The Scarlet Thread of Rahab by Randy Thomas
For years, even after becoming a Christian, I was dead set against Christians being involved in public policy. Today, I have to confess with Francis Schaeffer that “true spirituality covers all of reality.” If I am truly to be salt and light to the world, unsavory and dark, then I am compelled to be politically engaged — from the basics of voting, to the extended calling of engagement with civic leaders.
And so I’ve found myself, formerly a rabid liberal, in recent years looking more like a pawn for the vast right wing conspiracy.
Shortly after marriage was redefined in Massachusetts in 2004 I was invited by the New Jersey Family Policy Council (NJFPC) to share my testimony of overcoming homosexuality, and to give my public support for their efforts to pass a constitutional amendment affirming marriage as only between a man and a woman. The group was going to sponsor four meetings in four different New Jersey cities. It was an honor to be invited as one of the speakers.
As I spoke over the phone with Len Deo, director of NJFPC, I could tell that his heart for those of us who have or have had same-sex attractions was very rich with compassionate grace. As we finished our conversation, he mentioned that they were using the biblical story of Jericho as a metaphor to help inspire people to “battle” for marriage.
As you may know, the wandering nation of Israel was eventually commanded by the Lord to take the Promised Land one battle at a time. In the case of Jericho, God commanded Israel to march around the heavily fortified city walls for seven days. On the seventh day they were to blast their horns and the walls of the city would fall. Because of the direction of God, the obedience of Israel and the miracle of God’s intervention, Jericho was conquered.
When I hung up the phone with Len I found myself praying, “Lord, I don’t want to do this in that context. I know they have a great heart, but why does it always come down to ‘battle’ language? I don’t want to talk battle language. Should I even go?”
I believe the Lord said to me that, yes, He wanted me to go and affirm that we are in a battle. But He also wanted me to go to balance out that message. The Lord reminded me of Rahab, the woman who along with her family were the only ones in all of Jericho to be spared. I believe the Holy Spirit said, “Go and talk to these groups and focus on Rahab. They can go into battle but they can’t forget the Rahabs in their lives.”
The day of the first meeting had arrived. I was one of a panel of speakers. Len was there, along with a pastor from Washington state, a lawyer from the Alliance Defense Fund and a gentleman from Focus on the Family. The speakers ahead of me hit on all the public policy and theological elements, explaining why it was important to engage this battle for marriage.
After prayer and nail biting, it was my turn to speak. It was time to make public policy personal. After briefly sharing my story of overcoming homosexuality, I began to give my perspective of the battle.
When the nation of Israel started toward Jericho, you just know that word spread like wildfire throughout the land. One woman, a prostitute, a sexual sinner heard the news and feared. She was not an Israelite, and by now the Israelites had a reputation for annihilating — not just winning in battle, but “destroying” their enemies because of God’s favor and miracles.
Because of this fear — or reverence if you will — when given the opportunity, Rahab showed deference to the God of Israel. Instead of turning over Caleb and Joshua as the Jewish spies they were, she spared them and helped them escape. As a result, God decided to have mercy on her.
It is said that at that time there were some 2 million Israelites, making for a very intimidating presence around the walls of Jericho. Imagine the sound of 2 million people on your doorstep! It is also reported that Rahab was instructed to hang a scarlet cord out of her window so that as these 2 million people took over the city, they would pass by her house.
Now, imagine if you were Rahab. Israel is camped outside your front lawn doing marches and promising to destroy your city and your neighbors. Imagine the first day, when the whole city is in an uproar over the first march. Rahab gathers her loved ones in her house and hangs the blood-red thread out of the window. She may or may not have known about the seven days of instruction. Day after day passes and each day she increasingly wonders if God’s people will keep their word. She wonders if God really will have mercy on her.
Then, on the seventh day, the Israelites just kept marching and marching. Not just one trip today but seven times around the city. Imagine Rahab and her family huddling together with fear and tears as the Israelite horns sounded. Can you imagine the terror? Can you imagine their grief as they heard neighbors and friends dying right outside their front door? Can you empathize with the anxiety she must have experienced knowing that everything she knew about life, society, friends was vanishing? Everything was gone except those closest to her.
Amid the crashing and screaming can you hear the whispered prayers of a whore known as Rahab: “God of Israel, please don’t kill me! Please don’t kill me! Please don’t kill me….”
At that point in my presentation I stopped and looked around at the crowd. You could have heard a pin drop. Every eye was glued to the front, many of them weeping. Two of the pastors were literally slack jawed in astonishment. The fellow panelists were riveted; one was moved to tears. I think God had gotten their attention.
I am so glad Len decided to use the battle of Jericho as a metaphor for your marriage efforts here in New Jersey. Yes, it is a battle. It is a formidable battle and one that looks impossible to win. You must follow the Lord and what He is instructing you to do in order to win this battle. What you are engaged in is no small thing.
But remember this: Some 2 million Jews had to know exactly where one lady lived. They had to know exactly where she lived because the God who was about to hand over this miracle of a battle to a nation was also wanting to perform a miracle of redemption for a prostitute.
While you enter into this ideological battle and do your prayer walks around state house steps, who is the person in your life that God wants to have mercy on? Who is the person who isn’t currently counted among God’s people, who doesn’t know any other way to love and to relate to others beyond the context of their same-sex attractions?
Who is watching you with fear? As you battle for marriage, do you understand that you are challenging someone’s entire worldview? That you are challenging their whole experience, everything they know?
Who is your modern day Rahab? Until you know who that person is you have no business, no moral authority to storm the city. If you don’t know who the Lord wants to have mercy on, you’ll be in violation of grace and mercy in the name of truth. Truth is never to be separated from grace and mercy because God does not deal in half-truths.
There is someone in your life whose heart God is speaking to. He wants you to know exactly where they are, and He does not want you to harm them in your zeal for truth.
Are you listening to Him whisper their name in your ear? Are you willing to love and serve them as Jesus would? The battle is still the battle, but in the way Rahab took her place in the lineage of Christ Himself, there are some around you who will be incorporated into the Body of Christ. Don’t trample them in the name of winning a miraculous battle. Raise them up, bring them in and love them as God does. After I had concluded my message, a number of people came up with tears in their eyes for a loved one, a friend, a neighbor … themselves. Several pastors came up repenting for their callousness toward those in the homosexual community. Others came up grateful for exhortation that they themselves had been yearning to express. I was amazed by God’s goodness.
A few years have passed since I spoke at that set of meetings; we continue to face a variety of huge public policy battles. The word the Lord gave me in New Jersey in 2004, though, keeps me mindful that while it’s important to fight for issues of righteousness, if we don’t keep His grace and mercy toward the individual in our hearts, the walls won’t be coming down for us, but on us.
God’s immediate purpose amid the battle of Jericho was to have Israel take root in the Promised Land. His more eternal purpose was to protect and preserve the lineage of Jesus. The Lord was honored when the Israelites fought and won the battle, but also when they properly exercised mercy toward one particular sexual sinner. When they looked past her scarlet letter and to the foreshadow of a scarlet thread.