What is the significance of pomegranates in the Bible?
Pomegranates are one of the most prominent fruits mentioned in the Bible. These large red berries, about the size of an orange or a grapefruit, have a thick outer husk filled with two hundred to fourteen hundred seeds individually embedded in juice-filled membranes called sarcotestas. The pomegranate is one of the seven species of fruits and grains listed in the Old Testament as a special product of the land of Israel (Deuteronomy 8:8). It is one of the world's oldest fruits and is still grown in the Middle East and elsewhere today. The Bible mentions pomegranates in four noteworthy instances.
Pomegranates first appear in Scripture in Exodus 28:33–34 when God instructs Moses about the robe for the high priest, Aaron. "On its hem you shall make pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, around its hem, with bells of gold between them, a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, around the hem of the robe." Aaron was to wear this robe "when he goes into the Holy Place before the LORD" (Exodus 28:35), so perhaps the pomegranate was chosen for its imagery. Just as one piece of this large fruit contains numerous seeds inside, so too Aaron, when he approached God's presence, was symbolically bringing with him the entire Israelite nation.
The second notable appearance of pomegranates is when the twelve Israelite spies bring back some specimens from their reconnaissance trip into the Promised Land in Numbers 13:23. The pomegranate tree is evergreen. Its flowers are bright red and so beautiful that some fruitless varieties are grown for the flowers alone. Furthermore, because each fruit contains hundreds of edible seeds that are a nutritious source of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, folate, and dietary fiber, pomegranates have long since symbolized abundance and prosperity. The Israelite spies bringing back this fruit from the gorgeous trees was evidence of the land's fruitfulness, proving God's abundant provision and desire to bless His people.
A third noteworthy mention of pomegranates is when Solomon's temple for the Lord was being constructed (1 Kings 7:18–22). There were two bronze pillars at the entrance of the temple, and Hiram decorated each pillar with the shape of hundreds of pomegranates. As discussed earlier, pomegranates represented fruitfulness, so perhaps these pomegranates were meant to point to the fruitfulness that comes from God's wisdom and power. It is also believed that the top of the pomegranate, its calyx, provided the original design for royal crowns. So perhaps these pomegranates were to symbolize that the LORD was the true king over Israel (Deuteronomy 33:5).
Finally, in Solomon's poetic celebration of love within biblical marriage, as recorded in Song of Songs, we find the last significant mention of pomegranates. As the man in the poem contemplates the beauty of his beloved, he says, "Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil" (Song of Songs 4:3). Besides the obvious meaning that her cheeks were round and blushed red like the pomegranate fruit, pomegranates had also come to represent fertility and love because, when opened, this fruit spills forth its seed. So the man was also remarking on the fertility and sexual attractiveness of his beloved, while also pointing to the fact that her true beauty lies within just like a pomegranate's edible seeds reside within the fruit.
Biblical references to unfamiliar plants, foods, traditions, and places can cause a reader to miss important points or nuances. However, when we study these unfamiliar items, practices, and places, our understanding of God's Word is enhanced and deepened.
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