sackcloth and ashes

extreme repentance or grief
After lying to the people, the mayor’s only hope for staying in office is to come out in sackcloth and ashes and give a full, heartfelt apology.

In biblical times, a person outwardly showed his sadness or shame by wearing clothing made from sackcloth—the rough material used for making sacks—and by pouring ashes on himself. One example of this comes in the book of Esther, which tells about some Jews living in Persia.

The king of Persia selected the Jewish Esther to be his queen, though he did not know she was a Jew. When Esther’s cousin, Mordecai, refused to kneel down before Haman, a high official in the government, Haman became angry. In order to get rid of Mordecai, Haman convinced the king to sign a decree calling on the people of Persia to kill the Jews on a certain day.

Now when Mordecai became aware of all that had been done, he tore his garments and put on sackcloth and ashes. He went out into the city, crying out in a loud and bitter voice. But he went no further than the king’s gate, for no one was permitted to enter the king’s gate clothed in sackcloth. Throughout each and every province where the king’s edict and law were announced there was considerable mourning among the Jews, along with fasting, weeping, and sorrow. Sackcloth and ashes were characteristic of many. (Esther 4:1-3)

In the end, Esther appealed to the king, who decided to honor Mordecai and execute Haman. Then he sent out a new decree that allowed the Jews to defend themselves against those who wanted to kill them. Thus, with the help of the king’s officials, the Jews fought their enemies and defeated them.

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