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The Scarlet Worm

Abstract relief sculpture of the face of a woman
Praise, Polymer Clay Relief Sculpture, Sara Joseph

I use scarlet quite often, especially in my polymer clay works, because I love its richness and meaning.

Therefore, the significance of the scarlet worm in the Bible is breathtaking in beauty for expressing the complex truths of Jesus’ mission on the earth in a comprehensive, yet subtle manner.  

Remember His words on the cross?

”My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?” Psalm 22:1

I used to think that this was a cry of anguish because of the physical torment He endured on the cross. But I discovered that they meant far more. They were carrying the reverberations of prophecies spoken centuries ago—sound that was purposefully moving towards its destined fulfillment!

Jesus was quoting Psalm 22, familiar to his Jewish listeners, who were the horrified witnesses of His last, tortured moments on the earth. David, the beloved psalmist of Israel, penned Psalm 22 hundreds of years before Jesus quoted it!

Jesus only spoke the first verse in His pain, confident that His hearers knew the rest. He was reminding those despairing that they were witnesses to a phenomenal victory, instead of what appeared to be a defeat! He was declaring the conclusion of His mission on earth and the establishment of an eternal kingdom.

Abstract polymer clay relief detail of a cross with words
Praise, Detail, Polymer Clay, Sara Joseph

Psalm 22 outlines in excruciating detail Jesus’ physical agony as He hung on the cross in our place for our sin. Its words make an unusual declaration using a strange word referring to a worm.

"But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people." Psalm 22:6

To a casual reader it would appear that the 'worm' was an apt symbol, descriptive of His contemptible status, bleeding on the cross, enduring the brutal punishment doled out to enemies of Rome. But it's far more than that!

The Hebrew word for worm is 'towlah,' a very specific word for a very specific worm. Another more common Hebrew word 'rimmah' could have been used, but it was deliberately bypassed for this one! 'Towlah' was used, because this particular type of worm explains the miracle of the cross in an exquisitely colorful manner.

What is the Scarlet Worm?

Abstract detail of a polymer clay relief sculpture by Sara Joseph
Praise, Detail, Polymer Clay, Sara Joseph

'Towlah' is the female 'coccus ilicis'.  

In the Bible, red is the color of sin and of the shed blood that paid for our redemption. It's also the color of a substance that emanates from this particular worm!

The female scarlet worm, preparing to bear offspring, affixes herself in a permanent embrace to the wood of a tree.  So firm is her union with the wood that removing her would result in breaking the firm crimson shell of her body, thereby killing her.

Her young are hatched beneath her protective covering where they feed on her living body, until they are mature enough to survive. 

As the scarlet worm dies, she oozes a crimson dye that not only stains the wood beneath her, but also marks her young. They bear that scarlet stain for the rest of their lives!

If that were not remarkable, consider this; three days after she dies, the carcass of the scarlet worm becomes white and waxen and falls off the wood like a snowflake!

If you're still not getting it, let me connect the dots, since this applies to all who trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Our Savior covered us with His body, died to bring us life, and marked us with His precious blood! We grow by feeding on His body, broken for us – “This is my body…” remember?

Upon being born again into His kingdom, we become His offspring, marked forever with the crimson stain of His victory.

May I represent Him well, bearing the stain of His sacrifice in a manner worthy of Him!

Polymer clay relief sculpture of a woman in profile
Praise. Detail, Polymer Clay Relief Sculpture, Sara Joseph

What thrills me even more is that even though my sins were as scarlet, they are now as white as snow! Not because of anything that I did, but rather, because He gave His life for me, just like the scarlet worm!

Isaiah quoted the words below over 750 years before Jesus carried them out!


“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” Isaiah 1:18


This is truly one of the most spectacular symbols of the mystery of the cross that I’ve ever encountered in the Bible!

In ancient times the crushed scarlet worm had medicinal value for healing ailments of the heart! The world is full of lost people, longing for wholeness that only Jesus can bring.

Oh, that they would turn to Him to enjoy life as it was meant to be lived!


How then can man be righteous before God?

Or how can he be pure who is born of a woman?

If even the moon does not shine,

And the stars are not pure in His sight,

How much less man, who is a maggot, ('rimmah')

And a son of man, who is a worm?" ('towlah') Job 25:4-6


The deliberate use of the word "towlah" in the messianic Psalm 22 and in Job 25 is inescapable and unmistakable! The first man, Adam, was the maggot, destined for the dust of everlasting death because of sin, but the last man, Jesus, was the 'towlah', giving Himself to win us eternal life.

This is just one of hundreds of such symbols, rich with meaning, hidden within the text of the Bible waiting for the patient seeker to unearth!

The rest of the Psalm 22 is equally thrilling—a jubilant hymn of praise for a destiny fulfilled in Christ. Read it for yourself and marvel.

Jesus said that the kingdom belonged to those who'd receive it like children. They trust easily and enjoy much, without feeling compelled to understand or explain everything!

I belong. Do you? If not, why not?

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