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The Purpose of the Wilderness Tabernacle: The Three Colors of Thread and White Linen

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Tamara is a Bible student who loves mining the treasures in God's Word and sharing its teachings and applications with others.

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The Tabernacle—a Dwelling Place for God and His People

On Mount Sinai, The ten commandments were not the only thing Moses received. Included also was a set of elaborate instructions for building the wilderness Tabernacle. This structure would serve as a meeting place for God and His people and demonstrate, prophetically, a New Testament plan of salvation through God's one and only Son.

The Tabernacle was a place of worship requiring specific protocols and procedures to draw near God. Each requirement was for the express purpose of providing a possible means for God's people to dwell with Him per God's request, and all of them also pointed to what Christ would do in the future.

Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.

— Exodus 25:8

From the fall of humankind in Genesis until the Tabernacle construction, the Bible records people occasionally walking and talking with God but not dwelling with Him. As we shall see, within the framework of this Old Testament sanctuary, God draws His people closer to Himself through an intricate sacrificial system. This arrangement can speak volumes about the specifics of such a great salvation and indescribable gift.

. . . how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation . . . ?

— Hebrews 2:3

Every detail that Christ accomplished to restore our relationship with God is in the particulars of the wilderness Tabernacle.

This article will study the colors and fabric used to construct the boundary portions of the structure. Each color has much to say as it concerns the details of salvation.

The colors of this study are those of the woven threads on a white linen background. All colors combined will illustrate a unified message at the end of this lesson.

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Blue: The Color of Heaven

The first of three colors mentioned in the requested items for the Tabernacle construction was blue.

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring Me an offering. From everyone who gives it willingly with his heart you shall take My offering. And this is the offering which you shall take from them: gold, silver, and bronze; blue, purple, and scarlet thread, fine linen . . .

— Exodus 25:3

Blue, in Bible typology, is understood to be the color of heaven and eternal things. It is the rarest color in nature and most often not the result of pigment. Most things in the natural world that appear blue come from refracting light through structures designed to reflect this color.

The natural physical world agrees that blue is "out of this world."

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Sapphire: God's Throne

For the blue part of the lesson, we will borrow imagery from the familiar blue sapphire gemstone that connects us with concepts of heaven and God's throne.

In an online article, "The Blue Stone," David Asscherick points out how the Scriptures reveal a connection with sapphire, heaven, and God's throne ("under His feet") in Exodus chapter 24. In this scene, God gives Moses stone tablets with His commands written on them.

Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity . . . Then the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and be there; and I will give you tablets of (the) stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them.

— Exodus 24:9-10

The literal translation of "I will give you tablets of stone," used in the above verse, should read, "I will give you tablets of the stone,"—"the," implying a particular stone and not a random rock from the mount.

God links heaven with His throne through the prophet Isaiah in the following passage.

Thus says the Lord:

“Heaven is My throne,
And earth is My footstool . . .

— Isaiah 66:1

Could the tablets of stone that God gave Moses have been taken from the sapphire stone of God's throne in the heavens?

Ezekiel twice envisions God's throne in connection with heaven and sapphire in his cryptic-like experience in God's presence.

. . . above the firmament over their heads (heaven) was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like a sapphire stone.

— Ezekiel 1:26

. . . there in the firmament that was above the head (heaven) of the cherubim,there appeared something like a sapphire stone, having the appearance of the likeness of a throne.

— Ezekiel 10:1

Blue is an appropriate color to communicate these concepts considering that the heavenly qualities of love, loyalty, and God's faithfulness link with the color blue. As it concerns us, blue reminds us to listen and obey God's divine commands.

Late 1800's theologian William Brown helps us make this connection with blue, hearing God's commands and faithful obedience to them.

"When we gaze up at the stainless white clouds floating serenely in the air above us, may we ever hear the voice of God saying through them to us, 'be ye holy, for I am holy, ' and when we look beyond to the robe that covers them, the vast blue dome of the heavens, may we ever hear the voice of God through the blue, saying unto us, 'remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them."

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul admonishes that obedience to God's commands hinges on setting our minds on things above.

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

— Colossians 3:1-6

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The Blue Heavenly Thread

Another Biblical narrative unites blue with its concept of loyalty, faithfulness, and heavenly protocols.

The book of Numbers includes the command God gave Moses to instruct every Israelite male to wear tassels on the corners of their garments. These tassels had a blue thread that reminded them to be loyal to their faithful heavenly Father in response to His already proven faithfulness to them.

. . . the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread in the tassels of the corners. And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined, and that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord your God.”

— Numbers 15:37-41

Mid-1800s Bible scholar, and commentary writer, Henry Soltau provides the believer's application of these concepts.

"The believer is constantly to keep in view his heavenly origin, and to remember, he is not of the world, even as Christ is not of the world. He should gaze continually on the face of Him, who has manifested the love of God in giving His life for his redemption. God, in the gift of Jesus, has proved that love is inseparable from holiness . . . The heart first and the eye next, can only be kept from lusting after the things of the world and the flesh, by being fixed on heavenly things."

Origins of the Biblical Blue Dye

The origin of the Biblical blue dye and its processing techniques is significant. Blue dye was obtained from harvesting the yellow secretions found in the glands of a particular sea mollusk common to the Middle East.

The secretions of these mollusks turn purple when exposed to the air. When exposed to sunlight, it then turns blue during a particular phase of its color development. The sun, a heavenly body, is necessary to process this specific color. The video above provides a complete demonstration of this ancient process.

It was a painstaking task to obtain and produce. According to David Jacoby of "Hebrew University Jerusalem," It takes about 12,000 snails to make 1.4 grams of dye, making it precious, rare, and expensive. It is said to be worth its weight in gold.

The rare and precious blue dye connects us with the rare and precious gold used in the Tabernacle and its furnishings. As it concerned the metals, gold, like the color blue, was considered the glorious heavenly metal and ranked first on the list of mentioned metals. The gold and blue together, interestingly, appear together throughout the instructions of the Tabernacle construction.

Fine golden threads were also woven into the high priest's garment with the other colors, and in combination with blue, it signified the glory of Jesus, our high priest's heavenliness.1

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Purple: A Royal Color

Purple, the center color mentioned of the three, is a combination of blue and scarlet. After discussing scarlet, we will discuss the significance of this being the center color. But let's first lay a good foundation for each color so it all makes sense when taken together at the end.

In the ancient world, purple was the color of royalty, wealth, and power. Like blue, it was difficult to obtain and, therefore, rare and costly. In Luke 19, the rich man in Jesus's parable was clothed in purple.

This dye, like the blue, was also obtained from a sea mollusk. Experts believe it was possibly a related species to the one that produced blue. The purple was said to be worth its weight in silver. Purple and silver are both the second noted of their categories.

Historical and mythological literature affirms these symbolic connections with purple and silver in the ancient world, as recorded in ancient Greek writings.

"There is a sea-and who shall dry it up? that breeds a gush of much purple, precious as silver, ever renewed, for the dyeing of garments. And a store of such stuff by the gods' grace, king, is here for us to have; the palace does not know poverty."

— Homer "The Iliad"

The Bible also connects with purple, power, and position in the book of Daniel. After Daniel reveals the hidden message of the handwriting on the wall for the king, the king makes good on his lavish promise to Daniel to gift him with royal clothes of purple.

Then Belshazzar gave the command, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a chain of gold around his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.

— Daniel 5:29

Another King not of this world was clothed in purple but displayed a different type of wealth and power. His wealth and power were gloriously displayed in His humility.

And they clothed Him with purple; and they twisted a crown of thorns, put it on His head, and began to salute Him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Then they struck Him on the head with a reed and spat on Him; and bowing the knee, they worshiped Him. And when they had mocked Him, they took the purple off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him out to crucify Him.

— Mark 15:17-20

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The Power of Purple

The chart above shows that the visible light spectrum illustrates how purple is the most potent and energetic color from a wavelength, frequency, and photon energy perspective.

He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen.

— I Timothy 6:15-16

Purple is also at the top of the visible light spectrum containing the highest frequency,

“ ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!’
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

— Luke 19:38

Scarlet: The Color of Man and Blood

The symbolism of the color scarlet has to do with humankind and blood. The Hebrew for "man" is "adam" אָדַם. The Hebrew word for red is also "adam" אָדַם, and the Hebrew word for blood is "dam" דָּם. Notice that man and red are the same; both contain the word "blood."

The Hebrew word for scarlet, as is used in the tabernacle list of colors, is "tôlaʻath sheni" תּוֹלַעַת שָׁנִי. The creature from which the dye, representing red blood, is obtained has a unique and applicable story behind it.

A "tolah" is a worm or maggot known as the crimson worm. This lowly creature's life cycle illustrates humanity's salvation through the perfect sacrificial blood of Christ on our behalf, as described by Christian Apologist Henry Morris.

"When the female of the scarlet worm species was ready to give birth to her young, she would attach her body to the trunk of a tree, fixing herself so firmly and permanently that she would never leave again. The eggs deposited beneath her body were thus protected until the larvae were hatched and able to enter their own life cycle.

One source noted that not only does the mother give her life to protect her babies with her own body, but she also feeds them with it.

As the mother died, the crimson fluid stained her body and the surrounding wood. From the dead bodies of such female scarlet worms, the commercial scarlet dyes of antiquity were extracted. What a picture this gives of Christ, dying on the tree, shedding his precious blood that he might 'bring many sons unto glory' (Hebrews 2:10)! He died for us, that we might live through him! Psalm 22:6 describes such a worm and gives us this picture of Christ."

My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? (uttered from the cross)
Why are You so far from helping Me,
And from the words of My groaning? . . .

. . . But I am a worm (tolah תּוֹלַעַ), and no man;
A reproach of men, and despised by the people.

— Psalm 22

The Alpha Omega Institute at Discover Creation adds the following note to this process.

After three days, the dead mother Crimson worm’s body loses its crimson color and turns into a white wax which falls to the ground like snow. So what did Jesus mean by saying “I am a worm”? There are a lot of ideas what Jesus might have meant, but nobody really knows for sure. However, it is very interesting that, just like the Crimson worm, Jesus sacrificed or gave up his life on a tree so that his children might be washed with his crimson blood and their sins cleaned white as snow. He died for us, that we might live through him!

“Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the Lord,
“Though your sins are like scarlet (sheni שָׁנִי),
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson (tolah תּוֹלַעַ),
They shall be as wool.

— Isaiah 1:18

In the book of Joshua, a harlot named Rahab seeks salvation from the coming destruction of her city Jericho. She stakes no righteous claim based on her deservedness but only faith in a promise secured and evidenced by a scarlet thread she hung from her window.

Behold, when we come into the land, thou shalt bind this line of scarlet thread in the window which thou didst let us down by: and thou shalt bring thy father, and thy mother, and thy brethren, and all thy father's household, home unto thee.

And it shall be, that whosoever shall go out of the doors of thy house into the street, his blood shall be upon his head, and we will be guiltless: and whosoever shall be with thee in the house, his blood shall be on our head, if any hand be upon him . . .

. . . And Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive, and her father's household, and all that she had; and she dwells in Israel even unto this day.

— Joshua 2:18-19, 6:25

Like Rahab, the harlotry of all humanity has no righteous claim to salvation, but only through faith in the shed blood of Christ, the scarlet thread, are we saved from destruction.

The following section will tie all three thread colors together and discover their united message.

. . . a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

— Ecclesiastes 4:12

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The United Message

This symphony of colors, taken together, produces a joyous melody of revelation heralding the message of salvation.

These are usually mentioned in the same order intentionally: blue, purple, and scarlet.

  • Blue is the color of heaven
  • Purple is the color of royalty
  • Scarlet is the color of man/blood

Jesus Christ was titled the following.

  • The Son of God (heaven/blue)
  • The King of Kings and Lord of Lords (royalty/purple)
  • The Son of Man (man/blood/scarlet)

The first and last mentioned colors, blue and scarlet, and the first and last mentioned titles, Son of God and Son of Man, produce the center ones, purple and the King of Kings. Blue mixed with red makes purple. The Son of God (blue) became the Son of Man (scarlet), making Him King of Kings and Lord of Lords (purple) over all of heaven and earth.

These threads are interlaced and woven throughout the tapestry of John's account of "the Passion."

And the soldiers twisted a crown (purple) of thorns (scarlet) and put it on His head , and they put on Him a purple robe. Then they said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (purple) And they struck Him with their hands.

Pilate then went out again, and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him.” (white linen-explained in the next section)

Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown (purple) of thorns (scarlet) and the purple robe.

And Pilate said to them, “Behold the Man!” (scarlet)

Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” (scarlet)

Pilate said to them, “You take Him and crucify Him, (scarlet) for I find no fault in Him.”(white linen)

The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die because He made Himself the Son of God.” (blue) . . .

. . . When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus out and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” (purple)

— John 19:1-5,13-14

Notably, the order of the colors also suggests a hierarchy of three spaces within the "Tent of Meeting" structure. Blue represents the Holy of Holies, where God dwelt between the Cherubim. Purple represents the Holy Place where the mediating work of the priesthood occurred. The scarlet represents the Outer Court, where the sacrifices took place.

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White Linen: Righteousness and Purity

The final discussion on color involves the linen fabric used in the Tabernacle instructions. Its predominant feature was its white color. The color white makes an apparent symbolic connection with themes of purity and righteousness.

Linen is a plant-based textile, of which the curtains that surrounded the entire "Tent of Meeting" were made. Linen was also used to make veils that concealed and protected sacred spaces and priestly garments.

And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses.

— Revelation 9:14

This crisp white fabric provided the backdrop for the above-studied colors regarding the righteousness of Jesus Christ. He came down from heaven clothed in human flesh and became the only righteous one qualified to secure redemption through His sacrificial death.

My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

— I John 2:1-2

Jesus was the lamb without blemish or spot. (I Peter 1:18-19)

The spotlessness of the lamb is in stark contrast to the worthless filthy garments of fallen humankind. No other human being could qualify.

Oh, that You would rend the heavens! That You would come down! . . . But we are all like an unclean thing, And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; We all fade as a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, Have taken us away.

— Isaiah 64:6

Such is the state of all humankind apart from Christ.

Now Joshua (the high priest) was clothed with filthy garments, and was standing before the Angel. Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, saying, “Take away the filthy garments from him.” And to him He said, “See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.”

— Zechariah 3:3‭-‬4

Paul explains how this works in His letter to the Romans.

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience, many will be made righteous. so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

— Romans 5:8‭-‬9‭, ‬17‭-‬19‭, ‬21

We have no righteousness in and of ourselves. It is with the righteousness of Christ that God desires to clothe His beloved believers.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord , My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

— Isaiah 61:10

The Contiunuity of God's Sacred Plan and His Word

In Conclusion, the blue, purple, and scarlet on a canvas of white linen have clearly shown us God's righteous Son from heaven came to the earth as a man, was crucified on our behalf, and is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in both realms—the physical world and the heavenly one.

There is nothing in God's Word that is without significance. Every word, every color, every number, and name is rich with layers of meaning. All of which connect the dots of God's big picture of dwelling with His created ones through a necessary means of sacrificial salvation.

Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

— I Timothy 1:17

Sources and Credits

The Tabernacle the Priesthood and the Offerings by Henry W. Soltau. Published by Kregel Classics. Copyright 1994

The Tabernacle Its Priests and Its Services by William Brown. Originally published by Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier, Edinburgh and London, 1899

(cf. Isa 1:18)" (Henry Morris. Biblical Basis for Modern Science, Baker Book House, 1985, p. 73)

Alpha and Omega Institute at Discoveringcreation.org used by permission

1Garments for Glory by Andy McIlree, Copyright 2018

Questions & Answers

Question: Can the colors from the wilderness tabernacle story be used in painting a church hall?

Answer: I suppose they could. It may make a useful teaching tool.

Question: Have you ever considered that the colors represent groups of people and their status of the heart? Just look at the same robe colors that Christ was made to wear after His scourging. Each book of Matthew, Mark, and Luke shows a different color. The use of the donkey is different also. Might you change your analysis?

Answer: I am unfamiliar with any type of Scriptural pattern or implication that concerns groups of people and the status of their hearts being represented by colors. Bible symbolism is consistently repetitive and predominantly centers around Christ and the plan of salvation. Therefore, my analysis remains the same.

As for the colors, only Matthew presents the garment as scarlet rather than purple. Mark and John both describe it as purple, with two mentions each. Luke describes some type of garment as a luxurious or elegant garment, and takes place, possibly, at a different event. The Greek word for white is "leukos" and is not the word used in Luke 23:11.

There are many and varied interpretations as to why Matthew records a different color. Although some plausible possibilities have been presented, the jury is still out on a clear answer to that question.

© 2018 Tamarajo

Comments

Tamarajo (author) on July 09, 2020:

Hi Sherry,

I am sincerely blessed to know that the lesson is helpful. Everything in His Word is so beautiful! I love sharing it!

Thank you very much for taking the time to comment.

God bless!

Sherry on July 08, 2020:

Thank you, the writings were very informative and helpful. I was studying the color blue and white linen BUT I got so much more.

This was such a blessing to find.

God Bless!

Tamarajo (author) on June 01, 2020:

Hi Lillian,

I'm pleased that this lesson was useful!

I appreciate your taking the time to comment.

God bless.

Lillian Branford on June 01, 2020:

Your readings are very interesting. I accidentally stumbled across the topic of colors int the Torah and as I was searching for something that’s when I came across you writing. Thank you

Tamarajo (author) on April 17, 2020:

Krupavaram Pedapati, I am pleased that the commentary was a blessing to you.

Thank you for your visit and comment.

God bless!

Krupavaram Pedapati on April 16, 2020:

We are so blessed by this commentary

Tamarajo (author) on February 07, 2020:

Hi Glory,

It is a great joy that the lesson is useful and answered your question. It is in asking that God reveals.

All glory to God for His infinite Wisdom and allowing us to capture these glimpses into the deeper meaning of His perfect Word.

I appreciate your visit and comment

God bless!

Glory Akpan on February 07, 2020:

What an excellent article. Thank you for answering my question on the significance of purple especially. I started loving purple when i studied but needed to know the significance. Found it here today.

It was very helpful.

Thank you so much.

Tamarajo (author) on February 14, 2019:

Hello Bob,

I am glad that the study was useful. It satisfies my goal in writing it.

I was blessed to have been instructed for 15 years by a faithful Bible Study teacher who encouraged us to look at the significance of everything in Scripture. Her directive has not disappointed.

Thank you much for your comment and visit

God bless

Tamarajo

Bob Gary on February 14, 2019:

I looked at number of different sites to find the significance of the colors

0f thread & the linen & never really found completely what I was looking

for. Then I came to the information you researched and found the complete answers to what I was looking for. God Bless!!

Tamarajo (author) on February 12, 2018:

Hi Louise,

I am pleased to hear that this lesson was useful. The Scriptures are infinitely deep. I'm learning so much myself in digging into these treasure topics.

I sincerely appreciate your visit and comment = )

God bless!

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on February 12, 2018:

That is a really in depth article. Thankyou, I learned a lot from reading it. =)

Tamarajo (author) on January 29, 2018:

Hi Dora,

I'm glad to hear that Jesus being the main feature was captured. It's amazing how every detail inn Scripture supports that truth.

Thank very much for your visit and comment

God bless

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on January 29, 2018:

Thanks for the detailed study of the individual and combined importance of these three colors--and linen. You show that Jesus is the main feature of the united message. Thank you.

Tamarajo (author) on January 27, 2018:

Hi Bill,

The blue was a surprising discovery for me too. I sincerely love all the natural reflections of spiritual things. I think that is why we will be without excuse because all of creation declares in so many infinite ways His Truth, which is always in concert with God's Word.

I always appreciate your visit and comments.

God bless!

William Kovacic from Pleasant Gap, PA on January 27, 2018:

Another solid article, Tammy. I found it particularly interesting that blue isn't found much in nature. I never really thought about it before, so thanks for pointing that out. So much to ponder here, Tammy. Thanks again!!

Tamarajo (author) on January 22, 2018:

Hi Richard,

I think I've crossed over from dedication to obsession and for the very reason you stated. I'm truly amazed at the "intertwining and layers of meaning". The consistency from beginning to end is truly a testimony that this is no ordinary text or random piece of literature. The intricacies and weavings of these tapestries of truth are worth tracing every thread.

The blue was a very interesting study. I'm always so amazed how the natural world always contains an illustration that is consistent with His Word.

So many things I'm learning myself here.

Thank you much for following the study and your added thoughts.

God bless

Richard Parr from Australia on January 22, 2018:

Love your work and dedication to this exegesis of the tabernacle! Never ceases to amaze me that the scriptures are so thoroughly intertwined with layers of meaning and significance. Thank you.

I think blue is my new favorite colour