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That's a Nice Shirt
by Micah Titterington
10/12/13
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That's a Nice Shirt: Clothes and the story of David

"Then Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, including his sword and his bow and his belt. So David went out wherever Saul sent him, and prospered..." (1 Sam. 18:3-5a, NASB)

"Then David arose and cut off the edge of Saul's robe secretly. It came about afterward that David's conscience bothered him because he had cut off the edge of Saul's robe." (1 Sam. 24:4b-5, NASB)

As 21st century, Westerners, we miss the significance of stories about robes and clothes in the Bible. For many of us, there is nothing special about our clothes. They're something we put on and off, but also just as easily put in a give-away box. However, in the ancient near east, your clothes were also your identity. They symbolized status in a way more poignant than today. Oh sure, our clothes somewhat portray our role or wealth today. A person walking down the street in an Armani suit is likely making more than minimum wage. However, just because you manage to try on an Armani suit does not give you the privileges or wealth that a powerful businessperson might have.

Yet, for the ancients, clothes were part of your identity. If you were stripped of you clothes, you lost the identity that those clothes symbolized. Thus, it is extremely significant when Jonathon (a prince) strips off his royal robes and gives them to a shepherd boy. It was essentially an abdication of the throne. Likewise, David feels guilt over cutting part of Saul robe because it was the equivalent of making a premature grab at the royal throne. David was not just cutting a robe, he was attacking Saul's identity as king.

Passages like this serve as a poignant reminder that we cannot simply overlook details in Biblical narrative. Even things like the clothes people wear (or don't wear) can have a major affect on interpretation.

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