The three previous articles were about clean and unclean. This article is about modesty, but also about the holy and the profane; the set apart and the common.
We live in a time where moral values have become unimportant and people, for the most part, live for self. Modesty is not something that is considered in worldly circles, on the contrary; it is regularly laughed at. Being immodestly dressed is even considered trendy. The profane is elevated and set apartness is scoffed at.
Also, main characters in films are often depicted as immodest, selfish individuals, but are presented in such a way that they become role models. You know what its like when you watch a movie, you become that main character and when you have become that person in your mind, even for that short period of time, it influences you. Teenagers and young people are especially vulnerable to these influences.
Furthermore, when you study the history of clothing, you notice how modesty has become less and less important. It is one of the signs of the times we live in. Immodesty is one of the devices Satan uses to destroy moral values, marriages and our youth.
Things seem different in religious circles. However, some hold to the accepted standards of dressing modestly, while still being immodest. How can that be? You may ask. Modesty is about far more than just what we are wearing. What we wear is important, please don’t misunderstand; we are to dress in a set apart way in order not to be a stumbling block to another. However, we are to be modest in our behavior and in what we say as well.
In this study, we shall learn about set apart modesty. Set apart modesty is about distinguishing between the holy and the profane. This includes dress, behavior and speech. It may surprise you, but we won’t be giving you a list of restrictions. Instead, we will present the Scriptures to you and allow you, through prayer, to be lead by YHVH’s Spirit in how to dress, behave and speak.
We have learned in the previous article on clean and unclean, that we are to consecrate ourselves.
7 ‘You shall consecrate yourselves therefore and be holy, for I am YHVH your Elohim.
To consecrate means to set apart. We as believers, are to be set apart, not for the sake of being different, but because we are the ones who are to reflect YHVH’s light. We are ambassadors for His Kingdom here on earth.
Part of being a set apart ambassador, is to be modest. What does the Scripture teach about modesty?
Modesty in the Tanakh
8 He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does YHVH require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your Elohim?
The Gesenius Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testamant defines “tsanah” as follows:
TO BE LOWLY, SUBMISSIVE, MODEST. Part. pass. (with an active sense), Prov. 11:2. Chald. id. Cogn. is כָּנַע. [In Thes. to depress; Part. pass. depressed; hence submissive, modest.]
HIPHIL, to act submissively, modestly, Mic. 6:8.1
From the same root the word “ tzeniut” is derived, which means “hidden in its proper place.” This word is often used when referring to modesty in Hebrew.
The word translated as “humble” in Proverbs, shares the same root
2 When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom.
7560 צָנוּעַ (ṣā·nûaʿ): adj.; humble, modest, i.e., pertaining to humility and lack of pretentiousness or pride (Pr 11:2+)2
It could, for this reason, read: but with the modest is wisdom, which is absolutely true. We shall expand more on this later. We shall now proceed in giving you a Jewish point of view of modesty.
Modesty, a Jewish point of view
This is inserted here not because it is of more importance that the Apostolic writings, but for the sake of the flow of the thoughts that follow after that section.
There is great wisdom in this quote:
The yeitzer hara tries to convince women that by revealing parts of their body which are usually covered, they will become attractive and command attention. The truth,however, is that by following such a course they will neither become esteemed by men nor endeared to them, but will exercise a merely physical attraction which lowers interrelations to a near-animalistic level.
Keeping her body covered, far from being a yoke upon woman, is in fact a protection of her nobility and refinement of her personality. The most pure, most elevated things appear in the world enveloped in many coverings and wrapped in many garments so that they might remain hidden from sight.
Woman’s holy purpose in the world is to transmit the souls which are destined for her children – a pure, elevated task assigned to her although her femininity appears to represent the more earthly aspect of mankind. Yet by diminishing through tzeniut the merely physical element in her, woman provides herself with the protection needed for the accomplishment of her sacred assignment, and guards against the debasement inherent in the unrestrained presentation of her own self.3
Next, we shall learn what the Apostolic writings have to say about modesty.
Modesty in the Apostolic writings
Paul teaches the following in the epistle of Timothy:
1 Timothy 2:9
9 Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments,
Take note, “I want” was inserted by the translators. Furthermore, note that this verse is in the context of prayer, behavior and YHVH’s authority structure. Read the whole context of this verse, starting at verse eight and continuing on. There are some other references in Scripture, written before this, on how women are to adorn themselves when they pray (1 Cor 11:5-6). In this passage, in Corinthians, we see how it was expected of women to wear a head covering when they prayed. It is a part of modest dress and has to do with YHVH’s authority structure. We are not going to expand on this further as we have written extensively about this. If you want to learn more, you can read the articles about head covering “To cover or not to cover…” and “Head covering, questions and thoughts” and also “Set Apart Marriage.“
This said, should we now assume that this was purely meant in a metaphorical way or that modest dress is only required of women when they pray? No, of course not, we are always representing YHVH’s Kingdom on this earth. We are ambassadors for Messiah, physically and spiritually! We are therefor, always to dress in a modest way.
2 Corinthians 5:20
20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Messiah, as though Elohim were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Messiah, be reconciled to Elohim.
We are always to be set apart representatives of YHVH’s Kingdom, for His name’s sake. We are also commanded not to take His name in vain. Taking His name in vain, is in a broader sense, misrepresenting Him or His Kingdom. So, let us look in more detail at this verse in the epistle of Timothy.
There are three words, in this verse, describing how women are to adorn themselves. We shall look at the meaning of each word.
What would be considered “proper” ?
3177 κόσμιος (kosmios), ον (on): adj.;
o modest, moderate and well ordered (1Ti 2:9+);
o proper, respectable (1Ti 3:2+)2
We see two other words used here “modestly” and “discreetly”
mod•est \ˈmä-dəst\ adjective
[Latin modestus moderate; akin to Latin modus measure] 1565
1 a : placing a moderate estimate on one’s abilities or worth
b : neither bold nor self-assertive : tending toward diffidence
2 : arising from or characteristic of a modest nature
3 : observing the proprieties of dress and behavior : DECENT
4 a : limited in size, amount, or scope 〈a family of modest means〉
b : UNPRETENTIOUS 〈a modest home〉 synonym see SHY, CHASTE — mod•est•ly adverb
mod•es•ty \ˈmä-də-stē\ noun 1531
1 : freedom from conceit or vanity
2 : propriety in dress, speech, or conduct4
dis•creet \di-ˈskrēt\ adjective
[Middle English, from Anglo-French discret, from Medieval Latin discretus, from Latin, past participle of discernere to separate, distinguish between — more at DISCERN] 14th century
1 : having or showing discernment or good judgment in conduct and especially in speech : PRUDENT especially : capable of preserving prudent silence
2 : UNPRETENTIOUS, MODEST 〈the warmth and discreet elegance of a civilized home —Joseph Wechsberg〉
3 : UNOBTRUSIVE, UNNOTICEABLE 〈followed at a discreet distance〉 — dis•creet•ly adverb — dis•creet•ness noun4
From defining these words, we learn that modesty is more than dressing in a certain manner. It is about behavior and speech as well. Here is another definition:
Modesty is defined by Noah Webster as: “Properly restrained by a sense of propriety; hence not forward or bold: not presumptuous or arrogant; not boastful, not loose or lewd; moderate; sensible, not excessive or extreme, not extravagant, decent and pure in manners.”5
So how are we to understand this?
Modesty comes from within
What else does the Scripture say about this?
We find a similar reference to the one in 1 Timothy in the epistle of Peter.
1 Peter 3:3–5
3 Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of Elohim. 5 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in Elohim, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands;
Take note, “merely” was added by the translator. This verse confirms what we said about the previous verse (1 Tim 2:9). It is interesting to note that the book of Peter was written after the epistle of Timothy, so Peter was quoting from this letter. 2 Pet 3:15-16 confirms this. You can learn more about the chronological order of the books in “Bible study Part 2 – getting to know the books of the Bible”
Lets get back to the verse. This verse, in 1 Peter, teaches us that modesty is not to be only external, it starts in the heart and flows out to the external. It reminds me of the passage where Y’shua said:
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Y’shua taught that adultery starts in the heart; it starts with a thought. It is the same way with modesty; it starts from within. When you harbor impure thoughts and want to attract members of the opposite gender, it will be visible in how you dress, behave and talk. External modesty means nothing when a person does not behave modestly. For this reason, you may find even modestly dressed believers being immodest in their behavior and speech.
We shall now continue to search the Scriptures for more on modesty.
What does modest dress look like?
How are women to dress if they want to dress in a set apart way? We are not going to provide you with endless guidelines and rules for dressing. Instead, we will share a short anecdote from the life of Muhammad Ali. We don’t know if this really happened or not, but it does convey the message very clearly so we will share it with you.
An incident transpired when Muhammad Ali’s daughters arrived at his home wearing clothes that were quite revealing. Here is the story as told by one of his daughters:
“When we finally arrived, the chauffeur escorted my younger sister, Laila, and me up to my father’s suite. As usual, he was hiding behind the door waiting to scare us. We exchanged many hugs and kisses as we could possibly give in one day.
My father took a good look at us. Then he sat me down on his lap and said something that I will never forget. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Hana, everything that God made valuable in the world is covered and hard to get to.
Where do you find diamonds? Deep down in the ground, covered and protected.
Where do you find pearls? Deep down at the bottom of the ocean, covered up and protected in a beautiful shell.
Where do you find gold? Way down in the mine, covered over with layers and layers of rock. You’ve got to work hard to get to them.”
He looked at me with serious eyes. “Your body is sacred. You’re far more precious than diamonds and pearls, and you should be covered too.”
Consider this when you choose what you wear.
I also heard a young lady share about her father teaching her that she will get the kind of man she advertises for. If she dresses in a modest manner, changes are that she will attract a godly man. The opposite is also true. It is our responsibility as parents to teach our daughters to dress in a set apart way. Not only are we to teach them, but we are to model it for them too.
Let us find some more scriptures concerned with modesty.
Women wearing men’s clothing
When is a woman wearing men’s clothing? Could it be when a woman really want to be a man and vice versa, like in the case of cross dressing?
What is your point of view? Please share it with us in the comments section.
5 “A woman shall not wear man’s clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman’s clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to YHVH your Elohim.
Women should dress in a feminine way and men in a way appropriate to their gender. Women should look like women and men like men.
Being a stumbling block
This verse doesn’t have anything to do with clothing, yet it fits in with the theme.
21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.
A woman who wears revealing clothing becomes a stumbling block for her brothers. The same is true for inappropriate behavior and remarks. This is applicable to both genders.
Dressed like a harlot
The woman referred to in this verse in Proverbs is not a harlot, yet she is dressed as one. She used this to lure this man into sin.
10 And behold, a woman comes to meet him, Dressed as a harlot and cunning of heart.
She proceeds by going out to meet him, enticing him with inappropriate behavour.
12 She is now in the streets, now in the squares, And lurks by every corner. 13 So she seizes him and kisses him …
She then proceeds with words…
21 With her many persuasions she entices him; With her flattering lips she seduces him.
This is a great example of immodesty in all three aspects: first in her dress, then in her actions and lastly with words.
Did this man say no and turn away? Could he, after all this…?
15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
With the modest is wisdom
2 When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom.
We have seen how this word translated as ” humble” can be translated as “modest” too. There is great wisdom in modesty. Modesty protects; it could protect you from indecent attention, from marital problems; from gossip, it could protect children from sexual abuse. Here are some examples:
If we keep proper boundaries based on modesty, we could prevent many an unsavory situation. For example: do not allow a teenaged boy to baby sit your four-year-old daughter, do not allow your adolescent daughter to go out unescorted with boys or men, do not spend time in seclusion with any member of the opposite gender. The list can continue…
These are just a few examples of how proper behavior can protect us. This may seem like Victorian standards, but at least in those times people still had moral values.
Never think you are too strong to fall. In the sight of immorality, run…
1 Corinthians 10:12
12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.
1 Corinthians 6:18–19
18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from Elohim, and that you are not your own?
We have learned that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and we are ambassodors of the Kingdom of Heaven. We are therefor to dress, behave and speak in ways appropriate to this; not in a profane way, but in a holy, set apart way. Y’shua said: “you will know them by their fruits”
20 “So then, you will know them by their fruits.
What are your fruits like?
We all need to dress, behave and speak in a modest way; a way that will bring honor and glory to our Heavenly Father. Prayerfully consider what we presented to you and ask YHVH to lead you in His set apart way. We are commanded to come out from their midst and be separate, and He will be a Father to us, and we shall be sons and daughters to Him.
2 Corinthians 6:17–18
17 “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says YHVH. “And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. 18 “And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says YHVH Almighty.
Please share your experiences regarding modesty with us, you can do so either by commenting below or sending an e-mail. We would love to hear from you!
- Gesenius, W., & Tregelles, S. P. (2003). Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures (713). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
- Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
- Merriam-Webster, I. (2003). Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary. (Eleventh ed.). Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.
- American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster 1828.
Tags: adornment, ambassadors, Apostolic writings, authority, clean and unclean, cross dressing, discreet, harlot, head covering, holy and profane, humble, Kingdom Of Heaven, modesty, prayer, proper, scriptures, set apart, set apart modesty, tzenius, tzeniut, women wearing mens clothes, Y'Shua, Yhvh
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