“Scarlet, Crimson, Snow, and Wool,” Ensign, December 2016
“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.”
In Isaiah 1:18, the words scarlet and crimson refer to red colors that come from certain dyes. Ancient cultures placed great importance on dyes, especially those used for sacred or ceremonial purposes, such as burial clothing or purification rituals (see Leviticus 14:6). The point of a dye is that it is not only colorful but also colorfast, meaning that its rich color will stick to the cloth and not fade or wash away.
Bright red. Because of the vibrancy of their redness, they are emblems of standing out. Red has a strong psychological effect on people, and it can be reminiscent of blood, which is sometimes a symbol of guilt. Our sins can be grievous and obvious.
Permanent. The colorfast nature of scarlet and crimson dyes is similar to our sins, and “the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (Alma 45:16). “According to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish” (Alma 34:9).
Snow is rare but not unheard-of in most areas of Israel. But, for instance, in the northern part of the country, Mount Hermon is covered in snow every winter (there’s even a ski resort there today). Wool was one of the most common fabrics in ancient Israel, and raising sheep was a common occupation. To make it a purer and brighter white in preparation for dyeing, wool was commonly soaked and washed in a strong soap.
Pure, bright white. White represents purity. When Isaiah says that the Lord can change our sins from scarlet or crimson to snow or wool, he is saying that the Lord can do something that is impossible for us to do on our own. A cloth dyed red stays red. But regardless of the stain of our sins, the Atonement of Jesus Christ can make us pure again if we repent. “All are within the reach of pardoning mercy, who have not committed the unpardonable sin” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 76).