The Housetops

An Orientalism:
A Custom or Mannerism in the Bible Times

Read Time: 4 Minutes

Bishop K. C. Pillai enlightens us on the uses of the housetop in the East. In the East the housetops are used extensively; they are flat and used for sleeping, praying, and communication. They can also watch any parades or important people going by.

During most seasons families will sleep on the housetops. There is a small room built to keep the bedding in. That small room can also be used as a prophets chamber. An example of this is the Shunamite woman who made a chamber for Elisha to stay in when he passed through.

II Kings 4
:8 And it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman;
    and she constrained him to eat bread.
    And so it was, that as oft as he passed by,
        he turned in thither to eat bread.
:9 And she said unto her husband,
        Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God,
            which passeth by us continually.
:10   Let us make a little chamber,
        I pray thee, on the wall;
        and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick:
        and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither.

The houses in a village are also built close together so that travel among the housetops is feasible. The housetops are also considered public in a way. They are accessible from the garden and anyone can go up on a housetop to look down at the street below without asking permission. In times of danger the people can get out of the village by traveling among the housetops. This brings more understanding the words that Jesus spoke about the Day of Judgment.

Luke 17
:31  In that day,
    he which shall be upon the housetop,
        and his stuff in the house,
        let him not come down to take it away:
    and he that is in the field,
        let him likewise not return back.

News is spread through the city via the housetops.

Matthew 10
:17  What I tell you in darkness,
speak ye in light:
    and what ye hear in the ear,
preach ye upon the housetops.

The eastern people also pray on their housetops (in order to be closer to God). A record of this is in Acts

 Acts 10
:9   On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city,
    Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour: [noon]

They also remove their shoes when they pray; any place where they call upon God is holy ground. Bishop Pillai comments on this: "so that praying at noontime on the roof with bare feet can be a real test of piety!"

Another feature of the rooftops in the east is that they can be taken apart and put back together giving access to the rooms below. We see a reference to this in Mark.

Mark 2
:4  And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press,
    they uncovered the roof where he was:
    and when they had broken it up,
    they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay.

They did not break up the roof in a sense of destroying it but merely took it apart to access the rooms below. We in the west would say we "break camp" when we are getting ready to leave; it has a similar meaning.

When there is a crisis, or threat to the city the ruler can call upon all to go to the housetops. They can be united together in prayer and effort. The following is a quote from Bishop K. C. Pillai regarding gathering a city on the housetops.

If there is any crisis, any disease or threat, the ruler of the town calls all the people out onto the housetops and then calls on God to deliver them. If Easterners were in New Knoxville [Ohio], and heard about a plague in Lima, they would all go up on the housetops to pray that God would let the plague pass by and not harm them.
      There are no divisions among the people when this happens. The crippled, the old and the sick are all carried up on the roof also; not one soul is left behind so that God can see that the town has "wholly" gone up to the housetops! The people do not say, "Oh, well Mayor Jones is a Methodist and we are Episcopalians, so we cannot pray with him!"
      How well I remember that in India when Gandhi called for prayer, hundreds of thousands of people turned out. There was no building anywhere which was large enough to hold the people. They had to meet on the seashore to pray because Gandhi called them to "wholly" come out to pray.
      This country needs to "wholly" go up to the housetops, that is, to pray together with one accord and one purpose for God to deliver us from the dangers and threats which are around us. This is no time to worry about denominational or creedal differences! Let us turn to God for deliverance. God bless you.

Let us "ascend to our housetops" and bring our petitions before God.