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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

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The following description of oriental houses will serve to illustrate several passages of Scripture. From the gate of the porch, one is conducted into a quadrangular court, which, being exposed to the weather, is paved with stone, in order to carry off the water in the rainy season. The principal design of this quadrangle, is to give light to the house, and admit the fresh air into the apartments; it is also the place where the master of the house entertains his company, who are seldom or never honoured with admission into the inner apartments. This open space bears a striking resemblance to the impluvium, or cava aedium, of the Romans, which was also an uncovered area, from whence the chambers were lighted. For the accommodation of the guests, the pavement is covered with mats or carpets; and as it is secured against all interruption from the street, is well adapted to public entertainments. It is called, says Dr. Shaw, the middle of the house, and literally answers to το μ εσον of the evangelist, into which the man afflicted with the palsy was let down through the ceiling, with his couch, before Jesus, Luke 5:19 . Hence, he conjectures that our Lord was at this time instructing the people in the court of one of these houses; and it is by no means improbable, that the quadrangle was to him and his Apostles a favourite situation, while they were engaged in disclosing the mysteries of redemption. To defend the company from the scorching sun- beams, or "windy storm and tempest," a veil was expanded upon ropes from one side of the parapet wall to the other, which might be unfolded or folded at pleasure. The court is for the most part surrounded with a cloister, over which, when the house has a number of stories, a gallery is erected of the same dimensions with the cloister, having a balustrade, or else a piece of carved or latticed work, going round about, to prevent people from failing from it into the court. The doors of the enclosure round the house are made very small; but the doors of the houses very large, for the purpose of admitting a copious stream of fresh air into their apartments. The windows which look into the street are very high and narrow, and defended by lattice work; as they are only intended to allow the cloistered inmate a peep of what is passing without, while he remains concealed behind the casement. This kind of window the ancient Hebrews called arubah, which is the same term that they used to express those small openings through which pigeons passed into the cavities of the rocks, or into those buildings which were raised for their reception. Thus the prophet asks: "Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves, אלאּ?ארבתיהם , to their small or narrow windows?" The word is derived from a root which signifies to lie in wait for the prey; and is very expressive of the concealed manner in which a person examines through that kind of window an external object. Irwin describes the windows in Upper Egypt as having the same form and dimensions; and says expressly, that one of the windows of the house in which they lodged, and through which they looked into the street, more resembled a pigeon hole than any thing else. But the sacred writers mention another kind of window, which was large and airy; it was called חלין , and was large enough to admit a person of mature age being cast out of it; a punishment which that profligate woman Jezebel suffered by the command of Jehu, the authorized exterminator of her family. These large windows admit the light and the breeze into spacious apartments of the same length with the court, but which seldom or never communicate with one another. In the houses of the fashionable and the gay, the lower part of the walls is adorned with rich hangings of velvet or damask, tinged with the liveliest colours, suspended on hooks, or taken down at pleasure. A correct idea of their richness and splendour may be formed from the description which the inspired writer has given of the hangings in the royal garden at Shushan, the ancient capital of Persia: "Where were white, green, and blue hangings, fastened with cords of fine linen and purple, to silver rings and pillars of marble," Esther 1:6 . The upper part of the walls is adorned with the most ingenious wreathings and devices, in stucco and fret-work. The ceiling is generally of wainscot, painted with great art, or else thrown into a variety of panels with gilded mouldings. In the days of Jeremiah the prophet, when the profusion and luxury of all ranks in Judea were at their height, their chambers were ceiled with fragrant and costly wood, and painted with the richest colours. Of this extravagance the indignant seer loudly complains: "Wo unto him that saith, I will build me a wide house and large chambers, and cutteth him out windows: and it is ceiled with cedar, and painted with vermilion," Jeremiah 22:14 . The floors of these splendid apartments were laid with painted tiles, or slabs of the most beautiful marble. A pavement of this kind is mentioned in the book of Esther; at the sumptuous entertainment which Ahasuerus made for the princes and nobles of his vast empire, "the beds," or couches, upon which they reclined, "were of gold and silver, upon a pavement of red and blue, and white and black marble." Plaster of terrace is often used for the stone purpose; and the floor is always covered with carpets, which are for the most part of the richest materials. Upon these carpets, a range of narrow beds, or mattresses, is often placed along the sides of the wall, with velvet or damask bolsters, for the greater ease and convenience of the company. To these luxurious indulgences the prophets occasionally seem to allude: Ezekiel was commanded to pronounce a "wo to the women that sew pillows to all armholes," Ezekiel 13:18; and Amos denounces the judgments of his God against them "that lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stalls," Amos 6:4 . At one end of each chamber is a little gallery, raised three or four feet above the floor, with a balustrade in front, to which they go up by a few steps. Here they place their beds; a situation frequently alluded to in the Holy Scriptures. Thus Jacob addressed his undutiful son, in his last benediction: "Thou wentest up to thy father's bed,—he went up to my couch," Genesis 49:4 . The allusion is again involved in the declaration of Elijah to the king of Samaria: "Now, therefore, thus saith the Lord, Thou shalt not come down from that bed on which thou art gone up, but shalt surely die," 2 Kings 1:4; 2 Kings 1:16 . And the Psalmist sware unto the Lord, and vowed unto the mighty God of Jacob, "Surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, nor go up into my bed, until I find out a place for the Lord," Psalms 132:3 . This arrangement may likewise illustrate the circumstance of Hezekiah's "turning his face to the wall, when he prayed," that the greatness of his sorrow, and the fervour of his devotion, might, as much as possible, be concealed from his attendants, 2 Kings 20.

The roof is always flat, and often composed of branches of wood laid across rude beams; and, to defend it from the injuries of the weather, to which it is peculiarly exposed in the rainy season, it is covered with a strong plaster of terrace. It is surrounded by a wall breast-high, which forms the partition with the contiguous houses, and prevents one from falling into the street on the one side, or into the court on the other. This answers to the battlements which Moses commanded the people of Israel to make for the roof of their houses, for the same reason. "When thou buildest a new house, then thou shall make a battlement, מעקה , for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence," Deuteronomy 22:8 . Instead of the parapet wall, some terraces are guarded, like the galleries, with balustrades only, or latticed work. Of the same kind, probably, was the lattice or net, as the term שבכה , seems to import, through which Ahaziah, the king of Samaria, fell down into the court, 2 Kings 1:2 . This incident proves the necessity of the law which was graciously dictated from Sinai, and furnishes a beautiful example of God's paternal care and goodness; for the terrace was a place where many offices of the family were performed, and business of no little importance was occasionally transacted. Rahab concealed the spies on the roof, with the stalks of flax which she had laid in order to dry, Joshua 2:6; the king of Israel, according to the custom of his country, rose from his bed, and walked upon the roof of his house, to enjoy the refreshing breezes of the evening, 2 Samuel 11:2; upon the top of the house the prophet conversed with Saul, about the gracious designs of God, respecting him and his family, 1 Samuel 9:25; to the same place Peter retired to offer up his devotions, Acts 10:9; and in the feast of tabernacles, under the government of Nehemiah, booths were erected, as well upon the terraces of their houses, as in their courts, and in the streets of the city, Nehemiah 8:16 . In Judea, the inhabitants sleep upon the tops of their houses during the heats of summer, in arbours made of the branches of trees, or in tents of rushes. When Dr. Pococke was at Tiberias, in Galilee, he was entertained by the sheik's steward, and with his company supped upon the top of the house for coolness, according to their custom, and lodged there likewise, in a sort of closet of about eight feet square, formed of wicker-work, plastered round toward the bottom, but without any door, each person having his cell. In like manner, the Persians take refuge during the day in subterraneous chambers, and pass the night on the flat roofs of their houses.

The expression, "to dig through houses," occurs, Job 24:16 . "Thieves, says Mr. Ward, "in Bengal very frequently dig through the mud walls, and under the clay floors of houses, and, entering unperceived, plunder them while the inhabitants are asleep." Our Lord's parable of the foolish man who built his house on the sand derives illustration from the following passages in Ward's "View," and Belzoni's "Travels:" "The fishermen in Bengal build their huts in the dry season on the beds of sand, from which the river has retired. When the rains set in, which they often do very suddenly, accompanied by violent north-west winds, the water pours down in torrents from the mountains. In one night multitudes of these huts are frequently swept away, and the place where they stood is the next morning undiscoverable." "It so happened, that we were to witness one of the greatest calamities that have occurred in Egypt in the recollection of any one living. The Nile rose this season three feet and a half above the highest mark left by the former inundation, with uncommon rapidity, and carried off several villages, and some hundreds of their inhabitants. I never saw any picture that could give a more correct idea of a deluge than the valley of the Nile in this season. The Arabs had expected an extraordinary inundation this year, in consequence of the scarcity of water the preceding season; but they did not apprehend it would rise to such a height. They generally erect fences of earth and reeds around their villages, to keep the water from their houses; but the force of this inundation baffled all their efforts. Their cottages, being built of earth, could not stand one instant against the current; and no sooner did the water reach them, than it levelled them with the ground. The rapid stream carried off all that was before it; men, women, children, cattle, corn, every thing was washed away in an instant, and left the place where the village stood without any thing to indicate that there had ever been a house on the spot."

House is taken for family: "The Lord plagued Pharaoh and his house." Genesis 12:17 . "What is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?" 2 Samuel 7:18 . So Joseph was of the house of David, Luke 1:27; Luke 2:4; but more especially he was of his royal lineage, or family; and, as we conceive, in the direct line or eldest branch of the family; so that he was next of kin to the throne, if the government had still continued in possession of the descendants of David. House is taken for kindred: it is a Christian's duty to provide first for those of his own house, 1 Timothy 5:8 , his family, his relatives.

Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Houses'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wtd/​h/houses.html. 1831-2.
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