What is sackcloth in the Bible?
Sackcloth is mentioned several times in the Bible. It is a type of clothing that people wore in Bible times. However, do you know the in-depth meaning and significance?
In this post, I will discuss the history and significance of sackcloth in the Bible. I will also explore the modern-day or spiritual importance it carries.
Ready? Let’s go…
Hebrew meaning of sackcloth
The Hebrew word for sackcloth is “saḳ.” Per the Jewish encyclopedia, it explains that it is a coarse fabric that is woven out of goat’s hair.
The biblical meaning of sackcloth is it was a sign of repentance, mourning, and grief. It also reminded people of their sinfulness and the need for God’s forgiveness.
What was sackcloth made from?
As I stated earlier, sackcloth was often made from coarse materials such as goat’s hair. (See Hastings Dictionary of the Bible). It was uncomfortable to wear and would cause itchiness and irritation to the skin.
The color of hair used was often black goat hair to represent sorrow.
How was the sackcloth worn?
The sackcloth would be worn on the body and fastened around their waists.
Sackcloth and ashes
In the Bible, sackcloth was often associated with ashes. So, when one is in sackcloth in the Bible, we often hear that the act of wearing sackcloth accompanies ashes.
The ashes were added to the sackcloth as a sign of desolation and ruin. It showed that one was in absolute grief and humility due to their actions. It is said that the ashes symbolize the dust from which God formed us. (see Genesis 2:7 & Genesis 3:19)
Catholics observe Ash Wednesday as a symbol of grief and mourning for their sins. As you see, it’s pretty similar to the act that Israelites did in ancient times. Ash Wednesday marks the first day of a special season for prayer and fasting known as Lent. (Later in the post, you will see that ashes were also paired with fasting in Ancient Israel.)
It is important to note that Methodists, Lutherans, Anglicans, and others also observe Lent. (Source: Barneveld Lutheran Church)
Mourning and sackcloth
Most cultures have a set way of mourning when someone they love dies. This might involve shaving their heads or beards or wearing black clothes for a period of time.
For Ancient Israelites their own unique way of mourning was to put on sackcloth as a sign of their sadness.
Why did the Ancient Israelites choose to mourn in this way?
There are a few possible explanations:
- First, the sackcloth was a very uncomfortable fabric to wear. It would have been a physical reminder of the pain, and sadness one feels on the inside.
- Second, by wearing sackcloth, the mourner was making a public display of their grief.
Five people who wore sackcloth in the Bible...
The bible has numerous examples of people who wore sackcloth. In this section, I will highlight five people.
1. Jonah (Jonah 3: 1-10)
One of the most well-known examples of sackcloth accompanying prayer and fasting is in the book of Jonah. In Jonah chapter three, God tells Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and preach against it because of its wickedness.
Jonah proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned” (Jonah 3:4). The people of Nineveh believed Jonah’s message, and they declared a fast. From the greatest to the least, the entire city put on sackcloth and sat in ashes. They even made their animals wear sackcloth! Then they cried out to God in prayer, begging for His forgiveness.
God saw their repentance and had mercy on them. He did not bring the destruction they deserved upon them.
2. Mordecai (Esther 4:1-3)
In the book of Esther, we see that Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes when he heard of the evil plan of Haman to kill all the Jews. There was great mourning amongst the Jews, and it is written that many wore sackcloth with weeping, fasting, and wailing.
3. Jacob (Genesis 37:34)
When Joseph’s siblings sold him into slavery, they lied to Jacob (their father) that Joseph was dead. The cause of death they gave was that wild animals had killed Joseph.
Jacob tears his clothes after learning of Joseph’s death. He proceeded to wear sackcloth and mourned Joseph for many days.
4. Israel’s Repentance (Isaiah 15:3)
In the book of Isaiah, we see that sackcloth was also worn as a sign of repentance. It was also seen as a sign of mourning for the sins of Israel.
In Isaiah 15:3, we read about how the people of Moab will tear their clothes and put on sackcloth to mourn the destruction of their nation.
In Nehemiah 9:1, we also read about the Israelites wearing sackcloth accompanied by fasting as they confessed their sins.
5. David (Psalms 30:11-12)
David expresses thanks and gladness to the Lord for putting off his sackcloth and turning his mourning into dancing:
Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever.Psalm 30:11-12
Modern-day sackcloth and ashes
Wearing sackcloth was a sign of repentance and humility in biblical times. It showed that the person was willing to change their ways and turn to God.
Nowadays, the physical wearing of sackcloth isn’t necessary, but an inward evaluation and reflection are needed. This would be the spiritual act of wearing sackcloth. This is a time we spend in the presence of our father and seek His face.
Let’s go ahead and review the spiritual meaning of wearing sackcloth…
So, what does it mean to wear spiritual sackcloth?
1. Renewing your mind
Romans 12:21 talks about being transformed by renewing your mind- something we can only do through yielding to the Holy Spirit. So let us turn our hearts to God, surrender to His Spirit, and find the peace and joy that comes from a life lived according to his will.
Another spiritual meaning of sackcloth is repentance. When we wear spiritual sackcloth, we acknowledge our sinfulness and need for a Savior. We also recognize that we are in sackcloth-and-ashes and need God’s forgiveness and grace. Spiritual sackcloth reminds us that we are dust and ashes and that we must live in Christ to realize true fulfillment.
And let us remember that spiritual sackcloth is only the beginning of true repentance. True repentance leads us to a life devoted to following Christ.
When we put on spiritual sackcloth, it should be with humility. We should cry out to God for His mercy and ask Him to search our hearts.
Let us wear spiritual sackcloth as a sign of our need for our Savior.
4. Finding assurance and comfort in resting in the Lord
It means trusting in God fully, knowing that He knows our every thought and desire. And it means finding assurance and comfort in resting in the Lord. These are things that we should all strive for in our spiritual lives.
Let us turn our hearts to God and yield to his Spirit so that we may find the peace and joy that comes from a life lived according to his will.
Bible verses about spiritual sackcloth/the condition of our hearts
Let’s look at a few verses about the importance of looking inward and reflecting on what’s on our hearts:
Joel 2:13 Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.
1 Sam 16:7 …People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.
Proverbs 21:2 Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.
Acts 8:22 Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you.
Isaiah 66:2, But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word.
Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.
And that’s it, folks, all about sackcloth in the Bible
In summary, the spiritual significance of sackcloth is that it shows a repentant heart, yielding to the Spirit of God, trusting in God fully, finding assurance and comfort in resting in the Lord. These are things that we should all strive for in our spiritual lives.
Thank you for reading! I hope this was helpful. God bless!