No, it's not hyperbole. Showing your nakedness (e.g. not having the right garment) is equivalent to being in a state of spiritual sin before God, and results in death.
This refers to some long running idioms in the Old Testament that are very useful to know for proper exegesis.
The spiritual holographic principle
To understand this idea, note that "Presence" of God, is literally "face" of God (Hebrew "paneh") and occurs over 2,000 times in the Old Testament. It is one of the most important word pictures in the Old Testament. There are common idioms about the importance of seeking God's face (1 Chron 16.11), God hiding his face (Eze. 39.24, Exodus 33.23), Adam hiding from God's face (Gen 3.8), the wicked believing God's face is turned elsewhere (Psalm 10.11), etc.
It is not just God's presence, it's a general idiom (e.g. Ex 10.28) but something special happens when God's face is involved, as God sees everything, so something hidden from God's face no longer exists. This creates all sorts of opportunities.
For example the Hebrew word for "forgive" is the same word as "cover". Now the correct interpretation of this is not to say that the sin is only "covered up" and not really forgiven - as that would be superimposing an English idiom onto the Hebrew, and we are trying to understand the Hebrew, so we take it at face value (pun intended) and accept the two-dimensionality.
Thus the idea is that something interferes with the line of sight from God's face to the sin. This intervening thing is often the "garment", but not always -- for example in the Temple it was a veil or curtain (Lev 4.6), and in other situations, it was a cloud that obstructed the line of sight. To be in a state of righteousness -- or forgiveness -- is to have a clean garment, because God sees the garment and thus the covering is your spiritual condition.
You want to avoid a situation in which God sees your nakedness (your sin). If God does not "see" the sin, the sin does not exist. What God sees is the garment, therefore
- the garment must fully cover the flesh (the flesh is sinful)
- the garment must itself be clean (or white)
Having an understanding of these word pictures, many passages in the Bible become easier to understand and provide a richer exegesis:
Adam and Eve, after sinning, suddenly realized they were naked (they didn't know before??), hid from God's face and quickly made garments for themselves out of leaves. God then made a proper garment for them out of the skin of an animal (a lamb or goat), which pre-figures the sacrificial offerings. (Gen 3.21) In a culture which did not have this holographic notion, there would not be so much emphasis on Adam and Eve's clothing.
The enormous attention to detail in describing the priestly garment, two entire chapters just in the the book of Exodus (Ex 28, 39), including the number of layers, type of yarn, color of yarn, types of stones to decorate it with, how they should be attached, etc. As much attention is paid in the Law describing what priests are to wear as is spent in describing the tabernacle (which is a type for God's garment, and thus a type for us), and there is great significance in these details, as they are the spiritual conditon of the priests.
The three step process of becoming a priest (Ex. 40.13): Put on the priestly garment, be annointed, be consecrated:
And you will clothe Aaron with the holy garments, and you will anoint
him, and you will consecrate him, and he will serve as a priest for
- The danger of not having your flesh be fully covered by your garment, as in Ex. 20.26:
You will not go up with steps onto my altar, that your nakedness not
be exposed on it.
- The damnation of nakedness (Lamentations 1.8, Ezek. 23.18, Hos. 2.10)
Jerusalem sinned grievously, thus she became an objection of derision;
all those who honored her despise her because they have seen her
nakedness. She herself groans and turns away.
And she revealed her whorings, and she revealed her nakedness, and so
I turned from her just as I turned from her sister.
And now I will uncover her nakedness before the eyes of her lovers,
and no one will rescue her from my hand.
- Prohibitions on exposing someone else's nakedness (Lev 18-20 and elsewhere, e.g. 18.8):
You must not expose the nakedness of your father’s wife—it is your
As for a man who lies with his aunt, he has exposed his uncle’s
nakedness—they shall bear their sin; they shall die childless
- and therefore why "nakedness of the land" refers to the weaknesses of the land (Gen 42.12)
Then he said to them, “No, but you have come to see the nakedness of
- The blessings of covering someone else's nakedness (2 Chron 28.15)
Then the men designated by name arose and took the captives and from
the plunder clothed all their nakedness. So they clothed them, gave
them sandals, gave them food to eat, gave them water to drink,
anointed them, and guided them with the donkeys provided for all those
who stumbled, and brought them to Jericho, the city of the palm trees,
next to their brothers. Then they returned to Samaria.
- and thus the obedience of Shem and Japheth in Gen 9.23:
Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, and the two of them put it on
their shoulders and, walking backward, they covered the nakedness of
their father. And their faces were turned backward, so that they did
not see the nakedness of their father.
- and Hanun's terrible insult to David's men:
So Hanun took the servants of David and shaved them and cut off their
garments at the middle, up to the buttocks, and sent them away.
- Why Jacob took Esau's blessing by wearing his garments (Gen 27.15) which convinced Isaac that Jacob was Esau:
Then Rebekah took some of her older son Esau’s best garments that were
with her in the house, and she put them on Jacob her younger son.
- Why Ruth, being covered by Boaz' garment, was redeemed by him:
And he said, “Who are you?” And she said, “I am Ruth, your servant.
Spread your garment over your servant because you are a redeemer.”
- The enormous attention paid to washing your garment (Lev 11) even when doing things (like eating or touching someone who had a wet dream) that would be unlikely to disproportionately dirty your garment (remember these were people living in the desert without access to soap):
And the one who eats some of its dead body must wash his garments, and
he shall be unclean until the evening; and the one who carries its
dead body must wash his garments, and he shall be unclean until the
And the person who touches the body of the person who discharges must
wash his garments, and he shall wash himself with water, and he shall
be unclean until the evening.
“And the person who sends out the goat for Azazel shall wash his
garments, and he shall wash his body with water, and afterward he
shall come to the camp. Lev 16.26
Lev 11.25 and anyone who carries their dead body must wash his
garments, and he shall be unclean until the evening.
- The need to ceremonially purify your garment (Numbers 8.21)
And the Levites purified themselves, and they washed their garments,
and Aaron offered them as a wave offering before Yahweh; and Aaron
made atonement for them to purify them.
- God sees our sins in our garments:
your iniquities and the iniquities of your ancestors together, says
Yahweh, because they made smoke offerings on the mountains and they
taunted me on the hills, I will measure their punishment from the
beginning into the fold of their garment.” Isa 61.10
- The need for a pure garment:
I will rejoice greatly in Yahweh; my being shall shout in exultation
in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation, he has
covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns
himself with a head wrap like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself
with her jewelry. Isa. 61.10
- Why repentance is signifyed by tearing your garments (as you now realize your existing spiritual state is filthy and are in need of new garments) 2 Chron 34.27
because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before God
when you heard his words against this place and against its
inhabitants and you humbled yourself before me and tore your garments
and wept before me, now I also have heard,’ declares Yahweh.
- The spiritual significance of men dividing Christ's garments among them:
They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast
- The vision of Zechariah of the high priest:
Zechariah 3:3–7 (LEB) And Joshua was clothed in filthy garments and
was standing before the angel.
And he answered and said to the ones standing before him, saying,
“Remove the filthy garments from him.” And he said to him, “See, I
have taken away your guilt from you, and will clothe you with rich
And I said, “Let them put a clean headband on his head.” And they put
a clean headband on his head, and they clothed him with garments. And
the angel of Yahweh was standing by.
And the angel of Yahweh assured Joshua, saying,
“Thus says Yahweh of hosts: ‘If you will walk in my ways, and if you
will keep my requirements, then you will judge my house, and you will
also guard my courtyards, and I will give to you passageways among
these that are standing here.
- The parable of the Wedding in Matthew (22.11-13)
But when the king came in to see the dinner guests, he saw a man there
not dressed in wedding clothes. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did
you come in here, not having wedding clothes?’ But he could say
nothing. Then the king said to the servants, ‘Tie him up hand and foot
and throw him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be
weeping and gnashing of teeth!’
- and thus we are to hate the garment spotted by the flesh (Jude 23):
and save others by snatching them from the fire, and have mercy on
others with fear, hating even the tunic stained by the flesh.
- The importance of garments in revelation:
But you have a few people in Sardis who have not defiled their
clothing, and they will walk with me in white, because they are
worthy. The one who conquers in this way will be dressed in white
clothing, and I will never erase his name from the book of life, and I
will declare his name before my Father and before his angels. rev
- Why James cared about garments with holes in them:
Your wealth has rotted, and your clothing has become moth-eaten. James
- And Peter wants us to be clothed in humility:
In the same way, younger men, be subject to the elders, and all of you
clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God
opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.