Spirit & Truth # 227
“Dust and Life”
By Rev. Greg Smith
Many people call Spring and early Summer “allergy season” because of all the dust, pollen, and other irritants around at this time. Recently, I was cleaning out my basement, and had a horrible time breathing because of all the dirt and dust in the air. Did you know that there’s a difference between dirt and dust? Dirt is earth, and dust is mostly skin cells. But it makes sense that we put the two together in our minds, since God formed our bodies from the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7). God says in Genesis 3:19, "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." In Genesis 18:27, Abraham says, “I am nothing but dust,” and Psalm 103:14 says, “For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.” You could say that dust is the base material from which all things come, and to which all things return.
Throughout the Bible, dust is a symbol of lowness, humiliation, and abasement. Mourners and penitents sprinkle dust on their heads (Job 2:12; 42:6). In The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, D. Miall Edwards writes: “Shimei ‘cursed’ David and ‘threw stones at him, and cast dust,’ literally, ‘dusted (him) with dust’ (2 Samuel 16:13). So the crowd which Paul addressed at Jerusalem manifested their wrath against him by tossing about their garments and casting dust into the air (Acts 22:23).”
Dust can also be a symbol of sin. In Luke 6:42 Jesus says, “First take the wood out of your eye and then you will see clearly to take the dust out of your brother's eye.” In Eden, the serpent was cursed to crawl on his belly and eat dust the rest of his life because he tempted Adam and Eve to sin (Genesis 3:14). Jesus tells His disciples to shake the dust from their feet at those who refused to listen to the Gospel, thereby indicating that their sin was on their own conscience, and not on the head of the evangelist (Luke 10:11, Acts 13:51). It also reminded the disciples not to carry with them the negativity of the unreceptive audience.
Perhaps it was the psalmist who best expressed the problem of dust: “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word (Psalm 119:25)!” Frankly, I’ve become a bit obsessed with this one verse that’s so filled with honesty and hope. It has become my prayer whenever I realize that my soul is clinging to base, sinful, human nature. I pray this verse when I recognize that my mind has been lingering on thoughts of rebellion, grief, and degradation. I recall this verse any time I become aware that I’ve been grasping after earthly or fleshly things. It’s a prayer of confession, but also an appeal for help.
Note that the psalmist contrasts clinging to dust with its opposite: life according to God’s word. Dust is a dead thing, but God’s word is life. What an amazing hope—God’s word (whom John 1:1 identifies as Jesus Himself) is our life-giver and our savior! In John 10:10, Jesus says, “I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly.” Psalm 113:7 assures us that God “raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap.”
So the next time you find yourself hanging too tightly onto someone else’s negativity, or worrying over physical problems, or tempted toward fleshly sin, or covetous, or depressed—remind yourself of God’s salvation. Confess to God, “My soul clings to the dust.” Name the dust—whatever “dust” represents for you at this moment. Then ask God to take that dead dust away from you. Ask Him, “Give me life according to your word.” Let it be your prayer. Let it be your hope.
(On a side-note, I thought I'd share this cute video with you, based on Psalm 103:14, which says, “For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.”