Joshua 2: Christ in the Scarlet Thread

MAIN IDEA: The main idea in this writing from Joshua 2 is that the writers of the Old Testament narratives, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wove into their stories pictures of Jesus which foreshadow His life, His salvation and His gospel. And while Jesus Christ appears many times in the Old Testament (Hebrews 1:1; Luke 24:27), He often appears in disguise and here in this passage is a beautiful example of how Jesus Christ and His salvation are hidden in an Old Testament narrative.

In this article I will carefully go through this passage from Joshua 2 showing how Jesus and His gospel are here in disguise. Then I will lay out for you the TYPICAL CHARACTERISTICS of these “Jesus-in-disguise” passages so that you can begin discovering them for yourself.

As you read through Joshua 2, the story sounds a little unusual, with the spies coming inside the walls of Jericho and then talking to Rahab, the harlot. Nothing may catch your eye as significant as you continue to read. Then suddenly you see it: the scarlet thread. “Tie this cord of scarlet thread in the window . . . (2:18)” At once you should be drawn to full attention, for the “scarlet thread´ is a big neon sign shouting “Jesus is hiding here!” SCARLET, like the stain of sin that can only be removed by Jesus’ blood (Isaiah 1:18). A SCARLET thread, like a thin trickle of blood running down from where a thorn has pierced Jesus’ sinless brow. A scarlet thread, like the red drops dripping down the rough wood of a Roman cross. Yes, the scarlet thread is an obvious clue intentionally placed in the text to catch the disciple’s attention and to quietly announce for those who have listening ears that the Messiah is hidden here.

Now that the scarlet thread has decisively alerted us that the hidden Messiah is near, we begin the next part of the study, which is to mentally “rope off the passage” (in this case, 2:1-21) and to become a spiritual detective bent on finding all the clues which the Holy Spirit has hidden in this story so that you can clearly see Jesus.

I remember when I was a child there was a children’s magazine that would have a drawing or a picture on one of the pages of the magazine. The drawing was a pencil sketch in its own right, but also in the drawing or sketch were many hidden objects and the point of the game was for the observer to find all the objects hidden in the drawing. This spiritual detective work that we are doing now is very similar to finding the disguised or hidden objects in the picture. In this Bible study, the goal is to find all the hidden clues in the passage until you can see Jesus clearly. Here are the things that I found in the passage.

  • The main character in this chapter is Rahab the harlot, a prostitute in the pagan town of Jericho. Thus she is a condemned sinner from a people who are doomed to destruction. As such she is in urgent need of salvation. So this is a story about a sinner in urgent need of salvation and thus pictures for us all doomed sinners who need to find the means of salvation. Jesus comes to save sinners from destruction.
  • Rahab appeals to the spies for mercy, asking that she and her family will be spared when the destruction comes (2:12-13). (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:20) Even so, we are saved as an act of God’s mercy.
  • Rahab is not spared (saved) by her good works, for she has none. Rather she is spared only because of the scarlet thread and the oath.
  • The two spies are from the people of Yahweh and are the agents of salvation for Rahab. Notice some interesting details about the spies from the story.
    • The spies/saviors are to hide themselves for THREE DAYS (2:16). In my view, this foreshadows the three days the Lord Jesus lay in the ground after His crucifixion. In this case, “three days” is a messianic clue, almost as obvious as “scarlet thread.”
    • When the spies (saviors) will return to Jericho, they will bring a sword of destruction on all those who do not have a scarlet thread in the window of the house. Just so, when Jesus returns, He will bring a sword of judgment (Rev. 19:11ff) on all those who have not believed in Him.
    • The spies explain to Rahab the way of salvation (2:17-20). In this way they are acting as ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20) or witnesses (Acts 1:8; Isaiah 43:10). They are messengers of salvation from the people of God.
    • The spies are bound by their oath (2:17-20) to save Rahab from death. In the same way, God through Christ binds Himself with an oath (promise) to save all those who will trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
  • Only those who are gathered into Rahab’s house, the house with the scarlet thread in the window, will be spared from the sword (2:18-19). (Remember Exodus 11-12 and the Passover. Also remember Genesis 7 and the closing of the ark.) All those who are gathered into the house with the scarlet thread will be saved and all those who are outside will perish, regardless of any other factor. In this same way, all those who are called into the house of God, the true Church, and who truly believe in Christ will be saved and all who remain outside will perish.
  • Rahab’s soul and the souls of her family will be delivered from death because of the oath and the scarlet thread. The oath and the thread are matters of life and death. Even so, believers are delivered from eternal death through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the scarlet thread and faith in Him is the oath.
  • Rahab believes the spies and demonstrates her faith by putting the scarlet thread in her window (2:21). In the same way, those who follow Jesus make their faith visible through baptism and through boldly identifying with Jesus. Figuratively, they display Jesus Christ by placing Him in the window.
  • Rahab must remain faithful to the oath she had accepted (2:20). If she is unfaithful to the terms of the oath then the oath is null and void. This says that there are conditions that must be met to receive the benefits of the oath. Just so, everyone who merely goes through the motions of believing in Christ, but who is never truly converted will not be saved by Christ (Matthew 7:21-23).

Now it is certain that not all of these clues are equally strong. In fact, some of these may be too much of a stretch and may not actually be intended by the Holy Spirit to foreshadow the Lord Jesus. My point is that, in passages where Jesus is intentionally disguised or hidden, there are often many clues that point forward to the coming Messiah.

And what were the results for Rahab? Rahab and all her family who were gathered into her house were spared by the spies (Joshua 6:22-25). “By faith Rahab did not perish along with those who were disobedient (Hebrews 11:31).” Rahab the harlot even finds herself in the lineage of the Messiah (Matthew 1:5).


While all these stories do not follow exactly the same pattern, because our God is an infinitely creative God who writes stories uniquely, there are typical characteristics that mark out these stories.

  • Theme of the story is about salvation, rescue or redemption;
  • Clues are intentionally placed in the text to catch the diligent reader’s attention and to flag the story as needing to be read more slowly and carefully (scarlet thread, three days, MORE
  • The story is often obscure or even odd (Making the story odd or obscure is done as a clue to catch attention.);
  • The story often has almost no historical significance, since it is about people who make no difference in world history.;
  • The story seems almost to have been placed in the text for the express purpose of piquing your curiosity.
  • Study of the passage reveals many images or ideas which foreshadow the life and mission and salvation of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So the next time that you are reading along in the Old Testament and encounter an odd passage that seems to have an obvious clue (like a scarlet thread) which is associated with Jesus, begin to look for more clues. It could be that Messiah is hidden there.

SDG        rmb        4/27/2017

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