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4.3 Clothes Make the Man

Volume 4: The Human Condition—Chapter 3

Clothes Make the Man

There is an old proverb that says “clothes make the man,” meaning people tend to judge you solely on the clothes you’re wearing. The implication is that you can enhance your prestige by dressing well. “Dress to impress,” they say, or “Dress for success.” Another common sartorial suggestion is to “Dress for the job you want,” which can get you in trouble if you really want to be a comic book superhero. It’s probably best to leave the tights and cape at home. 

The Bible’s take on all this is slightly different. Generally speaking, we shouldn’t be trying to impress (read: deceive) other people at all. Prestige is a false god, and pride is the grease that lubricates the slide toward hell. “Dress with respect” is more like it. Our apparel should be modest, appropriate for the situation and culture, and calculated neither to elevate one’s status (creating envy) nor artificially lower it (engineering empathy). 

Little of that is germane to the following study, however. As we have found with so many subjects, God uses this one—clothing—as a springboard for a system of symbols that teach us about His purposes. Objects of apparel that were typically worn during the timeframe covered by Biblical revelation are recruited in scripture to reveal things about God’s plan. He’s not suggesting that we dress two or three thousand years out of date, you understand—only that we pay attention to His metaphorical observations about clothing that shed light on His design for the human race. 

Basically, God uses clothing (or lack of it) as a euphemism for “how we’re seen,” or more specifically, “how He sees us.” There are a hundred facets to this diamond—shades of meaning that we tend to take for granted, because after all, we all wear clothing. But when God Himself brings the subject up, it behooves us to pay attention: He never tells us anything without a purpose. Whether He’s describing our salvation, revealing our status, discussing a temporary state of defilement (or the permanent reality of His provision by covering us with His love), God’s references to clothing are seldom actually about what we’re wearing at all. They speak of deeper issues, of which apparel is “only” symbolic. 

And beyond that, we will discover a whole lexicon of colors, materials, and modes of dress that God has imbued with meaning, all of which will conspire to teach us about His plan for our redemption and reconciliation. What does it mean to be dressed in white? How about purple, or scarlet, or crimson? What is the significance of linen garments, as opposed to wool? What does the coarseness of one’s raiment have to do with anything? What does God have to say about accessories—jewelry and the like? Is there proper attire for going into spiritual battles? What does the raiment in which God appears (mostly in dreams and visions) say about Him? We will explore all of these issues and more in the coming chapters. 

So “gird up your loins like a man.” (Job 38:3; 40:7) God is about to show us some things we may have missed. Hang on to your hat.