Read Genesis Chapter 3 for the story of thistles and thorns on earth.
Prior to Adam and Eve’s sin, the earth contained only plants that were identified by God as good and desirable for man and animals to eat (Genesis 1: 12, 29-30). When Adam and Eve stepped outside of God’s plan (sinned), the entire created world changed. One change was that God cursed the ground because of Adam’s disobedience (Genesis 3:17-19). No longer would Adam and Eve be caretakers of a sumptuous garden with all it produced. Rather, in sorrow Adam and Eve would be required to toil (work, sweat) for the food they ate. From God’s judgment forward, the soil would grow thorns and thistles as well as plants and trees for food. Cultivating the ground for desirable crops created an environment where certain native plants became weeds, of which thorns and thistles were the most burdensome (Gen. 3:18).
It is not possible to ascertain which thorns and thistles God was referring to when he cursed the earth with thorns and thistles (Gen. 3:13). Over 20 different words are used for thorny plants in Hebrew versions of the Bible. Today the Holy Land is a sunny, largely arid region with many species of thistle. Often thistles are covered with spiny projections which are protective in nature. Many thistle seeds have feathery growths. When blown by the wind, feathery seeds float over a wide region. Following rain, large crops of thistles grow rapidly. Although some thorns and thistles are beautiful to the eye, gardeners rarely want them in a field or garden; thistles are seen as invasive weeds.
One thistle present in Israel for thousands of years is the Silybum marianum, or blessed milk thistle. Milk thistles have both spines and thorns. The milk thistle is adapted to dry, hot, sunny areas to include waste areas. In most areas milk thistle is considered an invasive, noxious weed. Once established, it forms large (2-6 feet) dense clumps that displace desirable forage plants. Because of its size and spiny leaves, milk thistles interfere with grazing livestock. Milk thistle accumulates nitrogen and when ingested can be lethal to livestock. Fully mature seeds are glossy, brown to black, with an umbrella-like appendage. When released, seeds blow over a wide region. A single flower head can produce 100 – 200 seeds. Seeds can lay dormant in the soil up to nine years, then germinate after a rainfall.
When Adam and Eve sinned, the created universe including plants became subject to death (Romans 8: 19-23). Since that time all creation has been groaning together as if under the pains of labor (Vine, 1996). In the Greek language, mâshash is the word for groan. Mâshash implies a sense of groping, feeling, and searching. Both man and plants are reaching out, groping, for the new heaven and earth when creation will be set free of its death sentence. For both man and plants, freedom from death will occur with the second coming of Christ and establishment of His kingdom on earth.
Man created an environment in which thorns and thistles evolved. Sometimes I do that — I create an environment for thorns and thistles rather than for flowers to grow. In the past I have taken on major projects at home, church or in my job. Like Adam and Eve, I have sweated over the projects, expending tremendous energy and time. Despite my efforts, some project failed completely or partially – thorns and thistles resulted rather than beautiful flowers.
Looking back on these projects, I know that more often than not weeds resulted because of my disobedience. I let pride combined with my desire to “do it my way” block out listening to God, whether He was instructing me through another individual, His word (Bible), or my conscience. At the same time, I know that I am groping and sometimes even groaning – trying to find my way toward God. I really want to obey His word and submit fully to His plan for my life.
Reflection: What about you – are you obeying God? Do you let Him create beautiful flowers in your life; or, alternatively, do your actions produce thorns and thistles?
Prayer: God, help me to plan and plant the garden of my life so that I am always obeying You. Help me to live so close to You so there are no spaces for thorns and thistles to spring up in my life.
Copyright July 31, 2020; Carolyn A. Roth.