Lilies don’t spin. But what does that have to do with anything? I’ve read Matthew several times, but for some reason I’ve never pursued exactly what is meant when Jesus says that the lilies don’t “spin.”
Matthew 6:28–29 Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They neither labor nor spin, but I tell you not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these.
καταμάθετε τὰ κρίνα τοῦ ἀγροῦ πῶς αὐξάνουσιν· οὐ κοπιῶσιν οὐδὲ νήθουσιν· λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐδὲ Σολομὼν ἐν πάσῃ τῇ δόξῃ αὐτοῦ περιεβάλετο ὡς ἓν τούτων.
The word used for spin here is νήθω, which LSJ and BDAG gloss simply with “spin.” I gained a little insight this weekend concerning exactly what type of spinning Jesus is talking about. Greek Exodus uses the words νήθω, διανήθω, and κλώθω several times while laying out instructions for building the tabernacle (e.g., LXX Exodus 25:4; 26:1, 31, 36; 27:9, 16, 18; 28:6, 8, 15, 33). The people are to provide “spun linen,” “spun scarlet,” and the like.
When Jesus says the lilies do not labor or spin he means, perhaps by hendiadys, they do not labor to make clothes for themselves. They don’t worry about clothes yet they are more magnificently dressed than Solomon ever was.
I discussed this with some, like my wife, who immediately knew what was implied when Jesus said the “lilies don’t spin.” Others, like myself when reading this passage, had only envisioned something like a silly spinning flower you might see on a clown costume. We go to a store to pick up the clothes we need. I’m sure first century people more readily understood the connection been “spinning” and “making clothes.”