706. The Mill

Matthew 24:41; Exodus 11:5; Deuteronomy 24:6; Job 41:24; Ecclesiastes 12:4; Isaiah 47:1-2; Jeremiah 25:10; Luke 17:35; Revelation 18:22  •  2 min. read  •  grade level: 9
The ordinary hand-mill of the East consists of two circular stones from eighteen inches to two feet in diameter and about six inches deep. The lower, or “nether,” is sometimes, though not always, of heavier and harder stone than the upper. See Job 41:2424His heart is as firm as a stone; yea, as hard as a piece of the nether millstone. (Job 41:24). The upper, or “rider,” is slightly concave, and covers like the lid of a vessel the lower, which is convex. From the center of the lower stone there rises a pivot, on which the upper stone revolves. Near the edge of the upper stone is the perpendicular stick or handle by which it is turned, and at the center is a hole for the pivot, and also for the grain to fall through upon the stone below. The lower stone has a projection on a part of the edge two or three inches long, slanting downward, and hollowed so as to carry off the meal.
The work of grinding meal is usually performed by the women, and is very laborious. Sometimes one works alone, but usually two work together, sitting on the ground with the millstones between them, and both taking hold of the handle and moving it entirely around, to and from them. The usual time for grinding is at early dawn, or else at the evening in preparation for the following day. The stones, as they crush the grain, send forth a grating sound, which, though not very musical in itself; is melodious enough to a hungry traveler. Reference is made to this noise in Ecclesiastes 12:44And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of music shall be brought low; (Ecclesiastes 12:4); Jeremiah 25:1010Moreover I will take from them the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones, and the light of the candle. (Jeremiah 25:10); Revelation 18:2222And the voice of harpers, and musicians, and of pipers, and trumpeters, shall be heard no more at all in thee; and no craftsman, of whatsoever craft he be, shall be found any more in thee; and the sound of a millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee; (Revelation 18:22). In addition to this, the women often sing while grinding.
The women who ground were, among the families of wealth, either slaves or the lowest servants. Thus, in Exodus 11:55And all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sitteth upon his throne, even unto the firstborn of the maidservant that is behind the mill; and all the firstborn of beasts. (Exodus 11:5), we read of “the maid-servant that is behind the mill.” In this passage the expression “behind the mill” can be readily understood by what is said above of the position of the servants when grinding. The prophet Isaiah represents the “virgin daughter of Babylon” as compelled to sit on the ground like a servant to grind meal See Isaiah 47:1-21Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground: there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate. 2Take the millstones, and grind meal: uncover thy locks, make bare the leg, uncover the thigh, pass over the rivers. (Isaiah 47:1‑2). We also have more vividly brought before us the indignity which the Philistines put on Samson when they compelled him to “grind in the prison house.” See note on Judges 16:2121But the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house. (Judges 16:21) (#235).
The millstones were considered so important and necessary a part of household furniture that the Mosaic law would not allow them to be pawned. “No man shall take the nether or the upper millstone to pledge; for he taketh a man’s life to pledge” (Deut. 24:66No man shall take the nether or the upper millstone to pledge: for he taketh a man's life to pledge. (Deuteronomy 24:6)).