A thing that confines or restrains from liberty, as a fetter or chain, a shackle; manacle; also confinement (plural); a binding force or influence; a cause of union; a uniting tie.
In Bible times various means were employed for restraint of prisoners, including fetters, stocks, shackles and handcuffs as well as prison houses. Egyptian bas-reliefs show prisoners with elbows bound together with cords, either in front, behind or over the head. Sometimes the wrists are bound, and all the prisoners are tied together by a cord encircling the neck of each. Others are wearing wooden manacles apparently made of two pieces of wood fastened together, with rectangular openings for the wrists. Manacles varied in construction; they were often suspended from the prisoner’s neck by a cord. In some Egyptian reliefs the prisoners are bound differently according to their nationality. Assyrian reliefs depict prisoners with shackles consisting of rings or bands around the ankles fastened together by a bar.
In the Scriptures, the Hebrew word for “copper” (usually plural in such cases) is frequently translated “fetters,” according to the context, because fetters were often made of copper or bronze, although wood and iron were also employed. In the British Museum there is a pair of bronze fetters from Nineveh in the form of a bar with a ring at each end. The rings were cut so that they could be hammered together to embrace the ankles after the feet of the prisoner had passed through them. One of the rings is broken off, but, when whole, the fetters may have weighed about nine pounds (4.1 kilograms).
Roman custom was to attach the right hand of a prisoner by a chain to the left hand of his soldier guard or, for double security, to chain each hand to a soldier on either side. This was true not only when the prisoner was being taken to prison, but also during his imprisonment.
Many of the faithful pre-Christian witnesses suffered bonds and imprisonment. (Heb. 11:36) Of Jacob’s son Joseph in Egypt it is said “with fetters they afflicted his feet, into irons his soul came.” (Ps. 105:18) Delilah used seven still-moist sinews and later new ropes as bonds in an attempt to bring Samson into captivity to the Philistines, but these he broke easily. Finally, after he lost his strength and was captured, he was bound with two fetters of copper. (Judg. 16:6-12, 21) Jeremiah was put in stocks by Pashhur the temple commissioner, and was imprisoned by the princes of Judah in the “house of fetters.”—Jer. 20:2, 3; 37:15.
The Hebrew word mah·peʹkheth, translated “stocks” (Jer. 20:2; 29:26; 2 Chron. 16:10), has the meaning of “twisting, distortion.” These stocks evidently held a person in a bent or unnatural position, and may have confined the neck and arms as well as the legs. No exact description of these stocks is available. Another form of stocks (Heb., sadh) seems to have been used to hold just the feet. (Job 13:27; 33:11) The stocks into which Paul and Silas were put in the inner prison at Philippi held their feet. (Acts 16:24) Roman stocks were wooden frames with several holes spaced so that the legs could be stretched apart. Eusebius tells of imprisoned martyrs whose feet were forced apart in stocks separated “to the fifth hole.” The pillory was an instrument that confined the neck and possibly the arms. (Jer. 29:26) None of such instruments were prescribed by the law of God to Israel, nor did the Law provide for prisons.
Because of unfaithfulness, Jehovah allowed King Manasseh of Judah to be put in fetters of copper by the king of Assyria. King Nebuchadnezzar led King Zedekiah captive to Babylon confined by fetters of copper. (2 Ki. 25:7; 2 Chron. 33:11; Jer. 39:7; 52:11) Jeremiah was in bonds in the Courtyard of the Guard, but was released and his handcuffs were removed by Nebuchadnezzar’s chief bodyguard Nebuzaradan.—Jer. 40:1, 4.
Jesus was bound by the men who seized him in the garden of Gethsemane and was led to Annas and sent away in the same condition to Caiaphas. After his trial before the Sanhedrin he was bound at their order and taken to Pilate. (John 18:12, 13, 24, 28; Mark 15:1) Saul, before he was converted to Christianity to become the apostle Paul, was hunting out Christians to bring them bound to the Jewish high court. (Acts 9:2, 21) Peter was bound in chains between two soldiers by Herod, according to Roman custom.—Acts 12:6, 7.
During his first imprisonment in Rome, Paul, in several of his letters written from there, mentions being in prison bonds and he refers to himself as an “ambassador in chains.” (Eph. 6:20; Phil. 1:7, 13-17; Col. 4:18; Philem. 10, 13) However, as the description of his situation in Acts 28:16-31 indicates, he was granted considerable freedom of movement, writing, receiving and preaching to guests and visitors. Paul was set free but later rearrested. During his second imprisonment in Rome, which ended with his execution, Paul was again confined in chains.—Philem. 22; 2 Tim. 1:16; 2:9; 4:6-8.
METAPHORICAL AND SYMBOLIC USES
The expressions “bonds” and “chains” are often used metaphorically in the Scriptures for imprisonment or some form of confinement. When Israel was in Babylonian captivity she was spoken of as being in bonds or as having bands on her neck (Isa. 52:2), although many of them had their own houses and considerable freedom.—Jer. 29:4, 5.
God has restricted the disobedient angels in “eternal bonds under dense darkness.” (Jude 6) They are also said to be delivered into “pits of dense darkness.” (2 Pet. 2:4) Scriptural evidence shows that they are not denied all freedom of movement, inasmuch as they have been able to get possession of humans and even had access to the heavens until they were cast out by Michael and his angels and hurled down to the earth. (Mark 1:32; Rev. 12:7-9) Satan the Devil is to be bound with a great chain by the angel having the key of the abyss and hurled into the abyss for a thousand years, after which he is to be loosed for a little while. (Rev. 20:3) Since angels are not creatures of flesh and blood, these chains undoubtedly have reference to some binding force of which we have no knowledge.
The woman whom Jesus healed, who had been bent double through a spirit of weakness for eighteen years, Jesus spoke of as bound by Satan. (Luke 13:11, 16) Peter called Simon, who was attempting to buy the gift of holy spirit, a “bond of unrighteousness.”—Acts 8:23.
In a favorable sense, Ezekiel speaks of the “bond of the covenant” because of a covenant’s binding force. (Ezek. 20:37) Those in the marriage covenant are viewed as “bound” by it. (Rom. 7:2; 1 Cor. 7:27, 39) Love is spoken of as a “perfect bond of union.”—Col. 3:14.
[Picture on page 249]
Partially damaged Egyptian relief depicting five methods of binding prisoners