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May 14    Scripture

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Manners & Customs : Eating Customs

Chairs Chairs. With such an Oriental table in general use, it would follow that Occidental chairs would be largely missing. In regard to making use of chairs in ancient Bible days it has been said: "On ordinary occasions they probably sat or squatted on the floor around a low table, while at meals of more ceremony they sat on chairs or stools. The scriptural instances of chairs or stools used at mealtime, include Joseph's brothers sitting on seats at a banquet in Egypt (Genesis 43:33); and David's having a seat at the table of King Saul (I Samuel 20:5, 18). Both of these cases are connected with royalty or high position. On ordinary occasions the "chair" used by the vast majority of Israelites was the ground or floor on which would be spread a carpet or a mat. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]

Dipping in the Dish DIPPING INTO THE DISH AND GIVING THE SOP Oriental customs of eating must be kept in mind in order to understand the meaning of the words and action of JESUS, in relation to Judas Iscariot at the last supper. Mark's account reads: "Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, One of you which eateth with me shall betray me. And they began to be sorrowful, and to say unto him one by one, Is it I? and another said, Is it I? And he answered and said unto them, It is one of the twelve, that dippeth with me in the dish" (Mark 14:18-20). Some have supposed that Judas was in the position where he would be dipping at the same time with JESUS into the dish, and that he was thus singled out as the betrayer. But this could hardly be, since the other disciples did not discover who the betrayer was from these words of JESUS. Since they all had been eating from the same large dish, these words of JESUS, he "that dippeth with me in the dish," did not identify anyone of them. All of them, as well as Judas, had been dipping into the dish with Jesus. JESUS was simply informing them that one of them now eating with Him would become His betrayer. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]

Dishes Dishes. At an Oriental meal the only dishes are those in which the food is placed on the table; there are no dishes given to each one having a part in the meal. Often there is only one dish for the food, and it is usually a tray of basketwork, or a copper dish. JESUS spoke of His betrayer as "he that dippeth his hand with me in the dish" (Matthew 26:23; Mark 14:20). In entertaining his guest, Gideon put the meat in a basket, and the broth in a pot (Judges 6:19). [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]

Eastern Eating Customs Customs at Mealtime EASTERN HABITS, connected with the eating of a meal, are such a decided contrast to Western habits, that much care should be given to the study of them, if the many references in the Bible to eating, are to be interpreted accurately. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]

Eating in Easton's Bible Dictionary The ancient Hebrews would not eat with the Egyptians (Gen. 43:32). In the time of our Lord they would not eat with Samaritans (John 4:9), and were astonished that he ate with publicans and sinners (Matt. 9:11). The Hebrews originally sat at table, but afterwards adopted the Persian and Chaldean practice of reclining (Luke 7:36-50). Their principal meal was at noon (Gen. 43:16; 1 Kings 20:16; Ruth 2:14; Luke 14:12). The word "eat" is used metaphorically in Jer. 15:16; Ezek. 3:1; Rev. 10:9. In John 6:53-58, "eating and drinking" means believing in Christ. Women were never present as guests at meals (q.v.).

Eating in Naves Topical Bible The host acting as waiter Ge 18:8 -Favored guests served a double portion Ge 43:34 -Table used in Jud 1:7 -Sitting at table Ex 32:6 -Reclining on couches Am 6:4,7; Lu 7:37,38; Joh 13:25 -Ablutions before Mt 15:2 -See FEASTS -See FOOD -See GLUTTONY

Eating Posture POSITION WHILE EATING According to general Arabic custom, the seemly posture while eating is "to sit erect on the floor at the low table, with the legs either folded under the body, or thrown back as in, the act of kneeling. Thus in the desert tent of the Bedouin, or in the simple house of the Fellahin, this would be the position of those eating a meal. And we can be sure that this was the posture of the common people of Bible days in most cases. The exception to this rule is the custom of the wealthy, or the habit of the people on special occasions such as suppers or feasts; and this will be dealt with in a later section. It is easy to imagine Elisha and the sons of the prophets eating in the usual Oriental position, when it says concerning them: "And the sons of the prophets were sitting before him: and he said unto his servant, Set on the great pot" (II Kings 4:38). [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]

Eating Posture at Feasts POSTURE WHILE EATING AT FEASTS It has already been observed that on ordinary occasions the people of the Bible age mostly sat or squatted on the floor around a low table at mealtime. In the king's circle, or at other times of special ceremony, seats were sometimes provided. The prophet Amos is the first sacred writer to refer to the custom of "[stretching] themselves upon their couches" when eating (Amos 6:4). By the time of JESUS, the Roman custom of reclining on couches at supper had been adopted in some Jewish circles. The Roman table and couches combined was called a triclinium. There were three couches which were located on the three sides of a square, the fourth side being left open, so that a servant could get on the inside to assist in serving the meal. The guest's position was to recline with the body's upper part resting on the left arm, and the head raised, and a cushion at the back, and the lower part of the body stretched out. The head of the second guest was opposite the breast of the first guest, so that if he wanted to speak to him in secret he would lean upon his breast. This custom at a banquet table throws light on several passages from the four gospels. The Apostle John asked JESUS a question while in this position at supper (John 13:23-25). In the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, when JESUS said that "the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom" (Luke 16:22), he doubtless meant to imply that he was reclining at a heavenly table next to Abraham where he could lean upon his breast. This is clear in the light of CHRIST's description of that heavenly feast: "Many shall come from the east and the west; and shall sit down [recline] with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 8:11). Also this position of reclining at table explains how the woman could come during a dinner and take her position behind at the feet of JESUS and wash them (Luke 7:38). [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]

Eating Scripture - 1 Kings 1:41 And Adonijah and all the guests that [were] with him heard [it] as they had made an end of eating. And when Joab heard the sound of the trumpet, he said, Wherefore [is this] noise of the city being in an uproar?

Eating Scripture - 1 Samuel 14:34 And Saul said, Disperse yourselves among the people, and say unto them, Bring me hither every man his ox, and every man his sheep, and slay [them] here, and eat; and sin not against the LORD in eating with the blood. And all the people brought every man his ox with him that night, and slew [them] there.

Eating Scripture - 1 Samuel 30:16 And when he had brought him down, behold, [they were] spread abroad upon all the earth, eating and drinking, and dancing, because of all the great spoil that they had taken out of the land of the Philistines, and out of the land of Judah.

Eating Scripture - Amos 7:2 And it came to pass, [that] when they had made an end of eating the grass of the land, then I said, O Lord GOD, forgive, I beseech thee: by whom shall Jacob arise? for he [is] small.

Eating Scripture - Exodus 12:4 And if the household be too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbour next unto his house take [it] according to the number of the souls; every man according to his eating shall make your count for the lamb.

Eating Scripture - Exodus 16:18 And when they did mete [it] with an omer, he that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack; they gathered every man according to his eating.

Eating Scripture - Isaiah 22:13 And behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine: let us eat and drink; for to morrow we shall die.

Eating Scripture - Isaiah 66:17 They that sanctify themselves, and purify themselves in the gardens behind one [tree] in the midst, eating swine's flesh, and the abomination, and the mouse, shall be consumed together, saith the LORD.

Eating Scripture - Luke 10:7 And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house.

Eating Scripture - Ruth 3:3 Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the floor: [but] make not thyself known unto the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking.

Eating with Hands USE OF HAND INSTEAD OF KNIFE, FORK, OR SPOON In general it may be said that the Arabs in eating do not use knives, plates, or napkins which are considered so essential in the West. They say: "What does a man want of a spoon when GOD has given him so many fingers?" Sheets of bread, about as thick as heavy flannel; take the place of spoons or forks to some extent. A piece from this bread is broken off and shaped so as to put some of the food on it. They use this bread to scoop up any partially liquid dish, such as soups, sauces, or gravies. Each torn off piece of bread that thus serves as a spoon is eaten along with the food it contains. Meat is usually served in a single large dish and is eaten with the fingers. Broth is served in a separate dish and it is used to moisten the bread. This method of eating is actually not as untidy as might be supposed. The invitation Boaz gave to Ruth to eat with his workers, indicates that these same customs must have been in operation in those days: "And Boaz said unto her, At mealtime come thou hither, and eat of the bread, and dip thy morsel in the vinegar" (Ruth 2:14). And at the last supper JESUS said to His disciples, "He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, the same shall betray me" (Matthew 26:23). Furthermore, He spoke of dipping a choice portion of the meat called the sop into the dish (John 13:26). More will be said of this under the section dealing with suppers and banquets. Suffice it to say, that most of the Oriental customs of today in regard to eating date back, not only to the days of our Saviour, but also to the Old Testament era. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]

Giving the Sop Again, CHRIST's giving of the "sop" to Judas was in accordance with certain Eastern custom still observed in modern times. John reports what was done and said: "He then lying on Jesus' breast said unto him, Lord, who is it? Jesus answered, He it is, to whom I shall give a sop, when I have dipped it. And when he had dipped the sop, he gave it to Judas Iscariot" (John 13:25, 26). What is meant by the "sop"? It is the most tasty morsel of food being served at the feast. It may be served in the "bread spoon," but is more often picked up by the host with his thumb and finger, and handed directly to one of the guests. But why is a sop given to one of the guests? A native and resident of Bible lands says that certain villagers there have this custom of giving the sop today, and he describes the purpose of the act thus: It is with them a mark of special respect for the master of the feast to hand to a guest portions of what is before him, or to insist on putting morsels or sops into his mouth with his own hand. I have had this done to me several times, when the intention was certainly to honor and manifest good will. The meaning of what CHRIST did then was most certainly to extend love and friendship to the very one who was going to betray Him. The act has been described as if the LORD were saying to the traitor: Judas, my disciple, I have infinite pity for you. You have proved false, you have forsaken me in your heart; but I will not treat you as an enemy, for I have come not to destroy, but to fulfill. Here is my sop of friendship, and "that thou doest, do quickly." [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]

Meal Times TIME OF MEALS Meals are not always served at the same time in the Orient today, and the nature of the meals varies in different sections. The same was also true in Biblical times. In the main it may be said that the Hebrews had only two meals a day, breakfast, and dinner. The time for breakfast varied all the way from early morning to noon. JESUS served breakfast to a group of hungry fishermen early in the morning (John 21:12). In commenting on the negligence of the guards of King Eglon (Judges 3:24), the Jewish historian Josephus says: "It was then summer time, and the middle of the day, when the guards were not strictly on their watch, both because of the heat, and because they were gone to dinner." Attention is called to the fact that the word Josephus uses for "dinner" is the word meaning "breakfast" as used in the New Testament. It would appear from this that the Jewish historian was indicating that sometimes breakfast was served as late as noon in his day. No doubt it was more often served in the middle of the morning. In the Parable of the Wedding of the King's Son, the message went forth to the invited guests, "I have prepared my dinner [the word for 'breakfast']" (Matthew 22:4). The marriage feast here would be similar then to the English "'wedding breakfast." Both meals of the Jews are mentioned by JESUS in an exhortation he gave his host, "When thou makest a dinner or a supper" (Luke 14:12). The evening meal would in most cases be the main meal, but not always, depending on the nature and place of the men's work. The custom in some modern cities of having breakfast anywhere from nine to twelve o'clock, and dinner in the evening, would correspond quite closely with the two meals of the Jews of Bible times. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]

Saying Grace Before the Arabs begin their meal each person repeats after the Master of the house some such a grace as, "In the name of God," or, "Praise Allah," or, "God be praised." In the Old Testament era the Jews were in the habit of saying grace at meals, and if a prophet was to be present he was expected to do it for them. Concerning Samuel when Saul was to eat the sacrifice with him, it was said, "He doth bless the sacrifice: and afterwards they eat that be bidden" (I Samuel 9:13). In relating the miracle of JESUS feeding the five thousand John says, "And Jesus took the loaves and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples . . ." (John 6:11). And concerning the feeding of the four thousand, Matthew is careful to include the blessing in his description: "And he took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks" (Matthew 15:36). Dr. Edersheim suggests that CHRIST may have prayed an extemporaneous prayer for grace, or He may have used the formula widely used by the Jews of His day as a mealtime grace. Here is the formula: "Blessed art Thou, Jehovah our GOD, King of the world, who causes to come forth bread from the earth." Also it was customary for the Jews in those days to have a second prayer of thanks at the end of the meal. Their authority for this was Deuteronomy 8:10: "When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the LORD thy God for the good land which he hath given thee." In the saying of these graces it was customary for one of the guests to give the thanks in a loud voice, and for the rest to say Amen, or to repeat some of the words of the grace. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]

Tables Table. In many cases the Arab custom would seem to indicate to the Westerner that they use no table at all when serving a meal. Actually, a mat spread upon the ground serves the purpose of a table. This is especially true of the tent Arab. This was the early Semitic table of Old Testament times, for the Hebrew word "Shool-khawn," usually translated "table," has as its root meaning, "a skin or leather mat spread on the ground. With this sort of a table in view, the Psalmist can be understood when he said concerning his enemies, "Let their table become a snare before them." David's meaning would be, "Let their feet become entangled in it, as it is spread on the ground." If the Arabs use more of a table than this mat, then it is likely to be a polygon stool, no higher than about fourteen inches, and those eating would sit on the floor around this stool. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]

Washing Hands After Eating WASHING AFTER THE MEAL After a typical Oriental meal, washing the hands again is of course essential. If there is a servant, he is the one to bring in the pitcher of water and basin, and the water is poured over the hands of those who have eaten the meal. A napkin is placed over the shoulder so that the hands may be dried. They do this for each other if there is no servant to do it for them. That this method of pouring water to wash hands was used in ancient times has already been seen concerning the washing of hands before eating. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]

Washing the Hands WASHING OF HANDS BEFORE EATING Orientals are careful to wash their hands before a meal, but they would think that the Occidental way of washing in the water already made dirty by the hands, to be very untidy and disgraceful. The servant or whoever takes his place, pours water on the hands to be washed as they are held over a basin. Often the basin has a concave cover with holes, so as to allow the dirty water to run through and thus be out of sight. The method of eating without knives, forks, or spoons, makes this washing a necessity. That this method of washing was in vogue in the days of the prophets is seen by the way Elisha was characterized by the king's servants: "Here is Elisha the son of Shaphat, which poured water on the hands of Elijah" (II Kings 3:11). Elisha had served as Elijah's servant, and pouring water, so that his master could wash his hands, was an important part of his duties. When the Pharisees complained against the disciples of JESUS, because they ate bread without washing their hands (Matthew 15:1,2; Mark 7:1-5), it was concerning a lengthy ceremonial washing of hands that they spoke. The Jewish hierarchy of that day had given forth a positive injunction as to exactly how this ablution should be done. It was not a law of Moses but a tradition of the elders. JESUS refused to sanction it as a rule that was binding. It was not the custom of washing hands before eating that JESUS objected to, but the authority the rabbis claimed to have in telling the people the exact and detailed manner in which it must be done. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]