When I was on the staff of my college newspaper, a group of young, liberal skeptics would always mock Christianity. One of the arguments they always used to show the pointlessness of the scriptures was the prohibition in the Old Testament law against blending two types of fabric.
“You shall not wear combined fibers, wool and linen together.” (Deuteronomy 22:11)
” . . . neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woolen come upon thee.” (Leviticus 19:19)
“Why would God care about something so petty?” they would ask.
At the time I didn’t have an answer, but I’m so glad that they mocked this bit of scripture because it motivated me to find out why this commandment was there, and it turns out that understanding this commandment opens up the whole Bible and its beautiful message of grace!
The mystery of the woolen and linen begins to unfold right after the Fall. Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan and disobeyed God, eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Immediately after this they felt guilt, shame, and fear, and covered themselves with fig leaves, hiding from God. When God confronted them, he pronounced the consequences of their actions and then covered them with furs.
“Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them.” (Genesis 3:21)
God covered them immediately by shedding the blood of an animal and giving them furs to cover themselves. After this, Adam and Eve must have known the shedding of blood was the requirement for covering sins because Cain and Abel also knew about it. Abel offered the proper sacrifice, the blood of a lamb, but Cain offered vegetables as an offering.
“The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor.” (Genesis 4:4-5)
The author of Hebrews tells us in verse 11:4 that Abel’s sacrifice was a more “acceptable” offering.
“By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts.” (Hebrews 11:4)
Why? Because there’s only one way for sin to be covered (to be made righteous)–through the blood of a lamb. Not through fig leaves or vegetables, but by shed blood.
When Moses brought the Israelites out of Egypt, he was told by God to have the people apply the blood of a lamb to the doorposts of their homes in order for the death angel to know to pass over that home. (Exodus 12: 7, 22.) This is another example of the blood of a lamb being acceptable to God as a covering.
This requirement was instilled in the Old Testament law also. The priests would have to perform a blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. Blood sacrifice would also be part of the feasts of Israel, such as Passover.
And Isaiah the prophet would explain this mystery of the shedding of blood even further:
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Isaiah 53: 5-7)
This scripture was written hundreds of years before Christ was born. It was a prophecy of the coming Messiah, who would be like a “lamb.”
John the Baptist was called to be a messenger to “prepare the way” (Malachi 3:1) for the Lord, and what did he proclaim?
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29)
Can you now see how Jesus, by becoming the “Lamb of God”, fulfilled the Law and the Prophets?
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17)
Paul would explain that the Law, with all its rules and festivals, was just a shadow of the reality that is found in Christ.
“These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Colossians 2:17)
Paul would also explain that Christ was our Passover lamb.
“For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” (I Corinthians 5:7)
Going back to the original purpose of this article: Why did God prohibit the blending of the linen and the woolen? Because it was a beautiful type or shadow of the grace of God. Linen is a product of the earth. It’s like a vegetable. It has no blood content. But woolen comes from a lamb. We can only cover ourselves in the presence of God with the blood of a lamb.* This is His requirement.
We cannot blend the finished work of Christ with our own works for salvation. This was the sin of the Galatian church. They had begun with grace alone, but then they added circumcision as a requirement for salvation and Paul proclaimed they were being bewitched!
“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:1-3)
Notice how much the woolen and linen look alike. It’s easy to be deceived into thinking that our good works and self-effort can be pleasing to God. This is what Cain thought. But the ONLY acceptable and pleasing sacrifice to God is the sacrifice of Jesus–the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Linen is a type of counterfeit of wool.
Finally, why is shed blood so important to the gospel message? Is it because God is a sadist? No! It’s because it was the only way that God, Himself, could pay the penalty for our sins! This is also why it’s so important to argue for the deity of Christ. As the judge, only Jesus (God) can justly pay the penalty. It would be unjust to put that burden onto another person. But His great love was willing to pay our debt.
This is the main message of the Bible–don’t blend grace and works–trust completely in the blood of the Lamb. Now, by faith, by trusting in what Jesus accomplished for us, we don’t have to perform any religious works to please God. We can rest in the cross of Christ.
God weaved this great message of the Lamb into the sacred text (the Bible) and into the history of the Jewish people. What a supernatural message this is!
And what a great display of love and justice the prohibition of blending woolen and linen is to the universe!
* The saints will be wearing fine linen–which is their good deeds. (Revelation 19:8) This is separate from salvation.