Christianity 201

January 5, 2017

A Theology of Clothing

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:35 pm
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You’ll have to look up the scripture verses for this one. We found this a few days ago at Share Faith Magazine, which is a wonderful resource site for churches. It originally appeared under the title below, which you may click to read it in full.

10 Threads Of Deliverance In The Bible: Symbolic Clothing of Deliverance

by

Threads of deliverance in the Bible: Scripture is often enlivened when we see symbols or circumstances through the stories in the Bible. As we delve into particular events, there is rich and complicated meaning in real-time, but a bird’s eye view can also assess what’s occurring in light of what happens next. For example, Sarah wouldn’t know Hannah or Elizabeth or Mary, but the line of God’s mercy and providence in these unexpected mothers is profound, and comparing the songs of Hannah and Mary, even more. Water is another example. It nourishes the first garden, redeems us through Noah, delivers Moses, turns red with plague, comes apart several times, quenches wilderness thirst, saves Israel for a time with Hezekiah, breaks with the Son of God’s first breath, begins His ministry, changes to wine… and more. It’s a powerful, redemptive narrative. And this kind of patterned approach is applicable to our congregations. Water, for example, is something God still uses, inviting each of us into baptism and a life sustained by living water. How much more full is the symbol with the background of God’s story! Let’s read some stories of the threads of deliverance.

10 Threads Of Deliverance In The Bible

I want to weave a similar collection of moments where clothing is significant, leading up to the swaddling clothes in a manger and beyond. It sounds strange at first, but I think we’ll find an application of deliverance in the Bible at every turn. (Let me make one note. The stories of the Old and New Testaments are stories and not simply symbols. As many of us learned in seminary, there is a fair warning to not over-extend our interpretation or diminish the contemporary working of God into only a projected symbol.)

God fashions the first clothing (Genesis 3:21-24)

After the sin that cast us out as sojourners, it is God who kills the first animal in order to clothe Adam and Eve. He’s a good, good father and he does what he can to protect the first couple in the wilds of a fallen creation. I imagine God weeping through the whole episode, knowing what they don’t, that the father of lies will drag them through the dirt of his own fall, trying desperately to wipe clean any hint of the imago dei that makes them unique before God. This clothing is the first step in grace.

Rebekah’s deceit (Genesis 27)

Jacob learns a valuable lesson with his thread of deliverance. It starts with Rebekah favoring Jacob over Esau. It’s a sordid tale that makes me wonder why we follow the mischief of Jacob and not the clan of Esau. The hair-shirt Rebekah uses to deceive her blind husband is a costume Jacob doesn’t forget (and Laban returns it with disguising Leah). Yes, God uses a liar, but he knows he can break the liar into a limping man, one who sees the activity of God in heaven and becomes the father of 13 sons who form Israel’s tribes. When Jacob puts on his brother’s clothes, he disguises his real identity to get what he wants. He puts on a show. What a change of clothing from the first couple, who in humility and with heads down, leave the garden. But, in time Jacob learns his lesson and even celebrates his son Joseph in a brilliant cloak. Who knows, perhaps he remembered that evening a long time ago.

Joseph’s coat of many colors

Joseph’s thread of deliverance causes quite a stir. It’s a wonder why Jacob didn’t learn about the danger of playing favorites from his own upbringing, but he doesn’t. Joseph gets his coat and with it, God’s plan. The rage in his brothers and the near death experience for Joseph will be the stuff God uses to humble all of them. Without the coat, the brothers don’t have anything tangible to wield against their father, and, I bet without the coat, we don’t have a Joseph who runs so quickly away from Potiphar’s wife that he leaves behind his cloak (Gen 39:11-18). He knows God has a plan for him and he will not be defiled by the charms of sin.

Wash your clothes (Exodus 19)

After the exodus, God says, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession” (19:4-5). He then instructed them, among other things, to wash their clothes (10). Why? This is certainly in line with being holy and set apart. It’s tucked into this passage about God coming into their midst and warning them to not even touch the mountain or they will die. God is holy. It’s a precursor to what we know baptism symbolizes, a washing clean of sin. And baptism is a precursor to the white robes we’ll receive in heaven (Rev. 7:9).

The priestly garments (Exodus 39; Leviticus 6)

The details in the priestly garments are fascinating: “the robe of the ephod entirely of blue cloth… bells and pomegranates alternated around the hem… tunics of fine linen… the plate, the sacred emblem, out of pure gold and engraved on it, like an inscription on a seal: holy to the Lord…” A human being is readying himself to go into the presence of God. The garments act as a barrier between the Almighty and the altogether puny, if we’re honest. The priest goes into the Holy of Holies to ask for God’s mercy upon a guilty people. And we go into his sanctuary under the same reality. Yes, we know God through Jesus, but his holiness has not changed and our sinful hearts are still in dire need. The garments are a symbol for what we hear the Psalmist say, “I will clothe her priests with salvation, and her faithful people will ever sing for joy” (132:16).

The sash of Rahab (Joshua 2 & 6)

The thread of deliverance for Rahab was her sash, her sash represents the salvation for the Israelites and her own redemption, placing her in the family tree of Joseph (Matt 1:5). Her scarlet cord is a testimony to God’s mercy to a foreigner and a sinner. Remember that Rahab is a prostitute. The cord that wraps and unwraps sinful acts becomes the salvation for the two spies and all of Rahab’s family. It’s easy to read into the story of her self-interest, but God doesn’t see an opportunist; he sees a broken woman who wants mercy and love and a home. She converts and the story says, “…she lives among the Israelites to this day” (6:25). She stands as an early Mary Magdalene and receives favor because she knows she needs help. May we have eyes to see what others don’t and minister beyond our own comforts.

Saul’s robe is cut

Saul is in devilish pursuit of David. The former guitar soother is now an enemy to Saul’s throne and he will not surrender it to this farmer boy from Bethlehem. David knows he’s beyond angry and hides out until God works the circumstances into His will. David doesn’t force them. Remember when Saul sacrifices to God because Samuel is late (I Samuel 15)? When Samuel turns to go in anger over Saul’s sin, Saul rips his robe. Samuel then says, “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” (28). We then get this moment in I Samuel 24 where David sneaks up to Saul and cuts a piece of his robe. The point is, “I will not lay my hand on my lord, because he is the Lord’s anointed,” David says (10). Saul will end up piercing his own robe and killing himself (I Samuel 31:4-6). What does it mean? Saul continually tries to shape God’s will around his own, and not the other way around. If we are molded by God’s will for us, perhaps we will sing with the psalmist, “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy…” (30:11).

David’s sin and response (2 Samuel 11-12; Psalm 51)

This thread of deliverance in the Bible ironically starts with no clothes. David intrudes on a private moment and takes advantage of Bathsheba. There is nothing, nothing, nothing good about this story. It’s a breaking point for David. It’s entirely his fault. His unchecked pride invites sin to the table of a man touted as someone after the heart of God. Not so in this case or in his coverup with Uriah’s murder. What happens next is where David gets it right.  When comforted by Nathan, David admits to his sin. He gives no excuses. When Nathan says the child will die, David fasts and wears sackcloth, pleading before the Lord. When the baby dies, David, “got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped” (12:20).  David learns what the prophet Joel says, “Rend your heart, not your garments” (2:13).

The magic cloak of Elijah (2 Kings 2)

Elijah’s thread of deliverance in the Bible leaves us speechless. First, Elijah rolls up his cloak and bats the Jordan River. Then he and Elisha cross over because the water obeys him. He tells Elisha to watch, drops his cloak, and catches a ride on a fiery chariot to Heaven. Elisha uses the cloak to direct the Jordan again and leaves with even greater power. What?! Certainly, the cloak represents Elijah and his holy commitment to God, but what a story and why a cloak? We know the cloak is used almost as a shield, protecting the wearer against weather, for example. We more commonly think of a cloak as a disguise, an interpretation with some historical age to it. Perhaps the suggestion is that Elisha is now fully identified in the powerful “skin” of Elijah. This idea of putting on is part of our walk with Jesus. Paul says, for example, that, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 2:22-24).

Find him wrapped in swaddling clothes (Luke 2:11-12)

The angels make sure to mention the swaddling clothes to the shepherds because more than likely it shows Jesus’ significance. The wrapped linen is juxtaposed to the lowly surroundings of a stable and makeshift bed. Much like the first couple, perhaps the clothes signaled God’s provision after a long journey from Nazareth. Did Mary keep them at the ready? Did a kind stranger provide them to Joseph as they entered the town? We don’t know. Including it in the proclamation of the angels gives us the best guess that these clothes mean royalty, Son of God, the God of Joseph’s robe and Rahab’s sash and Elijah’s magic cloak is here in humble splendor.

It is Jesus who invites us, like the father of the prodigal son, to come home and wear the best robe (Luke 15:22). It is Jesus who notices the need of a broken woman who touches the hem of his robe (Luke 8:43-48). It’s Jesus who gets mocked with a purple robe by the guards he loved even then, in their darkest hour (Mark 15:20). It’s Jesus who resurrects and folds his grave clothes (John 20:7). It’s Jesus who will make our robes white with his blood (Revelation 7:14).

 

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