Rue, the Protective Herb

Jesus’ regret over the priorities of the Pharisees is described in Luke 11:37-44.

This entry is part of the previous one where Jesus was invited to eat in a Pharisee’s home.  Mentally, the Pharisee host criticized Jesus because Jesus did not wash his hands before eating. To the Pharisee hand washing was important not because he was concerned about hygiene, but because he care about ceremonial purity. 

Knowing what the Pharisee was thinking, Jesus attempted to show him that preoccupation with externals had little to do with real religion. Christ declared, “Woe to you Pharisees because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue, and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God” (Luke 11:42). When Christ used the word “woe,” he was not calling down a curse on the Pharisees, being sly, or amusing. Christ’s “woe” was an expression of deep regret, an expression of the anguish he felt for these men. The Pharisees missed the point of God’s law. They had their priorities and their interpretation of God’s laws upside down and inside out. By this time in Jewish history, the Pharisees had the teachings of the Torah and the Old Testament prophets. They were aware that God did not require 1,000 rams, or 10,000 rivers of oil, or their first born child as a sacrifice (Micah 6:7-8). God wanted men and women to act justly, to extend mercy toward their brothers and sisters, and to love God.

Rue chalepensis (2)Rue

The rue of the Bible is the Ruta chalepenis called African rue, common rue, and fringed rue.  Rue is native to the Middle East. In ancient Israel, rue grew wild; therefore, a tithe was not paid when the herb was used. In New Testament times, rue was grown in gardens, necessitating growers to pay a tithe on its sell. Rue can grow in almost any type of soil, but grows best in sand or clay loam. Young plants require average to moist soil; however, after plants are established they are drought tolerant.  Rue enjoys full sun. In Israel, rue grows in the northern and central parts of the country, but not in the Negev region. It can tolerate only low levels of salt; consequently, rue is not grown along the Mediterranean coastline of Israel. In ancient Egypt and Greece, it was used as to stimulate menstruation and to induce abortion. Currently, rue is used both as a condiment.  In natural medicine, rue is use as an anti-spasmodic and to strengthen eye sight. 

Symbolism: Regret, Regret

In English, its common name — rue – means regret. Historically, rue was regarded as a protective substance. It was one of the ingredients in mithridate, a substance used in ancient medicine and folklore as an antidote for every poison and a cure for every disease. Possibly the genus name Ruta is derived from “rhutos,” a Greek word meaning “shield” in view of its history as an antidote. Ostensibly, the Pharisees teachings were to act as a shield for the common citizen of Judea to protect them from any blasphemy against God and his commandments.  Instead, their man-made laws often made the Jews rue or regret their presence.

Repeatedly, the Bible – particularly Psalms – identified that God is our shield. A shield is defensive armor or someone who protects and defends. Paul instructed Christians to take up the shield of faith, a deep abiding confidence in God (Ephesians 6:16). He said that with the shield of faith, we can extinguish all of the flaming arrows of the devil. 

Reflection. Possibly Jewish citizens expected too much of the Pharisees. It is never good to rely on men or governments to shield or protect us. Who is your shield and protector?

One response to “Rue, the Protective Herb

  1. I have always wondered what rue was used for, thanks.

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