In the book “Body Language in the Bible” we discus three different ways nonverbal communication occurs in Scripture. Many examples of body language are historical stories of people who communicated through their appearance, actions, and positions. The second type of examples is contained in instructions, warnings, and parables. These lessons include descriptions of nonverbal communication to emphasize and enhance their meaning. The third way nonverbal communication is used is in prophecy.
Weeping and mourning provide good examples of all three types of nonverbal communication found in the Bible. Historical people in the Bible wept for the loss of friends and family with real, literal tears and cries of anguish. There are also several passages in the Bible which use weeping in combination with instructions and warnings about pride, evil, and self-righteousness. Many Old Testament prophecies state certain cities or nations would certainly mourn due to their rebellion against God.
Here are some examples of weeping and mourning for each of the three different types:
After Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery they dipped his tunic in blood and showed it to his father, Jacob. Notice how Jacob responded to the apparent death of his beloved son.
So Jacob tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. Then all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. And he said, “Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son.” So his father wept for him. (Genesis 37:34–35, NASB)
Instructions, Warnings, and Parables
Both Jesus and James warned the proud and those who relied on their own self-righteousness that their laughter and joy would turn to sorrow. Using the description of weeping in their instructions helped people to relate to the dangers of pride and its painful consequences.
“Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.” (Luke 6:25, NASB)
Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. (James 4:8–10, NASB)
In this prophecy spoken against Tyre, notice all of the nonverbal sounds, actions, and displays that are associated with the judgment of God. Instead of directly saying, “This is going to be bad and hurt a lot,” God uses descriptions of sorrow and suffering to convey the severity of the judgment.
“And they will make their voice heard over you And will cry bitterly. They will cast dust on their heads, They will wallow in ashes. Also they will make themselves bald for you And gird themselves with sackcloth; And they will weep for you in bitterness of soul With bitter mourning. Moreover, in their wailing they will take up a lamentation for you And lament over you: ‘Who is like Tyre, Like her who is silent in the midst of the sea?’” (Ezekiel 27:30–32, NASB)
Whenever you find nonverbal communication in the Bible, whether it be clothing, sounds, actions, or the expression of emotion, look to see which type of body language you have found. Is this an example of a historical person showing their emotions or intentions through their physical appearance? Or, is this an instruction that is given to the people which includes some type of physical description to help them better understand the lesson? Or, perhaps you are reading a prophecy that uses a visual description to help the listener understand the magnitude of the judgment ahead. In each case, the inclusion of a physical description helps us as students to gain valuable insight into the richness and depth of truth found in God’s Word.