Why did the people of Israel put earth on their heads?

In the book of Nehemiah we begin to see the rule of the Jewish people once again. After their captivity in Babylon many of them had taken on many of the pagan ways, which required for the people of Yahweh to be once again revitalized. Nehemiah now steps in and will soon be the next governor of the people, which is essential in order to restore faith amongst the people. While reading the book of Nehemiah I came across something interesting at the beginning of chapter 9 verse 1.

“Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads.”  Nehemiah 9:1

While reading over this verse I just couldn’t help but wonder, what does the earth on the heads of the people mean? We are now very much aware of the fasting and have even heard of them in sackcloth, but this symbolism is altogether different. But also what does it symbolize? Well, the verse physically is just like it sounds, the people in this verse actually scooped up dirt with their hands and placed it on their head. I think the reason why they did this however, is a much bigger question. I guess you could describe this as a vale of some sort to shield their lowly heads from the sight of Yahweh. Upon research scholars think that it was a way of symbolizing that they were lower than dirt to Yahweh because of their sins, that they were so ashamed of themselves that they place themselves with the dirt of the ground. It is certainly not something you would often see happening today, but it is quite obviously literary symbolism whether the Israelites were actually doing this or not, the statement alone symbolizes so much to the way in which they felt toward Yahweh about their sins since their captivity in Babylon.

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About ethanponder

My name is Ethan Ponder, I am from Cullman Alabama. Currently a student at Jacksonville State University where I am studying Liberal Studies.
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