MANNERS & CUSTOMS OF THE BIBLE (DOMESTIC ACTIVITIES)

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Most people in Bible times go up early, before the sun was up, so that they could make the most of the hours of daylight and allows for the extreme heat at midday in the summer. Abraham got up early to obey God’s command to sacrifice (Genesis 22:3); Moses got up early in the morning to meet God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:4); Job offered worship early in the morning (Job 1:5); Jesus prayed before sunrise (Mark 1:35).

Although it was possible for a person to stay in bed (Proverbs 26:14), it was very difficult to do so in a small house because everyone slept together on the platform. One person getting up would disturb the others-a point made when Jesus was telling the story of the friend who needed help with some extra food at midnight (Luke 11:7).

BREAKFAST

Breakfast was an informal meal taken sometime after getting up-a cake of bread with something inside, such as olives, cheese, or dried fruit. While the men and older boys left for their work, eating as they went, mother and girls did the domestic chores for the day, together with any boys too young to work and unable (in early biblical years) to go to school. The youngest minded any animals possessed by the family (David for example, in 1 Samuel 16:11), while the others were busy in and about the house.

MILLING

As soon as the men had disappeared, the hand-mill was taken from its place one the platform and placed on a square of clean cloth. It was made of two disc-shaped stones about twelve to eight-teen inches (thirty to fifty centimeters) across. The lower stone had an upright wooden stake that passed through an ample hole in the upper stone, which ideally was made of basalt, a light-weight rock. An upright handle fixed to the upper stone made it possible to rotate the stone about the wooden stake or pivot. Either barley grains (for the poor) or wheat grains were put into the pivot hole as the top-stone was being turned. The grain was crushed between the two stones and came out onto the cloth as flour. A woman could do the milling by herself, but it was easier working with a companion (see Matthew 24:41). If possible, slaves were used to do this work, as Samson found out in prison (Judges 16:21) and as the Jews found in captivity (Lamentations 5:13). It was, however, a basic, homely sound as the grain was milled. Jeremiah said that the absence of the sound would be a mark of the judgment of God (Jeremiah 25:10).

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FETCHING WATER

The two jobs outside the house-collection water and going to the local market-were done by the older girls. Water was fetched form the local well or spring at the beginning or end of the day. Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, utilized this fact to seek guidance from God in choosing a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24:11-13). He also knew that it was always the older, unmarried girls who came to fetch the water (see 1 Samuel 9:11). The water was carried in a large earthenware pitcher either on the shoulder (the method adopted by Rebekah in Genesis 24:15), or on the hip.

THE WOMAN AT THE WELL

The Samaritan woman came at the sixth hour of the day (midday), despite the heat, because she knew there would be no other women at the well. Furthermore, because of the lifestyle she was following, she did not want to talk to them. She had brought her own leather bucket to the well to get the water out (John 4:6-7)

SHOPPING

If food was not available from one’s own stores it was necessary to go to the local market to purchase provisions. This was a daily tasks because it was not possible to keep food for more than a day in the hot climate without recourse to drying or salting. This practice lies behind the words in the Lord’s Prayer, “give us today our daily bread,” where we pray for God’s help to enable us to live one day at a time (Matthew 6:11, italics added). As part of the visit to the tradesmen, some families would collect bread that had been baked in the community oven. Hosea tells us how loaves were put in the oven overnight and were cooked slowly, until taken out before the baker stirred up the fire in the morning again (Hosea 7:4-6), and while Jeremiah was imprisoned he received a daily loaf from the street of the bakers in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 37:21). While the water and food was being collected the mother and the other girls had plenty to do. The floor of the house had to be swept carefully and the place made tidy (see Luke 11:25), particularly if animals had slept inside overnight, and washing had to be done, the fire had to be fanned into a flame so that cooking could proceed.

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