A Man And His Cloak -- By: Bryant G. Wood
BSP 4:3 (Summer 1991) p. 95
A Man And His Cloak
In Bible times the average person did not own much in the way of material goods. The most valued piece of personal property for the majority of individuals seems to have been his or her bgd. This Hebrew word means “covering” and is usually translated “cloak.” It was an outer garment, much like our overcoat of today. Everyone needed and owned a cloak (see cover photo). This was because it not only kept one warm during the day in cold weather, it also served as a covering at night. Since there was no central heating in those days and nights were (and are) cold throughout the year, a cloak was an absolutely essential article.
So important was a person’s cloak to his or her well-being, that there were special laws concerning the cloak. When someone was forced to borrow money, in most cases the only collateral they could offer was their cloak. In fact, the words “pledge” and “cloak” are, at times, synonymous in the Old Testament. When a cloak was taken as a pledge, Mosaic law required the lender to return the cloak at sunset, so that the borrower could survive the rigors of the cold night:
If you lend money to one of my people among you who is needy, do not be like a moneylender; charge him no interest. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, return it to him by sunset, because his cloak is the only covering for his body. What else will he sleep in? When he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate. (Ex 22:25–27, NIV)
When you make a loan of any kind to your neighbor, do not go into his house to get what he is offering as a pledge. Stay outside and let the man to whom you are making the loan bring the pledge out to you. If the man is poor, do not go to sleep with his pledge in your possession. Return his cloak to him by sunset so that he may sleep in it. Then he will thank you, and it will be regarded as a righteous act in the sight of the Lord your God. (Dt 24:10–13, NIV)
Amos accused Israel of the sin of not returning pledge cloaks at sunset, but instead “laying down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge” (2:8, NIV).
In the case of widows, lenders were forbidden to take a cloak as collateral:
Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. (Dt 24:17. NIV)
The cloak is mentioned along with the ox, sheep and donkey as valuable possessions which are to be returned if found:
If you see your brother...
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