"Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” we say at funerals. Why?
Dust makes sense. Human beings are dust animated by the breath of God (Gen. 2:7). Since Adam’s fall, we return to the ground: “you will return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; dust you are, and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:19). Dead bodies literally disintegrate into the “dust of death” (Ps. 22:15). We move from dust to dust.
In Scripture, rising from dust is resurrection. Abram’s seed is risen dust (Gen. 13:16), the Lord brings up the poor from the dust (1 Sam. 2:8), Baasha is raised from dust to Israel’s throne (1 Kings 16:2), though he soon heads back to where he came from. In mourning, ancient Israelites throw dust on their heads as a symbol of death (Lam. 2:10; Ezek. 27:30) and a plea to the God who wakes those who sleep in dust (Dan. 12:2). In the end, humanity will reach its destiny, burnished into the glorified dust, the gold and gemstones of new Jerusalem (cf. Rev. 21).
But ashes? Can we make biblical sense of “ashes to ashes” (not a biblical phrase)?
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