Sackcloth and Ashes on the Ponte San Angelo photo by GOC53 on Flickr.
By Lisa Nordell-Detres
What does the word “repentance” mean to you? How does it feel? Can you remember the last time you were truly penitent for something you had done? Have you ever asked for forgiveness for the sins of your parents, grandparents or ancestors? What did this remorse look like; could anybody else tell you were feeling sorrow for your sins?
In the Bible, one outward sign of abject humility and repentance was referred to as wearing sackcloth and pouring ashes or dust over one’s head. In his book, Nehemiah starts out hiding his grief over the dilapidated state of the wall around Jerusalem from King Artaxerxes. Sometime later, the king recognized Nehemiah’s sorrow and allowed him to go to Jerusalem to oversee the rebuilding project.
By chapter 9, Nehemiah and the Jews came together fasting, wearing sack cloth with ashes on their heads after the prophet Ezra read the Law for what was perhaps the first time to many of the people. To drive the point home, the Levite priests then recounted the history of Israel from Abraham until that day in which the repatriated exiles gathered together to dedicate their lives and their country to God.
The people wore sackcloth and ashes as a sign of their understanding of the grievous sins that they and their ancestors committed against God. They understood that the sins of the entire nation of Israel resulted in God carrying out His threat to scatter the people across the earth if they did not follow His commandments. They set about making things right in their land in order to regain God’s favor on them.
I often wonder how bad things will get in this country and in this world before the voice of God echoes’ “ENOUGH!” throughout His creation. I was recently asked if I thought this country is under God’s judgment and I have to believe it is. We have not realized the extent of what judgment looks like, but if you want an idea, read the books of Jeremiah, Lamentations and Ezekiel. It is not pretty and it definitely is not something I would wish even for my worst enemies. Perhaps it is time for Christians to put on gunny sack tunics and humble ourselves before our God.
Lisa Nordell-Detres is a mother of four, grandma to three boys, a pastor’s wife and has worked in the garment and customer service industries in southern California. Besides writing, Lisa enjoys cooking, sewing, organic gardening, hiking, skiing and doing most anything outside. Lisa is a member of the Central Oregon Writers Guild.
Lisa was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, studied Christian Apologetics at Simon Greenleaf University, holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Fashion Design from Woodbury University and an MBA from California State University at Northridge. Lisa, her husband and their youngest child now live in central Oregon.