FW: Cover your feet, please!

Dan Wagner Dan.Wagner at datastream.net
Fri Feb 16 20:00:57 EST 2001

I received this email on another discussion list and wanted to post it here
for any input/discussion. I think i have a reply but have not posted it yet.
Any feedback appreciated--i thought it was a pretty interesting post!

Dan Wagner

-----Original Message-----
From: Dan Wagner 
Sent: Friday, February 16, 2001 19:54

I have a question regarding the expression "cover his feet." Please
forgive the bluntness of this post. If you are offended by discussions of
bodily functions, please skip this e-mail.

As far as I can tell, all modern commentators take this expression as a
euphemism for "relieving himself." However, they don't cite the origin of
this interpretation. I wonder if you know how this view originated, and
whether you know of any views to the contrary. BDB takes this view; BDB
is based on Gesenius whose lexicon was published in 1833. Howver, Bush in
his commentary on Judges (c. 1852) says that it means "to sleep;" he
cites Josephus among others in support of this view, and discounts
several "ancient versions" that translate "relieve oneself." The LXX
apparently translates it as "covers his feet" in Judges and "prepared
himself" in Samuel.

A word study is not possible, since the expression occurs only in Judges
3:24 and I Samuel 24:3 (the verb skk does appear in other contexts as
"cover" or "overshadow"). It seems to me the idea that this means
"relieve himself" is totally unreasonable, and that the supposition that
"cover his feet" is actually an expression meaning "to take a nap" or "to
sleep" ("to catch some z's" might be a colloquial translation) is really
the correct view.

In the first passage, Eglon is in his upper chamber ("upper room of
cooling"), which apparently is the place where he receives official
visitors. After Ehud assassinates him, Eglon's servants find the doors
locked, and assume he is "covering his feet." Commentators say this means
he was going to the bathroom. I question whether people back then would
have really turned the nicest room in the house, not to mention the
official reception room, into the bathroom. I suppose perhaps chamber
pots might have been used by the ancient Moabites, but why didn't the
servants call out to their king? If they really thought he was using the
lavatory, they could have simply inquired if everything was all right.
But if they assumed he was napping, they would not have cried out for
fear of unnecessarily disturbing him. And it would have been logical to
take a nap (as well as hang out most of the time) in an upper room which
would have received cooling breezes.

In the second passage, Saul goes into a cave to "cover his feet,"
oblivious to the fact that David and his servants are hiding in that very
cave. David sneaks up on Saul and cuts off part of Saul's robe. To me,
the idea that all this took place while Saul was going to the bathroom is
absolutely preposterous. First of all, was it really  an ancient custom
to go into caves to go to the bathroom? Modern-day near-Eastern custom is
probably similar to the custom among Islamic tribes in Africa, who are
quite content to relieve themselves right by the side of the road (i.e.,
in public). Some commentators have attempted to explain the etymology of
"cover your feet" by saying that a man's long robes would literally cover
his feet when he squatted down to do his business. But for this very
reason, it is hardly necessary for a man to climb into a cave in an out
of the way place just to relieve himself. Furthermore, if it were the
practice for passing travelers to enter caves to use as outhouses, would
David and his men really have wanted to enter one, especially a dark one?
(I suppose you could argue their fear for their lives would outweigh any
concern about stepping in, or sitting in, a pile of you-know-what). If
Saul was in there relieving himself, wouldn't he have taken some kind of
torch, so he could see? It was, after all, dark enough for David and his
men to hide there. But if Saul had had a torch, he would have seen David.
In any event, why didn't Saul hear David sneak up on him, close enough to
cut the fringe off his robe? For that matter, why didn't Saul hear
David's discussion with his men in v. 4? But if Saul were actually taking
a nap, this would explain how David could do all this without Saul

I would appreciate any light you can shed on this.

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