Robert Whiting In search of awesome

Raisin-Fig Powerbars


I was reading in 1 Samuel about when David was trying to recover his kidnapped family (and those of his army) when he gave a fig cake to an Egyptian slave who was left to die in the dessert. I thought, “When was the last time I read about a fig cake? Abigail? Surely there was one before that, like Exodus…” So I investigated. Here are my notes.


דְּבֵלָה from the root דבל which means “to press into a ball or clump.” This is translated as a cake or lump of figs with or without the pressing depending on the narrative. The “pressed” is just a part of this single word, so it doesn’t make sense to me to be inconsistent with that modifier. These are a form of energy bar–much like a Cliff or Lara bar today but with celebratory and healing overtones.


צִמּוּקִים from the root צמק which means “withered/dried up.” These are often translated as a cluster of grapes, but these were also likely pressed into balls or “cakes” as well (David gives the servant a slice of one, not a handful). I avoid cakes because in my cultural context, cakes include flour, sugar, and a rising agent.

Here is an example of a modern recipe for raisin/date cakes for passover, preserved by the community of Jews that lived in Spain.


There are only a few references of each of these two, which indicates there may be an important connection between the stories–especially the few stories with both.

Abigail is the first to make 100 raisin balls and 200 fig balls for David and his ragtag army in 1 Sam 25:18. She also brings 200 loaves, 2 skins/jars of wine, 5 prepared sheep/goats, 1 measure of roasted grain

Then in 1 Sam 30:12, David gave a destitute Egyptian servant in the wilderness a “slice” of fig balls and 2 raisin balls as they pursued the Amalekite kidnappers. They gave him bread and water, and he hadn’t eaten for 3 days/nights. 200 of David’s men stopped because they were exhausted in the wilderness.

In 2 Sam 16:1, Ziba met David on his escape from Absalom to buy favor (and secretly take the favor from Mephibosheth). He brought 2 donkeys, 200 loaves, 100 raisin balls, 100 summer fruit, and 1 skin/jar of wine. The wine is specifically for those who become “exhausted in the wilderness.”

In 1 Chron 12:40, the fig balls and raisin balls both make an appearance as the people of Israel had a 3-day drinking party and agreed to go get the arc of the covenant and really make David king. They had all the other things in abundance, not counted.

Unconnected story about fig paste

In 2 Kings 20:7, Isaiah commanded a fig ball to be applied to Hezekiah’s terminal skin infection before the sun went backwards.

In Isa 38:21, we have a second recounting of the Hezekiah medicinal use of the fig balls.

The two accounts of the fig paste being used by Isaiah on Hezekiah don’t seem related because they don’t have raisins, bread, wine, wilderness, Nabal, or numbers present.


I was surprised to find that Abigail is the first reference to both of these prepared foods. She brought these things out to appease David, who was about to murder a bunch of innocent people because of the fool who led them. Nabal (Abigail’s husband) means “fool/dolt/idiot” but it also has the same consonants as wineskin/jar that Abigail brings 2 of and that Ziba brings 1 of.

The two foods are provided to revive an informant get Abigail (and many others) back from the Amalekites.

Ziba brought the raisin balls, a “summer fruit” of some kind, and the Nabal jar of wine to buy favor from David as he escaped. The wine for the exhausted in the wilderness ties Ziba’s account to the Egyptian informant.

Finally, when the kingdom was established under David, and he sought to bring the arc back to Jerusalem, wine, raisin, and fig balls are all present in abundance, without count except for the 3 days. The 3 days ties back to the 3 days and nights that the Egyptian informant did not teat.

The wine goes from 2 skins to water to 1 skin to 3 days of drinking in abundance. The raisins go from 100 to 2 to 100 to an abundance. The figs go from 200 to a slice to 100 summer fruit to an abundance. The loaves go from 200 to some to 200 to an abundance. At this point, I have no idea what the numbers have to do with each other. What I do know is that there’s a dip and it ends in abundance.