“Although you wash yourself with soap and use an abundance of cleansing powder, the stain of your guilt is still before me,” declares the Sovereign LORD (Jeremiah 2:22, NIV).
“But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap” (Malachi 3:2, NIV).
The context for Malachi’s words on a launderer’s soap was prophecy about the coming Messiah begins with the coming of his messenger (John the Baptist) who would appear before Christ. Messiah’s coming was not warm, gushy and love, love, love. Malachi wrote that Messiah would put individuals on trial (3:5). He would sit as a refiner who removes impurities from precious metals. Messiah would remove impurities from his people’s thoughts and behavior. No longer would people be dirty. Messiah would be like a launder who washed clothes to remove all dirt.
Probably soap was used in some form as far back as prehistoric times. When used with water, soap, reduces the water’s surface tension to attract dirt and oil away from skin or other materials such as clothing. How? Soap acts as a “surfactant” which means it helps water to soak in, rather than remain in tight droplets. Soap works by attaching itself to dirt and suspends the dirt molecule until water rinses it off, carrying away both dirt and soap away from the fabric.
Bible women and launders washed clothes with a strong soap, then place the clothing upon a rock and beat them with a stick to remove dirt. Intuitively, it seems to me that launders and house wives would destroy the fibers in clothes if they used strong soap, followed by a rock and a stick; however, in Bible times often cloth was coarser and perhaps more sturdy than the fine fabrics we have today.
The Hebrew word for soap was most often borith, properly a vegetable alkali, obtained from the ashes of certain plants, particularly the Salsola kali (saltwort), which abounds on the shores of the Dead Sea and of the Mediterranean. In early times soap-like substances were extracted from plants such as soapwort, soap root, soap bark, yucca, horsetail, fuschia leaves, and agave. These plants often found flourishing on riverbanks or near lakes.
Russian Thistle (Salsola kali) is an annual plant that can grow to two feet tall. It is in flower from July to September. Flowers are primarily pollinated by the wind. Salsola kali grows best in sandy soil and medium loam as long as soil is well drained. It grows in very alkaline and saline soils. In the United States it grows in states that abut oceans and the Gulf of Mexico. It cannot grow in the shade. The ashes of the burnt plant are used for making glass and soap. The ashes can also be used as a cleaner for fabrics. Synonyms are prickly saltwort, windwitch.
Logic suggests that the symbolism of Salsola kali (Russian thistle, prickly saltwort) should be clean or cleansing. When I think of cleansing my first thought goes to when I confessed my need for a Savior and was cleansed from my sins. Wow, doing that made me feel good. I was “saved” from my sins. In my childish world view, I believed that I would not sin any more. When I did sin by disobeying my parents, thinking “bad” words, or saying mean things about people, I concluded that in reality I was not “saved.” Being saved didn’t take with me. Perhaps I needed to do it again. Maybe I was just too awful to be saved once for all times and I needed to be saved every year or even every couple of months.
Thank God, little girls read their Bible, mature, learn. Now, I know that I am once and for all “saved.” But this side of heaven, I am going to continue to sin. I am made up of a spiritual self that I received in the form of the Holy Spirit when I was saved. I also still have my physical or old self so I continue to sin.
God gave me a way to get rid of my continued sins. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NIV). Look! Look! God is going to wash and purify us from our sins.
Reflection: Do you feel clean after a shower or bath? Do you feel clean after confessing your sins to Christ?
Copyright January 20, 2017; Carolyn A. Roth
If you want to learn more about plants in the Bible, visit www.CarolynRothMinistry.com