(Article by Rick Delay originally published in The Concertina Wire*, a prison magazine)
Ex 35:4-9 And Moses spake unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying, This is the thing which the LORD commanded, saying, Take ye from among you an offering unto the LORD: whosoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it, an offering of the LORD; gold, and silver, and brass, And blue, and purple, and SCARLET, and fine linen, and goats’ hair, And rams’ skins dyed red, and badgers’ skins, and shittim wood, And oil for the light, and spices for anointing oil, and for the sweet incense, And onyx stones, and stones to be set for the ephod, and for the breastplate. (emphasis mine; i.e., the author’s)
Back in the Spring of 2015, I was at the Arizona State Prison Complex – Redrock (ASPC-Redrock) in Eloy, Arizona, where I was enrolled in a horticulture class with about 17 other inmates, including a good friend of many years by the name of Jacob.
We were given small plots of ground to prep and grow such vegetables as tomatoes, cilantro, cantaloupe, watermelon, corn, eggplant, peppers (we had ghost pepper eating challenges), chamomille, sage, and other spices, etc., etc. The sage plant we had was particularly prolific in sprouting fragrant leaves which the Native Americans enjoy using in their ceremonies; we also enjoyed the soothing effects of the leaves by placing one inside our lower lip like a chew. We were also given space to grow plants in a fairly large greenhouse which was attached to our classroom.
Jacob is a Hebrew-speaking Conservative Jew whom I had the pleasure of studying Torah with each Sabbath. One particular Shabbat Jacob and I were studying Parashah 19, Terumah (Ex 25:1 – 27:19). Jacob made the comment that, for the purpose of learning Hebrew, Parashah Terumah was a good section to study due to the variety of words used throughout its chapters.
Jacob and I took turns reading Parashah Terumah in Hebrew, and he did a great job of breaking apart each word syllable by syllable; especially when it came to the listed items to be contributed in the building of the Tabernacle. I was fascinated as Jacob dissected each word. Take the word copper (brass) for instance: in Hebrew the word describes the color from the inside of a cobra’s mouth!
Of particular interest was the word tola’at, which was used to describe the color crimson. Tola’at is also one of three other words used in Hebrew for the word worm. Jacob explained that the tola’at is a special worm that was crushed to make the crimson dye used to dye the thread used in making cloth for the Tabernacle. Exodus 35:6 has a special construct for this color, combining the two Hebrew words tola’at (crimson) and sheni (scarlet). Sheni’s root word, shani, means division and the number two. I asked Jacob if he knew why both these words were combined throughout the book of Shemot/Exodus (sometimes the order is reversed). He didn’t know, . . . it just was. The only other time that sheni and tola’at are seen in such close proximity is in Is 1:18:
“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet (sheni), they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson (tola’at), they shall be as wool.”
About six months later, in the Fall of that year, our horticulture class was coming to an end and we were removing all the plants from outdoors to clear plots for a new group of students. We re-potted the well producing plants, including the sage plant, and placed them on tables in the greenhouse.
At that time, I was reading and meditating on Psalm 22 which many equate with the sufferings of Yeshua on the Roman cross. I highly recommend that you read it for yourself with Yeshua in mind because it’s astounding how it appears to be describing someone suffering on a cross. The Gospel accounts quote Yeshua crying out, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?” (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:37), which is the first verse of Psalm 22. “They pierced my hands and my feet” is found in verse 16. The Gospels also record that the Roman soldiers cast lots (dice) to see who would get Jesus’ robe as foretold in verse 18. I read verse six of the Psalm:
“But I am a WORM and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.” (emphasis mine),
and thought, could this worm be the same tola’at which I had studied six months earlier with Jacob?
The next morning in class I spoke to Jacob, who sits next to me at the same table. I asked what the name of the worm in Shemot (Exodus) was again, and he penciled the word tola’at on the cover of my manila class folder. Looking at that word I couldn’t help feeling I was being reunited with an old friend. Later that day, I looked up the many occurrences of tola’at in the Scriptures, and again read it in Isaiah 1:18. Sheni (scarlet) is linked to the purity of snow. Tola’at is combined with wool, the wool of a lamb. Many are unware that two of the three Hebrew words for worm are used in Job 25:6:
“How much less man, that is a worm (rimmah)? And the SON OF MAN, who is a worm (tola’at)? (emphasis mine)
The word rimmah (Strong’s 7415) means a rapidly breeding maggot and is associated with mankind in this verse (ouch!). Tola’at (Strong’s 8438), as mentioned earlier, can mean both worm (grub) or the color crimson. Job 25:6 was the first time I saw the word Tola’at (worm) associated with the son of man, which was a term Yeshua called Himself by. The term Son of Man is also the term used for the Messiah who approaches the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7:13.
So now we have tola’at, which means both worm and the color crimson, closely associated with the wool of a lamb and the term son of man . . . do I need to call Captain Obvious to explain who this is pointing to?
Having read this verse many times I naturally thought tola’at was speaking prophetically of Messiah’s humiliation to the point that He didn’t even view Himself as a man. Didn’t Adonai say through Isaiah, regarding the Children of Israel’s lowly estate, “Fear not, thou worm (tola’at) Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the LORD, and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel?” (Is 41:14)
In light of my recent discoveries of the dual meanings of the word tola’at, an epiphany emerged – a startling and ghastly epiphany of the tola’at worm being crushed into an unrecognizable mass in order to obtain it’s precious dye. It was in my mind’s eye a crimson, pulpy mess.
My lower lip began to tremble, my eyes brimmed with tears as I saw this alternative meaning. I envisioned our Passover lamb, Messiah, being crushed for the sins of the world, not only crying out to His Father, “I am a worm and not a man”, but, “I am tola’at and no longer resemble a man.” I remembered the badly burned child I saw on a talk show whose face was horribly disfigured when he got trapped in a house fire. He no longer looked like the adorable child in their family portraits. During the interview the pained mother described the helplessness and guilt she felt over the years as her son suffered the grotesque appearance thrust upon him by the tragedy. The fire had been her fault.
Was Yeshua relaying to His Father that His grotesque appearance, as a result of being so badly beaten and lacerated – His bloodied face and body were no longer recognizable as a man created in the image of God? Is this Man of Sorrows looking up to Heaven crying, “Look at Me! I am crushed; I am poured out a bloody mess; I am no longer recognizable as your Son. I am TOLA’AT!. . . .
“As many as were astonished at thee; his VISAGE was so marred more than any man, and his FORM more than the sons of men.” (Is 52:14; emphasis mine)
“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before his shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.” (Is 53:3-7; emphasis mine)
The next morning in class my lessons in tola’at would continue.
The following day our class was abuzz with activity, with students wrapping up all the loose ends needed to get the class ready for the arrival of the new students plus cramming for the final exam. I was in the greenhouse working with my potted plants when a rather large fellow student went to the sage plant on my table and vigorously started plucking leaves as if he were plucking a chicken. We had learned in class that if you take more than a third of a plant’s leaves you run the risk of killing the plant. The sage plant was shared among all of us, and we usually took no more than a few leaves at a time. I told the youngster he risked killing the plant, and he told me in so many words to shut up (he used spicier language). I told him, “Seriously, you need to take it easy or you’re going to kill it.” He became enraged that I was up in his business, and he let me know in so many words that if I didn’t shut up that he would beat me up. I tried to reason with him that we all share the plant’s leaves, and if he kills this one, we all lose. I tried to diffuse the situation but he wanted no part of it. He was being a bully, and I suppose he was used to guys backing down when threatened with physical harm. To his and my surprise, I told him if he was dead-set on taking it outside, then let’s go. I told him I wasn’t afraid of bullies no matter how big they were. Strangely enough, I said that I would only fight to protect myself, that I would not strike him. He thought I was nuts.
On our way outside, one of my friends says, “Don’t go. You’re an O.G. (old guy; old gangster; in my case, “old geezer”), and you don’t need to fight to prove you’re not a coward. You don’t have to fight anymore like the youngsters. No one will say anything if you don’t go outside.” True enough, I had fought many times and accounted well for myself, winning some and losing some, yet for some strange reason, I felt compelled to go outside even though I was badly outmatched, even if only to stand up to him unafraid.
I stepped outside into the sunshine and there by the doorway he quickly launched into a serious barrage of punches and whirling haymakers which I was able to successfully avoid for a while. Eventually I got knocked down, and he landed on top of me and began to mercilessly pound me on the face. I could only block some of the blows as they continued unabated in rapid succession.
A normal person will stop hitting when a guy is down; especially when the guy is just shy of sixty years. But not this tatted-up sociopath. He stepped it up another notch and continued pummeling away. After a while of this I figured the kid must be getting tired of me hitting his fists with my face, but no, he kicked it yet into another gear. I soon realized – I have never been hit like this in my life. On…and on…it went. I was surprised that I was still conscious.
Mercifully, a teacher’s aide by the name of Carl stuck his head out the door and told the guy that an officer was coming. (He lied). The youngster got up and ran off to the other side of the building, leaving me dazed but relieved that it was over. I was happy and amazed that I was okay and felt no pain, not bad for an old guy. (I would sadly later learn this was due to the adrenalin rush.) I quickly got up and entered the greenhouse feeling happy that I had just experienced the thrashing of my life unscathed. Looking at the guys gathered in the greenhouse wearing shocked expressions, I quickly realized something was wrong. I looked down at what was now a barely orange shirt shimmering wet with a crimson flow of blood; there was also a trail of blood following, leading to a red Rorschach blot** of blood where I had previously lain on the ground. (I could easily read it as a testament to my lack of intelligence in going out to fight in the first place.) I looked back at them to see that the focus of their unnerving stares wasn’t the trail of red, but my face. I was a bloody mess with a torrent of blood gushing out of my nose. Looking downward I could see my nose was an open faucet pouring mi sangria on the ground.
Being a former nurse with many years of surgical experience, I immediately knew I was in trouble. I had taken care of many a post-op rhinoplasty (nasal surgery), and the biggest concern medical staff have after a rhinoplasty is that of stemming the flow of blood. Rhinoplasties carry the unique “complication” of patients bleeding to death.
Jacob then blurted out, “Look, Delay, tola’at!”
I lifted my head upwards and held paper towels to my nose, which left me choking on the blood backing out the back of my mouth. I as spitting up gobs of blood. The bleeding wouldn’t stop! Panic was beginning to set in and I began praying to God those prayers we fearfully pray when we think “this might be the end”. “Father, forgive me for all my sins, I may be coming home today. I want to be ready to meet you.”
The bleeding, . . .ever so painfully . . ., slowly abated . . .and finally stopped.
Scared that my “Carrie”-like appearance would trigger alarms, my short-lived relief turned into frantic activity as I washed my face and stripped off my shirt and pants to wash in the water tub used to fill our water cans. I’m in the greenhouse in my skivvies! – what a nice disciplinary write-up that would be. I wrung out my clothes and put them back on and re-entered the classroom. All the guys in class were relieved to see that I was okay. Then, right there in class, my nose spontaneously opened up again, to which Jacob ran and quickly placed some paper towels on my nose while raising my head up. My teacher suspiciously looked at my face, then walked on thinking I was just having a nose bleed.
Jacob then blurted out, “Look Delay, ‘tola’at!” I dizzily looked down to see him nodding in the direction of my manila folder where he had penciled the word on the cover the day before. We both froze momentarily staring at the Hebrew word for crimson scribbled in graphite. I went into a state of shock, but not from blood loss. . . . In a flash I recalled my suffering, thorn-crowned Messiah on a Roman cross. Again I saw Messiah as described in Isaiah 52:14, and 53:3-7, marred beyond recognition atop Golgotha’s hill (Calvary), and thought of my sins, of the victim of my crime, and, strangely enough, of a young clergyman I had given two black eyes to at a church many years ago. . . . Stan Runnels, wherever you are, I’m deeply sorry.*t
I stared at Jacob only to see him staring uneasily back at me. It was he who had yelled out tola’at! as if he had seen a ghost. I could see by his pallid and pensive countenance that he was having to seriously weigh a shocking idea that could topple the apple cart of his well-ordered Jewish life forever. Was he seeing the Suffering Messiah of Isaiah 53 as clearly as I had seen Him? I had talked of Yeshua’s Messiahship many times before to the point of irritating him. I took the hint that he no longer cared to discuss it anymore; yet, despite this, we had remained good friends. I now sensed that God was doing something beyond the words shared in the past. Peculiar enough, Jacob and I never discussed that day again. It just never came up. We were both troubled by it.
The next day my head bloomed into a lovely, dark, purple-hued blossom. I looked like a post-Tyson fight survivor, and now I encapsulated how a walnut feels inside a nutcracker. My face was badly swollen, and the next day in class, my teacher, Ms. Reap (what a name for a horticulture teacher), now certain that “that was no normal nosebleed”, sent me to medical to get checked out.
The doctor asked what happened, and I gave the stock reply normally given by inmates . . . that I was the victim of a rather rough basketball game. Giving me an unamused “knowing” look, the doc then went through the routine of checking for any serious injuries and had me sign a form stating that I was not in any imminent danger of bodily harm, and that I felt safe to be back on the yard (which was true). Feeling legally safe for both himself and the facility, the doctor sent me home with a prescription for ibuprofen. Thank God, nothing was broken.
What occurred caused an uproar on the yard, and some wanted to go after the youngster for disrespecting an O.G., but I quickly quelled it saying that I did not want anyone to interfere with a fair fight, and as far as I was concerned “it was tuvo” (over). I got a lot of respect on the yard for not “dry-snitching” to the doctor, and a week later I reached out to the kid and we became friends. I think he was grateful that I didn’t snitch on him to the prison staff, and for not allowing the situation to escalate into further violence via reprisals. I may have saved him from getting jumped (he was being followed and mocked on the yard by some veteranos – real O.G.’s). What can I say? He was a knucklehead youngster. This place is full of them. On top of that, he wasn’t my main concern at the time. I was focused on tola’at and it’s meaning. . . . I was still in shock over that vision of Messiah. Strangely, I was kind of grateful to the kid for expanding my understanding of Psalm 22:6. Ultimately, I chose to view him as a tool uniquely used by the LORD to deepen my understanding of Messiah’s sufferings, and claimed faith that God was using the situation for good. (Rom 8:28)
Back in my cell, laying on my bunk, I was painfully and uncomfortably getting a small taste of what TOLA’AT entailed. My face was grotesquely swollen and one big purple mess. I went everywhere wearing sunglasses and a ball cap to hide my unpleasant appearance. Pain pills were useless. The pain was such that I couldn’t sleep at night; consequently I had plenty of time to mull over tola’at’s compound joining with sheni in Shemot (Exodus).
Here’s what I came up with:
As mentioned earlier, sheni is Hebrew for the color scarlet. It’s root, shani, is also the word for the number two and the word division. I envisioned scarlet threads of redemption throughout the Bible, such as the scarlet cord on Zerah’s wrist at childbirth, and the scarlet cord outside of Rahab’s window in Jericho. These two examples mark a separation between the righteous and the unrighteous. Regarding the root shani and its relation to the number two and to the word division, I recalled something I had discovered years ago in the Scriptures that involved the numbers 400 and 430. I saw that the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and New Covenant are separated by 430 years.
In Genesis 10:25 and 11:16-17 we learn that Eber lived 430 years and begat Peleg. It is said that in the days of Peleg the lands were DIVIDED, not to mention that Eber (the ancestor of the Hebrews) means crossing over. Fast forward to Abraham and we see him put to sleep where a great darkness overwhelms him, and he sees a burning torch passing through the MIDDLE of several DIVIDED animals. God tells Abraham that his descendants will be enslaved by a foreign nation for 400 years. After 430 years Israel leaves Egypt (as God foretold), and the Red Sea is DIVIDED, which has one of two effects on those involved: Israel CROSSES OVER the Red (Reed) Sea and is safe; the Egyptian soldiers attempt the same and are drowned. A DIVISION occurs between the Children of Israel and the Egyptians. We understand that another 400 years pass between the Old and the New Testaments. Christ is born, and at about 30 years of age, Yeshua appears to all Israel as a man of age proclaiming the arrival of the Kingdom of God. Three-and-a-half-years later, when on the Roman cross, Yeshua says, “It is finished”, the Temple veil is DIVIDED (rent) in TWO; and we see another SEPARATION line between the wicked and the righteous when one thief CROSSES OVER into Paradise, and the other rejects Christ and is damned. Wasn’t it righteous Simeon who had told Mary that her Son was set for the rising and falling of many? Christ Himself said that He would SEPARATE the sheep nations from the goat nations, and the wheat from the tares at His return.
Just like Joseph’s interpretation of the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker, where one was restored to his job as the King’s cupbearer and the other beheaded, the question remains: “Where do you stand in the grand scheme of things?” Are you ready for the next great DIVISION spoken of in the Word of God — JUDGMENT DAY — when God opens all the books and judges mankind according to their deeds, whether good or bad?
“Next I saw a great white throne and the One sitting on it. Earth and Heaven fled from His presence, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, both great and small, standing in front of the throne. Books were opened; and another book was opened, the Book of Life; and the dead were judged from what was written in the books, according to what they had done. . . . Anyone whose name was not found written in the Book of Life was hurled into the lake of fire.” (Rev 20:11-12, 15 CJB)
The message of Tola’at is that the crushing of Messiah on Passover and the shedding of His crimson blood washes away all of our iniquities. The record of all past wrongs is blotted out because He has borne our punishment. The Just for the unjust. The brutal ugliness of His death is a vivid reminder of the horror of sin and the price that would be required to atone for it. Through His death on Passover we can CROSS OVER from death to life as God adds our names to His Book of Life.
What must we do? We must turn away from our sins and place our faith in Yeshua to rescue and save us from the penalty of breaking God’s commandments. That penalty is actually a death penalty (Rom 6:23). The death veil that descended upon the Earth through Adam’s fall is removed through that Holy One’s poured out blood. Though our sins be as scarlet (sheni), they shall be white as snow. Though they be as crimson (tola’at), they shall be as wool. Just as Moses lifted the bronze serpent on the pole in the wilderness, God commands all mankind (for our own good) to look upon the Savior in faith and see Him as the sacrifice for our sins on the cross. He wants you to be made all new, all good, and all right. Now is the time to prepare and respond to His call; because the message of sheni is that this same Yeshua is the dividing line between Heaven and damnation. (Dan 12:1-2; Is 66:24; Mk 9:44-48) Will He be your JUDGE or your REDEEMER?
The LORD promises that when we seek Him with all of our heart, we will find Him.
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with a hope. Then when you CALL upon Me and COME and PRAY to Me, I will hear you. When you SEARCH for me, you will FIND Me; if you SEEK ME WITH ALL YOUR HEART.” (Jer 29:11-13; emphasis mine)
God’s cure for atheism, agnosticism, and the age-old question — “Is there a God?” – is faith.
“But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must BELIEVE THAT HE IS, and that He is a REWARDER of them that diligently seek Him.” (Heb 11:6; emphasis mine)
We FIRST approach God by faith. He chooses the way of faith (trusting in His words and promises) in order to humble us. Our pride keeps us from trusting in His words. We must trust in the LORD and in His words, and not lean on our own ideas and incomplete understanding. (Pr 3:5-6) Prayerfully consider these words and respond to God in prayer:
He who CONFESSES his sins and FORSAKES them shall obtain MERCY. (Pr 28:13)
For as many as RECEIVED Him, to them gave He the RIGHT to become the sons of God. To as many as BELIEVE on His name. (Jn 1:12)
For WHOSOEVER shall call upon the name of the LORD shall be saved. (Rom 10:13)
If you shall CONFESS the Lord Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) and BELIEVE in your heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, YOU shall be saved. (Rom 10:9)
PRAY THIS PRAYER: God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, I want to confess my sins to you and I choose to forsake them. I want to receive Yeshua into my life and follow Him. Make me to be one of your sons. I believe and trust in the name of Yeshua. I call upon you to save me. I confess with my mouth that Yeshua is both Lord and Messiah, and I believe in my heart that You raised Him from the dead. I now claim your promise to forgive all my sins and to save me from death. Thank-you for doing this for me. Amen.
My prayer for you:
Dear God our Father, I pray that the one reading this and reaching out to you will find You as You have promised. I pray that You will enable them by the power of Your Spirit to obtain mercy and grace in this time of need because of the poured out blood of Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah), Your Son. By your mercy and great love draw them to you, and do a special and mighty work in the life of this person. Forgive all sins and deliver from all sinful addictions and afflictions of the evil one. Grant them the faith necessary to make that connection with You that brings eternal life. Do good things for them and their family from this day forward. Answer for this person those deep and hidden things which only You can answer. Grant for this person rest, peace, abundance, and LIFE. Thank-you for answering beyond what I can even ask or think. In your Son’s name, Yeshua (Jesus), I pray. Amen.
The LORD bless you and keep you;
The LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.
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*Concertina wire is a shiny, coiled, razor wire attached to the top of prison fencing and walls.
** Rorschach blot: a personality and intelligence test in which a subject interprets inkblot designs in terms that reveal intellectual and emotional factors.
*t I have since recalled reading something odd about those suffering during the Holocaust. In years past, in San Luis Obispo, California, I had pored over many voluminous tomes in our synagogue library which gave accounts of Shoah survivors. In their deepest moments of pain and despair many relayed how their collective thoughts turned to Yeshua and His sufferings. They also saw their sufferings as having a redeeming value for the world. Their identification with Son of Israel initially shocked and surprised me, but odder still was their feelings that their sufferings would benefit the world. “Fear thou not, thou worm (tola’at) Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the LORD, and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” (Is 41:14)
This had struck me as rather macabre and I never could get these thoughts out of my mind. You would think the Passion of Christ would be the last thing on the minds of Jews suffering from Nazi atrocities during the Holocaust. Did they feel a slight twinge of guilt in their own identification with His sufferings? Was this why I was also guilty remembering my own transgressions when my head go busted open? Did this furnace of affliction dredge up the dross of past guilt hidden within my heart? Of course it did!
The American Civil War initially began as a fight for states’ rights, but the severity and brutality of the war caused much soul searching. The carnage was staggering. It wasn’t until the country came to the awful truth that the war was God’s judgment for the hundreds of years of cruel and abusive slavery of African-Americans that true repentance occurred. The country turned the war’s focus to ending slavery of African-Americans, and the tide of the war turned and soon ended. It’s amazing how we see the light when we feel the heat.
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Comments? Write to: Rickey Mora #156426
ASPC-Kingman/Huachuca Unit 1C9
P.O. Box 6639
Kingman, AZ 86402