ASHES. The expression “dust and ashes” (e.g., Gen.18.27) is a play on words (aphar and epher) and signifies the origin of the human body from the ordinary chemical elements. It contrasts the lowliness of man with the dignity of God. Ashes were sprinkled over a person, or a person sat among ashes, as a sign of mourning (2Sam.13.19; Job.2.8). The word is often united with “sackcloth” to express mourning (Jer.6.26).
The lovely expression “beauty for ashes” (Isa.61.3) is also a play on words. Another word for ashes, deshen, is used for the remains of the burnt offering (e.g., Lev.6.10-Lev.6.11).
ASHES. The tr. of the Heb. and one Gr. word designating the products of combustion.
c. עֲפַ֖ר, used of the ashes of the red heifer (Num 19:17). The fact that the blood was burnt with the body of this animal gave the ashes a sanctity providing for their use in cleansing. They were used to effect the purification of one who had touched a dead body.
d. פִּ֖יחַ designates the condensation of the fatty smoke from the deshen (Exod 9:8, 10).
e. Σποδός is the Gr. equivalent of ’āphār, used in mourning (Matt 11:21; Luke 10:13) and in cleansing (Heb 9:13).
In 1 Kings 20:38, 41 KJV, “ashes” is incorrect and should be tr. “bandage,” אֲפֵר, H710, as in RSV “with a bandage over his eyes.”
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
Figurative: The term "ashes" is often used to signify worthlessness, insignificance or evanescence (Ge 18:27; Job 30:19). "Proverbs of ashes," for instance, in Job 13:12, is Job’s equivalent, says one writer, for our modern "rot." For the ritual use of the ashes of the by the priests, see Red Heifer.
George B. Eager