When the Gentiles heard this, they were very glad and thanked the Lord for his message; and all who were chosen for eternal life became believers. So the Lord’s message spread throughout that region. Then the Jews stirred up the influential religious women and the leaders of the city, and they incited a mob against Paul and Barnabas and ran them out of town. So they shook the dust from their feet as a sign of rejection and went to the town of Iconium. And the believers were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.Acts 13:48-52
Notice how even at the end, the closing section is divided into the reactions of the two camps: the Gentiles and the Jews. The Gentiles were glad and thanked the Lord and spread the message far and wide. The Jews on the other hand ran Paul and Barnabas out of town. That is not to say that all Jews were involved in running Paul and Barnabas out of town. There were likely some Jews who supported them and responded positively but the point is that even the positive ones said nothing to oppose those who wanted them gone. By saying nothing against those we disagree with we effectively agree with them through our silence.
Now we have this curious statement – “So they shook the dust from their feet as a sign of rejection and went to the town of Iconium.” The first time I read this passage in Acts after I became a Christian I imagined the significance of it was a parallel to the nearest thing I knew from my experience. Having played tennis on clay courts I know the clay sticks to the bottom of your shoe. So every now and then throughout a match you have to knock one shoe against another or use your tennis racquet to knock the sticky clay off the soul of your shoe. Otherwise you will be carrying around a heap of clay on the bottom of your shoe which will make your feet heavier and make it harder to run. In doing so I was using my own understanding to interpret the Bible. Don’t ever use your own understanding to interpret the Bible. That will lead you to a wrong conclusion. You need to learn to interpret the Bible through the cultural perspective from which it was written and from the time perspective in which it was written.
This passage doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that dust on your shoes will slow you down. Rather it is a symbolic act of breaking off association with someone and moving on. Wiping your hands of them would be a good modern day analogy. The only reference to this practice in the Bible is a New Testament one found in each of the synoptic Gospels.
When you enter the home, give it your blessing. If it turns out to be a worthy home, let your blessing stand; if it is not, take back the blessing. If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave.Matt 10:12-14
But if any place refuses to welcome you or listen to you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate.Mark 6:11
And if a town refuses to welcome you, shake its dust from your feet as you leave to show that you have abandoned those people to their fate.”Luke 9:5
But if a town refuses to welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘We wipe even the dust of your town from our feet to show that we have abandoned you to your fate. And know this—the Kingdom of God is near!’Luke 10:10-11
These two Jews were separating themselves from their Jewish roots. In doing so they were making a two fold statement. They left a pile of dust behind as a witness to the encounter and of their response to the antagonistic Jews. It was the equivalent of a Jew calling the people heathens. The land outside of Israel was regarded as unclean. So much so that the Jews had a practice that when a person travelled out of Palestine and returned again it was customary to shake the dust off your feet so as not to bring the dust of an unholy land back into Palestine. To shake the dust off your feet within Palestine was to send the message to those whom you were leaving that you regarded them as no more than unclean Gentile or Godless heathen. What is even more ironic in this case is that the Godless heathen have responded positively while the Jews themselves are acting like Godless heathen. The pile of dust left behind bore testimony against them and served to remind them in a way similar to the monument stones the Jews were encouraged to leave behind to remind themselves of God’s faithfulness. Now that was a strong message.
From there they moved to Iconium which was the easternmost city of Phrygia Galatica, a Roman colony. It was an important transportation centre at the junction of several main roads.
Success is going from failure to failure without any loss of enthusiasm.Winston Churchill
Judge the criticism; love the critic. If it’s true, change; if it’s not, forgive!Ian Vail
Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.R.W. Emerson
Hardening of the heart ages people more quickly than hardening of the arteries.Ian Vail
Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.Winston Churchill
It is a blessed release when you make the decision to let go of what you can’t change!Ian Vail