3.3.11 Pomegranate: Refuge in the Blood
Volume 3: Living Symbols—Chapter 3.11
Pomegranate: Refuge in the Blood
Pomegranates appear in scripture only in the Old Testament, and often appear side by side with other Torah symbols, such as grapes and figs. The Hebrew designation is rimmown, or rimmon—used several times in scripture as a proper place name—a town in Southern Judah (Joshua 15:1); one in Zebulun (Joshua 19:13; or a rock fortress near the city of Gibeah (Judges 20:45)—all apparently named after the pomegranate trees that grew there. There was also a Syrian weather god or storm deity named Rimmon (known to the Babylonians as Ramanu) mentioned in passing in the story of Namaan (II Kings 5:18). Another significant place name incorporating Rimmon is Hadad-Rimmon (in the plain of Megiddo), where Josiah, the last good king of Judah, was slain in a battle with Pharaoh Necho of Egypt (see II Chronicles 35:20-25). The mourning that followed his death was legendary. It is compared (in Zechariah 12:11) to the mourning—the national affliction of the soul—that will mark the definitive Day of Atonement, when King Yahshua will be seen and recognized at last by Israel, at His second coming. Believe it or not, all of that is significant when exploring the symbolism of the pomegranate.
It’s easy enough to comprehend the connection between the pomegranate and blood. The seeds of this fruit yield a dark red juice that stains anything it touches. What’s not so easy to see is the connotation of the refuge—the safety—this blood can secure for us. We’ll get to that in a moment. The “blood” being pictured symbolically in scripture by the pomegranate is, of course, that of Yahshua the Messiah—the blood He shed for our sins upon Calvary’s tree. In that respect, it tells roughly the same story as that of the slain animal sacrifices and the wine poured out upon the ground—both oft-mentioned components of Torah ritual worship, and both prophetic of Christ’s self-sacrifice.
In light of New Testament revelation concerning who Yahshua was and what He accomplished, it’s little wonder that for the past two thousand years, the Jewish religious establishment has been scrambling for alternative explanations. The rabbis have tried to make the case that pomegranates represent the Law of Moses, because they contain 613 seeds. Problem is, they don’t. These apple-sized fruits always have lots of seeds, it’s true. In fact, that’s what the Anglicized name of the plant means (Latin: pomum = “apple,” and granatus = “seeded”). But they range from under 200 to over 1,300 in number—hardly the precision you’d expect from a biblical metaphor, if that’s really what it was supposed to mean. And besides, there aren’t 613 distinct “laws” in the Torah (something I convincingly demonstrated in my comprehensive Torah study, The Owner’s Manual). That’s a Talmudic prevarication, nothing more.
The symbolic significance of the pomegranate is tied to its seeds, which when crushed yield a sweet-to-sour red juice (the basis of grenadine, for example) that represents the shed blood of Yahshua the Messiah. I suppose you could say that whether the “blood” of the pomegranate is sweet to you or sour depends upon your relationship with the One who did the bleeding. Something else we should note is that this one of the few plant-based Biblical symbols in which the seed (as opposed to the plant itself, or its fruit, or its foliage) comprises the basis of the metaphor. The seed is the genetic component within the fruit. It is that by which life is transferred from one generation to the next. It is no coincidence that we read time and again in scripture that “the life is in the blood.” That’s true not only of mortal man and the animals in his world. It’s also true in a spiritual sense: real life—everlasting life—is not possible except through the efficacy of the shed blood of Yahshua our Messiah. If it has been allowed to indelibly “stain” our souls, we will carry the life with which we’ve been marked forward into eternity.
The promise of this life—and the blood that purchased it on our behalf—was made evident to the wilderness wanderers soon after they left Egypt. That is, the symbols were presented: it was left to future generations (like ours) to figure out what it all meant. It’s a good-news/bad-news story again: Yahweh had told them to just go in and possess the land, but instead, they sent in twelve spies. “And they came to the Valley of Eshcol and cut down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them; they also brought some pomegranates and figs.” (Numbers 13:23) Beyond the obvious agricultural ramifications, there was spiritually symbolic significance to what the spies brought back with them. At this late date, we can discern what it was: the blessings of the Land would be bestowed upon Israel (the figs), they would be carried to the entire human race (the grapevine—and remember what I said about poles when we were exploring the acacia tree), and they would be brought about through the blood of Yahshua’s sacrifice—something that was either sweet or sour, depending on your relationship with and reaction to it.
You know what happened. Ignoring the bounty God had provided for them in Canaan, and fixating instead on the “giants in the land” (giants that Yahweh had promised to fight on their behalf, just as He had the Egyptians), ten of the twelve spies convinced an entire generation of Israelites to distrust their God—in effect, calling Him a liar. So He acquiesced to their wishes: if they didn’t want to face the challenges (and receive the blessings) of the Promised Land, then they wouldn’t have to. Their kids would enter the Land in their place. That, however, left them homeless, destined to wander about in the wilderness until they all died off. (Remember, at this point, they couldn’t exactly go back to Egypt and ask for their old jobs back, not after that “sucker punch” in the Red Sea.)
Eventually, their perception of their place and purpose shifted. They began to think of the wilderness as the destination, when in fact, it was no-man’s land, and always had been. So a few chapters later, we read, “Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before Yahweh!” Yahweh must have been thinking, That can be arranged. “Why have you brought the assembly of Yahweh into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle?” You? Moses? No, it was Yahweh Himself who had done these things. Moses was just a shepherd, assigned (again) to herd Somebody else’s sheep in the desert for forty years. “And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” (Numbers 20:2-5) Really? You geniuses turned up your noses at the place where the grapes, figs, and pomegranates grew, where the rain clouds blew in off the Mediterranean and turned the desert into a land of milk and honey. Or did you forget?
A generation later, Moses made sure their children understood what awaited them when they entered the Land: “So you shall keep the commandments of Yahweh your God by walking in His ways and by fearing Him. For Yahweh your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs [symbolic of the presence of the Spirit of Yahweh, if they’d walk in His ways and revere Him], flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley [God’s provision], of vines and fig trees [blessings for all mankind, beginning with Israel] and pomegranates [the refuge that would be found in the sacrifice of Christ], a land of olive trees [the source of the Spirit] and honey [the sweet life], a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing.” (Deuteronomy 8:6-9) The literal, physical “goodness” of the Land was enough for Joshua’s generation, of course. But as with everything else in the Torah, the stunning ramifications of what it all meant would become clear only when the Messiah took center stage. It was only then that the symbolic significance of the good land that God had given to Abraham and his descendants would eclipse their mundane material inheritance.
It’s easy enough to see the “blood” connotation of the pomegranate. All you have to do is cut one open and “wound” one of the seeds. But where did I pick up the counterintuitive notion that this blood provides refuge or shelter? It’s a long, convoluted story that begins in Judges 19 and runs through the end of the book. An incident took place in the Benjamite city of Gibeah (only a couple of miles north of Jerusalem) which began as an instant replay of Lot’s desperate hospitality that was shown to the two angels in Sodom—meant to protect them from being gang raped by a crazed homosexual mob. In this case, the one trying to provide shelter for the vulnerable travelers sent his own concubine out to face the sodomites, who (though she wasn’t exactly the prey they were after) raped her repeatedly and left her dying at the man’s front door. Understandably outraged (even though he himself had condemned her to death through his own cowardice), the householder cut the concubine’s corpse into twelve pieces and sent one to each of the twelve tribes—a gruesome call to war against Gibeah’s homicidal homosexuals (who would, ironically, prefer to be called “gay” these days). And Israel answered the call with a huge, angry army.
But the tribe of Benjamin decided that blood is thicker than righteousness, so to speak. They refused to go to war against their evil brothers in Gibeah, opting instead to defend them against the rage and disgust of the rest of Israel. Lesson number one: it is never a good idea to defend sin, even if the guilty party is someone very near and dear to you. Loving the sinner is one thing; enabling and supporting the evil he practices—and defending it against the world’s outrage—is something else entirely. At some point, crime must meet punishment. Meanwhile, Israel consulted Yahweh (just as they should have) through Phinehas the High Priest (Aaron’s grandson), who confirmed that Gibeah must be dealt with. But the first few sorties against the Benjamites ended in Israel’s defeat. Again, they enquired of Yahweh, who told them to persevere. This time, the army of Israel put Benjamin to flight, burned Gibeah to the ground, and slew the sodomites. And this is where the pomegranate symbol comes into play—sort of.
“Eighteen thousand men of Benjamin fell, all of them men of valor. And they turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon.” If you’ll recall, the Hebrew word Rimmon means “pomegranate.” “Five thousand men of them were cut down in the highways. And they were pursued hard to Gidom [literally, “a cutting off”], and 2,000 men of them were struck down. So all who fell that day of Benjamin were 25,000 men who drew the sword, all of them men of valor. But 600 men turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon and remained at the rock of Rimmon four months.” This is where the pomegranate symbol is first used to suggest a place of refuge. “And the men of Israel turned back against the people of Benjamin and struck them with the edge of the sword, the city, men and beasts and all that they found. And all the towns that they found they set on fire.” (Judges 20:44-48) Here we see the “Law of Unintended Consequences” at work. The Benjamites had merely set out to guard the despicable perverts of Gibeah because they were kin. But in defending evil, they fomented a full scale civil war that left their entire tribe in ruins. Oops.
But let’s analyze this. Who found shelter at “Pomegranate Rock” (a.k.a. the Rock of Rimmon)? It wasn’t the guilty gay guys of Gibeah. They were summarily executed (along with everybody else who was found in that town, innocent or not), which was the whole original point of the military campaign: “The men in ambush hurried and rushed against Gibeah; the men in ambush moved out and struck all the city with the edge of the sword.” (Judges 20:37) No, the ones who found refuge at the rock—in its system of crags and caves—were their naïve Benjamite cousins (and then, only a tiny remnant of them), who had so unwisely chosen to militarily defend the morally indefensible. Lesson number two: there is nothing to be gained by subsidizing or tolerating evil, no matter how logical or honorable your reasoning might seem. This is a lesson America had better learn, and quickly—or face our own “four months at Rimmon Rock.”
What happened at Pomegranate Rock? The Benjamite remnant were protected from the annihilation that they had earned themselves by siding with sin. I’m guessing that by the time they reached the shelter of Rimmon, they had rethought their position and had concluded that they had backed the wrong horse, family or not. Their foolish misplaced tribal loyalty had cost Israel’s coalition over 40,000 valiant men, and the tribe of Benjamin another 25,000. All because a couple of dozen sodomites in Gibeah refused to control their lust. Lesson number three: ignoring God’s law can get really expensive in a hurry. But even though swimming in innocent blood, the six hundred Benjamite refugees found safety at Pomegranate Rock—a new definition of sweet refuge mitigated by sour reflection upon why they needed it, all rolled into one.
Is this not a perfect picture of what Christ’s blood does for us? Like the Benjamites, we have all made some disastrous choices along the way, tolerating—even defending—the evil we see in our society, and in the process incurring guilt ourselves. It is only when we wake up to the error of our ways, when we repent and seek shelter at “Pomegranate Rock”—the atoning blood of our Messiah—that we can avoid the punishment that our poor choices have earned us. The Rock of Rimmon is thus a picture of grace. The eye-opening truth here is how the “works” contrasted with this grace are defined. What had the troops of Benjamin had been doing prior to their repentance? They’d been fighting against the very armies of God, whether they realized it or not.
On a national level, Americans are particularly susceptible to this error: we (especially our conservatives) tend to equate patriotism with godliness—and that’s a leap you can’t logically make. When the time comes for the guilty among us to pay for their crimes, we too often unwittingly find ourselves waging battle against God Himself—instead of humbly submitting to His rod of correction. When our once-great nation suffers setback after setback because of our creeping lack of reverence for Yahweh, Satan’s minions mock the patriots among us for “clinging to God, gold, and guns.” But perhaps they’re correct in doing so: the correct solution is to put no faith at all in gold or guns, and rely totally on the true and living God—Yahweh.
If the evidence presented here connecting the pomegranate symbol to refuge seems a little thin, don’t feel bad. I wouldn’t have even brought it up were it not for the fact that God repeated Himself, with a twist. He used the very same metaphor three or four centuries later. Again, we find valiant Israelite soldiers on the field of battle. Again, men of the tribe of Benjamin play a prominent role. Again, they number about six hundred troops. And even the place (formerly called the Rock of Rimmon, outside Gibeah) is the same. What’s different this time is that “Pomegranate Rock” is where they started. The lesson (if I’m seeing this correctly) is meant to reveal what’s possible when you begin from a position of strength and safety, covered by the blood of Christ.
Here’s the data: “One day Jonathan the son of Saul said to the young man who carried his armor, ‘Come, let us go over to the Philistine garrison on the other side.’ But he did not tell his father.” Jonathan was heir-apparent to the throne of Israel, son of their first king—from the tribe of Benjamin (which means “son of my right hand”). “Saul was staying in the outskirts of Gibeah in the pomegranate cave [NKJV: “under a pomegranate tree”] at Migron. The people who were with him were about six hundred men.” (I Samuel 14:1-2) The word used to describe Saul’s location is our old friend Rimmon. I’m afraid the word translated “in” or “under”—tahat—is so versatile, we can’t be dogmatic about what is meant. You can’t get six hundred men under a pomegranate tree, of course. What seems clear is that the place was a rocky stronghold known (and named) for the pomegranate trees that grew nearby, perhaps with a cave system big enough to conceal a force this size. (Remember, Jerusalem is built on limestone, a rock type in which caves naturally form due to water runoff, and Gibeah wasn’t very far away.)
Israel was fighting against the Philistine invaders on their own home turf: Gibeah was, you’ll recall, in Benjamite territory. The Philistine base, meanwhile, was located way over on the Mediterranean coast, near present day Gaza. They had no business being there, except for their hatred of Yahweh’s people. Some things, it would appear, never really change.
“Within the passes, by which Jonathan sought to go over to the Philistine garrison, there was a rocky crag on the one side and a rocky crag on the other side.” If you’ll recall our discussion about “Rocks” in Volume I, two Hebrew words for “rock” are used more or less interchangeably, tsur, and sela—the latter stressing the shelter to be had within the “cleft of the rock,” as when Moses was given a glimpse God. The word translated “crag” here is sela. “The name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh.” Bozez means “surpassing white: glistening,” and Seneh means “thorny.” The idea seems to be that Johathan’s little exploit could have gone either way—ending in glory or disaster. He had no guarantees, only faith in Yahweh. “The one crag rose on the north in front of Michmash, and the other on the south in front of Geba [locations just north of Gibeah]. Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, ‘Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that Yahweh will work for us, for nothing can hinder Yahweh from saving by many or by few.’” (I Samuel 14:4-5) This wasn’t like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza tilting at windmills: Jonathan and his squire were operating in the power of Yahweh. The record goes on to state that this little two-man guerrilla force pulled a “Chuck Norris” (so to speak) on the startled Philistines, killing twenty of them and precipitating a panic in which the heathen troops began killing each other—a tactic Yahweh uses often, from Gideon’s commando raid against the Midianites (Judges 7) to the yet-future Battle of Magog (Ezekiel 38:21). Israel’s armies finally noticed the commotion and joined the fight, regaining the initiative.
In light of the “pomegranate” symbol, the point of all this seems to be that if we begin in a position of safety and confidence in the blood of Christ and venture out from there, we needn’t be many in number, mighty in strength, rocket-surgeon smart, or otherwise gifted, to accomplish great things in the kingdom of God, for He is fighting our battles for us and through us. All we have to do is proceed in faith. But you have to start out “under the pomegranate tree.” If you launch your expedition from any other place, you’re on your own.
Up to this point, you may be thinking, the presentation of the pomegranate as a Biblical symbol may not quite seem warranted. It may appear as if I’ve grasped at irrelevant straws, seeing things as significant that were either incidental or coincidental. But the truth is, I was forced to see the pomegranate as a scriptural symbol because of Yahweh’s use of the motif in His instructions for the tabernacle service. Since God does nothing on a pointless whim, I was compelled to ponder the pomegranate. That’s not to say it’s a common element in tabernacle symbology: in fact, it shows up only once. But that one instance is impossible to ignore. It begins as Yahweh tells Moses, “You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue. It shall have an opening for the head in the middle of it, with a woven binding around the opening, like the opening in a garment, so that it may not tear….” This was a garment to be worn by the High Priest when he ministered in the tabernacle before Yahweh. The ephod itself was an apron-like affair with shoulder straps, worn over the robe and held in place around the waist with an integral decorative “band.” The High Priest’s “robe” was more like a sleeved poncho than a coat, in that it wasn’t open at the front. Rather, it was slipped on over the head. The “neck” was reinforced so it wouldn’t tear. It was customary in these times for someone to rend his clothing in order to express profound anguish or deep mourning (e.g. Ezra 9:3), but the High Priest was specifically prohibited from doing so (see Leviticus 21:10). The reason, I believe, is wrapped up in what the robe represented: since the robe was made entirely of blue-dyed fabric, the ultimate High Priest’s (i.e., Yahshua’s) role as King is being stressed here: the high priest’s office is thus defined as being prophetic of the coming Messiah. The point of never tearing the robe was that although the Messiah in his role as the Lamb of God would Himself be “torn”—slain to atone for our sins—His position as King was unassailable. It made no difference if billions of lost and rebellious people said, “We will not have this Man to rule over us.” He does rule, whether they like it or not. The role of King of kings cannot be torn away from Yahshua.
What does any of this have to do with pomegranates? “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. And it shall be on Aaron when he ministers.” Representations of pomegranates embroidered in costly blue, purple, and scarlet were to ring the hem of the robe, interspersed with bells made of pure gold, sewn on in a way that would allow them to ring when the High Priest walked. “And its sound shall be heard when he goes into the Holy Place before Yahweh, and when he comes out, so that he does not die.” (Exodus 28:31-35) So that he does not die? This is apparently more serious than it looks at first glance.
The key, I think, is the metal from which the bells were to be made: gold—precious, immutable, and proven pure in the crucible of adversity. The golden bells “announce” to Yahweh that the High Priest is there in his role as a symbolic representative of the coming Anointed One—he is not standing before Yahweh pretending to be “good enough,” trying to intercede for the people on his own. He is, rather, the emissary of the King. The “decorative elements” on the hem of the robe, then, are anything but merely decorative. They speak of the two functions—and two advents—of the Messiah. The pomegranates prophesy the death of the suffering servant, whose blood (either sweet or sour, depending upon our response to His resurrection) was shed on behalf of a world desperately seeking refuge. And the golden bells foretell the reigning king, whose absolute purity qualifies us to stand before Yahweh as righteous beings. The pattern—a bell and a pomegranate, a bell and a pomegranate—was repeated over and over again around the hem of the High Priest’s robe, so we wouldn’t lose sight of one thing or the other.
Of course, instructions are only as good as the way they’re carried out. In this case, Moses had a talented “art director,” a fellow named Bezalel, to oversee the craftsmen in a dozen different disciplines as they brought Yahweh’s tabernacle to life. Having being a designer myself at one time, I’ve always had a soft spot for Bezalel, an appreciation for the magnitude and import of the work set before him. I mean, it’s one thing to render service “as to the Lord and not to men” (Ephesians 6:7); it’s something else entirely when your client actually is God. Or is it?
Anyway, it is written of Bezalel, “He also made the robe of the ephod woven all of blue, and the opening of the robe in it was like the opening in a garment, with a binding around the opening, so that it might not tear.” The only High Priest on record as having torn his robe was Caiaphas, at the “trial” of Yahshua. There was apparently a lot about the Torah that he was willing to overlook if it suited his purpose. There’s a lesson in there somewhere. “On the hem of the robe they made pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. They also made bells of pure gold, and put the bells between the pomegranates all around the hem of the robe, between the pomegranates—a bell and a pomegranate, a bell and a pomegranate around the hem of the robe for ministering, as Yahweh had commanded Moses.” (Exodus 39:22-26) Doing things exactly “as Yahweh had commanded Moses” is a very good thing, whether you’re a designer or not, because everything God told Moses to do was prophetic of the Messiah, our Savior. If we play fast and loose with the Instructions, we lead people astray. That being said, there was some latitude in Bezalel’s instructions.
The story I’m about to relate is apocryphal, but compelling nonetheless. (It’s related in full in my book on prophecy elsewhere on this website, The End of the Beginning, Chapter 13.) It was January 6, 1982, and amateur archeologist Ron Wyatt found himself (after two years of arduous labor) in a limestone cave in Jerusalem, outside the old city wall, beneath “Gordon’s Calvary,” near the Garden Tomb. Sweeping his flashlight across a bed of fist-sized stones filling the chamber to within a couple of feet of the ceiling, something caught his eye—the glint of gold. Subsequent examination revealed it to be piece of furniture built to the exact dimensions of the table of showbread, made of wood but covered with pure gold (Exodus 25:23-30). The Torah specs said nothing about decorative elements, but Wyatt noticed that the table had a flat top and a raised molding on the sides, carved with a repeating motif: a bell, a pomegranate, a bell, a pomegranate—the same pattern that had been prescribed for the robe of the High Priest’s ephod in Exodus 28:33 (though here, of course, the bells were graphic representations, not the real thing). Wyatt subsequently found several other important pieces that had not been listed among the booty that Nebuchadnezzar hauled off to Babylon—the most significant among them, the ark of the covenant itself.
For reasons of His own, Yahweh saw to it that nothing left the chamber except the story. Half a dozen glory seekers have died trying to exploit the find, and not surprisingly, the Israeli government is not particularly keen on publicizing it, considering the volatility of its political ramifications. Calm is king, at least for now. But assuming the story is true (and I have no reason to doubt it), I find it touching (and revealing) that Yahweh allowed Bezalel’s creative nature to find expression, even as he followed His Instructions to the letter. If we are the Creator’s children, the apple needn’t fall very far from the tree.
The pomegranate shows up in other ways in the design of Solomon’s temple, the plan of which was basically a scaled-up version of the wilderness tabernacle. As with Bezalel’s apparent use of the motif on the rim of the table of showbread, we have no record of Yahweh having instructed Solomon to use the pomegranate as a design element, but it is pretty clear that he felt justified in doing so based on its use on the hem of the High Priest’s robe and the rim of the Table of Showbread: if Yahweh had commanded it to be used in one place, and then allowed it in another, the pomegranate theme must have had God’s blessing. So Solomon used the pomegranate element in profusion—not inside the temple, but on two massive bronze pillars that were to stand just outside of the entrance: “In front of the house he made two pillars thirty-five cubits high, with a capital of five cubits on the top of each.” The “thirty-five cubits” is apparently a textual transmission glitch. The height is listed as “eighteen cubits” in three other places. (The letter-number designations in Babylonian Hebrew script look quite similar—יח versus לה). So when assembled, these columns stood over three stories tall. “He made chains like a necklace and put them on the tops of the pillars, and he made a hundred pomegranates and put them on the chains. He set up the pillars in front of the temple, one on the south, the other on the north; that on the south he called Jachin, and that on the north Boaz.” (II Chronicles 3:15-17)
It has been hypothesized that these two massive pillars comprised the visible part of an elaborate sand hydraulics system that enabled the ark of the covenant and other pieces to be removed from the temple unseen. (Again, the full story is related in The End of the Beginning.) There was nothing analogous to them in the tabernacle design. It’s worth our time to figure out what the names of these two free-standing pillars meant. Both of them were named for (or should I say, shared names with) men in Israel’s history. Jachin (Yakiyn) was the fourth son of the patriarch Simeon, the second son of Jacob. Boaz was the kinsman-redeemer in the story of Ruth, not to mention being the great grandfather of King David. But, as usual in Hebrew, both of these names meant something. Names expressed the hopes and aspirations of the parents for their child, or were a statement about something—either positive or negative—that was going on. Jachin means “He will establish,” and Boaz may mean “quickness” or “swiftness” (it breaks down literally to “in him, strength”). So together, Solomon’s two columns declare: “He will establish quickly” or “He will establish in His strength.” Both things are true, in their own way, of what the temple and its service symbolically represent—the plan of Yahweh for mankind’s redemption.
It is my experience that if something is really important, Yahweh arranges to bring up the subject in His scriptures more often than if it’s a side issue, something less than crucial to our understanding. So I take it as noteworthy that these two pomegranate-encrusted columns are mentioned half a dozen times—far more often than the hem of the High Priest’s robe. As with the account of Bezalel’s involvement with the tabernacle design and construction, Solomon’s art director is also credited: “So Hiram [or Huram—not the king of Tyre named Hiram, but a master craftsman, the son of a Tyrian father and an Israelite mother] finished the work that he did for King Solomon on the house of God: the two pillars, the bowls, and the two capitals on the top of the pillars; and the two latticeworks to cover the two bowls of the capitals that were on the top of the pillars; and the 400 pomegranates for the two latticeworks, two rows of pomegranates for each latticework, to cover the two bowls of the capitals that were on the pillars.” (II Chronicles 4:11-13) At first glance, there seems to be a discrepancy between the number of pomegranates listed here and in the chapter 3 reference above. But a careful reading clarifies it: each column was adorned with a latticework and chain design circumscribing it: each of these had two rows of one hundred pomegranates, and there were two columns, for a total of four hundred bronze pomegranates.
The description in I Kings gives us more detail: “He [Solomon] cast two pillars of bronze. Eighteen cubits was the height of one pillar, and a line of twelve cubits measured its circumference.” This makes the pillars almost six feet across. The math implies that the decorative bronze pomegranates were each a little over two inches wide. “It was hollow, and its thickness was four fingers [about three inches]. The second pillar was the same. He also made two capitals of cast bronze to set on the tops of the pillars. The height of the one capital was five cubits, and the height of the other capital was five cubits. There were lattices of checker work with wreaths of chain work for the capitals on the tops of the pillars, a lattice for the one capital and a lattice for the other capital. Likewise he made pomegranates in two rows around the one latticework to cover the capital that was on the top of the pillar, and he did the same with the other capital.” If I’m picturing this correctly, the latticework and chain section with all the pomegranates stood above the massive hollow bronze columns, obscuring the “plug” at the base of each solid bronze capital that fit inside the column, holding it in place. “Now the capitals that were on the tops of the pillars in the vestibule were of lily-work, four cubits. The capitals were on the two pillars and also above the rounded projection which was beside the latticework [NKJV: “…the convex surface which was next to the network”]. There were two hundred pomegranates in two rows all around, and so with the other capital. He set up the pillars at the vestibule of the temple. He set up the pillar on the south and called its name Jachin, and he set up the pillar on the north and called its name Boaz.” The temple entrance faced east. “And on the tops of the pillars was lily-work. Thus the work of the pillars was finished.” (I Kings 7:15-22)
Thus ends the description of Solomon’s pillars as they were built and used at the entrance of the first magnificent temple. But there’s also quite a bit of scripture dedicated to the fact that they were later hauled off to Babylon in the wake of centuries of Israelite apostasy. Jeremiah was a witness to the sack of Jerusalem (and he was probably the man who secreted the ark of the covenant and the other pieces into safe keeping before Jerusalem fell—see II Maccabees 2:4-8). He reports what the Babylonians hauled away. “And the pillars of bronze that were in the house of Yahweh, and the stands and the bronze sea that were in the house of Yahweh, the Chaldeans broke in pieces, and carried all the bronze to Babylon…. As for the two pillars, the one sea, the twelve bronze bulls that were under the sea, and the stands, which Solomon the king had made for the house of Yahweh, the bronze of all these things was beyond weight. As for the pillars, the height of the one pillar was eighteen cubits, its circumference was twelve cubits, and its thickness was four fingers, and it was hollow. On it was a capital of bronze. The height of the one capital was five cubits. A network and pomegranates, all of bronze, were around the capital. And the second pillar had the same, with pomegranates. There were ninety-six pomegranates on the sides; all the pomegranates were a hundred upon the network all around.” (Jeremiah 52:17, 20-23) So once again, Jeremiah mentions the pomegranate decoration on Solomon’s columns.
There is a provocative discrepancy in the account of what was taken as listed in II Kings—which was in all likelihood also penned by Jeremiah. “As for the two pillars, the one sea [Solomon’s version of Moses’ bronze laver], and the stands that Solomon had made for the house of Yahweh, the bronze of all these vessels was beyond weight. The height of the one pillar was eighteen cubits, and on it was a capital of bronze. The height of the capital was three cubits. A latticework and pomegranates, all of bronze, were all around the capital. And the second pillar had the same, with the latticework.” (II Kings 25:16-17) Again, the lattice work and its pomegranates are mentioned prominently. But note that the height of the capitals as described here was two cubits (about thirty-six inches) shorter than when they were built. Why? Most commentators simply ignore it, and unfortunately, the passage is missing in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Barnes Notes flippantly presumes it’s a mistake—that it should read “five.” But it doesn’t (a gimel doesn’t look anything like a hei). I, for one, am willing to take the dimension at face value, which begs the question: why were the capitals three feet shorter when the Babylonians hauled them away? One “crazy” but perfectly plausible explanation is that Solomon had built a sand hydraulics “elevator” into the holy of holies, allowing four dedicated priests (such as Jeremiah) to remove the ark of the covenant, the table of showbread, the seven-branched menorah, and the altar of incense to a safe location. Laugh if you will, but be aware that none of those things were listed among the booty that Nebuchadnezzar stole—and they accounted for everything they took, right down to the spoons and shovels.
The larger question for our immediate purposes, however, is why we were given all of these numerous mentions of the pomegranate appliqué on two bronze columns, together named “He will establish swiftly” or “He will establish in His strength.” (1) The temple was all about Yahweh’s plan—what He intended to establish, whether suddenly, or in His own power, or both. (2) The columns were erected at the very door of the temple: thus whatever they represented “guarded” Yahweh’s plan for our redemption. (3) The pomegranates were rendered (as were the columns and their capitals) in bronze or brass—itself symbolic of judgment, of judicial separation of good from evil. (4) We have already established that the pomegranate is symbolic of the refuge that can be found only in the blood of Christ.
I can only conclude that Solomon (whether he realized it or not) had presented a picture of how we can find refuge and sanctuary in the blood of the Innocent Sacrifice as we enter the plan of God. And at the risk of stretching this anology beyond the breaking point, notice that the lily-shaped capitals, though beautiful and elevated in the sight of man, had to be made smaller in appearance, diminished and hidden within the pomegranate-encrusted latticework. We too must humble ourselves and be hidden within the place of refuge provided by the blood of Yahshua if we wish to stand holy and justified in Yahweh’s presence at the judgment seat of Christ.
The most prolific purveyor of prophetic pomegranate propositions was Solomon. Not only did he specify that four hundred of them would grace the two pillars that guarded the entrance to the temple, he also mentioned them frequently in his poetic allegory, the Song of Solomon. Whether or not Solomon realized it, this little book speaks of the torrid love affair between Christ (a role played by King Solomon) and His beloved bride, the church (a part played by the Shulamite maiden). If you’ll recall, we explored the background of the book a bit during our study of frankincense. Also playing an important role are the “Daughters of Jerusalem,” representing (obviously enough) the nation of Israel, who are seen in enthusiastic support of the love match. Needless to say, the whole esoteric book is predictive of the state of affairs that will prevail during the Millennial reign of the Messiah, for at present, Israel’s relationship with both Christ and His church is strained and suspicious—and has been since the first century. It will remain so, I’m afraid, until they repent (the most prevalent prophetic theme in the entire Tanach, and one central to the definitive Day of Atonement, during the last few days of the Tribulation).
If we keep the symbols of scripture in mind, the whole thing begins to make sense (in a steamy, R-rated sort of way). First we hear the King saying, “Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely. Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil.” (Song of Solomon 4:3) Yahshua finds us beautiful. (Love is blind, thank God.) But on another level, the images of lips, mouth, and cheeks speak of speech: that is, He finds what we say as sweet as grenadine. If we love Him, we speak of what He did for us—shedding His own blood that we might live in absolute security, fearing nothing. The church, in fact, is the only one who speaks of such things. The rest of the world doesn’t want to hear it—preferring to keep our testimony hidden behind a veil because the truth is just too brilliant, too glorious to be comfortable with, if they’re not prepared to see it. Moses knew what it felt like to radiate a glow from being in Yahweh’s presence: see Exodus 34:29-35. And interestingly enough, exuding God’s glory is a perfect etymological synonym for the concept of praising God. Hallelujah literally means “radiate Yahweh’s light.”
A bit later in the same chapter (one in which the king is heard praising His bride’s beauty), the pomegranate is mentioned again. “A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a spring locked, a fountain sealed. Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits, henna with nard, nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all chief spices—a garden fountain, a well of living water.” (Song of Solomon 4:12-15) We have encountered most of these exotic substances previously in this volume. Calamus (qaneh, that is, cane) and cinnamon were ingredients in the anointing oil used in the tabernacle service. And frankincense and myrrh (in the form of stacte) were used in Yahweh’s exclusive formula for incense, symbolic of the prayers of the saints. Aloes, as we saw, are fragrant wood used to symbolize the presence of love. And pomegranates speak of the sweet sacrifice of the Messiah’s blood—that which provides refuge for His bride.
The refuge theme is subtly brought into play here. The bride is called a locked garden, a sealed fountain, a secluded spring. She is quite secure. It is revealing that the word translated “orchard” here (pardes) is the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek word translated “Paradise” in Christ’s promise to the thief on the cross: “Assuredly I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43) Technically, it denotes a walled garden, an enclosed park or forest preserve—a place of safety and seclusion. But look closer. What is this pomegranate paradise? It is her shoots, that which is sent out from her—the Hebrew word is shelach: a sprout, shoot, or missile, based on a root verb (shalach) meaning to send forth, let go, or stretch out. Thus it is no stretch at all to hear echoes of the Great Commission in Solomon’s description of the King’s bride, the church, in this passage. We who have been reached and given refuge by the sweet sacrifice of Christ personify the Paradise of Pomegranates of which Solomon speaks.
And what does the bride have to say about it? “I went down to the nut orchard to look at the blossoms of the valley, to see whether the vines had budded, whether the pomegranates were in bloom. Before I was aware, my desire set me among the chariots of my kinsman, a prince.” (Song of Solomon 6:11-12) She isn’t found sitting around the palace eating bon-bons and watching television. She’s out in the world, searching for signs of life and fruitfulness, for opportunities to serve. She wants to see a great harvest; she’s willing to work for it. And this desire gets her noticed—and desired herself—by the Prince of Peace. She tells her beloved, “Let us go out early to the vineyards and see whether the vines have budded, whether the grape blossoms have opened and the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give you my love.” (Song of Solomon 7:12) Once again, the fruitfulness of the Gospel—represented symbolically by the juxtaposition of the blossoming pomegranates and grapevines—finds its culmination in the love shared by the King and His bride.
In a fascinating twist, Solomon foresees not only the passion between the King and His beloved, but also the frustration of their being kept physically apart until the marriage supper of the Lamb. The world—willing enough to ignore its own dalliances with silly and superficial false gods—does not see our torrid passion for our divine King as a proper and seemly thing. They can’t understand our longing, our desire, our obsession for someone they can’t even perceive—someone they don’t believe really even exists—not as we describe Him. Christianity is increasingly looked upon by the lost world as a mental illness, like some crazy widow who refuses to believe her man is never coming back to her. (But no, I don’t think that’s what “going down to the nut orchard” means.)
Meanwhile, we’re thinking, “If only He were here among us again, we could at least be close, intimately familiar, like a big brother and his doting little sister”: “Oh that you were like a brother to me who nursed at my mother’s breasts! If I found you outside, I would kiss you, and none would despise me. I would lead you and bring you into the house of my mother—she who used to teach me.” Who is “mom?” The Holy Spirit! “I would give you spiced wine to drink, the juice of my pomegranate. His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me! I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.” (Song of Solomon 8:1-4) That last sentence is puzzling, but it seems to me that perhaps the difference between the role of the church and that of Israel is once again being clarified. The bride, the church, is the King’s undying passion, His visceral desire, now and for eternity. But what about Israel? He will someday display His loving affection and devotion to the “daughters of Jerusalem” as well, but that time must wait. It’s a different sort of love, shown in a different way, at a different time, under different circumstances.
The reason the expression of Yahweh’s love for Israel must wait is that they are still in rebellion against Him. They have rejected His Messiah, and until they recognize their disastrous error, they will remain asleep, estranged, and at enmity with Him. Fortunately, scripture reveals that this reconciliation will happen—they will awaken from their spiritual coma. Their epiphany will be so monumental an episode, in fact, it is singled out as one of the seven most significant events in Yahweh’s entire plan: it’s prophesied by the sixth of Yahweh’s seven annual holy convocations, the Day of Atonement.
Devout Jews today call the ten days between the Feast of Trumpets and the Day of Atonement the “ten days of awe,” using them, ironically enough, to reflect upon their spiritual condition. But since the Feast of Trumpets is predictive of the removal of the church from the world, these “ten days of awe” (that is, the time between the definitive Feast of Trumpets and the ultimate Day of Atonement) are going to be an occasion for more than spiritual reflection: they’re going to be (as Yahshua put it) a time of “great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.” (Matthew 24:21) And during this time, the sign of the pomegranate is going to be very hard to see: “Be ashamed, O tillers of the soil; wail, O vinedressers, for the wheat and the barley, because the harvest of the field has perished. The vine dries up; the fig tree languishes. Pomegranate, palm, and apple, all the trees of the field are dried up, and gladness dries up from the children of man.” (Joel 1:11-12) Many of God’s symbols, in fact, will be impacted by the dire circumstances that will dominate the earth after the rapture. Wheat and barley speak of Yahweh’s provision—gone. The vine symbolizes mankind—severely depopulated. The fig tree describes Israel—languishing. The palm tree, indicating righteousness in the earth—will be hard to come by. And the pomegranate? The refuge formerly afforded to those who sought shelter in the blood of Christ will be gone—in temporal terms, anyway. “It was granted to [the beast] to make war with the saints and to over come them.” (Revelation 13:7) There will be no place to hide.
It will be like an echo of Haggai’s rebuke to the post-exilic Israelites, who dragged their feet in restoring the worship of Yahweh at the rebuilt temple—a neglect Yahweh answered with drought and infertility. When they get serious about Him, He says, He will once again pour out blessings upon them: “Indeed, the vine, the fig tree, the pomegranate, and the olive tree have yielded nothing. But from this day on I will bless you.” (Haggai 2:19) The world will recover from the Great Tribulation, brought back from the brink of utter destruction. And (judging by the symbols) mankind, beginning with Israel, will find refuge in the blood of the Messiah, and (as the prophet Joel tells us) the Spirit of Yahweh will be poured out upon all flesh.
(First published 2014)