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Why did Job’s friends tear their clothes?

Job 2:11 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him…

(The loss of his children and his possessions and then being smote with sore boils from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.)

Job 1:13-19, 2:7-8 they came each one from his own place…and they made an appointment together to come to sympathize with him and comfort him.  

When Job’s three friends saw Job in his affliction and his complete covering with boils, they did not recognize him, and they cried aloud in grief. 

Job 2:12 When they lifted up their eyes at a distance, and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept.

They also tore their outer robe and threw dust in the air which would have landed on their heads.

Job 2:12 And each of them tore his robe, and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky.

Both of these gestures were very obvious and noticeable. In that culture and time, these were common ways to express intense emotions of sadness and grief. The action of shaving of the head or beard was also a common way to express grief or regret. It was an outward way to show for his friends how affected they were by Job’s intense experiences in the loss of family, wealth and loss of health. 

(Note: Job also expressed his personal, deep grief by tearing his robe and shaving his head. Job 1:20: Then Job arose, and he tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped.)  

Tearing of the robe can be similar to how the heart can be broken and torn in grief. 

Ashes or dust thrown over their heads – the Hebrew word for “ashes” is the same word as “dust” in Genesis 3:19 when Adam was told some of the consequences of his disobedience to God: By the sweat of your brow you will have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made.  For you were made from dust and to dust you will return. 

So, this use of dust or ashes can be associated with an outward sign that signaled to everyone absolute grief, desolation, and ruin.

There can be a lesson for us in these outward expressions. When we see the devastation and difficulty in the experiences of our friends, especially our spiritual family, it can be important to express our loving sympathy in a way that can be seen, and further in a way that can be helpful and supportive. 

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

Romans 12:15

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. John 11:33-35 

Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Hebrews 13:3 

Heartfelt thanks be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – the Father who is full of compassion and the God who gives all comfort. He comforts us in our every affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction by means of the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 

To learn more how to comfort those in grief listen to, “How Do You Find Your Way Through Grief?” 

For more thoughts on grief visit our resource page: Relief From Grief