Holman Bible Dictionary
The plant (Linum usitatissimumro ) used to make linen. The fibers of the flax stem are the most ancient of textile fibers. Flax was cultivated by the Egyptians before the Exodus (Exodus 9:31 ) and by the Canaanites before the Conquest (Joshua 2:6 ). The making of linen was a common household chore in biblical times. Proverbs 31:13 described the virtuous wife as one who sought wool and flax. The linen making process involved pulling and drying flax stalks (often on rooftops, Joshua 2:6 ). The stalks were deseeded, soaked until the fibers were loosened (retted), and redried. A hackle, a comb or board with long teeth, was used to separate the outer fibers from the inner core. Further combing (carding) cleansed and ordered the fibers so that they might be spun into thread for weaving (Isaiah 19:9 ). The remaining short, tangled fibers (the tow) were used to weave a course fabric or make twine (Judges 16:9 ; Isaiah 1:31 ).
Flax fibers were also used to make torches and lamp wicks. Isaiah 43:17 pictures armies as a wick which the Lord would extinguish. In Isaiah 42:3 the Servant of the Lord is one who will not quench a dimly burning wick. The picture suggests one who will help and comfort the powerless rather than bring harsh judgment. Matthew understood Jesus' ministry as the fulfillment of this Scripture ( Matthew 12:20 ).
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