Known to man as early at least as Cain; the tent not until Jabal, the fifth in descent from Cain (Genesis 4:7; Genesis 4:17; Genesis 4:20). The rude wigwam and the natural cave were the abodes of those who, being scattered abroad, subsequently degenerated from the primitive civilization implied in the elaborate structure of Babel (Genesis 11:3; Genesis 11:31). It was from a land of houses that Abram, at God's call, became a dweller in tents (Genesis 12:1; Hebrews 11:9). At times he still lived in a house (Genesis 17:27); so also Isaac (Genesis 27:15), and Jacob (Genesis 33:15). In Egypt the Israelites resumed a fixed life in permanent houses, and must have learned architectural skill in that land of stately edifices. After their wilderness sojourn in tents they entered into possession of the Canaanite goodly cities. The parts of the eastern house are:
(1) The porch; not referred to in the Old Testament save in the temple and Solomon's palace (1 Kings 7:6-7; 2 Chronicles 15:8; Ezekiel 40:7; Ezekiel 40:16); in Egypt (from whence he derived it) often it consisted of a double row of pillars; in Judges 3:23 the Hebrew word (the front hall) is different. The porch of the high priest's palace (Matthew 26:71; puloon, which is translated "gate" in Acts 10:17; Acts 12:14; Acts 14:13; Revelation 21:12) means simply "the gate." The five porches of Bethesda (John 5:2) were cloisters or a colonnade for the use of the sick.
(2) The court is the chief feature of every eastern house. The passage into it is so contrived that the court cannot be seen from the street outside. An awning from one wall to the opposite shelters from the heat; this is the image, Psalm 104:2, "who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain." At the side of the court opposite the entrance was the:
(3) guest chamber (Luke 22:11-12), Hebrew lishkah, from laashak, "to recline"; where Samuel received his guests (1 Samuel 9:22). Often open in front, and supported by a pillar; on the ground floor, but raised above the level. A low divan goes round it, used for sitting or reclining by day, and for placing beds on by night. In the court the palm and olive were planted, from whence the psalmist writes, "I am like a green olive tree in the house of God"; an olive tree in a house would be a strange image to us, but suggestive to an eastern of a home with refreshing shade and air. So Psalm 92:13, "those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God." Contrast the picture of Edom's desolation, "thorns in the palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses ... a court for owls" (Isaiah 34:13).
(4) The stairs. Outside the house, so that Ehud could readily escape after slaying Eglon (Judges 3:23), and the bearers of the paralytic, unable to get to the door, could easily mount by the outside stairs to the roof, and, breaking an opening in it, let him down in the midst of the room where Jesus was (Mark 2:4). The Israelite captains placed Jehu upon their garments on the top of the stairs, as the most public place, and from them proclaimed "Jehu is king" (2 Kings 9:13).
(5) The roof is often of a material which could easily be broken up, as it was by the paralytic's friends: sticks, thorn bushes (bellan), with mortar, and marl or earth. A stone roller is kept on the top to harden the flat roof that rain may not enter. Amusement, business, conversation (1 Samuel 9:25), and worship (Acts 10:9) are carried on here, especially in the evening, as a pleasant and cool retreat (2 Samuel 11:2) from the narrow filthy streets of an eastern town. Translated 1 Samuel 9:26, "about daybreak Samuel called (from below, within the house, up) to Saul upon the top (or roof) of the house (where Saul was sleeping upon the balcony, compare 2 Kings 4:10), Rise up," etc. On the flat roof it was that Rahab spread the flax to dry, hiding the spies (Joshua 2:6).
Here, in national calamities, the people retired to bewail their state (Isaiah 15:3; Jeremiah 48:38); here in times of danger they watched the foe advancing (Isaiah 22:1, "thou art wholly gone up to the housetops"), or the bearer of tidings approaching (2 Samuel 18:24; 2 Samuel 18:33). On the top of the upper chamber, as the highest point of the house, the kings of Judah made idolatrous altars to the sun and heavenly hosts (2 Kings 23:12; Jeremiah 19:13; Jeremiah 32:29). Retributively in kind, as they burnt incense to Baal the god of fire, the Chaldeans should burn the houses, the scene of his worship, with fire (Zephaniah 1:5). On the top of the house the tent was spread for Absalom's incestuous act with his father's concubines, to show the breach with David was irreparable (2 Samuel 16:21-22).
On the housetop publicly the disciples should proclaim what Jesus privately taught them (Matthew 10:27; Luke 12:3). Here Peter in prayer saw the vision (Acts 10:9). From the balustraded vast roof of Dagon's temple the 3,000 Philistines witnessed Samson's feats (Judges 16:27). By pulling down the two central pillars on which in front the roof rested, he pulled down the whole edifice. Here the people erected their booths for the feast of tabernacles (Nehemiah 8:16). The partly earth materials gave soil for grass to spring in rain, speedily about to wither, because of the shallowness of soil, under the sun's heat like the sinner's evanescent prosperity (2 Kings 19:26; Psalm 129:6).
Though pleasant in the cool evening and night, at other times the housetop would be anything but pleasant; so "it is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop (though there exposed to wind, rain, heat, and cold) than with a brawling woman in a wide house" (a house of community, i.e. shared with her) (Proverbs 21:9).
(6) The "inner chamber." 1 Kings 20:30; 1 Kings 22:25 should be translated (fleeing) "from chamber to chamber." The "guest chamber" was often the uppermost room (Greek huperoon, Hebrew aliyeh), a loft upon the roof (Acts 1:13; Acts 9:37; Acts 20:8-9), the pleasantest room in the house. Eutychus from "the third loft" fell down into the court. Little chambers surround the courtyard, piled upon one another, the half roof of the lower forming a walking terrace of the higher, to which the ascent is by a ladder or flight of steps.
Such "a little chamber" the Shunammite woman made (built) "on the wall" of the house for Elisha (2 Kings 4:10, compare 1 Kings 17:19). Ahaziah fell down from such an "upper chamber" with a projecting latticed window (2 Kings 1:2). The "summer house" was generally the upper room, the "winter house" was the lower room of the same house (Jeremiah 36:22; Amos 3:15); or if both were on the same floor the "summer house" was the outer, the "winter house" the inner apartment. An upper room was generally over gateways (2 Samuel 18:33). Poetically, "God layeth the beams of His upper chambers (Hebrew) in the waters, whence "He watereth the hills" (Psalm 104:3; Psalm 104:13).
(7) Fireplaces are seldom in the houses; but fire pans in winter heated the apartment. Jeremiah 36:22 translated he stove (a brazen vessel, with charcoal) was burning before him." Chimneys were few (Hosea 13:3), simple orifices in the wall, both admitting the light and emitting the smoke. Kitchens are first mentioned in Ezekiel 46:23-24. A fire was sometimes burned in the open court (Luke 22:55-56; Luke 22:61); Peter warmed himself at such a fire, when Jesus on His trial in the large hall, open in front to the court, with arches and a pillar to support the wall above, "turned and looked" on him. Cellars often were made under the ground floor for storage, "secret chambers" (Matthew 24:20). Sometimes the granary was "in the midst of the house" (2 Samuel 4:6).
(8) The cisterns cut in the limestone rock are a leading feature in the houses at Jerusalem, varying from 4 ft. to 30 ft. in width, 8 inches to 30 inches length, 12 inches to 20 inches depth. Almost every house has one, and some as many as four. The rain water is conducted from the roofs into them. Hence the inhabitants within Jerusalem never suffered from want of water in the longest sieges, whereas the besiegers have often suffered. So Nehemiah 9:25, "cisterns hewn" margin, compare 2 Kings 18:31; 2 Chronicles 26:10 margin," Uzziah cut out many cisterns." Israel's forsaking God for earthly trusts is called a "forsaking of the fountain of living waters" for "broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jeremiah 2:13). Proverbs 5:15, "drink waters out of thine own cistern," means, enjoy thine own wife's love, seek none else. So the heavenly spouse is called "a fountain sealed" (Song of Solomon 4:12).
(9) The foundation was an object of great care. "Great stones" were brought for that of the temple. Often they dug down to the rock and by arches (though not mentioned in Scripture, Ezekiel 40:16 should be translated "porches") built up to the surface. Metaphorically, man's foundation is in the dust (Job 4:10). The wise man digs down to the rock (Luke 6:48), hearing and doing Christ's savings. Christ is the only foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11, etc.). The apostles become "foundations" only by identification with Him, confessing and building themselves, and others on Him (Ephesians 2:20). Simon became the "rock" by identifying himself with Him; but when he identified himself with "Satan" in his dislike of the cross, Jesus called him so (Matthew 16:16-19; Matthew 16:22-23).
(10) The windows were small and latticed, in the sense of glass. Metaphorically the eyes, looking out from the eyelids which open and shut like the casement of a window (Ecclesiastes 12:3). Christ "looketh forth at the windows ... showing Himself through the lattice," the types and prophecies were lattice glimpses of Him to the Old Testament congregation (Song of Solomon 2:9; John 8:56). The legal "wall of partition" was only removed by Christ's death (Hebrews 10:20). Even still He shows Himself only to faith, through the windows of His word and the lattice of ordinances and sacraments (John 14:21), not full vision (1 Corinthians 13:12); an incentive to our looking for His coming in person (Isaiah 33:17).
(11) The walls being often of mud can be easily dug through by a robber (Job 4:19; Job 24:16; Job 15:28). When deserted they soon become "heaps." So hopes of peace with God which rest on no scriptural promises are like walls built with "untempered mortar" (tapheel) (Ezekiel 13:10-16). The mortar with which the leper's house was to be re-plastered is appropriately (as leprosy would mostly appear among the poor) called "mud mortar" (aaphaar) (Leviticus 14:42). In many houses the cattle are in a lower part of the same dwelling (Genesis 24:32; 1 Samuel 28:24 Luke 2:7). Drafted or beveled stones with a rustic boss are not, as was supposed, peculiar to Jewish architecture; but stones of enormous length (as in the Haram wall, and in the base of the tower of David) compared to their height generally are. Roman work on the contrary has often the height greater than the length.
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