The motif of the torn garment is linked to political changes in Israel as well. When Saul was rejected as king, he tore the hem of Samuel’s garment just before hearing “the LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors” (1 Sam 15:27-28; also read 28:17). Later when David’s son Solomon harbored sins that were not appropriate

for a leader of God’s people, the Lord promised to tear the kingdom away from him and give it to one of his subordinates (1 Kings 11:11-13). This is illustrated just verses later when the prophet Ahijah tore his new cloak into twelve pieces and invited Jeroboam to take ten of them.

Those ten scraps represented the ten tribes of Israel that would form a kingdom and break away from the Davidic dynasty (1 Kings 11:29-36; see the images referenced in 14:8; 2 Kings 17:21). Tearing also plays a rhetorical role in Jeremiah 36. The Lord had directed Jeremiah to write his message on a scroll that was then read at the Lord’s temple. When King Jehoiakim got word of the troubling content, he confiscated it and had it read to him. After a segment had been read, the king cut (Hebrew, yiq’era’eha, “tore”) it off and burned it (Jer 36:23). Jeremiah was quick to note that they were tearing the wrong thing: “The king and all his attendants who heard all these words showed no fear, nor did they tear their clothes” (Jer 36:24).

We trace the literal mention of tearing during the passion of Jesus. When Jesus linked himself to the messianic prophecy of Daniel 7:13, the high priest tore his clothes to emphasize his declaration of blasphemy (Mark 14:63). At the cross, the soldiers refused to tear up the seamless garment of Jesus but instead cast lots for it, fulfilling Old Testament prophecy (John 19:24). With his mission accomplished, Jesus surrendered his life-a moment marked by the tearing of the curtain in the temple (Matt 27:50-51). That tearing of the curtain might be symbolic of both the grief of a father at the death of his son and the dawning of the new era marked by divine accessibility (Heb 10:19-20).

Finally, the biblical authors used tearing metaphorically, Joel called for God’s people to repent of their sins and return to the Lord. But mere external demonstrations of grief would not do; the Lord demanded something more: “Rend your heart and not your garments” (Joel 2:13). And last are two instances in which the heavens were torn. Isaiah longed for the day in which the Lord would make his presence physically known on earth: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you!” (Isa 64:1). There was a powerful parallel to which Mark calls our attention at the time of Jesus’s baptism; for on that momentous day the heavens were torn open (Mark 1:10).

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