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Isaiah 1:18 ESV

“Come now, let us reason[c] together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

According to the Mishnah it is said that the scarlet thread tied to the sanctuary turned white implying that God had accepted the atonement.

Mishnah Yoma 6

They said to the High Priest: The goat has reached the wilderness. And how did they know in the Temple that the goat reached the wilderness? They would build platforms [dirkaot] all along the way and people would stand on them and wave scarves [sudarin] to signal when the goat arrived. And therefore they knew that the goat reached the wilderness. Rabbi Yehuda said: Why did they need these platforms? Didn’t they already have a reliable indicator? From Jerusalem to Beit Ḥiddudo, the edge of the wilderness, where the mitzva of dispatching the goat was performed, was a distance of three mil. Since the nobles of Jerusalem walked a mil to escort the dispatcher and returned a mil, and waited the time equivalent to the time it takes to walk a mil, they knew that the goat reached the wilderness. There was no need for the platforms. Rabbi Yishmael says: Didn’t they have a different indicator? There was a strip of crimson tied to the entrance to the Sanctuary, and when the goat reached the wilderness and the mitzva was fulfilled the strip would turn white, as it is stated: “Though your sins be as scarlet, they will become white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18).

Could Isaiah be referring to this tractate

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  • Interesting question. I've looked into the scarlett thread before and while this verse can be linked to it - the "red hair" symbology for sin in scripture goes beyond just the day of atonement. It's a broader overall symbol that is used for sin in general. So it is used in that ritual but also used many places in scripture. Often in relationship to clothing / linen. Also with the birth of twins. The one who arrives first is marked with red hair/thread (Jakob and Esau, Perez and Zerah). Also the prophets garment consisted of "red hairy cloak"
    – Marshall
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 18:22
  • As here it's specifically talking about turning the thread white we can say this is related to process of atonement. One perspective I've always found interesting is that the prophets themselves actually acted out the atonement ritual. The taking of the red hairy garment and wandering in the wilderness was them becoming the "scapegoat" and baring the sins. Eg Hebrews 11:37 I see this as the role John the Baptist played while Jesus played the role as the other animal who remained with the people and was sacrificed to the Lord and whos blood the high priest sprinkled on the mercy seat
    – Marshall
    Commented Feb 11, 2022 at 18:35

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The ideas preserved in "Mishnah Yoma 6" represent a pious myth that is not supported by the Bible. Therefore, I will not comment on its contents on this site.

Isa 1:18 records one of the great atonement promises the OT:

“Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they will become like wool.

The NT alludes to this verse in places such as:

1 John 1:7 - But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

This is simply a reference (in both cases) to the cleansing, or atonement for sin by the shedding of blood.

There is no direct verbal link to the Day of Atonement specifically that was to cleanse the sanctuary generally as distinct from the individual sins of people. Individual sins were confessed individually over a sacrificial animal.

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No. The prophet talks about a certain species of an insect that lives in the Holly Land, which points out to the atoning work of the Messiah. In Psalm 22:6 the psalmist identifies Jesus with that worm.

“CRIMSON WORM , biblical tola'at shani (Heb. תּוֹלַעַת שָׁנִי), which yields a dye, called in the Bible shani, tola, karmil, and in rabbinic literature zehorit, which was extracted from the body of the "crimson worm" (carmine), the Kermes biblicus. A brilliant, beautiful, and fast red dye, it was used for dyeing the curtains of the Tabernacle and the garments of the high priests; in the purification rites of a leper and of a house affected by leprosy; and it was added to the ashes of the red heifer.”

"The Crimson Worm (scientific name: coccus ilicis or kermes ilicis) looks more like a grub than a worm. In the lifecycle of this worm is where the remez is found. And it points to the work of Jesus on the cross. When the female crimson worm is ready to lay her eggs, which happens only once in her life, she climbs up a tree or fence and attaches herself to it. With her body attached to the word, a hard crimson shell forms. It is a shell so hard and so secured to the wood that it can only be removed by tearing apart the body which would kill the worm. The female worm lays her eggs under her body, under the protective shell. When the larvae hatch, they remain under the mother’s protective shell so the baby worms can feed on the living body of the mother worm for three days. After three days, the mother worm dies and her body excretes a crimson or scarlet dye that stains the wood to which she is attached, and also her baby worms. The baby worms remain crimson-colored for their entire lives. Thereby, they are identified as crimson worms. On day four, the tail of the mother worm pulls up into her head, forming a heart-shaped body that is no longer crimson but has turned into a snow-white wax that looks like a patch of wool on the tree or fence. It then begins to flake off and drop to the ground looking like snow. In biblical times, the red dye excreted from the Crimson Worm (Ps 22:6, Isa 1:18, Isa 66:24) was used in the High Priest’s robe and probably for red dye used on ram’s skins to create the covering of the Tabernacle in the wilderness. Uses of this red dye continue today. The worm’s body and shell, while still red and attached to the tree, are scraped off and used to make what is called “Royal Red Dye.” The waxy material is used to make high-quality shellac, which is used in the Middle East as a wood preserver. And the remains of the Crimson Worm are also used in medicines that help in regulating the human heart."

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