Flowers


There are several different Heb. words used for flowers in the OT, some, it will be seen, having a particular emphasis on the type of flower, i.e., open or fading.

Today, botanists and horticulturalists are careful to give all flowering plants Lat. names which describe properly the genus, the species, and sometimes the strain or variety as well. In Biblical times, flowers were given local names, which could mean one plant in one district and quite another plant in another district. The London Plane tree means quite a different tree in Scotland, for instance—even today.

It is curious, some people say, that flowers are mentioned so little in Holy Writ, but in Pal. there were no gardens as they are now known, merely farm fields to grow crops in, and groves of trees around the houses to provide shade. Even today in agricultural Spain there are no gardens around farm workers’ houses. Further, flowers were not used in vases in the home in Pal. in those days—there were no occasional tables for bowls of blossoms—and no large windows through which the sun could shine.

There were undoubtedly plenty of wild flowers, but these would have been taken for granted, and hardly even noticed. It is claimed that in the plains and on the mountains could be found 500 different species of wild flowers that are now actually grown in Great Britain, and another 500 species in addition that are indigenous to Pal. also.

Our Lord, as He preached, must have stood on mountain sides, which were carpeted with thousands of wild flowers of all kinds. In fact, this is what He may have had in mind when He said: “Consider the lilies...” (Matt 6:28 or Luke 12:27), using this word to cover all the beautiful wild flowers at His feet at the same time.

Flowers that are specifically mentioned are lilies—Lily of the Valley; rose (though not the true rose); saffron or Crocus sativus; Star of Bethlehem or Ornithogalum umbellatum; poppy (if we believe the milk-like juice was used in the vinegary drink given to our Lord at the crucifixion); and the Rock Rose from which the “onycha” of Exodus 30:34 may have come. These flowers are dealt with under their own headings, where the “pros and cons” of the meanings are discussed.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(BLOOM, BLOSSOM, etc.):

(1) gibh`ol, literally, "a small cup," hence, calyx or corolla of a flower (Ex 9:31, "The flax was in bloom").

(2) nets (Ge 40:10, nitstsah, "a flower" or "blossom";Job 15:33; Isa 18:5). These words are used of the early berries of the vine or olive.

(3) nitstsan, "a flower"; plural only, nitstsanim (So 2:12, "The flowers appear on the earth").

(4) perach, root to "burst forth" expresses an early stage of flowering; "blossom" (Isa 5:24; 18:5); "flower" (Na 1:4, "The flower of Lebanon languisheth"). Used of artificial flowers in candlesticks (Ex 25:31 ff).

(5) tsits, "flower" (Isa 40:6); plural tsitstsim, flowers as architectural ornaments (1Ki 6:18); tsitsah, "the fading flower of his glorious beauty" (Isa 28:1,4; also Nu 17:8; Job 14:2, etc.).

(6) anthos, in Septuagint equivalent of all the Hebrew words (Jas 1:10,11; 1Pe 1:24).

The beauty of the profusion of flowers which cover Palestine every spring receives but scant reference in the Old Testament; So 2:12 is perhaps the only clear reference. It is noticeable that the native of Syria thinks little of flowers unless it be for their perfume. our Lord’s reference to the flowers ("lilies") is well known (Mt 6:28; Lu 12:27). For details of the flowers of modern Palestine, see Botany. The aptness of the expression "flower of the field" for a type of the evanescence of human life (Job 14:2; Ps 103:15; Isa 40:6; Jas 1:10) is the more impressive in a land like Palestine where the annual display of wild flowers, so glorious for a few short weeks, is followed by such desolation. The fresh and brilliant colors fade into masses of withered leaves (not uncommonly cleared by burning), and then even these are blown, away, so that but bare, cracked and baked earth remains for long months where once all was beauty, color and life.

E.W.G. Masterman