The Grapes of Canaan prove the fertility of the Hebrews’ Promised Land
AUTUMN (THE SPIES WITH THE GRAPES OF THE PROMISED LAND)
Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665)
Musée du Louvre, Paris
"And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Send thou men, that they may search the land of Canaan, which I give unto the children of Israel: of every tribe of their fathers shall ye send a man, every one a ruler among them " (Numbers, 13:1-2)... "And Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and said unto them, Get you up this way southward, and go up into the mountain: And see the land, what it is; and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they be strong or weak, few or many; And what the land is that they dwell in, whether it be good or bad; and what cities they be that they dwell in, whether in tents, or in strong holds; And what the land is, whether it be fat or lean, whether there be wood therein, or not. And be ye of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the land.
Now the time was the time of the firstripe grapes. So they went up, and searched the land from the wilderness of Zin unto Rehob, as men come to Hamath. And they ascended by the south, and came unto Hebron; where Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the children of Anak, were. (Now Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in Egypt.) And they came unto the brook of Eshcol, and cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bare it between two upon a staff; and they brought of the pomegranates, and of the figs. The place was called the brook Eshcol, because of the cluster of grapes which the children of Israel cut down from thence. And they returned from searching of the land after forty days. And they went and came to Moses, and to Aaron, and to all the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh; and brought back word unto them, and unto all the congregation, and shewed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it" (Numbers 13:17-27).
Moses sent spies to Canaan with instructions to see if the inhabitants were numerous or strong, and if the land was fertile. He also reminded them to bring back fruit. Lanfranco portrays their return, straining under the weight of grapes, pomegranates and figs. This bounty, proof of the Promised Land’s fertility, was placed at Moses’ feet.
For the Catholic Church, the size of the bunches of grapes prefigured the wine served at the Last Supper. The Easter Monday litany states: “God brought you to a land flowing with milk and honey. Those who are reborn through baptism pass from death to life and are brought to the promised land of our fathers.”