David's Cheese

I’ve always been interested in the cheeses that young David carried to his brothers as they sullenly evaded Goliath’s taunts. I assumed it was just some interesting detail or even a nod to cheese’s wonderful gastronomic qualities. One might be about to be defeated and enslaved by a cruel enemy, to have one’s limbs torn apart by a huge giant, but a nice piece of cheese with perhaps a little pickle will surely do one a world of good.

Maybe it’s a little deeper than that. Pre-modern cheese-making was a complicated and time-consuming affair. Milking ewes, from which Jesse’s cheese probably came, is hard. Their yield is much inferior to today’s cattle; a relaxed ewe might give a pint of milk after 15 minutes of milking. All mammals have difficulty letting down their milk if they are stressed so a good relationship with the shepherd was essential.

For every ten milk-bearing ewes, one lamb would have to die to provide sufficient rennet to turn that milk into cheese. The inner membrane of its young stomach would have been dispatched to the dairy, so the enzyme separating the curds and whey might do its work. I used to roll my eyes at cheese labels declaring their product ‘suitable for vegetarians’, but traditional cheese really does involve the use of a slaughtered animal.

Furthermore, the age of the selected lamb is essential to successfully produce the cheese. Only after the lamb suckles is the enzyme produced and the colostrum taken; once solid food is eaten it’s too late. It is possible to use alternatives to turn the milk, such as nettles and sorrel, but the yield is disappointing and these herbs may not have been available in ancient Israel. I have no doubt that Jesse’s household killed a lamb for this purpose, and enjoyed a good meat supper afterward.

You may see where this is going. Ahead of David wonderfully slaying the wicked giant, he carried on his person some cheese, a token of his distant descendant’s victory over sin. His father provided a sacrificed lamb, not just for his brothers’ nourishment but for their deliverance. Great David’s Greater Son would disarm powers and principalities, He would release a people bonded to sin and He would do it without human support or another man’s armour. He Himself became the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.

I love cheese though I wonder if on this occasion it meant rather more than a nice picnic. 

Oh, the Lamb! The bleeding Lamb!

The Lamb of Calvary!

The Lamb that was slain,

That liveth again

To intercede for me.

(In Evil Long I Took Delight)

Image by Ruediger from Pixabay

Top image by lee_2 from Pixabay