The Bible is a Book of Colours, all carrying meaning and purpose in the story of God’s Redemption of His People.
As Israel journeys away from slavery in Egypt towards the promised land across the Jordan, God gives them instructions for His Tabernacle in the wilderness. The Israelites are to weave together blue, purple and scarlet linen for ten curtains to enclose the outer court and the inner court. This same tri-coloured linen will be used for a veil, a partition between the holy place and the holy of holies. And the same for the priestly garments, which include pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet (Exod. 39).
But while these three colours are often woven together, they also appear on their own, and these individual mentions reveal their individual meaning.
First, red. A scarlet cloth covers the sacrificial bowls and dishes, colour of the blood on the lintels and doorposts in Egypt. Red is the cord that Rahab ties at her window (Joshua 2:18), a sign of leprosy (Leviticus 13:19), linked with sin by the prophet Isaiah.
“Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow”
The Hebrew for red is oudem, derivations of which God uses for people of this earth, Adam and Edom. Red is given to Esau, father of Edom, denied the blessing of his father (Genesis 25:25). And in John’s Apocalypse, Babylon appears, dressed in scarlet, sitting on a scarlet beast, drunk with the blood of the saints (Rev. 17:3-6).
As for blue, it is beyond Babylon’s grasp, removed from Satan when he fell (Ezek 28:11-19), reserved for the foundations of heaven (Rev. 21:19). A blue cord is fastened on a turban for Aaron the priest and his sons, above an inscription that reads “Holy to the Lord” (Exodus 39). Blue is worn by Israel’s high priest as he entered the Holy of Holies, moving from earth to place of heaven on earth. We learn later, in Numbers 4, that a cloth of pure blue was spread over the holy articles of the tabernacle, the ark of the covenant and the table of the bread of the Presence, the golden lampstand and altar and all of the tabernacle’s tools.
And what of purple? God told the priests in the wilderness to cover the ashes of their sacrifices with a cloth of purple. We meet purple in the clothes of kings and favoured men (Daniel 5:16), the fine linen of the woman in Proverbs 31:22, symbol of the Bride of Christ. And in Acts 16:14, God gives us Lydia, seller of purple fabric.
But as with red, purple carries complexity. In one of Jesus’s tragic parables, He tells of a rich man habitually dressed in purple and fine linen who meets judgement (Luke 16:19). And purple is also a colour used to mock Jesus (John 19:2) and the clothing of Babylon, that great and violent city, whose wealth is laid waste (Rev. 18:15-17).
This is the colour spectrum of the Gospel.
The rarest blue of holiness and of heaven, lapis lazuli and sapphire of separation (SoS 5:14), sign of the divine.
Scarlet is sin and sacrifice, colour of war and of the earth (Rev. 6), divine descent as man.
And these combined are purple, colour of the priesthood and royalty, covering of the ashes of our sacrifices, moving reminder of the human position before God, sin leading to death, dust and ashes (Job 30:19, Lam. 4). Purple is Satan’s possession for a time, the robes of ridicule given to Jesus at the time of His perfect sacrifice. But to the Divine Man of the Earth, purple is ultimately the Crown of Christ’s Beloved.
Your head crowns you like Carmel,
And the flowing locks of your head are like purple threads;
The king is captivated by your tresses.
How beautiful and how delightful you are,
My love, with all your charms!
Song of Songs 7:4-6