A cloak could be named as a guarantee, but if claimed in forfeit by the moneylender, it was to be returned at sunset. “If he is a poor man, you shall not sleep in his pledge; when the sun goes down, you shall restore to him the pledge that he may sleep in his cloak and bless you; and it shall be righteousness to you before the Lord your God....You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge” (Deut 24:12, 13, 17). The law is even more vividly expressed in its earliest form. “If ever you take your neighbor’s garment in pledge, you shall restore it to him before the sun goes down; for that is his only covering, it is his mantle for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate” (Exod 22:26, 27). Without a cloak a man was said to be naked.
A recent potsherd letter from a site near Tell Aviv illustrates the custom. The successfully tr. lines run as follows: “...and he took the cloak of your servant. I finished...my harvest...took the cloak of your servant...and all my brethren will witness, truly I am innocent of any guilt...my cloak...and I shall fulfill the prince’s....” There is no doubt about the general purpose of the letter. Someone by legal process had appropriated a poor man’s most necessary possession. Night came and the harvester looked for the garment which would cover him from the night’s chill, only to find it had not been returned.
There are several fig. uses of the word “cloak” (Isa 59:17 KJV; John 15:22 KJV; 1 Thess 2:5 RSV; 1 Pet 2:16 KJV). See Dress.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
(HDB, under the word).
Figuratively: The word lent itself easily and naturally to figurative uses. We find Paul (1Th 2:5) disclaiming using "a cloak of covetousness" (compare 1Pe 2:16) and Jesus (Joh 15:22) saying, "Now they have no excuse ("cloak") for their sin." Some such usage seems common to all languages; compare English "palliate."
George B. Eager