Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
- Isaiah 1:18
As a good instructor knows, the best way to teach an abstract idea is to use a concrete example, something the student already understands: sharp as a tack, hard as a rock, or, as we all know now, white as snow.
Jesus was a master at this teaching method, and chose what His followers already knew to teach them spiritual truths: I am the door...bread...living water..., etc.
He was no philosopher, just a plain-spoken, heavenly teacher who, because He, too, lived for a while in human form, could use human ideas to get His message across.
Following our recent snowfall, it shouldnt surprise anyone that its the white as snow metaphor Im thinking of today. But even I was surprised to discover more than 25 Bible passages where the word snow illustrated something much more important than a visual element. I knew about the Isaiah Scripture (1:18), and verses describing heavenly raiment as white as snow, but after a session with my Bible concordance, I learned much more.
Because my only visit to Israel took place about 20 summers ago, when the temperature some days reached 120 degrees, I wondered about that familiarity factor when I read all those references to snow. But I had forgotten most countries in that part of the world are highly mountainous, making them prime targets for cold temperatures and, in some areas, white skylines all year long. Those who lived in the land of the Bible when it was written were well acquainted with snow, both its appearance and its importance.
Without spring melts from the 9,200-foot high Mt. Herman, for example, Israels principal water source, the Jordan River, wouldnt be able to supply that arid land with enough water to sustain life. And in some instances, like the struggle for control of Jerusalem between the armies of David and Saul (I Chronicles 11-12), battle strategy depended on whether or not the Jordan River was at flood stage, another direct result of snow.
During our recent snowstorm someone who had never seen snow before remarked, I didnt know it was so white. Much more than the value of snow as a water supply, most of the time its that astonishing whiteness the Bible has in mind when it refers to snow.
When the prophet Isaiah said, Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow, he was using not one but two well-understood illustrations to describe what would happen when the long-awaited Messiah came to earth. Scarlet (or crimson) represented the blood on a murderers hands that would never wash off. Those who committed such terrible acts knew they would have to bear the stain of their sin forever.
More than a figure of speech, then, white, as in snow or wool, meant that even if their sins were so bad they included the indelible stain of murder, the Messiah would cleanse their hands and hearts so thoroughly not a trace of the crimson (crime) would remain.
Years later, when King David remorsefully acknowledged his adulterous act with Bathsheba and asked God to, Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin, he literally wanted God to un-sin me so I shall be whiter than snow (Psalm 51:2,7).
White, both to God and to us, represents the utmost purity, and the ultimate forgiveness.
Even today, whenever snow comes to perennially drought-stricken Israel, the people consider the storm an answer to prayer.
Even today, whenever conscience-stained people acknowledge their sin before God, they consider His forgiveness the ultimate answer to their prayer. The hymn writer James
Nicholson expressed the latter prayer this way:
Lord Jesus, I long to be perfectly whole; I want Thee forever to ransom my soul. Break down evry idol, cast out evry foe; Now wash me and I shall be whiter than snow.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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