Flax’s dainty, delightful, periwinkle blue flowers have intrigued me for years. Delicate-looking and destined to dance in the breeze, these blue-dotted, hardy plants have stood the test of time as an agricultural crop, yielding their retted stems to the process of fabricating linen. But don’t dismiss them to the textile industry! Bible gardeners, cultivating a patch of flax in the garden brings beauty into view and can plant us in a blooming example of God’s redemption, grounding us in His magnitude and prompting us to important prayers for our nation.
Flax in the Bible
Flax, Linum usitatissimum, is noted in several places in the Bible, yet we will find a timely devotion in Isaiah 19. This chapter tells of harrowing circumstance, a downward spiral, a nation splitting apart at the seams. Goodness, good fortune, and good will have all disappeared, leaving the social structure to unravel. It is a prophecy for Egypt, yet The Passion Translation® scholars suggest that Egypt is also symbolic for the world at large.
The passage tells of neighbors at odds, families fighting, and cities in panic mode, all contributing to a disrupted state of things. Confusion reigns. Livelihoods are drying up as despairingly as the landscape, with the great Nile River constrained to a stream, its banks a dusty ruin, riparian plants withering. Nothing is right! This bleak chronicle culminates in a report on flax:
Those who work with combed flax will despair, the weavers of fine linen will lose hope. The workers in cloth will be dejected, and all the wage earners will be sick at heart. Isaiah 19:9-10 NIV
Wait a minute!?! Flax usually symbolizes faith in action in Scripture, the kind of aid and devotion Rahab showed as a neighbor, covering and protecting Israel’s spies—
(But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) Joshua 2:6 NIV
—the kind of loyal, hardworking love a wife and mother shows in caring and creating a good home for her family.
She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. Proverbs 31:13 NIV
Fine linen, made from flax, will be our clothing in eternity, bright and clean before the Lord, representing good deeds inspired with the cover of Christ’s righteousness.
“…Fine linen, bright and clean, was given to her to wear.” (The fine linen means the good things done by God’s holy people.) Revelation 19:8 NCV
“…She has been given the privilege of wearing fine linen, dazzling and pure.” (The fine linen represents the righteous deeds of the saints.) Revelation 19:8 ISV
With Christ’s salvation and His holy Spirit living in us, we are compelled and encouraged to do good, filling our families and communities with God’s goodness, becoming avenues for His flood of productivity and blessing.
Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life… So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith. Galatians 6:5, 9-10 The Message
But back to the void in Egypt. Reading through Isaiah 19:2-4 and v.11-15 reveals a distinct lack of God’s faithfulness in action; where we see flax mentioned, we should expect vignettes of home industry, not home life dismantled. What insightful detail to include flax and linen weaving in the description of Egypt’s demise; through the emphasis of hyperbole in this horticultural detail, we are alerted to the true horrors at hand. Hallelujah, it is so eye-opening to read God’s Word like a gardener!
In His faithfulness, God is nearby to all of Egypt’s chaos and desperation, and when the people realize there is nothing they can do and the plans of their leaders and supposedly wise advisors come to nothing, the Lord Almighty, God of their neighbors in Judah, responds to their hopeless cries:
It will be a sign and witness to the Lord of Hosts in the land of Egypt. When they cry out to the Lord because of their oppressors, He will send them a savior and leader, and he will rescue them. The Lord will make Himself known to Egypt, and Egypt will know the Lord on that day. Isaiah 19:20-21 HCSB
Egyptians turn to the Lord, thank goodness! They are delivered, even as Israel was delivered from Egypt long ago. This Word resounds nearly the same situation: Egypt, the oppressors back then, have now become the oppressed—compare the similar Words of these two Scriptures. Yet God is the same merciful Deliverer.
Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people in Egypt, and have heard them crying out because of their oppressors. I know about their sufferings, and I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians… Exodus 3:7-8 CEB
God’s ways display consistently over time. His love for neighbors prevails, and in His redeeming way of making up for evil’s mayhem by growing back in flourishing fashion, God connects Egypt to its neighbors Israel and Assyria. The three nations unite in worship of the Lord.
On that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will enter Egypt, and the Egyptians will enter Assyria, and Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. On that day Israel will be a member of a triumvirate with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing at the center of the world, and the Lord of hosts will bless them with these words: “Blessed be my people Egypt, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage.” Isaiah 19:23-25 NCB
The brother-against-brother, neighbor-against-neighbor fighting that once dominated is overcome not only by God’s healing within the country, but with bonding fellowship between nations, worshipping God together across the land and blessing the world. In this way, the command spoken in Egypt for God’s people to be set free to worship God comes back around in great magnitude, the Egyptians, Israelis, and Assyrians all worshipping together. God’s redemption indeed!
Let my people go, so that they may worship me Exodus 7:16, 8:1, 8:20, 9:1, 9:13, 10:3 NIV
Flax’s annual flowers grow best from seed directly sown in the garden in cool soil. Choose a spot out of direct sprinkler spray (drip irrigation is best); once stalks are blooming, they don’t require much water. Seedlings will sprout, grow steadily, and fill the plot with ever-rising, slender stems and diminutive leaves, vivid green and bright in their display. Flax gives a meadow garden feel or fills in nicely (and cheaply) for garden areas yet to be planted.
In my zone 8 garden (sidenote: climate-changing to zone 7 these last two years!), I was able to cultivate the crop from October to April, with their first flowers appearing in mid-March, five months from sowing. I let them grow as a close-knit clump, and I think they did better in this density than previous years when I tried just a tuft of plants here and there among cool season vegetables. I did cover them for our three icy plunges under 20 degrees in January and February; this may have been over-protective, but I wanted to be sure we had pretty flowers to photograph in the spring. Northern gardeners and coastal Californians, you should be able to sow seeds now and enjoy the flowers by end of summer.
individual blossoms bloom only for a day, but successive buds open on each stalk; I have enjoyed these baby blues for nearly a month of color. They do not do well as cut flowers sadly, so park a chair in the garden nearby to take in their daily glory. A prayer chair, that is.
Flax Flowers as Promptings to Pray
This passage with its parallel to our times is too profound to miss: America has already experienced pockets of the disaster described as plaguing Egypt’s days. May we turn to the Lord! We don’t want this drama to be our headlines. Amazingly, I might have missed the Isaiah 19 warnings without my little flax flowers bringing me to these Words. Let us fill our gardens with such promptings to pray! The Lord is faithful to hear our cries, too, and ready to dispatch God’s redemption.
More Words for prayer and meditation:
I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud, and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you. Isaiah 44:22 RSV
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:5 NIRV
“ ‘Do not try to get even. Do not hold anything against any of your people. Instead, love your neighbor as you love yourself. I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:18 NIRV
“I want to free them from the power of the grave. I want to reclaim them from death. Death, I want to be a plague to you. Grave, I want to destroy you. I won’t even think of changing my plans.” Hosea 13:14 NOG
Jesus the Messiah is the same, yesterday, today and for ever. Hebrews 13:8 NTE
Jesus replied, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your mind.’ This is the first and most important commandment. And the second is like it. ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ Matthew 22:37-39 NIRV
…looking forward to the blessed hope and the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, in order that he might redeem us from all lawlessness and purify for himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good deeds. Titus 2:13-14 LEB
He died under God’s judgment against our sins so that he could rescue us from constant falling into sin and make us his very own people, with cleansed hearts and real enthusiasm for doing kind things for others. Titus 2:13-14 TLB
I’ve blotted out your sins; they are gone like morning mist at noon! Oh, return to me, for I have paid the price to set you free. Isaiah 44:22 TLB
Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you for the blessings you put in our lives, especially the love you pour into me that overflows to those around me. Strengthen me in your love and let me know that every effort I make to do good to those around me is ultimately a national blessing, wow! This is Your Way, a way of holiness. How good you are to redeem us when we turn to you. I pray for my family’s freedom to work wholeheartedly and enthusiastically—cleanse our hearts to do so, Lord. Let Americans everywhere find your healing and blessing and become passionate to worship you. Open our hearts and minds to unite in the language of faith (Isaiah 19:18).
Read more about flax in “Faith in Action,” part of the Garden Work section on Propagating in God’s Word for Gardeners Bible, near Joshua 2; and read more about Egypt in the Garden Tour section beginning on page a-14
Find Flax in the Plant Guide, with more information and growing tips, www.gardenindelight.com/plant-guide/flax/
I found my seeds at www.OutsidePride.com, link here to Linum usitatissimum ‘sky blue’
Photo Credits: ©2021-22 Shelley S. Cramm
CSB notes Scripture quotations taken from the Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible® and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
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