Jos 7:6. Dust or ashes put upon the head was a sign of mourning; sitting in the dust, a sign of affliction, La 3:29; Isa 47:1. "Dust" is also put for the grave, Ge 3:19; Job 7:21. It signifies a multitude, Ge 13:16, and a low and mean condition, 1Sa 2:8. We have two remarkable instances of casting dust recorded in Scripture, and they seem to illustrate a practice common in Asia: those who demanded justice against a criminal were accustomed to throw dust upon him, signifying that he deserved to be cast into the grave. Shimei cast dust upon David when he fled from Jerusalem, 2Sa 16:13. The Jews treated the apostle Paul in a similar manner in the same city: "They cried out, 'Away with such a fellow from the earth; for it is not fit that he should live.' And as they cried out, and cast off their clothes, and threw dust into the air, the chief captain commanded him to be brought into the castle," Ac 22:22-24. To shake off the dust of the feet against another was expressive of entire renunciation, Mt 10:14; Mr 6:11; Ac 13:51. The threatening of God, recorded in De 28:24, "The Lord shall make the rain of thy land powder and dust: from heaven shall it come down upon thee, until thou be destroyed," means that instead of fertilizing rains, clouds of fine dust, raised from the parched ground and driven by fierce and burning winds, shall fill the air. Of such a rain of dust, famine and disease would be the natural attendants. See WIND.
Storms of sand and dust sometimes overtake Eastern travellers. They are very dreadful, many perishing under them. Jehovah threatens to bring on the land of Israel, as a punishment for forsaking him, a rain of "powder and dust" (De 28:24).
To cast dust on the head was a sign of mourning (Jos 7:6); and to sit in dust, of extreme affliction (Isa 47:1). "Dust" is used to denote the grave (Job 7:21). "To shake off the dust from one's feet" against another is to renounce all future intercourse with him (Mt 10:14; Ac 13:51). To "lick the dust" is a sign of abject submission (Ps 72:9); and to throw dust at one is a sign of abhorrence (2Sa 16:13; comp. Ac 22:23).
To "shake off dust from one's feet against a city or person" implied a solemn refusal to take anything away, even the very dust of their ground, but to leave it to witness against them (Mr 6:11); shaking off all connection with them, and all responsibility for their guilt and consequent punishment for rejecting the gospel.
Small particles of matter found on the ground, out of which man was formed, to whom it was said, "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." Ge 2:7; 3:19. "The first man is of the earth, earthy." 1Co 15:47. It is used as a symbol of weakness: "he remembereth that we are dust." Ps 103:14. To 'lick the dust' is figurative of defeat. Ps 72:9. To 'cast dust upon the head' was a sign of grief. Eze 27:30; Re 18:19. To 'shake the dust off the feet' on leaving a city where the servants of Christ had been rejected, was leaving them to judgement: not even the dust of their city should be presented before the messengers' Master. Mt 10:14; Ac 13:51. Similarly dust was cast or shaken into the air by men in great indignation. Ac 22:23.
DUST, or ashes, cast on the head was a sign of mourning, Jos 7:6: sitting in the dust, a sign of affliction, La 3:29; Isa 47:1. The dust also denotes the grave, Ge 3:19; Job 7:21; Ps 22:15. It is put for a great multitude, Ge 13:16; Nu 23:10. It signifies a low or mean condition, 1Sa 2:8; Na 3:18. To shake or wipe off the dust of a place from one's feet, marks the renouncing of all intercourse with it in future. God threatens the Jews with rain of dust, &c; De 28:24. An extract from Sir T. Roe's embassy may cast light on this: "Sometimes, in India, the wind blows very high in hot and dry seasons, raising up into the air a very great height, thick clouds of dust and sand. These dry showers most grievously annoy, all those among whom they fall; enough to smite them all with present blindness; filling their eyes, ears, nostrils, and mouths too, if not well guarded; searching every place, as well within as without, so that there is not a little key-hole of any trunk or cabinet, if it be not covered, but receives this dust; add to this, that the fields, brooks, and gardens, suffer extremely from these terrible showers."
2. In almost every part of Asia, those who demand justice against a criminal throw dust upon him, signifying that he deserves to lose his life, and be cast into the grave; and that this is the true interpretation of the action, is evident from an imprecation in common use among the Turks and Persians, "Be covered with earth!" "Earth be upon thy head:" We have two remarkable instances of casting dust recorded in Scripture: the first is that of Shimei, who gave vent to his secret hostility to David, when he fled before his rebellious son, by throwing stones at him, and casting dust, 2Sa 16:13. It was an ancient custom, in those warm and arid countries, to lay the dust before a person of distinction, and particularly before kings and princes, by sprinkling the ground with water. To throw dust into the air while a person was passing, was therefore an act of great disrespect; to do so before a sovereign prince, an indecent outrage. But it is clear that Shimei meant more than disrespect and outrage to an afflicted king, whose subject he was: he intended to signify by that action, that David was unfit to live, and that the time was at last arrived to offer him a sacrifice to the ambition and vengeance of the house of Saul. This view of his conduct is confirmed by the behaviour of the Jews to the Apostle Paul, when they seized him in the temple, and had nearly succeeded in putting him to death: they cried out, "Away with such a fellow from the earth, for it is not fit that he should live; and as they cried out and cast off their clothes, and threw dust into the air, the chief captain commanded him to be brought into the castle," Ac 22:23. A great similarity appears between the conduct of the Jews on this occasion, and the behaviour of the peasants in Persia, when they go to court to complain of the governors, whose oppressions they can no longer endure. They carry their complaints against their governors by companies, consisting of several hundreds, and sometimes of a thousand; they repair to that gate of the palace nearest to which their prince is most likely to be, where they set themselves to make the most horrid cries, tearing their garments, and throwing dust into the air, and demanding justice. The king, upon hearing these cries, sends to know the occasion of them: the people deliver their complaints in writing, upon which he informs them that he will commit the cognizance of the affair to such a one as he names; and in consequence of this, justice is usually obtained.