What are Tear Bottles and What is Their Meaning in Scripture?
A tear bottle is a small glass bottle representative of sorrow described in the Bible. Tear bottles were used to capture an individual’s tears during moments of grief as a sign of mourning or repentance. The Bible references tear jars as a picture of God keeping a record of the tears of his children, or believers in Christ, who have cried.
Tears are a reflection of human emotion and fall when the emotion is intense. Did you know that tears change with emotion? So the tears that lubricate the eye are not the same as tears that are cried from joy or grief. Emotion is something a lot of people either feel a lot of or spend a lot of time trying to ignore.
My husband, Andrew, teases me that the tears that my tears God collects are probably not kept in a small bottle but something that looks more like a swimming pool. I am an emotional person- in case you couldn't tell.
What is a Tear Bottle?
A tear bottle is a small vessel designed to collect, store, and safeguard the tears of sorrowful moments. Tear bottles, a literal bottle, vary in shape and design but are generally about the size of a modern perfume bottle. These vessels were commonly used to preserve tears during religious services, ceremonies, and in times of mourning.
These tear catchers were exactly that. They were a small bottle of tears used to help the keeper of the bottle remember what caused them to cry those tears. The process of grieving is very important, but the knowledge that you are not alone in your grief is just as important.
The Significance of the Tear Bottle in the Bible.
In the Bible, the tear bottle is referred to as an emblem of those who sorrow over their sins and repent for them, and those who are in a mourning period.
The tear bottle symbolizes grief, sorrow, guilt, and brokenness. It is a powerful reminder that although sin brings misery and suffering, there is still hope in God's saving grace. As James 4:8 reminds us: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (ESV).
On a deeper level, this verse brings a much more personal picture of God meeting people exactly where they are: "You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book." Psalm 56:8. This verse is the perfect gift for one consumed in heartache.
A lot of people have the wrong concept of God, willing to only fixate on what they want to believe. As if God is not able to be both righteous and relational, just and merciful. He collects tears in a small bottle and records the tears in his book of remembrance. He cares about human emotion and longs to be with us in times of peace and in times of sorrow.
The Iconic Meaning and Significance of Tear Bottles in Historical Art.
Tear bottles have been featured in various beautiful paintings and artwork throughout the centuries. The iconic imagery features a glass or stone vessel adorned with sacred verses and phrases like "I repent," "trust in God," and "forgive me." The tear bottle was meant to be filled with the fallen tears of repentance from the one who sorrows over his or her sin, symbolizing brokenness before God, but also hope for transformation and a restored relationship.
Tear bottles in art can aid in the story the artwork tells. And they make beautiful pictures that invoke emotion.
The first thing in restoring a relationship with God is repentance. This is a confession to God about sin and a turning from sin. The tear bottle tradition is to bring remembrance and validation to the mourner through their collection of their own tears in their own bottle.
Other Containers mentioned in the Bible
Alabaster boxes were prominent in biblical times and even had a role in the time leading up to Jesus' death and resurrection- for the sins of the world. The woman with the alabaster box of ointment that held ointments and perfumes.
Jesus Christ was anointed three times by women, once on the head and twice on the feet. They opened their jars and poured out the oil onto Him. One woman poured her oil out as Jesus reclined at the table, as stood up for her saying she did a beautiful thing to prepare Him for His burial. Another woman anointed Jesus' feet just 6 days before the Passover and His disciples got a similar response. And lastly, at the house of a Pharisee, a woman comes to anoint Jesus' feet with oil. She cries over his feet and wipes them with her tears and hair- a sign of respect and repentance. In this same interaction, Jesus forgives her of her sins.
Jesus also cried. He wept when His friend Lazarus died, and he wept in the garden of Gethsemane. And His Father knew all the tears He cried as well.
Alabaster was a type of marble that was also used in King Solomons Temple he built for God. His father King David was not allowed to build the temple, though he desperately wanted to, God's response was "no" because he was a man of war. Because David had shed blood, he would not build the house of the Lord. Despite His sin, King David was known as a man after God's own heart because of his repentance and love for the Lord. When he went through a difficult time he cried out to God saying "Hear my prayer, O LORD; listen to my cry."
I do not believe that there is a literal bottle of tears that God has been collecting tears in, I do believe that this poetic language reflects the Father's heart.
Tear Jars Today
In our world today, there isn't a lot of tear keeping anymore like that of the ancient world, like in ancient Roman times, the Victorian era. Star sellers sell tear bottles of tears for many reasons. Some people find comfort in being reminded about their tears being collected by God. And others like collecting antiques. They can still be gifts of hope and a reminder of God's promises. But divine power is within One God and One God alone. We cannot find true hope and healing in a little glass jar. Though I agree, it is a sweet sentiment.
There is not a single tear that is cried without God knowing about it- whether tears of sadness or tears of joy. In all of God's creation, people are the most important and valuable to him. We can see His love all throughout the Old Testament of the bible and in the New Testament. The cross and a tear jar are symbols of love in light of God's desire to be in a relationship with His people.
So if you're still waiting on your tears to be turned into shouts of joy, rest in the fact that there is a true God and He loves you. He doesn't watch us cry our tears from afar. But He cries with us in those moments. Even though. Jesus knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead, He still wept. And He weeps with you too, my friend.