4.3.1 The Significance of Clothing
Volume 4: The Human Condition—Chapter 3.1
The Significance of Clothing
According to the scriptural record, nobody wore clothes until after Adam sinned through disobedience to God’s command. Like innocent animals, we felt no shame walking around as naked as the day we were born. But although that first sin had nothing to do with sex, our proto-parents suddenly felt ashamed of their nakedness the minute they ate of the forbidden fruit—not before each other, but before their Creator, who had until that time enjoyed walking with them (as a theophany—a diminished anthropomorphic manifestation) in the Garden.
I’d like to defer until a later chapter the details of the Eden experience, but for now, suffice it to say that as sinners, Adam and Eve knew intuitively that covering their shame was Job #1. From the very beginning, covering our bodies with clothing was recognized as a symbol of our need for reconciliation with our Creator.
No sane person would suggest that literally putting on some magical costume will secure salvation, reconciliation, or redemption for us. And yet Scripture commonly uses clothing as a euphemism for that very thing. Isaiah writes, “I will greatly rejoice in Yahweh. My soul shall be joyful in my God. For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation. He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Isaiah 61:10) These “garments of salvation” are something we put on, revealing that there was a time in which we (as individuals) had no such covering. Yahweh alone provides the garments; we don them with God’s assistance or not at all. And when we have thus been covered, He looks at us and sees only righteousness (Hebrew: tsedaqah—rightness, virtue, justice, the state of having been vindicated or redeemed). The concept is quite similar to that of atonement—literally, “covering”—in which something (like our sin, for instance) is painted over with an opaque substance, so whatever is beneath can no longer be seen.
The result of putting on these “garments of salvation” is joy—specifically, rejoicing in (and because of) Yahweh. David prays, “Let Your priests be clothed with righteousness, and let Your saints shout for joy…. I will also clothe her [Zion’s] priests with salvation, and her saints shall shout aloud for joy.” (Psalm 132:9, 16) If you’ll recall the symbols we’ve already established, Israel (Zion) is shorthand for “God’s family,” and the priests are those who intercede with God—in other words, they’re symbolic of believers, a.k.a. “saints.” Priests and saints are mentioned side by side twice in this passage, as if to equate them (a common device in Hebrew poetry). The point is that there is a causal connection: our being clothed with righteousness/salvation is the reason for our unrestrained joy.
In the passage above, Isaiah brought up something else that sheds light on the joy of the garments of salvation. What is the one day in a person’s life when he or she wants to look and dress their very best? It’s their wedding day, explaining why Isaiah remarked, “He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” The relationship of the bride with the bridegroom is symbolically parallel to that of the church with her Savior, Yahshua. In their unrestrained passion for each other, they both want to “pull out all the stops” on their wedding day.
The big day is depicted in John’s apocalyptic vision: “Let us be glad and rejoice and give [God] glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.’ And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” (Revelation 19:7-8) Again we see that Yahweh provides the garments of salvation and righteousness, and we—the saints, the bride—put them on in honor of our Husband, the Lamb of God. He chooses not to see our sin (which, after all, was what He removed from us by dying in our stead). He sees only what His own righteousness has purchased: our sinlessness—attributed to us (that is, not something we have earned by our own merit or effort), but quite real nevertheless.
Israel should have been a part of the bride of Christ, but at the moment, we remain separate. “Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet My people have forgotten Me days without number.” (Jeremiah 2:32) It’s a metaphor used dozens of times in Scripture: Israel was chosen to be Yahweh’s “wife,” but she chose to “go clubbing” with her heathen friends instead of showing up for her wedding with the Lord of Glory. The amazing thing is that the most oft-repeated prophetic theme in the entire Tanakh is that Israel will, in the end, repent, recognize her Messiah, be redeemed, and be restored. It will take the horrors of the Great Tribulation to open her eyes, but it will happen. But alas, to this very day, Israel has forgotten her God like a fiancée forgetting about her engagement ring.
Yahshua once told a parable about a king who invited his people to attend his son’s wedding feast, only to see them refuse, rebel, and even “kill the messengers” who had brought them the good news. It’s all a transparent portrayal of Israel’s failure to receive their own Messiah. Having been stabbed in the back by Israel, King Yahweh turned instead to the gentiles (“both bad and good,” the narrative notes) to attend His feast. And here is where the “garment of salvation” or the “robe of righteousness” once again informs us about the mind of God. “But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:11-14)
You didn’t have to be flawless, rich, beautiful, or intelligent to attend the wedding feast (here, a picture of salvation). You had but to answer the king’s invitation, and show enough respect to put on a “wedding garment”—one that he himself provided. Once again, this garment represents imputed righteousness—goodness the recipient hadn’t actually earned, but was happy to “put on” as the king had requested. To show up the party without wearing the wedding garment meant that either you (1) didn’t respect the king, his son the bridegroom, or his bride, or (2) you assumed you were “good enough” on your own, without borrowing virtue from the king. Either way, it’s a picture of man-made religion, the mistaken idea that men can attain God without reference or deference to who He said He was.
The sad thing about all this is that the guy without the wedding garment “was speechless.” That is, he was shocked to discover there was a problem. If I may “flesh out the plot” a little, he had shown up to the feast wearing his finest clothing, assuming this attire would be deemed proper for a royal wedding. The messenger bearing the invitation had specifically relayed the king’s instructions: “Be sure to wear the white linen wedding garment I have provided.” But the man had a brand new fine wool Armani tux hanging in his closet. How could anyone object to that? He completely missed the sartorial symbology: the garments the king provided were made of white linen, indicating imputed purity. They were all alike, for all of the guests had sinned, though they had all been forgiven. Meanwhile, the man’s black wool tuxedo symbolized works (even good ones), pride, and unforgiven sin—the essence of manmade religion.
The ironic thing was that many of the other guests were also wearing tuxedos much like the man’s in the parable, but they had followed the king’s instructions and covered them up with the robes of righteous he had so graciously provided. Others were wearing the sackcloth of mourning, the shameful attire of a former adulterous life, or orange prison jumpsuits indicating the bondage from which they had been released. But all of them had obeyed the king and covered up (read: atoned) their past lives with opaque sinlessness that the bridegroom-prince had paid for out of his own pocket.
So it’s all a question of what we “put on.” In what do we choose to clothe ourselves, in the spiritual sense? Paul used this same imagery: “But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.” (Colossians 3:8-10) He’s addressing Christians, people who have already “taken off” the “old man” and “put on” the new one. Since we are new creations in Christ, our walk in the world should reflect that fact. The things we do are what people see first—like the clothing that covers our bodies.
This concept is not a church-age innovation. Job, who lived two thousand years before Paul, understood the same principle. Job had suddenly lost everything, and wanted to learn why. In trying to explain Job’s plight, his friend Bildad posited that God is so great, no man can be righteous before Him. True enough, but did this mean the disasters that had befallen Job were to be expected by everyone? Experience teaches us that the Almighty does not ordinarily punish men for their shortcomings in this life. So Job launched into a lengthy discourse in his own defense: his trials were not due to extraordinary sins on his part. He notes that in delivering the poor and defending widows and orphans, “I put on righteousness, and it clothed me. My justice was like a robe and a turban.” (Job 29:14) That is, because his Redeemer lived (something Job had declared in 19:25), his righteousness was imputed to him—it was like a garment he had put on. And this imputed righteousness had resulted in his own good works, which in turn had formerly elevated his status in the community. Hence his confusion in the face of his recent adversity.
The prophet Zechariah saw a vision that illustrates this same principle—the putting off of evil and subsequent donning of righteousness. First, the High Priest Joshua (whose name, not coincidentally, is the same as that of the coming Messiah), is seen standing before the angel of Yahweh. Satan is there too, trying (as usual) to cause trouble, so Yahweh rebukes him. “Then He answered and spoke to those who stood before Him, [i.e., before Joshua] saying, ‘Take away the filthy garments from him.’ And to him He said, ‘See, I have removed your iniquity from you, and I will clothe you with rich robes.’ And I said, ‘Let them put a clean turban on his head.’ So they put a clean turban on his head, and they put the clothes on him. And the Angel of Yahweh stood by.” (Zechariah 3:4-5)
The High Priest—the one who intercedes for Israel—received a change of clothing. What does it mean? Once again, it is a picture of believers (we who have the name of Christ) being clothed in righteousness. Zechariah now reports, “Then the Angel of Yahweh admonished Joshua, saying, ‘Thus says Yahweh of hosts: If you will walk in My ways, and if you will keep My command, then you shall also judge My house, and likewise have charge of My courts. I will give you places to walk among these who stand here.’” (Zechariah 3:6-7) He’s speaking to Joshua the High Priest, but He’s speaking of Yahshua the Messiah. The “ifs” are appropriate for Joshua, but are superfluous for Christ, who, being sinless, needed no atonement, no imputed righteousness, and was therefore given charge of the courts of God (see Matthew 28:18).
Back in the early days of Judah’s captivity in Babylon, we read (in Daniel 3) of clothing being mentioned prominently in connection with the “salvation” (that is, rescue or deliverance) of three devout Jews. As pagan kings often did, Nebuchadnezzar II fancied himself some sort of god, so he had made a huge golden image of himself. Reading between the lines, we get the feeling that Nebuchadnezzar had been flattered into building this monstrosity by self-serving courtiers trying to curry favor and gain influence. It was sixty cubits tall and six wide (90 feet by 9—a genuine colossus); if the number-symbols mean what they seem to, this was basically a monument to the glory of man. Anyway, he commanded that at a certain signal, everyone was to stop what they were doing and bow down in worship to the statue—or be burned alive.
Meanwhile, several young Jewish captives, notably Daniel, Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abed-Nego), had been noticed for their skill and character and placed in positions of great responsibility in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. It should have come as no surprise (though it apparently did) that these men, being worshipers of Yahweh, would not bow down to any statue, despite the immense pressure being brought to bear upon them. (Daniel was apparently stationed elsewhere as this story transpired, but his three friends had been put in charge of the whole province of Babylon—see Daniel 2:49—where the statue had been erected.) Certain jealous Chaldean noblemen took note of the three Hebrews’ predictable failure to prostrate themselves, and tattled to Nebuchadnezzar, who confronted the three directly. Even knowing the penalty for non-compliance, the three steadfastly refused to violate Yahweh’s very first Commandment—that they should have no other gods before Him.
Nebuchadnezzar, a genuine “king of kings” in his generation (see Daniel 2:36), was furious at having been flatly told “no” by his servants, so he prepared to execute the three Hebrews by throwing them into a blazing furnace, stoked to seven times hotter than usual. “And he commanded certain mighty men of valor who were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, and cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their coats, their trousers, their turbans, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.” Note that their clothing is specifically mentioned. We’ll see why in a moment. “Therefore, because the king’s command was urgent, and the furnace exceedingly hot, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace….” Ordinarily, that would have been the end of it: martyrs’ deaths for faithful witnesses—nothing unique there. But Yahweh was about to make a point to the most powerful man alive.
“Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, ‘Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?’ They answered and said to the king, ‘True, O king.’ ‘Look!’ he answered, ‘I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God….’” Note three remarkable facts (beyond the obvious—that the fire had not destroyed them): (1) Yahweh’s three men had been cast into the fire bound hand and foot. And yet they were now loose, walking around freely. (2) The fire had not only not consumed them (as it had the soldiers who had thrown them into the furnace), but it hadn’t even touched them. It had no effect whatsoever. And (3) a fourth person was seen among the flames with them, described as being “like the Son of God,” and later characterized by Nebuchadnezzar as “an angel.” I would presume that this meant the figure was glowing or radiant, as Christ appeared on the Mount of Transfiguration—emanating light from within, brighter than the flames themselves. It is clear that the presence of this being (whether an angel or a theophany—God Himself in human form) was responsible for preventing the three Hebrews from being harmed by the flames.
Indeed, the only person who was “changed” by the events of the day (other than the unfortunate soldiers, of course) was Nebuchadnezzar himself. He was no longer angry at having been rejected as a “god on earth,” but was instead humbled, reminded (no doubt) of the power of the God of Daniel (whom he had met in the previous chapter). “Then Nebuchadnezzar went near the mouth of the burning fiery furnace and spoke, saying, ‘Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here.’ Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego came from the midst of the fire.” No mention of the fourth personage, but it is clear that even a “king of kings” didn’t feel like he could order Him around. “And the satraps, administrators, governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together, and they saw these men on whose bodies the fire had no power; the hair of their head was not singed nor were their garments affected, and the smell of fire was not on them….”
This where our consideration of “clothing” comes into the picture. Their garments didn’t in themselves have any role in saving or protecting them (like a firefighter’s turnouts). They were, rather, a testimony as to the extent of the protection they had received from the glowing Person in the furnace with them. The fire (we might presume) was symbolic of hell—the “Lake of Fire” mentioned elsewhere in scripture. Yahweh’s believers cannot be held in bondage there (though those who try to send them there are doomed). In fact, the clothing “testified” that the flames had no power over Daniel’s friends at all—they weren’t even singed a little around the edges. Nothing.
Of particular interest is the absence of the odor of smoke on their garments, or even on their hair. The noun translated “smell” is the Aramaic reach (pronounced ray’-akh), corresponding to the Hebrew reyach, and the related verb ruwach, meaning “to smell or perceive odor.” These words are in turn related to and derived from the Hebrew word ruach (roo’-akh), meaning breath, wind, or (most significantly) spirit. “Reading between the lines,” I would conclude that the lesson here is that “the spirit of hell cannot emanate from those whose faith in God is unshakable.”
Having allowed his ego to make a fool of him (and not for the last time), the humbled king now took the appropriate steps to right the wrongs that had been done. “Nebuchadnezzar spoke, saying, ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God! Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation, or language which speaks anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made an ash heap; because there is no other God who can deliver like this.’” (Daniel 3:20-29) That’s not merely a “decree,” but also a prophecy. Although Yahweh has shown extraordinary patience with a world that has ignored, rejected, or attacked Him for millennia on end, He is the God of justice to whom we owe our very existence. He cannot allow the affronts of man to remain forever unanswered. Unless I am mistaken about a great many things, it is our generation who will witness the wrath of the Almighty. In the end, men will honor Him or see their lives and legacies destroyed. There is no middle ground.
For those of us who do honor Him (and for the past two millennia, that honor has been focused upon Yahweh’s human manifestation, Yahshua the Messiah) clothing is recruited to symbolize our salvation. To reprise a passage we’ve already seen: “Let us be glad and rejoice and give [God] glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.’ And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” (Revelation 19:7-8) Note that our righteousness is “granted” to us. We do not earn it.
And we believers are not the only thing in creation that will receive a sartorial upgrade. “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” Not only will the heavens and the earth be remade, our new and eternal abode will be as beautiful as God knows how to make it. As glorious as this present earth can be in its natural state, I can only imagine (well, no, I can’t) how stunningly gorgeous the new heavens, new earth, and New Jerusalem will be. “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.” (Revelation 21:1-3) That will be the best part of all. Man has always sought God: It’s called religion. What would have been so hard about simply letting Him find us?
What people wear is often taken as a sign of their status in their community, whether purposefully or accidentally. For example, kings in Bible times were often seen wearing clothing dyed with purple—an extremely expensive color to obtain, indicating the wearer had money to burn. But if we see someone on the street wearing filthy rags, we presume they’re extremely poor. Of course, though a poor man does not have the means to pretend being rich, a rich man can easily fake being poor. Perhaps that’s why Yahweh admonished us to treat everyone—rich and poor alike—with equal respect. As James wrote, “My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and say to the poor man, ‘You stand there,’ or, ‘Sit here at my footstool,’ have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” James 2:1-4)
And it’s not just one’s economic status. A uniform of any sort identifies the role of the wearer—a policeman, firefighter, or soldier, for instance. Wearing a hard hat, reflective vest, and steel-toed boots usually means you work in the construction trades. The terms “blue-collar” and “white-collar” are broadly indicative of one’s employment in either a factory setting or an office—no matter what color shirt you’re actually wearing on any given day.
You can often determine someone’s religious or political viewpoint simply by observing what they’re wearing—especially if it’s out of touch with mainstream regional modes of dress. You can spot a Hasidic Jew in New York from a mile away because he’s dressed for a different continent and a different century. Muslim women in America are often forced by their male counterparts to wear a hijab or burqa, instantly identifying them as occupying a certain subservient role in a certain religio-political subculture. As of this writing, a person wearing a red baseball cap with “Make America Great Again” written on it may be instantly identified as a Republican, a Conservative, and/or a supporter of President Donald Trump—sometimes inspiring expressions of “Trump derangement syndrome” among people of opposing viewpoints.
The point is, for any given region or culture, there is a “normal” mode of dress, from which any purposeful deviation may signal a shift from the status quo. Since “clothing” is Biblical shorthand for “how we are seen” (and more to the point, how God sees us), we should not be surprised to find several instances in scripture in which one’s status (or change in status) is indicated by one’s garments. The Biblical example that probably comes most readily to mind is Joseph’s “coat of many colors.” “Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age.” And, I might add, the firstborn of the only woman he actually loved. “Also he made him a tunic of many colors….” Being woven from many different colors of thread or pieced together from several colors of fabric, this was by its very nature an expensive garment, indicating the elevated status of the wearer.
But there’s more, as Gill explains. “It was a garment which reached down to the ankles, and was distinguished with great variety by the hands of the artificer, or which had long sleeves reaching to the hands.” (Gill’s Exposition) The word translated “many colors” is the Hebrew noun pas, literally meaning the flat of the hand or foot—reaching to the palms and soles. That is, the garment’s design made it impractical for ordinary manual labor. This fact was not lost on his hard-working older brothers: “But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him.” (Genesis 37:3-4) It may or may not have been Israel’s intention to elevate the teenage Joseph over his older siblings, but the coat had that very effect. (We must not forget that Reuben, Israel’s firstborn, had slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah—earning him his undying animosity and the loss of his “firstborn privileges.”)
It is my experience (as the father of eleven children) that favoring one child over the others is never a formula for peace in the family. On the other hand, the whole thing turned out to be a prophecy, of sorts—one the garment itself helped precipitate. The jealous brothers sold Joseph into slavery, using the torn and bloodied coat as false evidence that he had been slain by a wild beast (leading Israel to mourn inconsolably for decades). Meanwhile, God used Joseph’s presence (and character) in Egypt to rescue the whole region from a seven year famine: coat or no coat, Joseph wasn’t lazy or idle. He ended up being second only to Pharaoh himself in the Egyptian political hierarchy.
The prophetic parallels between Joseph and Yahshua the Messiah are numerous and striking. But considering only the infamous tunic, we note that Christ was also (by His own choice, on our behalf) stripped of the trappings of privilege (deity, in His case), was sold into poverty and servitude as a mortal man, was presumed dead for a time, and ended up saving the world—including the very people who had treated Him so badly in the first place, if only they would but receive it.
The next time Israel’s family saw him, Joseph had donned the rich robes of Egyptian royalty. And the next time the world sees Yahshua, He too will be unrecognizable to those who would crucify Him again if given the chance. The prophet Isaiah asks, “Who is this who comes from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah, this One who is glorious in His apparel, traveling in the greatness of His strength?—‘I who speak in righteousness, mighty to save.’ Why is Your apparel red, and Your garments like one who treads in the winepress? ‘I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with Me. For I have trodden them in My anger, and trampled them in My fury. Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments, and I have stained all My robes. For the day of vengeance is in My heart, and the year of My redeemed has come.” (Isaiah 63:1-4)
Piecing together the prophetic jigsaw puzzle, we realize that this describes King Yahshua during the “battle” of Armageddon. He came the first time as a sacrifice—the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The next time the world sees Him, it will be in the persona of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, coming to right wrongs, dispense God’s wrath, separate the sheep from the goats, and rule the earth for a thousand years in perfect peace as we prepare to transition into the eternal state.
John concurs with Isaiah, adding more detail: “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns.” This detail reveals His status as the “King of kings,” as we shall see. “He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood [just as Isaiah described it], and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses….” These “armies” are His bride, His called-out assembly. We are there as witnesses: as Isaiah revealed, we will not participate in the battle, for Christ “treads out the winepress” of the wrath of God alone. Our labors are complete: we are ready for our Sabbath rest.
“Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword [the literal Word of God], that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod [or scepter] of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: King of kings, and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:11-16) Again we see articles of clothing and the appurtenances of royalty revealing what was previously concealed (except through the eyes of faith): the deity of Yahshua.
The story-lesson of Joseph’s “coat of many colors” is reprised in many ways by the tale of the rape of Tamar (a daughter of King David, and sister of his firstborn, Absalom) by her half-brother Amnon. Again, the coat (or long-sleeved tunic) proclaimed the elevated status of the wearer: “Now [Tamar] had on a robe of many colors, for the king’s virgin daughters wore such apparel….” Again, the wearer was treated shamefully by a half-sibling. Joseph had been sold into slavery; Tamar was raped and then cast out like a disgraced prostitute. These are both prophetic shadows of the innocent Yahshua being rejected and crucified on our behalf. His “coat of many colors” consisted of the privileges of deity, laid aside in heaven.
Joseph’s coat had been torn and bloodied to “prove” to his father Israel that wild beasts had killed his beloved son. Tamar’s robe was torn as well—in mourning for the injustice that had been done and the shame to which she had been subjected: “Then Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore her robe of many colors that was on her, and laid her hand on her head and went away crying bitterly.” (II Sam 13:18-19) In the case of Yahshua, neither his own outer garment nor the “cloak of deity” He had purposely laid aside in heaven were torn. But something was. In His case, what was ripped from top to bottom at his betrayal by mankind was the curtain separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies in the temple. The writer to the Hebrews explains: “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Yahshua, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” (Hebrews 10:19-22)
That’s right: the veil represents the torn flesh of Yahshua. And, if we follow the trail of symbols, the “coats of many colors” worn by Joseph and Tamar also represent His body, torn for us. Until Christ’s body was “bruised for our iniquity,” we were, with Joseph, unable to save the world from spiritual starvation; we were, like Tamar, burdened with inconsolable grief at the sin of the world. In short, we were restricted from standing in the presence of Yahweh in the Holiest Place, wielding the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. But the tearing of the garment of privilege—the very body of Christ—has enabled us to be clothed in His righteousness and empowered to represent Him before the world.
In a clearly Messianic Psalm, the Sons of Korah speak of the status the royal daughter. “The royal daughter is all glorious within the palace. Her clothing is woven with gold.” Daughters, you’ll recall, are metaphorical of the family’s treasure. Gold is symbolic of immutable purity. This therefore illuminates the picture of the Bride of Christ, who has been given “fine linen, clean and bright—the righteous acts of the saints” to wear at her wedding to the King of kings (see Revelation 19:8). But there’s more. The princess, like Tamar, wears the coat of many colors: “She shall be brought to the King in robes of many colors.” (Psalm 45:13-14) If our observations above have any merit, the symbol reveals a stunning truth: the bride of Christ, the royal daughter, is given the torn, crucified body of Yahshua to wear. That is, His broken body atones for—literally, covers—our sins. But in order to achieve this blessed status, we must accept His proposal of marriage; we must “put on Christ.” As Paul says, we are to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” (Romans 13:14)
Ezekiel describes Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Israel and God’s chosen city. But it is not as if she was born into this elevated status. Rather, she is described as an orphan, abandoned at birth: “Your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite.” Then Yahweh found her, saved her, and chose her to be His own, as if she were a privileged royal daughter, given every advantage one could possibly ask for. He says, “‘I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin [Literally, porpoise or dugong, the skin of an aquatic mammal—one of the four covering layers of the Wilderness Tabernacle]. I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck. And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty. Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor which I had bestowed on you,’ says Yahweh, God.” (Ezekiel 16:10-14)
You would think that Jerusalem/Israel would have responded with gratitude, devotion, and love for her Redeemer, but Ezekiel angrily reports, “But you trusted in your own beauty, played the harlot because of your fame, and poured out your harlotry on everyone passing by who would have it.” (Ezekiel 16:15) And he rambles on for forty-five interminable verses describing the many ways Jerusalem had betrayed the God who had lavished such privileged status upon her.
The indictment is so scathing, one would think that Yahweh would have washed His hands of this rebellious brat. But no: remarkably—incredibly—He ends the chapter with a recapitulation of the most often-repeated prophecy in the entire Tanakh: the eventual restoration of Israel. “‘Nevertheless I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed, when you receive your older and your younger sisters; for I will give them to you for daughters, but not because of My covenant with you….’” The “sisters” and “daughters” here are the gentiles to whom Israel was supposed to be a witness, but failed. Faithful gentiles both before and during the church age will once again be reconciled to Israel during Christ’s Millennial reign. But our presence and participation are quite independent of Yahweh’s promises to Israel, which are numerous, specific, and glorious.
The bottom line: “‘I will establish My covenant with you. Then you shall know that I am Yahweh, that you may remember and be ashamed, and never open your mouth anymore because of your shame, when I provide you an atonement for all you have done,’ says Yahweh, God.” (Ezekiel 16:60-63) Atonement, you’ll recall, actually means “covering.” Despite her many sins, Jerusalem will in the end be clothed with the same “garment of righteousness” enjoyed by her “sisters” and “daughters,” the gentile believers in the God of Israel.
Whether in history or prophecy (something I like to call future history), God has spoken often of His ability and willingness to bring about changes in status that advance the cause of His Kingdom. These changes (whether positive or negative) are often symbolized by a change in the clothing His subject of focus is seen wearing. So Joseph loses his coat of many colors, Tamar tears hers in mourning, Job trades the finery of his prosperity for sackcloth and ashes, and the personified Jerusalem rises from rags to riches, only to betray her Benefactor and lose it all: “Surely, therefore, I will gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved, and all those you hated; I will gather them from all around against you and will uncover your nakedness to them.” (Ezekiel 16:37) This loss of status took the form of being hauled off the Babylon in chains, where the flower of Jerusalem languished in bondage for seventy years.
Babylon was taken in turn by the Medes and Persians, who decreed that the captives of Judah were free to return to their roots. Some did, but most stayed behind. After all, an entire generation of Jews had been born in Babylonian captivity—they had never even seen the Land of Promise. The Book of Esther recounts events that took place in the Persian Empire—events that could virtually have spelled the end of the Hebrew race, were it not for God’s provision and the courage of a few key Jewish players—notably Queen Esther and her uncle and guardian, Mordecai.
We have all heard the story of how the slimy politician Haman had bribed and bamboozled King Ahasuerus into condemning a whole unidentified segment of the population to death—on Haman’s word alone. With the stroke of a pen, all of the Jews in Persia had gone from “normal” to “condemned,” just because Haman was irked at Mordecai’s lack of obsequious obeisance to him. Little did the king know that this group—the Jews whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken in exile—included his own beloved queen, Esther. Needless to say, word of their impending demise was not exactly welcome news to the Jewish population. “When Mordecai learned all that had happened, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city. He cried out with a loud and bitter cry. He went as far as the front of the king’s gate, for no one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth. And in every province where the king’s command and decree arrived, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.” (Esther 4:1-3) Tearing one’s clothing is indicative of bitter mourning, and putting on coarse sackcloth and dumping ashes in your hair meant roughly the same thing: self-abasement of one’s status among humanity.
The reason the Jews are still with us today (though they’ve never numbered more than a fraction of one percent of the world’s population) is Esther’s bold counter-plot against Haman—which consisted simply of revealing to the king, in Haman’s presence, precisely who it was that Haman’s decree had targeted: the Jews, beginning with Mordecai (who, ironically enough, was on record as having foiled an earlier plot against the life of King Ahasuerus, making him, and his fellow Jews, highly favored at the royal court). His treachery revealed, Haman was summarily taken out and hanged on a gallows he had constructed specially for Mordecai’s execution.
Meanwhile, Ahasuerus authorized Queen Esther to write a law with the full weight of his authority directing the Jews throughout the empire to vigorously defend themselves and plunder any who would try to implement Haman’s evil decree of genocide against them—effectively cancelling out the first ill-advised law. The whole story is commemorated in the Jewish holiday of Purim. And Mordecai? Instead of being hanged by Haman, he received (shall we say) a “change of clothing,” revealing his restored (actually, elevated) status as the king’s new vizier, second in power only to Ahasuerus himself. No more sackcloth and ashes for him: “So Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal apparel of blue and white, with a great crown of gold and a garment of fine linen and purple; and the city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad. The Jews had light and gladness, joy and honor.” (Esther 8:15-16)
Note a few things about his new wardrobe: (1) the white and blue are reminiscent of the tsitzit (or tassels) the Jews were, by Torah command, to wear to separate themselves from the world. The white represents purity or holiness, while the tsitzit’s single blue thread represented their Messiah, King Yahshua, who would redeem them. (2) The crown speaks of power, reminding us that we believers are to be “kings and priests” during Yahshua’s Millennial reign. The gold from which it is made symbolizes immutable purity. (3) The fine linen (as we read in Revelation) is the “righteous acts of the saints,” and the purple of royalty indicates (once again) that we believers are destined to reign with Christ. Mordecai, then, represents the status of Israel, once privileged, then condemned, and finally exalted in the presence of the king—or should I say, The King: Yahshua the Messiah.
Yahshua once told a story describing this same sort of spiritual roller-coaster ride—but this time describing the gentiles (though He didn’t spell it out). It’s known as the parable of the Prodigal Son. A younger son of a wealthy man (obviously symbolic of Yahweh) squandered his inheritance on the reckless pursuit of pleasure—wine, women, and song, as the saying goes—only to find himself humiliated: broke, starving, and ashamed of the state into which he knew he had fallen due to his own disastrous life choices. Thus humbled, the son decided to go back to his father and ask for a job as a servant, for he felt he was no longer “son” material. He now realized that being the lowliest slave in the house of God was infinitely better than being a prince in Satan’s world. This is precisely the position of us gentiles, who, confronted with our own sin and God’s grace, choose to “go home again” to our Creator.
So the prodigal swallowed his pride and headed home. “And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’” All true enough. But note the father’s counterintuitive reaction, symbolized by a change in clothing for his wayward son: “But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” (Luke 15:20-24)
The father didn’t minimize the mistakes his younger son had made. The inheritance was gone, and there wouldn’t be any more forthcoming. But reality is one thing; holding grudges is something else entirely. The father was perfectly willing to forgive his wayward son, for his contrition was genuine. His firstborn son, however (metaphorical of Israel) was in no mood to forgive his younger brother, even though the prodigal had not sinned against him, but their father. Yes, the sins of the younger son had separated and estranged him from his father for a time. But his repentance and return had reestablished the relationship that had been broken—that of a father and his son.
The elder son didn’t stop to consider that since good behavior had not established this relationship in the first place, bad behavior couldn’t really destroy it. His second mistake was presuming that because he had not sinned in the same way as his younger sibling, he was comparatively guiltless. But his father knew better. Even though Israel, Yahweh’s firstborn (so to speak) hadn’t sinned as blatantly as us gentiles, they hadn’t repented, either (as the largely gentile church eventually did). Thus the Jews’ antagonism toward the ekklesia (the called-out assembly of Christ) was misplaced, but the Father’s desire to celebrate our return to the fold was perfectly appropriate. We had, like the prodigal, been “raised from the dead in newness of life.” (See Romans 6:4)
Three articles of apparel are mentioned to describe our restored status as God’s children. (1) The finest robe (think in terms of Joseph’s “coat of many colors”) indicates God’s favor, even though it’s not “earned.” It’s called grace. (2) The family ring bestowed the father’s authority upon the son. A signet ring would have enabled the son to “seal” documents in his father’s name. No mere servant had this privilege. And (3) the sandals enabled the son to once again walk in his father’s footsteps—the path of righteousness—something he had not been able to do for a long time.
Between the lines, we see some of the same imagery in the “ordination” of Elisha the prophet. Yahweh had told the renowned prophet Elijah to go and anoint new kings in Syria and Israel, and then, “Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place….” Kings and priests were typically anointed with olive oil (symbolic of the Holy Spirit), though it was rare for prophets—and not specified in the Torah. Beyond the actual application of oil, the act connotes consecration. The word translated “anoint” is the Hebrew mashach, from which we get our word “Messiah.” We are being reminded that Christ (a Greek title that also means “anointed”) was to be a prophet, a priest, and a king—a unique combination of spiritual functions to be found in one man.
“So he departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth. Then Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle on him.” A “mantle” (Hebrew: addereth) is a cloak or robe, but the word also means glory or magnificence, something splendid or majestic—literally, “something wide.” It is possible that this act—placing the mantle on Elisha—in itself constituted the “anointing” that Elijah had been instructed to perform. “And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah, and said, ‘Please let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.’ And he said to him, ‘Go back again, for what have I done to you?’ So Elisha turned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen and slaughtered them and boiled their flesh, using the oxen’s equipment, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah, and became his servant.” (I Kings 19:16, 19-21) After this, the mantle remained in Elijah’s possession until it fell from his shoulders as he was being “raptured” in the sight of Elisha—who then picked it up and used it (as Elijah had) to split the Jordan River so he could walk to the other side on dry ground. When the sons of the prophets in Jericho saw Elisha wearing the Elijah’s cloak, they immediately recognized that “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” (II Kings 2:15) In other words, Elisha’s change in raiment signaled a change in status—from being Elijah’s servant to being his successor-prophet.
In another instance, garments were used to attain a status that wouldn’t have been attainable otherwise. During the initial conquest of Canaan, Joshua had been instructed to drive out (or if they would not flee, to kill in battle) all of the pagan inhabitants of the Land. Specifically, there were seven nations whom Yahweh had slated for expulsion or destruction. The inhabitants of a city named Gibeon were of one of these seven: Hivites. “But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they worked craftily, and went and pretended to be ambassadors. And they took old sacks on their donkeys, old wineskins torn and mended, old and patched sandals on their feet, and old garments on themselves; and all the bread of their provision was dry and moldy. And they went to Joshua, to the camp at Gilgal, and said to him and to the men of Israel, ‘We have come from a far country. Now therefore, make a covenant with us.’” (Joshua 9:3-6) It was a ruse, of course, designed to prevent them from being destroyed. Gibeon was only seventeen miles from Gilgal, hardly a “far country.” The old clothing and worn-out sandals were a disguise, born of desperation.
Three days later, the Israelites discovered the truth of the matter, but by then, it was too late: they had already made a peace treaty with the Gibeonites, swearing on the name of Yahweh that they wouldn’t be destroyed. So after consulting the elders of Israel, Joshua made the Gibeonites perpetual slaves instead—“woodcutters and water carriers for the house of my God.” And the Gibeonites, for their part, were happy with this arrangement, knowing that being a live slave in the house of Yahweh is much better than being a dead pagan, “free” or not.
We might legalistically castigate Joshua for allowing himself to be tricked like this—making a covenant with the Hivites without consulting Yahweh (see v.14). But I see this whole episode as a poignant demonstration of God’s grace—His mercy in the face of believing repentance. The Gibeonites had heard of the exploits of Yahweh on behalf of the Hebrews, and had heard (v.24) that His commandment had been to “destroy all the inhabitants of the Land from before you.” More to the point, they now realized that Yahweh was the true God—with the power to see His will accomplished. Their old pagan deities, like Ba’al, Molech, and Astarte, never did anything, for or against them, and they knew it. It only made sense, then, to throw themselves before Yahweh’s mercy. Ironically, not even the Israelites had this much faith.
And their worn-out clothing? Yes, okay, it was a lie. But maybe not completely. They didn’t approach the Israelites dressed in their royal Hivite finery, hoping to impress the Hebrews with their wealth and power. Rather, they dressed themselves in the rags of humility. Their statements about having heard of the fame of Yahweh, Israel’s God (see vs.9-10), were true and candid. The only thing they lied about was the proximity of their home. Spiritually, though, they had come from a far country.
In one of the most humbling confrontations in the Bible, God had commanded Job (tongue in cheek, of course) to do what the Hivites of Gibeon dared not do—try to impress Him with splendid raiment and an imposing presence. “If you think you’re so virtuous,” He says, “try to impress me with your own innate wonderfulness.” “Then Yahweh answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said: ‘Now prepare yourself like a man. I will question you, and you shall answer Me. Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified? Have you an arm like God? Or can you thunder with a voice like His? Then adorn yourself with majesty and splendor, and array yourself with glory and beauty….” In other words, if you’re going to argue your case before God, you’re going to have to stand toe to toe and see eye to eye with Him, dress like He dresses, and speak as He speaks. But since Yahweh is holy and unique (not to mention being unspeakably awesome), that is a ridiculous proposition on the face of it.
He continues His challenge: “Disperse the rage of your wrath. Look on everyone who is proud, and humble him. Look on everyone who is proud, and bring him low. Tread down the wicked in their place. Hide them in the dust together; bind their faces in hidden darkness. Then I will also confess to you that your own right hand can save you.’” (Job 40:6-14) “If you think you can sit on My throne,” He says, “you must be able to do what I can do.” Then Yahweh proceeds to point out that Job (or any other man) can’t even “contend with” with some of the larger and more impressive animals in His creation—the behemoth and Leviathan (and no, I have no idea what these beasts were). So how could Job presume to impress their Creator?
Job finally “got it.” As respected among men as he had been during his lifetime, the fact remained: he was not God. “Then Job answered Yahweh and said: ‘I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, “Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?” Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak. You said, “I will question you, and you shall answer Me.” I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6)
The bottom line: our clothing may impress people here on God’s earth. Our garments may reveal our relative status among men—whether exalted or humble. But even the best of us (the title for which Job would certainly have been a contender—see Ezekiel 14:14) cannot stand before Almighty God unless and until He clothes us in His own majesty and splendor, and arrays us with the glory and beauty of His own eternal existence. Remarkably, it is His plan to do precisely that.
We have few clues in scripture as to what the normal mode of dress was in the age of the patriarchs. But one garment gets mentioned in passing time and again—not so much for its own sake, but as a springboard to teach us about mercy. This garment is the outer cloak, something worn by men and women alike to keep them warm and dry. Ellicott’s Commentary notes, “The simlah, or salmah…was the large flowing outer raiment, elsewhere called beged, which was commonly of wool, and corresponded to the abba of the modern Arabs. It was a warm wrapper, and has sometimes been compared to a Scotch plaid. The poor Israelite did not much want it by day; but needed it as a blanket by night—a practice known to many modern tribes of Arabs. The present passage forbids the retention of this garment as a pledge during the night, and seems to imply a continuous practice of pledging the simlah by day, and being allowed to enjoy the use of it, nevertheless, as a nocturnal covering.”
The “passage” referred to by Ellicott is this: “If you lend money to any of My people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest. If you ever take your neighbor’s garment as a pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down. For that is his only covering, it is his garment for his skin. What will he sleep in? And it will be that when he cries to Me, I will hear, for I am gracious.” (Exodus 22:25-27) The Torah forbade lending at interest to one’s fellow Israelite, but making loans to people in need was strongly encouraged. However, although Yahweh eliminated the profit motive from the process of fiduciary mercy, the lender still had the right to require collateral for the loan—called a “pledge” here. Without this provision, every loan was a potential gift. The poor man thus had incentive to pay back the loan in a timely fashion, as he had agreed to do. In other words, being poor was not a license to steal in Israel. God simply presented an opportunity for people of even modest means to “love their neighbors as themselves.”
If the number of times this particular garment was mentioned as potential pledge to secure short-term loans is any indication, it was common practice for the simlah or beged to be offered as collateral. It might be the only thing a poor person had of any intrinsic value. If he paid back the loan in a day or two (as agreed), all was well—for lender and borrower alike. But if he took the money and skipped town, he would never get his cloak back. Yahweh, however, built into the transaction a secondary expression of mercy: if the outer garment had been offered as collateral, the lender was to give it back to the borrower when the sun went down, and collect it again in the morning. This did nothing to lessen the effectiveness of the loan’s security, because nobody had the ability to sneak out of town in the middle of the night, like they do now. But the borrower really needed that simlah to keep him (or her—the same principle is applied to widows) warm at night. It was the kind, merciful thing to do.
God was making a point. Yes, it is no crime to be poor (though it’s no great honor, either). But poverty is sometimes used by God as a metaphor for having fallen into sin—the common factor of the human condition. I have personally been both poor and prosperous—and everywhere in between. I can tell you from experience, having resources is definitely more fun than being broke. But being prosperous (comparatively speaking) comes with the responsibility to alleviate suffering wherever God places it in your path—as in the parable of the Good Samaritan. In theocratic Israel, mercy was to be extended by those who had resources to those who did not. This is true of both temporal treasure and spiritual insight.
This isn’t an appeal to implement the system of institutional thievery called socialism, in which power-hungry politicians steal from the productive to redistribute the booty among everyone else equally (taking a healthy cut off the top for themselves, of course). Socialism kills the incentive to work hard in order to rejoice in the blessings of God. No, this is a call for individual, personal outpourings of love, in the form of material assistance, from the blessed to those who are suffering, as God has placed people in contact with one another. Nor is it a call to pointless poverty: making a show of “suffering for the Savior.” The loans (while not given with a profit motive) were intended to be paid back by the borrower—leaving the lender inconvenienced but not impoverished. Alms, on the other hand (a component of the tithe), were based on past blessings that had been enjoyed by the alms-giver, not on what he hoped to gain from God in return.
But there is another, symbolic, aspect to pledging one’s outer garment as collateral for a loan (which is why, I believe, God used this particular figure of speech several times in scripture). Think of the simlah or beged, this outer cloak, as the grace in which Yahshua clothes us. It is the righteousness of Christ that we can (if we choose) “put on” through faith in the efficacy of the cross. It is the covering (read: atonement) through which God chooses not to see our sin.
Here’s the picture. (1) We have all fallen into spiritual poverty through Adam’s sin—confirmed by our own. (2) Our lives are forfeit because we have fallen short of God’s holy standards, but life is “loaned” to us for a short time by a merciful God: we are all on borrowed time. (3) The price of life (that which we’ve “borrowed”) is ultimately our trust in God’s remedy for our sin—the sacrifice of Christ. (4) The collateral required to secure this life-loan is the simlah, the garment of righteousness that has been provided to everyone through Christ’s sacrifice—whether or not we choose to avail ourselves of its benefits. (5) God in His mercy allows us (all of us) to retain this cloak of righteousness “overnight.” That is, during our mortal lives (characterized by darkness, cold, and uncertainty), we are all under the protection of God’s grace: He does not punish us directly for each individual sin we commit, but extends mercy for as long as mortal life lasts, in hope and anticipation of our repentance. (6) The “morning” represents what happens after our dark mortal lives are over—the eternal state, when all has been made clear. (7) If we have repaid the loan of life with faith in God, we get to keep our garments of righteousness, giving us eternal life. But if we do not repay the debt we owe, the collateral-pledge (representing God’s grace) is retained forever by the Lender—Yahweh.
It is clear, then, that when we lend to our brothers in their hour of need, it is a picture of what God does for us. If our brothers do not repay what they’ve borrowed from us, this is the image of man’s rejection of the life that Yahweh has offered us through the sacrifice of Yahshua. We are expected to repay God’s kindness with the currency of heaven—trust in the efficacy of His sacrifice. But have you ever been cheated, lied to, or “stiffed” on a loan you’ve made? (I have, on several occasions.) Now you know (sort of) how God feels when people reject His plan of salvation (or simply disavow the awesome “loan” He has made each of us—our mortal lives. The sacrifice of Christ was sufficient for the justification of every soul on the planet: we—all of us—owe Him our eternal gratitude.
There is one more wrinkle to the whole “pledging your outer garment as collateral for a loan” scenario. “When you lend your brother anything, you shall not go into his house to get his pledge. You shall stand outside, and the man to whom you lend shall bring the pledge out to you….” On the surface, this is to be done as a kindness toward the borrower: he is not to be shamed in front of his family for having fallen into poverty. After all, that is where we all begin. Nor are you, the lender, forcing him to take out a loan or compelling him to provide collateral; he is doing all of this voluntarily. His humility is evident in the very fact that he is asking you for a loan. It’s not your job to make him feel worse than he already does.
In spiritual terms, this precept emphasizes the concept that our salvation is the product of our own free will. That is, God will not force us to receive His unmerited favor if we refuse to recognize our own spiritual poverty. The choice is ours alone. Here too, our humility—the realization and acceptance that we are in need of God’s grace—is revealed in our asking God to redeem us. The rest of it is the same as we saw above: “And if the man is poor, you shall not keep his pledge overnight. You shall in any case return the pledge to him again when the sun goes down, that he may sleep in his own garment and bless you; and it shall be righteousness to you before Yahweh your God.” (Deuteronomy 24:12-13) Finally, note that Yahweh our God considers it a righteous deed when we emulate His love in the way we treat our fellow man. It’s not that our good deeds, done with pure motives, “save” us. But they are compelling evidence that we are already redeemed—that God’s Spirit is working through us.
In the story of Ruth, an outer garment was once again employed to teach a subtle spiritual lesson. This time, it’s not about being collateral for a loan, but a receptacle for blessing or provision. Here, Ruth (a poor young widow) plays the part of the worshiper-supplicant (ideally, us) and Boaz, a wealthy landowner, acts out the role of the kinsman-redeemer—in the end, Christ Himself. Upon recognizing Ruth’s character and devotion to her widowed mother-in-law, Boaz took it upon himself to provide for her even more than what the law required (i.e., by allowing her to glean behind his reapers in his fields—see Leviticus 19:9-10). “[Boaz] said [to Ruth], ‘Bring the shawl [Hebrew: mitpachath—a woman’s cloak] that is on you and hold it.’ And when she held it, he measured six ephahs of barley, and laid it on her. Then she went into the city.” (Ruth 3:15) Six ephahs comes out to about four bushels—six times what a diligent worker was able to glean in a full day’s work in the fields (see Ruth 2:17).
Once again, the outer cloak symbolically represents grace—it is not only the garment that covers us (read: atones for our sins), but also the mechanism by which God blesses us, whether temporally or spiritually. We all possess this covering garment (or at least, what it stands for): it is a component of our mortal lives, part of the human condition. In a way, you could even compare it to the “breath of life” which God breathed into Adam in Genesis 2:7. It’s called the neshamah in Hebrew—a word for which there is no direct and specific English equivalent. It is what gives humans the capacity to host Yahweh’s indwelling Holy Spirit. It is therefore shameful that so few of us make use of it, choosing instead to go hungry and shiver in the cold night air when we could be warm and fed in Yahweh’s loving embrace.
The best thing a believer can do is to show others how to make use of this garment of grace—to encourage them to allow God to cover them with forgiveness and provision. In Acts, we read of a lady named Tabitha (a.k.a. Dorcas) who did precisely that—in literal fashion—for many of the poor in her community. When she died, they sent for Peter, who was nearby. “Then Peter arose and went with them. When he had come, they brought him to the upper room. And all the widows stood by him weeping, showing the tunics and garments which Dorcas had made while she was with them.” (Acts 9:39) We tend to get all excited (as we should) when we read that Peter prayed and Dorcas came back to life. But let us not gloss over the life she had given to others, fulfilling the Great Commission in the most practical of ways—making clothing for the poor, which we now know to be potentially symbolic of the grace in which God clothes all of us who choose to receive it.
We have all met people who seem “so heavenly minded, they’re no earthly good.” But Dorcas got it right, and she was rewarded with renewed life, in itself a preview of the eternal life that awaits those of us whose names are found in the Lamb’s Book of Life. As James says, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves…. What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 1:22; 14-17)
I realize we’re wading waist deep through a book whose sole purpose is to explore Yahweh’s symbols. But let us not forget that these scriptural metaphors are based on objective reality, which is not rendered moot just because there’s a parable to ponder. It is far more important for us to show practical kindnesses to our neighbors than it is to comprehend an obscure symbol that Yahweh may have employed for our edification. Understanding is good; obedience is noble; love is essential.
Speaking of symbols, Yahshua (in the Sermon on the Mount) used clothing as metaphorical of anything we might find valuable to us. “If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” (Matthew 5:40-42; cf. Luke 6:29) His point here is to prize nothing more highly than our fellow man. Our possessions and resources are not the essence of life; they merely make us a bit more comfortable as we go about our days. But to cling to them is nothing short of idolatry. It is quite liberating to realize that we Believers have nothing that our God cannot replace with something better—up to and including our mortal lives.
How then are we to dress? With what should we cover ourselves? Here’s Peter’s take on the subject: “Be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (I Peter 5:5) Pride is always ugly, no matter who wears it. But humility never goes out of style.
Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary defines Modesty as “1. (n.) That lowly temper which accompanies a moderate estimate of one’s own worth and importance; absence of self-assertion, arrogance, and presumption; humility respecting one’s own merit.” And “2. (n.) Natural delicacy or shame regarding personal charms and the sexual relation; purity of thought and manners; due regard for propriety in speech or action.” So there are two complementary aspects to modesty: humility and purity—both revealed by the clothing one wears.
These concepts overlap to some extent in Isaiah’s scathing denouncement of the arrogant demeanor of Jerusalem’s entitled princesses in the age of Judah’s moral decline—a century before their kind were hauled off to Babylon in chains. “Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with outstretched necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, making a jingling with their feet, therefore Yahweh will strike with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and Yahweh will uncover their secret parts….” Your immodesty, He says, can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your haughty spirit will precede your fall, as Solomon put it.
Isaiah describes the ugly contrast: “In that day Yahweh will take away the finery: the jingling anklets, the scarves, and the crescents, the pendants, the bracelets, and the veils, the headdresses, the leg ornaments, and the headbands, the perfume boxes, the charms and the rings, the nose jewels, the festal apparel, and the mantles, the outer garments, the purses, and the mirrors, the fine linen, the turbans, and the robes. And so it shall be: instead of a sweet smell there will be a stench; instead of a sash, a rope; instead of well-set hair, baldness; instead of a rich robe, a girding of sackcloth; and branding instead of beauty.” (Isaiah 3:16-24) The clothing and ornamentation, of course, were indicative of how the wearers were perceived—by both themselves and others. In the case of the “daughters of Zion,” however, it was even worse than it looked. They wanted to appear rich and entitled to their peers, and sexually desirable to men they didn’t even know. But the wealth and leisure they enjoyed wasn’t due to their own efforts or industriousness—as in the case of the “virtuous wife” described in Proverbs 31 (who, though being prosperous, didn’t act at all like privileged princesses Isaiah described). They were riding the financial coattails of their fathers and husbands—who had in turn made money their god, and pride their sacrament.
It wasn’t the wealth per se that made the daughters of Zion ripe for judgment. All other things being equal, affluence is spiritually neutral. It was what they did with it—using it as a springboard for arrogance and self-centered ingratitude. Israel had been set apart: they were people whom Yahweh had chosen. How they should have comported themselves—even in the face of material prosperity—was described by Paul to young pastor Timothy, in regard to people who had instead chosen Yahweh—the church. “I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.” (I Timothy 2:8-10)
There was no problem being blessed to the point where you could afford to wear gold, pearls, jewels, and silk. But what would be the point of doing so, if not to elevate your own status above your peers? No, the loving thing to do would be to dress with moderation and propriety—the idea being not to draw attention to yourself and your wealth. This would work both ways: we should neither “dress to impress” nor dress to engender empathy. Paul hits the nail on the head here: if a woman professes godliness, then what folks should notice about her (no matter what she’s wearing) is her good works, for these are a reflection of the Holy Spirit dwelling within her.
Peter said roughly the same thing to believing women: “Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel.” This doesn’t mean you have to let yourself go to seed, either, or dress decades (or centuries) out of date. The question is, upon what are you counting for “adornment?” “Rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands.” (I Peter 3:3-5) For people today obsessed with “freedom” and “rights,” the idea of women submitting to their husbands is an anathema. But they’ve only got half the picture: his job is far more demanding than hers—he is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. And how did Christ love the church? He died for her—for us. Paul makes all of this abundantly clear in Ephesians 5—right after he commands us all to submit to one another in the fear of God. So even though everybody is to submit to everybody else in love, Yahshua has assigned husbands the role of God in the divine-human relationship, and their wives are to play the part of us worshipers—just so we can begin to comprehend how it’s all supposed to work. For our present purposes, we are to note that our choice of apparel tends to reveal the symbolic role we have chosen to play in this world.
What happens when the roles are reversed—when a woman dresses and acts immodestly, with the goal of getting a man to submit to her? Solomon paints the ugly picture for us, somewhat exaggerated for effect: “And saw among the simple, I perceived among the youths, a young man devoid of understanding.… And there a woman met him, with the attire of a harlot, and a crafty heart…. With her enticing speech she caused him to yield; with her flattering lips she seduced him. Immediately he went after her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks.” (Proverbs 7:7, 10, 21-22) This would be the antithesis of what Peter described as “a gentle and quiet spirit” or what Paul called “modest apparel, with propriety and moderation.” It is said that “a man must work hard to attract a good woman, but all a woman has to do is show up.” To whatever extent this is true, it is clear that “a good woman” is well advised to go out of her way not to attract ungodly men.
It should go without saying that she should not try to be an ungodly man, either. Eve’s post-fall curse in the Garden of Eden included this bit of unwelcome news: “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16) Many have suggested that Eve’s “desire for her husband” would consist of her trying to usurp his God-given role as the family’s leader, protector, and provider—a role that was neither assigned nor necessary until sin entered the picture. The insane myth of “gender fluidity” floating around today is nothing more than a satanic scheme designed to obfuscate Yahweh’s symbolic structure of the family—which in turn reveals His own role in our redemption. A wife, in short, is not to try to “wear the pants in the family.” Literally. The Torah puts it like this: “A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all who do so are an abomination to Yahweh your God.” (Deuteronomy 22:5) As usual, the clothing is merely a metaphor: it’s not so much cross-dressing per se that God objects to. It’s what it means: role reversal—the idea that we need not submit to the authority of our God, nor recognize (or thank) Him for what He provides for us, beginning with life itself. (And by the way, women wearing pants tailored for a woman’s body still look like women. To my mind, they have not run afoul of this commandment.)
To the world outside, Christian behavior seems counterintuitive, if not out-and-out bizarre. It’s about as far as you can get from “survival of the fittest,” which implies that every human interaction must have a winner and a loser. For us, the definitive “winner” is God, who graciously allows us to stand with Him on the awards platform, sharing and wearing the gold medal He has won all by Himself. There need not be any losers in the game of life. Rather, we win the “human race” by helping our “opponents” over the finish line. Paul writes, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God….” To “prove” something is to verify its purity through testing or trial—as gold is “proved” in the crucible. As counterintuitive as it may look, God’s word, when put to the test, will always be revealed to be the perfect solution to every problem we may encounter.
Since our winning position is ultimately borrowed from Christ’s perfection (something we call “grace”), there are no good works or intrinsic value of which we might legitimately boast. So Paul recommends modesty: “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” (Romans 12:1-5) As “members of one body,” we need to realize that no one is more important than anyone else. We really need to get over ourselves.
You think you’re special in this Body because you’re the aorta or the pancreas, and not the appendix or the left earlobe? You’re not going to feel so proud if the liver dies. For that matter, even if you merely suffer a broken toe, your whole body is going to feel it and share its pain. Beyond this, the entire Body of Christ is covered with a singular “outer garment”—the skin. Not only does this covering keep all the “members” of the body (its bones, muscles, organs, and blood, etc.) together in one congruent package, it defines us as being separate and distinct (read: holy) from “members” of other bodies. In particular, the Body of Christ cannot coexist or coincide with the body of Satan—whose members have their own “skin” holding them together, alienated from us. Pride, then—whether expressed sartorially or otherwise—is about the least appropriate trait a believer can display. As Solomon once said, “A man’s pride will bring him low, but the humble in spirit will retain honor.” (Proverbs 29:23)
Yahshua once taught on this same subject: “He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: ‘When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; and he who invited you and him come and say to you, “Give place to this man,” and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down in the lowest place, so that when he who invited you comes he may say to you, “Friend, go up higher.” Then you will have glory in the presence of those who sit at the table with you. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’” (Luke 14:7-11; cf. Proverbs 25:6-7) Think of your “claim to fame,” that one thing you’re better at than anybody else you know of. I’ve got news for you: somebody, somewhere, does it better. Pride, therefore, is always inappropriate.
Besides, it doesn’t really matter whether we’re “better” in some way than those around us. It is not our place to say so, either by word or deed or self-presentation (e.g., clothing). It is for others (and in the end, God alone) to notice our sterling qualities and elevate us to the station of which we are worthy. But note: if no one ever does, perhaps we should consider the possibility that those qualities exist only in our own imaginations.
Our ultimate example in this is (as usual) Christ Himself. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8) Do you find yourself a peasant, though you feel in your bones that you were destined to be a king? Then be the best peasant you can possibly be in this world, confident that in the next, you can live and reign with Christ, the King of kings.
Defilement & Cleansing
By now, I think we’re all familiar with the fact that we’re sinners—that we’ve all fallen short of God’s holy standard. Even atheists will readily admit that they don’t always do what their consciences demand. But we don’t really appreciate how bad it is. Isaiah states, “We are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags. We all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Isaiah 64:6) “Taken us away” from what? From fellowship with our Creator, the Source of life itself—the One who defines what “iniquity” is.
It’s not just that our sins are bad. Everybody knows that (or ought to). It’s that even our good works—the things that religious people assume ought to vindicate them on some grand tally of rights vs. wrongs in heaven—are (as Isaiah puts it) “filthy rags,” worthless and defiled. And actually, in the Hebrew, it’s even worse than that. Most English translations are overly polite here: the word translated “filthy” (Hebrew: ed) really means “Menstruation—from an unused root meaning to set a period [of time]; the menstrual flux (as periodical); by implication (in plural): soiling, filthy.” (Strong’s) And “rags” has a dual connotation in Hebrew. Beged means apparel, clothing, raiment, a garment or covering of any kind. (Remember the “outer garment” used as collateral we discussed above? Sometimes it is referred to as a beged.) But the word also means “treachery.” And if (as the NAS Concordance states) ed is derived from edah, meaning “testimony,” then Isaiah’s “filthy rags” characterization could actually be construed to mean “a witness of treachery” (though the “polluted menstrual cloths” metaphor gets the idea across quite nicely).
The bottom line is that nothing we do or say in our own strength or wisdom will have any effect whatsoever in reconciling us to a holy God. Even the best things we do are no better than “filthy rags” before Him. You may be saying, “Well that’s awfully depressing. How can God possibly love me if nothing I do for Him is seen as ‘worthy’ in His sight?” But you’ve missed the point. Do parents hate their infant children or find them worthless just because they can’t do anything “worthwhile”? No, they don’t. Babies drool, burp, spit up, communicate by whining, and poop their diapers—their best efforts (like ours before God) are nothing but “filthy rags,” often literally. And yet, their parents love them, sacrifice for them, care for them, feed them, clothe them, and work hard on their behalf. Why? Because of the relationship that exists between them.
Remarkably, this relationship needn’t be strictly biological—as in, “Because the kid is my flesh and blood, I’m obligated to clean up after him.” I’ve mentioned elsewhere that my wife and I adopted nine of our eleven children—four of them handicapped to one extent or another. We once did a quick calculation on this: between infants and older handicapped kids, my wife figured she changed 104,000 diapers in her long career as a stay-at-home mom. That’s a lot of “filthy rags” to deal with, but the reason she did it was her unfathomable love for our children—no matter where they came from. As impressed as I am with her selfless dedication, this is but a pale hint of what Yahweh our Creator has done for the human race since He first placed us on this planet.
All through scripture, and especially in the symbol-rich Torah, God uses the changing or washing of clothing as a recurring theme in dealing with the defilement of mankind. The reason is that clothing, in general, is metaphorical of “How we are seen,” and especially “How God sees us.” The patriarch Jacob got his first glimpse into this truth when his mother helped him “steal” the birthright from his older twin brother Esau (who had earlier demonstrated his contempt for it by trading it to Jacob for a bowl of red stew). Their mother Rebekah “borrowed” some of Esau’s clothes for Jacob to wear before his aged, half-blind father Isaac. The ruse worked: Jacob received the firstborn’s blessing that Isaac had meant to give to Esau.
This was all as Yahweh had intended, for Esau was a godless, carnal man, whereas Jacob respected the God worshiped by his father Isaac and grandfather Abraham. On the run from his (understandably) furious brother, Jacob received a dream from Yahweh confirming his status as Abraham’s and Isaac’s heir in faith. He built an altar there and named the place Bethel (“house of God”). Years later, after Jacob had grown prosperous—with two wives, two concubines, eleven sons, and innumerable flocks and herds—Yahweh met him and changed his covenant name from Jacob (which means “Supplanter”) to Israel (meaning “Prevails with God”). And when God told him to go back to Bethel, Jacob-Israel got serious about his place in God’s plan: “And Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, ‘Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments.’” (Genesis 35:2)
Israel was on the cusp of formally receiving the mantle of faith passed down from Abraham and Isaac—including possession of the Promised Land. It was only fitting that his whole household—not just his own family, but also the servants and employees who were with them—should join him in an overt display of renewed holiness to God Almighty. So everyone reexamined their lives, and gave to Israel all of the idols and pagan ornaments they had picked up over the years, and he buried these symbols of their old, dead lives under a terebinth (or oak) tree near Shechem. Of particular interest to us in our present context is the directive to “change your garments.” But before we go there (and at the risk of wandering off into the weeds) let us review something I previously wrote (in volume 3, chapter 3.13) on oak or terebinth trees, concerning our Genesis 35 passage, “The principle is beginning to emerge: dead things should be buried in the ground under the shade of a terebinth or oak tree. They are not to see the light of day.”
Why? “A survey of the scriptural mentions of ‘oak trees’ reveals that they are invariably connected with death, something that leads to death, or the state of being dormant or inactive. Perhaps God chose this symbol because these trees lose their leaves every autumn, feigning death as they await the renewal of spring. And I don’t know how spiritually significant this might be, but oak trees sometimes endure the ‘death’ of winter without actually dropping their dead leaves—a condition known as being ‘half-dressed.’ These oaks don’t seem to want to accept their condition—that of being ‘dead’ (okay, dormant) where they stand. They make a bold show of it in the face of winter’s chill, but their leaves are no longer green, no longer feeding the tree with the sun’s gift of life. These shriveled pale yellow holdouts, hanging on until the bitter end, are nothing but a sad reminder that real life is something that just can’t be faked.”
The cycle of seasons that God instituted is an interesting prophetic parallel to Jacob’s instruction to “change your clothes.” Deciduous trees (like oaks) do this every year, beginning in the spring with bright new growth, hopeful with the promise of summer’s bounty, but ending in winter with death (or at least dormancy). It’s all an unflinching commentary on the human condition: our mortal lives, no matter how hopefully they begin, invariably end in death. But in between, in the fall, there is a “changing of the trees’ garments.” Maybe. Sometimes, the leaves simply die and fall off—an apt picture of the unredeemed life. Occasionally (as I described above) oak leaves will stubbornly hang on, pretending to be alive, all though the winter. These are a picture (okay, I realize this is a bit of a stretch) of Satanic deception—pretending to be alive when the reality is a living death. But often enough, the leaves will turn brilliant shades of very un-leaf-like colors—yellows, oranges, corals, and reds. For a few spectacular weeks every fall, the forest will burst forth with the glory of God, a visual shout of “Hallelujah!” These leaves (in my admittedly over-active imagination) represent us who are eagerly anticipating the new life God has promised to those who joyfully receive His gift of salvation. Yes, we know we’re mortal, but we also know that our new bodies, bright and fresh, will arrive next spring, according to God’s promise. And these garments will never become defiled by death, but will live forever in God’s light.
So it is not surprising to find renewed consecration often met in the scriptural record with a call for changing (or washing) one’s clothing. Since one’s garments are symbolic of “how God sees us,” we are to enter His presence cleansed and purified. But as Isaiah reminded us, it doesn’t help to merely don new “filthy rags”—that is, to try to come before God on the strength of our own supposed merit. Rather, the new garments we must put on are the ones He provides for us—the clean white linen of imputed righteousness, or (in another metaphor) the wedding garment provided by the King, required for entry to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. It would appear that ever since Jacob returned to Bethel, our instructions have never really changed: “Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments.”
Shortly after the Israelite slaves left their bondage behind in Egypt, they were told to prepare for a particularly awesome Shekinah manifestation—even more spectacular than the pillar of cloud and fire that had guided and protected them through the Red Sea experience. “Then Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. And let them be ready for the third day. For on the third day Yahweh will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.’” (Exodus 19:10-11) The occasion was the giving of the Law (literally, Instructions) to Moses up on Mount Sinai (a.k.a. Mount Horeb). This mountain, in Midian (today’s northwestern Saudi Arabia), still bears the marks of the divine encounter: the top looks like someone has taken a giant blowtorch to it. There was to be no doubt among the people that Yahweh, not Moses, was the Source of the Torah. The Instructions by which Israel was to live came from God Himself. Moses was merely His amanuensis.
One did not simply take Yahweh’s Personal appearance in stride. There was preparation involved—consecration and purification. The Living God was to be met with awe, reverence, and humility: “fear,” if you like. Note two things about this process. (1) They were to expect to see Him on “the third day.” That is, the first two days were to be spent in reflection and anticipation, for something awesome was about to happen. This should ring a very loud bell for us—actually, several of them: In the Creation account, life was introduced on the third day. Christ told His disciples repeatedly that He was to be slain but would rise from the dead on the third day. And Israel was told (in Hosea 6:1-2) to repent, because after two days (read: two thousand years) of Yahweh’s tearing and striking, they would be raised up on the third day to live in His sight. The third day, then, is when the Living God can be expected to appear in glory. When you factor in that God has equated one day to a thousand years in His plan (see II Peter 3:8 and Psalm 90:4), the lesson is clear (at least to me): Christ’s glorious kingdom on earth will commence on “the third day,” that is, after two thousand years have passed, following His passion. That took place in 33 AD. I’ll let you do the math.
(2) The stunning fact of Yahweh’s (i.e., Yahshua’s) imminent appearance should remind us to take care of the other requirement: before He comes—before the “two days” have passed—we are to “wash our clothes.” That is, we are to rid our “clothing” (that which our God sees when He looks at us) of the world’s filth that has collected upon us. I may be seeing a distinction that isn’t there, but this appears to mean something a bit different than the “change-your-garments” directive Jacob gave his household. “Changing” your clothing seems to be indicative of putting on something new—the clean, white linen robes of our salvation. In other words, it’s shorthand for justification. But “washing” our clothes would seem to indicate post-salvation repentance—in a word, sanctification.
Yes, even our new garments, those indicating the grace by which we are saved, tend to get soiled as we walk through this world. Like the Israelites of old, we believers have already been freed from bondage—we are justified. But we also, like them, need to pause, recognize that God’s appearance is imminent, and prepare to meet Him by “washing our clothes.”
It’s worth noting, by the way, that Yahweh had already provided the water required to make this possible: see Exodus 17:6. Moses had, at Yahweh’s direction, struck the rock at Horeb, producing plenty of water for a couple of million thirsty travelers and their flocks. And lest we miss the heavy-handed metaphor, Paul points out (in I Corinthians 10:4) that the “rock” that Moses struck was symbolic of the crucified Christ. The lesson is that whether we’re putting on new garments (justification) or washing our old (formerly new) ones (sanctification) the source and means of our obedience is the same: Yahshua the Messiah. It is He alone who makes it possible to come into Yahweh’s presence on the third day. After all, our own good deeds are “filthy rags,” no matter how pure our intentions.
At Mount Horeb, everyone was to prepare to meet and witness Yahweh’s appearing. But the Torah is peppered with references to individuals and smaller groups being instructed to purify themselves—a process that invariably included the washing of their clothing. Now that we know what this “clothes washing” means, let us pay particular attention to the symbolism surrounding the recipients of the Instructions.
The Levites for example—the males of the entire tribe, some 22,000 in number—were singled out among the Israelites as being dedicated to the service of Yahweh, recipients of the tithe and administrators of aid to the poor. They are symbolic of those who are set apart for God’s use, whose divine calling precludes them from earning a living in the ordinary fashion. The instructions concerning their inaugural purification ritual were as follows: “Take the Levites from among the children of Israel and cleanse them ceremonially. Thus you shall do to them to cleanse them: Sprinkle water of purification on them, and let them shave all their body, and let them wash their clothes, and so make themselves clean.” (Numbers 8:6-7) The priests were a subset of the Levites (being of the clan of Kohath, of the family of Aaron), so they would have been included in this ceremonial purification rite. (There were far more instructions concerning the consecration of the priests, of course: e.g. Leviticus 8. But they are beyond the scope of our present topic of study.)
Washing their clothes was not unexpected, and the sprinkling of water on the Levites was obviously meant to ritually symbolize purification as well—as is stated in the text. The surprise (to my mind) was the shaving of the entire body, which would have included the head hair and the beard. What could this signify?
The commentators all seem to agree that this too has something to do with cleansing (which is kind of obvious). Gill, for example states, “The whole hair of the body, everywhere, was to be shaved off; to denote the most perfect purity, and a removal of all superfluity of haughtiness and excrescences of the flesh from them.” (An excrescence is “an abnormal outgrowth, usually harmless, on an animal or vegetable body; a normal outgrowth, as hair or horns; any disfiguring addition; or an abnormal growth or increase.”—Dictionary.com) The Benson Commentary notes, “This external rite signified the cutting off their inordinate desire of earthly things, and that singular purity of heart and life which is required in the ministers of God.”
It’s not that hair is evil. God made us mammals, after all. But it seems to me that as a symbol, hair indicates “that which grows upon us of its own accord, whether or not we meant for it to happen.” It’s part and parcel of the human condition. So the shaving of the body is roughly parallel in meaning to washing one’s garments: it is metaphorical of ridding ourselves of the impurity that has collected upon us, whether from within our fallen natures (“hair”), or from external sources of pollution (“clothing”). Both the body (the vehicle of our mortal existence) and our clothing (that which we put on to indicate our spiritual status) must be clean if we are set apart for God’s use.
This premise was reinforced in the High Priest’s instructions concerning the Day of Atonement. “[Aaron] shall put the holy linen tunic and the linen trousers on his body; he shall be girded with a linen sash, and with the linen turban he shall be attired. These are holy garments. Therefore he shall wash his body in water, and put them on.” (Leviticus 16:4) In order to enter the Most Holy Place, the High Priest had to be dressed in special garments made specifically for the purpose. But before he could don the holy clothes, his body had to be clean. (We will discuss the special priestly garments at length in a future chapter.)
After performing a number of sacrificial rites (all of them designed, one way or another, to point toward the atoning ministry of our ultimate High Priest, Yahshua the Messiah, some fifteen hundred years later) Aaron was to change back into the clothing he was wearing before he entered the Most Holy Place. And again, he was to wash his body. “Then Aaron shall come into the tabernacle of meeting, shall take off the linen garments which he put on when he went into the Holy Place, and shall leave them there. And he shall wash his body with water in a holy place, put on his garments, come out and offer his burnt offering and the burnt offering of the people, and make atonement for himself and for the people.” (Leviticus 16:24) So we are being told that a change of clothing (i.e., that which reveals our status and function before God and man) is to be prefaced with the cleansing of the body (the vehicle of our mortal state). If I may extrapolate a bit, this seems to mean that any new phase in our service to God should be prefaced with introspection and repentance.
We can’t change our bodies, of course (not yet anyway). In this life, we can only “wash” them—with all that implies. But the time is coming when we will trade in these obsolete mortal shells (as wonderful as they are) for new, glorified resurrection bodies, no longer mortal but built for eternity. They are described (sort of) in I Corinthians 15:35-54. (We’ll look at this passage in a moment.) And will we dress these new bodies in our same old clothes? Of course not. (“New wine in new wineskins,” and all that.) These new bodies will wear the “fine linen, clean and bright…the righteous acts of the saints” in which the Bride of Christ—His called-out assembly of believers—will be garbed for eternity (see Revelation 19:8). And (to stretch the symbol to the limit), these new garments will never need to be washed, for sin will no longer be our nature in the immortal state.
Even the Torah’s dietary laws speak of the washing of one’s clothing. It wasn’t only eating the flesh of certain unclean animals (defined in the text). Merely touching the carcass of one of them would render someone ceremonially unclean. “By these [animals specified in the text] you shall become unclean; whoever touches the carcass of any of them shall be unclean until evening. Whoever carries part of the carcass of any of them shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening. The carcass of any animal which divides the foot, but is not cloven-hoofed or does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. Everyone who touches it shall be unclean. And whatever goes on its paws, among all kinds of animals that go on all fours, those are unclean to you.” The underlying premise in these dietary instructions was universal: we are to be discerning about what we put into our lives. “Whoever touches any such carcass shall be unclean until evening. Whoever carries any such carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening. It is unclean to you.” (Leviticus 11:24-28)
And what about clean animals? “And if any animal which you may eat dies, he who touches its carcass shall be unclean until evening.” It didn’t matter if the animal was designated as “clean.” If it was dead, all bets were off. “He who eats of its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening. He also who carries its carcass shall wash his clothes and be unclean until evening.” (Leviticus 11:39-40) That is, if it wasn’t killed intentionally, the idea being to eat it (whether or not it had been a Levitical sacrifice) touching the carcass of a “clean” animal would ceremonially defile someone. The essential truth here is pretty transparent: if Yahshua (God’s perfect sacrificial Lamb—the ultimate “clean animal”) had died by accident (drowned while trying to walk on water, for example) His death would not have been efficacious in atoning for our sin. He had to be slain on purpose—and He was, with extreme prejudice and malice aforethought.
Becoming “unclean” from time to time is inevitable in this life. Though being and remaining “clean” is clearly the goal, God “knows our frame.” He never commanded us to avoid the state of defilement, and occasionally even put us in positions where it was necessary for life to continue. (For example, having sex with your spouse—though He had commanded us to be fruitful and multiply—made both partners “unclean.”) But He always provided strategies by which we could become “clean” again—most of which involved washing one’s body and/or his clothing.
What, then, does it mean to “be unclean until evening?” I’m afraid this is a thinly veiled euphemism for physical death. That is, Yahweh is informing us that as long as we walk through this world as mortals, we’re going to get dirty: frequent washing is required if we wish to remain in fellowship with our Creator. It’s the ongoing process of sanctification—that which Paul described: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27) There were no Torah sacrifices prescribed for having become unclean—it wasn’t “sin” per se. That is, justification isn’t in view. But remember the tabernacle layout: one could not enter the Sanctuary without first encountering both the altar (which speaks of justification through Christ’s sacrifice) and the bronze laver of cleansing (i.e., our subsequent sanctification, the cleansing of our works and walk, as often as necessary).
God knows that the fallen world in which we live can be a dirty, dangerous place, both physically and spiritually. The Torah uses a single broad designation for all sorts of “infectious diseases” we may encounter. “Leprosy” (Hebrew: tsaraath) can mean the actual disease we know today, called Hansen’s disease (“a slowly progressive, chronic infectious disease caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium leprae, that damages nerves, skin, and mucous membranes, and can lead to loss of sensation, paralysis, gangrene, and deformity if untreated.”—The American Heritage Science Dictionary). Or, it can simply indicate the presence of harmful mold or mildew in clothing or structures. The Hebrew texts use the same word because these infections all symbolize the same thing: sin, revealed by uncleanness.
But in the case of actual leprosy (the bodily disease), no cure was prescribed. In fact, no one was ever cured of leprosy under Torah rules until Yahshua began curing lepers, some fifteen hundred years after the Law was given. All the Torah provided for was a means by which someone who had already been cured of the disease to be “declared clean.” In this case, there was atonement involved—blood sacrifices: a trespass offering, a sin offering, and a burnt offering. So justification is in view (which is why Yahshua invariably told the lepers He had healed to “Go to the priest”). “He who is to be [declared] cleansed [from his leprous infection] shall wash his clothes, shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean.” (Leviticus 14:8) These actions did not cure one of leprosy, but demonstrated the renewed purity of the one who had already been cured.
But in the case of infestations of mold or mildew into clothing or dwelling places, specific action was required in the Torah aimed at ridding oneself of the plague: “If a garment has a leprous plague in it, whether it is a woolen garment or a linen garment, whether it is in the warp or woof of linen or wool, whether in leather or in anything made of leather, and if the plague is greenish or reddish in the garment or in the leather, whether in the warp or in the woof, or in anything made of leather, it is a leprous plague and shall be shown to the priest. The priest shall examine the plague and isolate that which has the plague seven days. And he shall examine the plague on the seventh day. If the plague has spread in the garment, either in the warp or in the woof, in the leather or in anything made of leather, the plague is an active leprosy. It is unclean. He shall therefore burn that garment in which is the plague, whether warp or woof, in wool or in linen, or anything of leather, for it is an active leprosy; the garment shall be burned in the fire.” (Leviticus 13:47-52)
Note several things here. (1) The owner of the garment is to be the first to identify that there may be a problem. (That is, no “Leprosy Police” are authorized to do Spanish Inquisition-style raids, looking for sartorial heresy in every closet.)
(2) The garment’s owner is to defer judgment to “the priest.” Is what looks like a problem really what it seems? Only one whose job it is to intercede between God and man is qualified to make such a call. Of course, in the Kingdom of Heaven, every believer answers to that description.
(3) It should be obvious that far more than literal mold or mildew are in view here: these are merely metaphors for things that seem amiss in this fallen world. Is a new teaching heresy, or merely previously overlooked insight that one of God’s servants have brought to light? Is it wrong, or merely unfamiliar? Are we defending truth, or merely religious tradition? You may have noticed that I tend to think outside the religious box, pointing out things you’ve probably never heard from any pulpit. Am I spouting leprous lies, or am I merely helping you perceive what you never saw before, because I happen to be attuned to God’s symbols? The distinction is far from academic. I get called a “heretic” from time to time by people who (like the Pharisees) “teach as doctrines the commandments of men,” giving church traditions more weight than scripture itself.
(4) Time and observation are efficacious in determining the truth of a matter. The priest was to observe the suspected problem, take note of its character, and then wait “seven days” to see if it has resolved itself or (conversely) proved malignant. This teaches us to wait on God’s perfect timing before we make decisions concerning what we suspect to be “plagues.” Case in point: many called John Darby a heretic in the 1830s when he noticed a rather obvious doctrine that had been forgotten (or suppressed) for a millennium: that of the pre-tribulation rapture. What was an epiphany for his contemporaries is mainstream theology among Bible-believing Christians today, even though the prophesied event has still not yet taken place. Now the mystery is: how did we miss such a clear Biblical truth for so long?
(5) If, upon examination and waiting upon God’s timing, a “stain” has been proved malignant, we are to “burn the garment in the fire.” Fire is symbolic of judgment—in scriptural parlance, to separate truth from lies, fact from fiction, or innocent from guilty. There are certain “Christian” doctrinal traditions that should have been “burned” centuries ago, because they do not hold up to scriptural scrutiny, but undermine what we know to be true from the vast preponderance of God’s Word. As an example I would nominate the doctrine of purgatory—the unbiblical idea that that one who has died, though a believer, must undergo post-mortem penance to pay for his own sins, and that these punishments may be mitigated by the prayers and payments of the living. This doctrine, for all intents and purposes, declares Christ’s atoning sacrifice to be insufficient (though for centuries, it made the Roman Catholic Church very, very rich). Martin Luther “washed” this leprous garment, as was his duty, in 1517, but it should have been “burned in the fire.” It lives on in Catholic practice to this very day.
(6) If the seven-day waiting period reveals no new information about the suspected garment, the process is to be repeated—until its “true colors” reveal themselves. The remainder of the Leviticus 13 passage (vs. 53-59) lists a number of possible scenarios. The bottom line seems to be, if the plague keeps coming back (no matter what form it takes), deal with it. That is not to say we should engage in never-ending witch hunts. Sometimes the “problem” is resolved through repentance, godly enlightenment, or further study: “If you wash the garment, either warp or woof, or whatever is made of leather, if the plague has disappeared from it, then it shall be washed a second time, and shall be clean.” (Leviticus 13:58) Where doctrine is concerned, you can’t be too clean.
There is a similarly complex set of rules concerning mold or mildew (“leprosy”) outbreaks in a house—which appears to be metaphorical of an entire society. I won’t go into the details, except to note that here too, the washing of one’s garments is required. “Moreover he who goes into the house at all while it is shut up shall be unclean until evening. And he who lies down in the house shall wash his clothes, and he who eats in the house shall wash his clothes.” (Leviticus 14:46-47) The scenario is that the house has been found to be infected, and steps have been taken to remedy the situation—new stonework, plaster, etc. But until the process is complete, the house is under quarantine.
If someone breaks the quarantine rule and enters the house (i.e., embraces the suspect doctrine or practice) before it has been pronounced “clean,” then he is to treat his clothing as if it had become infected—even if there is no evidence yet. The lesson: our sanctification is an ongoing process, and it requires constant vigilance. Stay away from “religious innovations” until (and unless) they have been verified through close critical comparison with scripture itself. (And by the way, I am convinced that there are still, at this late date, important concepts yet to be discovered (or at least widely accepted) in God’s Word—things that aren’t “leprosy,” even though they may seem strange to us. But they must be tried and tested before they’re declared “clean.”)
The Israelites were instructed to evict (one way or another) seven powerful but corrupt Canaanite tribes from the Land of Promise. If they left peaceably, well and good, but if they refused (as most of them naturally did), they were to be met and defeated on the field of battle. In these circumstances, there was going to be “stuff” left behind by the defeated pagans. Yahweh left instructions to treat these possessions as if they were leprous—defiled. “Then Eleazar the priest said to the men of war who had gone to the battle, ‘This is the ordinance of the law which Yahweh commanded Moses: Only the gold, the silver, the bronze, the iron, the tin, and the lead, everything that can endure fire, you shall put through the fire, and it shall be clean; and it shall be purified with the water of purification. But all that cannot endure fire you shall put through water. And you shall wash your clothes on the seventh day and be clean, and afterward you may come into the camp.’” (Numbers 31:21-24)
In other words, they were not to assimilate pagan Canaanite culture—even if it seemed innocent enough. This is part of what it meant to be holy to Yahweh. Metals, whether precious or utilitarian, were to be melted down and retasked—not used the way the implements were found. Whatever couldn’t endure the fire was to be washed in water before it could be used again. But note: the very process of “cleansing” what had once been the appurtenances of pagan culture made the cleaners unclean. It is all a picture of what Christ would achieve for us. As Paul explained, “He [Yahweh] made Him [Yahshua] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (II Corinthians 5:21) It’s worth noting that the Hebrew word for “sin” is the same as that for “sin offering”—chata’t. The point is that only innocence can atone for guilt. And of all the men who ever walked the earth, only Yahshua is truly innocent.
Today, there are several ways “we” routinely violate the spirit of this precept without even realizing it. Basically, it is a call to holiness—separation from the things of the world. As Moses put it, “You shall not wear a garment of different sorts, such as wool and linen mixed together.” (Deuteronomy 22:11) The symbol is as transparent as it is ominous: we are to be holy: consecrated and set apart from the world to God’s service.
But from the very beginning of the church age, the temptation has been to accept “pagan” practice into Christianity (the idea being to attract pagan worshipers into the fold). That’s what the warnings against the “Nicolaitans” in Revelation 2 and 3 were all about. Alas, today we have apparently learned nothing, with hare-brained doctrines such as Chrislam (the blending of Christianity and Islam) making inroads. Liberal-progressive “churches” these days embrace homosexuality and promote the practice of abortion (etc.), making a mockery of Christ’s remedy for (and even the existence of) sin, placing people on the throne of God (as if such a thing were possible). We need to purge the church of such abominations, even though doing so will render us “unclean” for a season. If we fail to separate the world from the church (and we will fail, I’m afraid—apostasy is a specific precursor to the Second Coming—II Thessalonians 2:3) then God will extract the church from the world. It’s a prophetic fait accompli. In the meantime, we need to “wash our clothing” early and often.
There are many such instances of the washing or changing of clothing as a means of cleansing in the Torah. It is not my purpose to catalog all of them. By now we get the picture: when soiled and defiled by the filth of the world (as we inevitably become), we are to take steps to become clean again in the sight of God and man—to “wash our garments,” so to speak. A few more examples will suffice.
“Whoever touches those things [polluted with a bodily discharge of any sort] shall be unclean; he shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening.” (Leviticus 15:27) The defiling agent in this case could be anything from the common cold, to sexual contact, to bubonic plague, to the sort of thing described by Dr. Luke: “But as He went [to cure the dying daughter of Jairus], the multitudes thronged Him. Now a woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any, came from behind and touched the border of His garment. And immediately her flow of blood stopped….” Under normal circumstances, her touching Yahshua’s garment would have rendered Him as unclean as she was, requiring Him to stop what He was doing and cleanse Himself as specified in Leviticus.
But He is Purity Personified. So it was like a case of “irresistible force meets immovable object.” Instead of her uncleanness contaminating Him, His purity cleansed her—before He even knew what had happened. “And Jesus said, ‘Who touched Me?’ When all denied it, Peter and those with him said, ‘Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, “Who touched Me?”’ But Jesus said, ‘Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me….’” It wasn’t a question of “What He did,” but rather of “Who He was.” Death and defilement have no power in the presence of the Source of Life and virtue.
This incident is the literal fulfillment of one of the last prophecies in the Tanakh: “But to you who fear My name, the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings.” (Malachi 4:2) The woman did revere the name of Yahweh, and she recognized that Yahshua’s name—which literally means “Yahweh is Salvation”—was the key to her deliverance. The “wings” are the borders of Yahshua’s garment (or the tsitzits—tassels—attached to them by Torah commandment) that she touched in faith. Oh, and what was that about the Sun of Righteousness rising? According to the creation account in Genesis 1, the sun did not appear until the fourth day. Yahshua (not coincidentally) appeared at the very end of the fourth millennium (see II Peter 3:8) after Adam’s fall into sin—the singular event that triggered the stopwatch of Yahweh’s redemptive program.
“Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Him, she declared to Him in the presence of all the people the reason she had touched Him and how she was healed immediately. And He said to her, ‘Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace.’” (Luke 8:42-48) Not to state the obvious, but her physical healing, though real, was but a metaphor for her spiritual rebirth. The Greek verb sozo (rendered “made well” here) doesn’t so much mean “cured” as it does “saved.” Sozo is the root of such words as soter (Savior) and soteria (salvation).
The use of the word sozo in this context subtly indicates that the ultimate source of defilement is death. At the end of the day, our mortal bodies cannot be cured, but we can be saved, through rebirth in the Spirit of Yahweh—the sort of thing Yahshua explained to Nicodemus in John 3. Technically, our bodies are made alive by the souls that inhabit us when we are conceived, but when those souls are separated from our bodies, the result is death—for both body and soul. This much is true of any animal: death is defined by the departure of the soul from the body. But humans are by God’s design unique: at any point along life’s journey, one’s soul—independent of the body—may be made alive by God’s indwelling Spirit, just as the body was made alive by the soul in its mother’s womb. The difference here is that the Spirit is immortal: this spiritual quickening is permanent. A soul indwelled by God’s Spirit will never die, even though the body it once inhabited has long since returned to dust.
I realize this is a little complicated, but it’s all a parable. We tend to think of our bodies as our living identities. We dress these bodies in garments that, because of the corruption of the world through which we walk, need to be washed from time to time. So as we have seen, God uses this concept to teach us about defilement and cleansing. But the reality is, our souls are the essence of who we really are, while our bodies are merely the “clothing” we wear to get us through this life—clothing that gets dirty, worn, and ragged as we journey from womb to tomb. God uses grains and seeds to teach us the same lesson: the living element is the kernel—the part we eat: life sustaining life. The shell or husk is necessary for a time (for protection and covering, like clothing). But when the shell’s job is done, it will be cast aside, leaving only the nut (so to speak).
Physical death, then, need not be a tragedy for the deceased. If the “nut” (you—your soul) is indwelled with the Spirit of its Creator, life continues apace, changed in form, but not in reality. But this death represents something that is a real problem for the living: the prospect—the very real possibility—of one’s total and permanent separation from life. You see, not every soul is indwelled with Yahweh’s eternal Spirit: it is an invitation-only reality—receiving it is our choice. And Yahshua sadly informed us that the majority would choose a different path. This makes death itself a source of corruption and uncleanness for the living. It doesn’t help to wash a corpse. It will rot, stink, and deteriorate, because no matter how “clean” it is, the soul—its living component—has departed.
That’s why Yahweh instituted the Law of the Red Heifer. In heavily symbolic terms (which I discussed in detail in The Owner’s Manual, Volume 1, chapter 15, #574-576, and also in the chapter on Hyssop in this book) this Torah rite explains what to do when one encounters death, as we all do. In The Torah Code 3.3.1, I delivered the bottom line: “The red heifer’s whole job (not to mention Christ’s) was to die so folks could be indemnified from the curse of death.”
It’s a complicated ritual, with lots of moving parts. For our present purposes, I merely wish to note (again) that everyone involved in implementing the precept (i.e., not only the one who has touched death) is defiled in the process—though it has to be done to provide cleansing: “Then the priest shall wash his clothes, he shall bathe in water, and afterward he shall come into the camp; the priest shall be unclean until evening. And the one who burns it shall wash his clothes in water, bathe in water, and shall be unclean until evening…. And the one who gathers the ashes of the heifer shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until evening.” (Numbers 19:7, 10) As we have come to expect, the purification process includes bathing, the washing of clothing, and the passage of time—in other words, justification, sanctification, and the living out of one’s mortal life, in anticipation of the renewed cleanliness we’ll enjoy in the next one. As Paul reminds us, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.” (I Corinthians 15:50) We must be changed—and we shall be: “As we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.” (v.49)
Provision & Prophecy
Before the Industrial Revolution, clothing was a much “bigger deal” than it was afterward—more time consuming and labor intensive. It’s not that everyone had to make their own clothing, for there was an extensive cottage industry in place, and the barter system worked just fine. But everything had to be made from scratch—beginning with planting a field of flax for linen (or possibly cotton) or raising a herd of sheep for wool. We get a glimpse of how it was with Solomon’s description of a “virtuous wife,” who (among other things) made clothing for herself, her family, and for sale to others. “She seeks wool and flax, and willingly works with her hands…. She perceives that her merchandise is good, and her lamp does not go out by night. She stretches out her hands to the distaff [part of a spinning wheel], and her hand holds the spindle…. She makes tapestry for herself. Her clothing is fine linen and purple…. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies sashes for the merchants.” (Proverbs 31:13, 18-19, 22, 24)
Making clothing was such a significant project, nobody (except maybe royalty) had “a closet full.” A couple of changes of raiment were all most people could afford. But Yahshua puts everything in perspective for us: “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28-30) God’s provision is so much more spectacular than whatever we can imagine, it makes stressing out over what we need (or think we need) completely pointless.
Perhaps I could paraphrase this in terms we might relate to more readily today. How about, “Why do you worry about what car you’ll drive? Consider sunlight, which God scatters indiscriminately throughout the universe. It travels at about 300,000 kilometers per second—whether or not it’s ever seen by anybody who can appreciate its awesome glory. I think we can trust God to get you to work today, even if all you’ve got is a twelve-year-old Toyota.” Yahweh is faithful to provide for His children in this life, but this provision is only a pale caricature of what we can expect in the next. “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” (I Corinthians 2:9)
And actually, God does not restrict His bounty in this life to those of us who love Him. Rather, He provides for everyone He loves—that is, everybody. “For Yahweh your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19) God’s provision of the necessities of life is not a bribe, as if to say, “If you love Me, I’ll give you stuff.” It is, rather, an indiscriminant outpouring of His loving nature upon all men—and indeed, all living things. As Yahshua put it, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:44-45) If you don’t have what you need for life and godliness, don’t blame Yahweh—blame the one who is blocking your access to Him.
That’s not to say life doesn’t have its challenges—by God’s design. He is not incompetent as a Provider, but He wants us to pay attention, to seek life, and to avoid becoming complacent. For example, at the end of their wilderness wanderings, Moses told Israel, “Remember that Yahweh your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of Yahweh. Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years.” (Deuteronomy 8:2-4) And again, “I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn out on your feet.” (Deuteronomy 29:5)
When the Israelites first left Egypt, they were happy to be free from bondage, of course, but it didn’t take them long to figure out that there was no obvious source of food or water out there in the desert. So “naturally” (because they were fallen humans, just like you and me) they accused Moses of setting them up for a slow, agonizing death from hunger and thirst. But here—forty years later—we learn that nobody had starved to death or perished from lack of water in that entire time. By now, they were quite familiar with Yahweh’s ongoing miracle of provision. But this was a whole new generation, so Moses points out something that they may have missed, because by now it must have seemed like “the new normal.” Their clothing, including their sandals, had not worn out. It was as if Yahweh had suspended the Second Law of Thermodynamics for Israel—as far as their garments went—for the whole forty years. It’s the flip side of divine provision. Yes, sometimes God gives us what we need when we don’t have access to it. But sometimes he simply eliminates the need itself. The real miracle was that everything He had said to them was Life itself, if only they would listen.
Consider this. In the Garden of Eden, Yahweh provided the newly fallen Adam and Eve with garments made of animal skins to cover the shame of their nakedness. It’s all a transparent metaphor for the atonement of sin: the covering of our shortcomings required the sacrifice of innocence—in the end, Yahshua Himself. In doing so, God provided for us sinners that which we never could have procured for ourselves. But compare all that to the clothing we’ll wear in the eternal state as the Bride of Christ: “fine linen, clean and bright…the righteous acts of the saints.” It’s still a gift, but at this point, having already atoned for our sins, God will have eliminated the need for further cleansing of our defiled garments. In the immortal state, we will have shed the sin nature we inherited from Adam, and replaced it with the sinless nature of Christ. Atonement, like life itself, never wears out.
Sadly, although God loves all of humanity, not everyone will opt to don these garments of blessed immortality. Because free will is our privilege, some—many, in fact—will choose to forego His precious gift. “Listen to Me, you who know righteousness, you people in whose heart is My law: Do not fear the reproach of men, nor be afraid of their insults. For the moth will eat them up like a garment, and the worm will eat them like wool. But My righteousness will be forever, and My salvation from generation to generation.” (Isaiah 51:7-8) As I said, the human body is like a garment our souls put on at conception. It will serve us for a time, but it will then wear out, become moth-eaten and ragged, and will eventually be discarded. The mortal body—like any garment—is not expected to last forever.
That is why God has planned to replace our mortal bodies with new, immortal ones—to give our souls a change of clothing, so to speak. After all, “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.” (I Corinthians 15:50) Paul explains: “But someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?’ Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body….” As a kernel of wheat is “clothed” in its husk, we (our souls, our life-essence) are clothed in bodies designed by God to be the perfect—though temporary—vehicles in which to make our choices concerning where we’d like to spend eternity—and with whom.
When a wheat kernel, clothed in its protective husk, is sown in a wheat field, it doesn’t just lie there, dead. By God’s design, its life is recycled into something better, something more—a whole new wheat stalk. We are no different, in principal, anyway. “So also is the resurrection of the dead. The [human] body is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body….” An acorn that falls to the ground doesn’t bear much resemblance to the mighty oak tree that grows from it, even though there is an undeniable continuity at the molecular level—its DNA. And we too (if we are in Christ) will be raised up as beings that have little in common (physically) with the people we were in our mortal lives. But there is a definite link between the two—our spiritual DNA, so to speak.
This would probably all sound like nothing more than wishful thinking, were it not for the prototype that God provided—the resurrection body of Yahshua the Messiah. He walked among us believing mortals for forty days following His sojourn in the tomb, offering them “many infallible proofs” of His reality and nature (see Acts 1:3). Over five hundred people were eye-witnesses. So Paul continues his explanation: “There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.” Christ’s “natural body” was that in which He was born, lived, and died; His “spiritual body” is that in which He appeared after His resurrection. “And so it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being.’” The quote is from Genesis 2:7, where “being” is the Hebrew noun nephesh—the soul: that which makes a mortal body physically alive. “The last Adam [i.e., Yahshua] became a life-giving spirit….” The Spirit is what makes the soul alive—and more to the point, alive permanently, even after the soul has left the body.
If we connect the dots here, we see a beautiful (if a bit confusing) truth being revealed. The “life-giving spirit” is that of which we must be “born again” (literally, born from above)—that about which Yahshua taught Nicodemus in John 3:5-6. Just prior to His passion, Yahshua explained to His disciples (as well as could be explained) that this Spirit would actually be Himself (John 14:16-17, 21), as well as Father Yahweh (v.23). In other words, Yahweh Himself (in the form of the Holy Spirit—the promised “Helper”) would from Pentecost onward indwell and empower Yahshua’s believers. That is how we can be in Christ (who is in the Father), and He can also be in us (v.20). If God were not “one” (Hebrew: echad—see Deuteronomy 6:4), this would all be quite impossible.
Paul wasn’t done. “However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual.” The “natural” is what Yahshua called being “born of water” (i.e., the physical birth) in John 3. “The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly.” It isn’t an either-or proposition. All of us are “of the earth, made of dust.” The question is, will we choose to become “heavenly” as well? The gift is offered to everyone, but the choice of whether or not to receive the blessed state is strictly ours. “And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.” (I Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-49)
Remember, our bodies are like garments our souls put on. This is true of both the “image of dust” and the “image of heaven.” Our real identities are not our bodies, but our incorporeal souls—whether or not they have been indwelled and made permanently alive by God’s eternal Spirit. If the Holy Spirit dwells within us, then we can look forward to trading in our old mortal “clothing” for new immortal garments: “We shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’” (I Corinthians 15:51-54)
The immortal body “worn” by Christ after His resurrection is the most concrete evidence we have that any of this is true. But it is not the only evidence. Paul wasn’t making this stuff up. He was reacting to and compiling the totality of scripture—connecting the dots, as it were. I’ll merely mention a few of the other hints that come readily to mind: (1) Abraham, at God’s direction, prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac, convinced that God must raise him back to life, because Isaac was the son of promise, and Yahweh could not break His word. (2) Job (a contemporary of Abraham) testified to his God-given knowledge that there was a bodily afterlife to which the redeemed could look forward (Job 19:25-27). (3) The Torah ritual concerning the Day of Atonement specified that two goats—one to be sacrificed and the other to be set free alive—were need to demonstrate God’s process of atonement. (4) The “rapture” experiences of Enoch and Elijah stated quite eloquently that a new sort of life could be expected after our departure from the earth. (5) The resuscitation miracles performed by Elijah, Yahshua, and Peter proved that life is God’s purview. In whatever form, life is not over until He says it’s over.
One of the most amazing “resurrections” in scripture is national in scope. I’m speaking, of course, of the eventual restoration of the nation of Israel—the most oft-repeated prophecy in the entire Tanakh. And here again, Yahweh uses the concept of “clothing” to clarify His prophetic intentions: “Awake, awake! Put on your strength, O Zion. Put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city! For the uncircumcised and the unclean shall no longer come to you. Shake yourself from the dust, arise. Sit down, O Jerusalem! Loose yourself from the bonds of your neck, O captive daughter of Zion!” (Isaiah 52:1-2) We are reminded of the words of Christ: “Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” (Luke 21:24) Or the instructions given to John: “But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for [only] forty-two [more] months.” (Revelation 11:2) Israel took control of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War, but to this day, the Muslims (whom Isaiah called “the uncircumcised and unclean”) still control the temple mount. What a striking contrast there is between the redeemed, restored Jerusalem under King Yahshua and the proud, pampered princesses whom Isaiah so roundly castigated (as we read above in Isaiah 3:16-24).
In case you haven’t noticed, Israel—though back in the Land as a political entity after almost nineteen hundred years in exile—has still not yet embraced Yahweh or His Anointed One. Israel’s national epiphany will be brought about by King Yahshua’s personal appearing (on the definitive Day of Atonement in 2033, unless I am mistaken about a great many things). They will finally realize—after dealing with Satan’s counterfeit messiah, the Antichrist, for the previous seven years—that Yahshua was the genuine article after all. Israel (the patriarch) had foretold His lineage and His reign: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh [i.e., “He to whom the scepter belongs”] comes.” Most Jews who are paying attention realize that the historical Jesus was of the tribe of Judah. His genealogical credentials are well documented (something no other candidate for “Messiah,” past or future, can claim. “And to Him shall be the obedience of the people. Binding his donkey to the vine, and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine, He washed his garments in wine, and His clothes in the blood of grapes.” (Genesis 49:10-11)
We are all familiar with Yahshua’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Monday—riding a donkey (see Mark 11:1-10; Matthew 21:1-11; Zechariah 9:9). But what could this enigmatic reference to “clothing washed in wine” possibly mean? Let us reprise a passage from the prophet Isaiah: “‘Why is Your apparel red, and Your garments like one who treads in the winepress?’ ‘I have trodden the winepress alone, and from the peoples no one was with Me. For I have trodden them in My anger, and trampled them in My fury. Their blood is sprinkled upon My garments, and I have stained all My robes.’” (Isaiah 63:2-3) He’s describing the returning King’s single-handed victory over the forces of the dragon and his Antichrist—the “battle” of Armageddon (though it won’t be much of a battle—more of a one-sided slaughter). The “wine” is metaphorical of the blood of God’s enemies, whom Yahshua will “trample in fury” before He assumes the throne of Planet Earth. My reading of prophecy leads me to believe that Israel’s national repentance will take place when Christ first sets foot on the Mount of Olives (see Acts 1:11, Zechariah 14:4)—i.e., before He takes on Satan’s assembled forces. In other words, their new-found faith is just that: faith, not merely acknowledgement that He has won a battle. And better yet, Israel will never again find themselves on the wrong side of history.
If the Day of Atonement marks Christ’s Second Coming (and Israel’s response to it), then the definitive Feast of Tabernacles (which will begin a mere five days later) prophetically commemorates the Millennial Reign of King Yahshua. The first forty-five days of the Kingdom age (based on timing clues in the Book of Daniel) will be spent “separating the sheep from the goats,” as Christ described the process in Matthew 25. That is, all of the mortals still alive on the earth after the Battle of Armageddon (which I would guess will number somewhat less than ten percent of the world’s population when the Tribulation begins) will be spiritually assessed when Yahshua assumes the throne. Some will have become believers after the rapture (making them “members” of the church of repentant Laodicea—see Revelation 3:14-22, especially verses 18-21). Some will be Jews who have at last recognized and received their Messiah, as prophesied so often in the Tanakh. And some (described as the “goats”) will be sent “into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (that is, hell).
What does all that have to do with our present subject—clothing? Let us review the encounter between King Yahshua and the blessed “sheep.” “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me….’” Their spiritual state was revealed by what they did. Basically, they showed their love by meeting practical needs—including providing clothing when it was lacking. Remember, conditions during the Tribulation can be expected to be totally erratic—from nuclear winter and solar flares, to constant war and universal anti-Semitism, to worldwide drought and dire famine, to unprecedented earthquakes and devastating tsunamis. Billions of people will end up homeless.
But wait a minute. The King says the blessed sheep took care of His needs. He didn’t even show up until a few days before the end, and He wasn’t in need of anything. They were understandably confused: “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40) Ah, it’s another parable. Who, then, are Christ’s “brethren”? He can’t be referring to the newly repentant “Laodicean” Christians, because they themselves are the sheep. Christ’s brothers are therefore the planet’s few remaining Jews—whether or not they have managed to emigrate to Israel. The Laodicean sheep are being commended for having given shelter and sustenance to the Jews they met. I believe “clothing” in this context would indicate “covering,” that is, a place to hide. We were given a preview of this phenomenon during World War II, when a few brave Europeans hid their Jewish neighbors from the murderous Nazis, risking their own lives in the process.
If they weren’t all dead, it would doubtless come as quite a shock to the Antichrist’s followers to learn that Israel—under King Yahshua—will be the world’s only superpower for the next thousand years: “For Yahweh has chosen Zion. He has desired it for His dwelling place: ‘This is My resting place forever. Here I will dwell, for I have desired it. I will abundantly bless her provision; I will satisfy her poor with bread. I will also clothe her priests with salvation, and her saints shall shout aloud for joy. There I will make the horn of David grow. I will prepare a lamp for My Anointed. His enemies I will clothe with shame, but upon Himself His crown shall flourish.” (Psalm 132:13-18) Notice the stark contrast: Zion’s priests will be clothed with salvation, while Messiah’s enemies will be robed with shame. And note further that Yahweh Himself will clothe them with the garments they have chosen, whether wisely or foolishly. There is no escaping one’s self-appointed destiny.
Christ’s Millennial Kingdom is the “Sabbath” of which God speaks so often—the seventh of seven millennia defining the age of man upon the earth, from the fall of Adam to the expiration of our mortal state. As glorious as our Sabbath rest will be, once it is complete—once every child of God has received his or her immortal body—there will be no more need for a world designed to support us “carbon-based life forms.” As our bodies—the garments worn by our souls—are changed, Yahweh intends to change the very environment in which we dwell into something specifically designed to support our new imperishable and everlasting existence. “Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You will endure. Yes, they will all grow old like a garment. Like a cloak You will change them, and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will have no end. The children of Your servants will continue, and their descendants will be established before You.” (Psalm 102:25-28)
When God saw His first creation, He called it “very good.” For “the new heaven and new earth, where righteousness dwells” (II Peter 3:13), something tells me we’re going to need a bigger superlative.