SIGNIFICANT SYMBOLISM OF BARLEY AND WHEAT

An article from SVM Spring 2013

By Jim B. Petersen
The observation from the book of Ruth that the two spring crops she gleaned from are symbolic of two eras of time in which God garners His elect, has been subject to criticism. Many times scripture has come under criticism because of obvious bad speculation and sometimes preposterous interpretations of it, but scripture does contain symbol, story, typology and allegory as all who have come into contact with it know only too well. No doubt some prior to Jesus’ time made some sense out of the symbols and stories they were so familiar with, and some made nonsense out of it.

One such person who made good sense of it was John the Baptist who declared that Jesus was the Lamb of God. Prior to the actual fulfillment there were, no doubt, those who criticized that interpretation. In the end the pursuit of understanding must go on with symbol, story or allegory because they are the keys to opening up those things hidden within the scripture, things that are the mysteries of the Kingdom of God (Mark 4:11; Romans 16:25) that which is hidden and to be revealed. The test is within scripture itself, if the symbol, story or allegory brings enlightenment to the rest of scripture, then it should be given its due respect. Much symbolism was given in the Old Testament, written therefor a reason by God. In Matthew 13:52 Jesus instructs us saying “therefore every scribe instructed unto the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder bringing out of his treasure things new and old”.

Interpreting Symbols

Messianic prophecies as became fulfilled revealed the symbols in the Old Testament had real practical meanings. Jesus, for instance, is pictured in the celebration as the Lamb and the unleavened bread. This we know because it has been fulfilled, and we can safely say because of the sheer volume of symbolism and story that remains, many more things are left to be discovered. It is a matter of being able to properly identify the players. Jesus reveals this in His instructions to His disciples in Matthew 13:36-43 where He identifies the players in a parable for them as an example. It was the key to finding out those things hidden from the beginning (Matthew 13:35). We can see that Gideon and his small army, as Old Testament Saints, were directly referred to as a barley cake (Judges 7:13-15). It is interesting that God would use barley in an analogy in a dream to encourage His servant. If it would have been a rock many today would be quick to make an attachment to Jesus because He is well known as the Rock, but the dream showed a barley cake, and the interpretation of the dream showed that the barley cake was the sword of Gideon (his small army). God had already ordained that the harvest of firstfruits be typified by two wave loaves *cakes), and Gideon and his small band were firstfruits, carefully selected out from the whole. The typology seems quite fitting because the Midianites expected the entire army of Israel to come, but lo, it would only be a gleaning from that whole; a firstfruits selection.

Barley and Wheat

Of the two spring food grains to be harvested, barley was the first. This we observe in the account of the Exodus where the barley was smitten by the hail but the wheat was not up yet. (Ex. 9:31,321). (The harvest practices in Egypt differed little from that of Palestine due to it regional proximity). This harvesting procedure was quite well ingrained in the average Israelite mind, supported by the existence of a fragment first called the Gezer calendar from approximately 925BC which clearly defines this yearly harvest schedule. In it we find the two separate harvests in the spring, one of barley and one of wheat. In the fall we find the harvest of ingathering where other produce is gathered, these harvests are synchronized with the festivals of God.

Wheat in the New Testament

Our first encounter in understanding wheat as the symbol of the New Testament saints come with John the Baptist’s words that Jesus had come to gather His wheat. (Matt 3:12). In another account with the people of Sychar at Jacob’s well we see that Jesus made a direct connection with their calling into the new covenant to that of the beginning of the wheat harvest (John 4:34-38). As identifiably different as barley is from wheat we also observe a difference in the people being called under the old and new covenants. In the symbolic New Testament wheat harvest we hear the words of Paul to the somewhat self-reliant Corinthians when he said “for you see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh not many mighty, not many noble (1 Cor. 1:26). The following verses (27-31) go on to describe why God was calling who He was. We see a difference between them and those called under the old covenant where those called were Kings, mighty men of valor, men of renown and Prophets. Gideon and his band were indeed valiant men who rode into physical battle against the enemy of Israel and the church. None of the Corinthians were called to those positions, nor are many of us. We can easily see today that not many kings, heads of state, presidents, or mayors are now called. To the Corinthian Paul drove a message of wisdom to diffuse their penchant with status in which they believed to be rich of influence and a person of rank meant godliness. Under the old covenant many influential people of this sort were indeed called but seemingly not under the new, and we see the evidence of this today where we have few (if any) kings, governors, or great army generals in what is known to be the church of God. It is this difference that gives credibility to the use of barley and wheat in symbolically speaking of the Old and New Testament elect.

In Matthew 13:24-30, we find a parable of Jesus explaining the kingdom of God. In it we find character roles that need to be identified. Jesus gave parables to His disciples to teach them about the mysteries of the kingdom of God. It was necessary because there was much speculation as to how the story of Israel was to unfold, and how the kingdom of God would deal with the present crisis with the Roman government. There was much corruption in the nation and even in the Temple system. If one identifies the wheat as being the new covenant elect of God, then this parable speaks to us in a way it otherwise would not, in fact without this insight it becomes difficult to make any real practical sense of it.

In this parable Jesus is calling into question the customary practice of pulling tares out of a crop. Because this crop is of a certain variety He warns about the dangers of the customary practice. The tares planted in the field clearly were the agents of Satan… false teachers and/or brethren who are engaged in deception and deliberate efforts to overthrow the God of Israel. The disciples understanding under the old covenant was that these false brethren and false prophets were to be found out and stoned. (Deuteronomy 13:1-14) The removal of the tare was symbolic of death, cut off from the earth, it spoke to the customary practice of capital punishment. This, of course, was possible because Israel was a nation unto itself, and the elect called out from those confines were thus protected by this practice. This nation had, as all nations do, this right to curb any activity that may threaten its security. The disciples’ reaction would have been the same as the servants’ reaction described in v: 27,28. Jesus knew they held that understanding and now He was telling them it can no longer work… why?… because brethren are now wheat!

Jesus was revealing that things would change under a new covenant. He is saying that tares now growing amongst wheat (new covenant elect) require different treatment. Wheat is clearly symbolized here as the reason for the change in policy. From our vantage point we can look back and see the logic… the new covenant people would face the specter of going into all the world with the light of the Gospel message. They could no longer rely upon being protected by a nation as helpless as Israel had become, for it was in exile and under siege in its own country ready to collapse. The destruction of the temple and demise of the sacrificial system meant there would be no help available to deal with false teachers and false brethren in the customary fashion. (Deuteronomy 13:1-10) The church was now in the world, but not part of it (John 17:16), it was no longer part of any nation so it is limited in exercising any legal authority. In pondering this we are faced with the interesting fact that barley is a much more hardy grain than wheat and so typifies the old covenant elect who exercised capital punishment and went to war to protect the temple system. Barley is also a more nutritional grain; it is more resistant to drought and can be started early. A study of the differences between the root system of barley and that of wheat (Root Development of Field Crops by John E. Weaver) reveals that barley has a hardier root system, capable of reaching depths of up to five feet with wheat only up to four. Barley is more resistant to drought as a result and so typifies the four Old Testament saints who often endured the extreme hardships of war and captivity. This root system difference suggests that pulling weeds in barley would not be as destructive to the crop as it would to wheat. Barley is a heavy grain high in sugar content making it a great building and energy food, often preferred as food for animals. All of this makes it the grain of choice to sustain in very difficult and starter situations. Wheat is a lighter grain and sifts well, making it the grain of choice to make very fine breads, cakes and dainties. It has a wider range of usage in baking. As different as these two grains are, so is the new covenant church from that of the old covenant one. Understanding that wheat is symbolic of a new covenant people unveils this parable, and shows us reason Jesus gave it.

The church is described in Revelation 12 as a prenatal and postnatal entity, and as different as a woman who has never had a child and one who has; so is there by good reason a difference between the Old Testament church (elect) and the New Testament church (elect) in terms of its work? As different as barley is from wheat, though they both be grain, so are the Old and New Testament churches though they both be the elect of God….grain is grain, and grain is the symbol of the elect of God, that which comprises the ‘loaf or bread’ described in Leviticus 23:17.

The best choice out of the spring grain crops in Palestine to assign to the Old Testament church as a type would be barley, and for the New Testament it would be the wheat. When we consider the Bible, the words of God to human kind, with its obvious heavy content of symbol, story, typology and shadows, we should pay more earnest heed to its usage throughout the book. Many have missed great revelations and understanding because they didn’t lay enough importance on the often repeated use of these symbols in scripture. Symbols need to be identified in order for parables to be understood, and prophecies to be revealed. The festivals of God are full of symbolism, and we all know and understand some of them, but there is work yet to do in discovering treasures still there for the picking.

Different Grain Different Need

The difference between the old covenant calling of the elect and that of the new precipitated a need for new things. There was a need for help to do a worldwide work of preaching the Gospel and taking care of those who responded to it. Without rights to capital punishment there was now a real need for divine protection from Satan’s agents who would destroy it all. God provided something new for this new group of people, a helper (John 14:16-18) a comforter or counselor to be with them always. This comforter, the Holy Spirit, would teach them, and be an aid to them in remembering Jesus’ teachings (v26). It would also provide the divine help to defend against the enemy. This promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and what it provided is clearly laid out for us in the second chapter of the book of Acts where Luke in painstaking detail explains what he saw and heard. What he saw and heard was a display of the power and help of the Holy Spirit being made available for a new job description. Our examination will focus upon the giving of the Holy Spirit for the purpose of service and protection under a new covenant.

A New Gift for a New Church

The “pouring out” of the spirit was the provision of divine gifts to men, and the spirit of understanding to interpret the words of God. As professing Christians, it behooves us to examine what God has set before us, and reach out and claim any promises offered so we can properly be equipped to do His will. These gifts are needed primarily because the new covenant elect are in the world, but not part of it. Secondarily, because the High Priest now serves directly in the heavenly sanctuary and not in the earthly copy where a Priesthood was needed to support the sacrificial system. The New Testament saint has the privilege of direct contact with the High Priest with no other in-between. We first must establish what happened on that eventful day of Pentecost.

The miracles performed that day were: (Acts 2:8-11) the gift of speaking and hearing in different languages. This miracle was given at a special time when many were gathered together for the day of Pentecost, and it served the purpose of enabling may to hear the words about the “wonderful works of God” (v11). And it opened up understanding to the words of God, many now recognizing the many stories, prophecies, and symbolisms contained in their literary heritage about Jesus (v: 12-40). It was a gift that served a purpose for a special occasion. It was not the only gift given though, as time moved along the needs changed and more gifts were given.

Divine Gifts for a New Era

The church was now out from the confines of the nation of Israel and out from under the sacrificial system. It was alone in the world without a physical High Priest, so Jesus sent them the “Comforter,” as He so promised, so they would not be left as orphans (John 14:18). While this promise was made to His disciples, it is by extension to a new church which would now take on the job in a new era of garnering saints (grain). That era we see as being, in symbolism, the gathering of wheat. This new era was quite different than the Old Testament era where the saints were gathered out of the house of Israel (family/seed of Abraham). They were by reason of that, needful of birth or conversion into the Nation and its religion with circumcision as the badge. In addressing this with the Gentile church in Galatia Paul states it this way: Galatians 3:16 Now to Abraham and his seed (family)were the promises made. He said not, as to seeds (families) as of many; but as of one, and to thy seed (family), which is Christ.” The promises included the inheritance of eternal life, and we see that those under the old covenant that were called died not receiving them yet. (Hebrews 11:13)

In the new covenant our inheritance is as Paul described to the Galatians, one of being through Christ’s seed (family) because Jesus was of the house of Abraham, but also; “Before Abraham was I am” (John 8:58) making God the real family being built. The Gentile along with all others in the new covenant now become members of the household of God through Jesus. It is no longer of the old covenant physical birth/ adoption into the household of Abraham with covenant signature of circumcision. The household of God is entered via the household of Abraham, and Jesus the Kinsmen redeemer is that door through which all enter.

This new arrangement made it possible to call individuals from all walks of life out of all nations and in all parts of the world This is what caused the need for the special gifts to be given to men. To cope with this enormous change in process, divine help was necessary. So upon the New Testament church the Spirit was poured out according to promise.

The Divine Gifts

Many have supposed that the pouring out of the Spirit was for the purpose of miraculously transforming the person from evil to good. “Transformed by the Spirit” is the common idea behind many messages with such content. People have reasoned that the disciples were awkward failing individuals, citing the incident with Peter denying Jesus three times as the proof. They then go on to describe a new transformed Peter in his triumphant sermon on the day of Pentecost willing to lay his life down, yet neglect to recognize that Peter failed that test yet another time in the Antioch incident where Paul had to corrected him publicly. Deeper understanding of what was given to the New Testament church and why, is made easier with this knowledge about Scripture’s symbolic use of barley and wheat.

Ignorance Not a Virtue

We should not be ignorant of these gifts. Paul saw that it was vital to instruct the Corinthians about them, so it is here that we need to go to learn. 1 Corinthians. 12:1 “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant”. Verses 4,5,6 tell us plainly that there are diversities of gifts, differences of administrations, and differences of operations. The Spirit of God was given then for the aid of the church in the new covenant in three categories; 1. Spiritual gifts, 2. Administrations and 3. Operations. It is clear from this that the body of Christ is organized in a specific way, something the Corinthians were ignorant of. These instructions come on the heels of a terse rebuke to the Corinthians for their failure to recognize who was who in the body, and how the body was to properly function. They were a church that had many gifts but a church that was unable to recognize what body parts belonged where and what body parts were good for what. In fact, they didn’t recognize the fact that they needed each other to be effective as a church. These three categories Paul outlines are three different functions — one body, no part being greater or of more importance than another. Legs and feet are made for walking, hands and arms are made for doing things, eyes and ears for seeing and hearing, and the mouth for expressing what the feet and legs have taken the body to, for explaining what the hands have done, and for expounding what the eyes have seen and read, and the ears have heard.

The Head of the Body

In all of this Jesus is the driving mind and head of His Body. Colossians 1:18 “And He is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He may have the pre-eminence”. Which one of us now dares to take that position? There was one who did dare, however, and we read of him in Acts 8:18-23 and the incident is set there for our admonition. Simon the Samaritan sorcerer offered money so he could have a special gift of the spirit that he coveted for his own gain. The giving of the spiritual gifts is a job that God reserves for himself, and those gifts when given are supposed to be recognized by the Body when they are manifested. Simon wanted the gift that would give him the pre-eminence, not some gift God would choose for him. In recognizing gifts it is important to understand the fact that the body functions together in these three categories. As the church moved through the experiences of the ages, some gifts became more important than others, but the Body was still to function as a Body. When the church fled, the legs became most important, a gift of operations. When the church was rebuilding revelations and miracles were important to repair and build faith, a gift of miracles. When the church was established and spreading the gospel freely organization was very important, a gift of administration. When gifts are given the body should recognize them for what they are, for all gifts are given for the edification of the Body. At the end of the age when Satan becomes wroth with the woman (church) there comes also a famine of the word. Under this difficult circumstance, it becomes important to remember who the head of the church is, and that one member of the Body should not rise up to be preeminent, but rather work humbly contributing to the edification of the Body, using the gift when it is needed, and allowing other gifts to function when they are needed. In times of famine the Body knows it is starving and cries out for food, good administration and operations if they are attuned to the needs and can hear the cry, will activate to alleviate the problem. The head of the Body, when approached will supply the need, by sending food.

 

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