Thistle Riddle

Bible References:  2 Kings 14; 2 Chronicles chapter 25.

The spotted golden thistle is part of a riddle that King Jehoash (Northern Kingdom, Israel, 798-782 BC) sent to King  Amaziah (Southern Kingdom, Judah, 796-767 BC). The background to this Bible narrative has two distinct parts. First, when King Amaziah planned a military campaign against Edom, he recruited 100,000 mercenaries from Israel. Warned by a prophet to not allow Northern Kingdom mercenaries to march with him, King Amaziah dismissed them. Despite being paid, soldiers were furious. Northern Kingdom soldiers knew that they lost out on plunder of Edom. In response they plundered and murdered in Judah while King Amaziah battled in Edom. Second, when King Amaziah returned to Jerusalem after a successful campaign against Edom, he brought back Edomite idols. Instead of destroying these false gods as Mosaic law required, King Amaziah bowed down and worshiped them.

King Amaziah knew he had to respond to Northern Kingdom soldiers’ killing and plundering Judah while he battled Edom. King Amaziah sent a challenge to King Jehoash to meet him in battle. King Jehoash sent a riddle and a warning back to King Amaziah. The riddle was:

A thistle in Lebanon sent a message to a cedar in Lebanon, ‘Give your daughter to my son in marriage.’ Then, a wild beast in Lebanon came along and trampled the thistle underfoot (2 Chronicles 25.18 NIV).

Then, Jehoash warn Amaziah that because he defeated Edom, he was haughty and proud. King Amaziah was asking for trouble if he persisted in challenging King Jehoash.

The interpretation of Jehoash’s riddle was that he and the Northern Kingdom was a majestic cedar of Lebanon, while King Amaziah and Judah was an insignificant thistle. The demand, give to me your daughter in marriage, could have meant that  Israelite soldiers return plunder taken from Judah’s lands. Alternatively, this part of King Jehoash’s riddle was a further insult. In Old Testament times, a king  gave his daughter to another kingdom for marriage only if the two countries were equal in power. King Jehoash insulted King Amaziah by saying Israel was much more powerful than Judah, i.e., the Northern Kingdom was a cedar and the Southern Kingdom a thistle. King Jehoash would trample King Amaziah and Judah underfoot.

Despite King Jehoash’s warning, King Amaziah moved his army against Israel. A battle ensued where King Jehoash defeated King Amaziah. With King Amaziah of Judah a prisoner, King Jehoash proceeded to Jerusalem. There, Jehoash seized Temple gold, silver, and other valuables, the palace treasury, and hostages. King Jehoash had 600 feet of the Jerusalem wall destroyed. Despite King Jehoash’s victory, he allowed King Amaziah to live.

King Jehoash wasn’t a king who obeyed God;  he did evil in God’s eyes. Jehoash continued the idol worship started by the first king of Israel, Jeroboam I. King Jehoash wouldn’t have won the battle over King Amaziah, but for Amaziah’s sin of rejecting God and worshiping Edomite idols.

In Jehoash’s riddle, the Hebrew word for thistle is choâch or hoah and is associated with the Scolymus genus of plants.7 When Jehoash named Amaziah a thistle, possibly he was thinking of the spotted golden thistle, Scolymus maculatus. The spotted golden thistle was a common plant throughout Israel, growing everywhere except along the extreme Mediterranean seashore. Although occasionally cultivated, more often the spotted golden thistle is found in uncultivated lands and along paths and trails. In very hot temperatures, these thistles grow rapidly. Leaves (or bract) have tooth shaped margins tipped with spines and a white vein all around their outline

In this incident, the spotted golden thistle can be associated with several

concepts, i.e., pride, insult, and insignificance; however, in this story reject or rejection are the best symbols. Examples of rejection include Amaziah’s rejection of the 100,000 Israelite Kingdom mercenaries; Amaziah rejecting God in favor of Edomite idols; Jehoash’s willingness to excuse (or reject) Amaziah’s challenge; and Jehoash’s rejecting the sanctity of God’s Temple.

This Bible episode typifies the Northern Kingdom’s rejection of God. They rejected God’s decrees, the covenant he made with their fathers, and warnings he gave them through prophets. The Northern Kingdom rejected God by plundering his home, the Jerusalem Temple. Eventually, God rejected Northern Kingdom tribes as they first rejected him. God allowed Assyria to destroy the Northern Kingdom.

How do we, living in the twenty-first century, reject God? We do it by not setting aside time to spend with God every day, i.e., failing to have daily Bible study and prayer time. We make the decision to skip Sunday church services, identifying that we are just too tired after a busy work-week. We reject God when we reject other persons for whatever reason, i.e., they are just not our type, we have nothing in common with them, they are poor, they look disheveled.

Reflection: A couple of months ago I determined to start my day with God, reading the Bible and praying. I even identified which book of the Bible to read and contemplate one chapter a day. My good intention lasted about twenty-five days. Then, I defaulted to first making a cup of coffee and second checking what was new on my computer. I rejected God by not putting him first. How about you? Do you ever reject God? How do you start your day?

Copyright May, 6, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

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