At church study, I mentioned the biblical linen references that I had studied. Someone near me said, “Onions?” I said, “No, linens.” She said that probably onions would not be that interesting of a study.
I didn’t know if they would be or not, they might not be. So I undertook to study onions. Below is what I found out. I’ll leave it to you as to whether you think it is interesting or not. 😉
The People had been wandering in the desert, eating the manna God had provided.
Numbers 11:4-6. The People Complain
The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? 5″We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, 6but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.
I’ll summarize and reference Pulpit Commentary for this next section:
We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely, i.e., gratis. Classical writers attested that fish swarmed in the Nile waters, and cost next to nothing.
The Cucumbers mentioned were of peculiar softness and flavour are spoken of by Egyptian travelers.
Melons. Or Water-melons, still called battieh, grow in Egypt, as in all hot, moist lands, like weeds, and are as much the luxury of the poorest as of the richest.
Leeks. This word usually means grass (as in Psalm 104:14), and may do so here, for the modern Egyptians eat a kind of field-clover freely. It seems to be a kind of mild watercress.
Garlic was highly valued. According to Pliny, Garlic and onions are invoked by the Egyptians , when taking an oath, in the number of their deities. Ramses III ordered garlic to be distributed in large quantities in the temples.
Onions. These are mentioned in the well-known passage of Herodotus (2:125) as forming the staple food of the workmen at the pyramids. Here is what the ancient historian Herodotus wrote-
“On the pyramid (of Cheops) it is declared in Egyptian writing how much was spent on radishes and onions and leeks for the workmen, and if I rightly remember that which the interpreter said in reading to me this inscription, a sum of one thousand six hundred talents of silver was spent;” Herodotus, Histories II, Project Gutenberg
Onions still form a large part of the diet of the laboring classes in Egypt, as in other Mediterranean countries. These different articles of food are exactly the items which an Egyptian labourer of that day would have cried out for, if deprived of them. The Israelites who had become accustomed to the Egyptian diet of bread, fish and vegetables, complained when they were wandering in the desert.
The above taken from several sources and summarized by me. Pulpit Commentary, Nave’s Topical Bible, and Old Testament texts, esp. Numbers 11.
It is extremely telling that the mental mindset of the Israelites was such that they cried out for workingman/slave food rather than the food provided to them directly from heaven. They had become used to the spicy flavors of the aforementioned items and were willing to substitute the satisfaction of a temporarily satisfied palate rather than the food from God which would sustain them both bodily and spiritually (by being satisfied and obedient with His provision).
In addition, the Israelites’ attachment to onions in particular verged on the dangerous, as onions were a major item of worship of false gods in Egypt. See the following-
HISTORY OF ONIONS. From the website All about Onions.
In Egypt, onions can be traced back to 3500 B.C. There is evidence that the Sumerians were growing onions as early as 2500 B.C. One Sumerian text dated to about 2500 B.C. tells of someone plowing over the city governor’s onion patch.
In Egypt, onions were considered to be an object of worship. The onion symbolized eternity to the Egyptians who buried onions along with their Pharaohs. The Egyptians saw eternal life in the anatomy of the onion because of its circle-within-a-circle structure. Paintings of onions appear on the inner walls of the pyramids and in the tombs of both the Old Kingdom and the New Kingdom. The onion is mentioned as a funeral offering, and depicted on the banquet tables of the great feasts, both large, peeled onions and slender, immature ones. They were shown upon the altars of the gods.
Frequently, Egyptian priests are pictured holding onions in his hand or covering an altar with a bundle of their leaves or roots. In mummies, onions have frequently been found in the pelvic regions of the body, in the thorax, flattened against the ears, and in front of the collapsed eyes. Flowering onions have been found on the chest, and onions have been found attached to the soles of the feet and along the legs. King Ramses IV, who died in 1160 B.C., was entombed with onions in his eye sockets. [My note: the Exodus began in 1446BC]
Some Egyptologists theorize that onions may have been used because it was believed that their strong scent and/or magical powers would prompt the dead to breathe again. Other Egyptologists believe it was because onions were known for their strong antiseptic qualities, which construed as magical, would be handy in the afterlife.
Onions were eaten by the Israelites in the Bible. In Numbers 11:5, the children of Israel lament the meager desert diet enforced by the Exodus: “We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic….”
O, the crafty devil had shifted their eyes from the holy God above to meager and temporal foodstuffs. They remembered the onions, but forgot their deliverance.