Ankle bracelets are mentioned several times in the Bible, primarily in the Old Testament. While the specific term “ankle bracelet” is not used, there are references to ankle chains and ankle ornaments which functioned similarly to modern day ankle bracelets.
In Biblical times, ankle bracelets and ankle chains were worn by women, servants, and slaves. They served various purposes including identification, protection, and decoration. Understanding the meaning and symbolism of ankle bracelets in the Bible requires looking at the context and culture of the time period.
Here are some key takeaways about the meaning of ankle bracelets in the Bible:
- Ankle bracelets were worn as ornaments and jewelry, especially by women. They indicated beauty, status, and wealth.
- Servants and handmaids wore ankle chains and bracelets for identification purposes. It showed who they belonged to.
- Ankle chains also indicated slavery or bondage. Removal of ankle chains symbolized freedom.
- The ankle bracelet was sometimes used figuratively in the Bible to represent sin, bondage, and wrath.
- In prophetic and apocalyptic passages, ankle chains and ornaments figure prominently as symbols of judgment and humiliation.
This blog post will examine the Biblical mentions of ankle bracelets and ankle chains to understand their context, meaning, and symbolism for practitioners of Christianity today.
Ankle Bracelets in the Old Testament
Most of the references to ankle bracelets and anklets in the Bible are found in the Old Testament. They are referred to in various ways including “ankle chains,” “ankle ornaments,” “ankle rings,” and “chains on [the] feet.”
The ankle bracelet held symbolic significance and meaning for the Israelites in Biblical times.
Ankle Bracelets as Jewelry and Ornaments
One of the most common uses of ankle bracelets in Biblical times was as jewelry and ornaments, especially for women. Isaiah 3:16-23 describes the excess adornment of the “daughters of Zion” which displeased God:
Moreover the Lord saith, Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet: Therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will discover their secret parts…In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon, The chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers, The bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings, The rings, and nose jewels, The changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins, The glasses, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the vails. (Isaiah 3:16-23 NKJV)
The “tinkling ornaments about their feet” refers to ankle bracelets and anklets worn by Israelite women, which made sounds as they walked. The removal of these ornaments was a sign of God’s judgment on their pride and vanity.
Ankle bracelets are also mentioned in Ezekiel 16:10-13 as part of the rich adornment given by God to Jerusalem, here depicted as an unfaithful bride:
I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of fine leather. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head…You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. (Ezekiel 16:10-13 NKJV)
The ankle bracelet was considered an item of beauty and luxury. Wearing ankle jewelry demonstrated status and wealth.
Ankle Bracelets and Chains on Servants
Another use of ankle bracelets in the Old Testament was to identify and designate servants, slaves, and handmaids.
When Abraham’s servant traveled to find a wife for Isaac, Abraham instructed him:
“Put your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell; but you shall go to my country and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” (Genesis 24:2-4 NKJV)
This gesture of placing the hand under Abraham’s thigh was a way of identifying the servant and designating his subordinate status. It parallels other passages where ankle chains and bracelets denote servitude.
Similarly, in Exodus 21, the process of a Hebrew slave gaining freedom is described:
But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever. (Exodus 21:5-6 NKJV)
Piercing the ear of a slave who chose not to go free was a physical marker of permanent servitude, similar to an ankle bracelet.
Isaiah also makes reference to ankle chains as a sign of slavery in a messianic prophecy about the coming savior:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness, The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:1-3 NKJV)
Proclaiming “liberty to the captives” and freeing “those who are bound” is symbolic language pointing to the removal of ankle chains and unshackling those in slavery.
Figurative Use as Sin and Bondage
In some prophetic texts, ankle chains and bracelets served as a metaphor and vivid symbol of sin, wrath, and bondage.
The prophet Nahum, prophesying the destruction of Nineveh, uses ankle chains figuratively:
Because of the multitude of harlotries of the seductive harlot, The mistress of sorceries, Who sells nations through her harlotries, And families through her sorceries. “Behold, I am against you,” says the Lord of hosts; “I will lift your skirts over your face, I will show the nations your nakedness, And the kingdoms your shame. I will cast abominable filth upon you, Make you vile, And make you a spectacle. It shall come to pass that all who look upon you Will flee from you, and say, ‘Nineveh is laid waste! Who will bemoan her?’ Where shall I seek comforters for you?” (Nahum 3:4-7 NKJV)
The phrase “lift your skirts over your face” refers to the humiliation of having ankle bracelets exposed as a sign of bondage to sin. The ankle bracelet served as a metaphor for the iniquity and judgment coming upon Nineveh.
Similarly, the prophet Isaiah speaks of judgment on Jerusalem using the imagery of ankle chains:
For Jerusalem stumbled, And Judah is fallen, Because their tongue and their doings
Are against the Lord, To provoke the eyes of His glory. The look on their countenance witnesses against them, And they declare their sin as Sodom; They do not hide it. Woe to their soul! For they have brought evil upon themselves. (Isaiah 3:8-9 NKJV)
The references to falling and stumbling evoke tripping over ankle bonds, symbolic of their sin enslaving and entangling them.
Humiliation and Punishment
Building on the symbolism of sin as bondage, the prophets also employed imagery of ankle bracelets and chains to depict the humiliation and punishment coming upon the disobedient.
The prophet Jeremiah pronounced judgment using ankle chains as an image:
O Lord, You have pleaded the case for my soul; You have redeemed my life. O Lord, You have seen how I am wronged; Judge my case. You have seen all their vengeance, All their schemes against me. You have heard their reproach, O Lord, All their schemes against me, The lips of my enemies And their whispering against me all the day. Look at their sitting down and their rising up; I am their taunting song. Repay them, O Lord, According to the work of their hands. Give them a veiled heart; Your curse be upon them! In Your anger pursue and destroy them From under the heavens of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:58-66 NKJV)
Jeremiah’s plea for judgment uses the idea of ankle bracelets as symbols of bondage and humiliation at the hands of enemies. He prays their humiliation would be visited back upon them through God’s judgment.
The prophet Isaiah also utilized the ankle bracelet imagery in his pronouncement of judgment against Babylon:
Come down and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon; Sit on the ground without a throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans! For you shall no more be called Tender and delicate. Take the millstones and grind meal. Remove your veil, Take off the skirt, Uncover the thigh, Pass through the rivers. Your nakedness shall be uncovered, Yes, your shame will be seen; I will take vengeance, And I will not arbitrate with a man.” (Isaiah 47:1-3 NKJV)
Isaiah evokes the image of a woman forcefully unveiled and made to cross rivers with her ankles exposed in disgrace and humiliation. The ankle bracelet represented judgment and humiliation for sin.
Ankle Bracelets in the New Testament
References to ankle bracelets are less common in the New Testament, but the imagery continues, especially in prophetic and apocalyptic passages related to future judgment.
Freedom from Spiritual Bondage
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28 NKJV)
By pairing “neither slave nor free,” Paul alludes to the Old Testament idea of removing the bonds of slavery. Believers in Christ experience spiritual liberation, symbolized by the removal of ankle bracelets signifying servitude.
Humiliation and Judgment
The apocalyptic section of Revelation contains a sobering scene where ankle bracelets represent the judgment coming on the unbelieving:
The sky receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved from its place. Then the kings of the earth, the nobles, the commanders, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and free man, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of Their wrath has come, and who is able to withstand it?” (Revelation 6:14-17 NKJV)
The Scripture notes that “every slave and free man” hide themselves in shame and fear. This points back to the Old Testament idea of slaves marked by ankle bonds. The ankle bracelet image represents the coming judgment they are unable to escape.
Later in Revelation, believers are promised liberation even from death:
Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and will reign with Him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6 NKJV)
The “second death” is symbolic of eternal separation from God. Believers are promised freedom even from this, evoking the Old Testament image of removing the slave’s ankle bonds.
Applying the Biblical Symbolism of Ankle Bracelets
When we understand the Biblical context and symbolism of ankle bracelets, several key applications emerge for Christians today:
- Freedom in Christ: Believers are liberated from spiritual bondage and united in Christ. External adornment is less important than inner character.
- Avoiding Moral Bondage: Sin and immorality have enslaving consequences in our lives. As Christians we should avoid choices that place us in spiritual bondage.
- Embracing Humility: Pride and arrogance have no place in the life of a Christian. We do not deserve honor but should embrace humility as servants of Christ.
- Living in Light of Judgment: God’s judgment for sin is a sobering reality. Unbelievers will face eternal separation from God. We should live holy lives and call others to salvation.
- Trusting Christ’s Redemption: While judgment falls on unbelief, Christ offers redemption! Believers are redeemed from bondage and promised eternal life through faith in Him.
The Biblical imagery of ankle bracelets provides rich symbolism that enhances our understanding of the gospel. As modern readers, we can apply these lessons of freedom, humility, holiness, judgment, and redemption in our own lives.
In summary, ankle bracelets had a very specific symbolism in Biblical times that sheds light on key spiritual truths. They represented beauty and status, but also sin, bondage, judgment, and humiliation. Understanding these symbols in context helps unlock deeper meaning that can enrich a Christian’s walk with God even today.
While ankle bracelets are not commonly worn in the modern western world, their imagery still resonates. The liberating message of the gospel frees us from spiritual bondage and calls us to live humbly, holy lives as we anticipate the coming day of Christ’s justice and judgment on sin.
As believers, we can trust in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, whose death and resurrection sets us free. Clothed in His righteousness alone, we can look forward to eternal life with Him when He makes all things new. The Biblical symbolism of the ankle bracelet beautifully illuminates this hopeful message of good news.