Khem’ah: CHEESE- Curds of the Herd

Cheese: khem’ah, Feminine Noun, (Strong’s 2529).

Root: חמאה

Sounds like: khem’awh

I love cheese. It is my food weakness. I grew up in Tiverton Ontario Canada and I fondly recall taking special trips to the Pine River Cheese factory. If I had anything to say about it, those trips always ended up with a cherished bag of cheese curds which I would share with my Dad! 

Now that I live in PEI I have found a new cheese curd provider through Fromagerie PEI and their very yummy Squeak-ies. I’m out right now, so it’s on my locally sourced shopping list.

Ages and Ages of Cheese

Cheese seems to have predated recorded history, and so there is no evidence of where the practice of cheesemaking began. However, it certainly was evident in the writings of the Bible. 

The scroll of Proverbs hinted at the production of butter/cheese:

Proverbs 30:32-33

If you have been foolish in exalting yourself, or if you have plotted evil, put your hand on your mouth.

For the churning of milk produces butter/cheese [khem’ah], and pressing the nose produces blood; so the churning of anger produces strife.

Curds from the Herd

The first mention of cheese in the Bible is found in a rather prestigious story. Interestingly, cheese was part of the meal offered to the three angelic men who visited Abraham and announced the forthcoming birth of Sarah and Abraham’s son.

Genesis 18:6-10

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, “Quickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead it, and make bread cakes.”

Abraham also ran to the herd, and took a tender and choice calf and gave it to the servant, and he hurried to prepare it. He took curds [khem’ah] and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate.

Then they said to him, “Where is your wife Sarah?” 

And he said, “There, in the tent.” 

He said, “I will certainly return to you at this time next year; and behold, your wife Sarah will have a son.” And Sarah was listening at the tent door, which was behind him. 

Cheese was clearly part of an auspicious meal, set out for your very best guests.

It is likely that cheese was a regular component on the Ancient Near East table. In the Song of Moses, in Deuteronomy 32, we read a description of what God symbolically offered His allotted people when He protected them and took them to the high place:

Deuteronomy 32:9-14

“For YHWH’s portion is His people; Jacob is the allotment of His inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in the howling wasteland of a wilderness; He encircled him, He cared for him, He guarded him as the apple of His eye.

As an eagle stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young, He spread His wings, He caught them, He carried them on His pinions. YHWH alone guided him, and there was no foreign god with him.

He had him ride on the high places of the earth, and he ate the produce of the field; and He had him suck honey from the rock, and oil from the flinty rock, curds [khem’at] of the herd, and milk of the flock, with fat of lambs and rams, the breed of Bashan, and of goats, with the best of the wheat; and you drank wine of the blood of grapes.”

Knowing that curds of the herd was a high status offering, it made perfect sense that Jael offered cheese to the Canaanite general, Sisera. And she didn’t just hand him cheese, she presented the cheese curds in a fancy, decorative, bowl before she lured him to rest and smashed his head in with a tent peg. 

Deborah and Barak recalled the event in a song that they sang together:

Judges 5:24-27

“Most blessed of women is Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite; most blessed is she of women in the tent.

He asked for water, she gave him milk; in a magnificent bowl she brought him curds [khem’ah].

She reached out her hand for the tent peg, and her right hand for the workmen’s hammer. Then she struck Sisera, she smashed his head; and she shattered and pierced his temple.

Between her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay; between her feet he bowed, he fell; where he bowed, there he fell dead.”

In the historical account, found in Judges 4, Jael offered Sisera milk from a leather pouch. But when Barak and Deborah recalled the events in a song, they elevated the story by having Jael offer Sisera cheese curds from a magnificent bowl. The enemy was lured with delicious food and decadent presentation, and it would be his downfall.

Photo of Squeak-ies cheese curds from FromageriePEI .

Job: Missing the Cream

In the book of Job, khem’ah takes on more of the idea of cream. Zophar talked about how the rivers flowed with honey and khem’ah:

Job 20:12-19

[Zophar regarding the wicked and godless:] “Though evil tastes sweet in his mouth and he hides it under his tongue, though he desires it and will not let it go, but holds it in his mouth, yet his food in his stomach is changed to the venom of cobras within him.

He swallows riches, but will vomit them up; God will expel them from his belly. He sucks the poison of cobras; the viper’s tongue kills him.

He does not look at the streams, the rivers flowing with honey and curds [w-khem’ah]. He returns the product of his labour and cannot swallow it; as to the riches of his trading, he cannot even enjoy them.

For he has oppressed and neglected the poor; He has seized a house which he has not built.”

Job, in response, pointed out that he, indeed, did come to the aid of the underprivileged saying, I saved the poor who cried for help, and the orphan who had no helper (Job 29:12). But in the same chapter He also recalled the good ole days when every step he took seemed to be bathed in cream: 

Job 29:1-6

Job again took up his discourse and said,

“Oh that I were as in months gone by, as in the days when God watched over me; when His lamp shone over my head, and by His light I walked through darkness; just as I was in the days of my youth, when the protection of God was over my tent; when the Almighty was still with me, and my children were around me; when my steps were bathed in cream [butter: b-khemah], and the rock poured out streams of oil for me!

Whereas khem’ah, in the scroll of Job, made more sense as the more fluid cream (flowing with and bathing in cream), there was another word translated as cheese (Strong’s 1385) which was found only once, in Job:

Job 10:8-13a

[Job to YHWH:] ‘Your hands fashioned and made me altogether, yet would You destroy me? Remember that You have made me as clay; yet would You turn me into dust again?

Did You not pour me out like milk, and curdle me like cheese [w-ca-g’vinah], clothe me with skin and flesh, and intertwine me with bones and tendons?

You have granted me life and goodness; and Your care has guarded my spirit. Yet You have concealed these things in Your heart.”

Job lamented about his life, and yet he still marvelled at his creation; it was like milk turning to cheese and it was endowed with goodness… and it was worth holding onto. 

Cheese, and the Line of the Messiah

One of the more well-known verses about cheese came from an early episode in David’s life. At the time he was likely considered too young to join his brothers in battle, so his father sent him to the battle camp to check in on his warrior brothers and give them sustenance:

1 Samuel 17:17-18

Then Jesse said to David his son, “Take for your brothers an ephah of this roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread and run quickly to the camp to your brothers. Also take these ten cuts of cheese to the commander of the unit. See how your brothers are doing and bring back news of them.

The Hebrew word here, translated as cheese, was actually the Hebrew word for milk. We could instead read ten portions of milk or it could be a more poetic rendering of ten cuts of milk-product. Regardless of the etymology, David served his brothers bread on the battlefield and sent the dairy product to the commander of the unit in order to gain favour and news.

Food was necessary for survival. When David was on the run from his rebellious son Absalom, he and his followers were given a cheesy meal in the wilderness before the great battle: 

2 Samuel 17:27-29

Now when David had come to Mahanaim, Shobi the son of Nahash from Rabbah of the sons of Ammon, Machir the son of Ammiel from Lo-debar, and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim, brought beds, basins, pottery, wheat, barley, flour, roasted grain, beans, lentils, roasted seeds, honey, curds [w-khem’ah], sheep, and (cheese) cream [u-sh’foht] of the herd, for David and the people who were with him, to eat. For they said, “The people are hungry and exhausted and thirsty in the wilderness.”

David’s supporters ate a feast (which included cheese curds and cream) and were refreshed for the great battle ahead. The following day they took down the rebels who tried to usurp David’s throne on behalf of Absalom. The enemies would fall in the battlefield, including Absalom, and not rise again.

David was anointed as the king from whose line the great Messiah (Anointed One) would come. David’s life, as troubled as it was, foreshadowed the coming Saviour of the world. His pre-battle feast came before the destruction of the usurpers.

Jesus’ pre-battle feast (His Last Passover Supper) came before He would fall down to the grave. He took on the sins of all the usurpers of the world, and fell on the battlefield littered with Roman crosses. But He didn’t fall to the grave and stay there. No, He rose up from the grave, stood on solid ground, and claimed the victory over YHWH’s enemies!

Yeshua’s life was repeatedly prophesied in the Tanakh (Old Testament). The prophet Isaiah, in conversation with Ahaz, king of Judah, spoke of the Messiah to come and connected the Holy One from the line of David with cheese curds:

Isaiah 7:10-16, 21

Then YHWH spoke again to Ahaz, saying, “Ask for a sign for yourself from YHWH your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”

But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I put YHWH to the test!”

Then he [Isaiah] said, “Listen now, house of David! Is it too trivial a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well?

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and she will name Him Immanuel [God-with-Us]. He will eat curds [khem’ah] and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. For before the boy knows enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be abandoned…

…Now on that day a person may keep alive only a heifer and a pair of sheep; and because of the abundance of the milk produced he will eat curds [khem’ah], for everyone who is left within the land will eat curds [khem’ah] and honey.”

The Messiah-child would eat curds and honey. In fact the long-awaited Anointed One would be the one to bring abundant sweetness to the people. His arrival would issue a time of bounty and feasting… a time of great Spiritual Sustenance!

Although the word cheese is curiously absent in the New Testament, Yeshua (Jesus) spoke about food frequently:

Luke 12:22-25, 29-32

And He [Jesus] said to His disciples, “For this reason I tell you, do not worry about your life, as to what you are to eat; nor for your body, as to what you are to wear. For life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Consider the ravens, that they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds! And which of you by worrying can add a day to his life’s span?…

do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For all these things are what the nations of the world eagerly seek; and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be provided to you. Do not be afraid, little flock, because your Father has chosen to give you the kingdom.”

Cheese is wonderful, but life is more than food. We ought to put more effort into seeking out God and what it means to be in YHWH’s Kingdom, than preparing a meal plan for the week ahead. It’s good to plan ahead, and it’s nice that we live in a place where we can afford such a luxury, but do we think about food more than we think about God? I suspect the answer for many of us is, “yes”. 

The Bible emphasised that Spiritual nourishment was so much more important than physical nourishment. Paul put it this way:

Hebrews 5:12-14

By this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to reteach you the basic principles of God’s word. You need milk, not solid food!

For everyone who lives on milk is still an infant, inexperienced in the message of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained their senses to distinguish good from evil.

I suspect if you’re reading this blog, you’re past the milk stage! Stick with it, dive deep, and grab the solid cheese… because the more we learn, the more we consume, and the more we grow! Every spiritual bite brings us closer to the Kingdom and the Kingdom closer to us! And when you consume the Word, others can taste it when they’re around you. This is the feast God wants us to share. The table is set; dive in!

Next week: to Separate/Divide

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