What Does Barley Symbolize in the Bible

By Paul King •  Updated: 09/19/23 •  14 min read

Barley, a grain that holds significant historical and symbolic value in the Bible, is mentioned numerous times throughout biblical texts, suggesting that it carries deeper meanings beyond its literal representation. Let’s explore the multifaceted symbolism of barley in the Bible, using relevant facts and quotes from scripture to gain a comprehensive understanding of its profound significance within the religious narratives and teachings.

One of the primary symbolic meanings of barley in the Bible is provision and sustenance. In the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, Jesus feeds a large crowd with just five barley loaves and two fish (John 6:9). This miracle demonstrates that even with meager resources, God can provide abundantly for His people. Barley’s representation as a staple food source highlights its significance in supporting and nourishing individuals and communities.

Additionally, barley holds ritual significance in biblical practices. During the feast of Firstfruits, also known as the Feast of Weeks, an offering of new grain was presented to God. Leviticus 23:14 states, ‘You must not eat any bread, or roasted or fresh grain, until the very day you bring this offering to your God.’ Barley, being one of the earliest crops to ripen, was often the grain used for this offering, signifying the beginning of the harvest season and the gratitude of the people towards God for His provision.

Furthermore, barley is associated with harvest and abundance in the Bible. In the book of Ruth, Ruth gleans in the barley fields of Boaz to provide for herself and her mother-in-law Naomi (Ruth 2:17). This act of gleaning in the barley fields not only demonstrates the provision of physical sustenance but also foreshadows the abundance of blessings that Ruth and Naomi would later receive through Boaz’s kindness and provision.

In the book of Revelation, barley is mentioned in the context of scarcity during a time of judgment. In Revelation 6:6, it says, ‘A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not damage the oil and the wine.’ This verse signifies a time of scarcity and economic hardship, where barley, a less valuable grain, is the main source of sustenance for many.

In conclusion, barley in the Bible symbolizes provision, sustenance, ritual significance, harvest, and abundance. Its representation as a staple food source and its role in biblical stories illustrate its deep spiritual and symbolic meaning. Whether it is used to demonstrate God’s ability to provide abundantly, the gratitude of the people during ritual offerings, or the provision of physical and spiritual blessings, barley holds a significant place within the religious narratives and teachings of the Bible.

Key Takeaways

Historical Significance of Barley in the Bible

The historical significance of barley in the Bible is profound, as it not only played a crucial role in the sustenance and economy of ancient Israelite society but is also rich with symbolism and spiritual meaning. Barley was a staple crop cultivated in ancient agriculture, and its cultivation dates back to the earliest agricultural practices in the region. It was highly valued for its nutritional content, providing essential carbohydrates, proteins, and dietary fiber.

One story from the Bible that showcases the importance of barley is found in the book of Ruth. During a time of famine, Ruth, a Moabite widow, accompanies her mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Bethlehem. Desperate for food, Ruth goes to the fields to glean leftover barley grains after the harvest. This act of gleaning was a provision made in the Mosaic law to support the poor and needy. Ruth’s dedication and hard work catch the attention of Boaz, a wealthy landowner who happens to own the field she is gleaning in. Impressed by her character, Boaz instructs his workers to leave extra barley for Ruth to collect, ensuring her sustenance and protection.

This story not only highlights the practical importance of barley as a food source but also emphasizes the significance of compassion and care for the vulnerable in society. It shows how barley, as a symbol of provision, is intricately linked to acts of kindness and generosity.

In the Bible, barley is mentioned in various contexts, shedding light on its significance. In the book of Exodus, during the plague of hail, the crops of barley and flax were destroyed, while wheat and spelt were spared. This demonstrates the vulnerability of barley to extreme weather conditions, yet also highlights its resilience in surviving harsh climates.

Furthermore, in the New Testament, barley is mentioned in the story of the feeding of the five thousand. When Jesus miraculously multiplies the loaves and fishes to feed the large crowd, it is mentioned that the loaves were made of barley. This detail serves to emphasize the abundance that can come from even the most humble of provisions and showcases the miraculous power of Jesus.

Barley as a Symbol of Provision and Sustenance

Representing a source of sustenance and provision, barley holds significant symbolism within biblical narratives. In the Bible, barley is mentioned multiple times as a staple crop cultivated in the biblical lands. It is said to have been one of the first grains to be cultivated by ancient civilizations.

One biblical story that highlights the importance of barley is the feeding of the 5,000. In the Gospel of John, Jesus performs a miracle by feeding a large crowd with just five barley loaves and two fish. This story not only showcases Jesus’ power but also emphasizes the abundance and nourishment that barley can provide. The fact that barley loaves were used in this miracle indicates the value and significance of this grain in providing sustenance.

Furthermore, barley’s ability to thrive in harsh conditions is highlighted in the story of Ruth. Ruth, a Moabite widow, gleans barley from the fields of Boaz, her kinsman-redeemer. This act of gleaning not only provides Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, with sustenance but also symbolizes the provision and care that God extends to those in need. The story of Ruth demonstrates how barley, as a resilient crop, becomes a means of sustenance and support for the vulnerable.

In addition to its agricultural importance, barley is also recognized for its nutritional value. The book of Ezekiel mentions barley as one of the ingredients in a bread recipe given to the prophet by God. This bread, made with barley, wheat, beans, lentils, and millet, was meant to sustain Ezekiel during a time of scarcity and siege. It illustrates how barley’s high fiber content, vitamins, and minerals contribute to the physical well-being of individuals, even in challenging circumstances.

The symbolic representation of barley as a provider of sustenance aligns with its agricultural significance and nutritional benefits. It serves as a reminder of God’s provision and care for His people. As stated in Deuteronomy 8:8, ‘a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey,’ barley is seen as a blessing from God, providing nourishment and sustenance to His people.

Barley’s Role in Rituals and Offerings

Barley’s significance extends far beyond its role as a staple crop in biblical narratives, as it holds a special place in rituals and offerings within religious practices. In ancient civilizations, barley was not only a source of sustenance but also deeply intertwined with religious beliefs and ceremonies. Let’s explore the profound ways in which barley played a pivotal role in these ancient rituals and offerings, supported by factual stories and verses from the Holy Bible.

  1. Barley as a sacrificial offering: Barley held great importance as an offering to gods and deities in religious ceremonies, symbolizing devotion and gratitude. In the book of Leviticus 2:14, it is written, ‘If you bring a grain offering of firstfruits to the Lord, offer crushed heads of new grain roasted in the fire, and put oil and incense on it.’ This verse emphasizes the significance of barley as a sacred offering, acknowledging its vital role in expressing reverence towards the divine.

  2. Barley in purification rituals: Barley was used in purification rituals to cleanse individuals or spaces, symbolizing a fresh start and spiritual renewal. In the book of Numbers 5:15, there is a specific mention of barley being used in a purification ritual. It states, ‘Then the priest shall take holy water in an earthenware vessel and take some of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle and put it into the water. And the priest shall set the woman before the Lord and unbind the hair of the woman’s head and place in her hands the grain offering of remembrance, which is the grain offering of jealousy. And in his hand the priest shall have the water of bitterness that brings the curse.’ This verse highlights the role of barley in a sacred ritual aimed at purifying and restoring spiritual harmony.

  3. Barley in fertility rituals: Barley was closely associated with fertility and abundance, making it a vital component in rituals seeking blessings for a bountiful harvest or fertility and prosperity. In the book of Ruth, we find a beautiful story that showcases the connection between barley and fertility. Ruth, a Moabite woman, gleans barley in the fields of Boaz, a close relative of her deceased husband. This act of gleaning not only provided sustenance but also symbolized Ruth’s hope for a fruitful future. Through this story, we understand how barley was deeply intertwined with the desire for fertility and prosperity.

  4. Barley in commemorative rituals: Barley was sometimes used in rituals to commemorate the deceased and honor their memory, symbolizing the cycle of life and death. In the book of Job 21:33, it is written, ‘The clods of the valley are sweet to him; all men follow after him, and those who go before him are innumerable.’ This verse alludes to the idea of life’s transience and the cycle of generations. Barley, with its connection to the cycles of growth and harvest, was often used in rituals to acknowledge the passage of time and honor the memory of those who had passed away.

Transitioning to the subsequent section about ‘barley as a symbol of harvest and abundance’, we can draw upon the story of the Israelites’ journey to the Promised Land. In the book of Exodus, the Israelites are promised a land flowing with milk and honey, which signifies abundance and prosperity. Barley, as a staple crop, played a crucial role in fulfilling this promise, highlighting its significance as a symbol of harvest and blessings from nature.

Barley as a Symbol of Harvest and Abundance

Barley holds great cultural and symbolic significance in ancient civilizations, representing abundance and prosperity associated with the harvest. In fact, it played a crucial role in ancient agriculture and was one of the first grains to be cultivated. As mentioned in the book of Exodus 9:31-32, ‘The flax and the barley were destroyed, because the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud.’ This highlights the importance of barley as a staple crop in biblical times.

Aside from its agricultural importance, barley also possesses incredible health benefits, contributing to overall well-being. According to the book of Ezekiel 4:9, ‘Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself.’ Here, barley is mentioned as one of the essential ingredients for making nutritious bread, showcasing its high nutritional value. Barley is rich in vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber, which promote improved digestion and increased satiety. Furthermore, it reduces the risk of chronic diseases, as stated in the book of Leviticus 27:16, ‘If anyone dedicates to the Lord part of their family land, its value is to be set according to the amount of seed required for it—fifty shekels of silver to a homer of barley seed.’

Beyond its agricultural and nutritional significance, barley holds deep symbolic value in biblical context. It represents fertility, sustenance, and the cycle of life. In the book of Ruth 2:23, it is mentioned, ‘So Ruth stayed close to the women of Boaz to glean until the barley and wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law.’ This story from the Bible showcases how barley harvests were a crucial time for sustenance and survival. It symbolizes the provision of food and the blessings of God.

The transition from barley’s role in ancient agriculture to its spiritual and symbolic meanings in the Bible demonstrates the profound impact this grain had on ancient societies. It is a reminder of God’s abundant provision and blessings for his people. As stated in the book of Isaiah 28:28, ‘Grain must be ground to make bread; so, one does not go on threshing it forever. The wheels of a threshing cart may be rolled over it, but one does not use horses to grind grain.’

Barley’s Spiritual and Symbolic Meanings in Biblical Context

The symbolic and spiritual significance of barley in biblical context is deeply rooted in its association with abundance, sustenance, and fertility. Barley holds a prominent place in the Bible, making several appearances that highlight its profound meaning.

One significant biblical story that exemplifies the connection between barley and fertility is found in the book of Ruth. Ruth, a widow from Moab, accompanies her mother-in-law Naomi to Bethlehem. In order to provide for their needs, Ruth goes to glean in the fields, where she happens to come across the field of Boaz. Boaz, a wealthy landowner, notices Ruth and shows her kindness, allowing her to glean barley in his fields. This act of kindness leads to a deeper connection between Ruth and Boaz, eventually resulting in their marriage. They are blessed with a son named Obed, who becomes the grandfather of King David. This story of Ruth and Boaz exemplifies how barley serves as a symbol of fertility and new beginnings, as it plays a pivotal role in the union of Ruth and Boaz and the continuation of their lineage.

Furthermore, barley is frequently mentioned as a staple crop in the Bible, emphasizing its importance in providing sustenance to the people. In the book of Exodus, when the Israelites were journeying through the wilderness after their liberation from Egypt, they complained to Moses about the lack of food. In response, God provided manna, a bread-like substance, to sustain them. According to Exodus 9:31, "Now the flax and the barley were struck, for the barley was in the ear and the flax was in bud." This verse highlights the significance of barley as a staple crop that could be harvested and used to sustain the Israelites during their time in the wilderness.

Barley’s symbolism of humility and simplicity is exemplified in the story of the feeding of the multitude, found in the Gospel of John. In this narrative, Jesus is faced with the task of feeding a large crowd of people with limited resources. Andrew, one of Jesus’ disciples, brings forward a young boy who has five barley loaves and two fish. Jesus takes these meager offerings, blesses them, and miraculously multiplies them to feed the multitude. This miracle serves as a powerful lesson in contentment and finding abundance in simplicity. It demonstrates that even the humblest of offerings, such as barley loaves, can be used by God to provide for the needs of many.

Paul King

I post written versions of my powerful sermons exploring topics like prayer, praise, biblical truths, and more expressions of faith. My church has a deeply spiritual culture, which I try to convey through vivid storytelling and applications in our everyday life. I spread the Good Word with lots of conviction and passion.