The Jews would have considered themselves polluted by eating with people of another religion, or with any who were ceremonially unclean or disreputable-as with Samaritans, Joh 4:9, publicans, Mt 9:11, or Gentiles, Ac 10:28; Ga 2:12. Eating together was an established token of mutual confidence and friendship, a pledge of friendly relations between families, which their children were expected to perpetuate. The rites of hospitality were held sacred; and to this day, among the Arabs, a fugitive is safe for the time, if he gains the shelter of even an enemy's tent. The abuse of hospitality was a great crime, Ps 41:9.
To "eat" a book, is to make its precepts, promises, and spirit one's own, Jer 15:16; Eze 3:1; Joh 4:14; Re 10:9. So to eat Christ's flesh and drink his blood, is to receive him as a Savior, and by a living faith to be imbued with his truth, his Spirit, and his heavenly life, Joh 6:32-58.
The ancient Hebrews would not eat with the Egyptians (Ge 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 (Mt 9:11). The Hebrews originally sat at table, but afterwards adopted the Persian and Chaldean practice of reclining (Lu 7:36-50). Their principal meal was at noon (Ge 43:16; 1Ki 20:16; Ru 2:14; Lu 14:12). The word "eat" is used metaphorically in Jer 15:16; Eze 3:1; Re 10:9. In Joh 6:53-58, "eating and drinking" means believing in Christ. Women were never present as guests at meals (q.v.).
Besides the common use of this word, it is employed symbolically for to 'consume, destroy:' they "eat up my people as they eat bread." Ps 14:4; cf. Pr 30:14; Hab 3:14; 2Ti 2:17. Also for receiving, digesting, and delighting in God's words: "Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O Lord God of hosts." Jer 15:16. To eat together of the same bread or food is a token of friendship. Jos 9:14; Ps 41:9; Cant. 5:1; Joh 13:18; and such an expression of intimacy is forbidden towards those walking disorderly. 1Co 5:11. It is used to express the satisfaction of doing the work that is before the soul: the Lord said, "I have meat to eat that ye know not of." Joh 4:32. Also to express appropriation to the eater of the death of Christ: "except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you." Joh 6:53. (In Joh 6:51,53 there is eating for reception, ????; and in Joh 6:54,56-57, eating as a present thing for the maintenance of life, ?????.) In the Lord's Supper the Christian eats that which is a symbol of the body of Christ, Mt 26:26, and in eating he has communion with Christ's death. 1Co 10:16.
EATING. The ancient Hebrews did not eat indifferently with all persons: they would have esteemed themselves polluted and dishonoured by eating with people of another religion, or of an odious profession. In Joseph's day they neither ate with the Egyptians, nor the Egyptians with them, Ge 43:32; nor, in our Saviour's time, with the Samaritans, Joh 4:9. The Jews were scandalized at Christ's eating with publicans and sinners, Mt 9:11. As there were several sorts of meats, the use of which was prohibited, they could not conveniently eat with those who partook of them, fearing to receive pollution by touching such food, or if by accident any particles of it should fall on them. The ancient Hebrews, at their meals, had each his separate table. Joseph, entertaining his brethren in Egypt, seated them separately, each at his particular table; and he himself sat down separately from the Egyptians, who ate with him; but he sent to his brethren portions out of the provisions which were before him, Ge 43:31, &c. Elkanah, Samuel's father, who had two wives, distributed their portions to them separately, 1Sa 1:4-5. In Homer, each guest has his little table apart; and the master of the feast distributes meat to each. We are assured that this is still practised in China; and that many in India never eat out of the same dish, nor on the same table, with another person, believing that they cannot do so without sin; and this, not only in their own country, but when travelling, and in foreign lands.
The ancient manners which we see in Homer we see likewise in Scripture, with regard to eating, drinking, and entertainments: we find great plenty, but little delicacy; and great respect and honour paid to the guests by serving them plentifully. Joseph sent his brother Benjamin a portion five times larger than those of his other brethren. Samuel set a whole quarter of a calf before Saul. The women did not appear at table in entertainments with the men: this would have been an indecency; as it is at this day throughout the east. The present Jews, before they sit down to table, carefully wash their hands: they speak of this ceremony as essential and obligatory. After meals they wash them again. When they sit down to table, the master of the house, or the chief person in the company, taking bread, breaks it, but does not wholly separate it; then, putting his hand on it, he recites this blessing: "Blessed be thou, O Lord our God, the King of the world, who producest the bread of the earth." Those present answer, "Amen." Having distributed the bread among the guests, he takes the vessel of wine in his right hand, saying, "Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the world, who hast produced the fruit of the vine." They then repeat the twenty-third Psalm. Buxtorf, and Leo of Modena, who have given particular accounts of the Jewish ceremonies, differ in some circumstances: the reason is, Buxtorf wrote principally the ceremonies of the German Jews, and Leo, those of the Italian Jews. They take care that, after meals, there shall be a piece of bread remaining on the table; the master of the house orders a glass to be washed, fills it with wine, and, elevating it, says," Let us bless Him of whose benefits we have been partaking:" the rest answer, "Blessed be He who has heaped his favours on us, and by his goodness has now fed us." Then he recites a pretty long prayer, wherein he thanks God for his many benefits vouchsafed to Israel; beseeches him to pity Jerusalem and his temple, to restore the throne of David, to send Elias and the Messiah, to deliver them out of their long captivity, &c. All present answer, "Amen;" and then recite Ps 34:9-10. Then, giving the glass with the little wine in it to be drunk round, he drinks what is left, and the table is cleared. See BANQUETS.
Partaking of the benefits of Christ's passion by faith is also called eating, because this is the support of our spiritual life, Joh 6:53,56. Hosea reproaches the priests of his time with eating the sins of the people, Ho 4:8; that is, feasting on their sin offerings, rather than reforming their manners. John the Baptist is said to have come "neither eating nor drinking," Mt 11:18; that is, as other men did; for he lived in the wilderness, on locusts, wild honey, and water, Mt 3:4; Lu 1:15. This is expressed: in Lu 7:33, by his neither eating "bread," nor drinking "wine." On the other hand, the Son of Man is said, in Mt 11:19, to have come "eating and drinking;" that is, as others did; and that too with all sorts of persons, Pharisees, publicans, and sinners.