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Tearing of Garments

The deliberate tearing of clothing (see also Clothing In Bible Times) was known through all of Bible History, in both the Old and New Testaments. When done to one's self, it was usually a physical expression of grief or righteous indignation, in effect an outward equivalent of the modern-day vernacular expression "it tears me up." The custom was also done as a symbolic removal of authority i.e. the tearing of a king's royal robe.

"Rend your hearts and not your garments"

Examples of the tearing of garments as an expression of dismay or grief:


"When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph [see The Israelite Patriarchs - Joseph] was not in the pit, he rent his clothes" (Genesis 37:29 RSV)

"Then every man quickly lowered his sack to the ground, and every man opened his sack. And he searched, beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest; and the cup was found in Benjamin's sack. Then they rent their clothes, and every man loaded his ass, and they returned to the city." (Genesis 44:11-13 RSV) [see also Joseph's Dreams]

"And the Ark of God was captured [see The Ark Of The Covenant and Raiders Of The Lost Ark]; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were slain. A man of Benjamin ran from the battle line, and came to Shiloh the same day, with his clothes rent and with earth upon his head" (1 Samuel 4:11-12 RSV)

"Then David {see King David] said to Joab and to all the people who were with him, "Rend your clothes, and gird on sackcloth, and mourn before Abner." (2 Samuel 3:31 RSV)

"But to the king of Judah [see Kings of Israel and Judah and Israelite Dynasties], who sent you to inquire of The Lord, thus shall you say to him, Thus says The Lord, the God of Israel: Regarding the words which you have heard, because your heart was penitent and you humbled yourself before God when you heard his words against this place and its inhabitants, and you have humbled yourself before me, and have rent your clothes and wept before me, I also have heard you, says The Lord." (2 Chronicles 34:26-27 RSV)

When King Saul proved himself to be unfit as king, Saul's tearing of his royal robe was also a statement of "The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day."

"And Samuel said, "Has The Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of The Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of The Lord, he has also rejected you from being king." (1 Samuel 15:22-23 RSV)

"As Samuel turned to go away, Saul laid hold upon the skirt of his robe, and it tore. And Samuel said to him, "The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day, and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you." (1 Samuel 15:27-28 RSV)

The division of Israel into Israel and Judah because of Solomon's apostasy (see Israelite Monarchy - The Division Of Israel) was also made evident by the tearing of a prophet's robe into twelve pieces, representing the twelve tribes of Israel.

"And at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Now Ahijah had clad himself with a new garment; and the two of them were alone in the open country.

Then Ahijah laid hold of the new garment that was on him, and tore it into twelve pieces. And he said to Jeroboam, "Take for yourself ten pieces; for thus says The Lord, the God of Israel, 'Behold, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and will give you ten tribes [see Israelite Monarchy - The Northern Kingdom] but he shall have one tribe [see Israelite Monarchy - The Southern Kingdom], for the sake of My servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, because he has forsaken Me, and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of Moab, and Milcom the god of the Ammonites, and has not walked in My ways, doing what is right in My sight and keeping My statutes and my ordinances, as David his father did.

Nevertheless I will not take the whole kingdom out of his hand; but I will make him ruler all the days of his life, for the sake of David My servant whom I chose, who kept My Commandments and My statutes; but I will take the kingdom out of his son's hand, and will give it to you, ten tribes." (1 Kings 11:29-35 RSV)

The high priest who was responsible for the sacrifice of the Christ (highly ironic, in view of the fact that the office of the Levitical high priest was created as a foreshadow of the Christ, as well as the high priest was ultimately responsible for the sacrifice of the Passover lamb; see What Is Jesus Christ Doing Right Now?) tore his robes in (self)righteous indignation when Christ plainly identified Himself as the Son of God.

"And the high priest stood up and said, "Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?"

But Jesus was silent.

And the high priest said to him, "I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God."

Jesus said to him, "You have said so. But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven."

Then the high priest tore his robes, and said, "He has uttered blasphemy. Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy." (Matthew 26:62-65 RSV)

When pagans attempted to worship the apostles Paul (see Paul's Ministry) and Barnabas, they tore their garments as a statement of rejection of such idolatry.

"And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, "The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!" Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, because he was the chief speaker, they called Hermes. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the people.

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out among the multitude, crying, "Men, why are you doing this? We also are men, of like nature with you, and bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them." (Acts 14:11-15 RSV)

Fact Finder: What does The Lord say about "rend your hearts and not your garments"?
Joel 2:12-14

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