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BARLEY (שְׂעֹרָה, H8555, long hair; κριθή, G3208, piercing or pointed; κρίθινος, G3209, barley). There are thirty-six references to barley in the Bible. It was one of the main cereal crops of Pal., and being cheaper than wheat was used for feeding horses, donkeys and cattle. It was often mixed with wheat to prepare flour for human beings. Barley bread, even today, is the staple food of the poorer people in Pal.

There are three main barleys— spring barley (Hordeum vulgare), winter barley (H. hexastichon), and common barley (H. distichon).

Barley is harvested in Pal. in late March or early April, or on the hilly fields in May. Winter barley may be sown in November and spring barley in March.

As barley was largely the food of the poor, it was looked down on, and is even scorned today. It was good enough for the price of a harlot (Hos 3:2), and was a poor symbolic offering (Num 5:15).

Arabs today refer to Jews as “cakes of barley.” This is a scornful term. The true followers of Mohammed are “wheat” and the Jews are “barley.” The Midianites prob. called the Israelites “cakes of barley” (Judg 7:13), and that was why in a dream a soldier saw “a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian.”

Orpah with Ruth returned to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest (Ruth 1). Absalom burned Joab’s barley field (2 Sam 14:30). “Cast thy bread upon the waters” (Eccl 11:1) refers to barley. The loaves given to the Lord Jesus (John 6:9) were made of barley. Elisha said that the price of barley flour was half that of wheat flour (2 Kings 7:1).

Barley is harvested thirty or more days before wheat. This accounts for the barley being smitten and the wheat not damaged in Exodus 9:31. See Grain; Harvest.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


(1) In the Bible, as in modern times, barley was a characteristic product of Palestine--"a land of wheat and barley, and vines and fig-trees," etc. (De 8:8), the failure of whose crop was a national disaster (Joe 1:11). It was, and is, grown chiefly as provender for horses and asses (1Ki 4:28), oats being practically unknown, but it was, as it now is, to some extent, the food of the poor in country districts (Ru 2:17; 2Ki 4:42; Joh 6:9,13). Probably this is the meaning of the dream of the Midianite concerning Gideon: "Behold, I dreamed a dream; and, lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian, and came unto the tent, and smote it so that it fell, and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat. And his fellow answered and said, This is nothing else save the sword of Gideon, the son of Joash, a man of Israel" (Jud 7:13 f). Here the barley loaf is type of the peasant origin of Gideon’s army and perhaps, too, of his own lowly condition.

Barley was (Eze 4:9) one of the ingredients from which the prophet was to make bread and "eat it as barley cakes" after having baked it under repulsive conditions (Eze 4:12), as a sign to the people. The false prophetesses (Eze 13:19) are said to have profaned God among the people for "handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread."

Barley was also used in the ORDEAL OF JEALOUSY (s. v.). It was with five barley loaves and two fishes that our Lord fed the five thousand (Joh 6:9,10).

(2) Several varieties of barley are grown in Palestine The Hordeum distichum or two-rowed barley is probably the nearest to the original stock, but Hordeum tetrastichum, with grains in four rows, and Hordeum hexastichum, with six rows, are also common and ancient; the last is found depicted upon Egyptian monuments.

Barley is always sown in the autumn, after the "early rains," and the barley harvest, which for any given locality precedes the wheat harvest (Ex 9:31 f), begins near Jericho in April--or even March--but in the hill country of Palestine is not concluded until the end of May or beginning of June.

The barley harvest was a well-marked season of the year (see Time) and the barley-corn was a well-known measure of length.

See Weights and Measures.

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