Bread in the Bible

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What does the Bible say about bread? How important to everyday life was it? Should we today follow Ezekiel's recipe for making it?

There are at least seven words referencing bread in the Hebrew language version of the Old Testament and three Greek words referring to it in the New Testament. Mentioned at least 492 times in the original languages of the Bible, it is easy to see how important this food was to everyday life.

In Biblical times (for most people in and near Israel), bread was a part of a basic diet that included vegetables, fruit, olives and cheese. Meat and fish were seldom eaten (herded animals were needed for work and producing milk) except for special occasions (Genesis 18:7), or keeping one of God's Holy Feast Days (Exodus 12:1 - 8, Deuteronomy 14:26, etc.) or by those who were wealthy (1Kings 4:23).

This staple of life was usually composed of the simple ingredients like flour, water and salt. Olive oil was sometimes added if it was to be used in the worship of God (Leviticus 2:4, etc.). It could have leavening (such as yeast) in it to make it rise (Leviticus 7:13, 23:17, 20), but it did not have to, especially during the Passover Festival season (Leviticus 23:5 - 7, Exodus 12:8, 15 - 20).

How should we treat the poor?
Can we eat anything we want?
How did God divide up the Promised Land?

In ancient Israel, bread was made from wheat or barley. God told the ancient Israelites, just before the entered the Promised Land, that it was blessed with an abundance of these two crops (Deuteronomy 8:8). Since barley was usually cheaper to purchase, the poor usually bought it to make flour even though the loaves it produced were heavier, thicker, and less pleasant tasting that those made from wheat. As an interesting side note, Jesus miraculously fed five thousand people when he blessed five barley loaves and two fishes (John 6:9 - 14).


This "staff of life" was used in the worship of God, primarily through tabernacle (then later temple) services to symbolize the Eternal's presence (Exodus 25:30; Leviticus 24:5 - 9). It was also used to represent an enemy being totally conquered (Numbers 14:9), hospitality (Genesis 19:3), and the acceptance of wisdom (Proverbs 9:5).

The ancient Israelites were miraculously feed with "bread from heaven" or Manna as the wandered for forty years before entering the Promised Land (Exodus 16). This food initially symbolized God's love and care for his people, in spite of their sins, and an omer of it was placed inside the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 16:32 - 34). Jesus revealed the full meaning of Manna when he stated it was a reference to him (see our article about Hidden Manna).

Additionally, in the New Testament, it symbolized Jesus the Messiah and the eternal life he offers to those willing to follow him with their whole heart (John 6:32 - 35, 41, 50 - 51). The unleavened bread used during Christ's last Passover represented his willingness to offer his own body as a sacrifice for our sins and to make our healing possible (Matthew 26:26, 1Corinthians 11:23 - 30). The apostle Paul used this food to represent the true spiritual unity of the church of God (1Corinthians 10:16 - 17).

Picture of Bread

Ezekiel's Recipe

God wanted Ezekiel to perform certain tasks in order to represent the then coming siege against Jerusalem (Ezekiel 4:1). The prophet was to lay down and then take a tile and engrave on it symbols and pictures representing the city. He then was told to build miniature besiege towers complete with battering rams all around it (verse 2). Then he was to set an iron pan between himself and the tile and act as if he was seriously laying siege to Jerusalem (verse 3). After God gave him more instructions regarding what to do (verses 4 to 8) we then come to verse nine which specifies a recipe the prophet was to utilize in order to make himself food for the 390 days he carried out his "siege."

9. Take also to yourself wheat, and barley, and beans, and lentils, and millet, and spelt, and put them in one vessel, and make bread of them for yourself. According to the number of the days that you shall lie on your side, three hundred and ninety days, you shall eat of it (Ezekiel 4:9, HBFV throughout).

Beans and lentils were two of the most widely eaten vegetables in Israel. Millet is a small summer grain that, of itself, makes for a poor quality loaf. Spelt is an inferior type of wheat that is referred to as "rie" in certain places of the KJV Bible (Exodus 9:32, Isaiah 28:25).

Should we make it TODAY?

The recipe given was to portray the FAMINE conditions that would be extant in Jerusalem during the siege. God commanded the prophet eat ONLY twenty shekels' weight of bread (about ten ounces or 228 grams) and drink ONLY a sixth of a hin of water (about 1 1/3 pints or .6 liters) each day (verses 10 - 11). This was barely enough food to keep Ezekiel alive. He was also initially commanded to cook his loaves over a fire created by burning human excrement (verse 12), something that clearly would not need be done except in the most extreme circumstances (see verses 14 - 15).

So, why was a siege of Jerusalem and subsequent famine of its inhabitants allowed by the Eternal? The last two verses of the chapter tell us it was because the people refused to repent of their sins.

And they shall eat bread by weight, and with care. And they shall drink water by measure, and in silence . . . and be appalled with one another, and waste away for their iniquity (Ezekiel 4:16 - 17).

God did not tell Ezekiel to make bread with ingredients representing abundance and a healthy lifestyle. Instead, the variety of ingredients speaks of scarcity and the need to gather up whatever scraps can be found in order to make enough food to survive. Ezekiel 4:9 is not a Bible recipe that should be reproduced. It was given to show how distasteful are the consequences of sin. It symbolizes the suffering and trials those who refuse to repent must ultimately endure. In the final analysis, what Ezekiel had to eat was the Eternal's judgment, which is something we should avoid!

Additional Study Materials
Biblical Weights and Measures
What did Ezekiel's wheel vision MEAN?
What is the Feast of Unleavened Bread?
The Life of Ezekiel
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