“Even the dust of your city which clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you…” Luke:10:11
“Shaking the dust off the feet” was a common display of contempt toward Gentiles by the Jews. So ardently was their hatred of Gentiles, that even the dust that clung to the bottom of their sandals from Gentile territories was removed, as to not pollute their own “holy” land upon re-entering it. The Jews vaingloriously believed they were far better than Gentiles (all non-Jews) and presumed them to be unworthy of God’s attention. Perhaps their haughty behavior grew from the fact that they are God’s “chosen people” (Deut. 7:6, Isa. 14:2, 43:20); a “special treasure, above all peoples on the face of the earth” (Deut. 14:2);”…to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises...entrusted with the oracles of God.” (Rom. 9:4, 3:2b); and “…the apple of His eye.” (Zech. 2:8). Furthermore, God made a covenant with their father Abraham, an unconditional promise to make them a great people and give them and land and blessings (Gen. 12:1-3, 15:18-21).
Israel was required to be lights to Gentile nations and to glorify the God of Israel. (Ex. 19:5-6). However, they behaved disobediently and miserably failed to represent God’s holiness to the pagan nations, often refraining from setting foot in Gentile cities. They even despised half-breed Jews; Jews and Samaritans who intermarried. If for instance, a Jew had to travel on foot from Judah to Galilee (approximately ninety miles), many times they bypass the significantly shorter route through the city of Samaria and trekking around it, would walk the extra distance. As with Gentiles, the Jews believed that setting foot in Samaria would defile them.
Jesus, on the other hand ascribed a different meaning to the act of “shaking the dust off the feet”. He turned the Jews act of derision toward Gentiles, into a testimony and condemnation upon themselves for their rejection of Him as their Messiah. For example, when Jesus sent out His disciples to the lost sheep of Israel, He gave them the command: “…Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel…And any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake off the dust from the soles of your feet for a testimony against them.” (Matt. 10:5b-6, 14). Luke’s Gospel adds Jesus stating: “Even the dust of your city which clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you; yet be sure of this, that the kingdom of God has come near.” (Luke 10:11). As previously mentioned, Jesus’ disciples were commanded only to preach the good news of the kingdom in Jewish cities, but woe to those who rejected their message: “Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city. (Matt. 10:15). In other words, judgment would fall more severely against those Jews who had the privilege of witnessing the Messiah and full revelation–such a privilege the pagan cities of Sodom and Gomorrah never had the opportunity to witness:
“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You shall descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.” (Matt. 11:21-24).
When the Apostle Paul taught the Gospel at the synagogue in Antioch [Pisidian], it was rejected by most of the Jews, but embraced by attending “God-fearing” Gentiles. Unlike the Jews, the Gentiles desired to hear what Paul had to say and implored him to speak to them again. So on the following Sabbath, Paul addressed those eager to hear his words of eternal life. (Acts 13:42-44). Observing the large crowd that Paul drew to hear his message, the Jews were envious and contradicted his teaching, blaspheming Christ in the process. (Acts 13:45). Paul seeing the Jews hatred of the Gentiles, their rejection of the Gospel, and unworthiness to obtain eternal life, declared that he was turning to the Gentiles: For thus the Lord has commanded us, ‘I have placed you as a light for the Gentiles, that you should bring salvation to the end of the earth.’ Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:47-48). When the Jews saw how rapidly the word of the Lord was spreading throughout the land, they succeeded in stirring up the people against Paul and Barnabas, to persecute them and drive them out of the region. However, as they departed, “…they shook off the dust of their feet in protest against them [the Jews] and went to Iconium.” (Acts 13:51).
In a similar fashion Paul exhibited an act of rejection against the Jews at Corinth where he taught in the synagogue that Jesus was the Messiah: “And when they [Jews] resisted and blasphemed, he [Paul] shook out his garments…” (Acts 18:6a–emphasis added). From the outset of his ministry, Paul constantly met opposition from Jews who opposed his message and blasphemed Christ, thus Paul manifestly displayed repulsion. John MacArthur asserts:
“At length, Paul realizing the futility of continuing to throw pearls before swine (Matt. 7:6), shook [the dust] out his garments in the traditional, dramatic Jewish gesture of rejection, Jews returning from Gentile lands customarily shook the dust off their sandals, an act which became a symbol of hatred of non-Jews (cf. Luke 9:5, Acts:13:51). Paul’s act symbolized “his” rejection of the Jews…It also showed the abhorrence of their blasphemy; he did not want any of the dust from the synagogue, where that blasphemy had taken place to cling to his clothes.” 1
What makes the account at Corinth even more powerful, was the addition of Paul’s chilling words in the second half of verse 18:6: “Your blood be upon your own heads! I am clean. From now on I shall go to the Gentiles.” (Acts 18:6b). Commenting on 18:6b, J. Alexander writes: “Your blood, i.e. the blame of your destruction, be…upon your (own) heads, i.e. rest upon yourselves.” 2
For the most part, Paul had attempted unsuccessfully to get the Jewish people to embrace the revealed mystery of the Gospel of Christ. Furthermore, he went to them first as God had commanded (Act 13:47, cf. Rom. 1:16, Matt. 10:5b-6), but they rejected the Gospel message prompting, Paul and Barnabas to shake off the dust of their feet as a testimony against them.
Tragically, most Jewish people in this present day are hard-hearted toward the Gospel and remain in unbelief. Therefore, the church is predominately made up of Gentiles, thus fulfilling Jesus’ prophesy: ” Therefore I say to you [Jewish leaders], the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation [Gentiles] producing the fruit of it.” (Matt. 21:43). Nearly two thousand years later, the dust of the Gospel is still being “shaken from the feet” [figuratively speaking], of those bringing the Gospel to the Jewish people, but are rejected. However, one day in the future God will demonstrate mercy and forgiveness on Israel: “…[God] will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me [Jesus] whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him, like the bitter weeping over a first-born.” “and thus all Israel will be saved” (Zech. 12:10, Rom. 11:26a).
1 John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Acts 13-28, Moody Press, 1996, pg. 149, commenting on Acts 18:6a, “Shook out his garments”
2 J.A. Alexander, The Acts of the Apostles, Banner of Truth, reprinted in 1963 from the first printing in pg. 167