Although Genesis 25: 30, 34; II Samuel 17: 28, II Samuel 23:12, and Ezekiel 4:9 are the only references to this legume crop, it is very likely that lentils, Lens culinaris, were widely planted and utilized during Bible times. Today, lentils are widely grown and an important source of protein. Like many other legumes, lentils are rich in essential amino acids so are a good supplement to a low protein diet. The plants are about 1 foot tall with small bluish-white flowers. Lentils are planted in the winter and are harvested in late spring or early summer.
Both lentils and barley are food for the poor and their seasons correspond. Both mature at about the same time and in villages are still taken to threshing floors. These threshing floors appear little changed since Bible days with large flat rocks, worn smooth by centuries of threshing and surrounded by stone walls. One of the most interesting things about the culture of lentils is that they are often grown in very small patches. It is not uncommon to see a patch of lentils only a few yards in diameter among olive trees or on a ledge in the mountains. In order for the lentil crop to succeed, the soil must be plowed.
There are two main types of lentils. The first is a large, grey lentil with a red center. This is usually prepared by grinding off the outer layer, the seed coat, leaving the red cotyledons. Lentils of this type cook more rapidly. The seed coat residue is fed to animals. The second type of lentil is smaller and does not have red cotyledons although some seed coats in populations I have observed can be a reddish color. These lentils are eaten without the seed coat being removed.
In summary, there are three characteristics of lentils that we will consider in light of the above scriptures. Lentils can red in color. Lentils grown in North America are gray-green and look much different from most lentils from the Middle East. Second, lentils are a humble food such as a refugee like Ezekiel would use. Third, lentils are often grown in tiny plots.
Esau was impetuous. Returning hungry from work he happens upon his brother Jacob who is cooking lentils. Jacob trades the humble lentil stew for Esau's birth right. Like so many other failures (eg, Reuben) in the book of Genesis, this preeminent failure of Esau is forever documented. Esau is called Edom ("red").
Lentil and Lentils References
(Gen 25:34 NIV) Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So Esau despised his birthright.
(2 Sam 17:28 NIV) brought bedding and bowls and articles of pottery. They also brought wheat and barley, flour and roasted grain, beans and lentils,
(2 Sam 23:11 NIV) Next to him was Shammah son of Agee the Hararite. When the Philistines banded together at a place where there was a field full of lentils, Israel's troops fled from them.
(Ezek 4:9 NIV) "Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side.