A photograph capturing a mother bird gently nudging her chicks out of the nest, symbolizing the process of being weaned and gaining independence, as mentioned in the Bible.

What Does ‘Weaned’ Mean In The Bible?

If you’re looking up what the word ‘weaned’ means in the Bible and want a detailed answer, you’ve come to the right place. In short, being weaned in the Bible refers to the time when a child is weaned from breastfeeding and transitions to solid food.

This article will provide a comprehensive look at the meaning of being weaned biblically. We’ll explore relevant verses, examine the cultural context of weaning in ancient Israelite society, and reflect on the spiritual significance behind biblical weaning imagery.

Defining ‘Weaned’ in the Bible

The Literal Meaning of Being Weaned

In the Bible, the term “weaned” refers to the process of gradually introducing solid food to a young child and discontinuing breastfeeding or bottle feeding. This usually occurs between 2-4 years old in ancient biblical times.

Weaning marked an important milestone in a child’s development, signifying their transition from complete dependence on their mother to being able to eat solid food.

Several verses describe children being weaned such as Genesis 21:8 which says “The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham held a great feast on the day Isaac was weaned.” This implies that weaning was seen as a joyous occasion worthy of celebration in biblical culture.

Verses Describing Biblical Weaning

Here are some examples of biblical verses that mention weaning:

  • 1 Samuel 1:22-24 – Hannah weaned her son Samuel before bringing him to the temple at Shiloh as she had promised.
  • Psalm 131:2 – This psalm compares the peaceful rest of a weaned child to the comfort found in the Lord.
  • Isaiah 28:9 – Isaiah chastises drunkards by comparing them to babies just weaned from milk, unable to understand teachings.
  • Hosea 1:8 – God promises to wean Israel off idolatry just as a child is weaned off milk.

These verses illustrate that weaning often occurred between 2-4 years old. The process could take months as mothers gradually introduced supplemental foods before fully weaning their toddler. Difficulties with weaning were not uncommon as some children strongly resisted giving up nursing.

But most viewed weaning as an essential development that children must go through as they grew into greater independence and capability.

The Cultural Context of Weaning in Ancient Israel

Typical Age of Weaning in Ancient Israel

In ancient Israelite culture, children were typically weaned between the ages of 2 and 4 years old. This weaning age was later than in some other ancient cultures, but fit with the natural weaning age for humans.

Extended breastfeeding provided important antibodies and nutrition to Israelite children in a time before modern medicine and varied food sources.

According to evidence from skeletal remains and depictions in art, many ancient Egyptian children were weaned earlier, between 6 months and 2 years old. This may have been due to the common practice of sending children to wet nurses.

In ancient Mesopotamia, writings suggest children were weaned between 3 and 4 years old, similar to the Israelites.

By studying references to weaning in the Bible, scholars estimate Israelite children were weaned around their third birthday. For example, the prophet Samuel was likely around 3 when he was weaned (1 Samuel 1:22-24).

This older weaning age allowed Israelite mothers to nurse their children longer and provide important antibodies found in breastmilk in that age before vaccines and antibiotics.

Weaning Celebrations and Rituals

When a child was weaned in ancient Israel, it was a joyous milestone marked by a feast and celebration. Given the older weaning age, the child was mature enough to eat solid foods and leave behind the special closeness of nursing.

The Bible mentions weaning feasts such as the one when Isaac was weaned (Genesis 21:8). Scholars believe these celebrations included festive meals and music. Family and friends would gather to mark the child’s step toward independence.

Rituals may have included cutting the child’s hair and presenting him or her with gifts.

Weaning feasts are also referenced in archaeological discoveries. A 6th century BC ostracon (inscribed pottery) found at Tel Arad mentions preparations for a weaning feast. Some scholars theorize child figurines found throughout Judah may have been used in weaning rituals.

Though weaning celebrations eventually faded from modern Jewish practice, many other faiths still mark this milestone with meaningful rituals. These feasts help the child transition smoothly into the next phase of growth while appreciating the loving nurture they received.

The Spiritual Significance of Biblical Weaning Imagery

Weaning as a Symbol of Maturing Faith

In the Bible, the concept of weaning often symbolizes a transition from spiritual infancy to maturity. When an infant is weaned, they move from complete dependence on their mother’s milk to eating solid food.

Likewise, biblical writers use weaning imagery to depict the Israelites transitioning from an immature, dependent faith in God to a more mature, weaned faith.

For instance, in Isaiah 28:9 the prophet chides the Israelites, saying “Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.”

Here, Isaiah implies that the spiritually mature – those “weaned from milk” – are ready to receive deeper spiritual understanding from God.

Similarly, in Hebrews 5:12-14 the author reprimands readers who have become “dull of hearing” and states that they need milk rather than solid food. This milk represents basic doctrine, while solid food symbolizes deeper spiritual truths. Only the spiritually mature can handle such doctrinal meat.

So in both cases, weaning represents moving beyond spiritual infancy to a place of maturity, where believers are ready for deeper relationship with God. Departing from milk signifies a transition from foundational teaching about Christ to deeper understanding of Christian doctrine.

Dependence on ‘Milk’ Versus ‘Solid Food’

The distinction between milk and solid food in the Bible metaphorically contrasts stages of spiritual development. Milk represents basic, foundational teaching about Christ and the gospel message. It is appropriate for new believers or those who have remained spiritually immature.

Solid food, however, refers to deeper doctrinal truths and understanding of the faith. It enables spiritual growth for those moving past spiritual infancy.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 3:2, the apostle Paul writes how he gave the Corinthian church milk to drink, not solid food, because they were not ready. They remained infants in Christ. Similarly, the author of Hebrews says that those still needing milk are “unskilled in the word of righteousness” (Hebrews 5:13).

They do not have a depth of doctrinal understanding and cannot handle anything beyond basic gospel teaching.

In contrast, the writer of Hebrews commends those who have become mature enough to handle “solid food.” This enables them to discern good and evil through training their spiritual senses (Hebrews 5:14).

Unlike milk, solid food elicits growth as believers gain wisdom, apply truth, and mature in godliness.

Therefore, the imagery of weaning reinforces this concept of transitioning from milk to solid food. Just as children developmentally progress from breastmilk to adult food, so believers must grow beyond spiritual infancy to feast on the rich doctrines of biblical truth.

Those desiring depth with God must wean themselves from milk and begin consuming the solid food of God’s Word.


In closing, understanding the cultural context around weaning in ancient Israelite society sheds light on the meaning of biblical verses and imagery related to weaning. While the word ‘weaned’ at face value refers to the end of breastfeeding, in scripture it often symbolizes spiritual maturation, independence, and growth in one’s faith.

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