The first experience I had with a pomegranate was in California, right off of the tree in the in the backyard of the place where I lived at the time. I knew what they were, but I didn’t know what they tasted like, smelled like, what the texture was like, or anything like that before this. In my first experience with them, I never regarded them as something extraordinary, but I did find them to be a bit strange. As I spooned out the seeds to consume them, I remember thinking how different pomegranates were from an apple.
I also remember, in my first reading of the Bible, reading about these strange fruits. As I was going through the Bible, I came upon a passage that really seemed to stand out regarding such. It was Exodus 28:31-35:
31 “You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue. 32 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. 33 On its hem you shall make pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet yarns, around its hem, with bells of gold between them, 34 a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, around the hem of the robe. 35 And it shall be on Aaron when he ministers, and its sound shall be heard when he goes into the Holy Place before the Lord, and when he comes out, so that he does not die.
This is not the only place that discusses pomegranates in the Bible: Exodus 39:22, Song of Solomon 6:11; 8:2; 7:12; 6:7; 4:3, Jeremiah 52:22, 1 Kings 7:18, 2 Chronicles 3:16; 4:13, Haggai 2:19, Joel 1:12, Numbers 20:5; 13:23, 1 Samuel 14:2, Deuteronomy 8:8, and 2 Kings 25:17 also mention pomegranates. The mentions of pomegranates total 18 different places in the Bible and all of them being in the Old Testament. Some of these are not discussing anything other than the fruit themselves in passing (e.g. “the land of pomegranates…” etc.), but several are discussing pomegranates as a decoration to the most holy place on Planet Earth at the time. The question we must ask seems to be, “Why did God order the temple to be decorated so specifically in pomegranates?” Could it be that pomegranates resemble or are the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil?
I think pomegranates have more significance than simply a beautifully detailed decoration. For one thing, the priest being dressed in a robe decorated in the very fruit that separated man from God would be a thing of humility. The priest would be reminded that pomegranates were that thing of disobedience and would cause him to be humble: “Consuming this is what separated us.” It would say. It would be very humbling placing this thing on oneself. The priest would be reminded why the sacrifice of animals needed to take place… because of disobedience. The need for atonement would be staring at him in the face.
Much like healthy fear can be a good thing, as in, you better take bear spray or other protection if you go hiking in the Rocky Mountains, or that you better be careful running a chainsaw for the first time, or that you should stay on the bull you are riding, rather than falling off and getting stepped on, this reminder of mankind’s separation from God could have been healthy as well. Imagine seeing something that reminded you of your own sin. Perhaps a symbol of sort that would cause you to thank the Lord because you are now free from sin. These things can bring us to God. Is that ever a bad thing?
I have heard several legends before about the pomegranate having the same amount of seeds as there are Old Testament Laws, which is 613. This is supposedly one reason that many Jews will consume pomegranates on the Jewish calendar New Year, Rosh Hashanah. Also, that King Solomon based the design of his crown on the “crown” of a pomegranate. The question is, why are these even legends? Why do these legends exist? If it is because they are true, then what is the significance of the pomegranate? It seems pretty obvious.
“The pomegranate is native from Iran to the Himalayas in northern India and was cultivated and naturalized over the whole Mediterranean region since ancient times.” 1 Since this is where the pomegranate originates, which is where most Bible scholars believe the Garden of Eden also existed, it would definitely fit the bill, so to speak. An apple, on the other hand, the kind we consume today probably did not exist at the time of Adam and Eve, since apples at that time were likely very bitter. "Phylogenetic reconstruction of Pyreae and the genus Malus [apple tree], relative to major Rosaceae taxa [rose family], identified the progenitor of the cultivated apple as Malus sieversii." 2 In other words, all apples came from one apple tree species, which, if any of the readers has ever tasted a crab apple (malus sieversii), they probably wouldn’t do it again, at least on purpose.
The Hinton St Mary Mosaic, which is found in the British Museum in London has a central theme of Jesus, but aside from Him being in front of a Chi-Rho (the first two Greek letters in the name of Christ), there is a pomegranate on each side of His portrait. Could it be that in the 4th century, the understanding of the pomegranate was not lost in time about this being the fruit? This mosaic portrait would tell a full-circle story! The priest would see the sins of the people by putting on this robe of pomegranates but Jesus is the one who restores our relationship with God and now the pomegranates no longer carry a heavy burden of such a reminder. He fixed the problem between man and God. The problem of our moral failures against God (sin). It would seem that pomegranates would now be a changed symbol. Something of freedom rather than something of burden. Because they no longer had such meaning, perhaps the idea was lost.
Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36). Everyone who sins is not an heir, in other words. Without Him, we are separated from God’s family, as well as being under the slavery of sin (see also Romans 6-7).
Therefore, if we know Jesus, then we know freedom. John records Jesus saying it perfectly in his Gospel: “The truth will set you free!”
Written by Nace Howell through the grace of the Lord Jesus
2 Velasco R.; Zharkikh A.; Affourtit J.; et al. (2010). "The genome of the domesticated apple (Malus x domestica Borkh.)". Nature Genetics. 42 (10): 833–839. doi:10.1038/ng.654. PMID 20802477.