Food is an entity that is closely interwoven with a person’s cultural experience, heritage, and identity. Our memories are tied in with the sights, textures, and smells of that which we taste and consume. The dining table becomes a place of gathering, conversation, and connection, as the gifts of hospitality unfold. Some of the events in our life that we remember the most, have to do oddly with food – perhaps, a result of how palpable and how tangible the visceral encounter with food is.

Salvation History is filled with many instances of how the LORD GOD provides for His people in and through the encounter with food. Food is referenced to in Scripture as cultural motif and as a marker of one’s identity –  For example, whole chapters in Leviticus and Deuteronomy are devoted to laying out rules and restrictions regarding food preparation and consumption. (c.f. Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14). These dietary restrictions were important as they emphasised the stratification of the Jewish people as set apart from the other nations. As Deuteronomy 14: 2 says, “For you are a people holy to the LORD, your God; the LORD, your God, has chosen you from all the peoples on the face of the earth to be a people specially his own.” This sense of separateness is spelt out in the form of food prohibitions. Jesus in the Gospels brings this one step further with very clear instructions on what makes and identifies someone who is belonging to God and of His Kingdom: In the Bread of Life discourses and in the Institution of the Eucharist, Jesus speaks succinctly –

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26: 26- 28; c.f. Luke 22: 19 – 20; Mark 14: 22-24; 1 Corinthians 11: 23-25)
Interestingly, biblical food traditions reveal many anthropological clues about the ancient Jewish people. They were people who having settled down after being nomads, tended to pastures of sheep and cattle. Thus a diet that consisted of animals that would chew upon the cud, and that were cloven-hoofed was considered right and appropriate, while pigs and camels did not meet the criteria for what people who tended to pastures were expected to eat, and thus were defined as unclean (Encyclopaedia Britannica, n.d.).
The types of food that is found in biblical accounts is significant as well. The humble barley grain for example makes its appearance several times. Barley was a grain that had been domesticated from the time of 8000 B.C., and archaeological discoveries have found Barley dating to 5000 B.C. in Egypt and 2350 B.C. in Mesopotamia (Encylopaedia Britannica, n.d. b). The ancient Hebrews used barley primarily to make their bread, and barley is mentioned in Exodus 9: 31, Leviticus 27:16, Deuteronomy 8:8, 1 Kings 4:28, Judges 7:13, 2 Kings 4:42, Ruth 1:22, 2 Samuel 21:9, Numbers 5:15, and John 6:9. It is also fascinating to note that barley was usually the grain that was used by the poor, and that due to the planting cycles of the ancient Hebrews, the first crop of barley was usually ready to be harvested by the time of the Passover. Thus, the incident where Jesus takes 5 loaves of barley bread and multiples it for the multitudes (John 6, Matthew 14, 15,  Mark 6) is loaded with meaning. All four Gospels mention the miracle, but only John’s Gospel tells us that the loaves are barley loaves. If this miracle is a foreshadowing of Jesus, the Bread of Life giving of Himself to Mankind, then the barley loaves take on some degree of weighted-ness, as the barley bread signifies the parallel found in the Eucharist that Jesus is for everyone, even the poor, the outcast, and the commoner.
A closer examination of the food that is found in the narratives featuring God’s providence through food also reveals certain truths. The Israelites had been wandering about the desert in search of the Promised Land. They needed food to survive the harsh environment of the desert, thus God provided them with manna from heaven and quails. The choice of quail, native meat aside, as a meat source may not be as accidental as previously thought. Recent studies about the nutritional value of quail provide surprising results: Wild quail meat provides about 134.28 kcal /100 g of breast meat and contains about 52mg of sodium which is essential in regulating electrolytes in the body, 216mg of Potassium which helps in preventing cramps and aiding muscle recovery, 3% of Vitamin C – needed to prevent scurvy, 24% of iron, 30% of Vitamin B6 that is significant to protein, fat and carbohydrate metabolism and the creation of red blood cells and neurotransmitters, 5% of Magnesium, a cofactor in more than 300 enzyme systems that regulate diverse biochemical reactions in the body, including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation, and 6% of Cobalamin, or Vitamin B12, which prevents macrocytic anemia and/or subacute combined degeneration of the spinal cord (c.f. U. S. Department of Agriculture, n.d.; Khalifa, Omar, Hussein & Abdel, 2016; Markle, 1996; Streit, 2018; National Institutes of Health, n.d.). As the Israelites were constantly on the move and on the lookout for neighbouring tribes who might launch an attack at anytime, the small size of the quails also allowed them to be cooked quickly, and to be eaten on the go and in haste.  Isn’t this delightful? While the Israelites did not expect the form of the providence, and even came to a point where they were grumbling about the providence, it was exactly what they needed to strengthen them in the very long and difficult journey: A petite food-aid care package that was jam-packed with nutritional goodness.
In another instance, the prophet Ezekiel is tasked to “take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them into a single pot and make them into bread. Eat it for as many days as you lie upon your side, three hundred and ninety days.” (Ezekiel 4: 9) What Ezekiel was tasked to do was to prophesy by lying on his sides. It was a difficult task  needed to warn and prepare Israel for a time of exile in the days ahead. The hardships underwent by Ezekiel were meant as a prophecy of the difficulties that the Israelite would face in exile – food scarcity, famine, the yoke of falling to Assyria. Yet, while Ezekiel went through three hundred and ninety days of hardship, the food that the Lord tasked him to eat, was deliberate in providing for him the slow-burning lasting energy that was needed for the task.
So, what we have before us, is some food for thought. What the Lord provides is exactly what we need at the moment – the barbecued fish and bread that the disciples had immediately for breakfast and prepared for them by Jesus after they had set out to sea in the aftermath of the Crucifixion (c.f. John 21:9), bread and meat delivered by ravens to feed Elijah (1 Kings: 17), the pot of stew that Habakkuk prepared that became food for Daniel (Daniel 14: 33-39).
As Psalm 105: 40-41 proclaims, ” They asked and he brought them quail; with bread from heaven he filled them. He spilt the rock and water gushed forth; it flowed through the desert like a river.”
What food is the Lord providing you today?
By the Grace of God,
Brian Bartholomew Tan
Encyclopaedia Britannica. (n.d. b). Barley. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved July 12, 2021 from
Encyclopaedia Britannica. (n.d.). Dietary Law – Rules and Customs in World Religions. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved July 29, 2021 from
Khalifa, A. H., Omar, M. B., Hussein, S. M., & Abdel- mbdy, H. E. (2016). Nutritional Value of Farmed and Wild Quail Meats. Assiut Journal of Agricultural Science, 47(6-1). 58-71)
Markle, H. V. (1996). Cobalamin. Critical Review Clinical Lab Science, 33(4). 247-356
National Institutes of Health. (n.d.). Magnesium. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved July 29, 2021 from
Streit, L. 9 Health Benefits of Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine). Healthline. Retrieved July 29, 2021 from
U.S. Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). Food Data Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Retrieved July 29, 2021, from