(By Rachel Joyce)
Happy Mother’s Day! As we celebrate our mothers, there’s another mother who deserves our attention. Her name is Tola and she is an amazing illustration of Jesus’ sacrificial love for us. The apostle John wrote of Jesus: “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us” (1 Jn 3:16). As Jesus hung on the cross in love for us, to redeem us from our sins, He cried out to His Father, quoting from Psalm Twenty-Two.
Listen to some of the words from this messianic psalm: “But I am a worm and not a man. I am scorned and despised by all…They have pierced my hands and my feet” (Psalm 22:6,16b). The word used for worm here is not the one used for regular worms, instead, it is tola, (תולעת).
He wasn't likening Himself to a pudgy pink earthworm. Instead, He was drawing our attention to the little crimson worm which God gave us as a beautiful picture of our Lord's sacrifice on the cross.
Tola (or more accurately, תולעת) is a little crimson-colored worm (coccus ilicis) that looks like a grub. When it’s time for her to have babies, she climbs onto a tree or finds a piece of wood and attaches her body to it. Her outer body hardens into a scarlet shell, so firmly affixed to the wood that she cannot be removed and survive.
She lays her eggs within that shell and when they hatch, they stay within the shell’s protection. As they grow, her body becomes their food and within a few days, when they are able to survive on their own, she dies. At this point, the tola worm’s body secretes a deep red liquid that stains both the tree and her offspring.
For the rest of their lives, they are marked by her blood-colored dye. Then, three days after her death, the tola worm’s crimson body fades to a waxy white and falls to the ground like snow. The tola worm, attached to a tree, giving her life so that her offspring can live, points to Jesus, who allowed Himself to be nailed to the cross. He sacrificed His life so we could be born again and become the children of God. By providing her living body as food for her offspring, the tola worm reminds us of Jesus who declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty…I am the living bread that came down from heaven…and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh…in the same way, anyone who feeds on me will live because of me” (John 6:35, 51, 57).
Jesus offered His body as a sacrifice for our sins and when we personally accept what He did for us, we receive eternal life. Like the tola’s red dye which stains the tree and her babies, the crimson flow of Jesus’ blood which stained the cross, forever marks us as His own and we live in the power of His shed blood. In Old Testament times, the literal blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled on the people but now, “Our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean” (Exo 24:8, Heb 9:19, 10:22).
It is the blood of Christ which purifies “Our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God” (Heb 9:14). His blood not only cleanses us from sin, it changes us into worshippers for the rest of our lives. The tola worm's transformation from crimson to white pictures the process of our sins being washed clean. Listen to the words of Isaiah, “Come now, let us reason 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” (Isa 1:18). The dye from this crimson worm was used to color cloth, but since the dye had to be harvested from the dying bodies of the tiny (slightly under a quarter-inch long) tola worms, this material was incredibly valuable. Scarlet clothing was worn by kings and nobility.
It was a scarlet robe that they placed on Jesus when they mocked and taunted Him for saying that He was the King of the Jews (Mat 27:28). It must have been an old robe because they were willing to get it bloody. They placed it upon His lacerated back and crowned Him with a wreath of jagged thorns which they beat into His head.
And onto that scarlet robe, His blood flowed. As they stripped the robe from Him and nailed Him to the rough, wooden cross, I wonder if He thought of the many little tola worms who died for the dye which colored His robe.
What I do know is that we were on His mind (Heb 12:2). His death was for you. His death was for me. The Son of God “loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2:20). He willingly endured the suffering of the cross to redeem our souls, cleanse our crimson sins, and make us white as snow.
Because He died, eternal life is available to all who believe and because He rose again on the third day, we know that we will live with Him forevermore. Hallelujah! What a Savior!
Gesenius, Wilhelm, et al.A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament with an Appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic Based on the Lexicon of William Gesenius as Translated by Edward Robinson Late Professor in the Union Theological Seminary, New York. Edited with Constant Reference to the Thesaurus of Gesenius as Completed by E. Rödiger, and with Authorized Use of the Latest German Editions of Gesenius Handwörterbuch über Das Alte Testament by Francis Brown, D.D., D. Litt. Davenport Professor of Hebrew and the Cognate Languages in the Union Theological Seminary with the Co-Operation of S.R. Driver, D.D., Litt. D. Regius Professor of Hebrew, and Canon of Christ Church, Oxford and Charles A. Briggs, D.D., D. Litt. Edward Robinson Professor of Biblical Theology in the Union Theological Seminary. At the Clarendon Press, 1906.
“Psalm 22:6 - I Am a Worm.”Manual for Life, 2 May 2020, www.manual4life.org/en/psalm-226-worm/.
Strong, James.Strongs Exhaustive Concordance. Hendrickson Publishers, 2007.
“The Crimson Or Scarlet Worm " Alpha Omega Institute.”Alpha Omega Institute, 15 Apr. 2014, www.discovercreation.org/blog/2011/11/20/the-crimson-or-scarlet-worm/.