What in the Word: Put on

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The image of “putting on of clothing” runs like a thread from Genesis to Revelation and also serves as bookends (Genesis 3:21; Revelation 22:14). The first mention of lbsh in the Bible is when God clothed Adam and Eve with garments of animal skin after their fall to sin in Eden (Genesis 3:21). Consequently, in the final analysis, the redeemed are pictured as “standing before the throne and before the Lamb clothed in white robes” (Revelation 7:9).

So we can pretty quickly see that this word means much more than just “to put on a garment” (Genesis 28:20) or an armour (Isaiah 59:17) in a literal sense. 

It is also used metaphorically (to put on) as in “You shall surely put on all of them as jewels” (Isaiah 49:18) and “He has clothed me with garments of salvation” (Isaiah 61:10). 

The following examples from Isaiah illustrate the figurative use of lbsh in poetry. Both the “arm of the Lord” and Zion are called to “put on strength” or to be clothed with power (Isaiah 51:9, 52:1). Moreover, the divine Warrior in Isaiah also “put on righteousness like a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head; and He put on garments of vengeance for clothing and wrapped Himself with zeal as a mantle” (Isaiah 59:17; cf. 61:10; Job 29:14) in battle. 

The verb is also used in the negative sense to depict shame (Psalms 35:26, 109:29, 132:18; Job 8:22), curse (Psalm 109:18) or horror (Ezekiel 7:27, 26:16).

However, it also occurs in the everyday ordinary sense of putting on clothes as well, with the root word occurring more than 112 times in the Old Testament alone. It mostly occurs alongside beged (garment) and together they dominate the semantic field of dressing in the Hebrew Bible. On a personal or individual level, its use ranges from being a daily and a basic need (with food: Genesis 28:20; Isaiah 4:1) to being worn on special occasions as mourning dress (2 Samuel 14:2) with sackcloth (Esther 4:1; Jonah 3:5) and fine garments (Esther 5:1, 6:8; Isaiah 52:1; Jeremiah 4:30), cultic garments (Exodus 28, 39), a prophetic mantle (2 Kings 2:12–14; Zechariah 13:4), and an armour of war (Jeremiah 46:4).

The act of putting clothes on someone or to envelop another person as in Judges 6:34 points to the Holy Spirit’s indwelling a person in the same way a person does in a dress or garment. Job 29:14 states, “I put on righteousness, and it clothed me.” 

In the meantime, while awaiting the Parousia (second coming), the apostle Paul has solemn admonition for Christians today as he did the Ephesian members of his day: “Put on the full armour of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). 

All, not a few, items of the armour provided by the LORD must be “put on” to defeat the foe. 

Following Jesus’ emphatic overcoming of Satan, the putting on of all the spiritual armour is undoubtedly the great assurance for us that we can have (and already have) the victory.

Dr Tabua Kotobalavu Tuima is a theology lecturer at Fulton Adventist University College, Sabeto, Fiji.

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