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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Dust

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or ashes, cast on the head was a sign of mourning, Joshua 7:6 :

sitting in the dust, a sign of affliction, Lamentations 3:29; Isaiah 47:1 . The dust also denotes the grave, Genesis 3:19; Job 7:21; Psalms 22:15 . It is put for a great multitude, Genesis 13:16; Numbers 23:10 . It signifies a low or mean condition, 1 Samuel 2:8; Nahum 3:18 . To shake or wipe off the dust of a place from one's feet, marks the renouncing of all intercourse with it in future. God threatens the Jews with rain of dust, &c; Deuteronomy 28:24 . An extract from Sir T. Roe's embassy may cast light on this: "Sometimes, in India, the wind blows very high in hot and dry seasons, raising up into the air a very great height, thick clouds of dust and sand. These dry showers most grievously annoy, all those among whom they fall; enough to smite them all with present blindness; filling their eyes, ears, nostrils, and mouths too, if not well guarded; searching every place, as well within as without, so that there is not a little key-hole of any trunk or cabinet, if it be not covered, but receives this dust; add to this, that the fields, brooks, and gardens, suffer extremely from these terrible showers."

2. In almost every part of Asia, those who demand justice against a criminal throw dust upon him, signifying that he deserves to lose his life, and be cast into the grave; and that this is the true interpretation of the action, is evident from an imprecation in common use among the Turks and Persians, "Be covered with earth!" "Earth be upon thy head:" We have two remarkable instances of casting dust recorded in Scripture: the first is that of Shimei, who gave vent to his secret hostility to David, when he fled before his rebellious son, by throwing stones at him, and casting dust,

2 Samuel 16:13 . It was an ancient custom, in those warm and arid countries, to lay the dust before a person of distinction, and particularly before kings and princes, by sprinkling the ground with water. To throw dust into the air while a person was passing, was therefore an act of great disrespect; to do so before a sovereign prince, an indecent outrage. But it is clear that Shimei meant more than disrespect and outrage to an afflicted king, whose subject he was: he intended to signify by that action, that David was unfit to live, and that the time was at last arrived to offer him a sacrifice to the ambition and vengeance of the house of Saul. This view of his conduct is confirmed by the behaviour of the Jews to the Apostle Paul, when they seized him in the temple, and had nearly succeeded in putting him to death: they cried out, "Away with such a fellow from the earth, for it is not fit that he should live; and as they cried out and cast off their clothes, and threw dust into the air, the chief captain commanded him to be brought into the castle," Acts 22:23 . A great similarity appears between the conduct of the Jews on this occasion, and the behaviour of the peasants in Persia, when they go to court to complain of the governors, whose oppressions they can no longer endure. They carry their complaints against their governors by companies, consisting of several hundreds, and sometimes of a thousand; they repair to that gate of the palace nearest to which their prince is most likely to be, where they set themselves to make the most horrid cries, tearing their garments, and throwing dust into the air, and demanding justice. The king, upon hearing these cries, sends to know the occasion of them: the people deliver their complaints in writing, upon which he informs them that he will commit the cognizance of the affair to such a one as he names; and in consequence of this, justice is usually obtained.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Dust'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wtd/d/dust.html. 1831-2.

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