Colored shadows

Exodus 26:1 “Moreover, you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen and blue and purple and scarlet yarns”

The Bible, particularly the Old Testament, is filled with what are called “shadows” or “types.”  Often it is only in the context of the New Testament that the mystery of these shadows is revealed.  All of them are wonderful as they give us glimpses into the glory of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. One such type is the Passover lamb. In the New Testament, we find out that this lamb points to “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).” 

Similarly, there are many shadows in the construction of both the tabernacle and the temple.  These materials included gold, but note that it was beaten gold (Exodus 25).  Then there was oil for the candlesticks, and it is also described as “beaten” oil in Exodus 25.  Likewise, the incense that was used was to be “beaten small (Leviticus 16:12).”  As one meditates on these facts, we can’t help but be reminded of the fact that Jesus was “smitten by God, and afflicted . . . He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:4-5).” 

Other shadows in the Old Testament are less clear, and perhaps that’s for a reason. You see, the whole earth is full of God’s glory (Isaiah 6), so it should be of no surprise to see examples of God’s attributes in the things He has made as well as the things He directed Moses to make to represent His Holy presence.  One such example is in the colors that were to be used for the curtains of the tabernacle. In the verse above we find that they were to be made of “blue, purple, and scarlet yarn.” I’ve looked at various commentaries to see what others have said about the significance of these colors, and there seem to be as many interpretations as there are commentaries.  The Bible doesn’t explain this explicitly, so perhaps it can be up to the reader to find their significance in a personal way as he or she thinks about what these colors may point to in the character of Christ.

In my own mind’s eye, although the Bible doesn’t tell us, I imagine that as one looked at the curtains one would see blue at the top, purple in the middle, and scarlet at the bottom.  That’s always the order in which these colors are mentioned the many times they are used to describe various materials of the tabernacle for which these colors were to be used.  Blue at the top – it’s the color one sees as we gaze up at the sky, and “up” is where heaven is.  In fact, the word “heaven” in Hebrew, the language in which the Old Testament was written, can also be translated “sky.”   As to Christ, it’s where He came from. It was His eternal dwelling place as God the Son.  I think of His glorious deity when I consider the color blue.

Then there is the color scarlet, always the last color mentioned, and in my mind’s eye, I see it at the bottom of the curtain, next to the earth.  And doesn’t that represent Jesus as well, who came to earth as a man, the second Adam. Interestingly, the word “Adam” is derived from the Hebrew word for red – perhaps in reference to the flush of man’s face or his ruddy complexion.  Red is also used in the Bible to describe the color of the ground. In fact, one of the words translated “ground” or “earth” in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word “adamah,” of which Adam is the root. It refers to the earth’s “redness.”  But then the word “scarlet” or “red” has a very specific meaning in the book of Isaiah.  Here we read “Come now, let us reasontogether, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool (Isaiah 1:18).”  What a picture of Jesus who came to the (red) earth, to become a man, to bear the sin of the world. 

Finally, there’s the color purple. It’s always mentioned second. As I picture the curtains of the tabernacle in my mind’s eye, I see purple in the middle, between the blue and the scarlet, and purple is the color when these two colors are mixed.  It’s also the color that points to royalty. It was the color of the robe that Jesus was mockingly draped in as He was on the way to the cross (John 19:5).  To me it’s a glorious representation of the God who became man, where the glory of heaven took on the sin of the earth, and in His death on the cross as not just the King of the Jews, but the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, He shed His blood that we should live. 

So that’s what I think about every time I read about these colors, and although the Bible isn’t explicit in its interpretation of them, still the things I’ve thought about when I’ve considered them are definitely truths of God’s Word. And what glorious truths they are: blue, purple, and scarlet – beautiful shadows of the glorious Son of God.

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