Thursday, January 19, 2017

BARLEY: Bible Plant Series

Barley was one of the earliest domesticated crops in the world. Making it one of the most prevalent because it is still used today. It has and always can be found in soups and in breads, but throughout the ages barley has had some very interesting occupations. It was food for people and animals, it was even exchanged as currency, but today we're going to talk about a lesser known use of barley: measurement.

In ancient times, the length of a kernel of barley was used as a standardized measurement. "Cut me four barley lengths of string!" One barley kernel equated to about 1/3 of an inch. In fact, this was carried over into the middle ages in Ireland and Britain. The "barleycorn" was used as a standardized measurement for shoe sizes. Some still use it today! 

Barley was also used to measure dates. The Jewish calendar is based around harvests. Barley was the first crop to ripen. Wheat usually followed 2 to 4 weeks afterward. 

So barley measured length and time, but let's get to the scriptural application.

There is no greater book in the Bible that gives tribute to barley than the book of Ruth. Naomi and Ruth arrive back in Naomi's hometown just in time for the barley harvest. I love how this book testifies to the glory that is God's timing. It just so happens that one of Naomi's relatives, Boaz, owned a barley field. It set into motion almost to perfection the law of the concept of kinsman redeemer. It was believed in Jewish culture that if the lineage of a man's name were to be wiped out due to his death without a child that the closest living relative would redeem his name by marrying the widow. Naomi knew of all of this, but almost didn't dare to hope. She knew her relative would be kind to her. But as you read the story, you see his generosity exceeded what was required of him. When Naomi noticed the favor he showed Ruth, she instructed her in precise steps to secure a future for them both. 

Ruth did everything Naomi asked of her. I love Boaz's response at finding Ruth at his feet. Even though he had been the one that was too generous letting her glean, he says to her that she is the too generous one that would look upon him as a companion. Beautiful! 

He is so pleasantly surprised, but then he remembers there is one relative that is closer. He must see what his response is first. He tells Ruth to wait there. So she lays back down at his feet. Do you think he slept that night? 

In the morning, he is about to send Ruth back to Naomi when asked her to bring her shawl over. He filled it with 6 ephahs of barley.

There is some debate of how much this was. If you go by the standard weight of an ephah, Boaz would have laid 200lbs of barley on Ruth. There's no way girlfriend could have lugged that back to town on her own. It is much more likely that it was 50lbs of barley which is still quite the load, but manageable. 

You have to love Naomi's response:

"When she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “Is that you, my daughter?”
Then she told her all that the man had done for her. And she said, “These six ephahs of barley he gave me; for he said to me, ‘Do not go empty-handed to your mother-in-law.’ ”
Then she said, “Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will turn out; for the man will not rest until he has concluded the matter this day.” Ruth 3:16-18

I would like to present to you that not only was barley used to measure length and time, but also affection.

You can almost hear Naomi laughing out loud while she says, "the man will not rest" till he knows if you are to be his.

The size of the gift that Boaz bestowed upon Ruth made it obvious to Naomi that if it was within his power Boaz was going to redeem Ruth and Naomi. Their lives might even change by the end of the day. Proving, I feel, that love can be measured in barley as well.

God, Himself, even prescribed the giving of barley as a sign of affection. In Leviticus Chapter 2, great detail is given to the definition of the Grain Offering. This was quite different from the animal sacrifice to cover sin.  First off, burnt sacrifice was totally consumed by the fire, the grain offering was only partially given to the flame. The rest was for the priests to feed their families. Typically made of wheat or barley, the offering could be the grain itself or in little unleavened cakes. This was an offering of thanksgiving for God's mercy and His provision. The purpose of the grain offering was not atonement, but worship.

How lovely that Boaz's gift was one of worship/adoration!

Fast forward to a certain scene in Galilee. A whole lot of people forgot their lunch except for one little guy. This boy hands his whole meal over to the disciples. Is he really the only one who planned ahead? Little boys are tactical when it comes to knowing how long they will be out playing and how this usually needs to involve a snack. The stomach speaks! But he lovingly gave his barley loaves and fish to Jesus. His grain offering. His act of worship. And here Jesus, God in man, returned to the people a blessed multiplied offering of worship, adoration and provision.

This brings me to my final point. It would not surprise me if many in the crowd that knew of the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 might wonder, "if Jesus is in charge, will we have to work for food?" This would drastically change the economy of the world. Free food? At least twice more in the scripture, barley is also used to measure the state of the economy.

First, there is this crazy story in 2 Kings 7:1: 

Then Elisha said, “Hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord: ‘Tomorrow about this time a seah of fine flour shall be sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley for a shekel, at the gate of Samaria.’ ”

You see, the city was under siege by the Syrians. Prices on food had gone way way up! People thought they were going to die. The Lord told Elisha things were about to change. 

Sure enough, two lepers decided they were probably going to die either way so they went to the Syrian camp. It was empty. What!? The Syrians got spooked and left everything. Everything! So the city plundered the encampment and prices changed over night! The economy was measured in the price of barley. 

In Revelation, we see a similar prediction of the earth's economy:

When He opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come and see.” So I looked, and behold, a black horse, and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not harm the oil and the wine.” Revelation 6:5-6

Matthew Henry's commentary suggests that the famine will not only be of literal bread, but of spiritual bread. 

"But He (Jesus) answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ” Matthew 4:4

Barley! You are jam packed! We find barley to measure length, time, love, worship & the state of the economy. I can barley take it all in!! 

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