Are you planning a trip to a foreign country, perhaps one whose language you don’t speak? There are many language programs available and one popular method they use is to group vocabulary words by categories. It is all well and good to learn how to parse grammar correctly but if you are looking to get along in a foreign land it is more urgent to know how to ask, even in garbled syntax, where the bus stops or to order the food you actually want to eat. If you are buying clothing, knowing how to ask for a sweater or skirt, a coat or cap is helpful. The generic words, ‘travel,’ ‘food,’ or ‘clothing’ will get you only so far.
With that in mind, you won’t be surprised to hear that the Bible has specific words for different items that we wear. There is even more than one word for the catch-all category of clothing. While God makes a specific piece of clothing for Adam and Eve, the first time we see a general use of the word ‘garment’ or ‘clothing’ is a bit surprising.
And the servant brought out objects of silver and objects of gold, and garments and gave them to Rebekah; and precious things he gave to her brother and her mother. (Genesis 24:53*)
Those of us paying attention will notice that only a few verses earlier, the servant gave Rebekah jewelry.
When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold nose-ring weighing a half-shekel, and two gold bands for her arms, ten shekels in weight.
Why does he now give the intended bride clothing? Isn’t that a rather personal item? How would he even have the right size on hand when he knew nothing of the girl until earlier in the day?
Just as the items of gold in the earlier verse have a deeper meaning (see this Thought Tool), so too do the clothing mentioned in verse 53.
The Hebrew word for clothing, BeGeD, ב-ג-ד is one of the few Hebrew words made up of 3 consecutive letters in the Hebrew alphabet, as in D→E→F. These rare words all describe actions that reveal movement. What message about clothing is the Lord’s language imparting to us?
When the servant gave Rebekah ‘clothing’, he was actually signaling her movement from her family of birth to the family of Abraham. Changing her dress is a metaphor for adopting the values and behaviors of her new identity; her status has changed. He could not have given her clothing earlier, because he did not know that she and her family would accept the offer of marriage that he proffered.
There is another aspect to this Hebrew word for clothing, B-G-D. It is also the root of the word for a traitor, BoGed: ב-ג-ד. What do clothing and treachery have in common?
How we dress is closely linked to how we want people to view us. Clothing clearly used to identify our level of expected maturity. In previous days, when girls put their hair up and boys switched to long pants, they were making a statement to society that they were taking their place as responsible adults. Their dress projected how they intended to behave.
Still today, one of the best ways to send a strong message to yourself and to those around you that you intend to act as a professional is to dress as you want to become rather than as you now are. Jeans and a T-shirt may be comfortable, but most bosses and customers want people working for them who are dedicated and hard-working rather than trying to be the most comfortable.
In the same way as clothing can help you become what you want to be by “dressing the part,” it can also betray you. Certainly, clothing can be used intentionally to deceive; someone dressing like a policeman or as a doctor can do great harm.
But you can also betray yourself by the way you dress. A young woman who wants others to relate to her on account of her character, intelligence and talents but dresses in a way that causes young (and older) men to fixate on her physical qualities has betrayed herself with her dress. A teacher who wants to command respect from his students, but dresses in a way that shouts, “I’m one of you,” has betrayed himself.
In your personal and professional life, take a good look at your dress and ask yourself if you are taking advantage of the ways you can direct and upgrade your life by recognizing that indeed, “clothes make the man – and woman.”
*In our recommended Bible:
Genesis 24:53 – ו)בגדים) – (and) clothes/garments, plural. Singular is בגד.
Page 68, 4th line from the top, 1st word on the right.
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