What does barley symbolize in the Bible? (Biblical meaning and Symbolism)

As a born-again Christian, studying the Bible is an essential aspect of my faith journey. One of the things I find fascinating about the Bible is the use of symbolic language to convey deeper meanings. The Bible often uses common objects, such as animals, plants, and even food, to represent spiritual concepts and convey moral messages to people. Today we seek to look at barley, a type of cereal grain that has been mentioned in the Bible as a symbol in various instances. What I’m curious to know is what does barley symbolize in the Bible?

Barley is mentioned severally in the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments. In biblical times, barley had a significant cultural and symbolic value. It was used as a staple food by the Israelites and was also a practical and common feed for animals. Biblically, barley is associated with offerings, sacrifices, judgment, abundance, poverty, and resurrection, depending on the context in which it is used.

I invite you to join me as I give an in-depth analysis of barley in the Bible. I will look at how barley appears in the Old and New Testaments. I will also analyze the symbolic meanings of barley in the Bible and what barley means in Hebrew. Keep reading to learn more.

Is barley mentioned in the Bible?

Yes, barley is mentioned numerous times in the Bible, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, in various scenarios. Let us look at a few of them below.

John 6:5–13

In the story of the feeding of the five thousand people in Galilee, a young boy offers Jesus five loaves of barley bread and two fish, which Jesus then multiplies to feed the multitude.

Exodus 9:31

During the time of the ten plagues in Egypt, the flax and barley were ruined by the plaques because the barley was ripe and the flax was budding.

Ruth 1:22

It was the beginning of the barley harvest in Bethlehem when Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth came back from Moab.

Judges 7:13

According to the story of Gideon defeating the Midianites, Gideon heard a man telling a friend that he dreamt that a loaf of barley bread rolled into their camp and hit a tent until it collapsed on the ground. This assured him victory.

Revelation 6:6

Three liters of barley were mentioned as one of the commodities that will be affected by the judgments of God during the end times.

How does barley appear in the Old Testament?

What does barley symbolize in the Bible?
How does barley appear in the Old Testament? Image source: Pixabay

Barley is mentioned several times in the Old Testament, both as a staple food and as an offering in religious ceremonies. In ancient Israel

Barley appeared as a staple food

In Ezekiel 4:9–12, barley has been mixed together with wheat, millet, and beans and spelled to make bread used as food for man.

As an offering

Barley was offered as an offering from a suspicious husband made to bring the truth to light about the wife by the Israelites during the time of Moses (Numbers 5:15).

As punishment

The growth of weeds instead of barley has been used as a form of punishment if one farm and eats from a stolen land while rightful owners starve (Job 31:40).

How does barley appear in the New Testament?

Barley is a modest but important grain that played a role in the food and economy of the time period during which the New Testament was written.

As food for commoners

In the Gospel of John, there is a story about Jesus feeding a large crowd with just five barley loaves and two fish. This story suggests that barley was a common food source for the people at that time (John 6:9–13).

As a unit of measurement

In Revelation 6:6–8, a voice from among the four living creatures states that a liter of wheat for a day’s wages and three liters of barley for a day’s wages will be destroyed.

As an item used to perform miracles

The fact that Jesus chose to use barley loaves in the miracle may have been intentional. This highlights God’s ability to take the small insignificant things of this world and use them for great purposes (John 6:11–14).

5 symbolic meanings of Barley in the Bible

What does barley symbolize in the Bible?
Symbolic meanings of Barley in the Bible. Image source: Pixabay

In the Bible, Barley has various symbolic meanings. Here are five examples:

Blessings and abundance

Barley has been mentioned as one of the abundant crops that God promised the Israelites in the land that he gave them (Deuteronomy 8:8).

Symbol of sustenance and provision

In the book of Ruth, Ruth gathered Barley from Boaz’s field, and when she beat out the grain that evening, it filled an entire basket that was able to feed her and Naomi (Ruth 2:17).

Symbol of Poverty

The prophet Hosea is instructed by God to buy back his unfaithful wife from slavery. The amount of barley that he paid for, specified in the book of Hosea 3:2, is relatively small, which further emphasizes the poverty, cheapness, and scarcity of Hosea’s situation.

Symbol of Judgement

In the book of Revelation, a voice from the midst of the four living creatures announces that a quart of barley will be sold for a denarius, which is a significant increase in price, indicating a time of scarcity and hardship (Revelation 6:6).

Symbol of new life resurrection

In the Old Testament, Barley was the first crop to ripen in the spring, and its harvest marked the beginning of the agricultural year. This was seen as a symbol of new life and resurrection in Ruth 1:22, as it also states that it was the beginning of the barley harvest when Ruth and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem.

What does barley mean in Hebrew?

Barley is mentioned numerous times in the Hebrew Bible. In Hebrew, the word ‘Se’orah’ means barley, and it is written as (שְׂעֹרָה). The Hebrew word se’orah is derived from the root word שׂאַר (sa’ar), which means “to be hairy” or “shaggy,” referring to the hairy appearance of the barley plant. Barley has played an important role in Hebrew culture and remains a significant part of the region’s agricultural heritage.

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