Your Bible Question: Why did God forbid the mixing of fabrics?

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Over the last seven years or so, various people have asked me: “Why did God forbid the mixing of fabrics?” And I always felt that the answer I gave them wasn’t the whole story; it felt incomplete – as if there was more to be explored.
Since someone asked me this question again recently, I decided to ask God to explain it to me once and for all, because as always, I want to let the Word speak for Itself.
As He guided me to the answer in Scripture, I started to uncover an underlying truth that is of even greater value than I imagined. Let’s explore!

Among all the other rules God gave the Israelites through Moses, we find this command: “You shall not wear cloth of wool and linen mixed together.” (Deuteronomy 22:11, ESV). We find it in Leviticus too: “nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.” (Leviticus 19:19b, ESV)
Between rules on how to treat God and His creation respectfully and fairly, the command seems to be an odd one out. But is it?

Jesus said that the Law stands on the commandments “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-40). That makes sense: Since God is love, naturally all of His commands will have some connection to Love.
So, what does mixing wool and linen have to do with love? Well, quite a lot, as we will discover.

An image of stone washed pure linen. Why did God forbid the mixing of fabrics? Deuteronomy 22:11, Leviticus 19:19 -

How fabrics were created

To get the full picture of the meaning of this command, it’s helpful to know how wool and linen fabrics were made since God explicitly forbade the mixing of those. By looking at these processes we can uncover the first layers of a deeper meaning within this command.

Creation of linen fabric

Linen is made out of the fibers of flax, the plant that produces flaxseed (also called linseed). The flax was dried in the sun, after which it was crushed until its hard shell broke and hairlike fibers remained. Then it was combed to get rid of any bad fibers. The residue was likely used for less sacred applications, such as making fire, while the fine fibers were used for holy items such as temple curtains and priestly garments. These fibers were then (hand) spun into threads by wetting them with water and twisting (twining) them together. These threads could be dyed and woven into cloth.

Creation of wool fabric

Wool was produced by shearing the sheep, often by taking off the fleece in its entirety, after which it was washed to get rid of all the impurities such as sand, plant matter, and dung. After this the wool was dried and could be dyed red to symbolize blood and sin, or kept pristine white to symbolize purity (Isaiah 1:18). The wool fiber was then spun (twisted) into yarn, which could be used to knit fabric.

Creation of the Body’s fabric

Making these fabrics has remarkable similarities to the way God deals with people:

  • First, God knitted you together in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13, Job 10:11).
  • Unfortunately, each and every one of us is born into a broken world, subject to inherent sin. That means that as we grow up, we have to become pliable in God’s hands so that He can shape us and use us for what He purposed us for. In other words, our hard shells need to be broken, until a soft and humble heart remains. (Romans 6:6)
  • God separates His children from the rest; He sets them apart and uses them for a holy purpose (2 Corinthians 6:17-18, Matthew 13:49, Ephesians 2:10).
  • The people who choose a life without God are used for less honorable purposes and eventually burned in the fire (Romans 9:21-23, Matthew 3:12, 13:40).
  • He cleanses His people from their sins; He washes them clean and sanctifies them (1 Corinthians 6:11, Titus 3:5).
  • He unites His people and continually knits them together into one Body (Colossians 2:2, 19, Ephesians 4:12-13). Unruly fibers that go against the weaving pattern, create chaos and endanger the integrity of the surrounding fabric.

Understanding these similarities will help you see the underlying truth of this command with greater clarity.

Not all mixing is bad

When God gave the command that forbids the mixing of wool and linen, He was referring to priestly garments. Those garments were considered sacred and provided dignity and honor to the wearer (Exodus 28:2). With that in mind, you can imagine that even the fabric needed to demonstrate purity. But that is not the reason, or at least not the whole reason for His command. We know this because God ordered the use of gold thread in these garments, which of course is another material altogether, made out of finely cut thin sheets of gold (Exodus 28:5, 39:3).

The mixing in of gold made sense: gold was seen as something valuable, and non-coincidentally, it reflects light. That is why I believe that the priestly garments, woven with gold, scarlet, blue, and purple yarn, always pointed to Christ. As today’s priests, we should continually reflect the Light of Christ as we have the royal, divine blood of Christ running through our veins (symbolized by purple, blue, and red).

So why can’t wool have a place in this symbolism?

Pure wool is sometimes also used as a reference to holiness (for example in Daniel 7:9 and Revelation 1:14), so why doesn’t it have a place in the priestly garments? Well, there is a place in Scripture where God gives us more detail, namely in Ezekiel 44:17-18 where it is written: “When they enter the gates of the inner court, they shall wear linen garments. They shall have nothing of wool on them, while they minister at the gates of the inner court, and within. They shall have linen turbans on their heads, and linen undergarments around their waists. They shall not bind themselves with anything that causes sweat.” (ESV)

We all know that wool can be warm, and sweating excessively does not fit in with the vibe of dignity and honor. So, this could be a practical reason for not blending wool into the linen garments.

But I think there is an even more important reason behind this, one that points to Jesus: Sweating is a sign of hard labor (Genesis 3:19), while Jesus teaches us that fellowship with Him is not a matter of working harder, it is a matter of becoming holier and loving Him more, which makes all service dedicated to Him light as a feather (Matthew 11:28-30).
You might remember from our series how Jacob’s love for Rachel reflects our relationship with Jesus. Well, his seven years of work for Rachel felt like a few days to him because of his love for her (Genesis 29:20).

What the context says about the meaning of this command

There is still more truth to this command! To fully comprehend why God gave this command, we must look at the “fabric” of His Word, or, in other words, the context and its meaning.

The command is immediately followed by another one about priestly clothes: “You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of the garment with which you cover yourself.” (Deuteronomy 22:12, ESV)

In Numbers 15:39, we learn that these tassels served as a reminder to follow all the commandments, instead of their own hearts and eyes. Its reiteration in Deuteronomy underlines the fact that it was a matter of holiness, dignity, and honor.

Unequally yoked

But the preceding verse also gives us an important clue. Deuteronomy 22:10 (ESV): “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.” This is a typical example of an unequal yoke. Although both are technically able to help a farmer plow, these animals are built differently. They have different characters and different levels of endurance and strength. Making them plow together would not be safe for anyone or any animal involved and would not lead to the optimal result.

Verse 9 talks about the mixing of seeds, which is another form of an unequal yoke.
Any unequal yoke is not a good reflection of what Jesus wants for our lives: unity of mind, growing together, building one another up (1 Peter 3:8, Ephesians 4:13, 1 Corinthians 14:26, Colossians 2:2, 19). This becomes so much harder when one is pulling the other down, or when we make each other stumble.

In Leviticus 19 God gives the command within this context: “You shall keep my statutes. You shall not let your cattle breed with a different kind. You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed, nor shall you wear a garment of cloth made of two kinds of material.” (Leviticus 19:19, ESV)

Although the context is similar, in this verse the accent seems to be on the preservation of structural purity, of building blocks such as DNA. This was another way of being unequally yoked in those days. Because when God led the Israelites out of Egypt towards the promised land, He forbade intermarriage and other ways of mixing with other peoples, for the same reasons: they would drag the Israelites down, and steer them away from God, which did happen as we can read in the books that followed (Deuteronomy 7:3-4, Ezra 9:1-2, 1 Kings 11:7-9).

What do we do with this command today?

I believe that God used these commands as a reminder for His people, to highlight and underline being united as one, a holy army, moving as one body, and following God’s orders. Unfortunately, the Israelites failed to do so, time and time again. They used these rules as a show of righteousness, a righteousness that did not go deeper than what the eye could see (Matthew 23:1-7). Thankfully, something crucial changed.

Growing together

Jesus gave us His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit unites us and makes us equal. We have all been grafted into the olive tree and we are all part of the same vine, so regardless of our race, gender, education, or background; we all have Jesus’s blood running through our veins (Romans 11:17, Galatians 3:28).

All who believe that Jesus died and rose again for our sins are in the process of being sanctified by the same Instructor (Romans 10:9-13, Matthew 23:10). We are all on the path towards the promised land, moving as one Body, as one spiritual “fabric” (1 Corinthians 12:12-27). Fabric cannot turn itself back into flax or implant itself back onto a sheep, so as long as we remain part of the fabric, we are safe. But, when certain threads in the fabric get too soiled by sin, too unruly, or useless, it might be necessary to cut some of the material out (John 15:6, Matthew 5:13, Romans 11:20-22). So we should do our best to continue to love and live like Christ.

Spiritual application

Jesus teaches us that we should focus on the spiritual, instead of the physical. Simply following rules and doing the right things, doesn’t get us into heaven. Only faith in Jesus gets us there (Ephesians 2:8-9).
This means that, for Christians, purity of fabrics isn’t about purity in what is seen, but about purity in what is unseen: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8).

It also means that our unequal yokes come from yoking ourselves to unbelievers, for example through marriage (2 Corinthians 6:14).
A famous quote from the Bible is “a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12b, ESV) Or from NIV: “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

I love this verse because of the impact of the truth it holds. A husband and wife become intertwined as two strands tightly wrapped around each other, while God, as the third strand, is holding them together. Who can break a relationship like that? Yet, this only works when both cling to each other and God, and all strands are turning in the same direction. This creates a strong, unbreakable bond.
It doesn’t work if one strand turns in the opposite direction of the other two, because that would cause the cord to disentangle.

This is why I believe that the command that forbids the mixing of fabrics still applies to spiritual equality (both being a born-again believer in Jesus Christ) but not to any physical objects, such as clothing “as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18, ESV).

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