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Chapter 9

SWEET STUFF

Sweetness in the ancient Hebrew diet was provided mainly by fruit. Figs, dates, grapes, and pomegranates were the most important fruits eaten in the Middle East during Bible times. Dates and figs were prized foods, eaten fresh or dried and pressed into cakes.

Grapes were also dried, as well as eaten fresh in season--but their principal use was for wine-making.

Raisins and fig-cakes are mentioned in 1 Samuel 25: 18, 2 Samuel 16: 1-2 ("summer fruits" are figs), and 1 Chronicles 12:40. In the New Testament, Jesus uses the ripening fig tree as a metaphor (Matthew 24: 32), and also curses one (Matthew 21: 19). Figs get additional mention in Revelation 6: 13.

The Sycamore trees noted in Amos 7: 14, and the one Zaccheus climbed to get a better view of Jesus, were fig trees. Other species of figs grown were the Egyptian fig, and the Egyptian Mulberry fruit.

There are fewer specific Biblical references to dates, but the date-palm tree is mentioned several times (eg: Leviticus 23: 40; Judges 4: 5; Psalms 92: 12; Song of Solomon 7: 7; Jeremiah 10: 5), and of course the crowds waved their palm-branches to Jesus upon His triumphant entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21: 8; John 12: 13).

The Hebrews were fond enough of the date palm to use it as a namesake for places (Ezekiel 47: 19; 48: 28; 1 Kings 9: 18) and daughters (Genesis 38: 6; 2 Samuel 13; 2 Samuel 14: 27). "Tamar" means "date palm."

Pomegranates are round fruit resembling a rosy-red, tough-skinned orange. They were used as food and their seeds yielded a red, bitter juice employed both as a beverage and a medicine. Pomegranates were portrayed as symbolic decoration on priestly robes (Exodus 28: 33-34) and on the porch of Solomon's temple (1 Kings 7: 20). They grew abundantly near Cana in Galilee and Jesus would doubtless have eaten them often.

Wine was an important commodity in hot, dry, Palestine, and , as noted above, grapes were used there primarily for wine-making. There are so many references to wine, vines, vineyards, and vintages in the Bible that it is beyond the scope of our brief discussion here to attempt listing them all. Wine first appears in Genesis 9: 21 when Noah gets drunk, and it receives its final mention in Revelation when the "vintage of the earth" is gathered by an angel and cast into the "great winepress"--the wrath of God.

Wine is described in Holy Scripture as both that which "maketh glad the heart (Psalms 104: 15), and as a "mocker (Proverbs 20: 1). Jesus's first miracle was making wine from water at the wedding in Cana (john 2: 19). He referred to Himself metaphorically as the "new wine" (Matthew 9: 17), and as the "true wine" (John 15: 1).

Wine became the mystical symbol of Christ's blood at the Last Supper, and He also implies that wine would be drunk in Heaven (Matthew 26: 27-29). Vineyards are mentioned in several of Jesus's parables (Matthew 20:1; 21: 33; Mark 12: 1; Luke 20: 19).

St. Paul also mentions wine: "be not drunken with wine" (Ephesians 5: 18); "take a little wine for thy stomach's sake" (1 Timothy 5: 23). Wine vinegar, dilutes with water, was widely drunk as a beverage in ancient Palestine (Numbers 6: 3; Ruth 2: 14). Possibly the offer of a vinegar in a sponge to Jesus as He hung on the Cross was simply an act of kindness utilizing a common beverage, although the prophetic context of Psalm 69: 21 indicates otherwise.


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