Have you ever been so fraught with distress that you wanted to tear your clothes?

When reading the Bible, you’re bound to come across an assortment of behaviours, phrases and terms that might seem a bit odd or bizarre to the world of today. For example, have you ever been so sad, angry, desperate or depressed that you felt the need to tear your clothes?  

If your response to the title question was “Yes!”, you might be surprised to learn that the tearing of your clothes, or the rending of a garment (an act known as “Kriah” amongst orthodox Jews), is an ancient visual expression of submission, repentance, humiliation, pain at the loss of a loved one and horror towards blasphemy.

Before a traditional Jewish funeral service (L’vayah), the officiating Rabbi will make a small tear upon the clothing of the deceased’s family members. In modern or reformed Judaism, Kriah is exercised by cutting a black ribbon worn over the heart of the relatives before the service.

Let’s look through the numerous practices of Kriah in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.

Note: All dates provided are approximate (~).

“Kriah”, a modern Jewish mourner ribbon

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4Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days.

Genesis 37:4

One day ( in~1900 B.C.), Joseph, the favourite son of Jacob (Israel), dreamed that the stalks of grain his eleven brothers were binding, sprung upright and bowed down to his. In his second dream, the sun, the moon and eleven stars (Israel, his mother and brothers) also bowed down to him.

Understandably, Joseph’s brothers were infuriated, and probably a bit jealous after he told them about these dreams and they wanted him to die. However, instead of killing him outright, Reuben, his oldest brother, convinced the other brothers to take Joseph’s fine woollen tunic (known as a kitonet passim) and throw him into a dry wellspring that was nearby. Reuben wasn’t an evil brother, he’d always intended to return, pull Joseph up and return him to Israel afterwards.

While eating some food, the brothers saw a caravan of Ishmaelite traders from Gilead, passing by on their way south to Egypt. Judah suggested that rather than murdering him themselves and having nothing to show for it, they could sell Joseph and return with a profit.

The brothers agreed with this shrewd plan and sold him to the merchants for 20 shekels.

29 When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. 30 He went back to his brothers and said, “The boy isn’t there! Where can I turn now?”

Genesis 37:29-30

The brothers covered Joseph’s fancy “dream coat” with goat’s blood and took it back to their father. Israel assumed that “Joseph ha[d] surely been torn to pieces.”

Joseph and His Brethren

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13At this, they tore their clothes. Then they all loaded their donkeys and returned to the city.

Genesis 44:13

We read in Genesis 42:6-47:12 that about forty years after Joseph had been sold by the merchants into slavery (~1900 B.C.), Israel sent his sons down to Egypt to buy some grain during a time of great famine. However, as “he was afraid that harm might come to him”, Benjamin, his youngest son, remained at home. Moreover, Rachel, the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, was Israel’s favourite wife – he couldn’t stand to lose both of his sons from her.

After a series of dramatic chapters, by God’s grace and guidance, Joseph rose to become the governor of the Pharaoh’s palace and in charge of the whole land of Egypt. Understandably, Joseph’s brothers didn’t recognise him, so he took advantage and devised a cunning plan.

To maintain his charade, Joseph made it appear that he thought they were spies. Their reply to this allegation was: “Your servants were twelve brothers, the sons of one man, who lives in the land of Canaan. The youngest is now with our father, and one is no more.”

As there were only eleven brothers present, Joseph imprisoned Simeon until they could bring Benjamin down to Egypt. He had his stewards fill his brother’s sacks with food, but he secretly told them to include the exact weight of silver the brothers had paid for it with.

Upon arriving home, the brothers opened their sacks and found all of their silver neatly packed in the neck of their sacks! I’m sure you can appreciate their alarm. They spoke with their father and told him what Joseph had requested regarding Simeon and Benjamin.

Israel sighed. He was in a sorrowful situation. In Genesis 43:11, we’re told that Israel agreed to the terms and sent them all back along with “a little balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds.” He also doubled the amount of silver, just to be sure.

When the brothers returned with Benjamin, Joseph gave them a great feast and filled their sacks with food. In addition, Joseph had a steward leave the special silver cup that he used for divination inside Benjamin’s bag.

After they took their sacks and left, Joseph sent his servants after them to inquire about the location of his cup. Once again, the very suggestion that one of them had stolen it caused his brothers great distress. After searching their bags, the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack.

For the rest of Joseph’s story, click here.

Joseph saves his brothers lives from famine and plots his payback.

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6Joshua, son of Nun and Caleb, son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes.

Numbers 14:6

Four hundred or so years later (~1445 B.C.), God instructed the prophet Moses to send one of the leaders from each of the tribes of Israel to explore the land of Canaan. During their reconnaissance, the leaders saw that although the land was magnificent, its inhabitants were heavily fortified, and some of them were giants who were related to the Nephilim. These were the descendants of Anak (giant, long-necked people), who are described as formidable warriors. Goliath was one of these giants.

Upon their return, the leaders reported that the land they’d just explored in Canaan was exceedingly good, and the fruit they returned with was of high quality. All the same, the leaders were afraid of the people and spread lies amongst Israelites about the land’s inhabitants: “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes”. As a result, the people quickly rebelled against Moses’ plans.

This was rather ironic. God had already told Moses to

Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, across from Jericho, and view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession.

Deuteronomy 32:49

Everything God had told Moses throughout the Israelites’ exodus had come to pass. I’m sure you can appreciate the frustration Joshua and Caleb had regarding the misplaced hostility and complaints of the Israelite people.  

Joshua and Caleb report back about the “exceedingly good” land promised to them by God.

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6Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same and sprinkled dust on their heads.

Joshua 7:6

The books of Joshua and Judges, written from ~1400-1000 B.C., detail the dawning years of the nation of Israel. Following the death of Moses, Joshua becomes the leader of the Israelites. God assured Joshua that He’d fulfil the oath He’d given to Moses: “I will give you every place where you set your foot”…”No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life.” However, these promises came with a provision: “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you.”

As he approached the city of Jericho, a man stood in front of Joshua with his sword drawn. He told Joshua that he was the commander of the army of the Lord, and that God had delivered to them the city as He’d promised. God told Joshua to have his army march around the city six times, and upon doing so, it would fall into their hands.

After winning the city, the people were warned that they had to keep away from “the devoted things” as they were to be totally destroyed. Nevertheless, Achan the son of Karmi, ignored God’s warnings, and took some of the treasures for himself. In response, the Lord’s anger burned against Israel. (Joshua 7:1). As a result of such blatant disobedience, God was greatly angered and the Israelite armies were made no longer protected by His hand. The Israelite forces were defeated by the much smaller Canaanite army from the city of Ai.

Joshua was suitably distraught.

Joshua’s short-lived victory at Jericho

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35When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down, and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.”

Judges 11:35

After three hundred years of defeat by Joshua, the Ammonites sought to reclaim the land they’d lost.

Before going to war against the King of Ammon in around 1100 B.C., Jephthah, which means “set free”, was the son of Gilead and a prostitute. When the Ammonites invaded, the elders of Israel sought out Jephthah and his compatriots for help. Jephthah made them an offer: he’d fight for them if he was anointed leadership over the Hebrews in Gilead. They agreed and Jephthah marched his “gang of scoundrels” out to battle.

Jephthah was a mighty warrior, but the Ammonites were still a fearful adversary, and even though the Spirit of the Lord was with him, Jephthah was afraid. He made a foolish promise to the Lord:

30If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 31 whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.

Judges 11:30-31

Jephthah’s army was successful, and they defeated twenty towns belonging to the Ammonites. News of his great victory reached Gilead. Unfortunately, when Jephthah went home, his only child, a daughter, was the one who came out the door of his house to meet him.

“She was dancing to the sound of timbrels!”. As you can see in the picture below, a “timbrel” (or a Tof) was the oldest and most popular percussion instrument used in Ancient Israel, Egypt and Assyria to celebrate joyful occasions. It was very similar to a hand drum or modern tambourine.

At the sight of his daughter dancing, Jephthah was stricken with grief, but upon telling her why, his daughter understood that he couldn’t break his oath to the Lord. This is one of the most enigmatic stories in the Hebrew Bible, and her response makes me sad: “Do to me just as you promised”, but “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.” We’re told that her father let her go into the hills with her friends, and then two moths later he did to her as he’d vowed.

From this comes the Israelite tradition 40 that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.

Judges 11:39-40
Jephthah seeing his daughter

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27As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore.

1st Samuel 15:27

In around 1928 B.C., God instructed Saul to take his army and completely destroy the Amalekites and all that belonged to them as His long due punishment for how they’d treated Israel when they’d come out of Egypt. The Amalekites were the first enemy the Israelites encountered soon after crossing the Red Sea on their way into the Promised Land (the land of Israel). Indeed, we see within the Torah that God told the Israelites on two occasions to blot out the people and the very memory of Amalek: Exodus 17:14–16 and Deuteronomy 25:17–19.

They didn’t listen…

Following their victory over the Amalekites, Saul gave into greed and disobeyed God. As we’ve seen above, it’s always a good idea to obey God to the letter, not to be whimsical and pick and choose.

28Samuel said to him, “The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you. 29He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.”

1st Samuel 15:28-29
Saul tearing the robe of Samuel.
1st Samuel 15:27-28

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2 On the third day a man arrived from Saul’s camp with his clothes torn and dust on his head. When he came to David, he fell to the ground to pay him honour. 11Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them.

2nd Samuel 1:2, 11

This is another intriguing piece of Scripture. Saul had been fighting hard against the Philistines on Mount Gilboa (~1010 B.C.), but having lost the protection of God (see 1st Samuel 15:28), Saul’s sons were killed. Then, as the enemy was closing in, Saul was critically wounded by their archers.

Saul ordered to his armour-bearer,

“Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.”

1st Samuel 31-4

First, we’re told that Saul requested his armour-bearer to kill him after his injury, but he refused. So, Saul “fell on his sword” (otherwise known as “killed himself”) to ensure that the “uncircumcised” Philistines wouldn’t abuse him.

Secondly, in 2nd Samuel 1, we see a young Amalekite standing before David, claiming to have ended Saul’s life himself. He tells David that after appreciating the degree of his injuries, Saul had called out to him, “Stand here by me and kill me! I’m in the throes of death, but I’m still alive”. The Amalekite said, “I stood over him and killed him because I knew that after he had fallen, he could not survive.”

The Amalekite presenting Saul’s crown and armband to David

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Finally, we read in 2nd Samuel 21:12 that:

12 he went and took the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from the citizens of Jabesh Gilead. (They had stolen their bodies from the public square at Beth Shan, where the Philistines had hung them after they struck Saul down on Gilboa.)

Three different accounts? Let’s reread and compare.

  • We see that after Saul was critically wounded whilst fighting the Philistines, he committed suicide (fell on his sword) so that the Philistines couldn’t humiliate or torture him.
  • After this dreadful event was complete, Saul’s armour-bearer followed his master’s lead, and ended his own life.
  • One of the nearby Amalekites recognised the body Saul, and seeing an opportunity to make a name for himself, he took Saul’s crown and armband.
  • After slipping away from the battle, the young (and decidedly foolish) Amalekite made his way to Ziklag and told his own rendition of events to David, who replied, 16“Your blood be on your own head. Your own mouth testified against you when you said, ‘I killed the Lord’s anointed.’” David was a learned in God’s commands, 16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour”, so he had the Amalekite killed.

We’re told in 1st Samuel 31:9-10 that after the fight, the Philistines found Saul’s corpse and those of his sons, cut off his head, and hung his body on the walls of Beth Shean. After that, his armour was presented to the Philistine idols in the Temple of Ashtaroth. Grimly ironic.

The death of Saul

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31Then David said to Joab and all the people with him, “Tear your clothes and put on sackcloth and walk in mourning in front of Abner.” King David himself walked behind the bier.

2nd Samuel 3:31

After David was anointed king over Judah in around 1006 B.C., war broke out between his house and that of Saul’s. Starting from 2nd Samuel 2:8, we read that after Abner, the commander of Saul’s army, lost the battle against David’s army at Gibeon, he was chased by Ashael, one of the sons of David’s sister Zuriah (Abishai, Joab and Ashael).

Ashael is said to have been very fast, “as fleet-footed as a wild gazelle.” Ashael must’ve very nearly caught Abner, for we see that after warning him to stop his pursuit, Abner turned and “thrust the butt of his spear into Asahel’s stomach, and the spear came out through his back.” (2nd Samuel 3:23).

In 2nd Samuel 3:27, we see that when Abner met with Joab, the commander of David’s army, he was stabbed and killed in retaliation for the killing of Ashael.

33 The king sang this lament for Abner:

“Should Abner have died as the lawless die?
34 Your hands were not bound,
    Your feet were not fettered.
You fell as one falls before the wicked.”

And all the people wept over him again.

Keep reading through 2nd Samuel, 1st Kings and 1st Chronicles, and you’ll see that King David’s fascinating relationship with his nephew Joab is entwined by fierce ambition, mutual need, loyalty and betrayal.

Joab murdering Abner

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19Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornate robe she was wearing. She put her hands on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.

2nd Samuel 13:19

My apologies, but this next story is truly horrible. Tamar is said to have been a beautiful virgin woman who had just been tricked and raped by her half-brother, Amnon, who apparently “loved her”. However, after satisfying his shameless lust and raping his half-sister, Tamar was now a culturally disgraced and desolate woman, and Amnon’s “love” for her had quickly turned to hate.

In response, Tamar moved in with her brother Absalom, who after hearing what’d occurred also hated Amnon.

If you want to get technical, the root cause of this affray stemmed back to David’s adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.

This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I appointed you king of Israel and saved you from Saul. I gave you his kingdom and his wives. And I made you king of Israel and Judah. And if that had not been enough, I would have given you even more. So why did you ignore the Lord’s command? Why did you do what he says is wrong? You killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword of the Ammonites and took his wife to be your wife! 10 Now there will always be people in your family who will die by a sword, because you did not respect me; you took the wife of Uriah the Hittite for yourself!’

11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘I am bringing trouble to you from your own family. While you watch, I will take your wives from you and give them to someone who is very close to you. He will have sexual relations with your wives, and everyone will know it. 12 You had sexual relations with Bathsheba in secret, but I will do this so all the people of Israel can see it.’”

2nd Samuel 12:7-12
The desolation of Tamar

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31The king stood up, tore his clothes, and lay down on the ground, and all his attendants stood by with their clothes torn.

2nd Samuel 13:31

A couple of years later (~990 B.C.), Absalom persuaded King David to send Amnon with his sons to a feast of the sheep-shearers at Baal Hazor (in the Benjamite region of Hazor, as detailed in Nehemiah 11:33).

During this feast, Absalom ordered his men to get Amnon drunk and then to kill him. Understandably, we’re told that,

This ha[d] been Absalom’s express intention ever since the day Amnon raped his sister Tamar.

2 Samuel 13:32

This is a story about the seriousness of lust and the very nature and ramifications of sin – destruction and death. Have a look at what the apostle Peter says about the fatality of such things:

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.

1st Peter 2:11
Absalom having Amnon killed

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30and Ahijah took hold of the new cloak he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces.

1st Kings 11:30

In 1st Kings 2, we see that King David gave Solomon several commands upon his imminent death. Firstly, David wanted Solomon to live and rule in obedience to the will of the Lord. In addition, because he regretted not punishing Joab, he ordered Solomon, “6Use your wisdom, but don’t let him [Joab] die peacefully of old age.”

Unfortunately, Solomon failed to fulfil David’s first command. In response to King Solomon’s blatant idolatry in ~939 B.C., the Lord God had Ahijah, a Levite prophet, divided the kingdom of Israel between Solomon and Jereboam (the supervisor of unpaid labour from the tribes of Joseph).

Thus, Jereboam would receive ten tribes, and Solomon would only get Jerusalem, “the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel”. (1st Kings 11:32).

Ahijah tears his new cloak into twelves pieces.

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27When Ahab heard these words, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and fasted. He lay in sackcloth and went around meekly.

1st Kings 21:27

When reading the description of King Ahab provided in First Kings (855 B.C.), his feelings of grief, humility and misery are duly noted. We hear that upon any of their deaths, dogs and birds would eat the bodies of anyone belonging to Ahab’s family. He was one of Israel’s worst kings (and that’s saying something!).

Having said that, we must keep in mind that the Judean writers of Kings have a significant bias against the kings of northern Israel. So, it’s worth adopting a historical-critical approach to any study of the book of Kings.

We see that even though King Ahab had “behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols”, similarly to the defeated enemies of Israel (1st Kings 21:26), God responded to Ahab’s confession of guilt by reserving His impending judgements to the next generation.  

Elijah confronting Ahab and Jezebel, 1st Kings 18

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12Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.

2nd Kings 2:12

Before he was taken up into heaven in a whirlwind in ~851 B.C., Elijah’s attendant, Elisha, asked him for a double portion of his spirit. Even though he was taken to be with the Lord, Elisha had regarded Elijah as his spiritual father, so he was a little bit discouraged.

I’ve read quite a bit of debate about the nature of this verse. Questions arise, like how Elijah, like Enoch in Genesis 5:24, got to heaven without dying? Moreover, if he did so, doesn’t this contradict what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:13? It’s much more likely that God simply took the spirits of Elijah and Enoch and caused their finite bodies to cease existing. Remember, God spoke the universe into existence. He’s more than capable of taking a couple of His followers home however He pleases.

Anyhow, as he left, Elijah’s cloak fell from him, and when Elisha picked it up, the Lord transferred all of the power and blessings that He’d bestowed on Elijah to Elisha.

Elijah ascending to heaven, passing a portion of his spirit over to Elisha

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7As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I, God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”

2nd Kings 5:7

When a young captive girl heard that Naaman, the commander of the king of Aram’s army, had leprosy (~849 B.C.), she told her mistress to send him to “the prophet who is in Samaria”, meaning to Elisha.

The king of Aram sent Naaman to the king of Israel with a letter reading, “With this letter, I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.” Do you see the serious mistake the king of Aram has just made?

The servant girl hadn’t inferred that the King of Israel could cure Naaman’s leprosy, but “the prophet who is in Samaria”; this is an example of what may happen if you trust the report of someone who didn’t actually participate in the event. Always verify your sources, proofread and fact check!

Namaan sent to the King of Israel to get cured of his leprosy in exchange for ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing.

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30When the king heard the woman’s words, he tore his robes. As he went along the wall, the people looked, and they saw that, under his robes, he had sackcloth on his body.

2nd Kings 6:30

This is another less than pleasant verse. While raiding Israelite territory, the King of Aram besieged the Israelite city of Samaria in ~848 B.C., causing the Israelite inhabitants to run out of food.

Their critical level of desperation is illustrated by the cost of food items that would’ve previously been omitted from their regular diet. Indeed, even a donkey’s head or a handful of dove’s dung were being sold at an exorbitant rate. At today’s equivalence, a donkey’s head would’ve cost you $972.83 (AUD) and 100 grams of dove dung for $61.14.

Anyhow, as the king of Israel was walking along the wall, a woman pleads for his help. Out of desperation, she’d recently agreed with another woman to cook and eat her son on that day, and they’d share the other woman’s son on the next.

So, they ate her son, but, come the following day, the other woman’s son was nowhere to be found! The king was understandably distraught.

The fortress city of Samaria finally falling to the Assyrians.

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14She looked, and there was the king, standing by the pillar, as the custom was. The officers and the trumpeters were beside the king, and all the people of the land were rejoicing and blowing trumpets. Then Athaliah tore her robes and called out, “Treason! Treason!”

2nd Kings 11:14

Ahaziah, the son of Athaliah, had just been killed by Jehu, the son of Jehoshaphat (~841 B.C.). After taking the throne, Athaliah began to exterminate the male heirs of Judah so no others could claim the right to rule. Athaliah’s callousness was likely inspired by her pagan mother, Jezebel.

Jehosheba, the king’s daughter, took Joash, Ahaziah’s son, and hid him from Athaliah. Then, in the seventh year of Athaliah’s reign, Joash was smuggled back into the temple of the Lord by Jehoiada, the priest, where he was secretly anointed and crowned the new King of Israel. Athaliah wasn’t impressed…   

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1When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth, and went into the temple of the Lord.

2nd Kings 19:1

Hezekiah (739-686 B.C.) was the best king Judah would ever have. He was obedient to God in the same measure as King David had been. But, unfortunately, the people of Judah didn’t share Hezekiah’s singular devotion to God. So, when Sennacherib, the king of Assyria attacked the cities of Judah, God permitted him to capture them.

Assyria’s field commander then told Hezekiah that the Lord had instructed him to march against Judah and destroy it; he also tells the people not to trust Hezekiah and that they won’t be victorious in their continued rebellion against Assyria.

Through the prophet Isaiah, God told Hezekiah to take heart; the declaration given by Sennacherib had greatly offended Him. So, He sent another foe against the Assyrians, and the field commander withdrew his forces to engage them.  

Hezekiah kneeling before the Lord in sackcloth

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11When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his robes

2nd Kings 22:11

Here, we finally read of a leader who was wholly obedient to the Law of God, and alike Hezekiah, King Josiah was heralded as Judah’s greatest. (See: 2 Kings 23:25). These superlative remarks are not contradictions. Both Hezekiah and Josiah were outstanding Judaic kings, but in different ways. King Hezekiah (“Yahweh strengthens”, or “Yahweh is my strength”) reigned from 715-686 B.C. (29 years). Whilst King Josiah (Josiah means “healed by the Lord”, or “the Lord will support”) reigned from 640-609 B.C. (31 years).

Josiah tore down the many pagan temples and altars, demolished their idols, and began to repair the Temple of Solomon to the Lord, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians. No one had read the Word of the Lord given to Moses for more than two generations.   

During the temple’s restoration, the Hebrew priest Hilkiah found the Book of the Law and gave it to Shaphan, Josiah’s secretary, to read. The Book of the Law is known as the Torah (instruction or Law in Hebrew); the first five books of the Old Testament: Genesis to Deuteronomy. It’s commonly believed that the book Hilkiah found was that of Deuteronomy.  

Upon hearing the instructions and warnings that the Lord God had given to his forebears, Josiah was suitably anguished.

General Nebuzaradan Destroys Jerusalem for King Nebuchadnezzar

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19Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord.

2nd Kings 22:19

Shaphan had likely read Deuteronomy 13 while standing before King Josiah, where God explicitly forbids the worship of any gods ahead of Him. But, once again, the humility shown in the King Josiah’s reaction saved the people of Israel from God’s immediate fury and imminent destruction.

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13She looked, and there was the king, standing by his pillar at the entrance. The officers and the trumpeters were beside the king, and all the people of the land were rejoicing and blowing trumpets, and musicians with their instruments were leading the praises. Then Athaliah tore her robes and shouted, “Treason! Treason!”

2nd Chronicles 23:13

I’m sure you’ll appreciate that this verse closely parallels that of 2nd Kings 11:14, so I’ll briefly articulate the subtle differences I’ve seen:

Differences found:

  • 2nd Kings 11:14, “…the pillar,”                                                                                
  • 2nd Chronicles 23:13, “…his pillar,”

The “pillar” referred to in these verses is one of the two pillars in the entry of Solomon’s Temple, as we see in 1st Kings 7:21.  According to Strong’s dictionary, the names or titles of “Jachin” or “Yâkîyn” (יָכִין) describes that “He/it will establish”. “Boaz” or “Booz” (בֹּֽעַז) means “in strength; brisk and cheerful readiness; fleetness”.

  • 2nd Kings 11:14, “…as the custom was.”                                                                   
  • 2nd Chronicles 23:13, “…at the entrance.”

Before its destruction by Nebuzaradan, the commander of the imperial guard of Babylon (see: 2nd Kings 25:89), the two pillars of Solomon’s Temple  (1st Kings 7:21) were located on the porch or entrance to the temple. Gathering clergy or patrons at the doors or foyer of a church or temple for a chat is still the norm.

  • 2nd Chronicles 23:13, “…and musicians with their instruments were leading the praises.”

The book of 2nd Chronicles is focused on the kingdom of Judah. The details regarding the musical gestures for the inauguration reveal the people’s exuberance and joy for the inauguration of their new king in ~841 B.C.

  • 2nd Kings 11:14, “…called out,….”
  • 2nd Chronicles 23:13, “shouted,….”

After tearing her robes, Athaliah didn’t simply mumble to herself, “treason, treason”, she’d sought to draw attention to something that was decidedly detrimental to her ambitions. This heated remark led to her swift execution.

Joash was secretly inaugurated as king, ending the schemes (and the life) of Athaliah.

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19When the king heard the words of the Law, he tore his robes.

2nd Chronicles 34:19

Dated to ~640 B.C., this is a duplicate of 2nd Kings 22:11. These two verses detail Josiah’s terrific reign, one of the rare instances of a Judaic king who followed ALL the laws of the Lord!

Josiah’s response to hearing the Word of the Lord

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27Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God when you heard what he spoke against this place and its people, and because you humbled yourself before me and tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the Lord.

2nd Chronicles 34:27

You might not know this, but not all Judaic prophets in the Old Testament are men. For example, the prophetess or ‘woman prophet’ (něbī’āh) named Huldah, lived in the New Quarter of the second district, otherwise known as Jerusalem’s college. She was appointed by Hilkiah to inquire upon the Lord.

God told Huldah that He was ready to bring all the curses explicated within the Word of the Law upon the people Judah. However, because king Josiah had humbled himself and torn his robes, God would spare him.

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When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled. 4 Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel gathered around me because of this unfaithfulness of the exiles. And I sat there appalled until the evening sacrifice.

Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the Lord my God.

Ezra 9:3-5

If you read through the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament), you’ll quickly see God prohibiting His chosen people, the Israelites, from intermarriage with their neighbouring kingdoms, particularly the Canaanites. God used Ezra to reform the Jewish community concerning such practices during the Persian period (586-332 B.C.).

Furthermore, the passages in Exodus 34:11-16 and Deuteronomy 7:1-6, God explicitly warned that if the sons and daughters of Israel were to intermarry with outsiders, they would inevitably “whore after” foreign gods.  To forsake the One true God for another was, and is, spiritual adultery. In the God’s eyes, it’s the same as physical adultery, and earns the participants the same punishment: eternal death.

Ezra on his knees in prayer

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1When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.

Esther 4:1

Although the name of God doesn’t appear in the book of Esther (also known as Hadassah in Esther 2:7), He is still in absolute control over every detail affecting His people. Even when things appear to be headed for certain doom, God puts into action minute events that have great and fantastic consequences.

Mordecai was a determined, wise, compassionate and courageous Jew who was instrumental in the survival of the Jewish community during the reign of King Xerxes of Persia. Because Mordecai wouldn’t bow down to Haman, one of King Xerxes nobles, Haman hated the Jews and sought to destroy them. So he convinced the king to pass an edict warranting their annihilation throughout Persia in 431 B.C. The Jews were in a tight spot.

After King Xerxes had been persuaded, he signed the edicts with his ring:

13 Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews—young and old, women and children—on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. 

Esther 3:13

The Greek translation of this text says that Mordecai had declared: “Αιρεται εθνος μηδεν ηδικηκος”, “A people are going to be destroyed, who have done no evil!”.

Mordecai refused to bow to Haman

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20At this, Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship…

Job 1:20

Although the author/s of the book of Job is unknown, some clues place its date somewhere between the 6th to the 3rd centuries before Christ. For the most part, the world in which the characters abide is a fictive domain developed by ancient tradition.

In the Old Testament, Job receives only two references from the prophet Ezekiel (14:14, 20). Ezekiel presents Job as a figure of moral excellence and righteousness, comparable with that of Adam and Noah.

In Job 1:20, Job had just suffered significant loss as the victim of a contest between the Lord and Satan. Satan pressured God to incite the nearby Sabeans, a civilisation who are described by Isaiah (45:15) as “tall” or “men of stature“, to raid Job’s land, kill his servants and steal his livestock.

Then, fire came down from heaven and burnt up more of Job’s sheep and servants. It’s the next disaster to occur for Job which can help us to better secure his context. We see that the “Chaldeans” raided Job’s land, stole his camels and killed his servants. The Chaldeans were contributory in ruling the Neo-Babylonian empire from ~625 B.C. until 538 B.C.   

Anyhow, if the first three disasters to occur to Job weren’t bad enough, worse was yet to come. Following the arrival of the raging desert winds, Job’s eldest son’s house collapsed, killing all of Job’s children. Within the span of a conversation, Job had lost everything. Even so, Satan’s mission had failed; “Job fell to the ground in worship.”   

Job and his “friends.”

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12When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognise him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads

Job 2:12

After Satan had been given clearance from God to strike Job’s flesh and bones, Job had been inflicted with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Because of his skin disease, Job sat down in ashes to demonstrate how upset he was; he scraped the goo from his sores with a broken piece of pottery.

Here, the simple actions of Job’s friends demonstrated genuine compassion towards his plight. Again, I can resonate with the closing verse (13):

13No one said a word to him because they saw how great his suffering was.

Job 2:13

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When King Hezekiah heard this, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and went into the temple of the Lord.

Isaiah 37:1, a repeat of 2nd Kings 19:1

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Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy.

Matthew 26:65

While standing before the Sanhedrin, Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest, asked Jesus if he is “the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus replied “You have said so”, but added that he’d also be seated next to God the Father in heaven. By saying this, Jesus was fulfilling the well known prophecies given in Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13:

1 The Lord says to my lord:

“Sit at my right hand
        until I make your enemies
        a footstool for your feet.”

Psalm 110

13 In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.

Daniel 7:13

65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy.

Matthew 26:65

63The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked.

Mark 14:63

Jesus had just admitted to the high priest that he is the Son of God, the Messiah foretold by the Prophets of Old. So naturally, the high priest and members of the Jewish Sanhedrin felt very threatened. They knew if Jesus’ teachings and claims were valid, the prophecies the Hebrew world were waiting for had been fulfilled, the religious system they’d created was now void, they’d soon be out of a job. They needed to get rid of him.  

Jesus before Caiaphas admitting that he is the Messiah, the Son of God

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14But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them.

Acts 14:14-15

After being forced to flee the city of Iconium, Paul and Barnabas went on to Lystra. Whilst there, through the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul healed a man who’d been paralysed since birth. After the man was healed, the crowd shouted, “The gods have come down to us in human form!”. I’m sure you can understand Paul and Barnabas’s profound frustration.

The people of Lystra knew nothing of the Old Testament, so Paul and Barnabas had to modify their usual teaching practicum. They explained God as the Creator of all, that He had chosen a nation and given his people commandments to follow, but that the world had gone astray.

The Jews who were listening got very angry and tried to kill the two apostles. Indeed, the wounds that Paul speaks of in Galatians 6:17 were those he received from the Jews in Lystra.

Paul and Barnabas at the sacrifice in Lystra

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Well done! I hope you’ve enjoyed my short study of the “tearing of clothes” in the Bible. If you have a particular word, curious phrase, or tricky topic you’d like me the research, let me know in the comments box below.

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