The Purpose of the Wilderness Tabernacle: The Three Colors of Thread and the White Linen
On Mount Sinai, The ten commandments were not the only thing that Moses received. Included, also, was a set of elaborate instructions for the building of the wilderness Tabernacle. This structure would serve as a meeting place for God and His people, as well as demonstrate a plan of salvation through God's one and only Son.
The Tabernacle was a temple of worship that involved specific protocols and procedures. Each requirement was for the express purpose of providing a possible means for God's people to dwell with Him per God's request.
Let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.
— Exodus 25:8
From the fall in Genesis up until the Tabernacle construction, the Bible records people occasionally walking and talking with God but not dwelling with Him. As we shall see, it is within the framework of this Old Testament sanctuary that God draws His people closer to Himself through an intricate sacrificial system. This arrangement can speak volumes to us today 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 fine-linen background. All colors taken together will illustrate a unified message that will be tied together at the end.
Blue: The Color of Heaven
The very first color mentioned is blue. 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 comes from the refracting of light through structures that are designed to reflect this color.
The natural physical world agrees that blue is "out of this world."
Sapphire: God's Throne
For this portion of this lesson, we are going to borrow our imagery from the unmistakably blue sapphire gemstone. The Bible makes this same connection in relationship to heaven and God's throne.
In an online article, "The Blue Stone," David Asscherick points out how the Scriptures reveal this connection in Exodus chapter 24.
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" should read, "I will give you tablets of the stone," "the," implying a particular stone, not a random rock from the mount. Could it be the tablets were taken from the sapphire stone of God's throne in the heavens?
Ezekiel, even twice, envisions the throne of God 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
The heavenly qualities of love, loyalty, and the faithfulness of God are connected with the color blue. As it concerns us, the color blue is to remind us to listen and obey God's divine commands.
"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."
— William Brown
Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, exhorts similarly.
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
The Blue Heavenly Thread
The book of Numbers includes the command that God gave to Moses to instruct every Israelite male to wear tassels on the corners of their garments. These tassels included a blue thread that was to remind 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 is significant. Blue dye was obtained from 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, during a particular phase of its color development, it then turns blue. 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 very precious, rare, and expensive. It is said to be worth its weight in gold.
The rare and precious blue dye connects us with the gold in the Tabernacle. As it concerned the metals used in its construction, gold was the heavenly metal. The gold and blue together interestingly, connect throughout the instructions of the Tabernacle construction.
Purple: A Royal Color
Purple, the center color, is a combination of both blue and scarlet, and we will discuss the significance of this after the section on scarlet. But let's first lay a good foundation for each color, so it all makes sense when taken together.
In the ancient world, purple was the color of royalty, wealth, and power. Like the blue, it was difficult to obtain and, therefore, rare and costly. The rich man in Luke 19, in Jesus's parable, was recorded to have been 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.
Historical, mythological literature affirms these symbolic connections of the ancient world, as is 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 makes a connection 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 for doing so.
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
There is another King not of this world that was clothed in purple but displayed a different type of wealth and power that could only be achieved by 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
The Power of Purple
The visible light spectrum illustrates how purple is the most potent and energetic color from a wavelength, frequency, and photon energy perspective, as shown in the chart above.
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
According to the chart above, purple is 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 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, and both contain the name for blood.
The Hebrew word for scarlet, as is used for this particular requested variety of red, is "tôlaʻath sheni" תּוֹלַעַת שָׁנִי. A tolah is a worm or maggot known as the Crimson worm. The life cycle of this lowly creature uniquely illustrates man's salvation through the sacrifice of another 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 fed 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.
In the next section, we will tie all three colors of thread together and discover their entire message as a whole.
. . . a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
— Ecclesiastes 4:12
The United Message
This symphony of colors, taken together, produces a joyous melody of revelation about the message of salvation.
These are always 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 known to be
- The Son of God (heaven/blue)
- The King of Kings and Lord of Lords (royalty/purple)
- The Son of Man (man/blood/scarlet)
The combination of the two outer items produces the center one. 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.
All of these threads are interlaced and woven throughout the tapestry of John's account of the passion.
And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head (scarlet), 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 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
White Linen: Righteousness and Purity
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 the veils that concealed and protected sacred spaces and the priestly garments. Its predominant characteristic is that it was white. White makes an apparent connection between purity and righteousness.
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 in terms of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Who came down from heaven clothed in human flesh and became the only righteous one qualified to secure the 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 man. 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 the mechanics of 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
In Conclusion, the blue, purple, and scarlet, on a canvas of white linen, have clearly shown us God's righteous Son from heaven, come to the earth as a man crucified on our behalf.
There is nothing in God's Word that is without significance. Every word, every color, every number, and every name is rich with 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
Questions & Answers
Can the colors from the wilderness tabernacle story be used in painting a church hall?
I suppose they could. It may make a useful teaching tool.Helpful 5
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?
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.Helpful 2
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