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 De 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 Ge 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 Ge 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.



(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 Pr 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"); So 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" (So 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 Lu 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 (De 3:11) is thought by some to mean his sarcophagus (Benzinger, Hebrew Arch., 123; Nowack, I, 143). Ge 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.



(4) For figurative use in the prophets (e.g. Eze 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

See also

  • Bed