Perhaps it’s a characteristic of living in a small flat that the back of my chair is constantly home to a couple of coats or jackets. Seeing them there is so much a part of everyday life that, if I were to put them away in the wardrobe, the chair would appear quite naked.
There are other unorthodox uses for coats than decorating chairs, of course. I recall one cold night in an attic lodging many years ago, when my overcoat did duty as an extra blanket! Thinking of coats and blankets, what child hasn’t used such things with chairs or other bits of furniture to build a den or shelter to hide in?
Now that’s a game that has biblical precedent! Many of the psalms include references to God’s sheltering properties, such as “How excellent is thy loving-kindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings!” (Ps. 36:7 – KJV). Shelters, or the shadow of God’s wings, are a frequent metaphor for God’s protection or provision. Perhaps the most familiar is in the account of the Transfiguration, when Peter suggested that he build three shelters on the mountain for Jesus, Moses and Elijah (Matt. 17:4)
Moses gave the Israelites instructions to celebrate a great festival every autumn, when they were to live in temporary shelters as a reminder of the time when they were homeless in the wilderness after fleeing from Egypt. During that time, God delivered them from their enemies and protected them (Leviticus 23:42-43). This is sometimes referred to as the Feast of Tabernacles (or Shelters).
The obvious extrapolation of God’s provision of what we need is for us to be generous with what he has given us. I don’t believe it’s any coincidence that Jesus used clothing as an illustration when he was teaching his followers about loving (or being kind to) their enemies, “If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.” (Luke 6:29). It’s such a good illustration, too (why should we be surprised?) because, while we might grudgingly accept being deprived of a coat, if we have to withstand a cold night with no shirt either … let’s just say that it’s not what most of us would choose to do.
It’s worth spelling that out again. We are called to be sacrificial in our giving to worthy causes. Remember the story of Jesus sitting with his disciples beside the temple treasury. The rich people gave their gifts, and then a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins. “They (the rich people) gave out of their wealth,” said Jesus, “but she, out of her poverty, put in everything: all she had to live on.”
Who’d have thought that a coat hanging on a chair would lead us to large charitable donations?