Manners and Customs of the Bible

Whitaker House


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Have you ever wondered how a camel can go through the eye of a needle? How the four men got their paralytic friend through the roof to Jesus? What it means to greet one another with a holy kiss? This book answers these questions and others. In it, you will learn who the magi were, how lots were used, and what it means to be engraved on the palm of God's hand. This valuable resource goes book by book through the Bible, explaining many customs practiced in Bible times. Not only is it easy to understand, but it is also filled with many helpful illustrations. This useful tool will greatly aid anyone wanting to understand more about the Bible.

This book answers these questions and others. You will learn:

  • What it meant to be adopted in Bible times
  • Who the magi were
  • How lots were used
  • How the potter formed clay
  • What a whited sepulcher is
  • What fiery darts are
  • What it means to be espoused
  • Why Jesus is crowned with many crowns
  • What it means to be engraved on the palm of God's hand



IV. 20. 21. Adah bare Jabal: he was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle. And his brother's name was Jubal: he was the fattier of all such as handle the harp and organ. In the East the originator of any custom is frequently spoken of as the "father" of that custom; so, also, a man is often described by representing him to be the "father" of some peculiarity which distinguishes him from others. A man of very long beard is called "the father of a beard." One of the Arabs who accompanied Palmer in his journey across the desert of the Exodus was called 11 the father of the top-knot, " because the lock of hair on top of his head was of unusual size. A celebrated Arab chief was called "the father of the ostrich," because of' the fleetness of the favorite horse which lie rode. Dr. Thomson was once called by the mischievous young Arabs 11 the father of a -saucepan,'' because they fancied that his black hat resembled that culinary utensil. When Loftus was in Chaldea his negro cook on one occasion killed two lion cubs. The Arabs, from that time forth, saluted him as "Abu Sebi'in," that is, 'I the father of the two lions."

The name " father " is also applied to beasts or birds, and even to inanimate things. In Egypt the kite is sometimes called " the father of the air," because of its power of flight. An African city was called Boo Hadgar, 11 the father of stone "-that is, a stony city. There is a Turkish coin called "the father of a cannon," because of the representation of a cannon which is upon it.

In like manner Jabal was called " the father of such as dwell in tents," because he was probably the inventor of tents; and Juba], 11 the father of all such as handle the harp and organ," because lie invented those instruments.
This use of the term " father " is found also in other parts of the Bible.

In Isa, ix, 6, the Messiah is called " the everlasting Fattier," or 11 the Father of eternity; " that is, lie is the giver of eternal life: in John viii, 44, the devil is called 11 the father of lies; " in Rom. iv, 12, Abraham is said to be " the father of circumcision; " in 2 Cor. i, 3, God is called "the father of mercies;" and in Eph. i, 17, 11 the father of glory." There is a corresponding use of the word children. See note on Matt. ix, 15.

XI. 3. They said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for mortar.

1. The soil of Babylonia is an alluvial deposit, rich and tenacious, and well adapted for brick-making. While many of the bricks of that country were merely sun-dried, others were burned, as were those in the tower of Babel. Fire-burnt bricks were sometimes laid as an outer covering to walls of sun-dried brick. The finest quality of bricks was of a yellow color, resembling our fire-bricks; another very hard kind was of a dark blue; the commoner and coarser sorts were pink or red. Amid the ruins of Babylonia ancient bricks have been discovered, in large quantities, stamped with inscriptions of great value to the archaeologist. The ordinary size of these bricks is twelve to fourteen inches square, and three to four inches thick. At the corners of buildings half-bricks were used in the alternate rows.

2. The " slime " here spoken of is bitumen, which is still found bubbling from the ground in the neighborhood of ancient Babylon, where it is now used for mortar, as in former times. It is also found in some parts of Palestine. At Hasbeiya, near the source of the Jordan, there are wells or pits dug, in which bitumen collects, exuding from the crevices in the rocks. The slime-pits " mentioned in Gen. xiv, 10, may have been similar to these. They were near the Dead Sea, where bitumen is still to be found.
Loftus (Travels in Chaldea and Susiana p. 31) approves the suggestion of Captain Newbold, that the ancient Babylonians in some instances burned their bricks in the walls of their buildings, to render them more durable. The rude walls, erected with unburnt brick, cemented with hot bitumen, are supposed to have been exposed to the action of a furnace heat until they became a solid vitrified mass. This is indeed burning "thoroughly," and it may have been the method which the Babel-builders intended to pursue had they been permitted to finish their tower; as they said, according to the marginal reading, 11 Let us make brick, and burn them to a burning."

XII. 15. The princes also of Pharaoh saw her.

Pharaoh is the common title of the native Egyptian kings mentioned in Scripture. The word itself does not mean king, as was formerly supposed; recent investigations have satisfied Egyptologists that it means the sun. This title was given to the king because be was considered the representative on earth of the God RA, or the sun. It is difficult to tell what particular Pharaoh or king is referred to here.


XIV, 16. And also brought again his brother Lot.
In chapter xi, 31 Lot is said to be the nephew not the brother, of Abram. In like manner Jacob told Rachel (Gen. xxix, 12) that lie was her father's brother; whereas, according to Gen. xxviii, 5, he was the son of her father's sister; that is, her father's nephew. This elastic use of the word brother is quite common in the East, however strange it may seem to us; yet we have a usage somewhat similar in the application of the term to persons not in any way related to us. We call fellow-country- or fellow-craftsmen, or fellow churchmen, brothers. The Orientals apply the term to their kinsmen of whatever relation.

XIV, 22. And Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth.
This was Abram's method of taking a solemn oath; a mode still practiced in the East, and to some extent in the West. It is said in Isa. 1xii, 8, "The Lord hath sworn by his right hand." See also Dan. xii, 7 Rev. x, 5, 6; the note on Prov. xi, 21; and also on Ezek. xxi, 14.

XV, 17. And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and Et burning lamp that passed between those pieces.
The " burning lamp " is supposed to have been an emblem of the Divine presence, as fire is represented to be in other parts of the Scriptures. Roberts says that in India the burning lamp or fire is still used in confirmation of a covenant. If one's promise is doubted he will point to the flame of the lamp, saying, "That is the witness." The marriages of the East Indian gods and demi-gods are described as being performed in the presence of the God of fire; and it is to this day a general practice at the celebration of a marriage to have fire as a witness of the transaction. "Fire is the witness of their covenant, and, if they break it, fire will be their destruction." -Orient. Illus. p. 21.

XVI. 1& And she called the name of the Lord that spake unto her, Thou God seest me.
One of the most prevalent superstitions in Egypt was connected with the religion of names. The Egyptians give to each of their gods a name indicative of specific office and attributes. It was thus perfectly natural that Hagar, who was an Egyptian, should give a title of honor to Him who appeared to her in the wilderness. Some suppose that the Israelites were influenced by this superstition during their long bondage in Egypt, and that it is to this that Moses refers in Exod. iii, 13; and, further, that out of indulgence to this weakness God was pleased to give himself a name-one expressive of his eternal self-existence, Exod. iii, 14. This ancient Egyptian custom found its way to other nations. Zechariah, alluding to this, speaks of the time when "there shall be one Lord, and his name one." Zech. xiv 9.

IXVIII, 1. And he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day.
1. The 11 door of the tent" is a fold of the lower part, of the tent, which is fastened by a loop to the post near by. It may thus be opened or closed at pleasure. For the sake of light and air, it is generally thrown back during the day.
2. Noon is the hour of rest among the Orientals. When the sun is at its height the wind often becomes softer and the heat more oppressive. Then the dwellers in tents may be seen Bitting 11 in the door," or reclining in the shade of the tent. It is also the hour for dinner. See Gen. xiiii, 16, and 25. Some travelers say that the Arabs eat by the door of the tent in order to notice the stranger passing by, and to invite him to eat with them. In the case mentioned in the text Abraham had probably dined, and was resting after dinner.

XVIII. 2. 3. And when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground, and said, My Lord, if now I have found favor in thy eight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant.
1. There are different modes of bowing in the East. In this case the word used (shachah) denotes complete prostration of the body. In this the person falls upon the knees, and then gradually inclines the body until the head touches the ground. See also Gen. xxiii, 7, 12; x1ii, 6; x1iii, 26.
2. There is in this text a beautiful illustration of Oriental hospitality. Tile company of the travelers is solicited as a personal favor to the host, and all the resources of the establishment are used for their entertainment. See Gen. xix, 2, 3; Judge; vi, 18; xiii, 15 Job xxxi, 32. Modern travelers often refer to the earnestness with which this hospitality is urged upon them at the present day. It is not always, however, to be regarded as un-selfish; in many in-stances a return be-ing expected from the traveler who is thus entertained. A recent writer says, 11 Arabs are still as fond as ever of exercising the virtue of hospitality. As they practice it, this is a lucrative speculation. The Bedawt sheikh, knowing that he must not nowadays expectto entertain angels unawares, takes a special care to entertain only such as can pay a round sum for the accommodation, or give their host a good dinner in return. The casual and impecunious stranger may, it is true, claim the traditional three days' board and lodging; but he must be content with the scraps 'that fall from the rich man's table,' and prepare to hear very outspoken hints of the undesirability of his presence."
-Palmer's Desert of the Exodus, p. 486