Agriculture had its beginning in Eden, since Adam, after his creation by God, was placed in the garden “to cultivate it and to take care of it.” (Gen. 2:5, 15) However, due to the unfaithfulness of the first human pair, extension of the Edenic paradise did not result; to the contrary, the ground came under God’s curse. Sweat and toil were required to eke out a living from the soil.—Gen. 3:17-19.
Adam and Eve’s first son, Cain, became a “cultivator of the ground”; Abel, a herder of sheep. (Gen. 4:2-4) Following the flood “Noah started off as a farmer” and planted a vineyard. (Gen. 9:20) At a later period Abraham, Isaac and Jacob led essentially a nomadic and pastoral life with their flocks, somewhat like pre-Flood Jabal (Gen. 4:20), though in the case of Isaac and Jacob there is also evidence of their raising crops, wheat being specifically mentioned.—Gen. 26:12; 27:37; 30:14; 37:7.
Excavations by archaeologists show the Palestine area to have been one of the earliest centers of agriculture. The Land of Promise was a very fertile land. Lot, in his day, compared the district of the Jordan to “the garden of Jehovah, like the land of Egypt as far as Zoar.” (Gen. 13:10) Prior to the Exodus, the nation of Israel had been well acquainted with agriculture down in Egypt, where wheat, flax, barley, cucumbers, watermelons, leeks, onions, garlic and other products were grown. (Ex. 9:25, 26, 31, 32; Num. 11:5; Deut. 11:10) Then for forty years the nation led an unsettled way of life in the wilderness, though relatively free from the corrupting association of pagan peoples. Upon their entry into the Land of Promise, the nation settled down to a life of cultivation of crops and of herding. There was definite advantage to their possessing a land already under cultivation. The great majority of the Hebrews familiar with agriculture in Egypt had by now perished in the wilderness and, hence, few if any qualified, proficient farmers with practical experience were available to begin farming in a land that was new and strange to them. (Num. 14:22-30; Heb. 3:16, 17) So, it was greatly to their advantage to now inherit ‘houses full of all good things, cisterns hewn out, vineyards and olive trees already planted and producing.’—Deut. 6:10, 11; 8:6-9.
Following the division of the land into tribal territories, plots of ground were apportioned out, evidently by use of a measuring rope. (Ps. 78:55; Ezek. 40:3; Amos 7:17; Mic. 2:4, 5) Once established, such boundaries were to be honored and respected.—Deut. 19:14; 27:17; Prov. 22:28; Hos. 5:10; compare Job 24:2.
Agriculture occupied an important place in the legislation given Israel. The land belonged to Jehovah and as such was not to be abused. (Lev. 25:23) The land could not be sold in perpetuity and, with the exception of properties within walled cities, land sold due to misfortunes and economic reverses was to be returned to the original possessor in the Jubilee year. (Lev. 25:10, 23-31) A sabbath rest was required every seventh year, during which the land lay fallow and its fertility was restored, thus accomplishing what is today done by rotation of crops. (Ex. 23:10, 11; Lev. 25:3-7) Such requirement might have appeared hazardous and was certainly a test of the nation’s faith in God’s promise to provide in sufficient abundance to carry them through till the harvest of the succeeding year. At the same time it encouraged prudence and foresight. The Jubilee year (every fiftieth year) also was a year of rest for the land.—Lev. 25:11, 12.
The three annual festivals commanded to be celebrated were timed to coincide with agricultural seasons: the barley harvest at the time of the festival of unfermented cakes, the wheat harvest at Pentecost, and the harvest ingathering of the summer fruits at the time of the festival of booths. (Ex. 23:14-16) For the Israelites the seasons and harvest were date factors and time indicators and were used more commonly as such than the names of the calendar months. Such agricultural life also protected the Israelites in a spiritual way, since it made them largely independent of other peoples for their needs and maintained at a minimum the need for commercial intercourse with the surrounding nations.
Though it was to be a land “flowing with milk and honey” for them under God’s blessing, nevertheless, there were agricultural problems to be worked out. On condition of their obedience, there would be no need for large-scale irrigation. (Deut. 8:7; 11:10-17) The rainy season began with the early rains about the middle of October and continued until the time of the later rains, which ended about the middle of April. (Deut. 11:14) Then followed five rainless months, the heat and dryness of which were alleviated by heavy dews that settled at night and refreshed the soil and plants. (Gen. 27:28; Deut. 33:28; see DEW.) For soil conservation on slopes, terraces were apparently employed with stone walls to contain them and prevent the washing away of the vital topsoil. Archaeological excavations show as many as sixty or more of such terraces rising one above another on some hillsides. To ensure the safety of the crops, booths or huts or even permanent towers were built in the vineyards and fields so that a watchman could be stationed to survey the surrounding areas.—Isa. 1:8; 5:2; Matt. 21:33.
King Uzziah is particularly mentioned as “a lover of agriculture.”—2 Chron. 26:10.
Though subsequent disobedience led to a withdrawal of God’s blessing and brought as a consequence agricultural disasters through crop failures, droughts, locust plagues, mildew and other problems, and though the destruction of much of the woodlands and the failure to maintain systems of terracing over a period of many centuries has led to a washing away of vast amounts of topsoil in much of Palestine, the remaining soil generally continues to be of great fertility to the present time.—See HARVEST; SOWER, SOWING; THRESHING; and similar related subjects under their individual headings.