Posted in encouragement, flax, jesus, robe of righteousness

"It was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”: All About Linen

and out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, clothed in pure, bright linen, with golden sashes around their chests. (Revelation 15:6)

Flax, Linum usitatissimum, Wikipedia

Linen as a garment and flax workers as a commerce occurs throughout the bible. Did you ever wonder about linen? After all, we are going to be given linen to wear when we are finally glorified. The angels that appeared to men on earth were noted as wearing linen. What about this linen we read so much of?

It starts in Egypt. Linen is made from flax, an easily grown plant but one that is very difficult to extract the linen fibers from. Apparently, it was worth it. The ancient Egyptians called linen “woven moonlight”.

Flax working was a huge industry for agricultural workers along the banks of the Nile. It was a major, major industry in Egypt 4000-5000 years ago. There are even prophecies about the flax workers.

The workers in combed flax will be in despair, and the weavers of white cotton. (Isaiah 19:9)

Smith’s Bible Dictionary says of flax,

“cloth made from flax. Several different Hebrew words are rendered linen, which may denote different fabrics of linen or different modes of manufacture. Egypt was the great centre of the linen trade. Some linen, … a flax that grew on the banks of the Nile, was exceedingly soft and of dazzling whiteness. This linen has been sold for twice its weight in gold. Sir J.G. Wilkinson says of it, “The quality of the fine linen fully justifies all the praises of antiquity, and excites equal admiration at the present day, being to the touch comparable to silk, and not inferior in texture to our finest cambric.”

The Egyptians used it to wrap their mummies. The flax woven to soft linen was durable and so fine that when King Tut’s tomb was opened, the linen still looked fresh.

King Tut’s Linen. Source

In the bible, the finest of the woven linen was reserved for the priests.

When they enter the gates of the inner court, they are to wear linen clothes; they must not wear any woolen garment while ministering at the gates of the inner court or inside the temple.” (Ezekiel 44:17)

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says of fine linen,

Ancient Egypt was noted for its fine linen (Genesis 41:42 Isaiah 19:9). From it a large export trade was carried on with surrounding nations, including the Hebrews, who early learned the art of spinning from the Egyptians (Exodus 35:25) and continued to rely on them for the finest linen (Proverbs 7:16 Ezekiel 27:7). The culture of flax in Palestine probably antedated the conquest, for in Joshua 2:6 we read of the stalks of flax which Rahab had laid in order upon the roof. Among the Hebrews, as apparently among the Canaanites, the spinning and weaving of linen were carried on by the women (Proverbs 31:13, 19), among whom skill in this work was considered highly praiseworthy (Exodus 35:25). One family, the house of Ashbea, attained eminence as workers in linen (1 Chronicles 4:21 2 Chronicles 2:14).

Flax in the field

In religious services by others than priests, white linen was also preferred, as in the case of the infant Samuel (1 Samuel 2:18), the Levite singers in the temple (2 Chronicles 5:12), and even royal personages (2 Samuel 6:14 1 Chronicles 15:27). Accordingly, it was ascribed to angels (Ezekiel 9:2, 3, 11; Ezekiel 10:2, 6, 7 Daniel 10:5; Daniel 12:6, 7). Fine linen, white and pure, is the raiment assigned to the armies which are in heaven following Him who is called Faithful and True (Revelation 19:14). It is deemed a fitting symbol of the righteousness and purity of the saints (Revelation 19:8).

This site is excellent in recounting the history of flax, and linen-making, complete with a how-to.

Blue flowering flax

Linen is made from Flax

Linen is woven from the spun fibers of the flax plant, Linum usitatissimum. Flax grows wild in the region extending from Northern Africa to India and north to the Caucasus Mountains in Western Europe. Long before we lounged on sunny yacht decks on gauzy linen towels, prehistoric man was busy spinning these exceptionally-strong fibers into the simple thread that changed the world.

The Taming of the Flax

Intentional cultivation of the wild flax plant likely began sometime between 5,000-4,000 BCE in the regions of North Africa and the Fertile Crescent, and from the beginning, linen was holy.

In ancient Mesopotamian city-states like Babylon and Ur, linen fabric was rare and accounted for only 10% of textile production. While the flax plant is not difficult to grow and reaches maturity in about 100 days, it also leaches most of the nutrients from the soil such that the fields must be let lie fallow for several years after a harvest. The laborious process of linen-making then took an additional 130-150 work days. Because production was so labor-intensive, only members of the elite like priests and royal figures could afford clothing and other articles made of linen. Cuneiform sources tell of thrones and statues of deities draped in bolts of fine linen inside temples.

Across the Sinai Peninsula not too many years later, the fertile Nile river valley provided a much more agreeable ecology for flax cultivation. The annual flooding of the Nile brought alluvial deposits that replenished the nutrients in the soil that had been depleted by the flax plant. Coupled with the surplus of the same slave labor that built the pyramids, flax quickly became ancient Egypt’s number one non-foodstuffs crop.

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. … She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. (Proverbs 31:10, 13)

The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. (Revelation 19:14)

Continuing with flax history,

Unlike the Mesopotamians, the Egyptians prized linen fabric for much more than its exclusiveness. Linen fabric is durable, lightweight and wicks moisture away from sweaty skin. Linen thus became the favored material for clothing under the scorching desert sun, from the coarse linen garb of the slaves to the intricately-woven finery of the high priests.

Linen is also resistant to insects and microbial growth, and has a smooth, lint-free surface. Egyptians were obsessed with hygiene, so for these qualities, linen was considered pure. The whiter the fabric, the purer Egyptians believed it to be. By far, the greatest demand for linen was for ritual purposes.

Priests were permitted to dress only in linen. “Chief Royal Bleacher” was an actual job title, though an unenviable one. Tomb paintings and models from across the region depict the repetitive process of washing the wet linen cloth, rubbing it with detergent, pounding it on a smooth stone with wooden clubs, rubbing the surface with balls of leather, rinsing, repeating, again and again; then finally laying it out to bleach dry in the hot sun.

In Revelation 18:12-13 robust trade from Babylon in luxuries is ongoing, including fine linens.

And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, 12cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble…

So that is probably more than you wanted to know about linen. This link [ How Linen is Made: From Flax to Fabric ] describes the laborious process to make fine linen, and I recommend reading it. It is very interesting. But for the saints, we have to do nothing to be clothed in righteousness, for it was Jesus’ work on the cross that brought us to and through the cross of salvation where righteousness reigns. His righteousness is granted to us, energizes us, and empowers us to works of righteousness in His name.

It was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.” (Revelation 19:8)

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10)

Robe of Righteousness, Lars Justinen


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.