Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Ever Wondered About the Name of This Blog?

Around the time that I wanted to start a "modest fashion blog" I discovered that the word "fashion" or "fashioned" comes up a few times in the Bible, related not to clothing, but to people, to you and me! I embarked on a Hebrew word treasure hunt, and found some fascinating things I wanted to share with my readers. This post is rather long, and a complete desert for pretty pictures, but I hope you will at least skim it and then bookmark it for later when you can sit down and really read it, curled up in a blanket with a chai latte in your hand (or whatever your favorite drink happens to be). And then give me your insights, questions, or disagreements. I'm always flushing out my ideas and beliefs. You will probably think of things I didn't.

This is how God describes the creation of humankind in the beginning:

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.*
Genesis 2:7

The Hebrew word for "formed" is "yatsar." Look that up in a concordance, and you'll see that "yatsar" means "to form, fashion, or frame". This is a very interesting word, with layers of meaning. It's used to describe what a metalsmith does when he hammers metal (Isaiah 44:12) and what a potter does when he shapes a clay pot (Isaiah 64:8, as well as several other verses). There are a few other things, besides people, that God "yatsar"-ed: all the beasts of the field and the birds of the air (Genesis 2:19) and the dry land (Psalm 95:5). So, when the Bible says that the Lord "yatsar"-ed man, the idea is that God is making something artistic and crafting its physical appearance carefully by hand. "Yatsar" has a connotation of something being pre-ordained or planned (this is about the closest I could come to "designed" but the play on words sounded catchty, and I think it's true enough =).

So, how is this word used in relation to us? (I've put the translation of "yatsar" in bold in the next four verses.) When God foretells how He will redeem His people He speaks about them this way:

Everyone who is called by My name,

And whom I have created for My glory,

Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.*

Isaiah 43:7

Notice in this verse how we can see how God forms us and forms or plans our entire lives:

Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.*
Psalm 139:16

A lot of times, verses such as this one are used to show people that they are valuable, to boost their self-esteem and self-worth. I think that is one legitimate application. We are unique masterpieces of God, the Master Craftsman, and as Psalm 139 tells us, we are fully known and still loved by Him. I think realizing this is the basis for treating all people, including ourselves, with dignity and respect. On the one hand, we should not talk about ourselves like trash or dress like trash, but at the same time, we should be kind and respectful to others, no matter how they dress or how they look or how they treat themselves.

Even our spirits and our hearts are "yatsar"-ed:

The burden of the word of the Lord against Israel. Thus says the Lord, who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him:*
Zechariah 12:1

He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works.*
Psalm 33:15

I'll get back to this in a moment, but I want to talk about what modesty really is. So often conversations about modesty turn to arguments about things like how long skirts should be and how girls could wear whatever they wanted if guys would take responsibility for their own eyes and thoughts. Here's what Merriam-Webster says is the definition of modesty, supposedly what we're talking about when we use the word in English:

1: freedom from conceit or vanity
: propriety in dress, speech, or conduct

The synonyms for modesty are demureness, down-to-earthness, humbleness, lowliness, meekness, humility.

The antonyms for modesty include arrogance, conceit, haughtiness, pretense, and pride.

When we speak of someone who has accomplished some great things but is so "humble" or "modest" about it, we mean that they don't think that what they did makes them better than anyone else. They find someone else to give credit to, which in Christian circles is usually God. What if we approached modesty in clothing the same way? What if our personal appearance gave the impression that we weren't trying to outshine any other women, that we didn't think we were better than anyone else, that credit for any beauty we have, inside or out, should go to God?

I remember seeing a comment in a discussion forum on modesty one time that hit home to me. The comment was made by a guy, and he said something to this effect: If a girl can get dressed in the morning, check herself in front of the mirror to make sure that what she's wearing is appropriate and looks good, and then doesn't think about her appearance for the rest of the day, she's being truly modest. (Easy for him to say, right?) But I have to agree with him, especially coming from the perspective that modesty in dress is simply an act of humility. I want to spare us all another dictionary definition, because we know what humility is. I'd summarize it as "not thinking much about yourself at all."

And if we believe that we are "yatsar"-ed, then that is what these verses are asking us to do. Starting from the top again (Now the bold font is just whatever I hope you notice if you're skimming):

Everyone who is called by My name,

And whom I have created for My glory,

Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.*

Isaiah 43:7

If I can paraphrase, God did it, not us. We were created, we were formed, for His glory- not ours. We're here so that He can do wonderful things through us. That's a beautiful verse that I really should tell myself often. It can really impact what I wear (Am I wearing this so that people will think I'm something special? Is it getting in the way of what God wants to have happen here?) as well as just about everything else I do.

Psalm 139 has so many good things to say, but here are some excerpts:

You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways... Such knowledge is too wonderful for me... Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?... For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them. How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand... Search me, O God, and know my heartTry me, and know my anxieties; And see if there is any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting.*
Psalm 139

God created us- marvelously, I might add. And what is our response when we realize that? If we're living the way we're supposed to, that would be praise! If there is anything to marvel at in ourselves, there is definitely an unlimited quantity to admire in God. He knows everything about us, from our bodies to our thoughts. Since He sees everything anyway, I need to just willingly open up to Him and try to make those thoughts and actions that He sees pleasing to Him. (Am I being modest- and pure and humble and loving, etc.- in my thoughts as well my actions?)

The context of Zechariah 12:1 isn't all that helpful here, so I'm gonna take the liberty of skipping to Psalm 33:15.

He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works... A mighty man is not delivered by great strength... Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him, On those who hope in His mercy... Our soul waits for the Lord; He is our help and our shield. For our heart shall rejoice in Him, Because we have trusted in His holy name.*
Psalm 33:15-21

Psalm 33:15 in context reveals that qualities we think of as our own, even though it may feel that way to us, are not really ours. We couldn't have created ourselves. However, our Creator God is also our Savior, our help, and our shield- whatever we need. So how do we act when we realize that? Fear Him (not put others in awe of us), hope in His mercy, wait for Him (not control everything), rejoice in Him (not find our joy and happiness in ourselves), and trust in Him!

I definitely haven't arrived. I hope no one feels like I'm preaching at you; I looked all of this up for my own sake. But I do hope that from now on the title of my blog is a reminder and an encouragement to you.

Rabbit Trail: I noticed the Hebrew word for how God made Eve was different than the one used for Adam. When I saw that, I got curious. If God "formed" and "fashioned" Adam, how did He make Eve? The English translation for the creation of Eve is simply "made" in the KJV and is actually "fashioned" in the NASB. I thought maybe it would be the sort of word used for something really beautiful and intricate- carvings in the temple or special garments. Well. The Hebrew word is "banah" and it means.... BUILD. CONSTRUCT.

What????!!!! Build as in build-a-house, build-a-sheepfold, build-an-altar, build-a-city build. Hard hats and construction zones. How rough. How unromantic. How unfeminine. It makes sense though. Eve wasn't a brand new creation. She was literally "built" using materials already there, Adam's rib. God does form and fashion us. I don't want to read too much into the meaning of "build," because I'm not sure if it only applies to Eve. Then again, aren't we all built, cell by cell in the womb? Buildings are amazing feats of engineering, complex on a far grander than a dress or a wood carving- and often stunning in their beauty, at least when God is the architect. (The Tabernacle? The Temple?) So maybe Eve is not in such bad company after all.

*Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


  1. Thanks for sharing! :) I agree, each person is handmade by God, and we ought to reflect dignity through the way we dress.

    Fashion for Beauty

    1. Yeah, that's a good way to put it. Some people react negatively to the word "modest" because of what they associate with it, but we all want dignity. Thanks for reading Esther =)