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Flax was grown in Pal. before the arrival of the Israelites, for Rahab (Josh 2:1, 6), hid the two spies under the stems of flax she had drying on the flat roof of her house. The cloth made from local-grown flax would have been welcomed by the Jews, whose clothes, after their long trek, might have been wearing out.

Solomon congratulates a good wife who separates the fibers of the flax and makes fine linen (Prov 31:13). Fine flax is mentioned in Isaiah 19:9, when it is obvious that white cloth and thin white linen were made.

It is obvious that the Egyptians knew about growing flax. Making linen for Pharaoh gave Joseph fine linen clothes, and after the Israelites had escaped from Egypt, and had “spoiled the Egyptians,” they were able to make fine linen priestly garments for Aaron and his sons.

Solomon knew the value of linen, and seems to have made it a state monopoly. Linen was used also as sails for yachts (Ezek 27:7). In the NT linen towels and napkins are mentioned (John 11:44; 13:4). Linen also was used for the wrappings of dead bodies (Mark 15:46).

It is generally believed that the flax was Linum usitatissimum which grows two to four ft. high and bears beautiful blue flowers (there are occasionally white varieties). The plants were grown until they were ripe, when they were pulled up whole and laid out to dry. To lose a crop of flax was serious, and could be one of God’s punishments (Hos 2:9).

The capsules of flax are called “bols,” and the bolled flax is the mature flax, ready for harvesting and drying. Bundles of flax are soaked in water for three or four weeks. This causes what is called “retting”; i.e., the fibers separate, and it is only then that the threads can be combed.

Of course, the best linen was used for wrapping the body of our Lord, while “the church”—the bride of the risen Lord—is “arrayed in fine linen” (Rev 19:8 KJV) and the angels themselves are robed in pure white linen also (15:6 RSV).

Linen is the oldest of textile fibers, and was evidently graded into three types—(a) coarse (Ezek 9:2); (b) better texture (Exod 26:1); (c) really fine and expensive (Esth 8:15).

Incidentally, the Talmud gives full instructions as to how orthodox Jews should harvest, bleach and prepare linen used by the rabbis.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

pesheth, also pishtah; linon (Mt 12:20)): The above Hebrew words are applied

(1) to the plant: "The flax was in bloom" (the King James Version "bolled"; Ex 9:31);

(2) the "stalks of flax," literally, "flax of the tree," put on the roof to dry (Jos 2:6);

(3) to the fine fibers used for lighting: the King James Version "tow," "flax," the Revised Version (British and American). "A dimly burning wick will he not quench" (Isa 42:3); "They are quenched as a wick" (Isa 43:17). The thought is perhaps of a scarcely lighted wick just kindled with difficulty from a spark.

(4) In Isa 19:9 mention is made of "combed flax," i.e. flax hackled ready for spinning (compare Ho 2:5,9; Pr 31:13). The reference in Jud 15:14 is to flax twisted into cords.

(5) In Jud 16:9; Isa 1:31, mention is made of ne`oreth, "tow," literally, something "shaken off"--as the root implies--from flax.

(6) The plural form pishtim is used in many passages for linen, or linen garments, e.g. Le 13:47,48,52,59; De 22:11; Jer 13:1 ("linen girdle"); Eze 44:17 f. Linen was in the earliest historic times a favorite material for clothes. The Jewish priestly garments were of pure linen. Egyptian mummies were swathed in linen. Several other Hebrew words were used for linen garments.

See Linen.

Flax is the product of Linum usitatissimum, a herbaceous plant which has been cultivated from the dawn of history. It is perennial and grows to a height of 2 to 3 ft.; it has blue flowers and very fibrous stalks. The tough fibers of the latter, after the decay and removal of the softer woody and gummy material, make up the crude "flax." Linseed, linseed oil and oilcake are useful products of the same plant.

See also

  • Plants