters in her window, you will agree with me that Rahab deserved her life—that she had won her freedom fully as much as Israel won the victory over Jericho.
Before the night of our story — a number of days earlier, in fact—Israel's camp was in Shittim, where she was resting in the beauty of that garden spot. There she was enjoying shade from the sun, plenty of water for her cattle, and safety from wandering desert tribes. But her leader, Joshua, did not like resting. He wanted to move on before his people formed such a habit of resting that they would object to traveling any further. They were bound for the promised land and he was determined that they should reach it. The camp was close by the waters of the river Jordan, and as the people slept Joshua stole alone from his tent to the river's bank. Standing there he lifted his arms toward heaven in thanksgiving. Only to cross this Jordan and the years of Israel's wanderings would be over, for the land God had promised his people lay just across the river.
I shall not be surprised if some of you girls and boys say you think these people Joshua is leading will not go over as soon as he wishes them to. You may add that, as they have always found something to be afraid of, they probably will now. But Joshua had for many months listened to a voice speaking in his heart, saying: "Be strong and of good courage; be not affrighted, neither be thou dismayed; for Jehovah thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest." His faith and courage had inspired his followers. Perhaps you know that both faith and courage are contagious, and so is fear. Don't you remember how the ten frightened spies sent out by Moses threw all Israel into a panic with their terrifying tales? The next time you are tempted to be afraid, remember those spies and the harm they did.
Joshua was not going to permit further delay. The people must at once begin to make themselves ready for the journey across the Jordan. To hesitate might mean defeat, so he said to the officers of Israel, "Pass through the midst of the camp, and command the people, saying, `Prepare you victuals; for within three days ye are to pass over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land, which Jehovah your God giveth you to possess it.' " The day before, he had sent two spies, young men, princes of the house of Israel, across the plain to Jericho and told them to bring him a report o' the country and its people.
" Only two spies!" all of you exclaim. " Why did he send so few when Moses had to send twelve?"
The first spies had gone forty years before. They all had been slaves in Egypt and knew nothing but the lash of their Egyptian task-masters and the fears of their own hearts. These two young men of Joshua's time had been born in the wilderness. Constant battling with foes arrayed against them had made them strong. The people were now all of one mind. They had one determined purpose, and that was to enter Canaan. And as you all know, when people, one or many, fully determine to do any-thing, there is nothing that will stop them. It was a very different Israel at rest by the shores of Jordan than the feeble, divided host that had camped by the mountain in Moses' time.
Let us leave Joshua and the Hebrews making themselves ready for their march and follow our two spies as they journey across the plain to Jericho. They must move quickly, as the city gates will be closed and barred at sundown. Soon they are in sight of Jericho's walls, and one spy asks his companion to look at a tall tower upon the wall. He thinks people are living in it. They may keep lodgers, he says to his friend, and if so, it is safer to stay there than venture farther into the city. Besides, it is close to the gate.
Perhaps you are wondering what were the names of these spies. We all feel so much better acquainted with people if we know their names. The Bible does not give their names, but it does say that Salmon of Israel married Rahab. So people have loved to think that one of these spies was Salmon.
"I think I should like to call the other one Benjamin," chimes in a little girl.
Very well, it can do no harm. And if calling them Salmon and Benjamin will make them seem nearer to us, it is best to do so.
Travelers were passing back and forth through the city gates. Jericho was a market for many foreign countries. Camels laden with dyes, linens, and rich garments were lying down as merchants and people bargained with each other about prices. The city was wealthy, her silver and gold plentiful; fat cattle and many sheep grazed upon her plains. She was a trader with cities and peoples near and far, and through her streets there daily passed foreigners from the far eastern countries. Many languages must have been spoken and strange faces seen, so it is not surprising that in the crowd our two spies slipped unnoticed through the gates and made their way to Rahab's house upon the walls.
Perhaps you boys and girls are saying that if you had been the spies you would not have stopped at Rahab''s inn. You would have gone on to the king's palace and heard what the rulers of the country were talking about. But it is not in kings' palaces that we hear much gossip. There the talking is only for a favored few and often behind closed doors. To stop at the public house was the wiser plan. Where many travelers met, the townspeople would gather to exchange news with them. Of one thing everybody was talking—the victorious march of Israel toward Canaan. A feeble people whom they had all despised were now stronger than themselves, and their kings were conquerors. How they did it no one was able to tell, but a stranger who had once lived in Israel said it was because they had a God different from the gods of the other nations. Jehovah was His name.
"We have gods also," the people of the city replied. "Look at our Molech, who loves to destroy little children with fire; and Chemosh and Baal, are they not powerful?"
"But those Israelites say your gods are no gods," replied the stranger; "that Jehovah is the lord of the whole earth, and that His law no one can change."
"How absurd!" laughed the citizens of Jericho. "We all know that Molech is pleased when we burn our children upon his altar, and that we can make him change his laws by this practice. A god that does not change that is nonsense!"
Rahab had listened for months to these jeers at Jehovah, but it had only strengthened her faith in Him. She may have had a friend who had been forced by the priests of Molech to lay her baby in the molten arms of his hideous image, and as the little one's feeble screams had been stilled by the devouring flames it may have been Rahab's hands that had led the poor mother back to the childless home. A God who had some mercy, whose law did not change, was a God so much better than the cruel fire-gods of her people that Rahab wanted to know more about Him and about His people Israel.
As the tales about Israel went around that night, there were some in Rahab's house who looked suspiciously at the spies. Soon they left the others and, speeding to the king's palace, said, " Behold, there came men in hither to-night of the children of Israel to search out the land."
Back went word from the king to Rahab demanding that she give up the men that were in her house. "Bring forth the men that are come to thee, that are entered into thy house; for they are come to search out all the land," were his words.
" Oh, I hope she did n't give them up!" cries a little girl.
No, she told the messengers who came for them that they were not there. They had gone out of the gates just before they had been closed for the night.
"But that was n't the truth," adds a boy. "She had hidden the spies on her roof under stalks of flax."
"We learn in Sunday school that it is never right to tell a lie," you are all thinking.
It never is. But in the time of our story people were afraid to tell the truth. They knew no better than to deceive. Fear of their gods and of one another made them tell what was. not true. Look around you to-day and see for yourself. Is it the people who are afraid or those who have courage who are the most truthful? Rahab's day was the age of fear. She was afraid of her gods, of her people, and of the conquering Hebrew host.
The king's messengers left Rahab's house and, unlocking the city gates, sped out into the plain. Clear to the fords of the Jordan did they go, but they found no men.
"Did they shut the gates after them?" inquires a child.
"Yes," answers a boy. "Those ancient cities never left a gate in their walls open or unlocked after dark."
Rahab's work was not over. The spies were in her house, and the gate of the city closed. What should she do with them? How could she save them?
As she wished to save the spies, she soon thought of a way to do it. On her roof lay coils of scarlet rope. The window on the tower overlooked the plain; she would let them down out of the window with the rope.
You may be asking why a woman of Jericho wished to save the enemies of her city. I think it must have been because she was sick at heart over the horrible and cruel practices of her people when they worshiped their gods. She had heard of Jehovah. She knew that the people who acknowledged Him as their God did many wicked and cruel things, but that was the fault of the people and not of Jehovah. A God who loved and blessed His people instead of tormenting them as did the gods of the Canaanites, she wanted to know more about, and here were the two spies who could tell her.
Suddenly one of them seizes the arm of the leader and points to the tower. "Ah, Rahab, you have kept your word," we can almost hear them say, and we know that they add, "As you have been true to us, so shall we keep the promise we have made to you."
"And who are these men?" you are asking.
The great leader Joshua and our two spies. Joshua had commanded Israel to destroy Jericho. But first, he told the spies, they must bring Rahab and all who were in her house to a place of safety. The walls must fall, and after-ward the city and its people be destroyed by sword and fire, but upon Rahab and her kindred no harm should come.
Do you wonder what became of Rahab? She lived in Israel and Jehovah became her God. She and Salmon were the parents of Boaz, who married Ruth. This is why we like to think that Salmon was one of the spies that Rahab saved. Both Salmon and Rahab were young. Each was brave, and both of them kept their word.
It was their descendant, King David, the beloved of Israel, who said,
" Oh taste and see that Jehovah is good : Blessed is the man that taketh refuge in him,
For there is no want to them that fear him."
The scarlet cord bound in her window showed Rahab's faith in Israel's God, Jehovah.