Tears in a Bottle

on tuesday morning chapel, stm lecturers take turns to share a short 5 minutes devotion in the seminary. this is followed by the celebration of the holy communion and announcements for the whole community. because of the limited length of time (everything squeezed into 1 hour), preachers have to be very concise (unfortunately, many of my colleagues find it extremely difficult to preach a 5 mins devotion. for me, it is not a problem since biblical scholars learn by training to be concise and precise in what they say and write!).

so, i shared from Psalm 56:8 on the topic of tears. Tears? if you know the stm community intimately, many tears would have been shed by now by the students because of the countless assignments, class presentations, quizzes, datelines etc. if there was an appropriate topic for the second half of the semester, it would be this.

‘Thou has kept count of my tossings;
put thou my tears in thy bottle!
Are they not in thy book?’
(Psalm 56:8 )

'Tears in thy bottle'? not surprising because in ancient egypt and palestine, women had the habit of collecting their tears shed during the mourning of a loved one and storing them in tear bottles. these bottles would be placed in the coffin or tomb with the deceased as a sign of their devotion. the practice was still popular in the roman empire as we have discovered tear bottles from that period of time. eventually, the christians took over that tradition and continued with it.

during the american civil war, the women would collect their tears in tear bottles and saved them until their husbands returned from battle. Their collected tears would show the men how much they were adored and missed.

in victorian times, fanciful tear botles were created with special stoppers.
Mourners would collect their tears. When the tears evaporated and were gone, the mourning period was ended, but the bottle remained as a token of eternal devotion.

Today, tear bottles are used for different reasons. Firstly, it is a fitting sympathy gift to express sorrow and grief at the loss of a loved one. Secondly, as tears of joy, it is given to show joy and delight upon the wedding of a friend or the birth of a new child. Thirdly, it can be a unique way to convey the love and admiration between a mother and her teenage daughter (representing the countless tears shed between them in their 'fights'!).

From the rich history and tradition of collecting tears in bottles, this is one possible way to understand Ps. 56:8 (which of course uses the hebrew word 'skin bottles'). We can offer our sympathy or joy to others through the giving of a bottle!

But we do not need to shed tears and keep them in bottles in order to express our devotion to God. In fact, Psalm 56:8 reassures us that when we cry, God himself will keep note of our tears (‘my tears in thy bottle’). God will symbolically collect our tears in a bottle especially reserved for us.


Anonymous said…
I love this insight. Thanks.
anthony loke said…
u're most welcome. my students found the history of the use of tear bottles fascionating.
Paul Long said…
Thanks for this. Yet another new thing I have learnt today thta has been insightful
Kar Yong said…
"biblical scholars learn by training to be concise and precise in what they say and write."

I like this....I am still learning this skill....!
Anonymous said…
Amen. I like it.
Heather Joy
Unknown said…
Thanks for sharing and God bless!