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Bible Encyclopedias

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia


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foot ( רגל , reghel , קרסל , ḳarṣōl (only twice in parallel passages: 2 Samuel 22:37 = Psalm 18:36 , where it probably means ankle); πούς , poús ): The dusty roads of Palestine and other eastern lands make a much greater care of the feet necessary than we are accustomed to bestow upon them. The absence of socks or stockings, the use of sandals and low shoes rather than boots and, to an even greater degree, the frequent habit of walking barefoot make it necessary to wash the feet repeatedly every day. This is always done when entering the house, especially the better upper rooms which are usually carpeted. It is a common dictate of good manners to perform this duty to a visitor, either personally or through a servant; at least water for washing has to be presented (Genesis 18:4; Luke 7:44 ). This has therefore become almost synonymous with the bestowal of hospitality (1 Timothy 5:10 ). At an early date this service was considered one of the lowest tasks of servants (1 Samuel 25:41 ), probably because the youngest and least trained servants were charged with the task, or because of the idea of defilement connected with the foot. It was, for the same reason, if rendered voluntarily, a service which betokened complete devotion. Jesus taught the greatest lesson of humility by performing this humble service to His disciples (John 13:4-15 ). The undoing of the latchets or leather thongs of the sandals (Mark 1:7; Luke 3:16; John 1:27 ) seems to refer to the same menial duty.

Often the feet and shoes were dusted on the highway, as is being done in the Orient to this day, but if it were done in an ostentatious manner in the presence of a person or a community who had refused hospitality to a stranger, it was understood in the same sense in which the cutting in two of the tablecloth was considered in the days of knighthood: it meant rejection and separation (Matthew 10:14; Acts 13:51 ).

The roads of the desert were not only dusty but rough, and the wanderer was almost sure to ruin his ill-made shoes and wound his weary feet. A special providence of God protected the children of Israel from this experience during the long journey through the wilderness. "Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years" (Deuteronomy 8:4; Deuteronomy 29:5 ).

In the house shoes and sandals were never worn; even the most delicate would put on shoes only when going out (Deuteronomy 28:56 ). The shoes were left outside of the house or in a vestibule. This was especially done in the house of God and at the time of prayer, for whenever or wherever that might be, the law was: "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground" (Exodus 3:5; Joshua 5:15; Acts 7:33 ). This custom still prevails among the Moslems of our day. Probably it was the idea of defilement through contact with the common ground which gave rise to its moral application by the Preacher, "Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God" (Ecclesiastes 5:1 (Hebrew 4:17)).

Nakedness of the feet in public, especially among the wealthier classes, who used to wear shoes or sandals, was a token of mourning (Ezekiel 24:17 and probably also Jeremiah 2:25 and Isaiah 20:2-4 ). A peculiar ceremony is referred to in Deuteronomy 25:9 , Deuteronomy 25:10 , whereby a brother-in-law, who refused to perform his duty under the Levirate law, was publicly put to shame. "And his name shall be called in Israel, The house of him that hath his shoe loosed." See also Rth 4:7, Rth 4:8.

Numerous are the phrases in which the word "foot" or "feet" is used in Biblical language. "To cover the feet" (1 Samuel 24:3 ) is synonymous with obeying a call of Nature. "To speak with the feet" is expressive of the eloquence of abusive and obscene gesticulation among oriental people, where hands, eyes and feet are able to express much without the use of words (Proverbs 6:13 ). "To sit at the feet," means to occupy the place of a learner (Deuteronomy 33:3; Luke 10:39; Acts 22:3 ). Vanquished enemies had to submit to being trodden upon by the conqueror (a ceremony often represented on Egyptian monuments; Joshua 10:24; Psalm 8:6; Psalm 110:1; compare Isaiah 49:23 ). James warns against an undue humiliation of those who join us in the service of God, even though they be poor or mean-looking, by bidding them to take a lowly place at the feet of the richer members of the congregation (James 2:3 ). We read of dying Jacob that "he gathered up his feet into the bed," for he had evidently used his bed as a couch, on which he had been seated while delivering his charge to his several sons (Genesis 49:33 ). "Foot" or "feet" is sometimes used euphemistically for the genitals (Deuteronomy 28:57; Ezekiel 16:25 ). In Deuteronomy 11:10 an interesting reference is made to some Egyptian mode of irrigating the fields, 'the watering with the foot,' which mode would be unnecessary in the promised land of Canaan which "drinketh water of the rain of heaven." It is, however, uncertain whether this refers to the water-wheels worked by a treadmill arrangement or whether reference is made to the many tributary channels, which, according to representations on the Egyptian monuments, intersected the gardens and fields and which could be stopped or opened by placing or removing a piece of sod at the mouth of the channel. This was usually done with the foot. Frequently we find references to the foot in expressions connected with journeyings and pilgrimages, which formed so large a part in the experiences of Israel, e.g. Psalm 91:12 , "lest thou dash thy foot against a stone"; Psalm 94:18 , "My foot slippeth"; Psalm 121:3 , "He will not suffer thy foot to be moved," and many more. Often the reference is to the "walk," i.e. the moral conduct of life (Psalm 73:2; Job 23:11; Job 31:5 ).

Figurative: In the metaphorical language of Isaiah 52:7 "the feet" are synonymous with "the coming."

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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Foot'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 1915.

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