Foot-washing The custom of washing the feet held, in ancient times, a place among the duties of hospitality, being regarded as a mark of respect. to the guest, and a token of humble and affectionate attention as the part of the entertainer. It had its origin in circumstances for the most part peculiar to the East. In general, in warm Oriental climes, cleanliness is of the highest consequence, particularly as a safeguard against the leprosy. The East knows nothing of the factitious distinctions which prevail among us between sanitary regulations and religious duties; but the one, as much as the other, are considered a part of that great system of obligations under which man lies towards God. What therefore, the health demands, religion is at hand to sanction. Cleanliness is, in consequence, not next to godliness, but a part of godliness itself. As in this Oriental view may be found the origins and reason of much of what the Mosaic law lays down touching clean and unclean, so the practice of feet-washing in particular, which considerations of purity and personal propriety recommended, hospitality adopted ad religion sanctioned. In temperate climes bathing is far too much neglected but in the East the heat of the atmosphere and the dryness of the soil would render the ablution of the body peculiarly desirable, and make feet- washings no less grateful than salutary to the weary traveler. The foot too, was less protected than with us. In the earliest ages it probably had no covering and the sandal worn in later times was little else than the sole of our shoe bound under the foot. Even this defense, however, was ordinarily laid aside on entering a house, in which the inmates were either barefoot or wore nothing but slippers. SEE SHOE.
The washing of the feet is among the most ancient, as well as the most obligator of the rites of Eastern hospitality. From Ge 18:4; Ge 19:2, it appears to have existed as early as the days of the patriarch Abraham. In Ge 24:32, also, "Abraham's servant". is provided with water to wash his feet, and the men's feet that were with him. The same custom is mentioned in Jg 19:21. From 1Sa 25:41, it appears that the rite was sometimes performed by servants and sons, as their appropriate duty, regarded as of an humble character. Hence, in addition to its being a token of affectionate regard, it was a sign of humility. Vessels of no great value appear to have been ordinarily kept and appropriated to the purpose. These vessels would gain nothing in estimation from the lowly, if not mean office for which they were employed. Hence, probably, the explanation of Ps 60:8, "Moab is my wash-pot." Slaves, moreover, were commonly employed in washing the feet of guests. The passage, then, in effect, declares the Moabites to be the meanest of God's instruments. SEE WASH-POT.
The most remarkable instance of this custom is found in the 13th chapter of John's Gospel, where our Savior is represented as washing the feet of his disciples, with whom he had taken supper. Minute particulars are given in the sacred narrative, which should be carefully studied, as presenting a true Oriental picture. From verse 12 sq., it is clear that the act was of a symbolical nature, designed to teach, a fortiori, brotherly humility and good-will. If the master had performed for his scholars an act at once so lowly yet so needful, how much more were the disciples themselves bound to consider ally Christian service whatever as a duty which each was to perform for the other. The principle involved in the particular act is, that love dignifies any service; that all high and proud thoughts are no less unchristian than selfish; and that the sole ground of honor in the Church of Christ is meek, gentle, and self-forgetting benevolence. It was specially customary in the days of our Lord to wash before eating (Mt 15:2; Lu 11:38). This was also the practice with the ancient Greeks, as may be seen in Iliad, 10:577. From. Martial (Epig. 3, 50, 3, "Deposui soleas"), we see it was usual to lay aside the shoes, lest they should soil the linen. The usage is still found among the Orientals (Niebuhr, 1:54; Shaw, page 202). But Jesus did not pay a scrupulous regard to the practice, and hence drew blame upon himself from the Pharisees (Lu 11:38). In this our Lord was probably influenced by the superstitious abuses sand foolish misinterpretations connected with washing before meat. For the same reason he may purposely have postponed the act of washing his, disciples feet till after supper, lest, while be was teaching a new lesson of humility, he might add a sanction to current and baneful errors. SEE ABLUTION. The union of affectionate attention and lowly service is found indicated by feet-washing in 1Ti 5:10, where, among the signs of the widows that were to be honored-supported, that is, at the expense of the Church — this is given, if any one " have washed the saints feet." SEE WASHING OF HANDS AND FEET.