Ash Wednesday, a significant day in the Christian liturgical calendar, marks the beginning of the season of Lent. While Ash Wednesday itself is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, it is deeply rooted in biblical themes of repentance, reflection, and humility. In this blog post, we will explore the biblical origins and themes associated with Ash Wednesday and its importance in the Christian faith.
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Ash Wednesday in the Bible: A Day of Repentance and Reflection
1. Ashdod is located on the Mediterranean Sea and is the northernmost city of the five Philistine cities.
2. It’s about 18 miles (29 km.) south of Jaffa and Tel Aviv.
3. Tel Ashod is just about 2.75 miles (4.5 km.) inland from the sea. It remains in its natural form and has had some excavations carried out but not extensive ones.
4. It appears that the city was large and extended all the way to the sea, or had another part of the city that was by the sea.
5. During the conquest of the Promised Land under Joshua and the Israelites, giants known as Anakim were found here (Josh. 11:22). Ashdod was allotted to Judah, but they failed to conquer it (Josh. 13:3, 15:46–47).
6. During the time of Samuel, Ashdod, and the other main cities of the Philistines were still independent.
7. Ashdod was conquered and came under the authority of Assyria in around 711 BC. Later, Babylon conquered it as well in around 605 BC.
8. In later times, the Ashdod-Yam Fortress (also called Qal’at el-Mina) was built by Caliph Abd al-Malik (685-705 C.E) at the end of the seventh century AD on the ruins of a Byzantine settlement. The fortress was part of a coastal defense system designed to prevent a Byzantine invasion from the sea. The system consisted of a string of strongholds along the Mediterranean Sea situated in sight of one another. In times of danger, massages were conveyed by means of beacons of fire (by night) and smoke signals (by day). In 1033, the fortress was destroyed by an earthquake and abandoned. It was reconstructed and resettled during the Crusader Period, (12th and 13th centuries AD). Its name was changed to Castellum Beroart. It was finally abandoned after the Crusaders were banished from the country in 1290.
Places of Interest
1. Tel Ashdod
2. Ashdod-Yam Fortress
Ashdod in the Bible
1. The Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant and took it to Ashdod and placed it in the House of Dagon (their false god).
1 Samuel 5:1-2: Now the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. 2 Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon, and placed it beside Dagon.
The Ark may have resided in the house of their false god, Dagon, which could have been by the sea. From Ashdod, the Ark was taken to Gath.
2. God revealed Himself as the Lord of Lords to the Philistines by making their false god, Dagon, bow down and submit to Him.
1 Samuel 5:3-4: When the Ashdodites got up early the next day, behold, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and set him back in his place. 4 But when they got up early the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord. And the head of Dagon and both palms of his hands were cut off on the threshold; only the torso of Dagon was left.
3. God struck the people of Ashdod with tumors to show them He was the true God.
1 Samuel 5:6-7: Now the hand of the Lord was heavy on the Ashdodites, and He made them feel devastated and struck them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territories. 7 When the men of Ashdod saw that it was so, they said, “The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us, because His hand is severe on us and on Dagon our god.”
4. God prophesied that a people of mixed origins or nationalities would live in Ashdod and among the Philistines. This was certainly fulfilled in history and can even be seen today.
Zechariah 9:6: And a people of mixed origins will live in Ashdod, and I will eliminate the pride of the Philistines.
5. Ashdod was the recipient of many prophecies proclaiming its doom and destruction.
Isaiah 20:11, Amos 1:8, Jeremiah 25:20, and Zechariah 2:4, 9:6. However, Ashdod continued to be inhabited as the Jews intermarried with its inhabitants after their return from Babylon (Neh. 13:23–24).
6. In the New Testament, Ashdod is called Azotus.
Acts 8:40: But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
Faith Lesson from Ashdod
1. God revealed Himself as the Creator and true Lord to the Philistines on different occasions so they would know He was the true God. God reveals Himself to everyone through His creation so that everyone is without excuse.
Romans 1:18-20: For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, being understood by what has been made, so that they are without excuse.
3. Any person from any nation was welcome to join in the Jewish faith, obtain salvation, and be right with God. The Philistines had this opportunity like every other nation.
4. What about us? Are we right with God and letting our lights shine to a world that needs God and His salvation through Jesus Christ?
Ash Wednesday: The Start of Lent:
Ash Wednesday occurs 46 days before Easter Sunday and is observed by many Christian denominations, including Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and more. It is a day of fasting, prayer, and reflection, marked by the imposition of ashes on the foreheads of believers in the shape of a cross.
While the term “Ash Wednesday” is not mentioned in the Bible, the traditions and themes associated with this day have biblical roots:
- Repentance and Sackcloth and Ashes: Throughout the Bible, the act of repentance is often accompanied by wearing sackcloth and sitting in ashes. Sackcloth and ashes were signs of mourning, humility, and a sincere desire for repentance.
- Forty Days of Reflection: The 40-day period of Lent mirrors the biblical significance of the number 40. In the Bible, 40 days are associated with periods of testing, preparation, and reflection, such as Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness and the 40 days of rain during the Great Flood.
Themes of Ash Wednesday:
- Repentance: Ash Wednesday emphasizes the importance of acknowledging one’s sins, seeking forgiveness, and turning away from sinful behaviors. Repentance is a central theme in both the Old and New Testaments.
- Mortality and Humility: The ashes imposed on believers’ foreheads serve as a reminder of human mortality and the need for humility before God. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust, you shall return” is a common phrase used during the imposition of ashes.
- Spiritual Renewal: Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a spiritual journey that encourages believers to draw closer to God through prayer, fasting, and acts of charity.
The Biblical Call to Repentance
The Bible is replete with passages that call for repentance and humility. A few examples include:
- Joel 2:12-13: “Yet even now, declares the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.”
- Matthew 4:17: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'”
- Luke 18:13: “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'”
Ash Wednesday kicks off the Lenten season. Typically, in an Ash Wednesday service, a priest or pastor will place an ash cross on the foreheads of the congregation. The pastor will often recite one of the Ash Wednesday Scriptures below or will preach a sermon on it.
To prepare your heart for this Lent season, I’ve compiled a handful of Ash Wednesday Bible verses that you can read prior to service, after, or suggest to your pastor for their sermon.
18 Ash Wednesday Bible Verses
Genesis 2:7: “Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.”
God forms mankind out of the dust in the beginning. The only reason the ashes come to life is that he breathes life into them.
Genesis 3:19: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”
Preachers or priests will often recite this verse on Ash Wednesday. This humbling reminder helps us to remember that we cannot attain salvation on our own. Because of our sin, we shall return to dust. But we do not have to experience death twice, thanks to Christ’s sacrifice.
Numbers 19:17: “For the unclean they shall take some ashes of the burnt sin offering, and fresh water shall be added in a vessel.”
In the Old Testament, ashes made something once unclean, clean. In the same way, Ash Wednesday symbolically “purifies” us by putting an ash cross on our forehead. We remember that through the cross, Christ has made us white as snow.
Esther 4:3: “And in every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.”
Ashes also represent mourning and desperate pleas for God to change a situation. In the case of Esther, the evil Haman convinced the king to commit genocide against the Israelite people. Thankfully, through Esther, the Israelite people are saved.
Job 2:8: “And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes.”
Job sits in ashes to mourn what has happened with his family. This is a common practice we see throughout the Bible.
Job 42:5-6: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”
Ashes represent repentance as well in the Bible.
Psalm 51:2: “Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”
Although not strictly speaking of ashes, we know that through the cross, Christ cleanses us of our impurities. We remember this through the cross symbolism on Ash Wednesday.
Psalm 103:14: “for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”
God knows about our weaknesses and imperfections. Nevertheless, he continues to love us. Enough to die the most excruciating death for our sins.
Ecclesiastes 3:20: “All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.”
This verse is also commonly recited during an Ash Wednesday service.
Isaiah 58:5: “Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?”
We’ll address this point moments later in a Matthew passage, but God does not want us to do Lent fasting (what Ash Wednesday kicks off) just for the sake of appearing pious. The Israelites did this with sacrifices. They’d put on a big show about it, but they would not have their hearts invested in the matter. God doesn’t want us to repent or worship just for show.
Ezekiel 9:4: “And the Lord said to him, “Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.”
The origins of the cross on the foreheads on Ash Wednesday stem from this verse. Ezekiel does this during the cusp of the Babylonian invasion and captivity that would befall the Southern Kingdom.
Daniel 9:3: “So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.”
Daniel, a captive in Babylon, prays and sits in ashes once he has seen some frightening visions about events to befall his kingdom and future kingdoms to come.
Matthew 4:2: “And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.”
Ash Wednesday kicks off Lent, a 40 day (give or take six days), a period where we remember how Jesus resisted the temptation of the devil in the desert. And these 40 days help us to prepare for Holy Week, and ultimately, Resurrection Sunday.
Matthew 6:16-18: “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
As explained above, God doesn’t want us to put on a show for Lent. We shouldn’t be making grand posts on social media about what all we plan to give up for this season. Instead, we should fast in secret.
Luke 10:13: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.”
Jesus issues a number of woes to various cities in this passage. He warns that they should have repented in sackcloth and ashes.
John 14:6: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
Ash Wednesday reminds us of this passage. As dust, we cannot save ourselves from our eternal fate we have sealed for ourselves. Because of our sin, we have earned ourselves an eternal death. But because of Jesus, we have a way to experience eternal joy with our Father in heaven.
Acts 3:19: “Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away.”
Repentance cleanses us. Lent offers us a time to do so.
1 John 3:3: “All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”
While Ash Wednesday is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, its traditions and themes of repentance, humility, and reflection are deeply rooted in biblical principles. It serves as a significant time for believers to embark on a spiritual journey, seeking a closer relationship with God and the renewal of their faith as they prepare for the celebration of Easter.