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Monday, February 3, 2014

Tola the Worm

“After Abimelech there arose to save Israel Tola. . . .” – Judges 10:1a


There is an obscure judge mentioned in the book of Judges with only a couple of verses. His name is Tola. We might be tempted to glance over this fellow. But if we do, we will miss an incredibly magnificent picture of Jesus. Let’s look at the account of Tola.

“After Abimelech there arose to save Israel Tola the son of Puah, the son of Dodo, a man of Issachar; and he dwelt in Shamir in the mountains of Ephraim. 2 He judged Israel twenty-three years; and he died and was buried in Shamir” (Judges 10:1-2).  

Tola is particularly described as one who arose “to save” Israel. The word “save” (Hebrew yasa) means to defend, to deliver, to rescue, and to bring salvation. And as we look a little deeper at this obscure judge and his name we will see a great insight about the Lord our Defender.

Tola was the son of Puah. “Puah” means splendid. Puah’s father was “Dodo.” When we hear “Dodo” today we probably think of dodo bird, a not so smart species of bird. Most of us therefore associate “dodo” with someone that isn’t smart. But the original meaning of the name Dodo means beloved one. That’s beautiful but I don’t think we have to worry about a rush of parents choosing “Dodo” as a name for their children. The same might be said of “Tola” when we see what the equivalent meaning of it is.

Surely with a father’s name that means splendid and a grandfather’s name that means beloved one Tola’s name would mean something beautiful, right? What does Tola’s name mean? “Worm,” Tola’s name means worm. How would you like to be named “Worm”? Would you name your child “Worm”? Don’t answer that yet. Let me explain a bit more.

Tola’s name has an interesting twist to it. The name Tola, worm, in Hebrew has a parallel interpretive definition of scarlet or red dye. You might ask, “How could one name have two meanings like that?” With a name like “Worm” Tola would probably jump at option two. With a name like that, he was probably not a prominent figure in his community. It’s more likely he was obscure.  But in his name there is a beautiful picture of redemption and Christ as our Defender.

In Biblical times when people wanted to have red colored cloth they would crush “tola” or worms to make a scarlet or blood red dye. There are some very interesting connections with Jesus as we look a little closer at Tola. Tola is really a type of Christ.  

Psalm 22 is Messianic psalm. Jesus quotes the first verse of this psalm while on the cross (Mat. 27:46; Mark 15:34), a common practice of reciting the first verse of a passage to refer to and bring to mind the whole context. What is interesting is when we go to Psalm 22 and look at some of the words attributed to Messiah. We have already mentioned that Jesus recited verbatim the first verse of this psalm. As you read Psalm 22 and hold it up next to the accounts of the crucifixion in the gospels (Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 19) you can see that it describes much of what took place on that fateful day. Keep in mind that when this psalm was written crucifixion had not even been invented yet as a means of execution. Psalm 22 was inspired a thousand (1,000!) years before the crucifixion. God’s word is inspired by God and superlatively unique.

Looking at Psalm 22 we see mention of the Messiah being ridiculed like in the gospels (22:7 and Mat. 27:39). We see mention of those caustically questioning how Messiah could save others but not Himself (22:8 and Mat. 27:43). “Bulls of Bashan surrounded Messiah just as the Roman soldiers surrounded Jesus (22:12, 16 and Mat. 27:35-36). Mention is made of onlookers gaping at Messiah which is what we see in the crucifixion account (22:13 and Mat. 27:39-43). Messiah is described as having His strength “poured out like water” which is what we see on the cross with Jesus (22:14-15 and Mat. 27:32-34). Messiah being pierced in His hands and feet describes what happened to Jesus (22:16-17 and Mat. 27:35; Luke 23:27 and 35). Messiah’s garments were divided among onlookers like Jesus (22:18 and Mat. 27:35). But the psalm crescendos in victory! Never forget that! Just as Jesus rose from the dead, Psalm 22 speaks of the Father answering the prayers of Messiah. But there is even more.

In verse 6 of Psalm 22 it attributes to Messiah the words, “But I am a worm and no man.” In what sense would Messiah be a worm? To answer that we have to look a little closer at the tola or worm. The tola reproduces by slithering up a tree and attaching to a tree limb. The worm lays its larva and then covers the eggs with its body. The worm attaches itself to the tree and remains fixed as though nailed to the tree and covering the larva. Even after the larva hatch the tola remains in place. The larva then actually eats the host worm. The tola gives its life for its young. Once the larva is finished consuming the host they depart and the shell of the worm drops off. But left behind is a red mark of blood on the tree limb. About three days later the red blood mark turns to a flaky white powder that falls to the ground like snow. Sound familiar?

Those of you who know your Bible can see the significance of what is going on here. Isaiah said, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18). Jesus, prophetically in this psalm, said He was a worm. Like a worm he attached Himself to a tree, the cross. He stayed there to provide the means of a spiritual second birth for sinners. We feed off of Him for our spiritual nourishment. At the Lord’s Table He instructed us to eat His flesh and drink His blood (Mat. 26:26-27; Mark 14:22-24). The Messiah as a tola or worm is an incredible illustration of Jesus redemptive, regenerative, and sin cleansing work.

It doesn’t end there. Just as the judge Tola was a defender who came to save, Jesus is our Defender who saves us from our sin. Jesus is our Advocate (1 John 2:1). When Satan the Accuser of the Brethren brings his regular accusations against us Jesus our defending Advocate stands on our behalf to announce we are cleansed by His blood. The Father Judge then proclaims our cased dismissed for lack of evidence” and all we can say is “Glory!”  [1]

Now don’t miss the magnificence and incredible work of redemption here. Jesus is the image of the invisible God, ruler of all creation. Jesus created all things; all things were created through Him and for Him. In Jesus everything, from the smallest particle to the most expansive mass of this vast universe, every atom of this colossal universe, is held together. That Jesus – became a worm (Col. 1:15-18). That Jesus was crushed like a worm to shed His red blood, a redemptive dye to give us spiritual life so we would not have to die. Those who have been reborn through Him are marked forever by His blood. He did this for you and He did this for me. Incredible. . . . incredible. . . incredible. All we can say is “Thank You Jesus.”

This is a wonderful truth from the name of a judge named Tola, a man who we probably never heard of before, whose brief story we’ve passed by countless times before. We may not want to change our name to “Tola.” We probably still won’t name our children “Tola.” But maybe in the future we will pay a little bit closer attention to those people and names in scripture that seem obscure and inconsequential. Maybe this is a lesson to encourage us to pay closer attention to the word of God. And maybe we’ll take heart in who we are and the prospect of how God might use us. We may be obscure and unknown, but God is still able to bring a beautiful picture of Jesus’ redemption from our life. He can use us to remind others of the blood of Jesus and its life changing power.

Are you washed in the blood of Jesus? Are your sins whiter than snow? Jesus paid a tremendous price to offer eternal life to you; a complete cleansing from sin. Why not bow before Him in full repentant surrender? Why not ask Him to become your Savior and Defender? He will, if you only believe and ask Him to.


[1]Courson, Jon: Jon Courson's Application Commentary : Volume One : Genesis-Job. Nashville, TN : Thomas Nelson, 2005, S. 768

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