Tag Archives: Linum usitatissimum

Linen Curtains in the Tabernacle

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Read how Tabernacle Curtains were made and used in Exodus 26:1–6 and 31-37; Exodus 27:9–19; and Exodus chapter 28.

Flax was used extensively in the Tabernacle to make linen. Flax is native to the eastern Mediterranean region and was an important crop in Egypt since the 5th millennium B.C.  The linen curtains, the blue, purple and scarlet embroidery yarn, and the linen priest’s clothes came from the flax plant. The two craftsmen, Bezalel and Oholiab, God designated to oversee building of the Tabernacle were given skill as designers and embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and in fine linen (Exodus 35:35). 

In the Tent of Meeting, a curtain (veil) made of fine woven linen hung between the Holies of Holy and the Most Holy of Holies. Cherubim were embroidered on the veil with blue, purple and scarlet yarn.  The Tent of Meeting roof was made of linen curtains. The curtains draped over the outside of the gold-covered acacia wood panels.  Cherubim made of purple, blue and scarlet yarn were woven or worked into the linen curtains.  A fine linen curtain covered the entrance of the Tent of Meeting (east side).  The entrance curtain included colored yarn, however, there were no cherubim on the curtain.  The sides of the Tabernacle courtyard were plain linen curtains held in place by silver hooks that attached them to the wood posts.  The curtain at the courtyard entrance was the only courtyard curtain that included colored yarn.  An embroiderer was used to make the entrance curtain.  

Aaron was the first Israelite high priest. God gave very specific instructions for making his   clothes.   The clothes included the breastplate, ephod, robe, tunic, turban, sash, and undergarments.   All were made with fine linen.  With the exception of the tunic and undergarments, all linen clothes were embroidered with or used colored yarn.  No sandals or shoes were included as part of the high priest’s clothing.  The rationale for lack of sandals was that when Aaron ministered to the Lord he was on holy ground.  As priests, Aaron’s sons had special clothes.   Their clothes included tunics, sashes, headbands, and undergarments made of linen; no colored yarn or embroidery was used.

 In the Bible, the Hebrew word for the linen associated with the Tabernacle is shêsh. Shêsh means “fine linen” and denotes a type of Egyptian linen of peculiar whiteness and fineness. When Egyptians wove fine linen, they used as many as 140 strands of threads per inch lengthwise (warf) and 64 strands per inch horizontal (weft). Linen of this fine weave had the appearance of silk. In ancient times fine linen was a mark of quality and associated with wealth and rank. Fine linen was the usual dress of Egyptian priests and royalty.  Pharaoh dressed Joseph in fine linen when Joseph was promoted to second-in command over all Egypt (Genesis 41:41–43). Egyptian fine linen was exquisite – it was soft and flexible but strong, cool to wear, and had a luster or sheen to its whiteness.

As slaves in Egypt, the Israelites would not have possessed much, if any, fine linen; however, when they left Egypt, the Egyptians gave them tribute.  The tribute included clothes and more than likely included fine linen and yarn for spinning linen (Exodus 12:35-36). When Moses asked the Israelites for offerings to build the Tabernacle, he specified the need for blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine linen (Exodus 25:3).  Exodus recorded that skilled women spun fine linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn and brought these as offerings for the Tabernacle (Exodus 35:25-26).  There is no record that women wove the yarn into linen cloth for curtains or priest’s clothes.

 The Flax Plant

The Ancient Egyptian flax plant, Linum usitatissimum, was used to make linen.  In Biblical times flax was the most important fiber crop. Probably the L. usitatissimum originated in Mesopotamia; however, it was extensively cultivated in Egypt and less so in Palestine.  In Egypt flax grew along the sides the Nile River and particularly in the Nile Delta region. In Egypt and the Middle East, flax was planted in the early winter and flax harvested in the spring.

 The flax plant has a single stem that grows up to four feet tall.  The fiber is in the stem.  Initially, the stem is green, but turns yellow as the plant ripens and readies for harvest. When flax plants were harvested for fiber, mature plants were pulled up by their roots. Harvested plants were allowed to dry, then retted.  Retting is a process of soaking flax to separate the fiber from the woody tissue (straw).  Egyptians dyed some flax threads.  Blue and purple dyes were derived from shellfish (primarily the murex) which lived in the Mediterranean Sea. Scarlet dye came from the eggs and carcasses of a worm (Coccus ilicus) which lived on the leaves of holly plants.

 Symbolism: Purity 

 In ancient times, linen symbolized purity and in Revelation (15:5-6) St. John used “clean, shining linen” as a symbol for purity.  Purity means spotless, stainless, free from what pollutes; containing nothing that does not properly belong; free from moral fault or guilt. The Hebrew verb for purify, tāhēr, also means to cleanse or to be clean. The Tabernacle complex with its linen curtains was a symbol of the Israelite’s need to be clean or pure before God.  In the Tabernacle animals were sacrificed and animal blood shed to accomplish ritual purification.  Today when individuals accept Christ as their Savior, they are purified (cleansed) or made spotless in relation to former sins.  Then, the challenge of living a pure life begins.

 Of the 33 verses in the New International Version Study Bible (2002) which referred to purity, about 1/3 centered on the individual’s heart  In the Old Testament, King David implored God to “create in me a pure heart” (Psalm 51:10).  King David questioned who can approach God and stand before him? The answer was “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false” (Psalm 24:3–4).

 In the New Testament there is a similar focus on Christians keeping their heart pure. Christ taught, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8).  Paul told Timothy that love (the greatest of all virtues) comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith (1Timothy 1:5).  He instructed Timothy to “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).  Paul cautioned Timothy to have nothing to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because they produce quarrels (verse 23).

  Taken together, these verses from the Old and New Testament communicated that to please God, Christians must keep their hearts pure.  Keeping a pure hearts begins with a sincere faith in Christ as our Savior. Purity means that we love one another and are free from moral guilt about how we act toward and think about each other.   Purity is about actively pursuing faith, love, and peace.  In addition to positive actions that help us to grow toward purity, the Bible verses on a pure heart articulated certain behaviors to avoid.  These behaviors are worshipping idols, lying, becoming involved in nonproductive arguments and quarrels, and pursuing evil desires of youth, e.g., sexual debauchery.

 I want to keep my heart pure; however, sometime I do not restrain my impulses. At times I fill my life with irreverent thoughts and actions.  In the past I often made my career an idol rather than keeping God at the center of my life. Most certainly I have engaged in foolish and stupid arguments, rationalizing them in the name of “devil’s advocate” or “intellectual debate.”  How, then, can I keep a clean, pure heart so I can see God in my day-to-day life?  The answer for me is the same as it was for the Israelites. I must agree with God about my sins. When I do, I can be at-one with God. God has made it easy for me to reconcile myself to him and his purity. I John 1:9 says if we confess our sins, God will cleanse us from sin and purify us from our unrighteousness.  Having a pure, clean heart is as simple as going to God admitting my sin and asking His forgiveness.

Reflection. When did you last clean up or purify your life?  Would now be a good time to enact I John 1:9 in your relationship with Christ?

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright July 31, 2013; Carolyn A. Roth

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