BECAUSE He recognizes that they are like sheep having no shepherd, Jesus is moved with compassion toward the thousands who crowd the grassy fields near the Galilean sea. All day long the Lord has ministered to this great crowd of humanity, feeding their souls with the words of life that fall from His lips in love and consideration for their human frailties. Now that the day is drawing to a close and the westering sun is sinking into a horizon where the blue has given way to shades of rose and hues of deep purple, the Good Shepherd gathers these wandering ones about Him and works a miracle in their behalf.
After a Long Day
Through the long hours of the day He has broken to them the Bread of Life, the living word whose quickening power revitalizes the heart dead in trespasses and sin. Now He would sustain their physical needs as well. Seated upon the grass the multitude look wonderingly toward Him whose hand set the stars in their trans-spatial tent. They still do not recognize before them One whose creative omnipotence set aflame a million suns in their trackless courses. Weary from the long day's experience and worn from the weighty cares of life, His sheep look to Him for tender understanding.
On that memorable day centuries ago, a simple peasant boy was used by the Lord of life to open His disciples' eyes to the resources of their heavenly Father. From this lad who was willing to share, the disciples brought to their Saviour five barley loaves and two small fishes. Calling down the blessing of the Eternal King upon this meager fare, Jesus fed the thousands and even had food to spare!
Dependence upon God was symbolized in the bread that Christ supplied to those hungry men and women on that grassy plain one spring twilight. The Lord was ever seeking ways to impress upon His lost sheep the fact that their only hope lay in Him. Only Christ can provide salvation. There is no other name by which we can be saved. In the symbol of the loaves, Christ is seen as the source of all spiritual and physical sustenance. "With out me," said the Redeemer, "ye can do nothing." 1 "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else." 2
The symbol of bread is used throughout the Bible to illustrate both physical and spiritual need. Whether symbolized in loaves or cakes, in the grains of wheat or in some other flour, bread points to the purposes of Cod. From the shewbread of the sanctuary to the communion bread that Paul speaks about in the eleventh chapter of First Corinthians, the ways of God are shown, His dealings with men, His infinite, just, and loving provisions for the salvation and restoration of the race.
Surely the bread that fed the thousands came down from heaven, for it was heaven that supplied it. To the unbelieving Jews, Jesus said, "I am the bread which came down from heaven." 3 He was the bread that fed the multitude. He was the manna that fed Israel in the wilderness. He is the bread of life to a perishing world. As the manna was a symbol of Christ, as the shew bread was a symbol of Christ, so also the five barley loaves symbolized the Lord and emphasized man's dependence upon God for all spiritual and temporal blessings. 4
Bread and Life
It may be significant to consider at this point the manner in which Jesus taught His disciples to pray for daily bread. He made bread the symbol of all their temporal needs.5 Bread and water in Bible times were the two essentials of life. 6 Because the term bread often meant food in general, a time of plenty was referred to as a time of fullness of bread, 7 and famine a time when there was no bread. 8
Because bread was the staff of life to these people, it was held in reverence. They would not cut bread with a knife, for such an act seemed to be the cutting of life itself. Rather, they would break the bread. Jesus broke bread when He gave it to His disciples at the last supper. 9 And later on breaking bread together came to mean eating a meal together. 10
The making of grain into flour to bake bread was a lengthy process for the Jewish housewife. The wheat that came from the threshing floor had first to be separated from pieces of earth, stone, straw, and weeds before it was carefully sifted. 11 The grain was spread out to dry on skins or cloths outdoors after it was washed. Then it could be stored or made into flour by pounding it with a pestle in a stone mortar. 12
Sometimes the grain was ground in a mill. A hand mill was made of two circular stones, eighteen to twenty-four inches in diameter. The upper stone was rotated by hand on the lower one. The lower stone was convex and made of limestone or basalt. In its center was a pivot which projected through a hole in the middle of the upper stone. The hole was larger than the pivot.
The women poured the grain, a handful at a time, through this hole into the mill. From the upper stone extended a wooden peg which they could grasp to revolve the mill. The larger mills were elevated so that a donkey, fastened to a singletree, would turn the stones. 13
This stone must have been heavy, if you remember the way Jesus referred to the size and weight of the millstone in the ninth chapter of Mark. 14
Unleavened bread, mixed with water and salt, could be made in a hurry, and was flat. It therefore reminded the Jews, during the Feast of the Passover, of their haste in leaving Egypt. Having no yeast in it, this bread was also a symbol of that which was free from corruption. But yeast or wine dregs were used to cause fermentation in dough raised for leavened bread. 15
Split bread was a loaf that was hollow in the middle. In this hollow "pocket" the workman could carry his olives, figs, and dates. 16
The kind of bread that the lad gave to Jesus to feed the multitude by the sea was similar to a biscuit. 17 Whatever the kind of bread, this staple of diet was very important to the Jewish economy.
Jesus richly underscored His statements to the Jews regarding Himself as the bread of life: "Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. . . . Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day." 18
When the Lord rained bread from heaven upon the children of Israel, He taught them a lesson about the sacredness of the Sabbath; for He commanded them to gather the manna for six days but not on the seventh day not on the Sabbath! They were to gather twice as much on the sixth day, bake their cakes on the sixth day, and hold this bread over, to use on the Sabbath day. 19
The pot of manna that, as a memorial, was placed in the ark of the covenant was a symbol of Israel's dependence upon God. The pot of manna may be seen also as a symbol of promise; God will ever be the sustainer of His people, even in the earth made new. He has promised "a land of wheat, and barley, ... a land wherein thou shalt eat bread without scarceness." 20 This promise will be fulfilled in eternity. In that day, His children shall eat "the finest of the wheat." 21 Here bread is associated with joy.
Bread was associated with joy when David gave it to the people at the installation of the ark in Jerusalem. 22 It may be a joyous token of hospitality to strangers as when, in the nomad tradition, Abraham "entertained angels unawares." 23 It was also a joyous occasion when Melchizedek brought bread and wine to refresh the victorious Abraham and his army; and as the King of Salem presented these gifts to Abraham, he blessed the Lord who had given Abraham the victory on the field of battle, showing again through the gifts he presented, the necessity of dependence upon God.24 So in like manner it was upon bread that Jacob vowed his allegience to and showed his dependence upon the Creator of all life.25
When bread is not referred to directly in the Bible, it is often implied by references too numerous to consider in a short article to grain, flour, and meal. In His agricultural parables, Jesus uses no other grain than wheat. Wheat is more expensive than barley. For instance, in 2 Kings 7:1, barley flour is quoted at one-half the price of wheat. This cheaper barley meal was used for an offering for a woman suspected of adultery; whereas, the more expensive wheat is the fine wheat flour of the meat offering, "a thing most holy of the offerings of the Lord made by fire." 26
Paul alluded to the grain of wheat to symbolize the death and resurrection in a metaphor of sowing and reaping the grain. 27
As with our bodies, so also are our good works sown for return in reward. On the banks of the Nile, as the river receded, often the seed was sown by casting it into the muddy delta silt. In time, that seed bore precious grain. Solomon uses bread as a symbol to explain this phenomenon as it reflects reward for good deeds done. "Cast thy bread upon the waters," the wise man says, "for thou shalt find it after many days." 28
Perhaps one of the most unusual references to bread in the Bible is the famine bread recipe found in Ezekiel 4:9. This austerity loaf is an especially sustaining type of bread and was ordained for symbolic use during famine or siege 29 even when ordinary bread was available.
Isaiah used bread as a metaphor for both physical and spiritual health. "Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness." 30 How often do we today spend money for that which is not bread, buying and laboring for those things that do not bring health to either the body or the soul! Isaiah's wisdom holds special application for a day such as ours when an overabundance of unhealthful products barrage us from the communication media and from the shelves of stores, tempting us to forget to hearken diligently unto the special health counsels given in mercy to this church!
And to think what bread has come to today. Somehow that overly refined, bleached white flour that modern bakeries manufacture into bread seems completely incompatible with Biblical metaphor! Truly, there is a lot of religion in a loaf of good bread. 31
1. See John 15:5.
2. Isaiah 45:22.
3. See )ohn 6:41.
4. See Ellen C. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 366, 367.
5. See Matthew 6:11.
6. See Isaiah 3:1.
7. See Proverbs 20:13.
8. See Amos 4:6.
9 .See Matthew 26:26.
10. See Acts 20:7.
11. See Luke22:31b.
12. See Leviticus 2:14.
13. Merrill T. Gilbertson, The Way It Was in Bible Times. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1959, p. 21.
14. See Mark 9:42.
15. Gilbertson, p. 23.
18. John 6:49-51, 53, 54.
19. See Exodus 16:4-31.
20. See Deuteronomy 8:8, 9.
21. See Psalm 147:14.
22. See 2 Samuel 6:13-19.
23. See Hebrews 13:2.
24. See Genesis 14:18-20.
25. See Genesis 28:20, 21.
26. See Numbers 5:14, 15; Leviticus 2:1, 3.
27. See 1 Corinthians 15:36-38.
28. Ecclesiastes 11:1.
29. See Alastair I. Mackay, Farming and Gardening in the Bible. Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1970, p. 103.
30. Isaiah 55:2.
31. See Ellen White, Counsels on Diet and Foods, pp. 251, 316.