International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
flaks pesheth, also pishtah; linon (Matthew 12:20)): The above Hebrew words are applied
(1) to the plant: "The flax was in bloom" (the King James Version "bolled"; Exodus 9:31);
(2) the "stalks of flax," literally, "flax of the tree," put on the roof to dry (Joshua 2:6);
(3) to the fine fibers used for lighting: the King James Version "tow," "flax," the Revised Version (British and American). "A dimly burning wick will he not quench" (Isaiah 42:3); "They are quenched as a wick" (Isaiah 43:17). The thought is perhaps of a scarcely lighted wick just kindled with difficulty from a spark.
(4) In Isaiah 19:9 mention is made of "combed flax," i.e. flax hackled ready for spinning (compare Hosea 2:5, 9 Proverbs 31:13). The reference in Judges 15:14 is to flax twisted into cords.
(5) In Judges 16:9 Isaiah 1:31, mention is made of ne`oreth, "tow," literally, something "shaken off"-as the root implies-from flax.
(6) The plural form pishtim is used in many passages for linen, or linen garments, e.g. Leviticus 13:47, 48, 52, 59 Deuteronomy 22:11 Jeremiah 13:1 ("linen girdle"); Ezekiel 44:17. Linen was in the earliest historic times a favorite material for clothes. The Jewish priestly garments were of pure linen. Egyptian mummies were swathed in linen. Several other Hebrew words were used for linen garments.
Flax is the product of Linum usitatissimum, a herbaceous plant which has been cultivated from the dawn of history. It is perennial and grows to a height of 2 to 3 ft.; it has blue flowers and very fibrous stalks. The tough fibers of the latter, after the decay and removal of the softer woody and gummy material, make up the crude "flax." Linseed, linseed oil and oilcake are useful products of the same plant.
E. W. G. Masterman