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The Red Cord

The Red Cord

by Joy A. Schroeder

Scripture recounts the story of two spies sent by Joshua to scout and report on the defenses of the Canaanite city of Jericho (Joshua 2). The men enter the house of Rahab, whom most biblical interpreters believe was a prostitute. Learning of the spies’ visit, Jericho’s king asks Rahab to hand over the Israelites. Acting quickly, Rahab hides the spies beneath a large quantity of flax spread out on her roof. She admits that the Israelites had been in her house, but she misdirects the king’s men, who depart in search of the Israelites. After the city gates are closed so the spies cannot leave, Rahab extracts a promise from them. In exchange for her help, they swear to save Rahab’s household when the Israelites attack Jericho. The spies instruct her to hang a crimson cord in the window so they know which house to spare. She helps them exit through a window in the city walls, lowering them with a rope. Later, when Jericho is attacked, the Israelites keep their promise, saving Rahab and her family (Joshua 6:22–25).

Who was Rahab? Why did the spies visit her? Why did she lie to her king and betray the people of her own city? And what is the significance of the red cord?

The Rev. Dr. Joy A. Schroeder, an ELCA pastor, teaches church history at Trinity Lutheran Seminary and Capital University. She is the author of Deborah’s Daughters: Gender Politics and Biblical Interpretation (Oxford University Press, 2014).

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