The Fine Twisted Linen
“Moreover you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet material; you shall make them with cherubim, the work of a skillful workman”
– Exodus 26:1.
Under the curtain of goats’ hair was the curtain of “fine twisted linen and blue and purple and scarlet material.” Exodus 26:1 makes it seem like this was the only covering that counted, for the tabernacle was made of it.
John Darby’s New Translation called this linen “byssus.” He translates this verse as, “And thou shalt make the tabernacle with ten curtains of twined byssus, and blue, and purple, and scarlet: with cherubim of artistic work shalt thou make them.” Byssus was an ancient Egyptian linen most likely made from cotton and flax.
Darby is accurate when he drops the word “material” after the words “blue, and purple, and scarlet.” There is no word in the original language to say what these colors were made of. The three uses of the word “and” indicate that there were four distinct items used in this covering: linen (or byssus), and blue, and purple, and scarlet. These colors may have been colored thread as some translators say, or they may have been colored pigment used on the linen. God in His wisdom did not say, so the New American Standard translation simply uses the word “material.”
A long process is required to produce byssus. Thread must first be produced from the raw materials, and those threads must be woven together to form the covering of the tabernacle. Somehow during this process the three colors get woven in as well. This represents the believers today (the byssus) being woven together in the divine life (the colors) to form God’s testimony (the tabernacle).
The first material used to make byssus is cotton. As the cotton plant grows it produces a thin hard shell that protects the cotton material as it forms. Eventually the shell cracks on its own and the cotton ball is exposed on the plant ready to be picked. The cotton does not go through a lot of hard processing to become useful. It is picked, the seeds are removed, it is cleaned, and it is ready. From there it is spun with other balls of cotton into thread.
For God to have His testimony today, some of us have to be cotton. We simply grow with no special hardship. The spinner must be skillful to produce useful thread that is of consistent thickness and strength using whatever cotton he has. Praise the Lord, He is the most skilled spinner. As cotton, we have to do nothing but stay in the church life and let Him do His work.
When we are ready, God picks us, cleans us, and begins to spin us with others. We shouldn’t be a cotton ball that rolls away every time He reaches for us. We must be willing to be handled and controlled by God so that useful thread can come out.
If we resist the spinner, no thread will be produced. We know we are resisting Him if we don’t spend time touching Him in our daily life, if we rarely read the Bible, or if we often miss the meetings. If we find reasons to avoid the saints and not answer their calls, we may be cotton balls, but no thread will be produced.
On the contrary, the more we touch the Lord, enjoy His presence, taste His riches, enjoy the brothers and sisters and the church life, the more we will experience a divine spinning that produces useful thread. Eventually a good deal of riches will be produced for God to weave together as fine linen for His testimony.
Unlike cotton, flax comes from a rough plant that is sharp and easily cuts people. For this reason, it must pass through a hard process before it can become useful. Once harvested, it must be soaked in water to soften it. Then it is beaten to make it tender. I am told that some kind of oil is used during this beating process, which is good because we need a supply of the Spirit if we are to pass through such a hard process. Eventually thread is produced that can be spun with the cotton.
If we are cotton, we need only take care of life. We just praise the Lord, read the Bible, go to the meetings, enjoy Christ, and then the thread will come out. It’s all a matter of life. If we are flax, however, we have to be soaked in situations too deep for us, in order to soften us up. When we finally learn how to swim a little, we stick our head up, and boom, He knocks us down and beats us. This continues until we lose our original shape and texture. His soaking and beating make us different. The hard thing becomes soft and the rough thing becomes fine, something God can use.
Would we rather be cotton or flax? All the sisters want to be cotton. No sister wants to experience the soaking and beating needed to become flax. They pray, “Lord just make me a sweet piece of cotton. Hold me so I won’t get lost, so I’ll still pray to you, I’ll still read the word, I’ll still make the meetings, and I’ll still be with all the brothers and sisters. Please Lord, cotton is good enough.”
Many brothers however want to be heroes and choose to be flax. They pray, “Lord, beat me up. I’m not afraid of the cross, I’m not afraid of hardship. Discipline me, knock me down, do everything so that I can be broken. Lord, I want to be flax!”
Eventually the one who becomes flax is very solid. The one who becomes cotton is very tender. If you put them together, as God did in the tabernacle, we have both. It is like a good family in which the mother is full of tenderness and love for their children, while the father loves them in a different way, with firmness and discipline. Cotton becomes the tender life-strength for the family to go on. Flax becomes the shelter that protects it. Children whose parents are both cotton or both flax will have problems, but those who have one of each will most likely grow well.
Both Cotton and Flax are Needed
The church life is same. We need some who are flax. We also need those who are cotton. We need the brothers and sisters who have been through a lot, who can stand firm for Lord’s interest. We also need many who are rich in the enjoyment of Christ, able to supply life to the Church.
Actually we have no choice regarding what we become. It makes no difference how much we beg the Lord to be one or the other. God decides if we are cotton or flax. Both were needed to make the byssus for the tabernacle, and both are needed in the church life today. Most of us have some experience of each. At times He holds us close and nourishes us. At other times we experience His discipline. Eventually He as the skillful spinner produces a good covering for His testimony.
Sometimes a church wants to try different kinds of activities to bring people to the meetings. As long as they keep the fellowship I say let them try. But I know that if what they try is worldly, it will not work, because it is neither cotton nor flax. It violates the principle of the covering of the tabernacle. There is nothing wrong with having good meetings with good music, but never violate the principle by going too far. If we bring people to their emotions and not to God, there will be no cotton or flax, and no covering for the tabernacle can be produced.
We think that because we have beautiful music the church can go on, but the people who come may come just to hear the beautiful music, not to meet the Lord. This will never be enough to cause them to give their lives to the Lord and consecrate themselves to His service. They will become neither cotton nor flax because they are only feeding their soul with good music. Yes, we should have good music, but we must have more than that.
Those who come to us must be brought to the Lord. They must be placed in the hand of the Lord to let Him work on them. If they are cotton, He will confine them. If they are flax, He will pressure them by striking and breaking them. But remember He always adds the oil of the Spirit to His work so that it will produce what He desires—the fine humanity of Christ in His divine attributes.
The threads of cotton and flax must be woven together to produce the fine linen. If we are not woven with other saints in life, there will be no covering, and those who experience a hard time may become bitter toward the Lord and the church. They need to be woven with those who have gone through such hard times before them and who now have some growth in life. These mature ones can help them pass through their difficulties. The apostle Paul writes, “We will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:4). If no one has already had such experiences and the whole church is made of cotton, that church is hopeless because no one can render the proper help.
I went through an experience when I was young that made me bitter and so I wanted to give up the Lord for a time. I had finished my basic military training in Taiwan and then received orders to go through that same training again. I remember, while waiting at the station for the train to take me back, singing songs about the cross because I felt I was suffering so much. Suddenly another train pulled up and many of my old companions from my first basic training got off. When they saw me, they began to taunt me. They were going home and I was going back. This was too much. I told the Lord that He had the right to work on me and beat me, but not to humiliate me. I decided to give up on Christ and stop being a Christian. Every time I started to pray, I stopped myself. Every time I started to sing or turn to the Bible, I stopped myself. After about two weeks I became so dry I had to repent and turn to the Lord. Almost immediately after my repentance, the mistake of my being there was discovered and I was sent home. How happy I was that I had repented before I was released and not after. I got back just in time to attend a three month church training where I spent every day with mature brothers who could help me. That time has been my stability for many years. What a wonderful Christ we have. He surely knows what He is doing.
Every church needs both those who are cotton and those who are flax. The cotton ones will keep us in life, and the flax ones will stand firm for the truth and help us pass through hard times. These brothers and sisters nourish and protect the saints. If a church has only cotton, it will never be able to take a strong stand. If it is all flax, it will be too rough and many may leave. How blessed is that church that has both. This is the fine twisted linen that makes up the covering of the tabernacle.