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Missions 109

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The Meaning of Ashes

During the Season of Lent, ashes come to be reflected and thought of. In fact, at the outset of the season we were marked with ashes. This makes us begin the season of Lent with what ashes signify. Let us look into these following points:

1. Death- ashes were symbolic of death. Cities and nations were razed to fire by enemies and were burned to ashes. It was an ancient military practice of burning cities of the enemy so that the association of ashes with death was common. Jeremiah wrote about “the whole valley of the dead bodies and the ashes.” (Jer 31:40)

2. Punishment- God was pictured out as a warrior in the Old Testament. In prophetic visions sometimes, God’s wrath was seen as God’s fire as consuming a wicked person or nation. We remember the prophecy against Tyre, where God’s fire turned it, “to ashes upon the earth” (Ezek 28:18), and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, which God “condemned to extinction” by turning them “to ashes” (2 Peter 2:6) In the book of the Prophet Malachi, ashes were related the final end of the wicked. In a vision, those who fear God “shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts” (Mal 4:3)

3. Weakness- Ashes were used to illustrate weakness. Ashes were images of complete waste and the word ash also lends itself to use as a metaphor for weakness, ephemerality and emptiness: “your maxims are proverbs of ashes” (Job 13:12) The phrase “in sackloth and ashes” illustrates a vivid picture of mourning women and men in torn clothing, lying or knelling on the ground as they heap ashes and dust upon themselves. (2 Sam 13:19; Esther 4:1; Is 58:5; Is 61:3) People sprinkle ashes to themselves to show that they are unworthy, grieving, sorrowful, and weak among the rest of mankind.