Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Connection Between Faith and Food

In Deuteronomy 8, Moses describes the Promised Land in the following way:

So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.  (Deut. 8:6-10, ESV)

In the middle of this description he mentions seven types of produce, all of which are pictured above.  Barley and wheat are at the far left, each represented by its grains and a loaf of bread made from that type of grain. Vines are represented at the top of the photo by three types of grapes, along with a cup of wine and a plate of raisins. Figs are at the far right side of the picture: fresh figs (top) and dried figs (bottom). Pomegranates (two whole and one opened) can be seen at the top of the photo between the grapes and figs. Olives are shown at the lower right side: both green and black olives along with a cup of olive oil, an oil lamp (behind the cup), and a branch from an olive tree.

Lastly, honey is represented by dates at the bottom center of the photo. The juice that was squeezed from fresh dates was known as date honey, and can be seen in the cup just above the plate of fresh and dried dates. Some scholars believe that date honey instead of bee honey makes the most sense in this list of agricultural products.

Nogah Hareuveni, an expert in biblical plants, has observed that these seven varieties were all products that depended on the right kind of weather ...

... during the fifty days between Passover and Shavuot (Pentecost).  During this period, between mid-April and mid-June, the flowers of the olive, grape, pomegranate and date open, and the embryonic figs begin to develop.  During this same period, the kernels of wheat and barley fill with starch.  Thus the fate of the crops of each of the seven varieties is determined. ...

"The northern wind" -- the northwesterly and northern winds that blow over Israel between Passover and Shavuot -- frequently bring rain.  This northern wind is most beneficial to wheat if it blows during the what's early stages of ripening, while it is still young .... But the same wind can wreak havoc on the olive crop if the buds have already opened into flowers. ... The same danger threatened the grape, pomegranate and date flowers.  Therefore, this northern wind can, at one and the same time, be a blessing to wheat "when it has reached a third of its ripening" and a curse to the olives if it comes after they have blossomed but before they have been pollinated.

On the other hand, a prolonged southern wind (the dry wind coming during this period from the south or southeast) is good for the olive as well as for the grape, date and pomegranate crops.  However, this same southern wind can devastate the wheat and barley crops if it comes before the kernels have filled with starch ... for then the grain will be scorched and the crop decimated ...

Let the northern wind come during the first weeks after Passover, thus giving the wheat and barley a chance to fill with starch, and leaving the olive buds closed.  Let the southern wind come only after the grain kernels have filled and the stalk hardened, but let it prevail until the flowers of the olive, grape, date, and pomegranate have been pollinated.

The seven varieties (including the date as honey) are the outstanding representatives of the special agricultural problems of the land of Israel.  The fate of these crops depend on the delicate balance and exact timing of opposing forces of nature during the critical period between Passover and Shavuot.

We have discussed before on this blog about how the Promised Land was a strategic location for the Israelites because it was a testing ground for faith.  Even a simple list of agricultural products, such as this one in Deuteronomy 8, is a reminder of the fact that God's people had to live by faith.

The blessings of modern technology have placed many of us in a position where it doesn't require a whole lot of faith to get get our food.  We just hop in the car, drive down to the grocery store, and there it is!  The lesson for us in this is to remember that we too are entirely dependant on God to provide our daily food.  In the next few verses, Moses gives the Israelites a warning that is just as applicable to us today as it was to them back then:

Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God ... (Deut. 8:11-14, ESV)

Let's not forget the Lord while we live in a land of plenty.

Excerpt is taken from Nogah Hareuveni, Nature in Our Biblical Heritage (Neot Kedumim, Israel: Neot Kedumim, 1980), pp. 35-38, and can be purchased here. Photo courtesy of and can be purchased here.