Q & A: Shake the Dust Off Your Feet

I recently received the question: What does it mean to “shake the dust off your fee”? And how does this relate to dealing with fierce rejecting after sharing the Gospel?

Let’s start with the phrase “shake the dust off your feet.” It comes from Matthew 10:14 where Jesus is giving instruction to His disciples. This verse deals with what the disciples were to do when someone did not receive them or the message they preached.

To “shake the dust off your feet” was something practiced by Jews who came back to Israel from a Gentile (non-Jewish) region. The belief was that even the dirt where Gentiles lived was ceremonially unclean and needed to be removed from a person so as not to contaminate the land, their homes, or their families (Hendriksen, 1985).

There is an interesting point here in Matthew 10. These people and towns were not Gentile but Jewish (v.5). What Jesus is instructing His disciples to do is treat them like Gentiles; as rejected and unclean. Jesus does this to make a point. If the people of God reject the Messiah that they have been waiting centuries for then there is little hope for such a place. Because they had the Christ in the flesh, heard the preaching, saw the miracles, and still rejected Him.

But is there any application from this verse for Christians today? The only place where I found this practice in the Christian age was in Acts 13:51. We read that Paul and Barnabas “shook the dust off their feet in protest against hem and went to Iconium” (NASB 95). From the context it appears that this practice was directed at the Jews who had rejected the Gospel (Acts 13:14-50). Since only the Jews would have understood the meaning of shaking the dust of their feet.

Therefore, I do not think the application here is a literal one. I do believe that there is a principle to be applied from Matthew 10:14. When someone is done listening to you simply move on. The shaking the dust off of feet was a sign of finality. If a person no longer wants to listen, then you have said all you can. The responsibility to continue the conversation rest on them.

Rejection is never easy to deal with, but we must keep in mind that it is the Lord they are rejecting and that none of our labors are wasted in Christ (1 Corinthians 15:58).

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