“But the Jews stirred up the devout and honourable women, and the chief men of the city, and raised persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them out of their coasts. But they shook off the dust of their feet against them, and came unto Iconium.” (Acts 13:50–51, AV)
I remember playing baseball as a young man in the Little League. On occasion, I would get hit by a ball. Either one that was pitched to me as a batter, or in fielding and the ball skipped up and hit me in the thigh or chest. The coach would then check to see if I was ok and say shake it off and get back to the game. Often in life, some things will happen in which we must shake it off.
When life leaves us with pain, we need to shake it off. We get fired from a job and we must shake it off. We fail a test and we must shake it off. We enter into a relationship and we get hurt, and we must shake it off. The point then from a modern-day viewpoint is that we must shake it off and get on with the program.
However, in this Scripture, the shaking off of the dust from their feet has an added meaning. The situation was that after Paul and Barnabas preached the good news in Antioch Pisidia, where many Jews and Gentiles came to faith, some of the Jews stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas. They incited devout Jewish women of high standing and the leading men of the city against Paul and Barnabas. The reason for this is that the Jews were filled with jealousy as they saw the response of the whole city to what Paul and Barnabas taught. The persecution was so intense, that they ended up driving Paul and Barnabas out of the city.
Paul and Barnabas’ response was to shake the dust off their sandals and leave the city. The first thought in this action is that the shaking off of the dust was a testimony against those who stirred up trouble and rejected the message of the gospel. This shaking off of the dust, was a fulfilling of a command that Jesus gave the disciples.
“And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear you, when ye depart thence, shake off the dust under your feet for a testimony against them. Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment, than for that city.” (Mark 6:11, AV)
The shaking off of the dust comes from the way the Jews looked at the Gentile lands. They considered even the dust of a heathen country as unclean and not even the dust of a heathen land was to be transported into the land of the Jews. In the case of these who rejected the gospel, the shaking off of the dust was a testimony as to their uncleanliness because of their rejection of the gospel and their personal responsibility for their unclean condition.
It also seems that the shaking off the dust might refer to putting their rejection behind and getting on with the mission. They left the defilement of those who rejected the message and carried on. We see that Paul and Barnabas continued the work of preaching the gospel by travelling to Iconium.
Sometimes, in our efforts to share the exciting message of hope that we have in Jesus, we will find some who obstinately oppose the message. It is a sad reality. Not everyone who hears will receive the good news. We cannot allow ourselves to be discouraged by such rejection. We do need to shake it off and get on with our mission to share the message with others.