Holman Bible Dictionary
Materials In the earliest periods, tools were made of stone, especially flint. An effective cutting surface was achieved by chipping off flakes along the edge of the shaped stone. The first metal tools were of copper, which proved to be too soft for most applications. It was soon found that much harder tools could be made from bronze, an alloy of copper and tin. Bronze, like copper, could be melted and poured into molds before final shaping by a smith. The hardest tools were made of iron (Deuteronomy 27:5; 1 Kings 6:5-7 ), which required much higher temperatures to smelt. Iron only came into use in Canaan around 1200 B.C., about the time of the Israelite settlement. Handles and other parts of certain tools were made of wood, leather, bone, or ivory. See Minerals and Metals .
Knives One of the most common of tools is the knife. The flint knives of earlier periods continued in use even after metal became widespread. It has been suggested that the command to use flint knives for circumcision (Joshua 5:2 NIV) reflects a taboo on using new technology for ancient rites. The real reason, however, is probably more practical: flint knives kept a sharp edge longer than metal blades. Nevertheless, bronze knives became the standard for general use prior to the Israelite monarchy. The blade was cast in a stone mold, and handles of wood were usually attached by a tang or rivets. Iron knives, which became popular during the Israelite monarchy, were made in a similar fashion.
The knife served various purposes and was known in different forms. The average knife in Palestine was between 6,10 inches, but a mold has been found to produce 16-inch blades. These would have been used for general cutting and butchering (Genesis 22:6; Judges 19:29 ). A smaller version used by Jehoiakim to cut up Jeremiah's scroll (Jeremiah 36:23; KJV, NRSV, “penknife”; NIV, “scribe's knife”) is represented by a Hebrew word elsewhere used for razors (Numbers 6:5; Ezekiel 5:1 ). The latter (Judges 13:5; Judges 16:17; 1 Samuel 1:11 ) were evidently quite sharp, as they are used as symbols of God's judgment (Isaiah 7:20 ) and the cutting power of the tongue (Psalm 52:2 ).
Agricultural Tools Plows had basically the same design from the earliest models known down to those used in the present day in the Near East. The handles, crossbar, and other structural parts were of wood, while the plow point, or plowshare, needed to be of harder material to penetrate the ground. The earliest plowshares were of bronze which was only slowly replaced by iron following the Israelite settlement of Canaan. Early Iron Age levels at several archaeological sites in Palestine have produced examples of both types. Plowshares were elongated blades with a pointed end for cutting into the ground and the other end rolled like a pipe to fit on the wooden shaft. Plows were pulled by animals which were prodded with a goad, a wooden stick fitted with a metal tip (Judges 3:31; 1 Samuel 13:21; Ecclesiastes 12:11 ). On hilly or rocky terrain which was difficult to plow, the ground was broken using a hoe (Isaiah 7:25 NIV; KJV, “mattock”). A similar tool, the mattock ( 1 Samuel 13:21 ), was also used for digging chores. It is probably incorrectly translated as “plowshares” in the famous prophetic passages about the tools of war and peace (Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3; Joel 3:10 ). Just prior to the monarchy, the Philistines, perhaps holding a monopoly on iron technology, forced the Israelites to come to them for sharpening of agricultural tools. The charge in silver was a pim, two-thirds of a shekel, for sharpening plowshares and mattocks and one-third of a shekel for smaller tools (1 Samuel 13:19-22 ). See Weights and Measures .
The reaping of standing grain was done with a sickle (Deuteronomy 16:9; Deuteronomy 23:25; Jeremiah 50:16 ), a small tool with a handle and curved blade. Sickles consisting of several serrated flint segments fitted into a shaft of bone or hollowed out wood were typical of the Canaanite culture. In Israelite and New Testament times, sickles had metal blades and short wooden handles. The sickle is used as a symbol of God's judgment (Joel 3:13 ) and the ingathering of the saints (Mark 4:29; Revelation 14:14-19 ). A tool which resembled the sickle, but with a broader and shorter blade, was the “pruning hook” (Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3; Joel 3:10 ). It was a type of knife used for pruning and harvesting grape vines (Isaiah 18:5 ).
Building Tools The Old Testament mentions several different types of axes used in various hewing chores. The largest ax (Isaiah 10:15 ) was used for felling trees (Deuteronomy 19:5; Deuteronomy 20:19 ) and quarrying stone (1 Kings 6:7 ). This type of ax was mentioned as a stone cutting tool in the Siloam Tunnel inscription in Jerusalem. See Judges 9:48; 1 Samuel 13:20-21; Psalm 74:5; Jeremiah 46:22 ). The Hebrew word used for axehead literally means “iron,” indicating its material (Deuteronomy 19:5; 2 Kings 6:5; Isaiah 10:34 ). Trimming was done with a different tool (Jeremiah 10:3 REB; NIV, “chisel”), perhaps an adze with its cutting edge perpendicular to the handle. Small hand axes or hatchets were also known ( Psalm 74:6 KJV; NRSV, “hammers”; REB, “pick”). A single word is used for axes in the New Testament ( Matthew 3:10; Luke 3:9 ).
Wood and stone were also cut using saws (2 Samuel 12:31; 1 Kings 7:9; 1 Chronicles 20:3; Isaiah 10:15 ). Single and double-handled varieties are pictured in Egyptian tomb paintings. Bronze was used for the blades in the earlier periods, and iron, in the later. According to an apocryphal work (the Ascension of Isaiah), the prophet Isaiah was martyred by being sawn in two (compare Hebrews 11:37 ).
Detail work was marked out using a “line” and “compass” (Isaiah 44:13; NIV, “chisels” and “compasses”). Various types of measuring tools, lines, and chisels have been found in Egyptian tombs. Plumb lines were used quite early in Egypt and Palestine for determining verticality and levels in construction. The true levels determined by the measuring line and the plumb line are compared to the justice and righteousness God required of Israel and Judah (2 Kings 21:13; KJV, “plummet”; Isaiah 28:17; Amos 7:7-8 ).
Hammers (Isaiah 44:12; Jeremiah 10:4 ) were originally stone pounders, but in the Bronze Age holes were often bored for the insertion of a handle. Egyptian paintings show the use of broad wooden mallets not unlike those still used today in sculpture work. The “planes” used in shaping (Isaiah 44:13 ) were probably chisels (as in the NIV). Chisels were used for rough and detail work in both wood and stone. Holes were made with awls (Exodus 21:6; Deuteronomy 15:17 ) or drills.
Industrial Tools Special tools were used in the work of various industries. Early potters used wooden tools to help shape their handmade vessels. A considerable advance came with the invention of the pottery wheel (Jeremiah 18:3 ). See Pottery.
Weavers conducted their craft on devices called looms. A number of tools were used to assist in the weaving process. In some types of weaving, the horizontal weft threads were “beaten” in with a flat wooden stick. The weaving of patterns required picks and combs to manipulate and press up the threads. These were usually made of bone, less often of ivory or wood. See Spinning and Weaving .
Metalworking required unique tools as well. A bellows was needed to bring a fire to the high temperatures required for smelting ore. Hand operated bellows are shown in an Egyptian tomb painting of Semitic nomads from about the time of Abraham. These were used in small furnaces equipped with nozzles of clay to withstand the extreme heat. Molds were used to shape molten metal into tools, weapons, and other items. Metal smiths also used a variety of tongs, clamps, and hammers (Isaiah 44:12 ), and the like.
Daniel C. Browning, Jr.
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Tools'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/t/tools.html. 1991.