International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
BED; BEDCHAMBER; BEDSTEAD
For the very poor of the East, in ancient times as now, the "bed" was and is, as a rule, the bare ground; and the bedclothes, the gown, simlah, or "outer garment," worn during the day ("For that is his only covering, it is his garment for his skin: wherein shall he sleep?" (Ex 22:27); compare Dt 24:13, "Thou shalt surely restore to him the pledge when the sun goeth down, that he may sleep in his garment").
When one was on a journey, or watching his flock by night as a shepherd, such a "bed" was the most natural, and often a stone would serve as a pillow. (See Gen 28:11, where Jacob "took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep.")
An advance on this custom, which came in due course of time, or under change of circumstances, was the use of a mat on the floor as a bed, with or without covering. At first it was literally laid on the floor, which was generally of one common level, in some convenient place near the wall; but later it was put on an elevation, either a raised part of the floor on one side, or a bedstead, which gave rise to the expression "going up to the bed" (compare Gen 49:33 English Versions of the Bible, "He gathered up his feet into the bed," and Ps 132:3, "go up into my bed").
1. Old Testament Terms for Bed, and Sleeping Customs of the Hebrews:
With a later development and civilization, "beds" came to be built upon supports and constructed in different forms, which fact is reflected in the variety of names given the "bed" in the Hebrew and related languages.
(1) The following Hebrew words are used in the Bible for "bed," and, though it is impossible at this remove of time and place and custom to differentiate them sharply, they will repay study: miTTah (Gen 48:2, "And Israel strengthened himself and sat upon the bed"; Ex 8:3, "frogs .... shall come into thy bedchamber, and upon thy bed"); mishkabh, compare (Gen 49:4, Jacob to Reuben: "Because thou wentest up to thy father's bed; then defiledst thou it"); `eres (Prov 7:16, the "strange woman" says: " I have spread my couch with carpets of tapestry"; compare Ps 41:3, "Thou makest all his bed in his sickness"); matstsa` (once only, Isa 28:20, "For the bed is shorter than that a man can stretch himself on it; and the covering narrower than that he can wrap himself in it"); and yetsua` (Job 17:13, "I have spread my couch in the darkness"; 1 Ch 5:1, "He defiled his father's couch"; compare Gen 49:4 where the same "father's bed" is mishkabh; Ps 63:6, "when I remember thee upon my bed"; Ps 132:3, "nor go up into my bed").
(2) It is a far cry from the simple sleeping customs of Dt 24:13 to the luxurious arts and customs of the post-exilic days, when beds of fine wood and ivory are found in use among the Hebrews, as well as pillows of the most costly materials elaborately embroidered (see Judith 10:21; Est 1:6; compare Song 3:10); but it all came about as a natural, as well as artificial development, with changed conditions and contacts and increasing civilization and luxury. As marking the several stages of that development, we find pictures of the poor, first sleeping upon the ground without mat or mattress, then in a single sleeping-room for the whole family, often without a separate bed, then with "beds" that were simply wadded quilts, or thin mattresses, and mats for keeping them off the ground; then with still better "beds" laid upon light portable, wooden frames, or upon more elevated bedsteads (compare Ps 132:3 and Mk 4:21 the Revised Version (British and American) "under the bed"). The degree of richness depended, of course, upon time and place, in a measure, but more upon the wealth and station of the family and the style of the house or tent in which they lived, as it does even with the Bedouin of today. The prophet Amos gives a vivid and significant picture of the luxury of certain children of Israel, "that sit in Samaria in the corner of a couch, and on the silken cushions of a bed" (Am 3:12); and of certain children of luxury "that lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock .... that drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief oils; but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph" (Am 6:4-6; compare Rev 18:10-13).
(3) We find that the poor, while sleeping for the most part in their ordinary clothing, often, in cold weather, made their beds of the skins of animals, old cloaks, or rugs, as they do still in the East. The "beds" and "bedding" now in ordinary use among Orientals are much the same, we may be sure, as they were in olden times. "Bedsteads" of any pretention were and are rare among the common people; but the richness of "beds" and "bedsteads" among Asiatics of wealth and rank was quite equal to that of the Greeks and Romans (compare Prov 7:16,17, "I have spread my couch with carpets of tapestry, with striped cloths of the yarn of Egypt. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon"); Song 1:16,17: "The beams of our house are cedars, and our rafters are firs .... also our couch is green." Compare the "palanquin" of Solomon, "of the wood of Lebanon," "the pillars thereof of silver," "the bottom of gold," and "the seat of purple" (3:9,10).
(4) As soon as any family could afford it, a special bedroom would be set apart, and the whole family would sleep in it (see Lk 11:5-8, "My children are with me in bed"). When the house had two stories the upper story was used for sleeping, or, during very hot weather, preferably the roof, or the room on the roof. See HOUSE. When morning came the "bed," a wadded quilt or mattress, used with or without covering according to the season, was rolled up, aired and sunned, and then put aside on the raised platform, or packed away in a chest or closet.
The words mishkabh and miTTah came to have a figurative meaning signifying the final resting-place; and `eres used of the "bedstead" of the King of Og (Dt 3:11) is thought by some to mean his sarcophagus (Benzinger, Hebrew Arch., 123; Nowack, I, 143). Gen 47:31, "And Israel bowed himself upon the bed's head" is not rightly rendered (see STAFF, and Crit. Commentary in the place cited.).
2. New Testament Terms for Bed, Their Meaning, etc.:
(1) We find several Greek words, kline, krabbatos, and koitte, used in the New Testament somewhat indiscriminately and rendered English Versions of the Bible by "bed," "couch," etc.; but, as with the Hebrew words noted, there is little to indicate just exactly what they severally stand for, or how they are related to the Hebrew terms rendered "bed" or "couch" in the Old Testament. Of one thing we can be sure, reasoning from what we know of "the unchanging East," the "beds" and sleeping customs of the Hebrews in Christ's time were in the main about what they were in later Old Testament times.
(2) An interesting case for study is that of the man "sick of the palsy" whom they brought to Jesus "lying on a bed," and who when healed "took up the bed, and went forth before them all" (Mt 9:2,6; Mk 2:4,12; Lk 5:18,19; compare Jn 5:8-12). Here the "bed" on which the sick of the palsy lay was let down from the housetop "through the tiles with his couch into the midst before Jesus" (Lk 5:18,19); and when the man was healed Jesus commanded him, as Luke says, to "take up (his) couch and go unto (his) house ," and he "took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his house, glorifying God" (Lk 5:24,25). It seems, therefore, that this "bed" was a "pallet" and "couch" combined, a thin mattress upon a light portable frame, such as we have already seen was in use among the ancients. Another kindred case was that of the sick man at the pool of Bethesda (Jn 5:2 ff) whom Jesus healed and commanded to "take up his bed and walk," and he "took up his bed and walked"; only in this case the "bed" is a "pallet" without the frame, it would seem.
(3) Jesus in His teaching (Mk 4:21; compare Lk 8:16) asks, in language which is significant in this connection: "Is the lamp brought to be put under .... the bed?" (Lk 8:16: "No man, when he hath lighted a lamp, covereth it with a vessel, or putteth it under a bell"). Here, clearly, "the bed" is the "bedstead," bedclothes, draperies and all, under which "the lamp" would be obscured and hindered in its function of "giving light to all in the room." Again (Lk 17:34) Jesus says, "In that night there shall be two men on one bed," which is incidental evidence that the "beds" of that day were not all "pallets" or "couches" for one only (compare Lk 11:7, "My children are with me in bed"; Song 1:16; 3:10; Prov 7:16,18).
(4) For figurative use in the prophets (e.g. Ezek 23:17) and in the New Testament (e.g. "Let the bed be undefiled," Heb 13:4), see commentaries in the place cited
George B. Eager
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Definition for 'bed; bedchamber; bedstead'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". bible-history.com - ISBE
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