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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary
Several religious ceremonies, and some symbolical ones, anciently depended upon the use of ashes. To repent in sackcloth and ashes, or, as an external sign of self-affliction for sin, or of suffering under some misfortune, to sit in ashes, are expressions common in Scripture. "I am but dust and ashes," exclaims Abraham before the Lord, Genesis 18:27; indicating a deep sense of his own meanness in comparison with God. God threatens to shower down dust and ashes on the lands instead of rain, Deuteronomy 28:24; thereby to make them barren instead of blessing them, to dry them up instead of watering them. Tamar, after the injury she had received from Amnon, covered her head with ashes, 2 Samuel 13:19 . The Psalmist, in great sorrow, says poetically, he had "eaten ashes as it were bread, Psalms 102:9; that is, he sat on ashes, he threw ashes on his head; and his food, his bread, was sprinkled with the ashes wherewith he was himself covered. So Jeremiah introduces Jerusalem saying, "The Lord hath covered me with ashes," Lamentations 3:16 . Sitting on ashes, or lying down among ashes, was a token of extreme grief. We find it adopted by Job 2:8; by many Jews when in great fear, Esther 4:3; and by the king of Nineveh, Jonah 3:6 . He arose from his throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. This token of affliction is illustrated by Homer's description of old Laertes. grieving for the absence of his son, "Sleeping in the apartment where the slaves slept, in the ashes, near the fire." Compare Jeremiah 6:26 , "Daughter of my people, wallow thyself in ashes." There was a sort of ley and lustral water, made with the ashes of the heifer sacrificed on the great, day of expiation; these ashes, were distributed to the people, and used in purifications, by sprinkling, to such as had touched a dead body, or had been present at funerals,
Numbers 19:17 .
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Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Ashes'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wtd/a/ashes.html. 1831-2.