Thorns


Thorns are mentioned in Scripture, but the original meaning of the word seems to vary tremendously, as will be seen by the heading. For instance, the thorn in the flesh of Paul (2 Cor 12:7) was really a sharp stake; the thorns of Proverbs 24:31 were prob. nettles; the lily among the thorns of Song of Solomon were undoubtedly brambles; the hedge of Hosea 2:6 was undoubtedly an impenetrable one, because it had hooked thorns.


It will therefore be seen that it is a complicated business. It is not only in the OT that there are these problems, because the word used in Matthew 7:16, akantha, i.e. “Are grapes gathered from thorns”—is a word which could be tr. “briar,” and, in fact, when one turns to Hebrews 6:8, one finds another word used, tribolos, i.e., a triple-pointed plant, the text reading, “bears thorns and briars.” This triple-pointed plant surely refers to one of the thistles, and in fact the Gr. name acantha is used in the Lat. acanthus to give the name to a hardy herbaceous thistle-like perennial.

It seems that in Pal., owing to the hot weather, there must have been numerous types of brambles and seedling briars together with thorny bushes. These would have made it extremely difficult for travelers on foot, moving from one area to another where there were no known roads or paths. On the other hand, these spiny thickets, which must have grown extremely thick, were used by the farmers as hedges (Prov 15:19 or Isa 5:5). It would seem that very stout hedges of this sort must have been planted around Job’s property, either allegorically or factually. The devil protests much about this in Job 1:10.

There is a fair amount of conjecture in respect of Judges 9, for where the word “bramble” is used, one could read here “buckthorn.” The Gr. word batos, tr. “bush” in Luke 20:37, when referring to Moses and the burning bush, is exactly the same word tr. “bramble” in Luke 6:44, where our Lord says that people would not gather grapes from brambles. The connection lies in the words “let fire come out of the bramble” (Judges 9:15), and the fact that flames did come out of the burning bush. See Burning Bush.

There is even some confusion in respect of nettles and thorns. For instance, in Job 30:7, Moffatt trs. the words “nettles” as “scrub,” while the Douay VS uses the word “briars.” Both scrub and briars could be thorns. There is also the tr. of the word “nettles” in Zephaniah 2:9 as “thorns” in the Douay VS and as “weeds” in the Moffatt tr. Could the answer be that the plant concerned was thorny, as, for instance, the Acanthus spinosus, already referred to? There is also confusion even between the word “cockle” used in Job 31:40, for the Douay VS uses the word “thorns” instead of “cockle.” See Cockle.

The thorns that cracked under the pot in Ecclesiastes 7:6 are one of the hooked thorns, Heb. word sîr. This has been suggested as possibly the prickly herb, Gundelia turneforetii, which when dry, burns very well.

The plants that may have been used in the crown of thorns at our Lord’s crucifixion are described under this heading, while the thorns mentioned in our Lord’s parable (Luke 8:7 and 14), may be the brambles and briars growing by the side of the field, or could be some strong weed like a thistle, which would grow up quickly and so smother the wheat.

Under the heading Myrrh (q.v.), the two branched thorny shrubs occur— Commiphora kataf and C. myrrha. These were the thorns that produced the fragrance that both David and Solomon loved.

Did the lilies really grow among brambles, briars or thorn bushes, as in Song of Solomon 2:16? Or in this case were the lilies among the nettles, or even among some species of the perennial Acanthus? The idea of the text is to give the tremendous contrast between His beautiful “love” and the other less pretty daughters. Lilies among nettles would surely be the contrast required.

Referring once again to Judges 9:15, the bramble here (’ātād) could be, it is thought, the desert-thorn, Lycium europeaeum. This shrub, which grows about eight or nine ft. tall, bears small violet-blue flowers, which are followed by little crimson berries. It is well known in Pal., and has been so for many years. It is, incidentally, very thorny or spiny, like the bramble.

Why some, like Moffatt, should tr. the word ḥôaḥ as “thorns,” instead of “thistles” in Job 31:40, is not clear. The word ḥôaḥ is prob. a general Heb. term used for any prickly plant.