4.3.3 Colors: Symbols to Dye For
Volume 4: The Human Condition—Chapter 3.3
Colors: Symbols to Dye For
In the previous chapter, we explored our sartorial options—what to wear, and what not to—in terms of their spiritual/scriptural symbolic context. But I deferred the subject of colors and dyes, which (as we shall see) can bear metaphorical significance of their own. Not all of the colors we are about to discuss were used as dyes for garments, of course. The Bible was millennia removed from the bright, vivid colors that aniline and coal-tar dyes brought into our world less than two centuries ago. Intense colors were rare, labor intensive, and prohibitively expensive for most people.
More to the point of our study, the symbology of color is quite independent of the thing being colored. Linen or wool or cotton, for example, were usually white or off-white in their natural state, but could be dyed blue, red, or purple. The Hebrew and Greek texts themselves will be our guide as we endeavor to sort out the symbols: was the garment called “fine linen,” or “purple,” or “purple linen”? Although “purple” and “linen” are potentially complementary or compatible as Biblical symbols, they do not mean the same thing. I have come to believe there is nothing accidental—and very little incidental—in the words of scripture. So we will track down the actual terminology used to describe these colors in an effort to understand what God meant to communicate to us.
Of course, clothing or fabric is not the only thing in scripture described by its color. We never hear of green garments, because there were no indelible green dyes available. But nature (I’m sure you’ve noticed) is full of green things, and several words describing this hue are pressed into service to teach us spiritual truths. The same is true of “red,” since red dyes come from several different sources, not to mention natural examples of the color—blood, wine, iron-rich earth, sunsets, etc. The famous “coat of many colors” given to Joseph by his father Jacob may not have been “colorful” at all, but a description of its long sleeves, making it unsuitable for manual labor, hence a mark of privilege.
A Hebrew word often translated “color” (ayin) actually means “eye.” That is, it denotes “appearance,” or “what something looks like,” rather than a particular hue. Some examples: “The manna was like coriander seed, and its color like the color of bdellium.” (Numbers 11:7) Now if we knew what bdellium was, we’d know what manna looked like. In his introductory vision, Ezekiel saw that “Brightness was all around [the whirlwind] and radiating out of its midst like the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire.” (Ezekiel 1:4) And later in the same chapter, “The appearance of the wheels and their workings was like the color of beryl.” (Ezekiel 1:16) And “The likeness of the firmament above the heads of the living creatures was like the color of an awesome crystal.” (Ezekiel 1:22) He didn’t have names for the colors he saw; all he could do is compare them to things he (and his readers) had seen elsewhere.
The translators of John’s vision in Revelation 9:17 had the same problem: they’re seeing colors, whereas the text records only similes. The NKJV renders it: “And thus I saw the horses in the vision: those who sat on them had breastplates of fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow.” The RSV inserts the word “color”: “The riders wore breastplates the color of fire and of sapphire and of sulphur.” But the Greek simply says, “Breastplates: fire, sapphire, and brimstone.” I’m not saying the translators were wrong to imply colors here. I’m merely noting that John didn’t have actual “color names” to use. All he could do is describe what he saw by drawing comparisons with familiar things in his audience’s experience.
We tend to think of the ancient world as monochromatic and drab, but that would be a mistake. Yes, we look at Grecian or Egyptian sculpture, architecture, and pottery, and see nothing but marble, limestone, and clay. But in truth, many of these objects and buildings were once highly decorated and brightly colored. Stone lasts far longer than organic pigments, however. A few centuries in the open air, and all traces of their original colors would have disappeared. Only under unusual circumstances—being buried in volcanic ash as in Pompeii, for example, or in places not exposed to the elements, like within tombs—did the colors survive for any length of time.
But for most people, the manmade colors most frequently encountered were the dyed garments they wore. And since dyes were generally expensive, a more colorful wardrobe signaled one’s wealth and status. In the case of Biblical symbology, the most frequent mentions of dyed yarns or fabrics is in reference to the wilderness tabernacle, where we see blues, reds, and purples used in abundance. Since virtually everything in the tabernacle was spiritually significant—rituals, priestly apparel, function, materials, dimensions, and even compass orientation—I find it inconceivable that the frequent specification of color was merely for “a nice appearance” or “projection of status.”
The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary notes: “Dyes and Colors. Predynastic Egyptians (about 3000 B.C.) had begun to master the art of dyeing fabrics. Reds, purples, and blues (indigo) were the known natural dyes of the Mediterranean and African regions, having been derived from marine life, plants, and insects. Natural tones from different breeds of animals gave some variety to fabric colors (brown and black goat hair; white, gray, and yellow wool). Available natural dyes and variable natural tones offered a wide spectrum of color possibilities. Mixing of dyes and fabrics could result in colors such as green, orange, brown, yellow, black, and pink, each with varied shades. Natural Tyrian purple was considered the most beautiful color of all throughout ancient history, according to Strabo.”
Rainbow: the Covenant
“Then God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness.” (Genesis 1:2-4) I suppose it would be appropriate to begin our discussion of the symbology of color” by exploring the means by which color is perceived: light. If you’ll recall, we studied light (in Volume 1, chapter 3.1 of this work) as one of the seven attributes through which Yahweh reveals Himself. Light and perception are interrelated concepts. (The other six components of His “Self-portrait” are: (1) The Word: Knowledge & Communication; (2) Life/Family: Relationship; (3) Water: Restoration and Cleansing; (4) Air/Breath/Wind: Inspiration; (5) The Bread of Life: Provision; and (6) Rock/Foundation/Upright Pillar: Confidence.)
Sunlight as we normally perceive it is white, but as we all know from High School physics, the light can be broken down into a range of its component colors by being passed through a prism, as demonstrated by Isaac Newton’s famous 1666 experiment. Light’s component colors have slightly different wave lengths, so they “break apart” when passed through a prism, or something (like water) that acts as one.
Wikipedia explains the “rainbow effect.” “A rainbow is a meteorological phenomenon that is caused by reflection, refraction and dispersion of light in water droplets resulting in a spectrum of light appearing in the sky. It takes the form of a multicoloured circular arc. Rainbows caused by sunlight always appear in the section of sky directly opposite the sun…. A rainbow is not located at a specific distance from the observer, but comes from an optical illusion caused by any water droplets viewed from a certain angle relative to a light source. Thus, a rainbow is not an object and cannot be physically approached. Indeed, it is impossible for an observer to see a rainbow from water droplets at any angle other than the customary one of 42 degrees from the direction opposite the light source. Even if an observer sees another observer who seems ‘under’ or ‘at the end of’ a rainbow, the second observer will see a different rainbow—farther off—at the same angle as seen by the first observer. Rainbows span a continuous spectrum of colours. Any distinct bands perceived are an artefact of human colour vision, and no banding of any type is seen in a black-and-white photo of a rainbow, only a smooth gradation of intensity to a maximum, then fading towards the other side. For colours seen by the human eye, the most commonly cited and remembered sequence is Newton's sevenfold red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet….” You’ll note there are two “shades” of blue in this sequence—the first being a brighter hue (cyan, azure, or cerulean) and the second deeper and more on the “purple” side of blue—indigo or ultramarine.
“Rainbows can be observed whenever there are water drops in the air and sunlight shining from behind the observer at a low altitude angle. Because of this, rainbows are usually seen in the western sky during the morning and in the eastern sky during the early evening.” Typically, then, a rainbow appears during or after a rainstorm as a single arc low in the sky. Under very unusual conditions, the arc can extend to form an entire circle, or a double rainbow can form, but these are quite rare.
The obvious foundation of God’s use of the rainbow as a symbol is found in the account of the flood of Noah: “Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying: ‘And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth. Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth….’” He is quite specific here: He does not say the world will never again be destroyed, nor that all flesh (whether men or animals) will continue to live on this planet in perpetuity. The focus of the promise is on the means of destruction: it will never again come via a flood of water. And note that the reference is to another worldwide deluge: there have been many devastating local floods since Noah’s day, but the Covenant stands intact. For that matter, God prophetically promises to send a devastating flood against His (and Israel’s) enemies during the Tribulation (see Ezekiel 38:22), but His covenant with Noah still holds.
Yahweh sealed this promise by providing a sign—a recurring natural phenomenon that Noah had (presumably) never seen before. “And God said: ‘This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth….” Actually, there is no distinct word in paleo-Hebrew for “rainbow.” This is another simile: the Hebrew word is qesheth or qeshet, meaning (as it reads in the old KJV) “bow” (as in archery). It is a reference to the shape of the atmospheric phenomenon being introduced—an arc. This tells us two things: (1) Noah was quite familiar with the longbow and its arrows, for fallen man had been using these implements to kill each other for centuries. And (2) Yahweh was subtly confirming that the flood they had endured had been His doing—the bow revealed His “weapon,” so to speak.
God continues His explanation: “It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh: the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ And God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.’” (Genesis 9:8-17)
It is unclear as to whether or not the conditions for rainbows existed before the great flood. In Genesis 2, a summary of what appears to be the conditions early in the “third day” of creation is given. (That would make it about 3.7 billion years ago. See Dr. Gerald Schroeder’s explanation of how relativity and the expansion of space-time explains the amazing equivalence of the Biblical six days of creation and the scientifically sound estimate of 13.7 billion years as the age of the universe, in The End of the Beginning, Volume 4, Appendix 11, elsewhere on this website.) God tells us, “This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that Yahweh, God, made the earth and the heavens, before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown. For Yahweh, God, had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to till the ground, but a mist [Hebrew ed: a fog, mist, or vapor] went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground.” (Genesis 2:4-6)
It would seem, then, that prior to Eden, the air was saturated with water vapor, but no actual rain drops formed. This too aligns with scientific observation. Ward and Brownlee, in their seminal work Rare Earth, report that “Don Lowe of Stanford University has estimated that before 3 billion years ago, less than 5% of the surface [of the earth] was land.” It is now 29%. At the very least, this suggests a very wet early atmosphere, at or even above today’s 4% maximum—what we call 100% humidity. It all depends on the ambient temperature. The hotter it is, the more humidity the air can retain.
In the account of Eden in Genesis 2, four rivers are mentioned, at least two of which, the Euphrates and the Hiddekel (a.k.a. Tigris), still exist. Whenever rivers flow, it is axiomatic that water droplets have formed and fallen onto the land—a baseline requirement for rainbows to be seen. We have all seen photos of rainbows at massive waterfalls such as Niagara Falls, for example. But the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys are mostly flat and torpid affairs: it is highly unlikely that Noah had ever seen a rainbow formed by mist from rapidly moving water.
In The Owner’s Manual, I wrote, “There is a persistent theory that in the antediluvian world, a water vapor canopy shielded the earth, moderating global temperatures and filtering out harmful rays—a canopy that collapsed during the flood. Whether it was this or some other atmospheric condition, something changed at the time of the flood to (1) allow accelerated degradation of our gene pool, (2) prompt Yahweh to categorically promise that never again would such a flood destroy the earth, (3) allow rainbows to form, perhaps for the first time, and (4) cause Yahweh to forecast regular and significant seasonal weather cycles that would never cease as long as the earth remained (apparently something Noah was not used to). Whatever it was, it proves that even in times of judgment and wrath, Yahweh never forgets His people.”
By the way, it is my opinion (though it really doesn’t change the scriptural picture at all) that the proximate cause for Noah’s flood was a devastating multiple asteroid strike that (1) collapsed the earth’s vapor canopy (presuming it existed), (2) nudged the earth’s angle of rotation relative to the sun to its present season-intensifying 23.5 degrees, and (3) caused a series of “civilization-killer” tsunamis capable of picking up Noah’s humongous barge like a twig in the Fertile Crescent and depositing it six or eight hundred miles away in the mountains of Ararat. See The Torah Code, Volume 2, Chapter 5 for the science.
So whether or not rainbows had ever been seen before, the post-flood world is where they were invested with the properties of a “sign from God.” Rainbows—wherever we see them—are a reminder of the everlasting covenant God made with the inhabitants of planet Earth: we will never again be destroyed with a worldwide flood. But at the same time, we should all be reminded when we see one that Yahweh is, and always was, capable of doing that very thing.
The remaining mentions of rainbows in scripture invariably appear in prophetic dreams and visions—describing in the only words the seer could find what God or His abode looked like in the vision he was being shown. For example, in the first chapter of Ezekiel, in which the prophet was shown God in His glory, the word “appearance” occurs fifteen times, “like” thirteen more, and “likeness” another ten. We get the distinct impression that Ezekiel felt he didn’t really have a broad enough vocabulary to adequately describe what he had been shown. He just did the best he could with similes and comparisons.
He writes, “The likeness of the firmament [i.e., expanse of sky] above the heads of the living creatures was like the color of an awesome crystal, stretched out over their heads…. And above the firmament over their heads was the likeness of a throne, in appearance like a sapphire stone; on the likeness of the throne was a likeness with the appearance of a man high above it. Also from the appearance of His waist and upward I saw, as it were, the color of amber with the appearance of fire all around within it; and from the appearance of His waist and downward I saw, as it were, the appearance of fire with brightness all around. Like the appearance of a rainbow in a cloud on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the brightness all around it. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of Yahweh.” (Ezekiel 1:22, 26-28)
Ezekiel had been given an impossible job: to describe God using human language. We get the feeling that such glowing descriptions as “awesome crystal,” “sapphire stone,” “fiery amber,” and the “brightness of the rainbow” fall miserably short of the reality he was shown in his vision. The key concept here—and in virtually all mentions of rainbows in scriptural texts—is glory. The Hebrew word is kabowd (or kabod), derived from the verb kabad—to be heavy or weighty, hence honored or glorious.
The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament has a lot to say about this broad concept. Some excerpts: “The idea is of that which is weighty in the sense of being noteworthy or impressive. Common translations are honorable, honored, glorious, or glorified…. Persons in positions of responsibility and authority were deserving of honor. It is significant to remind oneself that giving honor or glory is to say that someone is deserving of respect, attention and obedience. A life which does not back up one’s honorable words is hypocrisy of a high form…. God’s name is glorious in righteousness, faithfulness, judgment, and salvation. He is the king of glory who has done gloriously. So He is not only to be honored because of his position as sovereign head of the universe, but because of His surpassing character in all realms….” Again, words fall short.
“Over against the transience of human and earthly glory stands the unchanging beauty of the manifest God. In this sense the noun kabod takes on its most unusual and distinctive meaning. Forty-five times this form of the root relates to a visible manifestation of God, and whenever ‘the glory of God’ is mentioned this usage must be taken account of. Its force is so compelling that it remolds the meaning of doxa from an opinion of men in the Greek classics to something absolutely objective in the LXX and NT.” The reference, of course, is to Paul’s famous maxim: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory [Greek: doxa] of God.” (Romans 3:23) I would counter that we obviously fall short of God’s glory—something that cannot even be described adequately in human language. But we often miss the fact that we also invariably fall short of God’s opinion—what He considers righteous and proper. Doing what is “right in our own eyes” (see Judges 21:25) is seen as a bad thing in scripture, for we are a wicked, fallen race. Only God’s opinion matters. His glory is revealed by nature and creation. His opinion, on the other hand, is revealed only through his inspired Word.
Whereas false “gods” ask you to take their word (actually, their priests ’ word) for their very existence, Yahweh has historically gone out of His way, when the situation demanded it, to show people how awesome and glorious He is. So the Torah is peppered with passages like this: “Now the glory of Yahweh rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. The sight of the glory of Yahweh was like a consuming fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel.” (Exodus 24:16-17)
We need to bear in mind that as awesome as these Shekinah and visionary appearances were, they were, in fact, “dialed down” or “scaled back” from reality: Yahweh is so awesome, we mortal humans cannot stand in His direct presence and survive the encounter. The exodus Israelites saw the Shekinah of God and begged Moses to deal with Him directly, for they were terrified even of this scaled-back manifestation (which was kind of the point). In Volume 1, section 1.2 of this work, if you’ll recall, I pointed out that Yahweh, true to His customary six-plus-one pattern, provided six of these dialed-down forms of His deity with which to interact among mankind. The rainbow, however, while a beautiful hint of God’s glory, is not one of them—it is not a manifestation of God; it is “merely” the awesome sign He gave us confirming the covenant of Noah.
In the Deuteronomy recounting of the Exodus encounter, Yahweh promised to one day provide a manifestation of Himself to whom they could personally relate: “Yahweh your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of Yahweh your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of Yahweh my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’ [cf. Exodus 20:18-19] And Yahweh said to me: ‘What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:15-19) That “Prophet,” of course, would be Yahshua of Nazareth.
The concept of a rainbow occurs only twice in the New Testament, both of them in John’s Revelation vision, and both describing (as best he could) the glory of God. After recording Christ’s letters to the seven churches, the scene changes: “I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, ‘Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.’ Immediately I was in the Spirit….” John, as the representative of (and messenger to) the ekklesia—the called-out assembly of Christ—is told to “come up” to heaven. I believe this is a thinly veiled prophetic reference to the rapture of the church, for we never see the church as such referred to again in the entire book, until we meet the Bride of Christ assembled in Revelation 19. (Prior to that, the only “church” we see on earth is the multitude of Tribulation martyrs—representatives of the church of belatedly-repentant Laodicea.)
Anyway, John (like Ezekiel before him) is presented with a scene that is impossible to adequately describe in human language. But he gives it his best shot: “And behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald.” (Revelation 4:1-3) Like Ezekiel, John is reduced to describing the scene using similes of the most splendid and beautiful things in his own human experience, among them, a rainbow.
The Greek noun used here is iris—a rainbow or halo. As happens more often than we’d like to admit, iris is a word with its roots in Greek mythology. Iris was supposed to be one of the goddesses of the sea and the sky, the personification of the rainbow and messenger of the Olympian gods. She was said to have golden wings and to travel on the rainbow while carrying messages from the gods to mortals, linking the gods to humanity. John wasn’t referring to any of that, of course—he was merely describing what he saw: an arc of pure light surrounding the throne of God, dazzling in its brilliance. The image of the rainbow linking God to humanity is nothing but a happy coincidence. Or is it? If nothing else, it reinforces my contention that human language is not sufficient to communicate Yahweh’s whole truth to mankind, which is why He employs such a rich repository of symbols, used in parallel with words.
God’s angels are described in pretty much the same terms. Later in the vision, John reports: “I saw still another mighty angel coming down from heaven, clothed with a cloud. And a rainbow [iris] was on his head, his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire.” (Revelation 10:1) Maybe this is where medieval artists got into the habit of putting halos atop the heads of saints and angels in their paintings. All I know for sure is that if one has been in the presence of the Almighty, his appearance is going to seem awesome to mere mortals. We are reminded of Moses’ glowing countenance as he descended from Mount Sinai with the Instructions of Yahweh.
Before we leave the subject of the rainbow, let us return to the Hebrew scriptures to review a passage where the “bow” (qesheth: this time, an archer’s implement) is used in a negative sense. Yahweh says, “They [Israel] rebel against Me. Though I disciplined and strengthened their arms, yet they devise evil against Me. They return, but not to the Most High. They are like a treacherous bow [rmiyah qesheth: literally, a bow of deception—one that misses its mark]. Their princes shall fall by the sword for the cursings of their tongue.” (Hosea 7:14-16) In the flood account, we discovered that the qesheth was designed to reveal the glory of God. Here, however, we see that although Israel was meant to be the bow in the hands of Yahweh the warrior, they (having free will) have refused to “shoot straight.”
I can’t help but notice how often the sign of God’s covenant with man—the rainbow—has been appropriated and misused. Maybe this is an extrapolation one cannot logically make, but it appears to me that the “treacherous bow” epithet of Hosea might be applied to a plethora of satanic counterfeits. Wikipedia notes: “Rainbow flags tend to be used as a sign of a new era, of hope, or of social change. Rainbow flags have been used in many places over the centuries: in the German Peasants' War in the 16th century, as a symbol of the Cooperative movement; as a symbol of peace, especially in Italy; to represent the Tawantin Suyu, or Inca territory, mainly in Peru and Bolivia; by some Druze communities in the Middle east; by the Jewish Autonomous Oblast; to represent the International Order of Rainbow for Girls since the early 1920s, and as a symbol of gay pride and LGBT social movements since the 1970s. In the 1990s, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Nelson Mandela described the newly democratic South Africa as the ‘rainbow nation,’ also alluding to its diversity and multiculturalism.”
The counterfeit rainbow that stands out these days, of course, is its use as the emblem of homosexuality and its related perversions—and the political power they seek to wield over the vast majority of us who find such behaviors abnormal at best and satanic abominations at worst. Back in the 1960s, I found myself falling in love with a girl whose given name was Gayle, but who had always gone by the nickname “Gay” (which used to mean “happy and lighthearted” back then). As we began contemplating a lifetime together, the fact that her new married name would be “Gay Power”—coincidentally the name of the newly militant homosexual movement—became problematic, to say the least. So I “changed her name” back to Gayle. It took a while, but I think she finally got used to it.
Blue: Holiness & the Heavens
It’s the prototypical four-year-old’s question: “Daddy, why is the sky blue?” It’s no good explaining to her that there is a layer of ozone (a pale blue gas, the O3 molecule, an unstable allotrope of oxygen, a.k.a. trioxygen) in the stratosphere, formed when oxygen is subjected to an electrical discharge (as in scary lightning storms). This layer protects us from harmful radiation, especially ultraviolet rays, which can cause problems like eye cataracts, skin cancers, and reduced immune function. No, it’s probably just best to tell her that “the sky is blue because God wants it that way.” After all, this too is true.
Although it’s never spelled out in scripture, when the color “blue” is mentioned, especially by itself, we are invariably being reminded of the holiness of Yahweh our God, whose abode is said to be “in the heavens.” The concepts of God and heaven are inextricably intertwined, so it’s not much of a stretch to define blue as a symbol of heaven—and everything associated with it. The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery notes that “In ancient thought, the sky was believed to separate the place of the gods from the human realm. Therefore blue, the color of the sky, could appropriately suggest the boundary between God and His people and symbolize His majesty.” As we shall see, blue is the specified color for quite a few things related to the service of the tabernacle and priesthood—all of which is symbolic, one way or another, of Yahweh’s plan for our redemption and reconciliation.
You can’t make a dye out of ozone, of course—there has to be a more down-to-earth source if you need a blue pigment. In this case, it’s a mollusk found in the Mediterranean Sea. In fact, the Hebrew word for blue (as is the case with many of the colors we’ll be studying) speaks not of the color itself, but of the source of the dye. Tekelet (or tekeleth), translated “blue” 48 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, is apparently derived from shcheleth—the cerulean mussel. It is no surprise that Tyre, the premier seaport city in the Eastern Mediterranean, was a hub for the manufacture and trade of both blue and purple dyes.
Considering its source, it should come as no surprise that “blue” wasn’t always exactly the same hue. Tekelet dyes ranged from blue to deep purple or violet. We may be putting the cart before the horse to define the color as “cerulean blue” simply because it is derived from the cerulean mussel. Wikipedia notes that “Cerulean, also spelled caerulean, is a shade of blue ranging between azure and a darker sky blue. The first recorded use of cerulean as a colour name in English was in 1590. The word is derived from the Latin word caeruleus, ‘dark blue, blue, or blue-green,’ which in turn probably derives from caerulum, diminutive of caelum, ‘heaven, sky.’” So let’s just observe that the source of the dye is the key: “blue” is made from the secretions of a mussel, a clam-like mollusk; and “purple” (argaman) is made from a snail.
Okay, let’s get down to cases. A single strand of the ubiquitous Hebrew tsitzit (see The Owner’s Manual, Mitzvah #18) was to be dyed blue (tekelet)—a constant reminder, it would transpire, of the deity (the heavenly origin) of the coming Messiah. Here’s the precept: “Again Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them to make tassels [Hebrew: tsitzit] 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 Yahweh 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 Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am Yahweh your God.” (Numbers 15:37-41)
The tsitzit was a small bundle of threads (the same word is used to describe a lock of hair—see Ezekiel 8:3). The source of the thread (wool, linen, etc.) was not specified, nor was its length or breadth. Unprocessed thread was generally white or off-white in color, so the command to include one blue thread was calculated to make it stand out, to “catch the eye.” The tsitzit was ornamental—it did not serve any practical function—and it was to be worn by every Israelite, so it wasn’t a status symbol (like an expensive necktie or scarf might be to us). It served only to identify and unify the Hebrews, and to remind them of the commandments of Yahweh with which they had been uniquely entrusted.
And the single blue thread? I believe it was emblematic of the one thing that was “heavenly” about the nation of Israel—its Messiah, Yahshua. As He was on His way to heal the daughter of a man named Jairus (actually, to raise her from the dead, as it turned out) He was thronged by a large crowd of people. “Suddenly, a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years came from behind and touched the hem [Greek kraspedon: a border, tassel, fringe, corner, or trim—in other words, His tsitzit] of His garment. For she said to herself, ‘If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.’ But Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, ‘Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And the woman was made well from that hour.” (Matthew 9:20-22) Significantly, the account in Luke adds, “And Jesus said, ‘Who touched Me?’” (Luke 8:45) Not “Who touched my garment,” but “Who touched Me?” Whether or not anybody else realized it, the single blue thread in the tsitzit worn by every Jew was symbolic of Christ.
Reaching out in faith and touching the tsitzit of Yahshua was equivalent to being touched by Him. A bit later, we read, “When the men of that place recognized [Yahshua], they sent out into all that surrounding region, brought to Him all who were sick, and begged Him that they might only touch the hem [kraspedon] of His garment. And as many as touched it were made perfectly well.” (Matthew 14:35-36) There was nothing magical about Christ’s tassel itself, of course. But the One who wore it was God manifested in human flesh—hence the healing power. In a sense, then, this healing echoed the tsitzit’s originally stated purpose: “that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of Yahweh and do them.”
Many of the seemingly minor details in the wilderness tabernacle specified blue-dyed thread. For example: “And you shall make loops of blue yarn on the edge of the curtain on the selvedge of one set, and likewise you shall do on the outer edge of the other curtain of the second set. Fifty loops you shall make in the one curtain, and fifty loops you shall make on the edge of the curtain that is on the end of the second set, that the loops may be clasped to one another. And you shall make fifty clasps of gold, and couple the curtains together with the clasps, so that it may be one tabernacle.” (Exodus 26:1-6; cf. Exodus 36:11-12) In The Owner’s Manual, Volume 2, Chapter 4, I discuss how the “ceiling panels” of the tabernacle were to be assembled—and the significance of the arrangement. Four cubit wide (i.e., about six feet) strips of cloth or leather (depending on which of the four layers you’re talking about) were to be joined together in five and six unit sub-assemblies, using these loops of blue yarn as attachment points. Why blue? As I wrote in TOM, “The loops of blue yarn once again, like the tsitzit, remind us that Yahshua the Messiah, the coming King, is the One who holds our righteousness together.”
Two of these sub-assemblies comprised each layer of the tabernacle ceiling. The sub-assemblies were joined to each other using metal clasps (gold on the inner layer, and bronze for the other three), not blue yarn. This tells us that though similar in purpose and function, the two sub-assemblies were distinct and separate from one another: they symbolized two different things. I believe one represents Israel, and the other the church (or more correctly, the ekklesia, the called-out assembly of Christ, not necessarily the religious organization that goes by the same name). These two groups, working side by side, were to demonstrate and communicate the function of the four ceiling layers to the outside world: (1) the righteousness of the saints (linen); (2) the sins that needed to be covered (goats’ hair); (3) the shed blood of Christ (rams’ skins dyed red); and (4) the provision of God (porpoise or dugong hides), concealing the underlying symbolic truths from profane or disinterested eyes.
By the way, there are many places in the instructions for the tabernacle that specify blue, scarlet, and purple (and sometimes gold) threads together. I plan to cover this combination as a separate subject, for the grouping itself appears to be symbolically significant in the way the three colors interact with one another. But let us cover them separately first. I have already covered the symbology of the priestly garments: see The Owner’s Manual, Volume 2, chapter 5, etc.
The color blue (tekelet) figures prominently in the clothing worn exclusively by the High Priest. So we read: “They shall bind the breastplate by means of its rings to the rings of the ephod, using a blue cord, so that it is above the intricately woven band of the ephod, and so that the breastplate does not come loose from the ephod.” (Exodus 28:28) The “ephod” was “a richly embroidered, apron-like vestment having two shoulder straps and ornamental attachments for securing the breastplate, worn with a waistband by the High Priest.” (Dictionary.com) Here we see that the breastplate, which prominently displayed a collection of semi-precious gemstones representing the twelve tribes of Israel, was to be secured to the ephod using a blue cord. If our take on the meaning of “blue” is correct, the message seems to be that Israel—all twelve tribes, as a unit distinct from other nations—is set apart (considered holy) by our Heavenly Father.
The High Priest’s ensemble was to include a pair of short linen trousers, a linen tunic (an inner garment, usually with sleeves, worn next to the skin like a long shirt), a sleeveless “robe” worn over the tunic, and finally the ephod. The robe reached from the neck down to below the knees; it was sleeveless—more like a cape or poncho. And the color? “You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue.” (Exodus 28:31) Since this was the High Priest’s outermost garment (except where it was covered by the apron-like ephod), his visage would have been predominantly blue. Again, this symbolized the holiness of his station, and his position as intercessor between Israel and Yahweh—prophetic of Christ’s coming role as our High Priest (see Hebrews, chapters 5 and 7).
And as if the symbol was not obvious enough, we are given this instruction concerning a small golden sign that was to be affixed to the front of the High Priest’s turban. “You shall also make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet: HOLINESS TO YAHWEH. And you shall put it on a blue cord, that it may be on the turban; it shall be on the front of the turban. So it shall be on Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall always be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before Yahweh.” (Exodus 28:36-38; cf. Exodus 39:21-31) This gold plate was a little like a name tag we might wear, but it was meant not to identify who the High Priest was, but whose he was. He was set apart, consecrated to Yahweh.
The symbols tell us more: (1) the pure gold speaks of immutable purity. Gold is refined in the crucible of adversity until all of its impurities have been separated from it. Once purified, it cannot be affected by external pollutants.
(2) The fact that the plate was engraved in writing reinforces the concept that Yahweh wishes to communicate clearly with man: He does not rely on symbols alone, nor does He count on our emotions to guide us. Yahweh is unique among “gods” in this regard—mostly because He is the only one of them who is real.
(3) The golden plate’s positioning on the front of the turban reminds us that we are to use our heads (and not just our hearts) when following our God. The brain’s frontal lobe (over which the sign was placed) is where the body’s actions originate—thought, speech, decision making, and voluntary movement. Yahweh wants us to think, contemplate, communicate, and act upon His word. This in turn tells us that we need not fear the facts of scientific inquiry: properly understood, they will always confirm God’s revelation.
(4) “Bearing iniquity” is an archaic way of stating that the High Priest would carry away or take upon himself (symbolically, anyway) the sins of the people—and more to the point, the punishment for that guilt. This is clearly a prophetic reference to the function of the Messiah, our ultimate “High Priest.” The whole point of the golden “Holy to Yahweh” sign is “that they [that’s us] may be accepted before Yahweh.” That’s salvation. The blue cord, then, is what ties justification and sanctification together, in the process of making us citizens of heaven.
Sometimes the Torah’s instructions seem pointlessly exacting, but they’re not. We just have to keep the symbols in mind if we wish to appreciate God’s message. Obviously, none of the minutiae of the wilderness tabernacle can literally be kept today, but Yahweh’s metaphors are still worth digging out and pondering. For example, God gave precise instructions on how the tabernacle’s furnishings (which were never seen by anyone other than the priests—symbolic of believers) were to be transported: “This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of meeting, relating to the most holy things: When the camp prepares to journey, Aaron and his sons shall come….”
As usual, the instructions begin where God is (on the inside) and work outward. So He speaks of the Ark of the Covenant first, the only piece of furniture stationed within the Most Holy Place: “And they shall take down the covering veil and cover the ark of the Testimony with it.” This is the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. A version of it was torn from top to bottom at the crucifixion of Christ, prompting the writer to the Hebrews to symbolically equate it with the body of Yahshua, torn on our behalf. “Then they shall put on it a covering of [porpoise] skins, and spread over that a cloth entirely of blue; and they shall insert its poles….” Porpoise or dolphin skins are specified for the exterior layer of the tabernacle’s covering—the only one of the four visible from the outside. Its symbolic purpose is concealment: to separate—i.e., to keep holy—the sacred from the profane. And the Ark of the Covenant, which normally sat within the Most Holy Place in the presence of the glorious Shekinah, would certainly have needed to be concealed from common view.
But here (and only here) the concealing porpoise skin cover was itself hidden—with a cloth dyed blue. It was as if Yahweh was saying: “Of all the furnishings in the tabernacle, this one represents the key to heaven. It alone is sprinkled the blood of atonement, covering the sins of the world, if only people would put their trust in its efficacy.” That blood, of course, would eventually be shed by Yahshua, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
All three pieces within the Holy Place—the main room of the sanctuary—were to be covered with blue cloths as well, but they were then covered with porpoise skins for travel. The message seems to be that the holiness—the connection with heaven—associated with these things was to be concealed from the public. These articles were accessed by the priests on a daily basis, but not the ordinary Israelites, leading us to the conclusion that the functions they symbolized were accessible only to believers. In other words, mindlessly going through the motions of religious practice is not the path to reconciliation with God.
“On the table of showbread they shall spread a blue cloth, and put on it the dishes, the pans, the bowls, and the pitchers for pouring; and the showbread shall be on it. They shall spread over them a scarlet cloth, and cover the same with a covering of [porpoise] skins; and they shall insert its poles….” The table of the Bread of the Presence represents the provision of Yahweh for our needs. The added covering of a scarlet cloth (Hebrew: tola, named for the crimson grub from which the dye was derived) leads us to conclude that not only are the needs of our mortal bodies provided by God (i.e., the bread), but also our Spiritual needs, represented by the blood-red cloth reminiscent of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. As Yahshua would later point out to Nicodemus in John 3, we must be born both of water (physical birth) and the Spirit if we are to enter the Kingdom of God. But all of that is opaque to the non-believer, who is left with false gods and false hope to provide for him—even if the false god is only himself.
Next, we are told how the Sons of Kohath were to carry the seven-branched Menorah. “And they shall take a blue cloth and cover the lampstand of the light, with its lamps, its wick-trimmers, its trays, and all its oil vessels, with which they service it. Then they shall put it with all its utensils in a covering of [porpoise] skins, and put it on a carrying beam….” We are not told precisely how they were secured and carried, but all of the accessories and consumables were to be considered “part of” the Menorah, informing us that its function—providing light—was the significant thing, not merely the hardware (which can all too easily devolve into a focus for idolatry). Here again, even the blue cloth, indicating holiness and heaven, was to be concealed from view with a porpoise skin covering. What a striking contrast there is between God’s instructions for moving the holy tabernacle furnishings and a variety of Latin American or European Roman Catholic or Orthodox religious holidays, in which the local “patron saint” (e.g., Christopher Columbus’ revered Virgin of Guadalupe) is paraded through the streets, flagrantly flouting the Second Commandment. Yahweh would say, “If it has to be moved, at least cover it up, lest it become an idol to you.”
Finally, we read, “Over the golden altar [i.e., the altar of incense, not the bronze altar of sacrifice, which sat outside the sanctuary in plain view] they shall spread a blue cloth, and cover it with a covering of [porpoise] skins; and they shall insert its poles. Then they shall take all the utensils of service with which they minister in the sanctuary, put them in a blue cloth, cover them with a covering of [porpoise] skins, and put them on a carrying beam.” (Numbers 4:4-12) Once again, the spiritually significant blue shroud is concealed from public view by a covering of porpoise skins. Like the Ark of the Covenant and the Table of Showbread, this small altar was equipped with rings at the corners, through which carrying poles were to be placed. No one—not even consecrated priests or Levites—were to touch the tabernacle furnishings in transit.
Several times in the Book of Esther, blue and white, the “state colors” of the Kingdom of Persia are mentioned. In modern times, of course, colors often become symbolically synonymous with the nations that use them: the red, white, and blue of the United States and many British Commonwealth nations; tri-color flags of quite of few nations (Italy, France, Mexico, India, Ireland, etc.); and the red flags of Communist regimes. One wonders if the blue and white theme of modern Israel might be a throwback to the Persians, who benignly inherited the Judean exiles from Babylon in 539 BC.
Anyway, after a close brush with genocide, the Persian Jews landed on their feet. The hero of the hour was Queen Esther’s uncle Mordecai: “So Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal apparel of blue and white, with a great crown of gold and a garment of fine linen and purple; and the city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad. The Jews had light and gladness, joy and honor. And in every province and city, wherever the king’s command and decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a holiday. Then many of the people of the land became Jews, because fear of the Jews fell upon them.” (Esther 8:15-17) Several of the colors here (white, purple, and blue) are symbolically meaningful in scripture.
But considering the political context, we would probably be unwise to consider only the “holiness leading to heaven” connotation of the color blue. Let us also contemplate the appropriateness of patriotism for believers. Is it proper to “fly the colors” of your nation, especially if that nation (like the United States) was founded upon Christian principles? Or is such a thing dividing one’s loyalty between God and country? If Mordecai’s example may be taken as our starting point, it would appear that patriotism is okay—and even encouraged.
The first caveat is that the nation in question must not be fundamentally antagonistic to the Word of God. Persia (excuse the lone treacherous politician Haman) was generally supportive of their Jewish citizens, even allowing them to return to Judea and rebuild their city and temple. (Patriotism in today’s Communist China or Saudi Arabia, however, would appear to entail a betrayal of Yahweh and His Christ. You may have to live there—you don’t have to buy into the lies upon which the nation was founded.)
The second caveat would be that a nation’s priorities tend to shift if not guarded jealously by patriot-believers. We may look at former bastions of the faith like Great Britain or Scandinavia, and shudder at how they have fallen into apostasy and error. When confronted with a decision as to which nation to support, always choose to be a patriot in the Kingdom of Heaven.
The third caveat, if I may wax prophetic for a moment, is to always support the blue and the white—not ancient Persia, but modern Israel. Yes, I realize that they have not yet recognized their Messiah, Yahshua—and they won’t (as a nation) prior to the rapture of the church. But they eventually will. We have God’s prophetic promise of that. After all, white indicates purity, and blue speaks of consecration to Yahweh, the passport to the Kingdom of Heaven. Remember God’s promise to Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3)
Israel’s current predicament—one that began almost two thousand years ago when their leaders told their Roman overlords, “Let Yahshua’s blood be on us and our children”—is nothing new for God’s chosen people. Jeremiah reminds us (under his breath) that the color symbols God uses can be appropriated and mis-applied. In his day—i.e., before they were carried off into captivity—the prophet characterized the house of Israel: “Silver is beaten into plates. It is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz, the work of the craftsman and of the hands of the metalsmith. Blue and purple are their clothing. They are all the work of skillful men. But Yahweh is the true God. He is the living God and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth will tremble, and the nations will not be able to endure His indignation. Thus you shall say to them: ‘The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under these heavens.’” (Jeremiah 10:9-10)
If I may paraphrase that, he says, “You are worshiping your prosperity instead of the Living God. You dress yourself in purple, feigning royal status. And you don garments of blue, pretending to be holy citizens of heaven. But you’re not kidding anyone but yourselves. If your ‘god’ didn’t make heaven, he can’t take you there.”
Ezekiel, a near-contemporary of Jeremiah, imparts roughly the same message: “Oholah [i.e., Samaria—literally, “Her Own Tabernacle”] played the harlot even though she was Mine. And she lusted for her lovers, the neighboring Assyrians, who were clothed in purple [tekelet—blue], captains and rulers, all of them desirable young men, horsemen riding on horses.” (Ezekiel 23:5-6) During the days of the divided kingdom, Samaria (i.e., the Northern Kingdom) would rather have gone to war against their brothers in Judah (the Southern Kingdom) than against the pagan Assyrians, whom they admired as prosperous and powerful allies—until Nineveh swallowed them whole in 722 BC. Assyria promised them heaven, but delivered a living hell.
A bit later, Ezekiel took the seaport city-state of Tyre to task for the pride their wealth had brought them. Because the source of the most expensive dyes was the Mediterranean Sea, Tyre and Sidon were in the perfect position to harvest and process the blue (tekelet) and purple (argaman) pigments upon which their financial fortunes were built. Yahweh told his prophet, “Now, son of man, take up a lamentation for Tyre, and say to Tyre, ‘You who are situated at the entrance of the sea, merchant of the peoples on many coastlands, thus says the Lord Yahweh: ‘O Tyre, you have said, “I am perfect in beauty…. Fine embroidered linen from Egypt was what you spread for your sail. Blue [tekelet] and purple [argaman] from the coasts of Elishah was what covered you…. Haran, Canneh, Eden, the merchants of Sheba, Assyria, and Chilmad were your merchants…in choice items—in purple [tekelet] clothes, in embroidered garments, in chests of multicolored apparel, in sturdy woven cords, which were in your marketplace.’” (Ezekiel 27:2-3, 7, 23-24)
God wasn’t angry with them because they had grown rich. Wealth in itself is spiritually neutral. It was because they had grown proud and arrogant as they had become rich through trade with the nations near the Mediterranean. In terms of our present subject, they imagined they had attained royal, even heavenly status through their immense wealth, going so far as to move the entire city of Tyre to an offshore island fortress, where they fancied themselves unassailable, impregnable, and invincible. But Ezekiel prophesied, “But you are broken by the seas in the depths of the waters. Your merchandise and the entire company will fall in your midst. All the inhabitants of the isles will be astonished at you. Their kings will be greatly afraid, and their countenance will be troubled. The merchants among the peoples will hiss at you. You will become a horror, and be no more forever.” (Ezekiel 27:34-36)
Improbable to be sure, but impossible? No. God’s word had been spoken. In 322 BC, Alexander the Great took the entire old city (the one that had been abandoned when the Tyrians moved their city offshore), scraped it down to bedrock, and constructed a causeway with the debris, from which they breached Tyre’s “impregnable” fortifications. Then the Greeks killed 8,000 Tyrians and sold another 30,000 into slavery. The city never recovered. So much for pride derived from the trade of blue and purple. As it turns out, real heavenly holiness and royal status come from Yahweh alone. Anything else is just an illusion.
Lest you should imagine that Tyre’s unlikely fall is nothing but an interesting historical footnote, allow me to bring you up to date. During the Tribulation, that future seven-year period described as “the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth,” (Revelation 3:10) God will deal with the entire corrupt financial-commercial system of planet Earth, just as Alexander the Great dealt with the pride of Tyre. It took Alexander seven months to destroy Tyre, but God will bring down financial “Babylon” (God’s code-word for institutional idolatry) virtually instantaneously. I won’t quote the whole thing, but suffice it to say, Revelation 18 looks so much like the destruction of Tyre as described in Ezekiel 27, it’ll make your hair stand on end. “The kings of the earth who committed fornication and lived luxuriously with her will weep and lament for her, when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance for fear of her torment, saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come.’” (Revelation 18:9-10) By the way, “blue” isn’t mentioned as one of Babylon’s products, but purple and scarlet are. If the symbols hold true, I guess this means that by this time in the earth’s sorry history, heaven and holiness will no longer be offered by the world, even duplicitously, but riches and the power over life and death still are.
The “blue” dye of the Cerulean mussel is not mentioned in the New Testament. The closest we get to “blue” is the jacinth, a deep blue colored gemstone (Greek: huakinthos) named after the hyacinth flower. It is mentioned only once, in Revelation 21:20, as the eleventh foundation stone in the New Jerusalem. But since the city was not of earthly origin, and because John saw the gemstone only in a vision, it would be hard to draw any practical comparisons between this and the Hebrew tekelet.
Purple was the most highly sought after dye in the ancient world. As we have seen with the varying shades of blue, “purple” was actually a range of hues, from a deep reddish black through crimson, to purple or violet, depending on the exact species of snail from which the color was derived. Purple (Hebrew: argaman) dyes were made from the secretions of various Mediterranean mollusks of the class gastropoda, such as Murex brandaris and Murex trunculus. (Blue dye, you’ll recall, was made not from snails, but from mussels, hence the technical difference, no matter how similar the colors may have looked.)
The Phoenicians held a virtual monopoly on the production of purple dye for centuries. They were a seafaring people settled mostly in the Eastern coastlands of the Mediterranean—especially modern-day Lebanon and Syria, in cities such as Tyre, Sidon, Arwad, Berytus, and Byblos. Thus we read of Tyre: “Fine embroidered linen from Egypt was what you spread for your sail. Blue and purple from the coasts of Elishah was what covered you…. Syria was your merchant because of the abundance of goods you made. They gave you for your wares emeralds, purple, embroidery, fine linen, corals, and rubies.” (Ezekiel 27:7, 16)
In fact, the very name “Phoenicia” is based on the color. Wikipedia reports, “The name ‘Phoenicians’…comes from Greek Φοίνικες (Phoínikes). The word φοῖνιξ (phoenix—‘Phoenician person’), meant variably ‘Tyrian purple,’ ‘crimson’ or ‘date palm’ and is attested with all three meanings already in Homer. (The mythical bird phoenix also carries the same name, but this meaning is not attested until centuries later.) The word may be derived from φοινός (phoinós—‘blood-red’), itself possibly related to φόνος (phónos—‘murder’).” Canaan, the generalized name for the whole region prior to the exodus, was also based on the color purple. Kenaani or Kinaani means “red-dyed wool,” or “the land of purple.”
Because purple dye was so rare and expensive to produce, only the wealthiest could afford it, so naturally, they did. Somehow, it just wouldn’t seem “human” if we failed to flaunt our affluence and status before people who didn’t have as much material wealth as we did. Today, the equivalent symbol might be driving a Rolls-Royce (instead of a mere Cadillac or Mercedes) or flying around in a private jet. God is on record as despising ostentatious displays of personal wealth, for pride is the antithesis of love. It’s not the wealth itself, you understand—money is spiritually neutral. But using it to belittle or intimidate one’s fellow man is what incenses Him.
In time, of course, purple became a sign or mark of royalty—for it was axiomatic that only kings (and people as rich as kings) could afford it. It’s worth noting that in Theocratic Israel, Yahweh chose not to institute a royal class at all, though He knew that one day they would reject His sovereignty and demand a king, like the surrounding nations had. Rather, He instituted a priesthood that had great responsibility but no power at all, and judges as they were needed—but not a royal dynasty. Tribal elders were (ideally) chosen for their wisdom and discernment, not their wealth.) I Samuel 8 records the transition between the age of the judges and the monarchy in Israel. Six times, Samuel used the phrase “he will take…” as he warned them what a king would do. That’s what kings do—they take. Alas, modern politicians all too often use their offices as if they were kings—taking what they can instead of serving the people who elected them.
Kings in Israel were ultimately meant to be prototypes for the coming Messiah (the anointed One)—Yahshua. The tribe of Judah was singled out from as early as Jacob’s deathbed blessing (Genesis 49:10) as the tribe from which Israel’s royalty were to come, though they would have no king for over 800 years. From David’s reign onward, the “scepter did not depart from Judah” to any other tribe. Yahshua, of course, was a direct descendant of King David on both His mother Mary’s side and that of His adoptive father, Joseph. I find it fascinating that throughout scripture, the only king of Israel who is ever specifically said to have ever worn purple is Christ Himself—though it was only for a moment, was not His idea or desire, and was done in a spirit of blasphemous ridicule as a prelude to His crucifixion. Not even the fabulously wealthy Solomon (whose apparel was described as “glorious” in Matthew 6:29) is explicitly said to have worn purple—though he most certainly did. This is thus one of those instances in which the Bible is prophetic in what it doesn’t say: ultimately, Christ alone is qualified to be called the “King of the Jews.”
Purple is specified many times in the instructions for the building of the tabernacle in the Book of Exodus, but never by itself; it is always seen in association with blue and scarlet. Nor is it mentioned specifically in the construction of the first temple, but we know it was used as it had been in the tabernacle because Solomon applied to Hiram, the king of Tyre, to provide “a man skillful to work in gold and silver, in bronze and iron, in purple and crimson and blue” (II Chronicles 2:7) to assist his own craftsmen. As it turned out, the temple was to be a scaled-up version of the original tabernacle in most respects—including the use of dyed and embroidered fabrics. As I noted previously, I intend to cover the “blue-purple-scarlet” combination as a separate subject.
As we saw with tekelet-blue, the instructions for transporting the tabernacle elements sometimes specify the colors individually. The sons of Kohath were told, “Also they shall take away the ashes from the altar, and spread a purple cloth over it.” (Numbers 4:13) The altar was a large (5 cubit square) portable barbeque-like affair that normally stood in plain view in the tabernacle courtyard. So concealing it for the purpose of consecration was not the point. Rather, the purple cloth was there to associate the altar with royalty. No one would understand the connection for another fifteen hundred years, but the purple cloth indicated that Israel’s ultimate King—Yahshua—would Himself be offered up as the ultimate sacrifice—not on an altar, but upon the cross. He would prove to be the One of whom all of the animal sacrifices throughout the centuries were meant to symbolize.
Purple, as a symbol of royal wealth, didn’t always bode well for the one who came into possession of it. After the defeat of the Midianite kings, Gideon, Yahweh’s appointed “judge” at the time—who had not long before described himself as the weakest of the weak (see Judges 6:15)—suddenly found himself the custodian of great riches. And they were his undoing. “Then Gideon said to them, ‘I would like to make a request of you, that each of you would give me the earrings from his plunder.’ For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites. So they answered, ‘We will gladly give them.’ And they spread out a garment, and each man threw into it the earrings from his plunder. Now the weight of the gold earrings that he requested was one thousand seven hundred shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments [note that moon worship was not an innovation with the Muslims, but was a mainstay of pagan Arabia since the earliest days], pendants, and purple robes which were on the kings of Midian [there’s your royal connection], and besides the chains that were around their camels’ necks. Then Gideon made it into an ephod and set it up in his city, Ophrah. And all Israel played the harlot with it there. It became a snare to Gideon and to his house.” (Judges 8:24-27) Of course, the moon-worshiping Midianites had gotten their wealth in the first place by plundering Israelites weakened by decades of apostasy. Yes, Gideon was new at being faithful and trusting Yahweh, but we sort of hoped for more discernment. There but for the grace of God go each of us.
The attainment of purple (wealth) is supposed to be the result of hard work, industry, and honorable dealings with one’s community—not just a fortuitous birth. And bucking millennia of misogynistic religious and cultural prejudice, scripture describes the “virtuous wife”—not as a meek and submissive slave to her husband, not as a mere baby factory to ensure his legacy, but as a captain of industry in her own right, conscientious, hard-working, compassionate, and shrewd, while at the same time earning the trust of her husband and the admiration of her children—someone worthy of purple. “She girds herself with strength, and strengthens her arms. She perceives that her merchandise is good, and her lamp does not go out by night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hand holds the spindle. She extends her hand to the poor, yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy. She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household is clothed with scarlet. She makes tapestry for herself. Her clothing is fine linen and purple…. Strength and honor are her clothing. She shall rejoice in time to come.” (Proverbs 31:17-22, 25) Gee, she sounds kind of like my wife. Purple is not really supposed to be the mark of the idle rich, but rather of those who have “earned” their royal status by honoring God through the diligent application of the gifts He has given us.
Twice purple is mentioned in the Song of Songs—the allegory prophesying the torrid love affair between Christ and His church—parts played by King Solomon and the object of his obsession, a beautiful Shulamite maiden, a commoner with royal qualities. First, the environment of the King is described (in highly poetic terms): “Of the wood of Lebanon Solomon the King made himself a palanquin [a portable enclosed chair]. He made its pillars of silver, its support of gold, its seat of purple, its interior paved with love by the daughters of Jerusalem. Go forth, O daughters of Zion, and see King Solomon with the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding, the day of the gladness of his heart.” (Song 3:9-11) It’s kind of funny, if you think about it: Solomon (in his role as a Christ-symbol) is seen not wearing purple (as you might expect of any king), but sitting upon it, as if to say, “Ordinary royalty is beneath Me, for I am the King of kings and Lord of lords.”
And then we note what the love-struck King says about his beloved: “Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel, and the hair of your head is like purple. A king is held captive by your tresses.” (Song 7:5) Again, it sounds kind of humorous to us, but only because of the strangeness of 21st century western culture, in which it no longer seems odd to see ladies with purple hair (or pink, or green…). But obviously, that’s not what Sol is talking about. He’s merely gushing about how luxuriant her hair seems to him. The only thing that’s really “purple” here is the prose he uses to describe the object of his affection, like, “Your navel is a rounded goblet,” or “Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle,” or “Your neck is like an ivory tower; your eyes like the pools in Heshbon.” Face it, Solomon, your love has tied your tongue in knots and blinded you to your beloved’s imperfections. But then, we realize that this is actually how Christ sees his bride, the church—as perfect. And we (who are all too familiar with our own failings) can only stand here and blush.
Two other mentions of purple in the Old Testament point out instances where the wearer was not born to wealth and privilege, but earned it through courageous proclamation and defense of the word of God, no matter the risks. Daniel 5 records the last hours of the corrupt and crumbling Babylonian empire. Belshazzar, the heir of the great Nebuchadnezzar II, was partying with a thousand of his closest friends, drinking wine from the golden vessels the Babylonians had stolen from Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem almost half a century previously. Suddenly, strange writing appeared on the wall of the palace, and although the king couldn’t read it, it frightened him half to death (though maybe it was the disembodied hand scrawling the ominous message that gave him the willies). None of the Chaldean “wise men” knew what it meant, either, though riches, glory, and power was promised to whomever could read the writing on the wall.
Finally, the queen remembered the aged Daniel, who in his youth had interpreted a disturbing dream for Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel told the king that he wasn’t interested in rewards, but he would interpret the writing anyway. It was the worst of news for Belshazzar: the kingdom had been numbered. It was finished. It had been weighed and found wanting. And it had been divided between the Medes and the Persians. Then, no doubt swallowing hard, “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. That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom.” (Daniel 5:31) Even while the party had been going on, the Medes and Persians had been busy diverting the Euphrates River into the swamps west of the city, allowing them to march under the city wall, open the gates from within, and take the city virtually without firing a shot.
The Persians who “inherited” the peoples the Chaldeans had conquered were generally supportive of their Jewish subjects. But 66 years later, one corrupt and vindictive civil servant during the reign of Ahasuerus almost got away with engineering the genocide of the Jews living in the Persian empire—virtually all of them at the time. Haman’s target had been a Jew named Mordecai, though he was happy to see the entire Jewish race perish with him—such was the depth of his satanic hatred. What Haman didn’t know was that Mordecai’s Jewish niece was Ahasuerus’ beloved queen, Esther. Oops.
Imagine the king’s surprise when Queen Esther came to him to beg for her life and the life of her people. He had no idea that his buddy Haman had arranged this holocaust right under his nose, without his knowledge. When the truth finally came to light, the enraged king had Haman hanged on the gallows the traitor had built for Mordecai’s execution. Then Esther’s uncle was given Haman’s former position and charge over his estate, and was tasked with writing the royal decree that reversed the effects of Haman’s genocidal law. The Jews were saved. The incident is the origin of the annual holiday of Purim.
When the smoke cleared, “Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal apparel of blue and white, with a great crown of gold and a garment of fine linen and purple; and the city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad.” (Esther 8:15) Note several symbolic references here: (1) Mordecai was clothed in “blue and white.” Besides being spiritually significant as the colors of heaven and purity, these were Persia’s “national colors.” (See Esther 1:6) It is as if the descendant of a foreign exile attained high office in the United States, donning the “red, white, and blue” of an American patriot. (2) The crown of gold speaks of immutable purity, of having been made free of contaminants in the fires of adversity. The crown (the mark of authority) was a gift from his grateful king, who trusted Mordecai to speak in his name. Is this not what Christ gives to us who honor Him? (3) The purple robe, like the golden crown, was given to Mordecai—that is, attributed or imputed to him (the symbol revealed by the linen). He did not earn his new royal status (though he had served the king with honor), nor was he born to the palace. This is all reminiscent (or is that prophetic?) of our status in the Kingdom of Heaven, in which we believers are referred to as “kings and priests,” or “a kingdom of priests.” (See Revelation 1:6, 5:10.)
The Greek of the New Testament uses purple in both the adjective form (porphurous) and the noun (porphura). As in Hebrew it is symbolic of ‘royal status,’ or at least king-like wealth. “There were three familiar shades of purple in the ancient world: deep violet, deep scarlet (or crimson), and deep blue”—Helps Word-studies. As with tekelet-blue, purple’s Greek name is derived from the aquatic animal(s) from which the dye is extracted.
Christ once told a parable revealing crucial details about the afterlife—sheol/hades and paradise (a.k.a. Abraham’s bosom). In what probably sounded rather counterintuitive to His first-century listeners, He pointed out that one’s status in this world does not inevitably follow him into the next life. It can, in fact, be totally reversed, for wealth is not necessarily a sign of God’s blessing. It could just as easily be an indicator of greed, corruption, and graft. The story begins, “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table.” (Luke 16:19-21)
It is significant that the rich man isn’t named in scripture, but the poor man is: “Lazarus” means “God has helped.” (The rich man is sometimes referred to as “Dives,” but that is simply Latin for “Rich Man.”) The lesson here is that if you want your name remembered (especially by God), you’re going to need more than ill-gotten wealth. You’re going to need—and be willing to receive—God’s help. The story reveals that the rich man was aware of Lazarus and his needs, and he had the means to help, but chose not to. Furthermore, we get the distinct between-the-lines feeling that this selfish attitude toward Lazarus was not the singular sin that condemned the rich guy, but merely a symptom of the damnable arrogance that permeated his character. It wasn’t until he got to hell (well, hades) that he gave the spiritual condition of his five brothers a second thought. The bottom line: your purple robes of royal status are of no use in the grave. Wealth is to be used in this life, and for God’s purpose.
As I observed above, although kings of Israel and Judah undoubtedly wore purple, this is nowhere actually stated in scripture. And I believe the “oversight” is purposeful: the only time a “king of the Jews” is seen clothed in purple is as a prelude to the crucifixion of Christ. I don’t know about you, but I positively cringe when I read the accounts: “Then the soldiers led Him away into the hall called Praetorium, and they called together the whole garrison. 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 15:16-20)
I’ve read that passage hundreds of times, but this time it shook me so badly I couldn’t write a word for two days. If I had been a Roman soldier there, would I have done anything differently? What finally brought me out of it was the realization that these were the same guys of whom Yahshua later prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Unspeakable blasphemy is no match for unfathomable love.
John’s account adds a few details. “So then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him.” At this point, I’m cringing again. Pilate had already concluded that Christ was guiltless, though scourging was often a death sentence in its own right. “And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe. Then they said, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ 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.’ Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the Man!’” (John 19:1-5) Here we are given glimpses of complementary prophecies, both past and future. The crown of thorns is reminiscent of the ram, caught by its horns (symbolically: its power) in a thicket, that served as the substitute sacrifice for Isaac, Abraham’s child of promise. It’s clearly a prophecy of Christ’s sacrifice.
But the purple robe? During His short sojourn on this earth, Yahshua never enjoyed the trappings or privilege of royalty, or even modest prosperity. He was born in a stable, and lived His life first as a common “blue-collar” laborer and then as a homeless itinerant rabbi. He didn’t own anything beyond the clothes on His back. He didn’t even control whatever money was donated to His ministry by faithful followers—that he left to Judas Iscariot. And yet, when writing the accusation that would be posted at Yahshua’s crucifixion site, Pontius Pilate identified Him as “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” (John 19:19) He probably thought he was being sarcastic, but Pilate was quite correct. John’s vision—of events still in our future—reveals the truth of the matter: “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns.… And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: ‘King of kings and Lord of lords.’” (Revelation 19:11-12, 16) Purple robes of royalty would be appropriate at last, but we get the feeling that they would now be woefully inadequate to indicate how glorious He really is.
One thing is certain: we are not to covet the purple for our own glory. One who did so was also seen in John’s apocalyptic vision. Her symbolic name is Babylon—not a woman, but a system of idolatry and apostasy with a history going all the way back to Nimrod and the Tower of Babel, not long after the flood of Noah, almost five thousand years ago. John describes her: “And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement.” (Revelation 17:3-6)
As I’ve explained elsewhere, “Babylon” is not one thing, but many. It’s a Biblical code word for every permutation of institutionalized false worship that ever existed. It takes three different forms: religious (from paganism to secular humanism—atheism—to Eastern mysticism to Islam—including faux “Christianity); political and military; and commercial-financial. Every faith-based belief system other than the worship of Yahweh and His Messiah is a part of Babylon. John “marveled” because he, living in an age in which it was presumed that wealth was a sign of God’s favor, couldn’t imagine how such a nasty, evil being could have grown so rich and powerful. Now, two thousand years later, it’s safe to say our eyes have been opened in that regard.
The Tribulation—the last seven years of the pre-Millennial age—will see the demise of the whore of Babylon, in all its guises. In the very next chapter in Revelation, John sees the sudden and complete destruction of the commercial-financial side of Babylon: “The kings of the earth who committed fornication and lived luxuriously with her will weep and lament for her, when they see the smoke of her burning, standing at a distance for fear of her torment, saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come.’ And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore: merchandise of gold and silver, precious stones and pearls, fine linen and purple, silk and scarlet…. The merchants of these things, who became rich by her, will stand at a distance for fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city that was clothed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls! For in one hour such great riches came to nothing.” (Revelation 18:9-12, 15-17)
The “merchandise” being sold to the world by Babylon included what purple stood for—the illusion of royal wealth and power. In truth, however, the only real power in this universe belongs to Yahweh. The reality is what John saw going on in heaven: “Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: ‘You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power. For You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.” (Revelation 4:9-11)
Red: Blood and Bloodshed
There isn’t much mystery involved with our next color, red. It is described with a wide variety of Hebrew and Greek words, but one way or another, they all come back to one central metaphorical meaning: blood, which is in turn recruited to symbolize crime—violence against life—as well as the remedy for such sin.
We see the connection spelled out first in the post-flood narrative, when meat was first added to the human menu (at least by God’s command—from Eden forward, He had merely instructed us to eat freely of “every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed”—with one significant exception). Now, a millennium later, He tells Noah that he can eat “every moving thing that lives” as well as the plants he was used to. Coming to our present point, He then says, “You shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.” (Genesis 9:4-6)
We have already seen (in our study of rainbows) that Noah was quite familiar with the concept of the archer’s bow, a word (qeshet) borrowed to describe the arched prism effect he saw in the sky. We are left to speculate whether the bow was used offensively or defensively, or who the intended target was—animals or men. Just because the Creator had specified a vegetarian diet, it does not logically follow that men obeyed His guidance. For that matter, we are specifically told that before the flood, “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5) This despite the fact that Yahweh had issued no system of laws or rules at this point in our history. Murder—bloodshed—was surely a large part of that profile of wickedness.
So the red stuff flowing through our veins—the conveyor of life itself—was associated by God with sin and its remedy: if you shed someone’s blood, your blood would be shed in response. Blood is the evidence of guilt. We learned that (or should have) as far back as the first murder. Yahweh confronted Abel’s murderer-brother, Cain, saying, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:10) We all know what red looks like—the color of blood. Now we know what it sounds like.
Another glimpse of how blood and guilt are related concepts is this scene from Egypt’s great seven-year famine. The captive Joseph—now raised to semi-royalty by a grateful Pharaoh—is seen interviewing his brothers (still clueless as to Joseph’s identity). As Joseph demands that they prove their innocence by bringing their youngest brother (Joseph’s full-brother Benjamin) before him, the brothers admit (among themselves) their guilt concerning Joseph, twenty years previously: “Then they said to one another, ‘We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us.’ And Reuben answered them, saying, ‘Did I not speak to you, saying, “Do not sin against the boy,” and you would not listen? Therefore behold, his blood is now required of us.’” (Genesis 42:21-22) The equivalence of blood with sin and guilt is made clear. And now, for the first time, we see the significance of innocent blood: Benjamin had played no part in Joseph’s betrayal; yet he is seen as the sacrifice (of sorts) required for the restoration of the brothers’ lives and fortunes.
Although red dyes were available (though costly) from several sources, for the ordinary Israelite—or any bronze-age agrarian—blood would have been by far the most common red-colored substance in their daily lives. So I find it revealing that Isaiah skips over the obvious “blood” connotation here and ties our sin directly to the color red: “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says Yahweh. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’” (Isaiah 1:18) Crimson and scarlet are permutations of red that are used more or less interchangeably in scripture. We shall study the actual words and their sources in a bit, along with a few other “red” designations. For now, just notice that God (through Isaiah) declares that our bloody sin need not be a permanent condition. Yahweh is willing and eager to transform our blood-red iniquity and violence into snow-white purity, if we will but “reason” with Him—allow Him to transform our lives.
The prophet, however, certainly understands the connection between sin and blood: “Their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands. Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood.” (Isaiah 59:6-7) Sounds like we haven’t made much progress since Noah’s day. Alas, Yahshua revealed that this would still be the case right up until the rapture. See Matthew 24:36-44.
The apostle John explains the mechanism by which this transformation takes place: “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (I John 1:5-7) This cleansing would not have been possible if Yahshua had been a sinner (like the rest of us). The only blood capable of cleansing from sin is innocence—which explains why we can’t atone for (i.e., cover) our own sins: we aren’t innocent. Yes, we can “bear” our sins, but that doesn’t help us much, because as Paul points out, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) But Paul also makes it clear that Yahshua was indeed innocent: “For [God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin [i.e., an acceptable sin offering—one word is used for both things in Hebrew] for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (II Corinthians 5:21)
We can often gain insight into the meanings of Hebrew words by paying attention to their consonant roots, which remain constant as the vowels shift. The vowels, you understand, were not part of the original written text, but were added by the Masorete scribes between the 7th and 11th centuries AD. In tracking down the concept of “red,” let us consider the word family designated by the consonant root “dm,” beginning with Strong’s #H119. My definitions are quoted from Baker & Carpenter’s The Complete Word Study Dictionary—Old Testament.
H119: ’adam (or ’adem). “A verb meaning to be red, ruddy, dyed red.”
H120: ’adam. “A masculine noun meaning a male (as opposed to a woman), any human being, or generically the human race.”
H121: ’adam. “The proper noun designating Adam…. a wordplay about Adam’s being taken from the ground [see: adamah, #H127].”
H122: ’adom. “A masculine adjective meaning red, ruddy, the color of blood (red to blackish brown).”
H123: ’edom. “A proper noun used as another name for Esau [because of the ‘red stew incident’]…. The country or people of Edom, Esau’s descendants.”
H124: ’odem. “A feminine noun meaning ruby or sardius [red-colored gemstones].”
H125: ’adamdam. “An adjective meaning reddish—the reddish appearance of leprosy on the skin.”
H126: ’admah. “A proper noun.”
H127: ’adamah. “A feminine noun meaning dirt, ground, earth, clay… the inhabited earth…. The first man, Adam, both came from the ground and was assigned the task of tending the ground.” The sort of iron-rich red-clay soil common in the Southeastern U.S. is the probable nuance here.
H128, 129, 130, 131, and 133 are all proper nouns.
H132: ’admoniy. “An adjective meaning red, ruddy. Esau is the prime example.”
Oh, and what about “blood,” that of which the color red symbolizes in scripture? This Hebrew word also has a “dm” consonant root: H1818—dam, used 360 times in scripture. B&C define dam: “A masculine singular noun meaning blood of either humans or animals. It is commonly used with the verb sapak, meaning ‘to shed.’ Figuratively, it signifies violence and violent individuals: ‘man of blood’; ‘in wait for blood’; ‘shedder of blood.’” Why am I not surprised?
So, without getting overly wrapped up in precisely which word is used to describe it, let us review some scriptural mentions of “red.” First, we read of what Yahweh asked the Israelite ex-slaves to contribute toward the building of the wilderness tabernacle: “And this is the offering which you shall take from them: gold, silver, and bronze; blue, purple, and scarlet thread, fine linen, and goats’ hair; ram skins dyed red, [porpoise] skins, and acacia wood; oil for the light, and spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet incense; onyx stones, and stones to be set in the ephod and in the breastplate. And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:3-8) Of particular interest to us in our present context is the “ram skins dyed red,” which would be used to construct the third of four layers for the tabernacle’s covering: “You shall also make a covering of ram skins dyed red for the tent, and a covering of [porpoise] skins above that.” (Exodus 26:14; cf. Exodus 35:7, 23)
In The Owner’s Manual, I wrote, “The third layer consisted of ‘ram skins dyed red.’ It would be hard to miss the reference to the ram caught by its horns in the thicket that had served as the substitute sacrifice in place of Isaac on Mount Moriah. The ram represents the Messiah in His sacrificial role. In the prototype, the ram’s skin had been dyed red by its own blood as Abraham had cut its throat. Unlike the “scarlet” thread used in the linen layer, no particular dye source is implied in the word chosen for “red” in this passage. What we see, rather, is a play on words with a lesson attached. The word is ’adem, simply meaning red, ruddy, or dyed red. It has the same consonant root as ’adam, a man (male as opposed to female), or a human being—the same word pressed into service as a given name for our proto-ancestor Adam. Thus in retrospect, the substitutionary sacrifice (ultimately Yahshua) is seen as being dyed red with His own blood, and at the same time is identified as a man—a male human. Further, the symbol this One represents is part of the covering of the Tabernacle, which tells us it’s part of the Plan of Yahweh for mankind—but one that won’t be obviously apparent to the world, being covered by yet another curtain assembly.”
An entire sub-set of Abraham’s family (not in the line of Messianic promise, but blessed under the Abrahamic Covenant nevertheless) was given a nickname (or epithet) based on the color red. “Now Jacob cooked a stew; and Esau came in from the field, and he was weary. And Esau said to Jacob, ‘Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am weary.’ Therefore his name was called Edom [equivalent to adom, literally “red”]. But Jacob said, ‘Sell me your birthright as of this day.’ And Esau said, ‘Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?’” (Genesis 25:29-32) In Esau, all of the unfortunate connotations of the “dm” Hebrew consonant root come together. He must have chaffed under the burden of his nickname Edom—a constant reminder that he had shortsightedly sold his birthright for a bowl of red lentil stew. All of the foibles of the human race—and particularly the male gender—were personified by Esau/Edom. In particular, his bloodthirsty, violent tendencies were revealed by his death threats against his brother Jacob.
Since “the wages of sin is death,” all of us die, sooner or later. It comes as no shock that physical contact with a dead body defiled a person—though it was axiomatic that somebody had to do it: you couldn’t just leave the corpses lying around on the ground. For that matter, death itself defiled you (or more to the point, revealed your defiled state). So naturally, God instituted a symbol-rich rite demonstrating how a person could be ceremonially cleansed from the condition of having touched death. It’s called the Ordinance of the Red Heifer, which begins thus: “Now Yahweh spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘This is the ordinance of the law which Yahweh has commanded, saying: “Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring you a red heifer without blemish, in which there is no defect and on which a yoke has never come.”’” (Numbers 19:1-2)
I covered this rather complicated ritual in detail in The Owner’s Manual (Volume I, chapter 15, and Volume II, chapter 15), so I won’t re-analyze the whole thing here. Suffice it to say that a heifer (a cow-calf that had never been bred or used for labor) was to be sacrificed and burned to ashes—which were then mixed with water and sprinkled upon the defiled person. This heifer was to be red (adom) in color, like certain breeds of Angus cattle today. This tells us (if we pay attention to the symbols) that the heifer is one more metaphor for Yahweh’s Messiah—the perfect Man who would shed His innocent blood to atone for our sin and cure our defilement. And the fact that the heifer was to be of the “red” variety reminds us that (as Yahweh repeated so often), “The life is in the blood.” That is, it is only appropriate for something that represents life—whether the red heifer or the coming Messiah—be the mechanism for cleansing us of our mortal consequences.
Alas, all of this was lost on the rabbis and scribes, who sucked all the life out of the precept by insisting that the heifer had to be all red—that it, that it couldn’t have more than three non-red hairs on its entire body—as well as having been born in Israel, and in her third year of life. Yahweh made no such requirements. Since the time of Moses, only nine such animals have been seen in the Land—none of them within the last two millennia. It is as if the rabbinical proclivity for adding pointless minutiae to God’s Law in itself made it impossible to cleanse the land or its people.
As if to contrive (for our edification) a situation that would equate “being red” to blood and bloodshed, God once instructed His prophet Elisha to suggest some really unusual battle strategy. In about 850 BC, Jehoram, king of Samaria, allied himself to Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, and the king of Edom, to go to war against Moab. Jehoshaphat didn’t want to battle without consulting God’s prophet, so they called Elisha, who told them to dig a series of ditches between their assembled armies and that of Moab. “Now it happened in the morning, when the grain offering was offered, that suddenly water came by way of Edom, and the land was filled with water. And when all the Moabites heard that the kings [of Israel, Judah, and Edom] had come up to fight against them, all who were able to bear arms and older were gathered; and they stood at the border. Then they rose up early in the morning, and the sun was shining on the water; and the Moabites saw the water on the other side as red as blood. And they said, ‘This is blood; the kings have surely struck swords and have killed one another; now therefore, Moab, to the spoil!’” (II Kings 3:20-23)
A quick synopsis: the sunrise, reflecting off the water (which the Moabites didn’t know was there) looked to them like vast pools of blood—the apparent result of military fratricide between Judah, Samaria, and Edom. The scene reminds us of what Yahshua once observed: “Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said to them, ‘When it is evening you say, “It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,” and in the morning, “It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red [Greek: purrazo] and threatening.” Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times.’” (Matthew 16:1-3) The Moabites saw the red sunrise and its reflection in the pools on the ground, and, like the Pharisees, completely misread the “sign.” Sensing an opportunity for risk-free plunder, they attacked—only to get themselves soundly trounced by the still-very-much-intact coalition. The lesson I’d glean from this is that we must never try to capitalize on our enemies’ misfortune. Rather (as Christ put it), “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also.” (Luke 6:27-29)
The Hebrew words for “red” and “blood” are joined in the word Adamdam, an adjective meaning reddish, as in leprous sores: “If the body develops a boil in the skin, and it is healed, and in the place of the boil there comes a white swelling or a bright spot, reddish-white, then it shall be shown to the priest.” (Leviticus 13:18-19; cf. vs. 24, 42, 43, 49, 14:37) Interestingly, adamdam does not mean “blood-red,” as we might expect, but indicates that the body’s blood is not confined to the circulatory system, as it should, but is showing up subcutaneously as sores on the skin. In other words, it’s an indication that something’s wrong.
When something is wrong with the body, it’s not necessarily due to disease. It could be because of behavior: “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long at the wine, those who go in search of mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly. At the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper.” (Proverbs 23:29-32) Solomon has cleverly linked “redness of eyes” with the color of red wine (something God specifically recruited as a symbol for “life-blood”—see The Torah Code, Volume 3, chapter 3.1). But the alcoholic substance you’re abusing needn’t be red: vodka, whiskey, and tequila can make your eyes bloodshot as well—with all the attendant woes: stupidity, bankruptcy, divorce, and sclerosis of the liver.
By the way, I am not suggesting that the Bible forbids the consumption of alcohol. But when you’ve reached the “redness of eyes” stage, you’ve clearly “lingered too long” over your wine. It’s the sort of thing that drives legalists nuts: God does not outright prohibit certain activities or substances, but rather asks us to use the brains He gave us to discern between a modest blessing and a false god—things that very well might come packaged in the same bottle.
Redness of the eyes is one thing; redness of the skin can just as easily be an indicator of robust health—what they used to call being “in the pink.” “So when her [Isaac’s wife’s—Rebekah’s] days were fulfilled for her to give birth, indeed there were twins in her womb. And the first came out red [or ruddy—Hebrew: admoni]. He was like a hairy garment all over; so they called his name Esau [literally, hairy].” (Genesis 25:24-25) As we have seen, it was not Harry’s—I mean Esau’s—ruddy complexion that earned him the nickname “Red,” but the red lentil soup for which he sold to Jacob his birthright: “And Esau said to Jacob, ‘Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am weary.’ Therefore his name was called Edom.” (Genesis 25:30)
You might say that the one in whom the birthright of Abraham and Isaac resided in most prominently (except for the Messiah Himself, of course) was King David—Jacob’s descendant and Yahshua’s ancestor. When we first encounter him in scripture, he is described as having the rosy-cheeked bloom of youth: “And Samuel said to Jesse [David’s father], ‘Are all the young men here?’ Then he said, ‘There remains yet the youngest, and there he is, keeping the sheep.’ And Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Send and bring him. For we will not sit down till he comes here.’ So he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy [admoni], with bright eyes, and good-looking. And Yahweh said, ‘Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!’” (I Samuel 16:11-12)
It would be some time before David actually became King of Israel, of course, but not long after his anointing, David’s ruddy youthfulness was ridiculed by Goliath the Philistine, who was not only a giant among men, but a seasoned war veteran as well, who had been trash-talking God and His armies for the past forty days. Goliath was amused and derisive when the lad came out to challenge him to single combat. “And when the Philistine looked about and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and good-looking.” (I Samuel 17:42) Looks, as they say, can be deceiving. We all know how it ended: David took his slingshot and hit Goliath in the forehead with one shot, killing him instantly. Then the lad cut off the head of the foul-mouthed sasquatch with his own sword and carried it around with him all day, as Israel’s armies pursued the dismayed Philistines.
Israel’s glory days under David and his son Solomon were to come to a bloody end because of the nation’s idolatry. First, Israel (a.k.a. Ephraim, a.k.a. the ten northern tribes, a.k.a. Samaria) were separated from Judah (with Benjamin). Then the Northern Kingdom was enslaved and exiled by the Assyrians (Nineveh), who were in turn (a couple of centuries later) swallowed whole by Babylon. The prophet Nahum describes the bottom line: “For Yahweh will restore the excellence of Jacob like the excellence of Israel, for the emptiers have emptied them out and ruined their vine branches.” Jacob/Israel is God’s vineyard, which the Assyrians—the “emptier”—ruined. “The shields of His mighty men are made red, the valiant men are in scarlet.” Yahweh’s army here is Babylon—the Chaldeans. Benson notes, “The eastern people were very fond of dressing themselves in scarlet, as we learn from Herodotus.” God’s modus operandi often involves using one evil to eradicate another. “The chariots come with flaming torches in the day of his preparation, and the spears are brandished.” (Nahum 2:2-3) Babylon, under Nebuchadnezzar, would later be tasked to be the rod of correction in Yahweh’s hand concerning the now-fully-apostate Judah. The final effect would be to recombine Judah and Ephraim—all twelve tribes of Israel—albeit in Babylonian captivity. “Restoring their excellence” is an ongoing process, I’m afraid.
The ultimate Biblical reference to blood-red warfare has to be that of Christ’s return in glory at the end of the Tribulation. Isaiah asks, “‘Who is this who comes from Edom, with dyed [or “crimsoned” Hebrew chamets] garments from Bozrah, this One who is glorious in His apparel, traveling in the greatness of His strength?’—I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save….” Chamets is a versatile Hebrew verb meaning “to be sour or leavened; to be red (blush); to be ruthless.” Strong’s defines it: “A cruel man, dyed, be grieved, leavened… A primitive root; to be pungent; i.e. in taste (sour, i.e. literally fermented, or figuratively, harsh), in color (dazzling); cruel (man), dyed, be grieved, leavened. The word translated ‘crimsoned’ to describe garments from Bozrah probably means ‘vivid colors’ rather than a specific hue.”
Perhaps, but “red” is definitely being described: “‘Why is Your apparel red [adom], and Your garments like one who treads in the winepress?’ ‘I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with Me. For I have trodden them in My anger, and trampled them in My fury. Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments, and I have stained all My robes. For the day of vengeance is in My heart, and the year of My redeemed has come. I looked, but there was no one to help, and I wondered that there was no one to uphold. Therefore My own arm brought salvation for Me. And My own fury, it sustained Me. I have trodden down the peoples in My anger, made them drunk in My fury, and brought down their strength to the earth.” (Isaiah 63:1-6) This is in Yahweh’s voice, but it is clear that it will be His human manifestation, the returning Messiah, who is doing the treading and trampling here.
That this is a picture of God’s wrath at the culmination of the Great Tribulation is made clear through a parallel passage in John’s Revelation. Just before the ultimate “Bowl” judgments are described, we read: “Then another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, ‘Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.’ So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs.” (Revelation 14:17-20) Once again, we see the redness of wine and blood symbolically connected.
Several places in scripture we see the phenomenon of “a horse of a different color.” That is, groups of horses of various colors are seen in the same context—usually prophetic of multi-faceted judgment. Horses (as we saw in Volume 3, Section 2 of this work) symbolically indicate “military might.” So it should not come as a shock to discover a red horse in each of these groups—telling us that bloodshed is in view, the inevitable result of military force being brought to bear.
Two of these passages are in visions reported by the prophet Zechariah: “I saw by night, and behold, a man riding on a red horse, and it stood among the myrtle trees in the hollow; and behind him were horses: red, sorrel, and white.” (Zechariah 1:8) Myrtle trees are symbolic of rest and restoration (TTC 3.3.7). The message is to Judah in Babylonian captivity (that is, their blood had already been shed, leaving them at rest and awaiting restoration), but there were other horses waiting in the wings—including a red one indicating more bloodshed in the future.
The prophet also saw this: “Then I turned and raised my eyes and looked, and behold, four chariots were coming from between two mountains, and the mountains were mountains of bronze.” Mountains indicate places of power—defensible strongholds. And bronze is symbolic of judgment. “With the first chariot were red horses, with the second chariot black horses, with the third chariot white horses, and with the fourth chariot dappled horses—strong steeds.” (Zechariah 6:1-2) Here we see a succession of world powers (seen several times with entirely different imagery in the Book of Daniel), all of which controlled Israel in turn. The first team (red) was the bloody reign of Babylon. They were followed by black horses, emphasizing the judgment and obscurity suffered by Israel and many other nations as they were swallowed by the Persian war machine. The white horses indicate victory in battle—the consistent profile of the Greeks under Alexander. And finally, the “dappled” horses—of mixed or inconsistent colors—speak of Rome (reminding us of the toes of the big statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2—iron mixed with clay).
Doubtlessly the clearest association of the “red horse” with warfare and bloodshed is the second of the Tribulation’s “seal” judgments: “When He [Yahshua, the Lamb] opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, ‘Come and see.’ Another horse, fiery red [Greek: purrhos], went out. And it was granted to the one who sat on it to take peace from the earth, and that people should kill one another; and there was given to him a great sword.” (Revelation 6:3-4) While warfare is a constant threat in these Last Days (“wars and rumors of war,” as Christ described the “beginning of sorrows”) the Tribulation will prove to be a whole different ball game: war will move from “threat” to everyday reality, not just in some far-off country, but in your own backyard, not just national or tribal armies, but neighbor against neighbor.
With the Holy Spirit’s influence gone from the earth (in the event popularly known as the rapture), the spiritual warfare the earth now experiences on a daily basis will become universal, intense, and one-sided. John tells us why: “And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.” (Revelation 12:3-4) The “dragon” is the same serpent that tempted our mother Eve in the Garden of Eden: Satan. Yes, he disguises himself as an “angel of light,” but here he shows his true color (symbolically, anyway): blood red, the same ghastly hue as the fires of hell.
The “Red Sea” isn’t red. Its water is the same color as any other large body of water. The Hebrew words thus translated literally mean “Sea of Reeds.” However, in the New Testament, the Greek word actually means “red.” Confused yet?
The Hebrew word in question is suph, which means reeds, rushes, or weeds—something you’d be likely to find growing near the shores of any body of water. The “marsh reeds” among which the ark of the baby Moses was hidden on the shores of the Nile River (Exodus 2:3-5) are called suph. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament notes: “Etymologically, [suph] is related to the Egyptian twfi—marsh plant or papyrus.” The confusion stems from the LXX Greek translation which rendered the Hebrew suph as the Greek eruthros, an adjective meaning “red” (from Homer onward), used in the New Testament only with thalassa—“sea.” For example: “He brought them out, after he had shown wonders and signs in the land of Egypt, and in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness forty years.” (Acts 7:36) Or, “By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned.” (Hebrews 11:29)
This linguistic glitch provided an opportunity for apostate 19th century “higher critics” to try to suck the “miraculous” out of the Red Sea crossing—claiming that instead of the sea parting, the fleeing Israelites merely waded across a shallow reed-choked marsh. (They never adequately explained how Pharaoh’s entire army drowned in such an insignificant puddle, though.) Their faithless theory calls such passages as these a lie: “Pharaoh’s chariots and his army He has cast into the sea. His chosen captains also are drowned in the Red Sea.” (Exodus 15:4). Or, “Our fathers in Egypt did not understand Your wonders. They did not remember the multitude of Your mercies, but rebelled by the sea—the Red Sea. Nevertheless He saved them for His name’s sake, that He might make His mighty power known. He rebuked the Red Sea also, and it dried up. So He led them through the depths, as through the wilderness.” (Psalm 106:7-9). And, “To Him who divided the Red Sea in two (for His mercy endures forever) and made Israel pass through the midst of it (for His mercy endures forever), but overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea (for His mercy endures forever).” (Psalm 136:13-15)
Whether it was properly known as the Red Sea or the Reed Sea, there was clearly miraculous deliverance, something the Israelites never forgot. Again, TWOT notes, “The word enters prominently into the problem of the route of the Exodus…. In a narrow sense, this term refers to…possibly either the Bitter Lakes (southern crossing) or Lake Timsah (central crossing). More broadly, it refers to the area including the modern Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba. The KJV ‘Red Sea’ stems from the LXX which included a still wider area. There is no warrant for the idea that because Israel crossed the Sea of Reeds that the water was shallow and no miracle was involved. Any deep sea may have reeds on its edge and both the Bitter Lakes and Lake Timsah are large and deep bodies of water.”
The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew lexicon also names both the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba (the two northern “arms” of what we today call the Red Sea) as bodies of water properly referred to as the Sea of Reeds. My money is solidly on the Gulf of Aqaba (the eastern of the two gulfs), and not only because of references like this: “King Solomon also built a fleet of ships at Ezion Geber, which is near Elath on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom.” (I Kings 9:26) Ezion Geber is modern-day Eilat, at the very southern tip of Israel, where it touches the Gulf of Aqaba.
The Apostle Paul was quite familiar with the fact that Mount Sinai (a.k.a. Mount Horeb) was not in what we today call the Sinai Peninsula. It was, rather, in northern Arabia—east of the Gulf of Aqaba. He writes: “But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia.” (Galatians 1:15-17) Also, “For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar—for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children—but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.” (Galatians 4:24-26) Remember too that Moses tended Jethro’s sheep in Midian for forty years—that’s in the northwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula. He was quite familiar with the territory.
I don’t know how significant it is, but the Red Sea escape narrative in Exodus 14 doesn’t actually use the word suph to describe the body of water they crossed. But it does mention several landmarks that identify the Gulf of Aqaba (separating the Sinai Peninsula from Arabia) as the Exodus crossing point. Allow me to quote from The Owner’s Manual:
“The popular fiction that the Israelites crossed nothing more formidable than a shallow marsh called the ‘Reed Sea’ is destroyed by the text. Yahweh had Moses lead them down a wadi snaking southeast through the rugged and mountainous eastern Sinai Peninsula that empties out onto a large beach—the alluvial fan of this seasonal river emptying into the Gulf of Aqaba at about the 29th parallel. The beach, easily big enough to accommodate two or three million Israelites and their flocks, is located at the present seaside city of Nuweiba. ‘Pi Hahiroth’ describes the egress point: it literally means ‘mouth of the cave,’ reflecting the high canyon walls that hem in the wadi. Migdol [mentioned in Exodus 14:2] means ‘tower,’ referring to an Egyptian fortification, the ancient remains of which lie to the north of the beach, blocking the Israelites’ escape in that direction. South of the beach, the mountains reach down to the shoreline, making passage impossible. So basically, the Israelites at this point were stuck between the devil (or at least the Pharaoh) and the deep blue sea. Baal Zephon, a Midianite fortress Moses knew well (having tended sheep on the east side of the Gulf of Aqaba for forty years) lay directly across the gulf from the beach—you could see it on a clear day, since the Gulf of Aqaba is only about ten miles wide at this point.”
It is also worth noting that the sea floor at this location is much shallower (at 95 meters) than the bottom immediately to the north and the south (a maximum depth of 1,850 meters)—presumably due to Pi Hahiroth’s alluvium. (There are also several wadis on the Arabian side of the gulf at this latitude.) The reason the Gulf of Aqaba is so deep (compared to the relatively shallow Gulf of Suez, for example) is that it is part of the Great Rift Valley separating (at this latitude) the African tectonic plate from the Arabian plate. This great valley (and seismic time bomb) runs from Lebanon, through the Jordan River Valley and Dead Sea, and southward through the Gulf of Aqaba into eastern Africa. Yahweh sure knows how to pick his miracle locations—it’s the ultimate combination of utterly impossible and eminently practical.
Beside the “dm” consonant-root family (adom, etc.), there are several Hebrew words denoting “red” that are derived from the sources of the dyes—most notably, crimson and scarlet. They are both seen as identical symbols of blood-guilt and sin, as demonstrated by their parallel use in Isaiah 1:18. “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says Yahweh. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet [shani], they shall be as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson [tola], they shall be as wool.’”
Tola is an interesting case. It is the red color derived from a worm or grub, the vine weevil. In Exodus 16:20, the word is used of the worm itself, when the Israelites tried to keep their manna overnight, but it “bred worms and stank.” The contaminated manna was thus red in color (instead of its original appearance, “like white coriander seed”). This should have been a clue that failure to trust Yahweh to put more manna on the ground tomorrow wasn’t just ill advised—it was sin.
We’re all familiar with the story of Jonah and the big fish. But there’s a crimson grub in this tale as well. After being dragged kicking and screaming to the wicked city of Nineveh, Jonah reluctantly delivered God’s message: repent or be destroyed. Since he really hated the Assyrians, Jonah was upset when they did repent at his word. But still hoping to see some fire and brimstone, the prejudiced prophet camped outside the city, suffering from the Middle-Eastern heat, not to mention his own unforgiving attitude. So God in His mercy caused a plant to spring up overnight to provide Jonah some shade, and he was very grateful. But the very next night, God sent a worm (a tola) to make the plant wither and die—leaving Jonah even more miserable than he had been.
The whole thing was an object lesson: “Then God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’ And he said, ‘It is right for me to be angry, even to death!’ But Yahweh said, ‘You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left?” (Jonah 4:9-11) God had sent His prophet to Nineveh to give them chance to repent, because they were too dumb to figure it out on their own—reminding us of Christ’s prayer, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The red worm was sent to Jonah to give him a chance to repent of his unmerciful attitude. As Yahshua would later put it, “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)
We’re all familiar with the concept, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) We all sin; therefore, we all die. When a human body dies unattended, it is set upon by worms (actually, a succession of scavengers) until only the skeleton remains. These “worms” are called tola in the Hebrew scriptures—the same crimson grub that personifies sin and blood-guilt. Our flesh (symbolically, anyway) is forfeit to the worms of corruption, because we are corrupt. (Yahshua’s flesh, though mortal, was not subject to such decay, because He was sinless—making His body the only suitable sacrifice for the atonement of our sins.)
So Isaiah begins a rant against the “King of Babylon,” but it becomes apparent halfway through that he’s really talking about Satan, our adversary. It is the basis of the consistent Biblical metaphor equating Babylon to every form of systematic idolatry in this world, whether religious, financial, or political. The prophet foresees a time in which Israel (and indeed, the whole world) is at rest—it will be during the Millennial reign of Christ that this will take place: “It shall come to pass in the day Yahweh gives you [Israel] rest from your sorrow, and from your fear and the hard bondage in which you were made to serve, that you will take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say… ‘Your pomp is brought down to Sheol, and the sound of your stringed instruments. The maggot is spread under you, and worms [tola] cover you….’” The wages of sin have finally been paid to “the king of Babylon.” But who is he, really?
Without taking a breath, the prophet makes it all too clear that no mortal human has been responsible for instigating the idolatry and rebellion of man. Rather, we’ve been fighting a spiritual battle all this time, whether we knew it or not. “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations! For you have said in your heart, ‘I will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of God. I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds. I will be like the Most High.’ Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit.” (Isaiah 14:11-15) The same crimson worms that corrupt our flesh will (symbolically, at least) accompany Satan to the abyss, for his sin, and his guilt, is the root of ours. Literal worms can’t touch him of course, for he is a spiritual being. But we mortals can certainly understand his fate.
In the final verses of his book, the prophet Isaiah describes the eternal reality of those who have chosen Satan over Yahweh: “‘For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before Me,’ says Yahweh, ‘so shall your descendants and your name remain. And it shall come to pass that from one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh shall come to worship before Me,’ says Yahweh. ‘And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm [tola] does not die, and their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” (Isaiah 66:22-24; cf. Mark 9:47-48) Satan will remain “worm food” (so to speak) in the abyss for a thousand years while King Yahshua reigns in perfect peace upon the earth during the Millennial Sabbath. Then (because choice is—and always has been—man’s prerogative) the adversary will be released for a short season to once again tempt mortal mankind to rebellion against their Creator. But in the end, and throughout eternity, the devil’s influence will cease. But be clear on this one thing: the choices we make in this life will follow us forever. Will we choose to be food for the crimson worm of unatoned guilt, or will we elect to soar in praise of our Redeemer beyond time and space for all eternity? Call me unimaginative, but this doesn’t really seem to be such a hard decision to make.
Avoiding the connotation of “bloodthirsty maggot,” a different word for crimson is used to describe the red-dyed items within Solomon’s temple. The word is karmil, meaning crimson, carmine, or deep red—whether the color or the dye. King Hiram of Tyre tells Solomon of the talented artisan he is sending to supervise the work (at Solomon’s request): “Now I have sent a skillful man, endowed with understanding, Huram my master craftsman (the son of a woman of the daughters of Dan, and his father was a man of Tyre), skilled to work in gold and silver, bronze and iron, stone and wood, purple and blue, fine linen and crimson, and to make any engraving and to accomplish any plan which may be given to him, with your skillful men and with the skillful men of my lord David your father.” (II Chronicles 2:13-14) Huram (whose mother was Jewish) is the temple’s equivalent of the tabernacle’s art director, Bezaleel. “And he made the veil of blue, purple, crimson, and fine linen, and wove cherubim into it.” (II Chronicles 3:14)
Another English word we use to indicate “red” is scarlet. We’ve seen it before in this study: “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says Yahweh. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet [shani], they shall be as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson [tola], they shall be as wool.’” (Isaiah 1:18) Scarlet (Hebrew: sani or shani) was a costly dye obtained from the eggs of cochineal scale insects (coccus ilicis) which attached themselves to kermes oaks. It was a deep blood-red in color, making it a ready metaphor for the blood shed by the atonement sacrifice—ultimately, Yahshua. Although the sources of scarlet and crimson dyes were different, their symbolic meanings were indistinguishable, and the words are used almost interchangeably.
There are 42 instances of the word shani in the Hebrew scriptures, the vast majority of them describing rites and furnishings in the tabernacle. As I mentioned earlier, scarlet often appears in conjunction with purple and blue, so I have opted to cover the combination as a stand-alone subject. (In fact, shani doesn’t appear in Exodus at all except in the company of purple and blue.) Here are some of the exceptions:
“Now it came to pass, at the time for giving birth, that behold, twins were in [Tamar’s] womb. And so it was, when she was giving birth, that the one put out his hand; and the midwife took a scarlet thread and bound it on his hand, saying, ‘This one came out first.’ Then it happened, as he drew back his hand, that his brother came out unexpectedly; and she said, ‘How did you break through? This breach be upon you!’ Therefore his name was called Perez. Afterward his brother came out who had the scarlet thread on his hand. And his name was called Zerah.” (Genesis 38:27-30) The whole twisted tale of Judah’s bloodline is confusing, to say the least. Suffice it to say that this whole drama was significant only because of the issue of primogeniture—the special privileges traditionally granted to the firstborn. This is a cultural—not Biblical—institution. As we saw earlier in this work (volume 4, chapter 1.7) the scriptural firstborn is symbolic of preeminence, not privilege.
Judah’s firstborn (Er, who had been married to Tamar) was slain for his wickedness; and his second-born, Onan, had suffered the same fate. His third-born, Shelah, was still a child when Onan died. Since living brothers were expected in that culture to father children by their deceased brothers’ wives (so their bloodline would continue), Er’s widow, Tamar was expected to wait until Shelah grew up, so he could father a child for Er. But by the time Shelah reached his teens, Tamar realized that her father-in-law, Judah, had forgotten all about her. So she dressed up like a hooker, seduced Judah, and became pregnant with twin boys, which is where we came into the story.
It seems to me that Shelah, the third-born, would have been in line for the rights of primogeniture, but the midwife assumed that one of Tamar’s twins would assume that honor—as the “assigned” son of Er. So she tied a scarlet thread around the protruding wrist of Zerah, presuming the rest of the baby would follow. But his brother Perez “shoved his way to the front of the line” as it were, making him the firstborn. Or fourth-born. Like I said, it’s confusing.
As it turned out, Perez ended up in the family tree of King David, and thus also of Yahshua the Messiah, even though human wisdom had singled out his twin brother Zerah for the presumed primogeniture. Bear in mind that Jacob’s famous deathbed prophecy about the nation’s monarchy (Genesis 49:10) was still many years in the future. It stated that the scepter (the royal bloodline) would not depart from the tribe of Judah until Shiloh (“he to whom it belongs”—i.e., Christ) came. All that was really required, then, was that Judah ended up with one male heir, through whom Israel’s final King would come. All of the scarlet-thread maneuvering in the meantime was proven to be nothing more that misguided cultural anthropology—and in the end, sin.
The Law of Leprosy included several mentions of scarlet, used in conjunction with cedar wood and hyssop (both of which were covered in Volume 3 of this work). “Then Yahweh spoke to Moses, saying, ‘This shall be the law of the leper for the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the priest. And the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall examine him….” This isn’t a ritual for healing someone of the disease—something that never happened in Israel under Torah rules until Yahshua of Nazareth showed up and began healing lepers—some 1,500 years after the Law had been given. Rather, it was a symbol-rich rite for declaring someone to have been cleansed from the malady—which is itself a metaphor for sin.
The symbols we’ve already established in this work tell the story: “And indeed, if the leprosy [sin] is healed in the leper [the sinner], then the priest [Christ] shall command to take for him who is to be cleansed two living and clean birds [the consequences of our choices], cedar wood [strength, resulting in pride], scarlet [blood-guilt], and hyssop [weakness and humility—the converse of cedar]. And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel [our mortality] over running water [cleansing and restoration]. As for the living bird, he shall take it, the cedar wood and the scarlet and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water. And he shall sprinkle it seven times [indicating complete, thorough cleansing] on him who is to be cleansed [i.e., declared to be clean] from the leprosy [sin], and shall pronounce him clean [imputed righteousness], and shall let the living bird loose in the open field.’” (Leviticus 14:1-7)
The two birds, one sacrificed and the other set free, remind us of the two goats of the Day of Atonement: both death and life are required in the same context in order for the cleansing process to be complete. He’s saying (in symbolic terms) that God’s Anointed one would have to both die for our sins, and live—making His resurrection just as necessary as His sacrifice. Necessary for what? For the entire range of human endeavor—from strength to humility—to be carried away from us by the Risen Christ, along with our bloody sins. It is only then that we can leave the leper colony and rejoin God’s people in the camp (ultimately, heaven).
The Law of Leprosy also applied to houses (not skin diseases, of course, but infestations of mold or mildew). I would take this to symbolize not individual sins, but cultural and societal ones—shortcomings on a national, or even worldwide scale. The rules for being declared clean are virtually identical: “But if the priest comes in and examines it, and indeed the plague has not spread in the house after the house was plastered, then the priest shall pronounce the house clean, because the plague is healed. And he shall take, to cleanse the house, two birds, cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop. Then he shall kill one of the birds in an earthen vessel over running water; and he shall take the cedar wood, the hyssop, the scarlet, and the living bird, and dip them in the blood of the slain bird and in the running water, and sprinkle the house seven times. And he shall cleanse the house with the blood of the bird and the running water and the living bird, with the cedar wood, the hyssop, and the scarlet. Then he shall let the living bird loose outside the city in the open field, and make atonement for the house, and it shall be clean.” (Leviticus 14:48-52)
By the way, though I won’t go into the details here, the procedure for examining and cleansing a “leprous” house strongly suggests a pre-Tribulation rapture. As I wrote in The Owner’s Manual, “Following the symbols [of verses 34-36] to their logical conclusion, we see that the believer is to be cognizant of his surroundings, the society in which he lives. If he sees ‘a plague in the house,’ (and who could miss the signs of spiritual disease in our world today?) he is to report it to the priest. That’s a picture of prayer, for the priest was the divinely appointed link between God and Man. The priest (and remember, our High Priest is Yahshua) first ‘empties the house,’ that is, he takes out those within it who remain undefiled. Interestingly, he does this before the stones of the house are subjected to examination, to testing or trial. Could this be another subtle indicator of a pre-Tribulation rapture? I believe it is. On reflection, it seems this whole passage is eschatological in nature.”
The Law of the Red Heifer also incorporates the cedar-hyssop-scarlet combination: “Then the heifer shall be burned in his sight: its hide, its flesh, its blood, and its offal shall be burned. And the priest shall take cedar wood and hyssop and scarlet, and cast them into the midst of the fire burning the heifer.” (Numbers 19:5-6) If you’ll recall, the Red Heifer statute was instituted to indemnify someone from contact with death. Here again, we see the range of human endeavor—from strength and pride to weakness and humility in a matrix of blood-guiltiness—going up in smoke in the process of Yahweh’s provision for our salvation.
When the Israelites under Joshua first entered the Land of Promise, Jericho (near the Jordan River) was the first formidable city they encountered. Joshua sent spies to assess their strength, and they encountered Rahab, a prostitute who informed them that the city was terrified of the Israelites and their God. She hid the spies from her own authorities, requesting that the invaders show her and her family mercy when they took the city. “So the men said to her: ‘We will be blameless of this oath of yours which you have made us swear, unless, when we come into the land, you bind this line of scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you bring your father, your mother, your brothers, and all your father’s household to your own home. So it shall be that whoever goes outside the doors of your house into the street, his blood shall be on his own head, and we will be guiltless. And whoever is with you in the house, his blood shall be on our head if a hand is laid on him. And if you tell this business of ours, then we will be free from your oath which you made us swear.’ Then she said, ‘According to your words, so be it.’ And she sent them away, and they departed. And she bound the scarlet cord in the window.” (Joshua 2:17-21)
The Israelites were about to attack the city, so bloodshed was guaranteed. The question of how to identify and spare Rahab and her family was answered with a scarlet cord hanging out the window. Displaying this red rope served roughly the same function as smearing the blood of the sacrificial lamb on the lintels and doorposts of Israel’s dwellings on the night of Passover. At that time, the death angel “passed over” the homes of those who had followed Yahweh’s instructions. Now, the scarlet-dyed cord represented the same thing the Passover lambs’ blood had symbolized: the blood of Christ, shed for our sins, indemnifying us from the death we had earned through our transgressions. It’s the same picture, but notice one significant difference: whereas the Passover blood primarily protected Israelites, the scarlet cord of Jericho sheltered gentiles. The lesson is that the blood of Christ is efficacious to atone for the sins of anyone and everyone who trusts it. Salvation may be of the Jews, but it is for the gentiles as well.
Sometimes (often, in fact) “scarlet,” like purple, is seen in scripture as an indicator of the wealth it took to obtain it. What is seldom mentioned, however, is that extraordinary prosperity always comes at a cost to someone. So we listen to David’s lament over the fallen King Saul: “O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with luxury, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.” (II Samuel 1:24) Where did the money for such luxuries come from? From the booty and tribute Saul’s victories brought to Israel. I must emphasize that plunder wasn’t the point of going to war against the seven Canaanite nations. Yahweh had instructed Israel—long before this—to drive the pagans out of the Promised Land. Still, the riches of the Land were, from the very beginning, intended by God to fall into the hands of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
In Proverbs, we read of the “virtuous wife,” whose industry and insight has brought a prosperous lifestyle to her house: “She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household is clothed with scarlet. She makes tapestry for herself. Her clothing is fine linen and purple.” (Proverbs 31:21-22) While I would not downplay her hard work in the least, I would also note that her ability to work, to think, and to plan—and to benefit from her labors—is a gift from God. There is no such thing as a self-made man (or woman).
Nor are such riches permanent, necessarily. They are not a birthright, but a blessing. The prophet warns Judah, on the eve of the Babylonian conquest: “And when you are plundered, what will you do? Though you clothe yourself with crimson, though you adorn yourself with ornaments of gold, though you enlarge your eyes with paint, in vain you will make yourself fair; your lovers will despise you. They will seek your life.” (Jeremiah 4:30) The good things in our lives—all of them—are the result (on some level) of our Creator’s bounty. They often seem to come in the form of a dare, a challenge. It is as if Yahweh is saying, “Are you willing to honor Me, the Source of your blessings, or are you going to give credit where it isn’t due?” Let’s face it, we’re not working in a vacuum. Even pirates and thieves need somebody relatively prosperous to steal from. Even bacteria and viruses need a host.
A color may seem to be just a color, but if we find it mentioned in scripture, we should always be on the lookout for symbolic significance. For example, in the Song of Solomon, the love-smitten king is heard praising the appearance of his beloved: “Your lips are like a strand of scarlet, and your mouth is lovely. Your temples behind your veil are like a piece of pomegranate.” (Song 4:3) Okay, her lips are red and begging to be kissed. But then we remember that the whole Song is an allegory describing how Yahshua feels about His church (and vice versa). This isn’t religion—it’s romance. It’s the “purple prose” version of what it means for a husband and wife to become “one flesh.” We believers are Christ’s body; His breath is in our lungs, and His blood flows through our veins. We are pictured here blushing with the anticipation of being with our Savior, and the feeling is mutual. This is R-rated theology—the “R” standing for “Redeemer.”
The concept of “scarlet” appears in Greek as well: kokkinos means “dyed with Kermes” (coccum), the female coccus of the Kermes oak. Thayer: “κόκκινος, κοκκινη, κόκκινον (from κόκκος a kernel, the grain or berry of the ilex coccifera; these berries are the clusters of eggs of a female insect, the kermes (cf. English carmine, crimson), and when collected and pulverized produce a red which was used in dyeing.” Strong’s explains: kokkos is from the kernel shape of the insect. So here once again, the color name is related to the source of the dye.
But the dye (or its perceived color—which could vary widely) wasn’t nearly as important as what its symbolic meaning was. Case in point: “Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him. And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand. And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified.” (Matthew 27:27-31)
In Mark and John, the robe is described as “purple,” not “scarlet.” Faithless (or merely pedantic) theologians would call this “a mistake.” But is it? Kokkinos and porphurous can look virtually identical. And more to the point, neither Matthew nor John were actually there in Pilate’s judgment hall. Nor were they able to subject the robe to forensic testing with a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer. The Gospel writers were merely reporting what eyewitnesses told them, long after the fact. My take on this is that the robe of ridicule was both things, metaphorically, anyway. Yes, the soldiers were mocking Yahshua because being “king of the Jews” was the “crime” for which they were about to crucify Him, making purple the appropriate metaphor. They didn’t have a clue that it was (prophetically at least) the literal truth. The world (what’s left of it) will soon learn the reality of this. But the robe also signified that Christ was taking upon His shoulders the guilt of the world by shedding His own blood. So symbolically, it was not only purple, but scarlet as well.
A couple of “scarlet” mentions in the Book of Revelation stress not the blood of Christ atoning for the sins of the world, but the sins that made that bloodshed necessary in the first place. “So [the angel] carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement.” (Revelation 17:3-4)
Both the woman and the beast she is seen riding are intimately associated with what “scarlet” means: blood and bloodshed—especially the blood of the saints and martyrs. The woman dressed in scarlet is Babylon—symbolic of every form of institutional idolatry and apostasy since the Flood of Noah. Babylon is a “trinity,” so to speak. She exists in three forms: religious-academic, commercial-financial, and political-military.
The scarlet beast is the Antichrist, or more to the point, the demon who empowers him. Notice that in the beginning, Babylon “rides” the beast. That is, she controls him, for she has been entrenched in this world growing ever more rich and powerful for millennia on end. But later in the chapter we see that the beast will gain ascendency over Babylon: he and his allies “will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire.” (Revelation 17:16) It’s scarlet vs. scarlet—in this case, the one who wears bloodshed like a robe, against the one who is bloodshed, personified. This is a fascinating phenomenon, one God has prophesied many times through historical events: He uses one evil to eradicate another. In the end, all of the world’s blood-guilt will be concentrated in one immensely powerful, extraordinarily evil individual—whom the returning King Yahshua will Personally defeat with “the sword which proceeds from His mouth,” the very Word of God.
The instantaneous demise of Babylon’s commercial-financial permutation is described in the very next chapter. It’s a worldwide financial meltdown more sudden and severe than anything ever before seen: “And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her, for no one buys their merchandise anymore: merchandise of gold and silver, precious stones and pearls, fine linen and purple, silk and scarlet…. Alas, alas, that great city that was clothed in fine linen, purple, and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls! For in one hour such great riches came to nothing.’” (Revelation 18:11-12, 16-17) The world’s wealth is gone. All of it. Poof! It is my guess (though it doesn’t matter if I’m right about this—the prophecy stands) that the proximate cause for the sudden implosion of the world’s entire financial-commercial infrastructure is the outbreak of widespread nuclear war, described in first-century terms in the First Trumpet Judgment (Revelation 8:7). I would also expect this to be the result of the Antichrist’s purposeful escalation of the War of Magog (Ezekiel 38-39) in an attempt to salvage his crumbling messianic pretenses among the beleaguered Israelis. (I covered all of this in detail in The End of the Beginning.)
When will this happen? During the first half of the Tribulation—i.e., before the Antichrist is declared “Dictator of Planet Earth.” I believe (because it fits the prophetic scenario so well) that this will be the means by which the scarlet beast (the Antichrist) gains the upper hand over the scarlet-wearing whore of Babylon. It will be how the Antichrist “makes her desolate and naked, eating her flesh and burning her with fire.” When the smoke clears, the world at large will acclaim the Antichrist as their “messiah,” for he appears to be the only one who can reign in the madness and anarchy, ruling the New World Order by seizing control over all three of Babylon’s former strongholds—money, religion, and political power. The only ones on earth who won’t buy into his admittedly attractive (in a desperate, grasping-at-straws way) “System-666” scheme are the newly awakened Jews, and the belatedly repentant Church of Laodicea.
Another permutation of the “red” theme is the color vermillion, the Hebrew shasher—a bright scarlet red hue. Vermilion is obtained from red ocher (an iron oxide), and is mentioned only twice in the Bible—both instances compatible with red’s over-arching bloody sin theme. It was often used for painting idols and pottery. But we read: “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness and his chambers by injustice, who uses his neighbor’s service without wages and gives him nothing for his work, who says, ‘I will build myself a wide house with spacious chambers, and cut out windows for it, paneling it with cedar and painting it with vermilion.’” (Jeremiah 22:13-14) Substitute “vermillion” with “blood-guilt,” and you’ll have a pretty clear idea of what the prophet was saying.
In the same vein, Ezekiel castigates apostate Jerusalem. “But she [Oholibah, i.e., Jerusalem—literally “My tabernacle is in her”] increased her harlotry. She looked at men portrayed on the wall, images of Chaldeans portrayed in vermilion. Girded with belts around their waists, flowing turbans on their heads, all of them looking like captains, in the manner of the Babylonians of Chaldea, the land of their nativity. As soon as her eyes saw them, she lusted for them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea. Then the Babylonians came to her, into the bed of love, and they defiled her with their immorality. So she was defiled by them, and alienated herself from them. She revealed her harlotry and uncovered her nakedness. Then I alienated Myself from her, as I had alienated Myself from her sister.” (Ezekiel 23:14-18) Be careful what you wish for. The elite of Judah were impressed and envious of the glories of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon (i.e., “Chaldeans”), just as Israel’s northern kingdom had fallen for the Assyrians. Yahweh had set her apart, made her holy. But Judah found Babylon irresistible—not only her wealth, but also her lascivious pagan religious practices. The vermillion-tinted appurtenances of Chaldean glory, then, became symbolic of the sin and guilt of God’s chosen people, destined to be hauled off in chains by the very nation they idolized.
That’s red, then—the color of blood and bloodshed, the evidence of our sin and guilt. But it is also the color of God’s cure for our iniquity—the precious blood of Christ, shed on our behalf. Which one will we choose?
Blue, Purple, and Scarlet Together
The three colors we have discussed so far, though they look rather similar, have completely different symbolic meanings. Blue indicates things that are holy and heavenly. Purple speaks of royalty and the wealth and authority associated with it. And red (scarlet, crimson, etc.) reminds us of blood—not only the conveyor of life flowing within our veins, but the ramifications of spilling it: sin, death, guilt, and the need for redemption.
In the instructions for the wilderness tabernacle, we see these three colors specified together, as a group, again and again. And because the tabernacle’s structure, furnishings and rites conspire to form a complex prophecy of Yahweh’s redemptive process, we should be attuned to why Yahweh chose to combine the three colors so often. Casting about for the possible significance of the color combination, we realize that there is but one place where they converge in a single concept, a single personality. It’s easy enough to see in the shadow of Calvary: that concept, that Person—that logos—is Yahshua the Messiah.
Blue: Yahweh’s solution to the human condition was to be both holy and heavenly. Being holy—set apart to God—is a tall enough order. But as Moses promised Israel, “Yahweh your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear.” (Deuteronomy 18:15) And Yahweh had said, “You shall be holy, for I, Yahweh your God, am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2) It is inconceivable that He would have appointed and anointed a Prophet over Israel who didn’t fit that description.
But this Prophet also had to be heavenly—from the heavens: God in flesh. At the annunciation, the angel had told Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35) And as Yahshua later informed Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) The “blue” symbol required Christ to be equally at home in both heaven and earth, for our destiny as believers is to follow Him: “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” (Philippians 3:20-21)
Purple: As the color of royal authority and wealth, the tabernacle’s imagery would suggest that the Messiah would be Israel’s King. But there’s a glitch: Yahweh did not institute a monarchy in Israel—only a priesthood and a system of elders and judges, who had lots of responsibility, but no power or wealth. On the other hand, Jacob’s deathbed blessing had included this cryptic notice: “The scepter [the implement of royalty] shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh [i.e., to whom it belongs] comes. And to Him shall be the obedience of the people.” (Genesis 49:10) So a line of kings was clearly in Israel’s future—just not as an overt institution of Torah Law.
And Hannah, the mother of Samuel, the last of Israel’s judges, had prophesied (long before Israel had a king), “Yahweh will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to His king, and exalt the horn of His anointed.” (I Samuel 2:10) “Anointed” here is he Hebrew noun mashiach, transliterated “messiah.” The word is translated christos, or Christ, in Greek. And wouldn’t you know it? Hannah’s son Samuel was instructed by Yahweh to “anoint” David (a descendant of Judah) to be Israel’s king when he was only a boy. (See I Samuel 16:12.) Later, when David was well established as Israel’s king, Yahweh promised him, “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his Father, and he shall be My son.” (II Samuel 7:12-14) The picture was coming together. But who knew it would be so literal?
Was Yahshua a descendant of King David? Yes. He was born to a virgin named Mary, whose geneology is presented in Luke: she was the physical progeny of David through his son Nathan. The royal line, however, ran through Nathan’s half-brother Solomon—whose lineage was subsequently disqualified at the time of the Babylonian captivity because of the wicked King Jeconiah. So the Messiah had to legally be the son of David through Solomon, though biologically that royal line was ineligible. It looks as if Yahweh has painted Himself into a corner. But Yahshua’s legal father (through marriage and adoption, but not biology) was Joseph—a descendant of Solomon (and yes, of Jeconiah). Thus the virgin birth is required for the Messiah’s lineage—along with some other highly unlikely genealogical circumstances. The prophecy given by the angel to Mary was as nearly impossible as these things ever get: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus [a transliteration of Yahshua, meaning “Yahweh is Salvation”]. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest [that is, not of Joseph]; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31-33)
You may protest, “Yes, but Jesus never reigned on earth as a king, even though He was crucified for the crime of being one, complete with purple robe and crown of thorns.” Forget for a moment that He has been worshiped as Prophet, Priest, and King (not to mention God) by His followers for almost the past two millennia. The post-resurrection Great Commission includes this notice: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18) And dozens of prophecies scattered throughout scripture attest to Christ’s future status as King, not the least of which is this: “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God [See John 1:1]. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron [the scepter of Judah]. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:11-16)
In short, no one has ever been more qualified to wear the purple robes of royalty—or be characterized by the symbol of the color purple—than Yahshua. The only “condition” is that God’s word must be true—that scripture’s future prophecies must be fulfilled, as so many past ones have been. I have no problem with that.
Scarlet: God tells us innumerable times that “the life is in the blood,” which is why—symbolically, anyway—we were instructed not to eat the blood of the animals we ate, but drain it out onto the ground. And as we have seen, scarlet (or any shade of red, for that matter) symbolizes blood and everything associated with it—including sin, guilt, and the remedy for these things. That is why Yahshua informed His disciples on the eve of His crucifixion, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) If Christ is our Life, then it is axiomatic that He is intimately associated with blood.
As if to slap His followers in the face to get their minds off loaves and fishes, healings, and exorcisms, Yahshua once told them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” (John 6:53-56) He knew this was provocative, of course: the Torah had strictly prohibited eating people and drinking blood. But He was saying, in so many words, “Think symbolically: what does my flesh represent? What does my blood really mean?” In context, he answered these questions: His flesh was “the bread of life” provided by Yahweh for the sustenance of mankind; and His blood was eternal life—if we would but assimilate these things into our own lives.
Thus the blood of Christ has become intimately associated with our understanding of the salvation process. As John wrote, “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (I John 1:7) But how? We need to comprehend two Biblical concepts, both of which are introduced (if not explained) in the Torah:
First, redemption is “buying something back.” We are debtors to our sin, estranged from our Creator. So God introduced a picture to help us understand: the life of an innocent being is required to “buy back” the relationship we lost when we sinned. Since animals have no free will, they are by definition innocent—they have no moral culpability. So Yahweh told Israel to sacrifice clean animals like lambs, goats, and bulls in a dizzying array of rites and rituals, all of which pointed, one way or another, to the future sacrifice of Yahshua, the Son of God. Actually, the picture goes all the way back to the animals God killed to provide coverings (read: atonement) for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
The second concept is propitiation—the act of appeasement, of conciliation, of making someone favorably inclined to you. As I wrote earlier in The Torah Code, “Propitiation is sort of like expiation. (Oh, thanks, that’s a big help.) The Greek noun hilasmos [translated ‘propitiation’ in I John 4:10] denotes the means or mechanism of forgiveness, an atoning (that is, covering) sacrifice, the remedy for defilement. Whereas ‘expiation’ would focus on the means of forgiveness, ‘propitiation’ would stress God’s positive assessment of the remedy’s efficacy (both of which concepts are implied in the word hilasmos).” The point is, God counts the shed blood of the sacrifice that He specified as sufficient to atone for—to cover—our sins. But there’s a catch: we too need to trust Yahweh’s “positive assessment of the remedy’s efficacy.” Our works, alms, penance, or self-sacrifice can add nothing to what God has already provided to achieve our salvation—the blood of Christ—though all of these things (and more) are proper responses to having received God’s gift.
We tend to think of Yahshua’s crucifixion as the shedding of His blood that atones for our sins—the “scarlet” that defines Him. But that is an incomplete and misleading picture. The whole point of crucifixion (as far as the Romans were concerned) was prolonged public agony as a deterrent to “crimes against the state” (such as being hailed as a king, for example). So they became quite adept at ensuring that their victims did not bleed to death. When nailing their hands to the patibulum (or crosspiece) of the cross, they were careful to avoid major blood vessels. They also needed to ensure that the flesh wouldn’t tear from the weight of the body. So the target was not the palm (as it is shown in so many pictures), but a bony area in the upper wrist aligned with the ring finger, nowadays called Destot’s space. Crucifixion victims were known to linger in anguish for two or three days. They did not die of exsanguination (blood loss), but usually of suffocation, asphyxiation, the inability (through sheer exhaustion) of drawing one more painful breath into the lungs. Yahshua would have lost far more blood from the brutal scourging to which He was subjected prior to being crucified—something that surely hastened His death by many hours (since the scriptures required that He die on Passover, the 14th day of Nisan, before the sun set).
So the “scarlet” that defined Christ was more conceptual than literal. Remember, scarlet (blood and bloodshed) spoke not only of the red fluid flowing through our bodies—defined as “life” in the Torah—but also the guilt of having shed such blood. Yahshua’s scarlet connection consisted primarily of His taking our guilt upon Himself—one innocent life being sacrificed to cover the sins of billions of guilty ones, restoring life to us who were dead in our trespasses.
That’s not to say that literal bloodshed wasn’t a big part of the passion’s tableau. On the night He was betrayed, we read, “And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44) This is a well-documented but extremely rare condition known as hematidrosis, in which “capillary blood vessels that feed the sweat glands rupture, causing them to exude blood, occurring under conditions of extreme physical or emotional stress. Severe mental anxiety activates the sympathetic nervous system to invoke the stressful ‘fight-or-flight’ response to such a degree as to cause hemorrhage of the vessels supplying the sweat glands.”—Wikipedia. In Yahshua’s case, the body’s normal “fight-or-flight” response was multiplied a thousand-fold. Although His very nature—love—compelled Him to submit Himself to this torture, He knew He could just snap His fingers and summon legions of angels to rescue Him. It’s the worst temptation I can imagine. In the end, He opted to stand and fight—not on His own behalf, but on ours. I find it significant that the Greek noun we translate “cross” (stauros) is derived from histemi, a verb meaning “to stand,” or “to cause to stand.”
Even His death did not stop the bloodshed: “When they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.” (John 19:33-34) I mentioned above that most crucifixion victims eventually died of suffocation—the inability to draw one more breath. But a different physical cause sometimes took place. It’s called hypovolemic shock, causing prolonged rapid heartbeat resulting in pericardial effusion—the buildup of fluid around the heart. The soldier’s spear pierced both the pericardium and the heart, causing the effect noted by John. There are several reasons why this is significant:
(1) According to the prophetic precedent, Christ had to die on Passover, i.e., the 14th day of Nisan, Friday afternoon. If His life had lingered for just a few more hours, a moment past sunset, the Torah’s carefully crafted chronology would have been ruined—and along with it, the symbols of our reconciliation: bloody sacrifice, followed by rest, followed by renewed life.
(2) In order to placate the Jews, the Romans agreed to hurry the process along by breaking the legs of their victims, causing them to die quickly of asphyxiation (making breathing impossible because they could no longer push up with their legs) before the Sabbath began. Indeed, this was done to both of the thieves crucified with Yahshua. But again, scripture had both mandated (Exodus 12:46) and prophesied (Psalm 34:20) that none of Messiah’s bones would be broken. Our God delights in doing the improbable, and He revels in achieving the impossible.
(3) “Breath” and “Spirit” are closely related terms in Hebrew. So it would have been extremely inappropriate if Christ had died (technically) of “shortness of breath.” Never before or since has a mortal man been so filled with and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Nor did He die from lack of blood, exsanguination, for the Life is in the blood. No, as a technical matter, Yahshua died from a broken heart. Just because it’s poetic, there’s no reason to suppose it isn’t true.
(4) Pounding nails through the wrists and feet of a person might count as “piercing,” I suppose, but the thrust of a spear is unmistakably clear. So when the prophet reports (in His description of the definitive Day of Atonement), “Then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn,” (Zechariah 12:10) Yahshua of Nazareth is being identified, to the exclusion of any other messianic “candidate”—Bar Kochba, for example—none of whom were “pierced” for the sins of mankind (whether Jews or Romans—i.e., gentiles). And note further that the One who was pierced was Yahweh Himself—this entire passage is in His voice (see verse 1). Jesus is God: there’s no getting around it.
(5) Finally, there is one factor that hardly anybody knows about. In the instructions for the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16, the blood of two sin offerings (one for the High Priest and one for the people) were to be sprinkled upon the Mercy Seat—the “lid” of the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark was normally kept in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle or temple, but it had gone missing sometime just prior to the Babylonian sack of Jerusalem. The scriptural hints suggest that Jeremiah had secreted the Ark in a cave Solomon had prepared, several hundred yards from the temple mount. This cave turned out to be directly beneath the crucifixion site—separated by twenty feet of limestone bedrock.
The crucifixion narrative (Matthew 27:51) reports an earthquake and the rocks being split at the moment of Christ’s death. In the early ’80s, a devout amateur archeologist named Ron Wyatt discovered the crucifixion site, and noted a large, deep crack intersecting the hole that was used to hold the center of three crosses upright. Then, on January 6, 1982, he discovered the cave where Jeremiah had hidden the Ark of the Covenant. The lid of the sarcophagus in which it rested had broken, exposing the Mercy Seat—directly beneath the crack. And coating the interior of the crack, splashed upon the exposed Mercy seat, was a black substance that tested out to be the very blood of the crucified Christ—just as pictured in the Torah: “Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering, which is for the people, bring its blood inside the veil… and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and before the mercy seat.” (Leviticus 16:15) Sufficient blood would not have been available had not the Roman soldier pierced Yahshua’s heart after His death.
I realize the story sounds incredible, and it wouldn’t have to be true for every shred of overt prophecy on the subject to have been literally fulfilled. And yet, I have no reason to doubt it—Yahweh, as I said, delights in doing the improbable, in going the extra mile. There’s a lot more to it, of course. I have related the story in detail in The End of the Beginning, chapter 13 (“Jerusalem, Jerusalem”) elsewhere on this website. Enjoy.
Anyway, where were we? Oh, yes, looking at the scriptural evidence that links the symbology latent in blue, purple, and scarlet in the life and mission of Yahshua of Nazareth. Before we look at the actual tabernacle instructions requiring the use of all three colors in the same context, let us visit one last reference linking them to Christ. In the introduction to his apocalyptic vision, John writes, “Grace to you and peace from Him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne [that’s the blue constituent—heavenly holiness], and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead [here is the scarlet component—His life-giving sacrifice], and the ruler over the kings of the earth [there’s the purple metaphor: the risen Christ’s royal authority]. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood [scarlet again].” (Revelation 1:4-5)
I can’t think of a single person other than our Savior, in all of recorded history, who embodied all three of these color-symbols. There have been lots of “purple” royals in this world, of course—probably orders of magnitude too many. “Scarlet” martyrs for the Word of Yahweh have been quite common as well. And the occasional “blue” holy person surfaces as well. But never (outside of Yahshua’s example) do these traits converge in a single individual.
So we should read it as significant that all three colors are specified so often together in the construction and furnishing of the wilderness tabernacle. In the hindsight of Calvary, it should be obvious to anyone with even the shallowest grasp on Yahweh’s symbol vocabulary that Yahshua the Messiah is woven throughout Yahweh’s plan for the redemption of mankind. He is not an afterthought, but the very warp and woof of the fabric of our salvation.
We should not be surprised, then, to find these dyes (or dyed threads) high on the list of the supplies and materials Yahweh asked for as an offering from the newly freed Israelites. “Then Yahweh 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, and goats’ hair; ram skins dyed red, [porpoise] skins, and acacia wood; oil for the light, and spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet incense; onyx stones, and stones to be set in the ephod and in the breastplate. And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show you, that is, the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings, just so you shall make it.” (Exodus 25:1-9; cf. Exodus 35:4-9, 23-25, 35; 36:8, 35-37) Every single thing on God’s “shopping list” was symbolically significant.
Bear in mind that the Israelites, though recently slaves, weren’t asked to supply anything they didn’t have. Their bondage mostly took the form of labor quotas imposed upon them by the Egyptian rulers. It wasn’t prison: they still grew (or caught) their own food, raised flocks and herds, and lived in their own houses. Yes, their lives were unnecessarily harsh and needlessly dystopian, but they weren’t driven to the point of hopeless despair. Over the preceding four centuries, the Egyptians had developed oppression into a fine art, giving their captives just enough liberty, just enough material prosperity, to avoid precipitating a revolt.
Also, in the wake of the tenth and final plague, the Israelites were suddenly evicted from their old lives. On their way out, they asked for—and received—articles of value from their former neighbors, “plundering” the Egyptians as they had been instructed by Moses (see Exodus 12:35-36). Much of what they took from the grieving Egyptians would be used in the construction of the tabernacle. The lesson for us seems to be that reconciliation with God is a costly enterprise—and the price will be paid, whether or not we avail ourselves of its benefits: life, liberty, and the love of our Creator.
Let us, then, consider some of the specific places where blue, purple, and scarlet were used together. “Moreover you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine woven linen and blue, purple, and scarlet thread; with artistic designs of cherubim you shall weave them.” (Exodus 26:1) “Curtains” is a rather misleading translation here. What is being specified is the first (i.e., inner) layer of ceiling panels, to be draped over the tabernacle’s vertical gold-plated acacia wood “walls,” forming the roof of the sanctuary. This first layer consisted of ten of these fabric units, joined together with blue cords in two sub-assemblies of five panels each, which were then to be fastened to one another with fifty golden clasps. This layer was to be followed by one of goat’s hair, then one of rams’ skins dyed red, and finally a layer of the hides of marine animals—porpoises or dugongs—four layers altogether covering the tabernacle. (See The Owner’s Manual, Volume 2, Chapter 4, Precepts #712-714 for more details.)
This ceiling/roof layer could only be seen from the interior of the sanctuary. If we follow the symbols, whatever this layer signifies is exclusively for the benefit of believers, for only priests (who are symbolic of believers) were able to enter the sanctuary. And indeed, we see very similar instructions concerning the veil, or curtain, separating the Holy Place (where the menorah, the table of the bread of the presence, and the altar of incense were kept) from the Holy of Holies (which housed the Ark of the Covenant). “You shall make a veil woven of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen. It shall be woven with an artistic design of cherubim.” (Exodus 26:31) This too was for priests’ eyes only. At first glance, then, it would appear that only believers can see the blue, purple, and scarlet, which together define and reveal Yahshua the Messiah.
But wait: the instructions aren’t finished. We also see fabric woven with all three colors in two other places: “You shall make a screen for the door of the tabernacle, woven of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, made by a weaver.” (Exodus 26:36; cf. Exodus 38:18) And, “For the gate of the court there shall be a screen twenty cubits long, woven of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, made by a weaver.” (Exodus 27:16) That is, the “front door” of the tabernacle, as well as the front gate of the courtyard that encloses it, were also made of blue, purple, and scarlet. These were places in plain view of those who were interested in approaching God, symbolized by Israel as a whole.
So what is different? Comparing the passages carefully, we see that the blue, purple, and scarlet fabrics within the sanctuary include “artistic designs of cherubim,” while those in public view do not. “Cherubim” are members of an order of powerful angelic beings, seen (for example) in Ezekiel’s “wheel within a wheel” vision in Ezekiel 10. Standing, as they do, in the very presence of Yahweh, we should not be surprised to see their images specified often in tabernacle and temple architecture—including the yet-to-be-built Millennial temple, described in Ezekiel 40 through 44. But they are not meant to be objects of worship (something that was specifically forbidden in the Second Commandment, Exodus 20:4-5).
Rather, they are reminders that although He whom the three colors represent—Yahshua the Messiah—was available to everyone who approached the tabernacle, His power, as wielded by these awesome agents of the Almighty, was reserved for those who had placed their faith in Him. That is, it is not particularly beneficial to believe that Jesus existed, or even that He was crucified by the Romans; these are mere historical facts, like believing George Washington was America’s first president. But in order to experience the power of a renewed life, one must place his trust in the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice. It is said that Abraham believed God, and this belief was accounted unto him as righteousness. That is the path we must all take if we wish to “see the cherubim” in the blue, purple, and scarlet cloth.
Ordinary priests symbolically represent rank and file believers. But the High Priest (originally, Aaron) is a type of Christ Himself—the One we follow. So we might expect to see our three-color combination employed in the High Priest’s symbol-rich “official” apparel—and we do. “They shall take the gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and the fine linen, and they shall make the ephod of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, artistically worked. It shall have two shoulder straps joined at its two edges, and so it shall be joined together. And the intricately woven band of the ephod, which is on it, shall be of the same workmanship, made of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen.” (Exodus 28:5-8; cf. Exodus 39:1-8)
And this is not the only place where blue, purple, and scarlet show up together on the High Priest’s ensemble: “You shall make the breastplate of judgment. Artistically woven according to the workmanship of the ephod you shall make it: of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, you shall make it.” (Exodus 28:15) And, “And upon its [the High Priest’s robe’s] hem you shall make pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet, all around its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe all around. And it shall be upon Aaron when he ministers, and its sound will be heard when he goes into the holy place before Yahweh and when he comes out, that he may not die.” (Exodus 28:33-35) I covered these garments (but not the significance of the colors) in The Owner’s Manual, Volume 2, Chapter 5.
These priestly instructions were given to Israel alone, who were to “act them out” as performers on stage. The gentiles’ job, then, was to observe their Torah compliance, and ponder what Yahweh meant for us all to know—to sort out the symbols. The writer to the Hebrews pulls the Torah into the church age by explaining (sort of) how the commandments of the Mosaic Covenant were met in the Passion of the Christ: “For where there is a testament, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator. For a testament is in force after men are dead, since it has no power at all while the testator lives. Therefore not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood. For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water, scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you.’ Then likewise he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.” (Hebrews 9:16-22) What a tragedy it is that the largely gentile church from Constantine onward largely dismissed the Torah as “pointless Jewish minutiae.” There is astounding beauty in the details, if only we would open our eyes to Yahweh’s plan.
Green: The Transience of Living Things
Up until now, all of the colors we have explored (blue, purple, and various shades of red) were—or could be—used as dyes for fabrics, no matter what the color’s symbolic connotation was. But there are others that occur in nature that were not used as dyes—either because no suitably indelible source was available (like green), or because they were naturally occurring hues (like white, gray, and black). But of course, a color’s suitability as a scriptural symbol does not depend on its usefulness as a dye (for making clothing or flags, for example).
With green, as with so many colors in scripture, it may not be so much the precise hue that’s being described, but what it symbolizes—in this case, the object’s fresh or moist condition. This is obvious with plants, of course, but the metaphor extends to other facets of young, vigorous life. For example, in the Song of Solomon, as the Shulamite gushes about her beloved, she says, “Our bed is green.” (Song 1:16) In case you missed it, she’s not talking about the color of the bed-linens, but of her eager anticipation at the prospect of bearing Solomon’s children: the marriage bed is full of promise. This in turn reveals the attitude of the church (whom Solomon’s bride represents) toward her Lord and Savior: the true church is passionate about being fruitful for Yahshua.
Many of the Hebrew words translated “green” are not adjectives, but nouns. As we’ve seen with other scriptural color designations, the actual hue is not being specified so much as the objects commonly associated with it. Yereq, for example, is a noun meaning greenness, or something green. But it (with the related noun yaroq) is invariably associated with food—what we Americans might call “greens.” The Hebrew chatsir means grass, hay, herb, or leek—again, sustenance-related terms, whether for animals or people. The noun deshe also indicates grass or herb; and the related verb dasha means to appear green, like grass.
The underlying theme of all these things is expressed more directly in such adjectives as the Hebrew raanan, meaning luxuriant, fresh, or verdant; or the Greek hugros, an adjective denoting moist, green, or full of sap. Chloros is the Greek root of our word “chlorophyll,” the “green coloring matter of leaves and plants, essential to the production of carbohydrates by photosynthesis (the complex process by which carbon dioxide, water, and certain inorganic salts are converted into carbohydrates by green plants, algae, and certain bacteria, using energy from the sun”)—Dictionary.com. So the usual scriptural usage of the color “green” is as a description of the essence of plant life: fresh, healthy, and verdant—though vulnerable and impermanent—seasonal.
The only real exception is a rare usage of the Greek adjective chloros. Besides meaning “green” in the ordinary “living-plant” sense, it is also used to describe the pale, sickly color of death, as when bacteria begin to change the color of a corpse from its former ruddy appearance to a ghastly pale shade of green, as in John’s vision: “When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, ‘Come and see.’ So I looked, and behold, a pale [chloros] horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.” (Revelation 6:7-8) But as I said, this usage is uncommon: I believe this is the only time this meaning of chloros appears in scripture.
Let us consult the creation record. “Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth,’ and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. So the evening and the morning were the third day.” (Genesis 1:11-13) This was after the creation of light (Day 1), but before the sun, moon, and stars became visible from the surface of the earth (Day 4). This tells me that the first life forms Yahweh introduced were bacteria and photosynthetic algae—things that would respire oxygen into the atmosphere, creating the air we now breathe. In The End of the Beginning, Appendix 5, we established that the time gap between the planet’s “ball of molten rock” stage and the first fossil evidence (note: bacteria don’t leave fossils) of the appearance of life on Earth was only about 400 million years—a blink of an eye as these things go. (And in Appendix 11, I explained—with a lot of help from physicist Gerald L. Schroeder—the amazing equivalence of the 13.7 billion earth years since the big bang with the Bible’s six days. This would put the “third day” of creation from about 3,750,000,000 to 1,750,000,000 years ago, from our perspective.)
Anyway, by the time we got to the sixth day (when Yahweh made animal life dominant, beginning about 250 million years ago), the earth’s plant life was well established. Dietary matters in the Garden of Eden were described as follows: “God said, ‘See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb [yereq eseb] for food,’ and it was so. Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:29-31)
A millennium later, at the time of the flood, God added meat to man’s menu—animals that had red blood in their veins (which was not to be consumed). But the “greens” were still a major part of the diet. “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs.” (Genesis 9:3) We are not told if the dietary shift was due to environmental changes in the post-diluvian world (requiring us to increase our protein intake), or because we had become a bloody, sinful race, and needed to be reminded often of our fallen natures. I suspect it may be a bit of both things.
At the time of the exodus, the eighth plague (exceeded only by total darkness in the land and the death of the firstborn) consisted of an immense cloud of locusts—devouring the food supply of both man and beast. “And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt and rested on all the territory of Egypt. They were very severe; previously there had been no such locusts as they, nor shall there be such after them. For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they ate every herb of the land and all the fruit of the trees which the hail [the sixth plague] had left. So there remained nothing green on the trees or on the plants of the field throughout all the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 10:14-15) The lesson (apparently still lost on the Egyptian rulers) was that failure to honor the God who provides for your needs can (when He deems it necessary) result in cessation of that provision.
The Israelite slaves who were freed because of the ten plagues were new to the whole concept of thanking God for His provision. So after a few months on a strict manna diet, they began to complain. “Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: ‘Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks [chatsir], the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!’” (Numbers 11:4-6) Much of what they missed was what the human body had originally been designed to live on, so it was no big surprise that physical cravings set in. But there is another lesson to be learned here: whatever God provides for us is sufficient for our needs, even if we’re not accustomed to it. “Greens” are good, but they’re not the only food group in town.
Sometimes “greenness” is used as a synonym for “resources.” “Now Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. And Moab was exceedingly afraid of the people because they were many, and Moab was sick with dread because of the children of Israel. So Moab said to the elders of Midian, ‘Now this company will lick up everything around us, as an ox licks up the grass [yereq] of the field.’” (Numbers 22:2-4) God had led the Children of Israel up the eastern side of the Jordan River, through the territories of Ammon and Moab, in anticipation of entering the Promised Land from that direction. In Deuteronomy 2, He had issued strict instructions not to meddle with or harass these descendants of Lot (Abraham’s nephew). But the Moabites, of course, didn’t know that: all they could see was a couple of million Israelites and their herds, capable by their sheer numbers of turning their verdant home into a desert wasteland. So Balak, king of Moab, enlisted the prophet Balaam to curse Israel—a strategy that backfired for Moab and proved disastrous for all concerned (as recorded in Numbers 22-25).
Though Israel did not raid Moab’s resources, the animosity precipitated by Balak’s paranoia was permanent. Almost 700 years later, Isaiah would prophesy that Moab’s future would be as bleak and barren as Balak had imagined: “For the waters of Nimrim [in Moab] will be desolate, for the green grass has withered away. The grass fails, there is nothing green.” (Isaiah 15:6) This is not because of anything Israel did, but because of Moab’s own arrogant pride—see Isaiah 16:6. As we saw above with Egypt, failure to honor God for the bounty He has provided can result in those blessings being withdrawn. (Are you listening, America?)
Green growing things are not expected to be permanent, if you think about it. They sprout, thrive for a season, and then wither away. Or at best they’re cyclical—sprouting in the spring and dying back in the autumn. As I look out the window of my study on this fine May morning, all I can see in the forest is a riot of brilliant green. Two months ago, however, the trees all looked dead—leafless and apparently lifeless. And next fall, they will again drop all evidence of life for months on end. One does not have to be writing a book about God’s symbols to recognize that the cycle of seasons is one of the ways our Creator informs us of our mortality. We are here one moment, and gone the next.
But does “gone” mean dead, or merely dormant? There is a difference between a petunia and an oak tree, between an “annual” and a “perennial.” Though “death” is common to both, one is gone for good, while the other comes back to life in due season. The amazing reality is that people, unlike plants, may choose to live again. Free will is our birthright. We are not predestined to be petunias—gone when the season passes. We may elect to become “perennials,” so to speak—we may choose to inherit life that never ends.
For this reason, we need not be discouraged when evil grows strong in the world. Wickedness is nothing but a petunia—colorful perhaps, but temporary: “Do not fret because of evildoers, nor be envious of the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb.” (Psalm 37:1-2) There are two sides to this coin. First, evil in the world is “inconvenient” to people who honor Yahweh. The “workers of iniquity” hate God, but because they can’t attack Him directly, they settle for targeting His people—either through persecution or through temptation to sin (a.k.a. “the doctrine of Balaam”). Second, evil often has a profit motive—people are wicked because they believe there is something to be gained by the pursuit of power, pleasure, or prosperity at the expense of godly virtue. So David points out that we should neither envy nor fear them, for their days are numbered—while those of God’s people are not.
Isaiah agrees: “I, even I, am He who comforts you. Who are you that you should be afraid of a man who will die, and of the son of a man who will be made like grass?” (Isaiah 51:12) The word translated “be afraid of” here is the Hebrew verb yare’, which not only means “to be afraid” in the usual sense, but is also used of our reverence, respect, honor, and awe of Yahweh Himself—to “fear God.” So the prophet is not only telling us that it is pointless to be afraid of puny humans—even if they hold the power of life and death over you—but we are also not to ascribe god-like qualities to them. People are never proper objects of worship, for they are “like grass,” living lives that are short, flawed, and destined to end in death.
Job’s friend Bildad makes roughly the same point: “Can the papyrus grow up without a marsh? Can the reeds flourish without water? While it is yet green and not cut down, it withers before any other plant. So are the paths of all who forget God.” (Job 8:11-13) Bildad was trying to explain Job’s temporal misfortune by suggesting that he had “forgotten God.” He was wrong about his assessment of Job, though his basic premise was quite correct: our mortal lives are temporary. The fact is, all of us—redeemed as well as reprobate—can expect challenges and setbacks. As Christ said, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) It’s what comes after the world—after our mortal lives—that matters.
God often uses one evil to chastise another. Isaiah, for example, describes the victims of Sennacherib’s Assyria. Speaking of the wicked inhabitants of the fortified cities that Sennacherib’s armies “crushed into heaps of ruins,” he says “Their inhabitants had little power. They were dismayed and confounded. They were as the grass of the field and the green herb, as the grass on the housetops and grain blighted before it is grown.” (II Kings 19:26; cf. Isaiah 37:27) It was common practice in Iron Age architecture to build the walls of houses out of brick or stone; but to save weight, roofs were often made of a wooden framework covered by sod tiles (which explains how the friends of the paralytic in Luke 5 could lower their friend down to Yahshua through the roof). The sod was lightweight and strong due to the tangle of grass roots interwoven within it. But because the roots didn’t have much depth, the green grass didn’t usually survive the first hot spell. The Psalmist uses the same illustration, the impermanence of grass on a housetop: “Let all those who hate Zion be put to shame and turned back. Let them be as the grass on the housetops, which withers before it grows up.” (Psalm 129:5-6)
We should all be cognizant of our own mortality: no body gets out of here alive. As the prophet says, “All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, because the breath of Yahweh blows upon it. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:6-8) What happens between birth and physical death can be either nasty or nice, but our temporal condition—our “flesh”—is not the point. This life is “merely” the venue we’ve been given in which to make our choices concerning eternity. It thus behooves us to use it wisely. If we’re smart, we’ll choose the permanent over the temporary: the Word of God—that which “stands forever”—is none other than Yahshua the Messiah (see John 1). If we are in Him, and He in us, we will have transcended the “flesh” stage (being “born of water,” as Yahshua put it in John 3:5), and will have been re-born—born from above—in the Spirit of God. We will have been transformed from petunias into oak trees, so to speak.
Another psalm from David explains: “As for man, his days are like grass. As a flower of the field, so he flourishes. For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But the mercy of Yahweh is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children, to such as keep His covenant, and to those who remember His commandments to do them.” (Psalm 103:15-18) Once again, we see the temporary contrasted with the permanent, the petunia compared to the oak tree. The transformation is characterized as both “mercy” and “righteousness.” And how may this blessed state be attained? By “keeping His covenant” and “remembering His commandments.” It sounds at first blush to be a program of good works, but it’s not. In both the Torah and the Gospels, these things are said to boil down to two related concepts: Love Yahweh, and demonstrate that love by loving your fellow man.
And where does faith (the raw material of righteousness—see Genesis 15:6) enter the picture? Ask yourself: is it possible to love God if you don’t even believe He exists or that He wants to share a personal relationship with you? That’s the essence of the Covenant. And doing His Commandments? How did Christ define the work of God? “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.” (John 6:29) Faith then—trusting belief—is the foundation of love, and love (as wielded by Yahweh) is what makes our impermanent grass-like lives eternal.
Eternal? The very concept is (to us) theoretical at best, for we are children of time. But there was a time before which time did not exist. Physicists tell us that time and space, and matter and energy, are relative concepts—one cannot exist independently of the others, and they came into existence together. The very first verse in the Bible states this truth: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1) Here, Yahweh has described relativity, along with the revelation that He (not blind chance) brought them all into being in a single creative act. Furthermore, the forces He instituted that enable the material universe to function—gravity, electromagnetism, and the weak and strong nuclear forces—are all balanced on a razor’s edge: evidence of extremely intelligent design.
But what is eternity, if not a state in which time does not pass? I’m no physicist, but if my observations are valid, it implies that space, matter, and energy (as we know them) will also cease to exist (in any form we’d recognize) in the eternal state. According to General Relativity, you cannot have space/time without matter/energy, so if one element (time) goes, the whole thing goes.
Will we cease to exist as well? It depends. Ask yourself: what existed before God created the heavens and the earth? Only God Himself, that we know of—the realm of the Spirit (something only hinted at in scripture). So when time is replaced by the eternal state, all that will be left is the kind of thing that existed before creation: the attributes of God—life, love, righteousness, and spirit (which I’d take to include volition—the creative nature). Thus only if our souls have been “born again” into God’s Spiritual nature—only if we have become, during our brief lifetimes, something more than mere flesh and blood, but spiritual beings as well—will we continue to exist in the eternal state.
This doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t have any corporeal existence, nor will the “new earth” be any less “real” than the present one—only different. The only clue we have been given as to how it will all work is the historical record we have concerning the resurrection body of Christ. While radically dissimilar to His old mortal body, it still functioned perfectly in the present earth. It had “flesh and bones” (see Luke 24:39), but it was not subject to the laws of physics and thermodynamics as we know them, having the ability to pass through walls and “teleport” to different locations instantaneously. The risen Messiah could eat food and communicate verbally with mortals—He wasn’t only Spirit. But He could also cloak His identity and vanish from sight at will.
Christ is called the “firstfruits of the dead” in I Corinthians 15:20—the same passage that most fully describes the transformation from mortal into immortal that defines the “rapture of the church.” If I’m reading this correctly, the raptured saints will inhabit the same kind of resurrection body in which Christ was raised—immortal, and built for the eternal state. The bottom line: we serve a God so awesome, He has the authority and ability to re-write the laws of physics that govern time, space, matter, and energy in our present world. If your god can’t do that, He’s not the real thing.
A psalm by Moses (the writer of the Creation narrative) points out how Yahweh is fundamentally different from us in relation to time. “For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night. You carry them [in context, the “children of men”] away like a flood. They are like a sleep. In the morning they are like grass which grows up. In the morning it flourishes and grows up. In the evening it is cut down and withers.” (Psalm 90:4-6) And it isn’t just our flesh that is impermanent. Everything God created is in the same boat. We may seem to be green and flourishing now, but without being one with Yahweh’s Holy Spirit, we cannot remain alive (or even extant) indefinitely. It’s just not how we’re built.
Peter put the same thought like this: “But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” Just as Moses said. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance….” He too (if we stop and think about it) reveals the true meaning of the Sabbath Law—that each of the six “days” of man’s work are to be one thousand years in duration, followed by our Sabbath rest, Christ’s Millennial Kingdom (see Revelation 20:1-6). Also, both Moses and Peter make sideways references to the fact that God is on a pre-determined schedule. He cannot be rushed or delayed.
And Peter goes on to describe (in first-century terminology) the eternal state of which I spoke—in which space/time and matter/energy as we know them have ceased to be—replaced with something too wonderful for human comprehension: the eternal state. “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night [there goes time], in which the heavens [space] will pass away with a great noise, and the elements [matter] will melt with fervent heat [energy]; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up [transformed from one state into another]. Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (II Peter 3:8-13) Time as we know it will pass no more, and space, matter, and energy will all be transformed into something we can’t even imagine in our present state.
I like trees. My study’s window looks out onto a forest, and over my lifetime, I have planted dozens of trees. So I love what Isaiah said: “For you shall go out with joy, and be led out with peace. The mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing before you, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:12) That being said, there is a phrase that pops up again and again in the Hebrew Scriptures that associates trees with idolatrous practice. When the prophets speak of worshiping “under every green tree,” it’s not a good thing, for it implies the veneration of some god other than Yahweh. “Sacred” groves, as it turns out, were an integral part of pagan rituals. The idea was, these were “fertility” cults, and the green trees were a ready symbol for “nature’s fecundity.”
Before they even entered the Promised Land, Israel was warned not to adopt the pagan practices they would encounter in their new home, not to blend the worship of Yahweh with the ways of the world, and not to make use of pagan venues or facilities in the worship of the true God. “These are the statutes and judgments which you shall be careful to observe in the land which Yahweh, God of your fathers, is giving you to possess, all the days that you live on the earth. You shall utterly destroy all the places where the nations which you shall dispossess served their gods, on the high mountains and on the hills and under every green tree….” The word translated “green” here is raanan, which actually means luxuriant, fresh, or overspreading—the color is almost incidental. Arboreal species specifically mentioned in scripture in this context are oaks, terebinths, and poplars. If you’ll recall, we studied oaks and terebinth trees in Volume 3 of this work as being symbolic of death or dormancy.
These pagan worship groves were typically situated on or near hilltops, where the breezes conjured up images of demonic spirits. (Remember, ruach means both spirit and wind). “And you shall destroy their altars, break their sacred pillars, and burn their wooden images with fire; you shall cut down the carved images of their gods and destroy their names from that place. You shall not worship Yahweh your God with such things.” (Deuteronomy 12:1-4) Everything associated with pagan worship, whether manmade or naturally occurring, was to be destroyed. You couldn’t remove a mountain or cut down entire forest, of course, but you could render such places unsuitable for the veneration of the Canaanites’ false gods.
Pagan practice had been adopted (or retained) on a local basis sporadically throughout the four-hundred-year age of the Judges. Whenever it happened, Yahweh would “sell” Israel into the hands of her oppressors until the people woke up, repented, and cried out to Him for a deliverer. The monarchy did reasonably well in this regard for the first century or so, but Solomon (Israel’s third king, who had been so wise in his youth) began to let things slide in his old age—apparently bending to pressure from his foreign wives (whom the Torah had specifically warned him not to take). As a result, the kingdom was split in two upon Solomon’s death. The ten northern tribes (collectively known as Israel, Ephraim, or Samaria) never had a single God-fearing king from that point forward. And the southern kingdom (Judah, with its ally Benjamin) got off to a bad start with Solomon’s spoiled, foolish son Rehoboam on the throne:
“Now Judah [under King Rehoboam] did evil in the sight of Yahweh, and they provoked Him to jealousy with their sins which they committed, more than all that their fathers had done….” Note that it wasn’t just the king, but the whole nation who fell (or jumped) into idolatry. It is my experience that God often gives nations leaders who reflect their propensity to honor Him—or not. That being said, a single “king” can also go a long way toward turning an entire nation around, for better or for worse: compare Judah’s Josiah to America’s Trump—but also compare Judah’s Manasseh to America’s Obama.
Under Rehoboam, Judah fell right back into the old pagan practices of the nations who had been evicted from the Land: “For they also built for themselves high places, sacred pillars, and wooden images on every high hill and under every green tree.” And here, we are given some insight into what the groves were used for: ritual sex. “And there were also perverted persons in the land. They did according to all the abominations of the nations which Yahweh had cast out before the children of Israel.” (I Kings 14:21-24; cf. II Kings 17:11) Ritual prostitution—both male and female—was a central part of these pagan rites: they were fertility cults, after all.
And what happened to the children who were conceived in these religious orgies? Many of them were sacrificed as burnt offerings to such false gods as Ba’al, Molech, and Chemosh. A couple of centuries after Rehoboam’s wickedness, “Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem; and he did not do what was right in the sight of Yahweh, as his [ancestor] David had done. For he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made molded images for the Baals. He burned incense in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and burned his children in the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom Yahweh had cast out before the children of Israel. And he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree.” (II Chronicles 28:1-4; cf. II Kings 16:2-4) The “Valley of the Son of Hinnom” is also known (in the Greek) as Gehenna. Situated just south of Jerusalem, it was where the innocents were burned alive in honor of Moloch. In later times it served as the city’s trash dump, a place of perpetual fires. So we should not be surprised to note that Yahshua used “Gehenna” as a euphemism for hell.
And before you cluck your tongue at the utter barbarity of the practice of child sacrifice in the name of false gods, prosperity, and free sex in ancient Israel, be aware that the practice of Moloch worship is stronger than ever today: only the names have changed. In 2019, 42.4 million children were aborted worldwide, almost 900,000 of them in America, the country that fancies itself the last bastion of Christian morality on earth. Worldwide, 22% of all pregnancies end in abortion—that’s almost one child in four! And we wonder why Yahweh is angry with humanity.
Prophet after prophet rails against Israel because of their idolatry, and time after time, “under every green tree” is identified as one of the places where their betrayal is perpetrated: “For of old I have broken your yoke and burst your bonds, and you said, ‘I will not transgress,’ when on every high hill and under every green tree you lay down, playing the harlot.” (Jeremiah 2:20; cf. Jeremiah 3:6) “But come here, you sons of the sorceress, you offspring of the adulterer and the harlot! Whom do you ridicule? Against whom do you make a wide mouth and stick out the tongue? Are you not children of transgression, offspring of falsehood, inflaming yourselves with gods under every green tree, slaying the children in the valleys, under the clefts of the rocks?” (Isaiah 57:3-5) “Then you shall know that I am Yahweh, when their slain are among their idols all around their altars, on every high hill, on all the mountaintops, under every green tree, and under every thick oak, wherever they offered sweet incense to all their idols. So I will stretch out My hand against them and make the land desolate.” (Ezekiel 6:13-14) Israel indeed became desolate in the wake of their idolatrous practices. But remember, “Israel” is symbolic in scripture for “all of humanity.” What is true for her is equally true in principle for the rest of us.
Tying the concepts of sin’s “venue” (our propensity to sin against God when the conditions seem fortuitous, as in Israel’s idolatry) to that of green’s intrinsic impermanence, we note that green is often seen in the same context as judgment. That is, what was once green, luxuriant, and alive, will become blighted, burned, and dead if Yahweh ceases to bless it. So we eavesdrop on Job’s “miserable comforter” Eliphaz, who says, “Let [the wicked man] not trust in futile things, deceiving himself, for futility will be his reward. It will be accomplished before his time, and his branch will not be green.” (Job 15:31-32) He was quite right in his general observation, but (in context) wrong to attribute Job’s misfortunes to personal wickedness. In this life, one’s fortunes are not necessarily linked to his righteousness. Not every trial is the direct result of iniquity.
We have already seen how Israel and Judah were guilty of idolatrous practices “under every green tree.” They failed to realize that the very “greenness” of the Land had been a blessing from Yahweh—and He was prepared to wither Israel like dead grass if that’s what it would take to get their attention. “What has My beloved to do in My house, having done lewd deeds with many? And the holy flesh has passed from you. When you do evil, then you rejoice. Yahweh called your name: Green Olive Tree, Lovely and of Good Fruit. With the noise of a great tumult He has kindled fire on it, and its branches are broken. For Yahweh of hosts, who planted you, has pronounced doom against you for the evil of the house of Israel and of the house of Judah, which they have done against themselves to provoke Me to anger in offering incense to Baal.” (Jeremiah 11:15-17) Note that the things we do to provoke Yahweh to anger are actually crimes against ourselves. Again, I can’t help but hear a stern warning to America here.
In the Trumpet Judgments of Revelation, it all gets very real, even if it is still in the future: “The first angel sounded: And hail and fire followed, mingled with blood, and they were thrown to the earth. And a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.” (Revelation 8:7) That’s not a bad description of widespread thermonuclear war, in first-century language. John is describing what will take place on earth during the seven-year Tribulation—that is, sometime after the restraining influence of the Holy Spirit is removed from the earth via the rapture of the church. I find it ironic that the earth-worshiping extreme environmentalists today who are willing to decimate humanity in order to “save the planet” will see the green goodness of our world go up in smoke before their very eyes. The glory of creation’s “greenness” will be revealed to have been a gift—not a god.
Normally, locusts clear the earth of all the green growing things in their path. But by the time this happens, there will precious little left to eat: “Then the fifth angel sounded. And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth. To him was given the key to the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace. So the sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke of the pit. Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth. And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.” (Revelation 9:1-4) In Volume 3, we learned that the symbolic theme of locusts is destruction, as grass is metaphorical of intrinsic impermanence. But here we are taken straight to the bottom line: just as locusts normally devour green living things, so too are men who are not sealed by God inevitably destined for destruction. They may fancy themselves to be alive and growing (they call it “evolving,” for some reason), but without the Spirit of their Creator dwelling within them, they are as good as dead.
Israel is, as I said, a symbolic microcosm of the whole human race. We gentiles would be wise to watch Israel, heed what God says to her, and avoid making the same blunders she has. The biggest blunder of them all, of course, was the rejection and crucifixion of Yahshua the Messiah while praying, “His blood be upon us and our children.” As He was being led out to Golgotha, Christ warned Israel of what was about to happen to them, in response to what was being done to Him: “And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him. But Jesus, turning to them, said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For indeed the days are coming in which they will say, “Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!” Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” [Review the Sixth Seal judgment: Revelation 6:16.] For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?’” (Luke 23:27-31) Since Eden, the “wood” of the world has never been quite as “green” as when Yahshua ministered in Israel. But when Israel rejected the Author of Life, they should not have been surprised to find that death was all they had left. Within a generation, Rome had destroyed Jerusalem. A million Jews died, and another 97,000 were sold into slavery.
So Yahweh says through His prophet, “I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face. In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me…. Come, and let us return to Yahweh, for He has torn, but He will heal us. He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us. On the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight. Let us know; let us pursue the knowledge of Yahweh. His going forth is established as the morning. He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth.” (Hosea 5:15-6:1-3) Israel was to suffer “affliction” because of their “offense” (their rejection of Yahshua). How long was this national punishment to last? Remarkably, it wasn’t to be permanent—Yahweh was not casting them off forever—but “only” for two days—that is, two thousand years (if you’ll recall the formula revealed above by both Moses and Peter).
Even more remarkably, Israel can expect to be “revived”—brought back to a state of luxuriant, verdant growth through Yahweh’s “latter rain” on “the third day,” that is, the third one-thousand-year period following their “offense.” When? Christ’s passion took place in 33 AD. You do the math.
Judgment then, does not necessarily result in a death sentence: in this case, Yahweh decreed for Israel a two-thousand-year “blight.” But after this period of “tearing” and “striking,” the nation would be restored to favor. The reason for this restoration—this re-greening of Israel—is stated in the text: they will finally “acknowledge their offence,” something Israel (as a nation) has never yet done. Yet although their two-thousand-year prison sentence still (as of this writing) has a few years left to run, God has placed the still-unrepentant nation into a “half-way house,” so to speak: they have been repatriated to the Land of Promise in anticipation of their prophetically certain future spiritual epiphany. In Ezekiel 37, the process is described as slowly coming back to life from the dead.
In both Hebrew and Greek, the Biblical words denoting “judgment” don’t mean condemnation so much as they do separation, the result of judicial decision. So we see in scripture a contrast between good from evil, of saved from lost, and of “sheep” from “goats.” Of course, since we’re all guilty of violating the Divine Judge’s standard, condemnation is our common fate—or it would be, were it not for the redeeming (i.e., “buying back”) and atoning (read: “covering”) sacrifice of Christ. Judgment, in the end, is the separation of those who gratefully receive this gift of forgiveness from those who choose not to.
Twice, David uses the concept of “greenness” to mark this contrast between the saved and the lost. First, he notes green’s quality of impermanence. “I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a native green tree. Yet he passed away, and behold, he was no more. Indeed I sought him, but he could not be found.” (Psalm 37:35-36) Trees, like people, have a lifespan—they live, and then they die. No matter how tall and proud a tree is in its prime, it is just as “mortal” as a man who does not honor God.
On the other hand, trees are not all created equal. The typical forest oak, maple, or poplar can live a couple of hundred years. But I was recently saddened to learn that the pretty River Birch in my front yard is considered “elderly” at the ripe old age of fifteen. Olive trees though, besides being one of the fastest-germinating arboreal species out there, can live thousands of years—there are olive trees in Jerusalem that were thriving when Yahshua walked its streets. So David notes the contrast: “The righteous also shall see and fear, and shall laugh at him [the wicked man who boasts in his evil], saying, ‘Here is the man who did not make God his strength, but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness.’ [In other words, this is the same guy he talked about in the other Psalm, proudly spreading himself like a native green tree.] But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever.” (Psalm 52:6-8) Not only is the olive tree a very long-lived tree, it is the source of olive oil—a consistent and symbolically significant scriptural metaphor for the Spirit of God.
Blessing and Restoration
Notwithstanding the fact that “greenness” is metaphorical of impermanence—of a transient nature in this world—when the immortal/eternal state is considered, it is clear that this state of freshness and verdant life can be maintained forever. Remember, when Yahweh finished the Creation we know, He called it “very good.” We are about to learn that was “very good” about our mortal lives will (or at least can) follow us into eternity, even though what we ruined in God’s Creation will not. Once again, judgment—that is, separation—is the key.
In a clearly Millennial passage (the final chapter of the book of Isaiah), the “conditions” for our perpetual greening are laid down: “When you see [peace restored to Jerusalem], your heart shall rejoice, and your bones shall flourish like grass.” (Isaiah 66:14) This must be balanced against what we already know of the present age: that “all flesh is grass”—doomed to wither and die. The thoughts are not contradictory—they’re complementary. Restoration in the end is dependent on the physical presence of King Yahshua. Isaiah is saying the same thing Hosea did above: “On the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.” Being “raised up” by the Messiah is equivalent to attaining the state of perpetual “greenness” that eludes us in this fallen world.
Sickness and sorrow will cease to be: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing.” And it’s not just our bodies that will be refreshed, but the whole Land: “For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. The parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water. In the habitation of jackals, where each lay, there shall be grass with reeds and rushes.” (Isaiah 35:5-7) In context, both Isaiah and Hosea have been speaking specifically of the Land of Israel during Christ’s Millennial Kingdom. But I have no reason to doubt that generally speaking, the whole world will recover beautifully from the trauma of the Tribulation. After the “separation of the sheep from the goats” (see Matthew 25:31-46) the earth’s ecology will be restored wherever King Yahshua is honored—which in the beginning will be everywhere. However, there are hints (e.g. Zechariah 14:16-19) that as the Millennial populations proliferate, some nations (Egypt, for example) might forsake the mandatory practice of celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles—the punishment for which will be drought.
Generally, though, the post-Tribulation world and its inhabitants will look like this: “Blessed is the man who trusts in Yahweh, and whose hope is Yahweh. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes, but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8) This applies to Jews and gentiles alike. And be aware that what we erroneously refer to as “the ten lost tribes” will be included within Israel—they’re not “lost” to Yahweh. The northern kingdom (referred to historically as Samaria, Israel, or Ephraim) is specifically mentioned by Hosea: “Ephraim shall say, ‘What have I to do anymore with idols?’ I have heard and observed him. I am like a green cypress tree. Your fruit is found in Me.” (Hosea 14:8; cf. Ezekiel 37:15-28) Apparently, nothing is impossible for our God.
But none of this would be possible were it not for the restoring work of Christ. Moses writes, “Let my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, as raindrops on the tender herb, and as showers on the grass. For I proclaim the name of Yahweh: Ascribe greatness to our God.” (Deuteronomy 32:2-3) What are Moses’ “teachings” and his “speech”? Basically, they’re the Law, the Torah. But the point of the Torah (as I’ve said till I’m blue in the face) is for Israel to act out, as if in pantomime, what the Messiah would accomplish in the earth—and for the gentiles to observe them, and thus learn what reconciliation with the Creator is all about. The Torah, taken as a whole, brings life and growth: “greenness,” in our present metaphor. It is neither pointless religious mumbo-jumbo, nor an impossibly heavy burden that must be carried in order to earn God’s favor.
The last words of David included this description of the ideal ruler: “The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spoke to me: ‘He who rules over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. And he shall be like the light of the morning when the sun rises, a morning without clouds, like the tender grass springing out of the earth, by clear shining after rain.’” (II Samuel 23:3-4) David knew how far he had fallen short of this picture of perfection, as great as he was. But his own descendant—Yahshua—was prophesied to personify this very ideal. He will reign in perfect justice; Yahweh will be honored (mostly because Yahshua is Yahweh); the light of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding will characterize His kingdom; and life will return to the earth in verdant abundance that hasn’t been seen on this planet since Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden of Eden.
The best of our earthly experience will pale in the face of what Yahweh has prepared for us who honor Him: “Yahweh is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of Yahweh forever.” (Psalm 23)
I get the feeling that we have no idea—yet—what “green” really looks like.
White: Cleansed and Pure
Sometimes, a color is just a color—the local hue of things that appear in nature. Several common Old Testament words are based on the concept of “whiteness” (Hebrew: laban). Lebanon is literally “the white mountain,” named for its snow. And frankincense is the Hebrew lebona, so named because it is made from the milky-white sap of the Boswellia tree.
The Hebrew lexicons draw a distinction between the adjective laban (white) and the verb laban (also spelled laben), meaning “to be white.” As described in the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, laban (the adjective) “describes goats (Gen. 30:35), peeled wood (Gen 30:37), manna (Ex. 16:31), horses (Zech 1:8, 6:3), milk (Gen. 49:12), and the infection of leprosy (Lev 13). Its theological significance is relatively limited.” Or counterintuitive: both goats and leprosy are symbolic, on some level, of sin—the antithesis of (or the condition that requires) purification. It is all reminiscent of the fact that the Hebrew words for “sin” and “sin offering” are almost identical.
On the other hand, the related verb laben is another story. TWOT says: “Its major theological motif relates whiteness to moral purity. The cleaning which God brings to the sinner makes the sinner white….” Since our purpose here is to sort out Yahweh’s symbolic use of colors, I will try to focus the discussion on passages that clearly establish the metaphor: white represents a state of purity, of having been cleansed.
So we read the words of King David, having confronted and repented from his sin with Bathsheba: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.” The word translated “purge” here is chata, related (as I noted above) to both sin and the sin offering. “Purify” (as in the NASB) would be clearer. The picture is reminiscent of the Israelites applying the blood of the Passover lamb to their doorposts with a humble sprig of hyssop (Exodus 12:22). Note that this purification is something God must do for us (in response to our contrition); we cannot achieve this state through our own efforts. “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” And the results that can be expected to accrue from this cleansing? Joy, healing, and forgiveness: “Make me hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.” (Psalm 51:7-11) Best of all, if we’ve been made white and pure, the Holy Spirit dwelling within us can work freely, empowering us to do the will of God without obstruction.
A verse we’ve seen before (in reference to “red”) contrasts scarlet and crimson with pure white. “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ says Yahweh, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.’” (Isaiah 1:18) Red, as we have seen, represents blood and bloodshed—the most obvious of our sins. Here we are informed that a total transformation is possible: from bloody crime to purity before God. But how? The translation “reason together” can be a bit misleading. TWOT explains: “The most familiar passage where yakah occurs is in Isaiah 1:18, which is within a covenant lawsuit. Following a record of rebellion where Yahweh, the plaintiff, condemns Judah for their self-designated religious festivals, Isaiah Issues a call to repentance. Within this context then, we should understand the expression ‘let us reason together’ as meaning, ‘let us debate our case in court.’” Reproof and chastening are in order, for we are surely guilty. A decision (on our part) is necessary; a judgment must be made: are we to continue in our sins, or will we choose to allow Yahweh to cleanse us, to make us white and pure?
The idea of our blood-red sins becoming pure-white righteousness is counterintuitive enough. But it’s not just the transformation that’s amazing; it’s also the mechanism of that transformation. We read of the “Laodicean” saints of the Tribulation—those who came to faith after the rapture and subsequently died in the trials of the times. The scene is in heaven: “Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, ‘Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?’” Our garments, you’ll recall, are symbolic of “how God sees us.” “And I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ So he said to me, ‘These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb….” We would expect blood to stain our garments, but in this case, the stain of sin is removed by washing our filthy robes in blood—not just any blood, of course, but the innocent atoning blood of Yahshua the Messiah, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
And what is the status of these belatedly repentant believers? Are they second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God because they came late to the party? No. “Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:13-17) That’s very special place to be, but they did not attain the place of the Messiah’s honored servants through simple faith alone, and certainly not through religious observance or theological orthodoxy.
No, their Millennial status is revealed by Christ’s admonition to the Church of Laodicea (who began, you’ll recall, as a people so lukewarm and non-committal, they made Yahshua want to puke). These are they who followed His advice: “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” (Revelation 3:18-21) “Overcoming” implies “putting feet” to your faith—obeying Yahweh even when the whole world is demanding that you betray Him, just as Christ was obedient on our behalf.
Yahshua counsels the Laodiceans to do three things. “Buying gold refined in the fire” is subjecting oneself to the crucible of persecution and adversity in the name of Christ during the Tribulation—up to and including martyrdom. “Anointing one’s eyes with salve” is coming to see the truth, despite the lies the world incessantly shows you. And (the admonition germane to our present subject of study) “buying white garments” is becoming clothed with imputed righteousness—grace through faith again: “And [Abraham] believed in Yahweh, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6, cf. Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23) Faith is always the key to salvation—even for the post-rapture Laodiceans, who are specifically instructed to back up their faith with courage and wisdom. Yahshua specifically says “Buy (acquire) these things from Me.” That is, He is the source of the heavenly riches, the imputed righteousness, and the ability to discern the truth.
The Laodicean letter was the last of seven, listed in Revelation 2 and 3, that describe the progression of predominant profiles of Christ’s people throughout the church age (though all seven have been relevant the entire time). Two other churches on the list also have “white” components promised to those who “overcome.”
The third letter was addressed to Pergamos, the church characterized by its compromise with the world. Yahshua says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” (Revelation 2:17) The “white stone” here refers to the ancient custom of indicating a judicial decision with either a white stone or a black one. A white pebble meant the defendant had been found innocent, and was acquitted. A black stone signaled that a guilty verdict had been rendered and punishment was due (reflected in the more current term, “blackballing”).
The reference to “writing the name” of the defendant on the stone personalizes the whole procedure. We are not condemned or vindicated on the basis of being part of any demographic group, whether ethnicity, religious affiliation, or nationality. Rather, we as individuals are judged. Of course, in reality, each of us is guilty of falling short of God’s perfect standard—and we ought to know it. So (rhetorical question…) we can’t really be acquitted under our old mortal names, can we? That is why Yahshua gives us a new name to identify us as a new creation: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (II Corinthians 5:17) That’s how justice works in a world ruled by Love Personified.
The fifth church on Yahshua’s mailing list was Sardis—described in the letter as having a good reputation, but in reality being as good as dead. The “white” component, once again, is the clothing symbol: “You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments, and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” (Revelation 3:4-5) Since “garments” are a symbolic indicator of “how God sees us,” the contrast here is between being “defiled” and being “cleansed.” And lest there should be any confusion, this is the same distinction as being either lost or saved, because only those who have accepted the white garments of imputed righteousness will see their names retained in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
This isn’t just “pie in the sky when you die” (as the atheists like to characterize our view of salvation). Solomon points out that the benefits of salvation are a present and ongoing reality for Yahweh’s children: “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already accepted your works. Let your garments always be white, and let your head lack no oil.” (Ecclesiastes 9:7-8) Balance this against Isaiah’s admonition: “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6) The distinction is subtle, but important: our righteous acts—those done in our own strength and for our own glory—are like the defiled garments of unrepentant Sardis. But if our garments are white—if we are “wearing” the righteous acts of Christ as we walk through this present world—then “God has already accepted our works,” for the works are actually His. If that doesn’t light your fire, your wood’s all wet.
Daniel 11 (written in 539 BC) is a passage that drives the prophecy deniers nuts, providing a remarkably accurate picture of the reign of the Greeks over Israel after the conquest by Alexander the Great—centuries after Daniel lived. Specifically, it speaks of the evil done by the Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who sacrificed a sow on the altar of the temple (c.167 BC) and demanded that the Jews worship Zeus: it was the prototypical Abomination of Desolation, and it precipitated a revolt in which the Maccabees eventually succeeded in cleansing the temple. “And those of the people who understand shall instruct many; yet for many days they shall fall by sword and flame, by captivity and plundering. Now when they fall, they shall be aided with a little help; but many shall join with them by intrigue. And some of those of understanding shall fall, to refine them, purify them, and make them white, until the time of the end; because it is still for the appointed time.” (Daniel 11:33-35)
As the prophecy states, it was to be a good news-bad news story. Yes, the Maccabees brought spiritual revival (“whiteness”) to Israel in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah, but they also created an atmosphere in which the rabbinical system—and especially the party of the Pharisees—could thrive. Within a century after the Passion, the rabbis under Akiba would gain ascendency over the corrupt priestly class, divorcing Judaism from Christianity altogether and dooming Israel to two millennia of God’s punishment—precisely as the prophet Hosea (in 6:1-2) had predicted.
The Daniel 11 passage then morphs seamlessly into Last Days prophecy, specifically concerning the Antichrist, who will perpetrate his own abomination of Desolation—as mentioned by Christ in the Olivet Discourse (see Matthew 24:15, Mark 13:14; cf. II Thessalonians 2:3-4, Daniel 9:27). Poor Daniel didn’t understand a word of what the angel Michael was telling him, but he dutifully wrote it all down for our edification. So the angel put his mind to rest, saying in so many words, “This information isn’t for you or your generation, Daniel, but for the faithful living in another time.” “And [Michael] said, ‘Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. Many shall be purified, made white, and refined, but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand.’” (Daniel 12:9-10)
Since (according to Solomon) reverence for Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom, many of us living in these last days do understand—all too well—which means that the “time of the end” must be practically upon us. We can see that God is dividing the world into two camps: those who are His (i.e., we who are “being purified, made white, and refined”), and the “wicked,” those who have rejected godly wisdom—who have no understanding of the spiritual war in which they are participants, fighting for the losing side. When I was a kid growing up, it was relatively easy (at least in America and Europe) to “sit on the fence,” to “have a form of godliness while denying His power,” as Paul described it to Timothy. But today, half a century later, this pretense is no longer plausible. That is, faux Christianity no longer fools anybody: the apostasy is obvious to anyone with his eyes open. You can call yourself a “Christian” or an “Evangelical” all you like, but if you embrace satanic causes like homosexuality or abortion, and if you deny the necessity of faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice, you have declared yourself to be an enemy to God—in Daniel’s words, wicked and without understanding.
In Hebrew, the word for “white” is tied to the environment—the natural color of sheep, or linen, or snow. But in Greek, the word translated “white” is more conceptual in nature. It’s the adjective leukos, describing a bright, brilliant, dazzling shade of white, less indicative of what artists call “local color” and more evocative of light itself.
Of course, there are instances of the whites of nature in the Greek scriptures, but even here, leukos invariably speaks of contrast or change—a progression toward maturity, as in a man’s hair becoming white with age (and presumed wisdom), or a grain crop growing ripe and ready for harvesting.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Yahshua said, “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37) We must view this in light of the Torah’s precept: “You shall fear Yahweh your God and serve Him, and shall take oaths in His name.” (Deuteronomy 6:12-13) Yahshua’s point is that total honesty before God and man should be our natural state: we should not appeal to extraneous factors (short of reverence for our Creator) to bolster our sagging credibility. Even “swearing on a stack of Bibles” is pointless if one is not prepared to speak the truth in love, in season and out of season. His example of hair color—black vs. white—is a case in point: you cannot provide for yourself either the enthusiasm of youth or the wisdom of old age, for these things are merely gifts from God. Just be truthful, for Yahweh is Truth.
Another example: “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” (John 4:35) Here “whiteness” is a euphemism for “being ready.” He’s saying, “Do not presume that conditions need to be ideal in order for people to receive the Good News of God’s salvation. Our job is not to plan, scheme, calculate, or strategize. It is merely to preach the Gospel to every creature. What they do with it is between them and the Holy Spirit.
Most New Testament Greek references to “being white,” however, are a bit more spectacular. For instance: “Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain by themselves, and He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” (Matthew 17:1-2) “His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.” (Mark 9:3) “As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening.” (Luke 9:29) These are the Synoptics’ accounts of the Transfiguration of Christ—of His inner circle of disciples being given a pre-Passion glance at Yahshua’s actual glory, even while He was still clothed in mortal flesh.
As suggestive as this is, it is not exactly proof of Christ’s deity, though it is indisputably clear evidence that He had an intimate connection with Father Yahweh. (The resurrection, a bit later, would offer the undeniable proof we needed that Yahshua was Himself God in flesh.) As we shall see, angels (spirit messengers) often appear the same way: glowing brilliantly. And if you’ll recall, Moses’ skin shone when he received the Torah precepts from Yahweh, both on Mount Sinai and later in the tabernacle—so much so that he wore a veil over his face to keep the frightened elders of Israel from noticing that his glowing countenance was temporary—just as the Torah itself would prove to be (see Exodus 34:29-35; cf. II Corinthians 3:7-18).
Although Peter, James, and John briefly witnessed Yahshua’s luminescent transfiguration, the risen Christ appeared as an ordinary human being (i.e., not “shining like the sun”) during His many encounters with believing witnesses for forty days between His resurrection and ultimate ascension. His purpose was to interact with and instruct them, to offer “many infallible proofs” of the reality of His resurrection—not impress (or terrify) them. But on resurrection Sunday, the tomb was still being guarded by a squad of unbelieving soldiers: some spiritual theatrics were in order.
So although Yahshua had already left the tomb, an angel made quite a scene of opening up the burial cave and announcing the resurrection: “Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it.” One gets the feeling that the angel was really enjoying this. “His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow.” And he had a big grin on his face. (Okay, that’s a paraphrase.) “And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men.” (Matthew 28:1-4; cf. Mark 16:5, Luke 24:4, John 20:12) Angels don’t always “glow in the dark,” but when they do, it’s a fair bet that their purpose is to make an indelible impression on their audience. Although the guards (fearing for their lives) were not above accepting “a large sum of money” (see Matthew 28:11-15) as a bribe to hide the truth, and although they had fainted at the sight of the angel’s brilliance, they all knew what had really happened. It is telling that they reported to the “chief priests,” who, being Sadducees, didn’t “believe” in the existence of angels, or in miracles, or in the afterlife. Keeping Yahshua’s resurrection a secret wasn’t their only concern. Their whole mis-belief system was in jeopardy.
About six weeks later, after showing Himself alive to hundreds of His followers, Yahshua ascended at last into heaven. Again, He Himself did not appear as a shining or glowing being, but the angels assigned to explain His departure were described as wearing leukos (bright, brilliant, shining white) garments. “Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white [leukos] apparel, who also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.’” (Acts 1:9-11) Ordinary off-white linen or wool garments would not have been noteworthy, but these angels were “dressed to impress.”
Many of the instances of the Greek leukos are found in John’s apocalyptic vision, the Revelation of Jesus Christ. I would love to be able to tell you that in this final vision of things future, you could always tell who was on God’s side by his association with “white.” But that’s not exactly true. We have to take each instance on its own merit: Satan still masquerades as an angel of light. Fortunately, the context always tells the tale.
In the book’s introduction, John meets the One whom the vision is designed to reveal: “Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire. His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace... and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.” (Revelation 1:12-16) John had been a witness to the Transfiguration (as we saw above), but he had not described the scene in his Gospel. Here, he describes how the glorified Yahshua appeared to him in his vision. One gets the impression that human language doesn’t do justice to what he actually saw—and maybe that the Transfiguration had been but a pale hint of Christ’s actual glory.
After dealing with what was to happen during the church age (in Revelation 2 and 3), John was shown an open door in heaven, and was told “‘Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.’” The imagery is suggestive of the rapture of the church. “Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white [leukos] robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads.” (Revelation 4:2-4) God is on the throne, enveloped in light. The twenty-four elders, clothed in white robes, represent the believers of all previous ages, both Jew and gentile.
Because they sit on thrones in the place where God is, we can deduce several things: (1) they are no longer mortals, for sinful flesh (and we have all sinned) cannot endure in God’s direct presence. (2) They have been given immortal spiritual bodies, presumably like the one Yahshua inhabited after His resurrection. (3) Their white robes indicate a state of purity attained through trusting belief in the finished work of Christ—righteousness that has been imputed or assigned to them, the gift of God. The ramifications are stunning: the white robes of Christ’s purity enable us to dwell in the presence of Yahweh for eternity. There is no other way to attain this status. And (4) their golden crowns—symbolizing immutable purity—tell pretty much the same story as the white robes, adding two new factors: the purity is immutable, and the “crowns” (Greek stephanos—victors’ wreaths or garlands) declare that we have finished our race, and have been judged “winners.”
White horses are mentioned several times in Revelation. Horses in general, you’ll recall, are scripturally symbolic of military might; and white horses were cultural shorthand within the Roman Empire for invincibility in battle. But the first one we see in Revelation is wishful thinking, mere advertising hype, on the part of its rider. John sees the Lamb (the reigning Christ in heaven) open the first of seven seals on the scroll of final judgment, Revelation’s most generalized recounting of the Last Days events. “And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.” (Revelation 6:2) The rider would like the world to think he’s the Messiah, but subsequent events (war, famine, and death on an unprecedented scale) prove this to be the most grievous of errors: he is actually the Antichrist, a.k.a. the son of perdition, a.k.a. the man of sin. Though he presents himself (and eventually convinces most of the world) that he is invincible, his influence will endure only seven years, and his dictatorial power over the whole earth will last only half of that time. Any longer than that, and the human race would run the risk of going extinct.
We see the white robes of imputed righteousness again when the Lamb opens the fifth seal. “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar [i.e., in heaven] the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.” Note that John saw their “souls,” not their resurrection bodies. These are not raptured saints, but Tribulation martyrs, members of the “church of repentant Laodicea.” “And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.” (Revelation 6:9-11)
The circumstances place the fifth seal during the second half of the Tribulation—when the Antichrist is in complete control, willing to murder anyone he can find who refuses to take his “666” mark of the beast. But note: “those who dwell on the earth” (not just the Antichrist) are responsible for their deaths—meaning that their victims could have been slain for their new faith any time after the rapture. Hatred of Christ runs deep. I don’t know why. In any case, these “white robes” are the same imputed righteousness that has clothed every redeemed soul since Adam and Eve left the Garden.
The same group (the belatedly repentant “Laodicean” saints) are seen again in the next chapter—this time, apparently, in their totality. “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’…” Elsewhere, I have guessed (based on valid demographic statistics) that the living raptured saints will number a few hundred million, worldwide (out of a current global population of about seven and a half billion souls—roughly five percent). In other words, I’d surmise we will comprise a pitifully small group, befitting the “narrow way” of which Yahshua spoke, but there will easily be enough of us to be missed—enough to make the left-behind world wake up and tremble. From this passage, however, I get the distinct impression that the late-comers of Laodicea will outnumber the raptured saints of Philadelphia by an immense number, even though many of them will be martyred for their new-found faith. I certainly hope this observation is correct.
The scene, as before, is in heaven: “All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen.’ Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, ‘Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?’ And I said to him, ‘Sir, you know.’ So he said to me, ‘These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’” (Revelation 7:9-14) In other words, their robes (“how God sees them”) are made pure and white in exactly the same way for the late-to-the-party Tribulation saints as they were for every other believer who ever walked the planet—before or after Yahshua’s passion: trusting belief in Yahweh’s plan of redemption—whether or not they knew what that plan was. The Laodiceans’ martyrdom does not “earn them” their place in heaven. First, not all of them will perish during the Great Unpleasantness; and besides, they—like you and me—are not guiltless, so the shedding of their own blood would avail them nothing. Only the blood of the Lamb of God is able to make their robes “white.”
The next time we see white (leukos) used to describe something, it is a cloud upon which sits someone who wields an implement of judgment. “Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown [Greek stephanos—a victor’s garland], and in His hand a sharp sickle.” (Revelation 14:14) Clouds are often associated in scripture with either deity (e.g. Exodus 13:21, Luke 9:35) or angelic beings (e.g. Revelation 10:1). In this passage, I believe the reference is to Christ in His role as Judge and Eradicator of the world’s evil. The Victor’s “crown” reinforces this idea. Though angels appear to be “telling Him” what to do (“Thrust in Your sickle and reap…for the harvest of the earth is ripe”), I believe it’s more a case of them announcing to John what Yahshua was about to accomplish. In any case, the Judge with the sharp sickle is operating from a position of purity and guiltlessness: the cloud was “white.”
Back under the first “seal,” we saw Satan’s Antichrist trying to pass himself off as the world’s savior by riding a “white horse.” By the time we get near the end of the story, the One he was trying to impersonate is described using this same imagery. But this time, it’s real: “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God….”
This time there is no question as to the identity of the one riding the white horse of invincible purity: it is Yahshua, the one John himself had revealed as the “Word of God” [Greek: logos—a divine utterance or analogy embodying an idea or concept], the “Word who was God,” the “Word who became flesh” (John 1:1, 14), and the “Word of Life” (I John 1:1). Though His identity has remained constant, His name (indicative of His character and current mission) has now received an upgrade. Yahshua (a.k.a. Jesus) means “Yahweh is Salvation,” and He will always be that to us. But here He is seen as a Warrior, Judge, and King, returning to the world that largely rejected Him—a role He has never before taken on, though it was prophesied innumerable times in scripture. Now that Salvation has been offered and rejected, another side of Yahshua’s persona comes to light. We aren’t told, but maybe His new name means “Yahweh is Justice.”
The remarkable thing (at least to me) is that we raptured saints are also seen riding white horses here. That is, in addition to being given white garments of imputed righteousness to wear, we also get to “ride” invincible purity as we follow our Savior: “And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.” He will do this alone, according to Isaiah 63:3. Our battles have already been fought—and won. We raptured saints—the bride of Christ—are there as witnesses, not warriors. “And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Revelation 19:11-16) According to Pontius Pilate, the charge for which Yahshua was crucified was His being “King of the Jews.” Now He is revealed to be infinitely more than that—to be what the Antichrist could only covetously dream of: the ultimate King, the One to whom every knee will bow.
The last mention of “white” in the Bible refers to the ultimate seat of judgment: “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened….” Let us pay attention to the timeline here. This is after the Millennial reign of Christ, that is, after Satan has been bound for a thousand years and after his short-lived rebellion, testing the Millennial mortals. In short, at this point all of humanity’s redeemed have received their immortal, spiritual bodies (and are thus defined as “being alive”). These “dead” people, then, are by definition the lost.
The throne upon which God sits is “white,” implying (as usual) that absolute purity is the standard by which these souls are being judged. These “books” are the record of the thoughts, deeds, and beliefs of each individual. It matters not how “virtuous” the lost thought they were during their mortal lives. Since “all have sinned,” all of them will fail the test of living up to God’s standard of purity. Of course, all of the saved would have failed this litmus test as well, were it not for the atoning blood of Christ that covered our sins—our belief in its efficacy being counted as righteousness.
This belief—the basis of our imputed righteousness—is recorded in a book as well—called the Lamb’s Book of Life: “And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.” (Revelation 20:11-12) Basically then, the dead are judged according to their own works (which is what most of them were counting on), but the living saints have been “judged” according to Christ’s perfectly pure life—something we fallen mortals could never have achieved in our own strength.
But wait: if only “dead people” are summoned to stand before the Great White Throne, what issue is being decided there? After all, they’re all lost; they’re all headed for the lake of fire. “Anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15) The answer is ubiquitous in scripture, though it is almost invariably overlooked: there is a difference between death and damnation. For a full discussion, see The End of the Beginning, Chapter 29, “The Three Doors,” elsewhere on this website. It explains how a holy God can be both just and merciful at the same time. Hallelujah!
Gray: Old Age, Experience
Here’s one I can personally relate to, since I’ll turn 75 in a few weeks (if I live that long). It’s a color-concept mentioned only the Old Testament, referring to what happens to one’s hair as he or she grows old—it turns gray. (There is a word for “aged” in New Testament Greek, of course, but it is not related to the color of one’s hair.) The Hebrew noun is sebah, meaning “hoary head, old age, or gray hair,” and the related verb, “to be hoary,” is sib.
Since “hoary” is a word nobody uses anymore, I looked it up in a thesaurus. Its synonyms include: “age-old, antiquated, timeworn, aged, antique, elderly, old, old-fashioned, older, out-of-date, relic, rusty, and venerable.” Thanks, guys; I feel so much better. I once characterized it as “having lots of mileage on the oldometer.”
Old people don’t get much respect in this youth-obsessed world—it’s not like it used to be. But perhaps that’s because so many have also forgotten the commandment of God: “You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am Yahweh.” (Leviticus 19:32) I find it fascinating that Yahweh, our timeless Creator, links reverence for Himself with respect and honor for older men (and women, as we shall see). If we mortal humans are expected to have gained wisdom along with our long experience, then imagine how wise Yahweh—who is eternal, without beginning or end—must be by now.
On the other hand, “old” isn’t what it used to be either. The antediluvian patriarchs lived ten or twelve times longer than we typically do now. Adam lived 930 years. We aren’t told whether that’s his total lifespan, or if the clock started ticking only after he sinned. Seth lived 912 years. Enosh, his son, lived 905. Cainan made it to 910. His son Mahalalel, 895. Jared, 962. Enoch was raptured at the tender age of 365. His son Methuselah, however, lived longer than anyone else on record, dying in the same year as the flood at 969. Lamech died at 777. Rounding out the list of the first ten godly patriarchs was Noah, who upon seeing his entire world destroyed by the great flood, still lived to be 950 years old. Antediluvian men were still fathering children at hundreds of years of age; and we can only presume that their wives were centuries old when they reached menopause. But the Genesis record is careful to state in each case (except for Enoch), “and he died.” As descendants of Adam, they had all been born with a sin nature, making them (and us) subject to physical death. Presumably, they all had gray hair when they finally passed away.
By the way, the names of these ten godly patriarchs listed in Genesis 5 tell a story of their own—they reveal Yahweh’s plan for the salvation of the human race! I explained it in some detail in The Owner’s Manual, Volume 2, Chapter 13, Precept #932, elsewhere on this website, so I won’t repeat it all here. But the bottom line is what the names mean: “The ten names from Genesis 5 together form a comprehensive thought, one that explains our human condition and Yahweh’s solution for it: ‘Mankind…(is) appointed…(to) mortal frailty…(and) sorrow…(but) the Light of God…shall come down…(being) dedicated…(and) His death shall bring…(His) disciples…rest.’”
The people born after the great flood didn’t live as long as those before. We can only speculate as to why this is. It has been suggested that the antediluvian world was shielded by a water vapor canopy that collapsed during the deluge, leaving the post-flood world a very different place. Not only were seasonal temperature swings now vastly exaggerated (Genesis 8:22), the earth would also have been left vulnerable to increased bombardment by cosmic rays and gamma rays, compromising the human genome and gradually truncating our life spans in the process.
Whatever caused the shortening of our lives, eleven generations after Noah (who had lived to the age of 950), Abram (Abraham) was told by Yahweh, “Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age [sebah—literally, ‘when your hair is gray’].” (Genesis 15:15) But how long was that expected to be? We read that it was considered remarkable when he conceived a child at the age of 99. (Isaac was born when Abe was 100, and his mother Sarah was 90.) Sarah died at the age of 127, after which Abraham then fathered several more children with Keturah, his wife/concubine (both descriptions are used of her). But the “good old age” he was promised didn’t remotely approach the ages of the antediluvian patriarchs: “This is the sum of the years of Abraham’s life which he lived: one hundred and seventy-five years. Then Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people.” (Genesis 25:7-8)
And speaking of longevity, half a millennium after Abraham, his descendant Moses (who lived to the age of 120) was recruited as the world’s first actuary, writing, “The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow, for it is soon cut off, and we fly away….” And the bottom line? “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:10, 12) If nothing else, that first gray hair we see in the mirror should remind us loud and clear that we are mortal—and that only a familial alliance with the Eternal One can extricate us from our lethal predicament.
The passage of time is not the only thing that can bring our mortality to the forefront of our consciousness. Profound grief can do the same thing. When Jacob was presented with the false evidence of his son Joseph’s death, his mourning drove him halfway to the grave. “And he recognized [the ‘coat of many colors’] and said, ‘It is my son’s tunic. A wild beast has devoured him. Without doubt Joseph is torn to pieces.’ Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days. And all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and he said, ‘For I shall go down into the grave to my son in mourning.’ Thus his father wept for him.” (Genesis 37:33-35) We get the distinct impression that the ten brothers who had conspired to rid themselves of Joseph’s annoying presence (by selling him into slavery in Egypt, and then blaming his demise on a hungry lion) had miscalculated—and underestimated—the devastating effect the news of his demise would have on their father. If Jacob’s hair had not been gray with age already, the report would have turned it so out of sheer inconsolable grief. It’s the kind of “experience” nobody wants to gain.
We must bear in mind the relationship Joseph shared with Jacob: he was the firstborn son of Rachel, the only woman his father ever truly loved. The ten sons who betrayed Joseph were born to Rachel’s sister Leah (whom their father Laban had tricked him into marrying) and the two concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah, whom the sisters had foisted upon their husband in a twisted competition for his affections. To make matters worse, Rachel had died giving birth to the twelfth son, Benjamin, who consequently became the focus of Jacob’s obsessive fears—the only thing he had left from his beloved Rachel.
Fast forward twenty years: against all odds, Joseph is now in charge of managing the famine in Egypt, and his ten brothers show up asking hat-in-hand to buy grain. Joseph (whom the brothers don’t recognize, of course) asks them a series of probing questions, ostensibly to ascertain if they are spies. So they speak of their youngest brother, Benjamin, who has stayed home in Canaan with his aged father. Joseph then makes Benjamin’s presence the key to “proving” the authenticity of their story—required if they were to buy any more grain in the future. But Jacob at first adamantly refused, saying, “My son [Benjamin] shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he is left alone. If any calamity should befall him along the way in which you go, then you would bring down my gray hair with sorrow to the grave.” (Genesis 42:38)
But hunger can be a powerful motivator. Eventually, Jacob relented, and allowed Benjamin to accompany his ten half-brothers back to Egypt to buy more grain. But Joseph, knowing the famine still had five years left to run, contrived a way to bring his entire family to Egypt—using Benjamin as bait, so to speak. At one point, Judah—the brother whose idea it had been to sell Joseph into slavery instead of killing him—offered to exchange his own life for that of Benjamin. (This, ironically enough, is prophetic of what Judah’s descendant Yahshua would one day do on behalf of the entire human race.)
So Judah made his case before the still-incognito Joseph: “Then your servant my father [Jacob] said to us, ‘You know that my wife [Rachel] bore me two sons; and the one went out from me, and I said, “Surely he is torn to pieces”; and I have not seen him since. But if you take this one also from me, and calamity befalls him, you shall bring down my gray hair with sorrow to the grave.’ Now therefore, when I come to your servant my father, and the lad is not with us, since his life is bound up in the lad’s life, it will happen, when he sees that the lad is not with us, that he will die. So your servants will bring down the gray hair of your servant our father with sorrow to the grave.” (Genesis 44:27-31) It was only then, when he saw the love and concern the brothers had for their aging father, that Joseph finally broke down and revealed his true identity—that he was their long-lost brother, whom they had betrayed two decades previously. Surprise!
This too is a prophetic dress-rehearsal: because of their national sins, Israel will be backed into a corner (again) during the Great Tribulation. They will be forced to repent and acknowledge their sins against their Ultimate Father, Yahweh—events that transpired two millennia previously. Only then will Yahshua (the only begotten son of God) reveal His true identity—that of King of kings and Lord of lords. I dare say, the children of Israel will doubtless be just as shocked at this revelation as the brothers were with Joseph’s. But the bottom line is the same: the King will bring the family of Israel to a place of safety and shelter, of provision and peace.
One more observation before we move on: Joseph’s famine had five years left to run when this drama transpired. Five is the number invariably indicative of grace in scriptural symbology. The lesson is that grace—unmerited favor bestowed upon us by God—is the driving force behind salvation, whether from famine (spiritual or physical) or from death due to our own sinful natures.
Famine was once again in view in this—one of the most depressing passages in the Hebrew scriptures, to my mind. Moses had just finished predicting the blessings Israel would enjoy if they honored Yahweh and followed his Instructions—and conversely, the curses that would befall them if they did not. After pleading with them to choose wisely (and in their own self-interests), the great law-giver had to turn around and prophesy in no uncertain terms that Israel would choose to be cursed, forsaken, and thrown out of the land for their apostasy. It must have killed him to pen these words: “I [Yahweh] will heap disasters on them. I will spend My arrows on them. They shall be wasted with hunger, devoured by pestilence and bitter destruction. I will also send against them the teeth of beasts, with the poison of serpents of the dust. The sword shall destroy outside; there shall be terror within for the young man and virgin, the nursing child with the man of gray hairs.” (Deuteronomy 32:23-25)
The fascinating and terrible thing here is that one’s personal experience and wisdom (or lack of it) wouldn’t count for much, for these curses were national in character—directed toward all of Israel in response to their corporate unfaithfulness. Case in point: Daniel, who was used mightily of God his whole adult life, lived and served in Babylonian captivity from his teenage years until he died in his nineties. It was the sins of Israel at large that prevented Daniel from enjoying temporal blessings in the Land of Promise, even though he personally prospered (as had Joseph) in spite of his bondage. The lesson (beyond the long and painful history of the nation of Israel) seems to be that we who honor Yahweh are to serve Him faithfully, no matter what direction our society is headed. If today’s media can be believed (something I doubt), America as a whole, like historic Israel, has turned its back on God; and neither “the nursing child nor the man with gray hairs” can do much to stem the tide of apostasy. But our job has not changed: we (like Daniel and Joseph) are to serve Yahweh in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, and with whatever tools He has put at our disposal. Our nation may have cursed itself, but we individual believers are still responsible to carry out the Great Commission.
Moses had written his prophecy concerning Israel’s disasters before they even entered the Promised Land. Isaiah on the other hand prophesied when their sins had finally begun to bear the bitter fruit they had planted: by 722 BC, Assyria had conquered the ten northern tribes (known alternatively as Israel, Ephraim, or Samaria), and was breathing down the neck of the southern kingdom—Judah and Benjamin (until Yahweh stopped them dead in their tracks at the gates of Jerusalem during the reign of King Hezekiah, in 701 BC). To all appearances, it looked as if Israel’s national life had just about run its course. So Isaiah speaks of Israel as if it were a person, progressing from birth through childhood, from maturity to old age—a nation with “gray hair,” so to speak.
Surprisingly, Isaiah speaks of this “life cycle” with words of encouragement—even though exile and/or occupation by a succession of heathen nations was still in their future. “Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been upheld by Me from birth, who have been carried from the womb even to your old age: I am He. And even to gray hairs I will carry you! I have made, and I will bear. Even I will carry, and will deliver you.” (Isaiah 46:3-4) There has never been a time, Yahweh says, when I did not carry you, O Israel. And even though your sins have given you a few prematurely gray hairs, I promise to continue carrying you in my arms for your entire life. Despite appearances, you have not yet reached old age: I will uphold you until you do. So grow up! “Listen to Me, you stubborn-hearted, who are far from righteousness: I bring My righteousness near, it shall not be far off. My salvation shall not linger. And I will place salvation in Zion, for Israel My glory.” (Isaiah 46:12-13)
The Psalmist acknowledges Yahweh’s cradle-to-grave faithfulness on a personal level: “O God, You have taught me from my youth, and to this day I declare Your wondrous works. Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come.” (Psalm 71:17-18) Just because we (ideally) progress from youthful enthusiasm toward the experience and wisdom of maturity, it does not follow that we’ll outgrow our need for Yahweh’s constant care. Ever.
As gray-haired “seniors,” our primary job is to introduce our juniors to the glory and majesty of our Creator—because it can be easy to take such things for granted when you’re young and strong. “The glory of young men is their strength, and the splendor of old men is their gray head.” (Proverbs 20:29) I was chatting with my nineteen-year-old grandson the other day as he was exercising on the chin-up bar his father had made for him. I told him (quite truthfully), “When I was your age, I could do fifty pull-ups and bench press my own weight.” He was either impressed or incredulous—I couldn’t tell which. Now, in my mid-seventies, I can barely even imagine being that strong. My “glory,” such as it is, is now in my gray hair—that is, in whatever wisdom may have been gained through decades of long and arduous experience. As I used to tell my eager young staff (tongue in cheek, of course), “Youth, energy, and enthusiasm are no match for experience, insight… and treachery.” The nature of our “strengths” may shift as we grow older, but we never reach a point where we don’t need God. Quite the contrary, in fact.
We are designed by our Creator to grow, to change, to mature. But although the character of our powers tends to shift as we grow older, we are not supposed to grow useless or become obsolete: “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree. He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those who are planted in the house of Yahweh shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bear fruit in old age [literally, with gray hair]. They shall be fresh and flourishing, to declare that Yahweh is upright. He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.” (Psalm 92:12-15)
“Bearing fruit” due to having our roots firmly planted in the house of God was later explained by Paul, who wrote, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22:23) These attributes are contrasted with what might be characterized as fruitlessness, as spiritual sterility: “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like.” (Galatians 5:19-21) Our graying hair attests to the fact that we’re mortal. Sinking our roots into the dying world instead of the eternally living “house of Yahweh” is the most misguided of strategies.
Consider the patriarch Job. By all accounts, his character placed him in the “fruit of the Spirit” camp—especially when it came to “longsuffering.” His friend and “miserable comforter” Eliphaz, however, assumed that because Job was suffering, he must be in the “works of the flesh” camp, despite all evidence to the contrary. Job’s well-reasoned defense (basically saying, “I don’t know why I’m being made to suffer, but it is not the direct consequence of my personal sins”) flew in the face of Eliphaz’s simplistic little theology: that all misfortune is the direct result of God’s punishment.
Therefore (he reasoned) “Job thinks he’s smarter, wiser, and more godly than I am.” “Are you the first man who was born? Or were you made before the hills? Have you heard the counsel of God? Do you limit wisdom to yourself? What do you know that we do not know? What do you understand that is not in us? Both the gray-haired and the aged are among us, much older than your father.” (Job 15:7-10) Eliphaz’s second mistake was assuming that people automatically gained wisdom as they grew older. His theory was, if you’re two days older, you must be two days wiser as well. But as we all know, “there’s no fool like an old fool.” Job didn’t get everything right, of course. But after Yahweh had set him straight, Job said, “Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” I, for one, am quite willing (as God was) to cut him a little slack: Job was a near-contemporary of Abraham—there was no “Bible” at this point. All he had to go by was word-of-mouth folklore and Yahweh’s reputation. But still, Eliphaz could have, and should have, known better. “And so it was, after Yahweh had spoken these words to Job, that Yahweh said to Eliphaz the Temanite, ‘My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.’” (Job 42:6-7)
The Bible provides one maddeningly counterintuitive example of a man who was famously wise in his youth, but did some extremely foolish things in his old age. I’m speaking, of course, of Solomon, David’s son and heir to the throne. But here, in David’s instructions to the young heir-apparent, the “gray” symbol refers not to Solomon’s experience or wisdom (or lack of it, for that matter), but to David’s, and his contemporaries—two men who David couldn’t touch during his lifetime, but who clearly needed to be called to account for their crimes. “[Joab] shed the blood of war in peacetime, and put the blood of war on his belt that was around his waist, and on his sandals that were on his feet. Therefore do according to your wisdom, and do not let his gray hair go down to the grave in peace…. Do not hold [Shimei] guiltless, for you are a wise man and know what you ought to do to him; but bring his gray hair down to the grave with blood.” (I Kings 2:5-6, 9) When Solomon took the throne, he wisely allowed both men the opportunity to repent, but watched them closely: both of them were eventually executed for fresh crimes against the crown. (See I Kings 2:28-46.)
Not surprisingly, most of the Biblical instances of “gray hair” symbolizing wisdom and experience refer to men, mostly because what males do (as symbols, not as people) dominates scriptural narrative. But the Word is peppered with references to wise women as well, both conceptually (e.g. Proverbs 14:1, 31:10) and historically (I Samuel 25:3; II Samuel 20:22). For that matter, even Eve, the mother of us all, got into trouble because she coveted a degree of wisdom (or at least experience) that she hadn’t been given (see Genesis 3:6). She had no idea that the “knowledge of good and evil,” that the serpent promised her if she ate the forbidden fruit, would entail first-hand experience with evil—something Yahweh didn’t want any of us to have. Sigh.
Anyway, there is one woman who is singled out in scripture as being blessed in her old age (i.e., when life had turned her hair gray). Ruth tends to get all the “press” in the book named after her, for she was a faithful and loyal companion-friend (which is what her name means), not to mention being the great grandmother of King David. But Naomi, her mother-in-law (that is, the mother of Ruth’s first husband, Mahlon, who died in Moab), is honored at the end of the book: “So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife; and when he went in to her, Yahweh gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be Yahweh, who has not left you this day without a close relative; and may his name be famous in Israel! And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age [Hebrew: sebah, literally, gray-haired]; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him.’ Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her bosom, and became a nurse to him. Also the neighbor women gave him a name, saying, ‘There is a son born to Naomi.’ And they called his name Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.” (Ruth 4:13-17) We are reminded that without Naomi’s family relationship to Boaz, the whole “kinsman-redeemer” picture would not have taken place—no matter how loyal Ruth was.
So the bottom line is that there is nothing magical about growing old and gray. Ideally, the process of gaining a lifetime of experience precipitates a degree of wisdom along the way, but this phenomenon is far from guaranteed. It is ironic, then, that Solomon, the one who was renowned for his wisdom in his youth—and then became something of a fool when he grew old—pinpointed the key factor that makes the symbol work: “The silver-haired head is a crown of glory, if it is found in the way of righteousness.” (Proverbs 16:31)
That’s a really big “if.”
Black: Darkness, Obscurity, and Judgment
Black is the final entry on our list of colors that seem symbolically significant in scripture. As with some others, it sometimes merely denotes what artists call the “local color” of an object—a physical description, as in a person’s hair, a goat’s hide, or a raven’s feathers. But more often than not, there is an obvious metaphorical component to the usage of the word as well.
There is only one Greek word translated “black” (though others indicate darkness or obscurity—related concepts), but there are several different word families so rendered in Hebrew. As we might expect, there is quite a bit of overlap among them, along with the inevitable subtle shades of metaphorical nuance. And as we have come to expect with Hebrew, the same word often carries with it varying shades of meaning, making translation into other languages something of an art form. Remember, the vowel points that differentiate these words weren’t assigned by the Masoretes until midway through the Christian era—until then, the reader had to distinguish from the context the exact meaning of one consonant-only word from another spelled the same way. This can, at the very least, cause us to miss things—as we shall soon see.
One such a word family is the Hebrew verb shachar (to turn black, to be black), with the related shachor, an adjective meaning black. The verb (Strong’s #H7835) often refers to the color of one’s skin or hair. But H7836 (spelled the same way) is a verb meaning to diligently seek, or to enquire after (presumably because the object of the quest is obscure); and alternately, to conjure or charm away—to get rid of unwanted conditions of evil. H7837 is a noun meaning morning, the breaking of dawn, or the rising of the sun—or the darkness immediately preceding it. And H7838 is the adjective, “black.” It’s confusing, is it not? Yet all of these words have exactly the same consonant root.
Let us begin our exploration of black as a symbol with a passage we’ve seen before (Zechariah 6—in the context of what “red” means). Most commentators relate the colors of the four sets of horses we see here to the four successive gentile kingdoms that shaped Israel’s history (information that was revealed in several of Daniel’s visions as well, beginning with Nebuchadnezzar’s big statue). Zechariah also saw multiple parallel visions that, when taken together, also give us a glimpse at the long, convoluted process that Yahweh ordained in order to achieve Israel’s ultimate rest and restoration. (See my chapter on “Myrtle Trees” in Volume 3 of this work for more data.)
We see an angel showing Zechariah a vision: “Then I turned and raised my eyes and looked, and behold, four chariots were coming from between two mountains, and the mountains were mountains of bronze.” Mountains represent strongholds of power, and bronze symbolizes judgment. “With the first chariot were red horses, with the second chariot black [shachor] horses, with the third chariot white horses, and with the fourth chariot dappled horses—strong steeds. Then I answered and said to the angel who talked with me, ‘What are these, my lord?’…” As I wrote above, “The first team (red) was the bloody reign of Babylon. They were followed by black horses, emphasizing the judgment via obscurity suffered by Israel (and many other nations) as they were swallowed by the Persian war machine. The white horses indicate victory in battle—the consistent profile of the Greeks under Alexander. And finally, the ‘dappled’ horses—of mixed or inconsistent colors—speak of Rome (reminding us of the toes of the big statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2—iron mixed with clay).”
Historical footnote: although Israel was technically exiled in Babylon for only seventy years, many Jews never returned to the Land of Promise, even after the Persians released them. The Book of Esther reminds us just how “at home” Israel felt under the relatively benign Persian rule. Many managed to maintain their Jewish identity throughout the centuries—only to be expelled by the Iranians and Iraqis in 1948, when Israel finally (and miraculously) regained her political independence. But one must wonder how many Jews are still living in the former Persian Empire, oblivious as to their true heritage. It’s not a frivolous question: Yahweh has promised to regather the entire nation—all twelve tribes—during and after the Great Tribulation.
Anyway, we were considering Zechariah’s vision of black horses: “And the angel answered and said to me, ‘These are four spirits of heaven, who go out from their station before the lord [Hebrew: adon—i.e., not necessarily Yahweh] of all the earth. The one with the black horses is going to the north country, the white are going after them, and the dappled are going toward the south country.’” The “north country” is usually shorthand for “Babylon,” but I can’t help reflect that the vast majority of the Jewish Diaspora eventually ended up in Eastern Europe and Russia—literally due north of eretz Israel. “Then the strong steeds went out, eager to go, that they might walk to and fro throughout the earth. And He said, ‘Go, walk to and fro throughout the earth.’ So they walked to and fro throughout the earth. And He called to me, and spoke to me, saying, ‘See, those who go toward the north country [including the black horses] have given rest to My Spirit in the north country.’” (Zechariah 6:1-8) The angel was speaking on behalf of Yahweh, hence the notice about “having given rest to My Spirit” (more literally, “…have pacified My Spirit” or “…have appeased My wrath.”) The point is, no one was, at that moment, delivering Yahweh’s judgment to their doorstep. Why? Because they had already been chastised—subdued, sacked, and sent off to live in exile and obscurity in the “north country.” This condition would persist until the time Yahweh had ordained that Israel should be restored and regathered back to the Land—the single most often repeated prophecy in the entire Bible. Something tells me these “black horses” were finally put out to pasture in 1948.
In the Law of Leprosy, the presence (or absence) of black hair can be a clue to the priest as to whether or not a suspected leprous lesion is indeed harmful: “If the priest examines the scaly sore, and indeed it does not appear deeper than the skin, and there is no black [shachor] hair in it, then the priest shall isolate the one who has the scale seven days…. But if the scale appears to be at a standstill, and there is black hair grown up in it, the scale has healed. He is clean, and the priest shall pronounce him clean.” (Leviticus 13:31, 37)
The key to “blackness,” then, is its appropriateness—if the hair (for example) is black where it is supposed to be—where it is expected to be—it is sign of youth and health, as in the Shulamite’s description of her beloved Solomon: “My beloved is white and ruddy, chief among ten thousand. His head is like the finest gold. His locks are wavy, and black as a raven.” (Song 5:10-11) Solomon’s relative “whiteness” of skin is its natural color, untanned because he typically spends his days indoors, in his palace, taking care of the affairs of state. His father David, in contrast, was described as “ruddy” (sunburned) in his youth, because he spent his days in the field watching after his father’s sheep.
But the Shulamite described herself as “black,” though her natural skin tone was probably as light as Solomon’s. Why? Because she had to spend an inordinate amount of time outdoors: “I am dark [shachor], but lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon. Do not look upon me, because I am dark, because the sun has tanned me [literally, “looked upon me”]. My mother’s sons were angry with me. They made me the keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept.” (Song 1:5-6) Okay, we get the idea that she is exaggerating just a bit. She seems to be a little ashamed that she has the deep tan of a farm girl, and not the pale complexion of a palace princess. But Solomon doesn’t seem to care: “Behold, you are fair, my love!” (Song 1:15)
In the midst of his trials, Job too described himself as becoming “black.” It wasn’t so much a depiction of his appearance as it was of his medical condition: “My skin grows black [shachar] and falls from me. My bones burn with fever.” (Job 30:30) This may be more of a metaphor than it seems, for a few verses previously he moaned, “When I looked for good, evil came to me, and when I waited for light, then came darkness [Hebrew ophel—the darkness of night, gloom, obscurity].” (Job 30:26) Whatever he looked like at this point, his outlook was definitely black.
Finally, there is one usage in this word family that seems to turn the whole “black” thing on its head. Above, I wrote, “H7837 (shachar) is a noun meaning morning, the breaking of dawn, or the rising of the sun—or the darkness immediately preceding it.” It is used in the Hebrew scriptures in this unmistakable sense some twenty-five times, including this enigmatic notice from Amos the prophet: “For behold, He who forms mountains and creates the wind, who declares to man what his thought is, and makes the morning [into] darkness, who treads the high places of the earth— Yahweh, God of hosts, is His name.” (Amos 4:13) Here, “morning” is shachar, and “darkness” is ephah—darkness or utter gloom, from a root word meaning obscurity. And we are reminded that Yahweh is the only One capable of disrupting the earth’s rotation—literally turning morning into darkness—though messing with earth’s clock is something He has done only a couple of times (e.g. Joshua 10) in our entire history.
How do we get from “blackness or obscurity” to “dawn, sunrise, or daybreak” with the same word—shachar? Strong’s traces the etymology through the usage “to diligently seek or enquire after,” implying the quest for something formerly obscure or hidden in darkness. “Daybreak” implies the ability to see clearly after the night’s lightlessness, does it not? One would think so. But remember, our mother Eve was deceived when she pursued knowledge that had not been granted to her by Yahweh—the knowledge of evil. And there is a very good reason God placed the entrance to the tabernacle and temple on the east side of the structure: it is so one must “turn his back on the rising sun” in order to enter His house. Every pagan culture from Nimrod forward had a “sun god” in its pantheon. Yahweh is saying, “Turn your back on false hope and manufactured gods, and approach Me instead—I Am Eternal Light and Life.” The sun’s light, apparently, is not the source of spiritual illumination some pretend it to be.
And that, pretense, turns out to be the key to the most counterintuitive shachar-sighting of all. Isaiah’s diatribe against the “king of Babylon” (long before Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon was even a blip on the radar, mind you) morphs in mid-prophecy into a description of the real object of Yahweh’s ire—Satan himself. Ask any halfway educated fifth-grader what the devil’s name is, and he will tell you it’s “Lucifer.” Why? Because of this questionable translation: “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!” (Isaiah 14:12) This “name” in Hebrew is helel ben shachar. “Ben” means son, and as we are learning, “shachar” means either blackness or dawn, depending on the context—which is what we’re trying to pin down here.
That leaves only “helel” to sort out. I have addressed different facets of this most intriguing word several places in previous writings, so please indulge me as I quote myself. In Volume 3 of this present work, I wrote, “‘How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn!...’ ‘Heaven’ here is not the usual shameh, but is the Hebrew ma’al, meaning above, high, at the top, of great degree or high status. So this ‘person’ isn’t in the same league with Yahweh, but he is exalted above his peers. Who is he? He’s called [in the ESV] “Day Star, son of dawn,” the Hebrew helel ben shachar—literally, shining one or light bearer, son of the dawn or daybreak (or the darkness immediately preceding it). This phrase is sometimes translated ‘Lucifer, son of the morning.’
“This is the only time in the Bible the word helel (or heylel) is used, making it highly presumptive to assign the Latinized “Lucifer” to it, as if Yahweh has named our adversary. Although the one being described here is almost certainly Satan (literally, “the adversary”), God never told us his name. The truth is somewhat more prosaic. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament notes concerning helel, ‘McKay contends that in the allusion in Isaiah 14:12–15 there is a Canaanite version of the Greek Phaethon myth as mediated and influenced by Phoenician culture during the “heroic age.” The development of the Canaanite version is complex and has affinities with the Ugaritic myth involving Athar, son of Athirat, who was unable to occupy the throne of Baal. It was Phaethon who attempted to scale the heights of heaven and as the dawn star was ever condemned to be cast down into Hades.’ That’s not to say that Isaiah is lending credence to a Canaanite myth; he’s only making a literary reference to it, the same way someone in our age might refer to admittedly fictional ‘dark lords’ such as Dracula, Sauron, Voldemort, or the Wicked Witch of the West.”
The next three quotes are from my tome on Bible prophecy, The End of the Beginning, also on this website. In chapter 18, we read, “Satan’s whole agenda, as we read in Isaiah, is to usurp the rightful place of Yahweh in our hearts: ‘How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer [helel], son of the morning!...’ Note that this pegs him as the recipient of all of the false sun-god worship that’s been going on since the days of Nimrod; and linguistically, his name is tied to the crescent moon deity [Allah] of the Muslims as well…. This is the only place in the English Bible where Satan’s name is even hinted at—and even this is more a description than it is a name. ‘Lucifer,’ Latin for ‘light bearer’ is helel in Hebrew, meaning ‘shining one, morning star, or day-star.’ The word upon which it’s based (halal) is a verb that on one end of the spectrum means to shine, flash forth light, or praise, but it also means to boast, to make into a fool, or to act like a madman. How we see him is (by God’s design) our choice to make.”
And in chapter 20, we explore the word from a slightly different angle. Discussing Revelation 19:1-4, I wrote, “Alleluia” is a Greek transliteration of two Hebrew words, halal (praise) and Yah (a contraction of Yahweh), hence it basically means ‘praise Yahweh.’ Halal, however, has some interesting connotations. The primitive root means ‘to be clear,’ or ‘shine,’ so the word connotes the glory of Yahweh shining in and through us. Halal suggests celebration, boasting in Yahweh, going so far as to make oneself a fool of oneself in glorifying Him—there’s an exuberance about the word that reminds us of King David dancing with wild abandon before his God…. In a strange twist, halal is also the root of Satan’s ‘name’ helel (questionably translated ‘Lucifer’) who was created as Yahweh’s most glorious angel. Choosing such a versatile moniker for him was no doubt Yahweh’s intention, for we’ve come to know Satan as a boasting fool—not the angel of light he should have been.)”
Then, from Chapter 28: “Seven hundred years before Christ’s first advent, Isaiah saw it unfolding: ‘How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!...’ This is the only time in the entire Bible where Satan’s name is mentioned. Maybe. The Hebrew word (if we take Strong’s acceptance of the Masoretic text’s vowel points as reliable) is helel, meaning ‘the morning star’ [or ‘shining one’]. But the word from which this is derived—and perhaps the actual word itself, since the consonants are identical, is halal: ‘to be clear, to shine,’ which has a second, less flattering connotation as well. It can mean ‘to make a show, to boast,’ hence, to be ‘clamorously foolish,’ to ‘stultify.’ Webster defines stultify: ‘To make or cause to appear foolish or ridiculous; to reduce to foolishness or absurdity; to render wholly futile or ineffectual.’ The next time you’re tempted to give Satan any credit or respect, remember that. By the way, halal in Arabic means “moon god,” a proper definition of Allah. If you didn’t know before, now you do: Allah and Satan are one.”
How did we get “Lucifer” from helel? It’s from the Latin Vulgate translation of Isaiah 14:12. The Latin literally means “light-bringing,” equivalent to lūci- (the stem of lūx), meaning “light,” plus -fer, the preposition meaning “for.” The moniker seems to have lost something in translation.
So what does helel ben shachar really mean? It could denote, “Shining one, son of the dawn.” But it might just as truthfully mean, “Boasting fool, son of the darkness.” Just remember, neither Satan nor the king of Babylon created themselves, but both of them elevated themselves above their peers in an attempt to “be like God.” How “shining” or “illuminating” our adversary appears is strictly a function of how much credence we are willing to give his lies. Eve may be forgiven for having been a bit gullible. But at this late date, I’m thinking, we have no such excuse.
Pretending to be something you’re not, in an attempt to gain an advantage, is a time-worn tradition. As Paul pointed out, “But I will continue doing what I have always done. This will undercut those who are looking for an opportunity to boast that their work is just like ours. These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. In the end they will get the punishment their wicked deeds deserve.” (II Corinthians 11:12-15 NLT) The rotten apples don’t fall far from the dead tree.
A Hebrew word family with decidedly more obvious metaphorical overtones is the verb qadar: to be dark or black; thus, to mourn. It is often used to describe places or nations under duress, the blackened sky, or heavenly bodies becoming dark. Occasionally it is used to describe literal weather events, such as, “Now it happened in the meantime that the sky became black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy rain.” (I Kings 18:45) But far more often, qadar implies something with obvious spiritually ominous significance—“black” circumstances, hence the “mourning” subtext.
The prophet Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah and Hosea—that is, he witnessed the final demise of Israel’s northern kingdom at the hands of Assyria, though he ministered primarily in Judah. During this time, false prophets abounded, ready to sell the corrupt leadership of the nation misleading “good news,” when they should have been encouraging repentance. So Micah takes them to task—their future is black: “This is what Yahweh says: You false prophets are leading my people astray! You promise peace for those who give you food, but you declare war on those who refuse to feed you. Now the night [Hebrew: chashekak] will close around you, cutting off all your visions. Darkness [Hebrew: chashak] will cover you, putting an end to your predictions. The sun will set for you prophets, and your day will come to an end [qadar: literally, ‘will be black].” (Micah 3:5-6 NLT) We’ll cover the chashak/choshek synonym in a bit; it shows up in parallel with qadar quite often. But for now, just note how the prophet uses every word he can think of to convey the idea that the profit-seeking purveyors of “fake news” are doomed to cultural obscurity, spiritual darkness, and personal blindness.
Alas, I can’t help but see my beloved America going down the same rabbit hole of self-deception in these last days. And I fear many of our neo-prophets (whether in the media, politics, or even the pulpit) will suffer the same fate: blackness of the soul. The result of such falsehood is that entire nations can be immersed in darkness. For example, Ezekiel speaks of the fate of Egypt and Lebanon: “Thus says the Lord Yahweh: ‘In the day when [Egypt] went down to Sheol, I caused mourning. I covered the deep because of it. I restrained its rivers, and the great waters were held back. I caused Lebanon to mourn [qadar: literally, to become black] for it, and all the trees of the field wilted because of it.” (Ezekiel 31:15)
Since “Egypt” is symbolic of bondage in the world, we half-expected this. But Lebanon? Not only is most of present-day Lebanon actually part of God’s geographic description of eretz Israel (see Numbers 34), its name means white (or snow-capped) mountain. The name is based on laban—white (as in “purity”). And the –on suffix often denotes a conceptual or systemic undercurrent in Hebrew. So for the prophet to describe “the white country” as becoming black with mourning is (or should be) shocking. Modern Lebanon used to have a large nominally Christian population, but today, under the curse of Islam (and especially the “Palestinian” blight that descended upon it in the 1970s), it has indeed become “black.” (The good news is that this benighted condition is temporary.)
Ezekiel again speaks of Egypt’s darkness: “‘When I put out your [Egypt’s] light, I will cover the heavens, and make its stars dark. I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light. All the bright lights of the heavens I will make dark [qadar] over you, and bring darkness [choshek] upon your land, Says the Lord Yahweh.” (Ezekiel 32:7-8) The immediate context is Egypt’s impending fall at the hands of Babylon—just as Judah did during Ezekiel’s lifetime. The chapter also mentions Babylon’s other victims: Assyria, Elam, Meshech and Tubal (modern Turkey), and Edom. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help but hear faint echoes of Last-Days warnings here as well.
On the other hand, quite a few of these “blackness” references specifically refer to “the Day of Yahweh” in their larger context. For instance, Joel writes, “For the day of Yahweh is coming, for it is at hand: a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness [choshek]….” He then describes an army that seems a perfect match for the Chinese horde of the Sixth Trumpet Judgment (Revelation 9:13-21), a two hundred million man army who shows up again in Bowl Judgment #6, the set-up for the final battle, Armageddon. “The earth quakes before them. The heavens tremble. The sun and moon grow dark [qadar], and the stars diminish their brightness.” (Joel 2:1-2, 10) The darkness itself seems a perfect fit for the fifth bowl judgment (Revelation 16:10-11).
In his next chapter, Joel covers the same ground: “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of Yahweh is near in the valley of decision. The sun and moon will grow dark [qadar], and the stars will diminish their brightness.” (Joel 3:14-15) I’d be willing to bet that the “valley of decision” (a.k.a. the Valley of Jehoshaphat—v.12) is actually the Plain of Esdraelon, a.k.a. the Jezreel Valley, the large plain that lies in the shadow of Mount Megiddo (also known as Har Megiddo—Armageddon), in northern Israel. The “decision” would seem to be, “Should I follow the Antichrist’s orders to go to Israel to try to annihilate the Jews, or should I run away and hide instead?”
In the “Coincidence?” department, note that the “black rain clouds” reference to qadar that I mentioned earlier (I Kings 18:45) took place at Mount Carmel, where Elijah informed King Ahab that the three-year drought of judgment was about to end. He then outran the king to Jezreel. That is to say, these places are all in the same neighborhood. Oh, and I’m “sure” it’s just another “coincidence” that the Antichrist’s three and a half year reign will be characterized by a widespread drought (decreed by the Two Witnesses in Revelation 11:6), sent to enable Joel’s Chinese horde to cross the Euphrates dryshod on their way to their rendezvous with death at Armageddon (Revelation 16:12). So let’s see—we are told of virtually universal apostasy punctuated by persecution of the saints, followed by three years of drought, followed by cloud-blackened skies over the Valley of Jezreel, followed by an evil king running for his life. But is there rain? None is mentioned; but the Seventh Bowl Judgment does mention 90-pound hailstones. Does that count? Just another coincidence, I’m sure.
And yes, I’m being sarcastic. In scripture, there’s no such thing as a coincidence; but there is plenty of esoteric prophecy masquerading as history.
Case in point: in what is clearly a description of the Great Tribulation (though he thought he was writing about the impending Babylonian invasion), Jeremiah says, “I beheld the earth, and indeed it was without form, and void, and the heavens, they had no light….” This sounds bad: it’s the way God described the primal creation—before He introduced light (which was the very first thing He called “good”). As bad as Babylon’s assault was, it didn’t include literal darkness—only blackness of the soul for the unrepentant Judeans. “The whole land shall be desolate, yet I will not make a full end. For this shall the earth mourn, and the heavens above be black [qadar], because I have spoken. I have purposed and will not relent, nor will I turn back from it.” (Jeremiah 4:23, 27-28) History is about to repeat itself—again—but this time, I fear the prophet’s words will prove to be somewhat more literal.
Isaiah’s tirade employs the same near-far perspective: “I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering.” (Isaiah 50:3) “Blackness” here is the Hebrew Qadruth (a feminine noun related to qadar, meaning darkness, gloom, or blackness). Once again, what was somewhat figurative in the near term will be all too literal in the dark days that lie before us.
Most of the references to “black” we’ve seen so far have an ominous undercurrent of judgment about them—from darkened skies to darkened hearts, in response to mankind’s refusal to honor our Creator. Paul explained that people who turn their backs on the light of God’s truth, though His presence and power are obvious through both nature and scripture, will surely experience the blackness of the soul for which they have “prayed,” so to speak. He says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:18-21) If you choose to live in the dark, you may lose your ability to see. Be careful what you wish for: you just might get it.
That being said, if you use the word “black” in America these days, everyone’s knee-jerk reaction is that you’re referring to racial characteristics—the darkness of the color of one’s skin. It’s as if skin pigmentation—implying separate races—were a “thing,” as if we weren’t all descendants of one man—Noah—only about five millennia ago. Maybe I’ve led a sheltered life (even though I was born in Compton, California), but I’ve never understood the whole racial bigotry thing. My wife and I had children of every conceivable skin color (through adoption, of course)—it just wasn’t an issue for us. And since (as it happened) all of our “children of color” married spouses of other “races,” our grandchildren are impossible to identify by (or irrationally hate because of) their obvious racial characteristics. Funny how that works.
But I must admit, much of this nation’s early history was marred with the indelible stain of race prejudice—the inevitable result of the practice of slavery (though not all slaves were of African descent, nor were all slave holders white). The fact is, you can’t own another person: God owns us all, even though He didn’t outright forbid the practice of slavery, because it showed us so clearly what our sin had done to us—sold us into bondage. Anyway, it’s not surprising that having sowed the wind, we Americans are now reaping the whirlwind, in the form of people rioting and looting in our largest cities—either because they’re blacks who consider themselves entitled victims, or because they want to be seen as supporting them. I can’t quite make the mental connection between your ancestors being mistreated, and “righting the wrong” by stealing a big-screen television or setting somebody else’s car or home on fire. But maybe I’m just slow.
Actually, responding inappropriately to societal wrongdoing suffered by people five generations back is cyclical. When I was young (in the 1960s) it was the Black Panthers and the Watts riots (etc.). I was working a summer job within the riot zone in Los Angeles in August of ’65. The black guys I worked with in the factory were just as puzzled over the whole thing as I was.
These days, it’s something called “Black Lives Matter.” It’s a warmer, fuzzier title than “Black Panthers” perhaps, but they are far more thoughtlessly destructive than their scary-sounding forebears were. They would like you to believe that the name means “people of African descent should be treated fairly,” something every sane person would agree with. But if you observe that “All lives matter,” because everyone should be treated fairly (the Biblical position), then you will soon discover that “Black Lives Matter” (to them, anyway) means something very different in practice—that African Americans should receive preferential treatment, be allowed to break the laws of God and man with impunity, and be given “reparations” because their ancestors might have been slaves—paid for by people with pale skin, because their ancestors could have been slaveholders.
In point of fact, the “Black Lives Matter” organization is not really interested in the welfare of African Americans at all, except as a politically correct talking point. In their more candid moments, they openly admit to being motivated by purely Marxist ideology—just like their sister terrorist group, “Antifa.” (Both of them, I’d wager, are destined for the scrap-heap of history, like the “Black Panthers” of my youth—or the Ku Klux Klan, for that matter.)
I may seem to have strayed off our topic—the symbology of colors—but I haven’t. I merely noticed that the “Black” in “Black Lives Matter” (judging strictly by their shabby and exploitative treatment of African Americans) obviously doesn’t mean “pertaining to any of the various populations characterized by dark skin pigmentation…” So I decided to look up the other definitions of “Black” in the dictionary. And now it all makes sense: The “Black” in BLM apparently refers to one (or all) of these dictionary definitions:
1. A color that lacks hue and brightness, absorbing light without reflecting it.
2. Characterized by the absence of light; enveloped in darkness.
3. Soiled or stained with dirt.
4. Gloomy; pessimistic; dismal.
5. Deliberately harmful; inexcusable.
6. Boding ill; sullen or hostile; threatening.
7. Without any moral quality or goodness; evil; wicked.
8. Indicating censure, disgrace, or liability to punishment.
9. Marked by disaster or misfortune.
10. Based on the grotesque, morbid, or unpleasant aspects of life.
11. Illegal or underground.
12. Deliberately false or intentionally misleading.
In other words, when you espouse the “Black Lives Matter” movement, you’re declaring your affinity with people who choose live in spiritual darkness, who are filthy, morose, self-centered, dystopian, dangerous, evil, hostile, morally reprehensible, unpleasant, criminal, corrupt, and doomed to suffering self-imposed disasters. You’re saying only these people “matter” to you. Everyone else exists merely to be their victims, to be the host to their parasitic endeavors. You’re saying bad is good; wrong is right; and the prince of darkness is your god.
Is that clear enough? It’s precisely the way the Bible uses the term black or dark when speaking symbolically. It has nothing to do with skin color.
By the way, I heard this statistic the other day: “80% of BLM is white women, ages 17-22.” I have no idea if this is anywhere near being true, but considering the fact that the “Black Lives Matter” organization is politically—not racially—motivated, it certainly smells like it might be.
As long as we’re this far off into the weeds already, let us take a quick detour to discuss the Bible’s take on the phenomenon of race and racism—not just anti- (or pro-) black, but generally. First, note that every last one of us is descended from Adam and Eve, and more to the point, we are all—at some level—made in the image of God: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him….” Okay, so if we’re all “made in the image and likeness of God,” then none of us can be all bad. I take that description to mean (mostly) that we are made with free will, with the right and privilege (and responsibility) to make moral choices based on the information we have before us—a byproduct of the spiritual nature that God built into us. That is apparently something that neither animals nor angels possess: animals don’t have the requisite spiritual capacity, and angels don’t have permission. Humans have both.
Oh, and by the way, “Male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27) According to sources on the Internet, there are somewhere between 63 and 112 different genders out there. But God says there are only two, male and female. That would make the rest of them delusions—signs of mental illness, like believing you’re Santa Claus or Napoleon. But hey, the very capacity to decide to believe things that fly in the face of reality is part of what it means to be “made in the image of God.” The ability to choose (a.k.a. free will) presupposes the ability to choose poorly, to make mistakes, to sin (which, technically, is simply “missing the mark”).
Anyway, we’re off to the races. Note that Biblical parlance usually focuses on nationality—that is, extended genealogical ties (families, not skin color), for which the post-flood “Table of Nations” in Genesis 10 serves as a starting point for researchers. This post-flood account traces the world’s populations back to Noah and his three sons (and their wives, whose genealogies are not revealed, except that they too were descendants of Adam and Eve). The ark had come to rest in what is now Eastern Turkey. From there, the world was repopulated (after a few generations of comingling): in very rough terms, (1) the children of Japheth settled to the north and west; (2) Shem’s descendants repopulated the Fertile Crescent and points east; and (3) Ham’s children migrated toward the south—Arabia and Africa.
Failing genealogical data, points of the compass sometimes serve as loose indicators of racial or national origin; the Bible speaks of “the North Country,” the King of the South, and “People of the East” as if we are expected to know what nations are being described. That being said, God told Noah and his sons, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” (Genesis 9:1) To whatever extent the succeeding generations obeyed this command, a great deal of moving around is implied. And the farther we went, the more likely it was that small populations would become isolated as they intermarried, bringing recessive genes to the surface, genes that tended to homogenize entire regional populations over time—giving everyone the same general physical characteristics: stature, hair and eye color, skin pigmentation, facial features, and so forth. We call these things “racial characteristics” today, but they’re not. We’re all still human; we are all still inter-fertile. And we are all still “made in the image and likeness of God.”
When in Athens, Paul tried revealing the identity of the “unknown god” whom the pagans were venerating out of an abundance of caution. Part of his argument was that one God made everything (and all of us), and it therefore behooves us to determine who that Creator might be, and what He has told us. “[God] gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’” (Acts 17:25-28) The Grecian “golden age” had long since passed, and his audience knew it. But it didn’t matter, because One God had made all of us—we are all brothers and sisters before Him. Racism makes no sense.
Since we are instructed to “be holy, as Yahweh is holy,” let us heed His admonition to the prophet Samuel: “For Yahweh does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but Yahweh looks at the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7) We are not omniscient like God is, of course, but prejudice based on the color of someone’s skin is hereby defined as “ungodly.” Dr. Martin Luther King once famously said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” I would simply observe that “the content of people’s character” can only be discerned by getting to know them. God knows “the content of our character,” but He loves us nevertheless.
Not surprisingly, Yahshua agrees: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24) Of course, “righteous judgment” (the determination of the truth of a matter) is easier to do if you’re actually righteous—which we’re not. The only real righteousness available to us must be borrowed from Christ; the only real wisdom we might exercise begins with our reverence for Yahweh.
Time after time, the Bible admonishes us to avoid partiality—bias, prejudice, or preference based on the outward appearance. “My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.” (James 2:1) In context, James is warning us not to favor the wealthy over the poor in our worship gatherings, but the principle should be applied broadly—treat everyone with equal respect and dignity, in every situation that might arise. Paul agrees: “Observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing with partiality.” (I Timothy 5:21) We are reminded that the Parable of the Good Samaritan was told to define who one’s “neighbor” was—that is, who we were to “love,” in the Leviticus 19:18 sense. The answer turned out to be, “anyone God places in your path, regardless of race, culture, creed, or color.”
The ultimate act of love is to introduce your “neighbor” to Christ, for therein lies eternal life and everlasting joy. That is why, when the risen Messiah gave us our marching orders, He specifically included all people—not just Jews—in His instructions: “Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.’” (Matthew 28:18-20) (For a comprehensive exploration of what is included in “all things that I have commanded you,” see The Owner’s Manual, Volume 3, Appendix 2, elsewhere on this website.)
You may protest, “But Yahshua clearly told the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:24, ‘I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ Doesn’t that imply that He was prejudiced in favor of the Jews?” No, it doesn’t. He died (and rose again) to provide salvation for all people, Jew and gentile alike. Still, the gospel message had to be presented to Israel first, for they were the keepers of the Torah and the prophetic record, which foretold His mission (and identity) between every line.
But Christ also had to fulfill this prophecy from Isaiah: “I was sought by those who did not ask for Me. I was found by those who did not seek Me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ to a nation [i.e., the gentiles] that was not called by My name. I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people [Israel], who walk in a way that is not good, according to their own thoughts, a people who provoke Me to anger continually to My face.” (Isaiah 65:1-3) Ironically, if Christ had not offered Himself to the Jews first—and if His messianic credentials had not been rejected by Israel—the sacrifice that saved the world (potentially, anyway) might never have come about. All I can say is, omniscience must be an incredibly heavy burden to bear.
So although salvation is of the Jews—from them and through them—it is not exclusively for them. As Paul explains it, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” (Romans 1:16) There is no prejudice in God’s plan of salvation, but there is order and structure—everything in its own time.
Several gentiles in scripture—including the Canaanite woman we met in Matthew 15—were commended by Yahshua for displaying more faith that anyone had a right to expect of them (prior to the resurrection, anyway). In fact, Paul later pointed out that although Israel was told the Good News first, once the Word began to spread (in response to the Great Commission, quoted above), all believers had exactly the same status before God. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) Paul is not being stupid here (like liberals today imagining there are a hundred different genders). Of course these distinctions still exist as we walk through the world. But if we are “in Christ Jesus,” no one is any more saved than anybody else. We are all indwelled with the same Spirit. There are no second-class citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven. Nor does anti-Semitism, racial prejudice, or misogyny have any place in the church.
And in case you were wondering, it is also morally wrong to assign special “holier than thou” status to the pre-rapture saints, who were astute enough to join Christ while “faith” still counted for something. We may be tempted to draw a class distinction between the Church of Philadelphia (the church of the rapture, who are promised because of their faithfulness to be “kept out of the hour of trial that is to come upon the whole earth,” and the final church, that of Laodicea (who were described as starting out “lukewarm, disgusting, wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” by Yahshua in Revelation 3:15-17). We must remember that Laodicea too is numbered among the ekklesia (the “called-out assembly”) of Christ, even though they didn’t come to genuine faith until after the rapture.
It’s a good-news bad-news story, I’m afraid. John was introduced to them because they were martyred for their faith during the Tribulation: “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10) I suspect that this group will vastly outnumber the living saints of Philadelphia who were raptured before the Tribulation began, even though none of them had chosen to follow Christ before rapture day. But their salvation (like ours) is undeniably genuine, for (1) they are seen standing before the Lamb of God; (2) their white robes and palm branches signify righteousness, assigned to them by Yahshua; and (3) they are crediting their salvation to God—and specifically, to the Lamb.
John didn’t know who these people were at first, so one of the elders explained it to him: “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:14-17) Okay, so they were late to the party, slow to come to terms with the saving grace of Yahshua the Messiah. I don’t know: maybe it was the undeniable reality of Philadelphia’s rapture that pushed them toward repentance. What I do know is that these belated believers went through hell on earth in honor of their newfound God—suffering persecution we pre-rapture saints can barely imagine. They are not second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God; they will have earned our profound and earnest respect, as will those among them who somehow make it alive to the end of the Tribulation—the “sheep” of Matthew 25:31-46.
One of the very few actual “racism” stories in the entire Bible had to do with Moses and his older sister Miriam, during the wilderness wanderings. “Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian [literally, Cushite] woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman.” (Numbers 12:1) Reading between the lines, Miriam seems miffed that Moses (the baby brother she had hidden amid the bulrushes of the Nile, until Pharaoh’s daughter had found and adopted him) had not turned his back on destiny and married a nice Jewish slave girl. Instead (having run for his life after murdering an abusive Egyptian) he had married a dark-skinned daughter of the Priest of Midian (located in today’s north-west Saudi Arabia), in the land to which he had fled.
There may be some confusion as to why Zipporah (Moses’ wife) was called an “Ethiopian,” since she was not from what we know as Ethiopia [a.k.a. Abyssinia], in East Africa. The word used to describe her is actually “Cushite.” The informative website GotQuestions.org explains: “The land of Cush is associated in Scripture with several areas in the ancient world, but its most common link is to the land of Ethiopia, south of Egypt. Some English translations of the Bible simply put ‘Ethiopia’ where the Hebrew reads ‘Cush.’ In his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus corroborates the association between Ethiopians and Cushites: ‘For of the four sons of Ham, time has not at all hurt the name of Cush; for the Ethiopians, over whom he reigned, are even at this day, both by themselves and by all men in Asia, called Cushites.’ In ancient times, Cush covered a much broader territory than modern Ethiopia does….
“There is also a biblical connection between the Cushites and the Midianites. Numbers 12:1 says that Moses had married a Cushite wife. We know that Zipporah was a Midianite (Exodus 2:16; Numbers 10:29). So, if Zipporah is the same wife as mentioned in Numbers 12:1, then Cushan and Midian could be the same people. Habakkuk 3:7 implies the same connection: ‘I saw the tents of Cushan in distress, the dwellings of Midian in anguish.’ In the parallel structure of the Hebrew poetry, Cushan and Midian are placed as synonyms.
“The word Cush itself means ‘black,’ and, historically, the people of Cush have been dark-skinned. The prophet Jeremiah alludes to the Cushites’ skin color when he rhetorically asks, ‘Can the Cushite [Ethiopian, in some versions] change his skin?’ (Jeremiah 13:23, HCSB). The Ethiopian people have a tradition that after the flood Ham traveled up the Nile River to the Atbara plain. From there, they could see the Ethiopian tableland. Ham’s family settled there and also in the nearby lowland. This tradition, supported by the biblical account, makes the Cushites among the most ancient people-groups in existence.”
So whether Zipporah was the “Cushite” woman with which Miriam had an issue, or whether Moses had married another Cushite woman (this was over forty years later, you understand; Zipporah could have passed away), it is clear that Moses’ wife had a different racial background—and quite likely darker skin—than the typical Israelite whom Moses was leading toward the Promised Land. Miriam’s snide remark, “Has Yahweh indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us [i.e., she and Aaron] also?” (Numbers 12:2) betrays a lack of confidence in Moses’ judgment (as if to say, “If he could marry somebody who looks like that, what else might he be wrong about?”)
Yahweh was not amused at the racist slur: “So the anger of Yahweh was aroused against them, and He departed. And when the cloud departed from above the tabernacle, suddenly Miriam became leprous, as white as snow.” (Numbers 12:9) God is the Author of Irony, not to mention “letting the punishment fit the crime.” Miriam had said (in a sideways fashion), “Black skin is unworthy of a Jewish leader’s affection.” (I get the distinct feeling that Aaron never had an original idea in his life—he just rolled with the flow.) So Yahweh had responded (sort of), “Oh, you prefer white skin, do you, Miriam? Okay, let’s make yours really white for a while. Leprosy should do the trick. Enjoy.”
I’m probably a really bad person for finding that so funny.
Oh, and in case it wasn’t clear enough that God has nothing against people with black skin, He (in Acts 8) sent an angel to the Apostle Philip telling him to go specifically to minister to a devout Ethiopian eunuch, a high government official under the Ethiopian Queen Candace, who was on his way home from worshiping in Jerusalem—with a head full of questions. Philip opened the scriptures to him, introduced him to the risen Christ, baptized him, and sent him on his way rejoicing. And due largely to the man’s enthusiastic witness, Ethiopia was a “Christian nation” for the better part of two millennia. (The Greek word for Ethiopian or Abyssinian, by the way, is Aithiops. We get our word “Ethiopia” from “the late 14th century Latin Æthiops: ‘Ethiopian, negro,’ from Greek Aithiops, long supposed in popular etymology to be from aithein, ‘to burn’ + ōps, ‘face.’ Compare to aithops, ‘fiery-looking,’ later ‘sunburned’”—Etymonline.com.)
It is clear, then, that there is no place for racial prejudice in either Judaism or Christianity. In stark contrast, the scriptures of Islam reveal a strong undercurrent of racism, from Muhammad on down—and not just against black-skinned people, but against everyone Muhammad considered inferior to himself—that is, everybody. All of the references I’ve quoted here are from what are considered “holy scripture” in Islam—from the Hadith, the Sunnah, or the Qur’an itself.
It is revealed in the Hadith and Sunnah that Muhammad got most of his “religious education” from the Jewish rabbis in the town of Yahthrib (today’s Medina), teaching not from the actual Hebrew Scriptures, but from the Talmud, that is, scripture-based commentary. This explains why so many of Islam’s “characters” are the same as the Bible’s—Adam, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Ishmael, Esau, and Moses for example. But whereas the Torah (as we have seen) doesn’t support even a whiff of racist thought, the Talmud isn’t quite so circumspect.
As to the origin of the races, the Hadith states, “Shem, the son of Noah was the father of the Arabs, the Persians, and the Greeks; Ham was the father of the Black Africans; and Japheth was the father of the Turks and of Gog and Magog who were cousins of the Turks. Noah prayed that the prophets and apostles would be descended from Shem and kings would be from Japheth. He prayed that the African’s color would change so that their descendants would be slaves to the Arabs and Turks.” (Tabari, Volume II) In other words, Muhammad concluded that “black skin” meant one was fit only for slavery.
He went on to say, “Ham [Africans] begat all those who are black and curly-haired, while Japheth [Turks] begat all those who are full-faced with small eyes, and Shem [Arabs] begat everyone who is handsome of face with beautiful hair. Noah prayed that the hair of Ham’s descendants would not grow beyond their ears, and that whenever his descendants met Shem’s, the latter would enslave them.” That’s a long, painful stretch from Noah’s curse of Canaan (one of Ham’s sons) recorded in Genesis 9.
Tabari (in Volume IX) also recorded the enduring legacy of Muhammad’s partiality toward his own Arab ethnicity—he sounds like some Nazi lauding the Aryan “master race.” He writes, “Arabs are the most noble people in lineage, the most prominent, and the best in deeds. We were the first to respond to the call of the Prophet. We are Allah’s helpers and the viziers of His Messenger. We fight people until they believe in Allah. He who believes in Allah and His Messenger has protected his life and possessions from us. As for one who disbelieves, we will fight him forever in Allah’s Cause. Killing him is a small matter to us.” So Tabari has, in effect, defined Islam as a Mafia-style “protection racket.” Muhammad apparently never figured out that the Jews he hated so much (mostly because they were reluctant to buy into his messianic pretensions at Yathrib) were also descendants of Shem.
Of course, not all Arabs were considered intelligent and virtuous—only the ones who slavishly obeyed Muhammad without asking too many questions: “The Arabs of the desert are the worst in unbelief and hypocrisy, and most fitted to be in ignorance of the command which Allah hath sent down to His Messenger.” (Qur’an 9:97) Apparently, country-bumpkin Bedouins just didn’t measure up to “the Prophet’s” urban-sophisticate self-image (doubly ironic, because Muhammad’s home town, Mecca, was just a jerk-water village with only one well; and he himself was an illiterate parasite who had married an older woman for her money).
And what about black-skinned people? What did Muhammad have to say about them? We read in the Sunnah, “Gabriel came to Muhammad and said, ‘If a black man comes to you his heart is more gross than a donkey’s.’” And it was all downhill from there. This may come as a surprise to Americans, who heard of such sports luminaries as Lew Alcindor taking the Islamic name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, or of Cassius Clay becoming Muhammad Ali, and concluded that Islam must be quite affirming of black people. And then there’s Louis Eugene Walcott, who would prefer to be known as Louis Farrakhan, “an American religious leader and political activist, the leader of the Nation of Islam, an organization which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as black nationalist and a hate group.”—Wikipedia. You would think with this kind of resume, that Islam welcomed and supported the black race. But you’d be wrong. Muhammad had nothing but contempt for black-skinned people. Why the converse isn’t true, I couldn’t guess.
More quotes from the Muslim “scriptures”: “I heard the Apostle say: ‘Whoever wants to see Satan should look at Nabtal!’ He was a black man with long flowing hair, inflamed eyes, and dark ruddy cheeks…. Allah sent down concerning him: ‘To those who annoy the Prophet there is a painful doom.” (Ibn Ishaq, No. 243)
“It is your folly to fight the Apostle, for Allah’s army is bound to disgrace you. We brought them to the pit. Hell was their meeting place. We collected them there, black slaves, men of no descent.” (Ibn Ishaq No. 405) “The black troops and slaves of the Meccans cried out and the Muslims replied, ‘Allah destroy your sight, you impious rascals.’” (Ibn Ishaq No. 374) In Muhammad’s twisted mind, the only proper position for a black person was to be a slave. Perhaps this explains why the African slave trade was run almost exclusively by Muslims for centuries. Meanwhile, it was Christians—in both Britain and America—who worked tirelessly for generations to rid their nations of this curse.
It’s hard to say where this contempt for Black Africans came from. The Meccans among whom Muhammad grew up had kept black slaves for centuries, so maybe the prejudice came “naturally.” But Muhammad took his racial bigotry to a whole new level: “The Prophet said, ‘Let the negro slave of Dinar perish. And if he is pierced with a thorn, let him not find anyone to take it out for him.... If he asks for anything it shall not be granted, and if he needs intercession, his intercession will be denied.’” (Hadith of Al Bukhari, Volume 4, Book 52, No. 137) In the mind of Muhammad, there was only one thing worse than being a black man—being a black woman.
Ironically, Islam per se is not based on prejudicial hatred, though Muhammad’s contempt for everything and everyone but himself permeates this violent and corrupt religion, down to this very day. The very word “Islam” means submission. In the “prophet’s” mind, submission to himself was the entire goal—Allah was just a “straw man,” put in place to keep the sheeple in submission to his sole “prophet,” Muhammad—who was only in it for power, sex, and money. So when it came down to making a choice between hating blacks and maintaining control, Muhammad didn’t hesitate: submission was everything. “Allah’s Apostle said, ‘You should listen to and obey your ruler even if he is a black African slave whose head looks like a raisin.’” (Al Bukhari: Volume 9, Book 89, No. 256) But even then, he couldn’t resist his knee-jerk characterization of blacks as “slave material” who are inferior simply because they don’t look like Arabs.
Okay, I apologize for the lengthy detour. Let’s get back to examining the Biblical words denoting “black.” The final Hebrew word family denoting the state of being “black” that we need to study is the noun choshek, meaning darkness or obscurity. The word shows up eighty times in the Hebrew Scriptures; and the verb form (chashak, meaning to be or grow dark) is used another eighteen times.
We don’t have to read too far to encounter the first instance of choshek: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light.’ and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.” (Genesis 1:1-5) So darkness—blackness—was the default state of creation until Yahweh created the light. As I noted in Volume 1 of this work, “Sight and light are a symbiotic system—either one is pointless without the other. Call me naïve, but I believe Yahweh gave us eyes so that we might be able to observe something about His nature and character. That’s the key to understanding this first facet of Yahweh’s self-portrait: Perception. He doesn’t want to remain unknown to us, mysterious and vague. He wants to be seen, to be understood, to be known, to be perceived as the One who loves us. He wants to shed light upon our lives.”
Forget the physics: this is why God characterized light as “good.” Since darkness and light are specifically said to be separated from one another, darkness is thus assigned as a symbol of evil, or at least ignorance. As Yahshua said, “Men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” (John 3:19-20)
Solomon pointed out that there is a defense against such “black lives.” “When wisdom enters your heart, and knowledge is pleasant to your soul, discretion will preserve you. Understanding will keep you, to deliver you from the way of evil, from the man who speaks perverse things, from those who leave the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness [choshek], who rejoice in doing evil, and delight in the perversity of the wicked, whose ways are crooked, and who are devious in their paths.” (Proverbs 2:10-15) The dichotomy is clear: those whose lives are dark, evil, perverse, wicked, crooked, and devious are contrasted with those whose lives are wise, knowledgeable, pleasant, discrete, and understanding. Yes, we all sin; we all make mistakes. But which condition characterizes and defines your life—darkness or light?
Figurative light and darkness, of course, wouldn’t have meant much to us if God hadn’t introduced literal lights (luminescent entities) into the primeval darkness. “Then God said, ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years. And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth’; and it was so. Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. So the evening and the morning were the fourth day.” (Genesis 1:14-19) Note that He didn’t make it “light” all the time on the earth, but rather alternated light periods with black ones, taking care not to let us fall into total darkness, but providing the moon and stars—“lesser lights” by which we could discern the passage of time. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
We are given hints, however, that in the Kingdom age, and more spectacularly in the New Jerusalem, light will no longer alternate with darkness as it does now—an obvious symbolic commentary. It will be light all the time, for Yahshua will dwell among us. Isaiah spells it out: “Then the moon will be disgraced and the sun ashamed; for Yahweh of hosts will reign on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem and before His elders, gloriously.” (Isaiah 24:23) “The light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that Yahweh binds up the bruise of His people and heals the stroke of their wound.” (Isaiah 30:26) And, “The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; but Yahweh will be to you an everlasting light, and your God your glory. Your sun shall no longer go down, nor shall your moon withdraw itself; for Yahweh will be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended.” (Isaiah 60:19-20)
But I digress. We were discussing light’s converse condition: darkness, blackness—the Hebrew noun choshek. It is often used to “illuminate” the concept of judgment, which in Biblical terms doesn’t so much mean wrath and punishment as it does separation, as in a judicial decision between good and bad, right and wrong, holiness and ungodliness.
Twice during the “Ten Plagues of Egypt,” the concept of darkness is invoked to describe what was happening. First, in the eighth plague we read, “[The locusts] covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened.” (Exodus 10:15) Each of the ten plagues was designed to prove Yahweh’s suzerainty over one of the “gods” of Egypt. In the case of the locusts, two of them were dethroned: the supposed protector of crops was Seth (or Set), and Egypt’s “earth-mother” goddess, the giver of life itself, was Isis. Neither one of them stood a chance against Yahweh’s armies of locusts. The darkness was a side-effect: there were so many locusts, the light of the sun was blocked out.
But of course, darkness wasn’t the point—famine was. The Jews had come to Egypt because Joseph (the Hebrew slave who became vice-Pharaoh) had wisely administered Egypt’s resources during a seven-year famine. But because the Egyptians had not honored them in the long term, they were now leaving amid a famine that rivaled the first one four centuries previously.
The top “god” in Egypt’s pagan pantheon, however, was called Ra—the target of the ninth plague. Here, darkness was the point, for Ra was celebrated as the “sun god,” supposedly the ultimate source of light and life. It never occurred to them that the sun itself had been created—by Israel’s God Yahweh, no less—nor that He could “switch it off” if He so desired. “Then Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt.’ So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another; nor did anyone rise from his place for three days. But all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.” (Exodus 10:21-22) Because the phenomenon of darkness was localized, it is clear that Yahweh didn’t actually mess with the sun. Whether He miraculously blocked the light, or whether the effect was actually temporary blindness among the Egyptians, it is clear that Yahweh controls our ability to perceive our world: He can blind the stubbornly unrepentant to their self-imposed plight, or He can open the eyes of the blind, both literally and figuratively. As Hannah put it, “[Yahweh] will guard the feet of His saints, but the wicked shall be silent in darkness.” (I Samuel 2:9)
As the Egyptians discovered during their pursuit of the Israelites toward the Red Sea, discovering whether you’re living in darkness or the light can literally be a matter of where you’re standing in relation to Yahweh. “And the Angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one, and it gave light by night to the other, so that the one did not come near the other all that night.” (Exodus 14:19-20) This pillar-shaped cloud (often referred to as “the Shekinah”) was a non-anthropomorphic pre-Messianic manifestation of Yahweh Himself. Note here that it is also referred to as “the Angel (or Messenger) of God.” The Shekinah’s usual function was to impress upon Israel the awesome glory of the God they had forgotten over the centuries in Egypt.
But here, Its function was also to separate and protect fleeing Israel from the pursuing Egyptian army. Theoretically, the Egyptians could have attacked their quarry during the night, but all they could see was pitch-black darkness. Not even torches and lamps (manmade sources of illumination) could pierce the gloom. The lesson for us (though the Egyptians were not able to see it) is that you can’t go through God to harm or enslave His people. And as Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu later discovered, he who approaches the Living God must do so in reverence and with honor. Anything else is fatal. The bottom line: people who would, for their own aggrandizement, impose religious ritual upon their subjects run afoul of these observations.
The Shekinah’s most spectacular display was wreathing Mount Horeb in fire and smoke as Moses received the Torah from Yahweh. He described it to the children of the witnesses a generation later: “Then you [i.e., your fathers] came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire to the midst of heaven, with darkness, cloud, and thick darkness. And Yahweh spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of the words, but saw no form. You only heard a voice.” (Deuteronomy 4:11-12) Again we see the contrast between the fire (illumination) and thick darkness (obscurity)—both in the same divine phenomenon. What we see when we look at God—what we hear when He speaks—is either light or darkness to us, depending on our willingness to revere Him and receive His words.
That’s not to say that light and truth can’t be terrifying, especially if we’re used to living in darkness and falsehood: “So it was, when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, that you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders. And you said: ‘Surely Yahweh our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire. We have seen this day that God speaks with man; yet he still lives….” The witnesses were naturally awe-struck, and more than a little surprised to have seen Yahweh’s Shekinah glory and heard His voice, and yet lived to tell the tale.
But they got the distinct impression that this sort of direct contact with deity couldn’t be good for your health in the long run. “Now therefore, why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of Yahweh our God anymore, then we shall die. For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? You [Moses] go near and hear all that Yahweh our God may say, and tell us all that Yahweh our God says to you, and we will hear and do it.’” (Deuteronomy 5:23-27) Moses seemed to them to have some sort of immunity to God’s glory, so they were perfectly happy to let him risk his life talking face to face with the Almighty. “Just tell us what He said to do, Mo, and we’ll do it.” Ah, if only they had.
This reaction was exactly what Yahweh had hoped for, for His plan of redemption involved manifesting Himself as a human being and walking among them. No more scary fire, smoke, and thunder—just an ordinary-looking Man: God incarnate. (Bear in mind that the Shekinah, as terrifying as it seemed, was a divine manifestation that had been “dialed down” to the point of non-lethality. None of us can stand in the direct, unfiltered presence of Yahweh in our mortal bodies and live through the encounter.)
So a few chapters later, Moses told the Israelites, “Yahweh your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren [i.e., a human, and an Israelite]. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of Yahweh your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of Yahweh my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die….’” It was important that they understood that Yahweh was awesome and glorious—unlike the manufactured “gods” of the Egyptians they were leaving behind, or of the Canaanites they were about to encounter. But Yahweh’s goal wasn’t primarily to intimidate them—He wanted to save them, atone for their sins, and reconcile them to His presence.
“And Yahweh said to me: ‘What they have spoken is good. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:15-19) That “Prophet,” of course, would turn out to be Yahshua of Nazareth, whose words were those of Yahweh Himself—because they shared the same identity, though not the same form: “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.’” (John 8:12) Think about it: if Yahshua (Jesus) were not God incarnate, this statement would have been a blasphemous lie.
A bit later, He described what it meant to be “the Prophet” about whom Moses had spoken: “Then Jesus cried out and said, ‘He who believes in Me, believes not [only] in Me but [also] in Him who sent Me. And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me.” In other words, Yahshua was declaring His equality with Yahweh, not in appearance, of course, but in identity. “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness. And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.” Judgment would be His function in another advent, in another bodily form, at another time. “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day….”
He hasn’t left the doubters a nanometer of wiggle room here: He is either “the Prophet” of whom Moses spoke, or a complete fraud. The “question” was put to rest six days later, when He rose from the dead. “For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak.” Just as Moses had predicted. “And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.” (John 12:44-50) Yahweh’s “command” to Him (and to us) was to live eternally. Since Yahshua and Yahweh are One, not even death could prevent Him from complying. We who believe in and rely upon this fact live in light; those who reject it dwell in darkness. There is no middle ground. The issue is black and white.
But because the privilege of choice—of free will—is God’s primary gift to mankind, Yahweh does not (and logically, cannot) be light to all people, until and unless they choose to seek it. Irresistible, undeniable illumination would leave no room for choice; so God “cloaks” His glory until we, as individuals, are willing to embrace it. David put it this way: “He made darkness canopies around Him, dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. From the brightness before Him coals of fire were kindled…. For You are my lamp, O Yahweh. Yahweh shall enlighten my darkness.” (II Samuel 22:12-13, 29) As with the Egyptian army, the God we see (whether blackness or brightness) depends upon where we’re standing in relationship to Him.
If ever there was a man who knew first-hand the difference between darkness and light (in the figurative sense), it was Job—who used the term choshek frequently as he described his plight. As his trials descended upon him, his life seemed black to him, to the point at which he wished he had never been born. “May the day perish on which I was born, and the night in which it was said, ‘A male child is conceived.’ May that day be darkness. May God above not seek it, nor the light shine upon it. May darkness and the shadow of death claim it. May a cloud settle on it. May the blackness of the day terrify it.… May the stars of its morning be dark. May it look for light, but have none, and not see the dawning of the day.” (Job 3:3-5, 3:9) Yet even here, in his darkest gloom, Job remembered God’s light—the first created thing He had called “good.”
Ironically, it was this light—something with which Job had formerly been quite familiar—that made the despair of his situation seem so black. God likes to teach us through contrasts: they help us to see things more clearly. People who have never “seen the light” don’t seem to mind the darkness as much as they might. In fact, Job notes, they seek it out—even when the light is available. “[Crafty people] meet with darkness in the daytime, and grope at noontime as in the night.” (Job 5:14)
Job seems to have understood that what people see—whether darkness or light—is due to their relationship with God (or lack of it): “[Yahweh] uncovers deep things out of darkness, and brings the shadow of death to light. He makes nations great, and destroys them. He enlarges nations, and guides them. He takes away the understanding of the chiefs of the people of the earth, and makes them wander in a pathless wilderness. They grope in the dark without light, and He makes them stagger like a drunken man.” (Job 12:22-25) What confused him was that all he could see in his distress was darkness, though he genuinely honored God and knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that “his Redeemer lives.” Although Job would never have claimed to be sinless, his “friends” were attributing his misfortune to the direct judgment of God for some hidden, heinous sin in his life—and he knew this theory had no basis in fact. How can one repent of a sin he knows he has not committed?
So in frustration and bewilderment, Job assumed he would soon die of “bad luck.” All pre-Christian man “knew” of the state of the dead was something called Sheol—the grave, the underworld, the abode of the dead. It is unclear where Job got his conception of what this was, since these are the earliest writings in the Bible. (Job, a near-contemporary of Abraham, predated Moses by half a millennium.) In anticipation of his (presumed) premature death, Job told his friends, “Cease! Leave me alone, that I may take a little comfort, Before I go to the place from which I shall not return, to the land of darkness and the shadow of death, A land as dark as darkness itself, as the shadow of death, without any order, where even the light is like darkness.” (Job 10:20-22) Job had never been there, you understand: this was all hearsay (as far as we know). It was only later (in chapter 19) that he came to terms with the concepts that (1) “God (not pointless misfortune) had struck him” (v21), that (2) his Redeemer lived and was destined to rule upon the earth (v25), and that (3) there was consequently a physical afterlife in store for him (v26-27).
Yahshua (in Luke 16) would “flesh out” our conception of what the grave is—notably that the redeemed and the unrighteous are already separated from each other (read: judged) by the time they get there. But Job’s early version of sheol is where assumed he was going: “They [probably Job’s ‘miserable comforters’] change the night into day.” That is, they see flippant, facile solutions to deadly-serious problems. “‘The light is near,’ they say, in the face of darkness. If I wait for the grave as my house, if I make my bed in the darkness, if I say to corruption, ‘You are my father,’ and to the worm, ‘You are my mother and my sister,’ Where then is my hope? As for my hope, who can see it? Will they go down to the gates of Sheol? Shall we have rest together in the dust?” (Job 17:12-16) Job says (and this is a very loose paraphrase) “I’m headed for the grave, Eliphaz. You want me to repent of some wickedness of which I am innocent, Zophar? E tu, Bildad? Why don’t you guys accompany me to Sheol, where you can lecture me properly—enlightening me on how I’m exaggerating my woes.”
After letting all of Job’s friends pontificate on why he was suffering, and after listening to Job’s pathetic and unconvincing attempts at self-defense, God Himself joined the conversation: “Then Yahweh answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: ‘Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:1-2) Oops. Ironically, this is precisely what Job’s wise young friend Elihu had boldly told him a bit earlier: “Job opens his mouth in vain; he multiplies words without knowledge.” (Job 35:16) Elihu’s primary points (if I may summarize) are that though Yahweh is sovereign, He does not micromanage the affairs of men; He is good and just, but patient with sinners in the hope of their repentance; and He is majestic and wise beyond our ability to comprehend, daring Job to “Teach us what we should say to Him, for we can prepare nothing because of the darkness.” (Job 37:19) God later tacitly confirmed the young man’s position, taking Eliphaz, Zophar, and Bildad to task, but not criticizing Elihu’s observations.
If I may paraphrase the exchange that finally took place between Yahweh and Job, He said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about, Job, because you aren’t God. Just trust Me: I am sufficient for you.” It’s a lesson we would all do well to learn. For his part, Job responded, “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:3, 6) Job had been given a rare opportunity—to be taken on a journey from light to darkness and back to light again, recording his itinerary for our edification. May we all end up choosing the light.
Job’s initial view of Sheol seems to picture it as a place where God does not go—a concept (as it turns out) that is somewhat more descriptive of hell (a.k.a. Gehenna) than of Sheol, the grave, or (as it is called in the Greek) Hades. They are not the same thing. More to the point, the Psalmist points out that our God is not afraid of the dark: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there. If I make my bed in sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall fall on me,’ even the night shall be light about me. Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You, but the night shines as the day. The darkness and the light are both alike to You.” (Psalm 139:7-12)
God, it would appear, created light for our benefit; He doesn’t need it Himself. He wants us to live in His light, to benefit from the illumination His presence provides. It should not be surprising, then, to find that when He speaks of judgment—of separating evil from good—He often describes the result of His wrath as darkness, blackness of the soul—expressed by the Hebrew word family choshek/chashak.
Jeremiah prophesied for decades about God’s coming judgment upon Judah—only to live long enough to see it come to pass before his very eyes. Speaking of Zion, he says, “Her Nazirites [or nobles] were brighter than snow and whiter than milk. They were more ruddy in body than rubies, like sapphire in their appearance. Now their appearance is blacker [chashak] than soot. They go unrecognized in the streets. Their skin clings to their bones. It has become as dry as wood.” (Lamentations 4:7-8) Don’t read racist overtones into this: despite the references to “appearance,” this has more to do with one’s expression—his visage or countenance, a reflection of his spiritual condition—than to his outward appearance. Jerusalem’s nobility were once confident, healthy, and prosperous—to the point that they forgot Yahweh, the source of their blessings. But now that they had been carried off to Babylon, things didn’t look so rosy. Their outlook had turned from “white” to “black.”
I can’t help but reflect that the judgment that befell Judah—in which enlightenment gradually became darkened—is a warning to America. We were born in light, the product of the pursuit of Christian liberty by godly men and women. Yes, we got some things wrong, but we honored God in our institutions and founding principles to the limits of our comprehension. But for over a century now, Satan’s minions have been nibbling away at the edges of our foundational beliefs, like termites slowly destroying a house, or like mice in the corn crib.
It has gotten to the point where Isaiah’s warning sounds as if he had 21st century America in mind: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil, who put darkness for light, and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!...” Yahweh alone defines what is good, right, and true. Satan’s opinion carries no weight at all, and those who push his agenda bring down “woe” upon themselves. “He will lift up a banner to the nations from afar, and will whistle to them from the end of the earth. Surely they shall come with speed, swiftly…. In that day they will roar against them like the roaring of the sea. And if one looks to the land, behold, darkness and sorrow, and the light is darkened by the clouds.” (Isaiah 5:20, 26, 30) I could rant all day, but you get the picture: the inevitable result of a nation turning its back on Yahweh is “darkness and sorrow.”
The prophets’ allusions to the coming of darkness are not limited to the short-term fate of Israel and Judah. The ultimate fulfillment of these dire predictions will occur during the time known as “the day of Yahweh,” in which the whole world will experience His “wrath” and “fierce anger.” “Behold, the day of Yahweh comes, cruel [read: deadly or ferocious], with both wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate, and He will destroy its sinners from it. For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light. The sun will be darkened in its going forth, and the moon will not cause its light to shine.” (Isaiah 13:9-10) This “darkness” phenomenon will descend upon mankind during the seven-year time of judgment known as the Tribulation (the final septade of the amazing Daniel 9:24-27 prophecy describing Israel’s future).
It won’t be ordinary rain clouds turning the sky dark. In fact, for half of the Tribulation’s duration, there will be no rain: severe drought is decreed over much of the earth. Nor will the sun itself burn out (yet). The blackened skies will apparently be the result of (1) nuclear war burning one third of the planet’s land surface, (2) volcanoes and earthquakes, (3) meteor showers, (4) smoke emanating from the abyss, along with demonic locusts, and (5) other unspecified atmospheric phenomena. Or, to put it in specific (though a bit esoteric) scriptural terms, see the Book of Revelation—the 6th Seal judgment, Trumpet judgments 1 through 5, and Bowl judgments 4 and 5—all of which promise to darken the skies.
We would be hard pressed to find an Old Testament prophet who doesn’t mention this Last Days black-skies phenomenon. We’ve heard from Isaiah. Here is one from Amos: “‘And it shall come to pass in that day,’ says the Lord Yahweh, ‘That I will make the sun go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in broad daylight.’” (Amos 8:9) The second statement explains the first. He’s not talking about the sun descending below the western horizon at noon; he’s saying that when you’d expect it to be broad daylight, at mid-day, the sun’s light will not be visible. In context, he’s talking figuratively about spiritual darkness descending upon Israel: “I will send a famine on the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of Yahweh.” (v.11) But I have noticed that time and again, what happened to historic Israel is a prophetic harbinger of the fate of humanity in general. What was spoken of in poetic terms concerning Zion (like the darkness described here) will become all too literal during the Last Days.
Another example of the principle from another prophet: “Blow the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in My holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble. For the day of Yahweh is coming. For it is at hand: a day of darkness [choshek] and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, like the morning clouds spread over the mountains. A people come, great and strong, the like of whom has never been, nor will there ever be any such after them, even for many successive generations.” (Joel 2:1-2) Again, there are two fulfillments in view: the Babylonian invasion (the result of Judah’s spiritual “thick darkness”), and the build-up to Armageddon—the final “battle,” in which the darkness will be all too literal.
Agenda-driven fake news, as we’ve come to know it, is roundly condemned by God’s prophet Micah. “Thus says Yahweh concerning the prophets who make my people stray, who chant ‘Peace’ while they chew with their teeth, but who prepare war against him who puts nothing into their mouths: ‘Therefore you shall have night without vision, and you shall have darkness without divination. The sun shall go down on the prophets, and the day shall be dark for them. So the seers shall be ashamed, and the diviners abashed. Indeed they shall all cover their lips, for there is no answer from God.” (Micah 3:5-7) Here the “darkness” is a euphemism for the inability to perceive the truth, because the “prophets” (pundits, politicians, and preachers—the purveyors of fake news) wish their lies to be received as truth because of their greed and corruption. They will attack anyone who doesn’t support them. (Sound familiar? I don’t know about the rest of the world, but we Americans are fed a steady diet of lies these days. Without our historic grounding in Biblical truth, we wouldn’t have a clue.)
What is our proper defense against such lies? Simply honor God. “Give glory to Yahweh your God before He causes darkness, and before your feet stumble on the dark mountains, and while you are looking for light, He turns it into the shadow of death and makes it dense darkness.” (Jeremiah 13:16) To whatever extent we ignore God’s enlightenment, we will find ourselves in darkness. But to whatever extent we seek out God’s wisdom, we will find our way through this dark and forbidding world.
The foregoing truths are based on what we found concerning blackness or darkness in the Hebrew Scriptures. What do the Greek Scriptures (the New Testament) have to say about the subject? As I mentioned above, there is only one Greek word (and seldom used at that) used to describe black as a color: melas (an adjective simply meaning “black,”). For example, Yahshua said in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to Yahweh.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black [melas]. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33-37) The old joke is, “Yes, only your children can turn your black hair white.” Here, melas is the equivalent of the Hebrew shachor (as in Song 5:11)—literal black hair, a sign of youth and vigor.
But even then, melas can shade into figurative usages, though literal black-colored objects are being described: “I looked when He opened the sixth seal, and behold, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became like blood.” (Revelation 6:12) Recall how often “blackened skies” were spoken of in Last-Days Hebrew prophecies.
A few verses before this, John was shown a vision of four horses and their riders. One of them was called “black” (melas). “When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, ‘Come and see.’ So I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine.’” (Revelation 6:5-6) As with the colors of the other horses (victorious white, bloody red, and sickly pale green—the color of a decomposing corpse), black is being used here to describe a condition prevailing during the Tribulation. (This is a vision, after all: symbols are expected.) In this case, it’s famine—food scarcity coupled with runaway inflation, making it hard to keep from starving to death unless you’re filthy-rich.
That’s about it for the Greek word for “black,” melas. But as with the Hebrew word-family choshek, there is a far-more-often used New Testament word-family denoting “black’s” figurative and spiritual side, the concept of obscurity, darkness: the lack of light. Skotizo is the verb meaning to darken, become dark, or make obscure. Skotos is the masculine noun form. It means darkness or obscurity. Thayer notes one of its primary usages: “metaphorically, of ignorance respecting divine things and human duties, and the accompanying ungodliness and immorality, together with their consequent misery.” And the feminine noun skotia also denotes darkness. Helps Word Studies defines it: “a brand of moral, spiritual obscurity (i.e. which blocks the light of God when faith is lacking).”
Sometimes skotos (etc.) describes the literal state of the night sky—the darkness between sunset and sunrise: “Now when evening came, His disciples went down to the sea, got into the boat, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was already dark, and Jesus had not come to them.” (John 6:16-17) But even here, there are figurative undertones: if Yahshua hasn’t “come to us,” it is dark outside.
Sometimes, skotos is used to describe literal darkness when it ought normally to have been light outside: “Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” (Matthew 27:45-46; cf. Mark 15:33-34) “Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two.” (Luke 23:44-45) There was an eclipse that day between noon and three o’clock (by our reckoning), visible in Jerusalem. But an ordinary eclipse can’t account for three solid hours of afternoon darkness: it was as if, during the time Yahshua hung on the cross, Father Yahweh said, “I can’t watch this.”
Luke adds the detail about the veil separating the temple’s Holy Place from the Most Holy Place tearing in two during the darkened hours. The writer to the Hebrews (in 10:20) points out that this torn curtain represents Christ’s flesh, torn to atone for our sins. His sacrifice is what makes direct access to the throne of Yahweh open and available to us. Another way of seeing this is that Yahshua endured the darkness of separation from the Father for a time, in order that we might have access to God’s light—for eternity.
It would appear that He who created light and called it “good” did his best work in the dark. Even the resurrection took place at night: “Now the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.” (John 20:1) This would have been before sunrise on Sunday, the 16th of Nisan—that is, the Feast of Firstfruits. Remember, by Jewish reckoning, days began at sunset: the Sabbath (the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, on the 15th) had ended almost twelve hours prior to this. Yahshua had risen from the dead and left the tomb sometime during the night. Mary could see well enough to find the tomb, of course, because this was the middle of the lunar month: the moon was full, and the black clouds that had blocked the sun on Passover (the 14th) had dissipated.
Only after He was gone did the angel come and roll away the seal-stone—demonstrating to the guards, and later the devout women, the disciples, and anybody else in Jerusalem at the time, that the Messiah had kept His word: the grave could not hold him, for He was God incarnate. In a manner of speaking, no one would ever have to live in darkness again: the Light of the world had come. “Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.’” (John 8:12)
That’s not to say everyone to whom this light is available has (or will) choose to walk in it. As I write these words, the world has begun separating itself into two distinct camps—those aligned with God (Yahweh, represented by Yahshua), and those allied with Satan. The seemingly “neutral ground” between the two positions (always an illusion) is getting harder and harder to find. The “twilight” that the majority once preferred is being overcome by gross darkness, punctuated by small but numerous spots of pure, brilliant light.
I don’t know about the world at large, but in America these days, there are a few reasonably reliable “index issues” that serve to identify which side a person is on. Satan’s dark kingdom supports (in no particular order) (1) ungodliness (whether within or without religion), (2) abortion and euthanasia—the elimination of the inconvenient, (3) gender role confusion, (4) Islam, (5) socialism, (6) anarchy (7) hatred and division based on race, sex, or relative wealth, (8) persecution of dissenters, and (9) hypocrisy concerning the environment.
Children of the Light support the opposite positions: (1) godliness and holiness, as life goals, (2) a respect for human life, (3) traditional (i.e., Biblical) gender roles—men and women joined in fruitful marriages, (4) a Judeo-Christian Biblical world-view, (5) personal responsibility, (6) law and order in society, (7) racial color-blindness, (8) concern for people of dissenting views, knowing that their sinful life-choices will separate them from God in the long run, and (9) thoughtful stewardship of natural resources.
You’ll note that the “Godly” group espouses ideals that are fully compatible with each other, though they’re goals, not always perfectly realized in practice. The “Satanic” group’s ideals, on the other hand, are as often as not at war with each other. For example, Islam’s teachings and homosexuality are completely incompatible; socialism and anarchy cannot coexist in the long term; and prejudice and the persecution of dissenting views are often at cross purposes. It’s just what you’d expect from the father of chaos and confusion.
If the world is this dysfunctional now, imagine what will happen after Christ removes His people from the earth sometime before the Tribulation (the final “seven years” of the Daniel 9:24-27 prophecy) takes place. (The two events are never chronologically correlated in scripture, except to establish the order—rapture first, then the Tribulation.) Oh, wait, we don’t have to imagine anything. Christ told us exactly what will happen: “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken….” We have already seen how literal darkness will descend upon the earth during the closing days of the Great Tribulation. But one does not have to be a prophet to foresee widespread spiritual gloom in the world after the “Philadelphian” saints have been raptured. I believe it will be this very darkness that will compel the “Laodiceans” to seek what had previously eluded them—“anointing their eyes with eye salve,” so they can finally see what they’d missed.” (See Revelation 3:18.)
The darkness won’t last forever: “Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory….” This, of course, is a description of the Second Coming of Christ—not to be confused with the rapture of the church. So where are those raptured saints? They (we) will accompany Yahshua as He returns to reign upon the earth: “And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Matthew 24:29-31; cf. Mark 13:24-27) Note that the raptured saints are at this time gathered from heaven, not from the earth. This is confirmed in Revelation: “And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean [identified in v.7-8 as the Bride of Christ], followed Him on white horses.” (Revelation 19:14)
In virtually every instance of the usage of the skotos word family in scripture, a contrast between darkness and light is in view. It’s a concept that translates out to obscurity vs. clarity, death vs. life, night vs. day, blindness vs. vision, foolishness vs. wisdom, etc. Even the metaphorical meanings of black (that is, darkness, obscurity, and judgment) vs. white (purity, the state of being clean) are touched upon. The symbol is defined by the breadth of its usage.
Zacharias’ prophecy concerning his newborn son, John the Baptist, contrasts the light brought by the One for whom John was to be a forerunner, with the darkness the Messiah came to dispel: “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest, for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:76-79) All sorts of things are being contrasted here—salvation vs. sins, light vs. darkness, and peace vs. the shadow of death—all of which would be the result of Yahshua’s mission, which was to be introduced by John, who would connect the Messiah to the Torah’s promise by declaring Him to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
The transition from darkness to light predicted here is an oft-recurring them in the Gospels. In the Sermon on the Mount, Yahshua explained the importance—the necessity—of moving from darkness into light: “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23; cf. Luke 11:33-36) Everybody knows that if you wander about in the dark, you’re likely to stub your toes and bash your shins. So light is the obvious remedy to “walking in darkness.” The problem was (and still is), the people were being given spiritual counsel that was marketed as light, but in reality did nothing to illuminate their path. In the Israel of Yahshua’s day, it was the “oral law” with which the scribes and Pharisees had weighed down the comparatively simple and straightforward Torah of Yahweh, “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:9) In pagan societies like Greece and Rome, it was human philosophy masquerading as wisdom. (Hardly anybody seriously worshiped the pagan gods, who were merely kept around as a cultural backdrop, like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.) Today, it’s the incessant stream of lies and half-truths foisted upon an unsuspecting public by misguided pundits, politicians, and even apostate preachers. It’s presented as “enlightened thinking,” but in reality, it is darkness.
If we want real light—illumination that can overcome the world’s obscurity—we need to see things through God’s eyes. “And leaving Nazareth, [Yahshua] came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: ‘The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.’” (Matthew 4:13-16; cf. Isaiah 9:1-2) It is no coincidence that all of the places Isaiah prophesied would “see a great light” were locations in which Yahshua ministered.
But because of free will, not everyone who was shown the light was willing to open their eyes to it. The rulers in Jerusalem for example, though exposed to the Light, chose not to see it. Yahshua explained to Nicodemus: “The light has come into the world, [but] men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (John 3:19-21) It’s not that people don’t know the difference between good and evil: whether through law or conscience, the wicked are fully aware that their deeds are sinful. Their attempts to hide, minimize, or deny their actions prove they know right from wrong—and that they’ve chosen to do what they know is wicked. Unfortunately, we all fit this profile from time to time, for even if we’re redeemed, we’re still fallen, mortal humans. Confession and repentance are needed early and often if we wish to dwell in the light.
The thing about darkness is not that it is inherently evil; it’s that it hides the truth—both our wicked and our righteous deeds. Politicians always promise “transparency,” but they almost never deliver. Truth can be devastating in an election year, so they never reveal “where the bodies are buried” (so to speak). Light, on the other hand, acts as a megaphone or magnifying glass: it makes our deeds obvious and apparent to all who are interested—our friends and enemies alike. I may not mind you knowing I’m having a rough time financially (I’m not, by the way—this is just an illustration), but I’d hate for you to learn that I’ve been robbing banks or peddling drugs to pay my bills. Some things (illegal, immoral, or embarrassing) we like to keep hidden in the dark, because, as I said, we know the difference between right and wrong.
Even essential truth can start off “in the dark,” hidden and unknown. So Yahshua (who couldn’t personally tell everything to everyone) instructed His disciples, “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.” (Matthew 10:27; cf. Luke 12:3) That’s why He called us “the light of the world.” (See Matthew 5:14.) It would be through people—flawed and corrupt though we may be—that His message of salvation would be spread.
It’s not that we have light within us in our natural state; it’s that we who are close to Yahshua can by our proximity (not to mention the fact that He has cleansed us) act as reflectors and transmitters of His essential light. He said, “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness.” (John 12:46) We are all familiar with the shout of joy: “Hallelujah!” What this means (in Hebrew) is “Praise Yahweh,” or more literally, “Radiate Yahweh’s light.” That is precisely what the Son of Man did as He walked among us, prompting John to write, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend [i.e., overcome] it.” (John 1:4-5)
It’s a theme that pops up over and over again, especially in the writings of John: Yahshua is the light—walk with Him if you want to see the truth. As He was preparing to go to the cross, He admonished the unbelieving multitudes, “A little while longer the light is with you. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you; he who walks in darkness does not know where he is going. While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” (John 12:35-36) He had been walking among them for over three years, preaching the Good News and revealing His Messianic identity through miracles, healings, and even authority over death. But because the Scribes and Pharisees had taught them to expect a Messiah who would rid the country of the Romans (and very little else), they didn’t believe Him, opting to walk instead in darkness.
But the disciples (excuse Judas Iscariot) believed in Him—even if they didn’t understand what He was talking about half the time. John later wrote: “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (I John 1:5-7) Talk is cheap, he says, but there is a litmus test, a factor by which we can know whether or not the “light” within us is genuine. Simply stated, if we are in fellowship with God—if we are walking in His light—then we will also be in fellowship with His other children.
But what does it mean, this concept of “fellowship?” Does it mean we agree about every nuance of Christian doctrine and practice? Not exactly. John explains in the next chapter: “A new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (I John 2:8-11) The real issue, he says, is love vs. hate. And considering Yahshua’s teachings (e.g., “Love your enemies”), it is no stretch at all to define “brother” as “your fellow human being.”
Okay, so what does it mean to “love” someone? Contrary to modern liberal-progressive modes of thought, it does not mean “make them feel good about their choices,” or “agree with and support them, no matter what they believe.” If their choices and beliefs are self-destructive (according to God’s standards, not society’s necessarily) then supporting them could very well be construed as hatred—as walking in darkness. The classic Torah passage on the subject is this: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him….” Hating your brother/neighbor is therefore defined as failing to correct him when he sins—which, ironically, is the liberal definition of love.
So warning people that they are in spiritual danger by doing or believing certain things (defined by God’s Word, not by man’s cultural norms) is an act of love. Think of it as “suicide prevention,” or of pulling them back from the brink of danger and pain. Of course, before “rebuking your neighbor,” we must be very sure of our position (i.e., God’s position) ourselves. And note: one’s religious traditions are not necessarily coterminous with Yahweh’s definition of holiness.
The passage continues: “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people….” We are to personally forgive sins committed against ourselves. Period. It doesn’t help to merely refrain from overt retribution while seething inside with pent-up resentment. As Christ prayed (while the soldiers were driving nine-inch spikes through his wrists), “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Just assume that your enemies are just as clueless as the Roman goons: pray not for their punishment, but for their salvation.
This principle, however, does not imply approval for anarchy, a culture without law or justice. Crimes perpetrated against society are to be met with appropriate punishment—meted out by human governments, who would be wise to base their laws on God’s Instructions. Murder and theft, for example, are crimes against all of humanity.
“But you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am Yahweh.” (Leviticus 19:17-18) Yahshua (in Luke 10) told a lengthy parable about a “Good Samaritan,” describing exactly what this looks like: a man met the needs of someone whom God had placed in his path, someone who needed help. He basically applied the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The “land mine” He placed in the story was the cultural animosity one might ordinarily have expected between the helper and the helpee. Jews in general looked down upon Samaritans, considering them racially inferior mixed-blood mongrels. In 1920s Alabama, the example might have been a poor black sharecropper helping a Ku Klux Klan member in his hour of need. Your neighbor—your brother—could be anyone you might encounter. See my chapter on “Samaritans” (TTC 4.2.5) for a detailed analysis of the parable. Bottom line: this is what it looks like to “walk in the light of Christ’s love.” Anything else is darkness.
We might have expected the Jews—whom God had made the custodians of His Torah-Instructions—to be the most receptive to the light of Christ. But as it turned out, there isn’t much correlation between the light we’re shown and the light to which we respond. Consider the case of the devout Roman Centurion who, in humility and faith, asked Yahshua to heal his paralyzed servant. “When Jesus heard [the Centurion’s faith], He marveled, and said to those who followed, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:10-12) Being shown the light is a great blessing, of course. But our salvation depends not on the blessings we’ve been given, but on our response to them.
The lesson is repeated in Yahshua’s Parable of the Talents, in which three servants were given different amounts to invest for their master, based on his assessment of their abilities. Lesson #1 is that we are not equally gifted, much to the progressive-socialists’ dismay. It’s what you do with what you’ve got that counts. As the father of nine adopted children ranging from genius level to severely mentally handicapped, I understand this quite well. Of my two “genius” adopted kids, one is a talented and successful business woman, and the other is doing life behind bars for his crimes. But to my mind, the real overachiever among them was Jill, our cortically blind cerebral-palsied quadriplegic who was not expected to live past her first birthday, but who enjoyed life to the fullest and made it to the age of ten before her failing body finally overcame her indomitable spirit.
Anyway, in the parable, two of the servants achieved the same splendid result, in proportion to what they had been given to work with, receiving exactly the same commendation. Meanwhile, the third did nothing to increase his master’s investment, and was thus labeled “wicked and lazy.” What he had been given was therefore transferred to one of the “good and faithful” servants. The parable concludes, “For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:29-30) “Outer darkness” here need not necessarily be read as “hell,” because all three servants were in the employ of a master described as “going on a long journey”—in other words, he is a type of Christ, who has assigned us believers to serve as custodians of His kingdom for the past two thousand years. But at the very least, it implies banishment—disqualification from doing any meaningful work for the Master. Every Christian I know would be horrified to be found in this position, relegated to obscurity on the side lines, even if they were still citizens of the kingdom.
Of course, merely “hanging out” with the servants of Christ does not prove you’re one of them—even if the Master has called you to His service. After all, He has called everyone, though comparatively few of us have responded. The classic example of this sort of “wicked and lazy servant” is Judas Iscariot. On the night Judas betrayed Yahshua, “Jesus said to the chief priests, captains of the temple, and the elders who had come to Him, ‘Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you daily in the temple, you did not try to seize Me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.’” (Luke 22:52-53) That sounds like an ominous concept: the power of darkness. But in the Greek, it’s not quite so scary. “Darkness” is the Greek skotos—physical or moral darkness. But “power” is not dunamis (which would imply intrinsic strength—the power naturally inherent in something). The word, rather, is exousia—the ability to act, i.e., authority that’s conferred on someone.
Yahshua is saying, then, that the religious mob would have no power over Him at all, unless that nefarious authority had been granted to them by Yahweh Himself, for His own purposes. The same truth is attested to a thousand times in scripture: Satan has no authority over the affairs of men that Yahweh did not grant. The devil may not tempt us, harm us, or punish us for our sins unless (and until) God allows it. We saw it being played out in the Garden of Eden, in the misadventures of Job, the enslavement of the Children of Israel in Egypt, their deportations by Assyria and Babylon, and here with Judas in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yahshua plainly informed Pontius Pilate of this reality in John 19:11. And we expect to see it on steroids during the Time of Jacob’s Trouble.
Sometimes we are able to comprehend what God is doing in real time, and sometimes we don’t understand it until long after the fact. But the fact always emerges eventually: Yahweh is sovereign. When the black episodes of life descend upon us, they are invariably shown to be within the context of His ultimate character and plan—His love for mankind. The power of darkness is only there to reveal God’s light. That is why Paul taught us to “Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.” (I Corinthians 4:5)
Be not deceived: living in the darkness is a choice one makes. The light is plentiful and obvious to anyone willing to open his eyes. Paul writes, “What may be known of God is manifest [i.e., plain, obvious, evident] in [men who suppress the truth], for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools.” (Romans 1:19-22) As I wrote somewhere, “If you can look at the starry sky, hold a newborn baby, experience a thunderstorm, or smell a rose in bloom, and not know there’s a God, there’s something wrong with you.”
That being said, throughout human history, our adversary Satan has been working overtime to hide the obvious truth from us. His favorite tactic (it would seem) is to offer us a choice between two bad things, obfuscating the fact that God always presents the option of holiness and blessing: a choice between good and evil, between life and death. In our present context, Yahweh invites us to choose between His light and the devil’s darkness. But Satan would like us to believe that our only choice is between darkness in the cold vs. darkness with heat. We become so used to dealing with people who have chosen evil over good, we often forget that (as Paul put it), “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
If we had to fight against this spiritual gloom in our own strength, we wouldn’t stand a chance. But thank God, “[Christ] has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14) The “power of darkness” manifests itself in error, confusion, despair, and dystopia. Christ’s “delivery vehicle” is light—truth, clarity, hope, and ultimately utopia in His kingdom. Light (whether literal or figurative) is so important to God, it is the very first thing He introduced into the primeval creation (see Genesis 1:3). “It is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (II Corinthians 4:6)
We need not live in darkness for one more moment: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret….” I can’t help but reflect that as I write these words, it is an election year in America; and it is evident as never before that “unfruitful works of darkness” by certain candidates are being concealed by the media as best they can. “But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light.” (Ephesians 5:8-13) What is needed here (and everywhere else, for that matter) is for the light of truth to be shown brightly, so people can make good decisions—informed choices. But alas, the broad sweep of Bible Prophecy reveals in no uncertain terms that the world is headed for a period of darkness the likes of which has not been seen since the days of Noah.
I mentioned above that the world is in these Last Days in the process of being divided sharply (and as never before) between Yahweh’s people and Satan’s. It is the result (mostly) of the godless finally “coming out of the closet,” so to speak—of openly declaring their contempt for the true and living God, and for His people. But ironically, we believers were instructed from the very beginning to separate ourselves from people who reject our God and His principles: “I am Yahweh your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:44) And it is a founding principle of Christianity as well: “[Prepare] your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ, as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance. But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’” (I Peter 1:13-16)
Paul points out that this “separation” principle is synonymous with “walking in the light.” “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” (II Corinthians 6:14) How sad it is that five of the seven church-age profiles presented in Revelation 2 and 3 are characterized as having compromised with the world to one extent or another—of trying to blend darkness with the light. In the long run, it can’t be done, for darkness and light are at war with one another.
Paul then admonishes the Romans, “The night is far spent; the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.” Note that the light of Christ—the Way, the Truth, and the Life—is our defense against unrighteousness. “Casting off the works of darkness” is tantamount to allowing Him to guide our steps: “Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” (Romans 13:12-14)
God gave us the light, and eyes with which to benefit from it. We were not intended to live in darkness or ignorance, blindness or obscurity, immorality or error.