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Ashes to Ashes Dust to Dust Meaning

ashes to ashes dust to dust meaning, questions
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Credit: From the Church of England, Book of Common Prayer, The Order for the Burial of the Dead:
“We therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ…” But what is the meaning of ashes to ashes dust to dust? Let’s see what the Bible tells us in answer to this question.

Created of Dust

The words of this prayer come from the creation account in the early chapters of Genesis. It tells us how God created the first man Adam:
“Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).

Death for humanity came into the world because our foreparents (sic) rebelled against God. When we die, the elements of our body return to the earth: 
“By the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the ground, because out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19).

Humility and Shame

God created us from elements, which should be our attitude toward Him. When Job questioned God for his fallen lot in life, Job repented after hearing God’s admonition. Job revealed his inner sorrow for his presumption by painting a humble word picture, saying”Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).

We are but Dust

When the Lord heard of the evils of the city of Sodom, He told Abraham He would destroy it. Before Abraham interceded for Sodom, he first humbled himself, saying,
“Then Abraham answered and said, “I who am but dust and ashes have taken it upon myself to speak to the Lord” (Genesis 18:27).

Sackcloth Associated with Dust

The sackcloth was made of goatskin and was meant for making sacks and not for clothing. In the Bible, sackcloth was often associated with dust and ashes and the same humble or even shameful attitude they portrayed.


For instance, Jacob mourned for Joseph when he saw Joseph’s clothes stained with blood:”He (Jacob) … said, “It is my son’s coat. A wild beast has devoured him. Joseph has without a doubt been torn into pieces.” Jacob tore his clothes and put sackcloth on his waist and mourned for his son many days” (Genesis 37:33-34). 

When Jerusalem was destroyed, surviving women of the city mourned with dust and sackcloth:
“The elders of the daughter of Zion sit on the ground in silence; they throw dust on their heads and gird themselves with sackcloth. The virgins of Jerusalem bow their heads to the ground” (Lamentations 2:10).

Averting Judgment

Sometimes, God relented of His judgment when the offenders humbled themselves. God heard of the evils of Nineveh and sent the Prophet Jonah to warn the city that judgment was coming. But the people responded to Jonah’s warning, and God relented:

“So the people of Nineveh believed God, and proclaimed a fast. And everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself in sackcloth, and sat in ashes….(the king commanded that) both man and animals shall cover themselves with sackcloth and cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change His mind. He may turn from His fierce anger, so that we will not perish” (Jonah 3:5-6, 8-9).”

Showing Repentance in Sackcloth and Ashes

Jesus spoke woes to the cities He visited among His people in Israel who rejected His Kingdom because they didn’t respond as Gentile cities would
“Then He (Jesus) began to reprimand the cities where most of His mighty works were done, because they did not repent: Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the Day of Judgment than for you” (Matthew 11:20-22). 

Ashes to Ashes Dust to Dust Meaning

Dust and ashes are the humble elements God used to make us, and our bodies will return to after death. Along with wearing sackcloth, they are pictures of humility and sometimes shame for our sinful attitudes and rebellion against God. People tossed dust and ashes in the air or put them on their heads, or sat in ashes, to show they were mourning or had a repentant attitude toward God. Sometimes, the attitude they portrayed averted God’s judgment

We need this same humble attitude today to respond to Jesus’ offer to save us from our sins when we believe in Him. 

For more about how to be saved, please watch the Great News Video on this page.

We invite you to watch the “Great News” video on this page and find out more about God’s love for you and how you can receive forgiveness and eternal life – today!

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The Prayer of Salvation

Jesus, I don't know You, and I don't know what Your plan is for me. But thank you for coming to die in my place. I'm sorry for anything I've ever done wrong in my life. I don't understand how You could ever forgive me, but if You really would, I would like to accept your free gift of grace and complete forgiveness. Please come into my life and take control, and help me trust You. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.

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