(1) Found in the Old Testament only in 2 Samuel 3:31, "and king David followed the bier"; and in the New Testament in Luke 7:14, "and he (Jesus) came nigh and touched the bier." The Hebrew word rendered "bier" (miTTah) and its Greek equivalent (soros) mean strictly "coffin." The so-called "bier" among the ancient Hebrews was simply an open coffin or a flat wooden frame, on which the body of the dead was carried from the house to the grave.
(2) Closed coffins, so uersal now in the West, were unknown to common usage among the Hebrews of olden times, though not unknown to Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.
At the burial of Abner the people were commanded to "rend their clothes" and "gird themselves with sackcloth," and the king himself in token of his grief and royal regard, "followed the bier" in the procession to the grave (2 Samuel 3:31).
(3) Of Jesus, when He met the procession that went out of the gate of the city of Nain, bearing to the grave the only son of the widowed mother, Luke says, "When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her .... and he came nigh and touched the bier," and commanded the young man to arise, etc. We should recall that contact with a dead body was forbidden by the law as a source of defilement (Numbers 19:11); so Jesus here "came nigh" and "touched the bier" only in raising the young man, thus avoiding any criticism for infraction of the law. In John 11:35, as here, we have a miracle of Jesus which clearly pointed to a higher law--the eternal law of compassion which received its first full expression in the life of Jesus and forms one of the distinctive features of the gospel.
George B. Eager
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