Again I read another web page and this time I did remember to copy down the URL: http://www.teachinstitute.org/wordpress/?p=1013.

Isaiah 1:18

לכו נא - I urge you that we go

ו נוּכחה - and present our evidence to each other

יֹאמר יהוה - says the LORD

אם יהיו חטאיכם - If be your sin

כשּנים - like scarlet insects

כשּלג ילבינו - like snow they shall be white

אם - If

יאדימו כ תולע - is red as scarlet worm

כ צמר יהיו - like wool they will be

This verse hinges on three concepts

  • נוּכח - a face-to-face evidentiary deposition
  • תולע שּני - scarlet worm
  • treating the effects of the scarlet worm

I am undecided whether שּנים (plural of שּני ) refers to the insects that reproduce the scarlet worm or to the fabrics that have been dyed by the scarlet worm. Though, according to the article שּני refers to the insect rather than the resultant material of the dye.

The article also states that the worm contains an anti-bacterial agent that is used in purification ceremonies. Which means, the worm is good.

Since, I am not christian, I am not concerned about all the christian concepts in the article.

My question concerns the couplet found in the verse, which I amply enriched with contextual interpretation:

Though your sins are like the scarlet insects infecting the trees, disfiguring all over the trunk by lodging themselves inextricably to the trunk of a tree,

they shall be white as snow.

If as red-ifying (causing things to become red) as the scarlet worm

like wool they will be.

It would certainly be knowledge at that time that the dye has disinfectant properties and therefore, the scarlet worm is good because it cleanses. And its redness on a tree trunk could be a huge warning to predators not to mess with the cocoon lodged with the mother-insect seamlessly to the trunk.

So why does the verse urges us to get rid of the good that infects the trunk of our lives and turn ourselves into cold white lifeless snow? And convert of any good worming into our lives into soft compliant wool? Or get rid of the protective markers that warns predators away from messing with our lives?

Question1: Additionally, the LORD does not command but politely urges us and present evidence in a face-off. Why? And how can that be achieved?

Question2: Or does the verse actually say,

I urge you that we go and present evidence of two choices you have

  • If your sin is like the scarlet-dyed materials, they will become white as cold lifeless snow.

  • If you are like the good scarlet worm, you will become comforting as wool.

That is, you have a choice of becoming either

  • one who waits to receive good deeds from others and for that you become cold, blank and lifeless.
  • one who initiates infecting others with goodness and for that you become a source of comfort.

You see, the two verses following that verse is like presenting two choices.

Question3: OK, so much for the interpretation due to myself or the article. What is your interpretation of the verse? It would also be helpful to disprove my adhoc exegesis of the verse.

Question4: I missed out on adding this so I am adding it now. Do you agree that יאדימו is hiphil form - hiphil normally used in an intense form or normally denoting the verb as a causative. In this case the word יאדימו should be

causing to turn red or turning red

rather than

is red

That is,

If they dye things into red, they shall be as wool.

Therefore, do you agree that the couplet has two treatments

  • if you are a consequence of sin
  • if you are a cause of sin (or goodness, depending on how you see the 2nd segment of the couplet)

1 Answer 1


The question is apparently, "Why does the prophet use something rare and valuable that is used in purification ceremonies as a metaphor for sins?"

The first answer is that the scarlet dye was the most permanent pigment then known. Once dyed, it could not be totally bleached out, a stain always remained. In this respect, the metaphor comes to say, "Even if you are convinced that your sins can never be cleansed, nevertheless, if you repent, you can be clean and pristine again as newly fallen snow".

The second answer is that the prophet brings words of persuasion and reconciliation from God to people who have lost faith in the power of repentance, so it is important to use a positive metaphor for something very negative, sins, a metaphor that alludes to purification and hence the possibility of repentance.

The meeting of God's presence was always a sought by the Israelites. The tent of the temple in the wilderness is called the "Ohel Moed", the tent of meeting. In this verse, the seeking is reversed. God extends an invitation not just to meet, but to be "nocheah", imminent, to people who have given up.

Regarding the fourth question, "ya'adimu" indeed looks like a "hiphil" construct and Maran Ovadiah Yosef uses this as the basis for a drash, where the first clause relates to your own sins and the second clause relates to the sins that you cause others to commit, but in pshat "ya'adimu" is in fact an older form of "hitpael" meaning "to become scarlet".

  • So the sin as described in itself inherently contains a purification agent? So that sin is necessary to make a person whole?
    – Cynthia
    Oct 28, 2012 at 19:43
  • @BlessedGeek Its not that sins contain anything pure, they definitely do not. It's that even if their guilt looks as permanent as scarlet dye, it can be removed. The cleverness of the metaphor is that it uses something positive to allude to something very very negative, sins. This language is intended to re-kindle faith. Certainly it's better to be whole in the first place rather than have to go through the cycle of punishment and repentance. Of course, some of us seek punishment ;-) but that is not what the prophet is talking about in this verse. Oct 28, 2012 at 20:29
  • @BlessedGeek Done Oct 29, 2012 at 14:05

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