As the well aged Abraham sought the assistance of his eldest servant to find a wife from his own kindred, for his son, Issac, he made him swear, by what would seem odd in this day an age. He requested his servant to place his hand under his thigh and take the oath. (Genesis 24:2). The same gesture is requested of Joseph by Jacob, to place his hand under his thigh and swear that he would bury Jacob in the promised land of Canaan and not Egypt (Genesis 47:29-31).
According to studies of ancient customs, to place one’s hand under the thigh is a very euphemistic way to describe the gesture, as it literally meant to place one’s hand under the loins or testicles. In fact, such customs were observed even to the day of the Romans and has been observed in the animal world amongst primates (Baboons in particular), as more of a social than sexual gesture, as well. In fact, the etymology of the word “testify” which means “to witness” can be traced to the word “testicles”. So what’s it with what we would deem such a weird custom?
The two most plausible reasons for Abraham’s request are: 1. Abraham was making his servant swear by the “seed of Abraham” that was promised, so Abraham in a sense was trusting his servant, with his very life (lineage) i.e., to ensure the continuity of his seed. 2. Today before we testify, we are asked to place our hand over the Bible that shows God’s covenant with man. In the days of Abraham, before the Bible was canonized, the sign of God’s covenant with man was the circumcision, so to place one’s hands under the thigh, could have similar meaning. I believe, the latter to be more plausible due to the request of Jacob of Joseph. Secular and traditional explanations of this custom tell us that this was a sign of submission and obedience to authority, which is not implausible.
Points to ponder:
Irrespective of whether, one’s gesture is as a swearing by the covenant or as an indicator of submission to authority, what is of importance to recognize is that “Truth” is held up in our testimonies (witness). The Apostle Paul writes of the full armor of God and starts out by asking us to gird our loins (under the thigh) with the belt of Truth (Ephesians 6:10-18). Jesus is the very personification of Truth himself (John 14:6) and we ought to be girded by him. The Bible teaches us that we ought not to swear by anyone, anything or anyplace, but let our ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ be ‘no’ (James 5:12). In other words, the words we speak and testify with, should be as good as an oath which precludes the need for any customs or gestures, odd or not. In other words, symbolically to place one’s hand under the thigh is to bear witness of the truth and to hold it high for God, our Master (as was Abraham to his servant), our Father (as was Jacob to Joseph).
Genesis 24:2-3 (KJV)
2 And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he had, Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh:
3 And I will make thee swear by the Lord, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell: