By John Greco
I remember listening to journalist Malcolm Gladwell interview Nashville legend and famed songwriter Bobby Braddock. Their conversation centered on what goes into writing a truly sad song, the kind of tune that finds you driving with one hand on the steering wheel so the other can be free to wipe the tears from your eyes.
As they talked, they decided that country music has a leg up on rock and pop when it comes to mournful tracks, but the question that lingered was Why? In the end, Braddock said it came down to details: “We cry when melancholy collides with specificity.” It’s one thing to sing about heartache, and another thing entirely to sing about standing by a lost friend’s grave and the angels’ faces delighting to welcome that friend home. Take a listen to “Go Rest High on That Mountain” by Vince Gill to hear what I’m talking about.
The reason that details help sad songs resonate with us is because they echo our own experience. We live in a world of details, not generalities. Somehow, the details make a thing more real. When it comes to God’s Word, I delight in the details. You see, in the ancient world, there was no paper. Instead, texts were written on papyrus, a material similar to paper but made out of certain flattened reeds—and papyrus wasn’t cheap. That means that everything included in God’s Word is important. There are no throwaway lines, no unimportant details.
In the story of Rahab, there’s a detail that jumps off the page for me. When she lets the two Israelite spies down through her window, she does so with a “scarlet cord” (Joshua 2:18). And it was this scarlet cord that would identify her home and keep her safe when the Israelites later attacked Jericho. It wasn’t brown or blue or white. It was a scarlet rope—and that makes all the difference in telling this story.
For those early Israelite readers of Rahab’s account, they would have connected the red color of the rope “dripping” down the window frame with the lamb’s blood a previous generation had brushed on the doorframes of their homes. While still slaves in Egypt, God had passed over the houses of the Hebrews on the night the firstborn in every household in the land had died (Exodus 12:23). The blood marked those inside as belonging to God. Rahab was a Gentile and a prostitute, but she, too, would be marked as one of God’s people. Though she was late to the party, so to speak, the “blood” of the scarlet cord would bring Rahab her own Passover moment.
The symbol, of course, is not as important as the thing it symbolizes. What set Rahab apart as a member of God’s family was not the red rope but her loyalty to Yahweh, based on the reports she had heard (Joshua 2:10–11). By helping the Israelites, she was committing treason, and she knew it. By earthly measures, the people of Jericho should have been able to withstand an attack by the Israelites. Rahab could have turned the spies over to the authorities and garnered herself the favor of Jericho’s king. But she believed what she had heard about the Lord, and she gave Him her allegiance, echoing with her life what the psalmist would later write: “The LORD is my portion” (Psalm 119:57).
But the scarlet cord doesn’t just point backwards to Passover; it also points forward to Christ. It is Christ’s red blood that now marks those who are members of God’s family. The Passover account had always foreshadowed the sacrifice of Jesus, and God had always planned on making one new people from Jews and Gentiles. Rahab’s story reveals this had long been in God’s heart to do. The prostitute-turned-daughter of the King is even honored with a place in Jesus’s family tree (Matthew 1:5).
God is the Author of Scripture. No detail is included by accident. Every last one is an invitation to thank Him for His faithfulness, our God who knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10).
Written by John Greco