The Significance of Clothes Rending in the Bible

The are many instances in the Holy Bible where people rent their clothes. Although many of those who rent their clothes recorded in the Bible happened to be Jews, this is not necessarily a predominantly Jewish practice. The earliest recorded case in the Bible on rending of clothes is found in the Book of Job.

Job 1:20: Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped,

After the Lord allowed Satan to bankrupt Job and take away all his children, Job rent his mantle. It was a sad day for Job and to express his sorrows and griefs, he did what he had to do but at the same time he did not sin against God.

When his friends came to visit him, they likewise rent their clothes to share in his sorrows.

Job 2:12: And when they lifted up their eyes afar off, and knew him not, they lifted up their voice, and wept; and they rent every one his mantle, and sprinkled dust upon their heads toward heaven.

Such expressions of griefs predate the existence of the nation of Israel. During the infancy of the nation of Israel, rending clothes was recorded from time to time. Sometimes, rending of clothes is a religious requirement in the case of leprosy.

Leviticus 13:45: And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean.

Other times, rending of clothes is an outward expression due to sudden turn of event with serious consequence impacting those people alive at that time.

Numbers 14:6: And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes:

This incident happened when the spies sent out to check out Canaan land came back with evil report and discouraged the children of Israel. They rebelled and refused to take that step of faith to conquer Canaan. Faithful men like Joshua and Caleb rent their clothes in despair for what transpired. They did not expect the ten other spies would bring back evil report to frighten the children of Israel.

When the children of Israel finally stepped foot on Canaan forty years after those rebellious generation had died out, one man disobeyed God and caused the children of Israel to be defeated by their enemies. Joshua rent his clothes and mourned before the Lord.

Joshua 7:6: And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the LORD until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads.

Years later when the children of Israel had occupied Canaan, they still rebelled against Jehovah God and fell into apostasy time and again. During one time when when one of the judges Jephthah came back in victory after defeating their enemies, his daughter came out to greet him.

He had earlier vowed to offer a burnt offering to the Lord that first came out from his house and unfortunately, this happened to be his daughter.

His disappointment, griefs and sorrows are understandable. Hence, here is another case of rending of clothes recorded in the Bible.

Judges 11:30: And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,

Judges 11:31: Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.

Judges 11:35: And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.

When the children of Israel had been firmly established as a nation ruled by their own kings, several more cases of rending of clothes are recorded. When David received reports that king Saul and his sons were dead in battle, David and his men rent their clothes to mourn for them.

2 Samuel 1:11: Then David took hold on his clothes, and rent them; and likewise all the men that were with him:

After king David sinned against the Lord in the matter of Bathsheba, this resulted in retribution for his sin when one of his daughters was raped by her half-brother; and she rent her clothes in anger and despair.

2 Samuel 13:19: And Tamar put ashes on her head, and rent her garment of divers colours that was on her, and laid her hand on her head, and went on crying.

Rending of clothes is often an outward expression to release pent up anger, frustration and despair due to tragedy that befall those who could not do anything about what has happened to them.

When God pronounced judgment on the sinning king Ahab, the king rent his clothes in repentance and mourning. His act postponed the impending judgment God intended to send him on his wayward ways.

1 Kings 21:27: And it came to pass, when Ahab heard those words, that he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly.

When God took Elijah home on a chariot of fire, Elisha rent his clothes as well. He would miss his master dearly who would no longer journey with him to minister to the children of Israel.

2 Kings 2:11: And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.

2 Kings 2:12: And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.

One time when the Syrian king sent a delegation to Israel demanding the healing of the Syrian captain Naaman from leprosy, the king of Israel rent his clothes in helplessness. Everyone knew there was no cure for leprosy and the Syrian king was trying to find fault to attack them. Of course Naaman was later healed and believed in the God of Israel.

2 Kings 5:7: And it came to pass, when the king of Israel had read the letter, that he rent his clothes, and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy? wherefore consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me.

2 Kings 5:8: And it was so, when Elisha the man of God had heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.

There is a case where rending of clothes took place when the children of Israel were under siege. When a case of cannibalism was reported to the king, he was furious and he rent his clothes exposing the sackcloth he was wearing within in a state of mourning.

2 Kings 6:30: And it came to pass, when the king heard the words of the woman, that he rent his clothes; and he passed by upon the wall, and the people looked, and, behold, he had sackcloth within upon his flesh.

Another case of Israel under siege happened during king Hezekiah’s time. When the king and his people were threatened with doom, the king and his servants rent their clothes in griefs and mourning. The situation was hopeless and they were truly helpless. Of course, Jehovah God delivered them during that time.

2 Kings 18:37: Then came Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, which was over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph the recorder, to Hezekiah with their clothes rent, and told him the words of Rab-shakeh.

2 Kings 19:1: And it came to pass, when king Hezekiah heard it, that he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the LORD.

Towards the end of the Jewish kingdom, a tender hearted young king rent his clothes upon hearing the words of Jehovah God from the book of the law found in the dilapidated temple. This rending of clothes was an act of mourning in humility and humble submission to the God of Israel for past offences against the Lord by their forefathers.

2 Kings 22:11: And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the book of the law, that he rent his clothes.

2 Kings 22:19: Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the LORD, when thou heardest what I spake against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and hast rent thy clothes, and wept before me; I also have heard thee, saith the LORD.

Finally, the nation of Israel was destroyed and her people carried away. During their captivity, a genocidal program against the Jews was set in motion.

When Mordecai, the uncle of queen Esther found out this evil scheme, he rent his clothes in despair and mourning. It was a very serious situation they were facing and rending of clothes would be insufficient to comfort those facing their impending doom.

Esther 4:1: When Mordecai perceived all that was done, Mordecai rent his clothes, and put on sackcloth with ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and cried with a loud and a bitter cry;

Upon their restoration to their own home land, Ezra rent his clothes in mourning when he learnt that the children of Israel sinned against God by intermarrying with the heathen around them.

Ezra 9:3: And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle, and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied.

Ezra 9:5: And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the LORD my God.

By the time of the New Testament, this practice of clothes rending continued to be recorded in the Bible. When the apostle Paul and Barnabas healed a crippled man at Lystra, the people had mistaken them to be Jupiter and Mercurius and were about to offer them sacrifices. Paul and Barnabas rent their clothes to stop them. It was a situation they least expected and in moments of desperation they rent their clothes.

Acts 14:14: Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out,

So rending of clothes is an act of extremity. An act acted upon when faced with sudden helplessness and despair and even deep sorrows. It is an outward act to get attention from above to intercede on behalf of those facing perilous times and doom.

The most significant rending of clothes is recorded in the gospel account during the trial of the Lord Jesus Christ. Having concluded that the Lord Jesus Christ had blasphemed, the high priest rent his clothes.

Matthew 26:65: Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy.

Mark 14:63: Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses?

Apparently, the high priest did not heed the commandments given to him by Moses.

When Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire before the Lord and died, Moses specifically told Aaron and his surviving sons not to rend their clothes.

Leviticus 10:6: And Moses said unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar and unto Ithamar, his sons, Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes; lest ye die, and lest wrath come upon all the people: but let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which the LORD hath kindled.

In addition, the high priests is not allowed to defile himself with dead people, not even when the dead is his own family member and hence, rending of his clothes to mourn for the dead is forbidden.

Leviticus 21:10: And he that is the high priest among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured, and that is consecrated to put on the garments, shall not uncover his head, nor rend his clothes;

Leviticus 21:11: Neither shall he go in to any dead body, nor defile himself for his father, or for his mother;

Under no condition is the high priest allowed to rend his clothes. So here is a case where the high priest rent his clothes during the trial of Jesus in violation of the law of Moses.

Hence, since the rending of the clothes by the high priest, after the death of Jesus on the cross God also rent the veil inside the temple separating the holy of the holies, the inner most sanctuary of the temple where the high priest was required to enter before the ark of the covenant once a year with blood sacrifice.

Hebrews 9:25: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others;

The rending of the veil inside the temple was an act of God because the rending was done from the top to the bottom.

Matthew 27:51: And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;

Mark 15:38: And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.

With the act of the high priest rending his clothes, the Lord rent the veil of the temple and forever offer free open access to the most holy place that was once the prerogative of the high priest.

So some years later after the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, in 70 AD, the Romans sacked Jerusalem destroying the temple. Till this day, the temple in Jerusalem remains in the dustbin of history, a reminder of its once remarkable and glorious past. But the children of Israel having rejected their Messiah, the King of the Jews, the temple is no longer necessary for believers to approach to worship God.

The rendering of the temple in Jerusalem and its attending priests obsolete ushers in a new era of priesthood and worship that does not require the assistance of any earthly Jews nor their facilities to enable believers to worship the Creator God of the universe.

John 4:22: Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.

John 4:23: But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.

John 4:24: God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

Earthly priests are now done away with because every child of God is a priest in his own rights.

1 Peter 2:5: Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 2:9: But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:

This is because the Lord Jesus Christ is now the great high priest, the only mediator between God and men.

Hebrews 4:14: Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.

Hebrews 3:1: Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;

1 Timothy 2:5: For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

As such, every child of God now has access to the throne of grace, where in the past, requires an earthly priest to perform the function of a mediator between God and men.

Hebrews 10:19: Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,

Hebrews 4:16: Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

So Christians should approach the throne of grace often to find grace to help in time of need because the Lord is rich in mercy.

Ephesians 2:4: But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,

It was a different arrangement in the past where the Levitical priesthood was the way to approach God but now a new era has dawned upon all men.

Hebrews 9:8: The Holy Ghost this signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest, while as the first tabernacle was yet standing:

Do not go back to anyone on earth as a mediator to intercede on your behalf. The veil in the temple had been rent, in fact, the temple had been done away with and earthly priests are now useless.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the great high priest who has replaced the Levitical priesthood and every child of God can now approach God the Father through His Son, the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.


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