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Ashes


ASHES

Ashes, used along with or without sackcloth, are an external sign of death, repentance, desolation, grief, or humility. It reminds the human person of his or her origin (Gen 2:7; 3:19) from dust and the body’s return to the earth. It emphasizes the shortness of worldly life and helps to prepare for eternal life in heaven.

During Old Testament times, people would sprinkle ashes on their heads, mingle them with their food, or sit in them. During Job’s misfortune, he “sat among the ashes” (Job 2:8). When his friends came to meet him, they wept aloud, tore their cloaks, and “threw dust into the air over their heads” (Job 2:12). Job himself later used dust and ashes as a sign of his repentance (Job 42:6).

A combined use of sackcloth and ashes intensifies the sign of repentance or seeking God’s favour. When Daniel found the sin of his people, he “turned to the Lord God, to seek help, in prayer and petition, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” (Dan 9:3). While at the face of a war, Jeremiah pleaded with his people, “Daughter of my people, dress in sackcloth, roll in the ashes. Mourn as for an only child with bitter wailing” (Jer 6:26). In the Book of Esther, when the Persian King Ahasuerus decreed the killing of the Jews, Mordecai “tore his garments, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went through the city crying out loudly and bitterly” (Esth 4:1). “Likewise in each of the provinces, wherever the king’s decree and law reached, the Jews went into deep mourning, with fasting, weeping, and lament; most of them lay on sackcloth and ashes” (Esth 4:3).

 

 


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