Bible Reference: Job 31.38-40.
Stinkweed was identified by Job. From what twenty-first century Christians can discern, Job was a contemporary of Abraham. Job lived in Uz. Uz was east of the Jordan River. Because Job was familiar with large sea creatures, he may have lived in the region of the present-day Gulf of Aqaba.
When introduced, Job is healthy, wealthy, and otherwise blessed with beautiful daughters and handsome sons. He worships God; all is right in his world. Then, in a short time, his children are killed and flocks destroyed. Later, his health deteriorates. Apparently, Job’s wife wasn’t harmed. We learn that these calamities were brought about by Satan. God allowed them in order to show Job’s dedication to him.
When friends visited Job, they contended that Job’s losses were from God in payment for Job’s sins. Job defended himself against their accusations. In Job’s final defense, Job concurred that calamities were from God; yet, Job attempted to vindicate himself. Some of Job’s words focused on stewardship of his land:
If my land cries out against me, and all its furrows are wet with tears, if I have devoured its yield without payment or broken the spirit of its tenants, then let briars grow instead of wheat, and stink weed instead of barley” (Job 31.38-40 NIV).
Some readers have questioned whether or not stinkweed is a specific plant. Both the New International Version Bible translation and the New American Bible19 used the word “stinkweed. Apparently, stinkweed was an identifiable weed that grew in grain fields. Alternatively, the English Standard Version Study Bible17 offered the translation as “foul weeds.” I contacted well-regarded botanists in Israel and questioned if Job chapter forty named a specific weed (stinkweed) or used the word “stink” as an adjective, i.e., foul, noxious, stinking. Those Israeli colleagues responded that in their opinions “stink” was a descriptor, more than a specific type of weed.
In the King James Bible, stinkweed is translated as “cockle.” Cockle is the plant associated with stinkweed in the Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary. This dictionary averred that cockles grow in Palestinian grain fields.
The cockle is the Agrostemma githago, Present day farmers and gardeners call the plant “corn cockle,” possibly, because it grows in corn and grain fields. The corn cockle is a weed which grew among grain crops for millennia. As you see in the image of the corn cockle, the flower is a beautiful pink and leaves a pleasant green. Possibly, cockles grew in Uz.
The entire cockle plant, especially seeds, contain poisonous compounds which spoil flour if they aren’t removed. When cockle-contaminated flour is eaten, flour products taste bad and cause nausea, even death if eaten in large quantities. Corn cockle grows in dry fields and waste ground as well as in cultivated soil. Clearly, Job’s plowed furrows were a good place for corn cockle to grow. Whether translated as stinkweed or a stinking weed, corn cockle is an appropriate weed for identification with Job’s comments.
Reflection: The choices we make in our lives—to remove weeds or not—have long-term effects. Sometimes those effects are life-and-death ones. At other times, they are less dire. St. Paul offered a rule of thumb for early Christian decision making. He wrote, “let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves” (Philippians 2.3).
Copyright July 13, 2019; Carolyn Adams Roth