Why do people tear their robes in the Bible?
In the Jewish world, when a man hears blasphemy, he is supposed to tear his robes. You see this in the actions of the high priest during the trial of Jesus who believed He was hearing blasphemy from Jesus when He spoke of returning in power.
But that’s not the only reason a Jewish man would tear his robes. In Job, when he heard the barrage of news of his children’s deaths, Job tore his robes in grief. Typically, at least as I imagine it and have seen it depicted, the man would grab the top of his robe, the collar area, where his head sticks through, and pull, thus tearing the fabric and breaking the pattern of woven cloth. Eventually, the whole thing would fall apart, the tear would worsen.
When a man tore his robe it was to demonstrate or protest or convey the magnitude and impact of what has just happened before them. It was symbolic—his life would never be the same because he could never wear that particular clothing again—it would be forever ruined, a testimony to that moment, and was then useless for its intended design.
Now, I’m playing with an idea that I haven’t even quite worked out with. It’s the idea that there is a moment when figuratively speaking, God tore His robes. And it’s a new take on a passage that is very familiar with us and may be very ingrained into our thinking.
That moment is the tearing of the veil from top to bottom at the moment of Jesus’ death. I understand the traditional way of looking at this passage and I love it. I even wrote a song about it. The idea that through the death of Christ a way was made into the Holy of Holies—the veil that separates us from God is removed from top to bottom, by His hand. Our sin is atoned for and so we are granted access to the Almighty, most Holy God of the Universe.
What I’m proposing here shouldn’t take away from that understanding at all. It’s just adding a different angle to it. Figuratively speaking—the veil in the temple was a covering, a barrier protecting the holiness of God’s presence, preventing eyes from seeing what was not meant to be seen.
The veil was torn from top to bottom, as if, the hands of God had grabbed the top and pulled—ripping the fabric to the bottom. It was now useless for that purpose. The veil could never be used again.
What would God have seen in that moment that would have caused Him to “tear His robe”? A great tragedy and loss—the death of His One and Only Son. Even though it was the Father’s will to crush Him, even though it was pleasing to lay the sins of the world upon Jesus because it purchased our redemption—it was still a great and painful moment. The weight of sin, the forsakenness of Jesus, the wrath of God poured out on One who is Innocent and undeserving. Upon hearing the death of His Son, God tore His robe—the veil was torn from top to bottom never to be used again.