The Power of Food in the Bible
A 93-year-old man in Iowa named Bob Williams is known for sharing chocolate bars with random strangers in his small community. Every Saturday, he goes to the local dollar store to buy boxes of chocolate bars before handing them out to random people. People in his community say it puts a smile on their face and makes them feel special. They also tell how an act of giving a simple chocolate bar from an old retired teacher can turn a bad day on its head. “The Candy Man” – as he is known – has been doing this for 10 years and says he does it to bring people in his community closer together.
It’s amazing just how powerful a piece of candy can be. The story of “The Candy Man” is just one of so many that demonstrates how powerful the food we eat every day can be. The same food that sustains life, provides us with energy, and helps us grow can also end our life if we aren’t careful. Food can establish and cultivate long-lasting relationships and bring the most divisive people together. It can even draw distinct lines between entire nations and can be used as a tool of war.
Given by God
It’s no wonder that food can be so powerful; God, who created everything around us, also created food (Genesis 1:11-13, Genesis 2:9). From the very beginning, God created a world with seeded vegetation that could be replenished, and he saw it was good (Genesis 1:11-13). When he created man 3 days later, he said that vegetation was food for man and anything with breath to eat (Genesis 1:29-30). It wasn’t until Noah exited the ark after the flood, that he provided man with meat for food (Genesis 9:3). God created man to need food for life. It is this basic need that gives food so much power over us.
Guidelines and Rules
The food God has provisioned for us comes with a number of guidelines and rules. After God put man in the garden of Eden to work it, he told them that they could eat from any tree except for one, “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:15-17). Later on, when he allowed man to eat meat, he put another restriction on it. “You shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Genesis 9:4). Once enforced, the Law of Moses thoroughly and clearly outlined what was clean and unclean to eat. Other, possibly more relevant, rules and guidelines for us to follow today revolve around moderation. The Bible talks a lot about gluttony and drunkenness (Proverbs 23:20-21). We must consider moderation as we eat and drink and take care of the temple that God has both provided and bought (1 Corinthians 6:12, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Food is so powerful it can divide and tear down. The very first sin involved food and caused death. Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden for it. We are still paying for their sin today, all because they ate the forbidden food (Genesis 3). Esau was so famished after hunting one day, that he sold his birthright to Jacob for a little stew (Genesis 25:29-34). Jacob then went on to trick his father Isaac into blessing him by providing food that he would enjoy (Genesis 27:8-14). After Esau found out about Jacob stealing his birthright and blessing, he wanted to kill him. Jacob fled away and caused a deep division in their relationship (Genesis 27:41-45). Years later we see that Jacob was struck with fear and stress, when he found out Esau was coming to him, because he thought Esau still wanted to kill him (Genesis 32:6-8, Genesis 33:1-3). We also hear about Paul writing about a division in Corinth over whether they could eat food offered to idols (1 Corinthians 8).
While food can divide, trick, and kill, it does have many redeeming qualities, including bringing people together. The story of Israel coming to Egypt is a prime example. Joseph was put into a position of power and preserved the food in Egypt, after he interpreted Pharaoh's dreams that prophesied there would be a famine in the land (Genesis 41). The famine reached as far as Canaan, where his father Israel and 11 brothers lived, and caused them to come to Egypt to buy food (Genesis 42). After arriving, they discovered Joseph was still alive, and so Joseph invited them to come to live in Egypt and “eat the fat of the land” (Genesis 45:18). The lost son, while it may be a parable, is a great example of food bringing people together. When he returned home after starving with the pigs, his father asked his servants to bring and kill the fattened calf, so they could celebrate and eat (Luke 15:23-24). The Lord's Supper and Passover were meals that brought people together to remember significant events (1 Corinthians 11:24-26, Exodus 12:14). After the Church was established and 3 thousand souls were baptized and saved, the people fellowshipped and broke bread (Acts 2:42-46).
The need that we have for food is something that can create both fear and enjoyment. That need also can cause division between people and helps us bring people together. Because food is so relatable in this way, the Bible uses it to describe our need for spiritual things. In this world, we hunger and thirst. The food provided for us in this world rots away, just as our physical bodies do. Through Jesus, we will never hunger or thirst again (John 6:35), and that food will never perish (John 6:27). This spiritual food, that our savior has provisioned for us, will one day bring us all together with our creator.
- James Dow