The imagery of clothes in the Bible can scarcely be overestimated. This strikes us as alien on two counts. First, our clothing styles are very different from other cultures (which is nothing new), but secondly, we have adopted a notion of clothing which is entirely unscriptural and unnatural. Our problem is not that our clothes are different. Our problem lies with our theology of clothes.
“Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty. Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment . . .” (Ps. 104:1-9).
God is Clothed:
We always should begin our thinking with God, whatever our subject might be. In the Scriptures, God describes Himself in various kinds of clothing, vengeance and glory to take two examples.
“For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloke” (Is. 59:17; 63:2-3).
“Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? this that is glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength? I that speak in righteousness, mighty to save” (Is. 63:1).
God Clothes His World:
But this pattern descends, and our first consideration is to the natural world. “I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering” (Is. 50:3). Or consider the grass of the field. “Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” (Matt. 6:30; cf. Luke 12:28). God also dresses out other aspects of the world (Prov. 30:4). He binds the oceans in a garment.
God Clothes His Elect:
It is not too much to say that the entire doctrine of salvation can be presented, in scriptural language, in terms of clothing. Sin, judgment, justification, and glorification are all presented to us under the metaphor of clothing.
First, consider the need for salvation: one of the first indications of divine mercy we see in the Bible is shown through clothes (Gen. 3:21).
And what about our ongoing rebellion? Sin is pictured through clothing. “Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment” (Ps.73:6).
Clothing images being put right with God: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels” (Is. 61:10). “1 counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see” (Rev. 3:18).
This is a biblical way to grow in our understanding of salvation: “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Rom. 13:12-14; Col. 3:9; Eph. 4:22).
Down to Earth:
We therefore cannot say that clothes are a “neutral thing.” And descending from the realm of symbolism and metaphor, we come to the world which makes symbols possible. We see prison clothes (2 Kings 25:29; Jer. 52:32), the clothes of a widow (Gen. 38:14,19), clothes of captivity (Dt. 21:13), clothes for mourning (2 Sam. 14:2), clothes for repentance or dismay (Gen. 37:34; Esther 4:1; Ps. 69:11; Is. 37:1), clothes to show joy (Is. 3:22), clothes to indicate what sex you are (Dt. 22:3,5), clothes for fine occasions (Ruth 3:3; Ez. 27:24; Gen 27:15), politics (Matt. 11:8), work (John 21:7; John 13:4). Lepers would indicate their disease through torn clothes. “And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean” (Lev. 13:45).
How Then Shall We Dress?
In most cases, the problem is one of thoughtlessness. In modern America, clothing is assumed to be value-free, and an opportunity for one to express his own individuality (as though that were a value-free statement), or comfort (as though that were not a worldview).
The problem today is that of the “invisible” uniform, the invisible worldview. Very few have eyes to see it. And remember that we are after the principle, and not a dress code. The only way to care about these things and not fall into legalistic folly is by clothing yourself, daily, in the righteousness of Jesus Christ.