WOOL (Heb. tsemer, Gr. erion). The fleece of sheep and some other animals. The first wool was one of the firstfruits that the people of Israel were to give to the priests (Deut.18.4). Israelites were forbidden to wear mixed woolen and linen clothing (Deut.22.11). Wool symbolizes purity (Isa.1.18): “like wool,” restored to its original undyed whiteness. It was woven into cloth from which woolen garments were made. It was used principally for the outside garments. Snow is compared to it (Ps.147.16).

WOOL (Heb. עֲמַר, H10556, צֶ֫מֶר, H7547; ἔριον, G2250, wool). The sheep in Pal. were sometimes black or brown, a recessive trait providentially appearing more frequently in Jacob’s flocks than would be expected by normal Mendelian heredity (Gen 31:10). The wool was occasionally dyed scarlet (Heb 9:19). Shearing in one piece gave a desirable fleece which was washed first in the brook and later with soap to make it nearly snow white. Following the cleansing the usual carding, spinning, and weaving occurred. Some wool from the tanneries was stuffed into mattresses and quilts instead after being removed by slaked lime. (ISBE, Vol. 5, 3104, James A. Patch.)

The wool was woven into outer garments, never mixed with linen (Deut 22:11); this was esp. true of priests (Lev 19:19). A good wife “seeks wool and flax” (Prov 31:13). Wool was a symbol of riches (Ezek 27:19). The king of Moab gave Israel annually “the wool of a hundred thousand rams” (2 Kings 3:4). God’s liberality is poetically phrased, “He gives snow like wool” (Ps 147:16). Israel’s sin was condemned by saying she was like a harlot who receives wool from her lovers (Hos 2:5) but God claims He will recover His wool (Hos 2:9).

In purifying the Tabernacle and its vessels, in addition to blood and water, scarlet wool and hyssop were used in the sprinkling during the covenant ceremony (Heb 9:19). Probably this wool was scarlet stuff (Num 19:6), burned with the heifer and used in cleansing the leper (Lev 19:6). Part of the first wool was offered to the priests as their due (Deut 18:4). Gideon is famous for putting out the fleece (Judg 6:37). The revilings of men against the righteous will be eaten like the worm eats wool (Isa 51:8).

The whiteness of wool as a symbol of purity is contrasted with the crimson of sins (Isa 1:18) and compared to snow (Ps 147:16) or the hair of the ancient of days (Dan 7:9) who reappears in John’s revelation (Rev 1:14).


J. P. Van Haitsma, The Supplanter Undeceived (1941), private printing.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Wool and flax were the fibers most used by the ancient weavers. Wool was used principally for the outside garments (Le 13:48 ff; Pr 31:13; Eze 34:3; Ho 2:5,9). Syrian wool is found on the world’s markets today, but it is not rated as first quality, partly because it is so contaminated with thorns, straw and other foreign matter which become entangled with the wool while the sheep are wandering over the barren, rocky mountain sides in search of food. Extensive pastures are almost unknown.

Two kinds of wool are sold:

(1) That obtained by shearing. This is removed from the animal as far as possible in one piece or fleece usually without previous washing. The fleeces are gathered in bales and carried to a washing-place, which is usually one of the stony river beds, with but a small stream flowing through it during the summer. The river bed is chosen because the rocks are clean and free from little sticks or straw which would cling to the washed wool. The purchaser of this washed wool submits it to a further washing with soap, ishnan (alkali plant), "soapwort", or other cleansing agent (see Fuller), and then cards it before spinning and weaving. The wool thus obtained is nearly snow white.

(2) The second supply of wool is from the tanneries where the wool is removed from the skins with slaked lime (see Tanner). This is washed in many changes of water and used for stuffing mattresses, quilts, etc., but not for weaving.

Gideon used a fleece of wool to seek an omen from God (Jud 6:37). Mesha, king of Moab, sent a large quantity of wool as a tribute to the king of Israel (2Ki 3:4). Wool was forbidden to be woven with linen (De 2:11; compare Le 19:19). Priests could not wear woolen garments (Eze 44:17). Wool dyed scarlet with the qermes was used in the blood-covenant ceremony (Heb 9:19; compare Le 14; Nu 19:6).

The whiteness of wool was used for comparison

(1) with snow (Ps 147:16);

(2) with sins forgiven (Isa 1:18);

(3) with hair (Da 7:9; Re 1:14).

James A. Patch