The Symbolism of the Seven Species of Israel
“For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land – a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey.”
–Deuteronomy 8:7 – 8 NIV
The Seven Species of Israel pertain to the main foods that the Jewish people have been consuming during biblical times throughout the land of Israel. Each species are prominently included in the fifth book of the Torah where Moses describes the richness and abundance of the land that the Lord God is giving His people. Now, the traditional berakah, thanking God for the goodness of the land, which is being recited after eating them signifies the importance of these fruits in Israel. In this article, let us examine each of the seven species and the symbolism that it wants to convey to us.
Wheat is one of the earliest cultivated grains in ancient times, and it is first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 30:14. After that, it has been mentioned several times as a symbol of the abundance of a place. Wheat is the primary staple food in ancient Israel and even in the lands of Gentiles such as Egypt. However, for a believer in the New Testament, wheat has been used to symbolize those who are citizens of the Kingdom of God and was directly compared to weeds which are considered as the unbelievers. The verses can be found in Matthew 13:24 – 30. In another place, Jesus compared His sacrifice to a wheat grain when He said, "Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." Wheat symbolizes those people who believed in God, and He calls them to offer a living sacrifice so that a lot of other seeds will be produced.
Another grain crop from the ancient times, barley is the second component of the seven species. Though it is also a grain crop, wheat is still considered as more important staple food compared to barley. New Testament prominently mentioned barley in the story where Jesus fed the 5,000. It says in John 6:9, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” Though, barley is considered secondary; Jesus was still able to use it to bless His people. Barley can be seen as a symbol of God’s abundant blessing and His ability to meet us in the midst of our needs.
3. Grape Vine
Pressed grapes are the main ingredient in the production of wine. In fact, the cluster of grapes is one of the first produce that the spies have brought from the Promised Land that encouraged the Israelites that the land they are going to possess is indeed a land flowing with milk and honey. On the other hand, Jesus describes our relationship with Him using the analogy of wine and the branches. In Psalm 104:15, the psalmist talks about wine as a way to make people glad. Grape, therefore, symbolizes the joy that we feel when we received God's blessing in our lives.
Another prominent fruit in the Bible is the fig which came from the fig tree. There are a lot of references made in the Bible with regards to this particular tree and were also used as a symbol to illustrate different things. As a staple food, the Jews regularly eat this fruit as a snack. For the symbolism, however, the Bible consistently uses the fig tree as the nation of Israel. A healthy fig tree that produces a lot of fruit shows God's favor and blessing upon His people while Jesus cursed a fig tree that is barren in the New Testament.
There are two particular places in the Scriptures where it mentioned the pomegranates. First, is in the book of Exodus where pomegranates were used as an additional design to the clothes of the High Priest. Another is in 1 Kings where Solomon used pomegranate design as a decoration in the two pillars. Like the other staple food in the Seven Species, pomegranates have also been used as a symbol for a lot of things in the Bible. For instance, the many seeds inside its fruit are said to represent the number of laws written in the Torah. It is also used as a symbol of fruitfulness and an allusion to the Fruits of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.
6. Olive Oil
Olive oil that is produced from olive fruits is also associated with various symbols in the Jewish belief system. However, the olive oil takes special significance because it is also being used to burn the lamp continually inside the Tabernacle. It is also used as an ingredient in creating the anointing oil that which is used in anointing the articles of the Tabernacle and even the King that was chosen by God to lead His people, Israel. Since the Holy Spirit is the One that keeps us burning with passion for God and also anoints us to be God's chosen servants, the olive oil can be seen as a representation of the third person of God. He sanctifies us, fills us, gives us light and spiritual health in our lives.
This is traditionally Dates, which during biblical times, were being made into honey. In fact, some people believe that God’s promise to Israel to give them a land flowing with milk and honey pertains to the honey that is produced from dates. If that is the case, then, dates can symbolize the overflowing blessing of God to the nation of Israel. It can also be seen as God’s delight to His people.
In summary, the Seven Species of Israel symbolize God’s great provision and abundant blessings to His people. The seven staple food are not just for consumption, but God wants us to use for reflection about His goodness and faithfulness in our lives.