The story of King Jehoash of the Northern Kingdom sending a thistle parable to Amaziah, King of Judah, is told in two places: 2 Kings Chapter 14 and 2 Chronicles Chapter 25.
King Jehoash ruled the Northern Kingdom for 16 years between 798-782 B.C. (Rulers of the Divided Kingdom of Israel and Judah, 2002). He won a significant battle over King Amaziah (796-767 B.C) of Judah primarily because Amaziah rejected God. 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 the Northern Kingdom and paid them 100 talents of silver. Warned by a prophet to not allow the mercenaries to march with him, Amaziah dismissed the Northern Kingdom soldiers. The soldiers were furious and proceeded to plunder and murder in Judah while Amaziah was battling the Edomites. Second, when Amaziah returned to Jerusalem after a successful campaign against the Edomites, he brought back Edomite gods. Instead of destroying the false gods as Mosaic law required (Deuteronomy 7:5, 25), Amaziah accepted the Edomite gods as his own gods, bowed down to them, and offered sacrifices to them. Angry with Amaziah, God sent a prophet to warn him about worshipping Edomite gods. Amaziah would not allow the prophet to speak and threatened to kill him. The prophet told Amaziah that because of his response, God would destroy him.
The incident between King Jehoash of the Northern Kingdom and Amaziah began with Amaziah sending a message to Jehoash to come and meet him in battle. Probably Amaziah’s challenge was the result of the Northern Kingdom plundering and killing in Judean towns. King Jehoash sent a parable and a warning back to Amaziah. The parable 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). Following the parable, Jehoash warn Amaziah that because he defeated Edom, he was haughty and proud; but with his challenge to Jehoash, Amaziah was asking for trouble that would cause his own downfall and that of Judah.
The interpretation of Jehoash’s parable was that he and the Northern Kingdom were the majestic cedar of Lebanon while Amaziah was an insignificant thistle. The lowly thistle (Amaziah) had the audacity to demand from the cedar (Jehoash) a prize possession. Instead of giving the King of Judah a prize, Jehoash and the Northern tribes would trample Judah underfoot.
Amaziah did not listen to Jehoash’s warding; he moved the Judean army against the Northern Kingdom. The result was a battle where Jehoash defeated Amaziah and took him prisoner. Amaziah’s soldiers fled to their homes. With his prisoner, Jehoash proceeded to Jerusalem. There Jehoash seized the Temple gold, silver, and other valuables, the palace treasury, and hostages. King Jehoash had 600 feet of the wall surrounding Jerusalem broken down. Despite his overwhelming victory, Jehoash allowed Amaziah to remain king of Judah.
King Jehoash was not a king who obeyed God; rather, he did evil in God’s eyes (2 Kings 13:10-13). Jehoash continued in the idol worship of Jeroboam I (the first King of the Northern tribes). King Jehoash would not have won the battle over Amaziah, but for Amaziah’s sin of rejecting God and worshipping the Edomite gods.
The Spotted Golden Thistle
In the Bible, about 20 different words are related to some type of prickly or thorny plant. In Jehoash’s parable, the Hebrew word for thistle is choâch or hoah and is associated with the Scolymus genus of plants. When Jehoash named Amaziah a thistle, possibly he was thinking of the spotted golden thistle, Scolymus maculatus, an annual thistle which grows almost everywhere in Israel. Although occasionally cultivated, more often spotted golden thistle it is found in uncultivated lands, e.g., abandoned fields and ditches, and along paths and trails. Each flower is composed of narrow, 1–2 inch yellow petal growing in 3-4 concentric circles around a center. Fruits are flat seeds. The thistle drops seed to the ground where they readily germinate.
Symbolism: Rejection, Reject
The spotted golden thistle in the Jehoash story can be associated with several concepts, e.g., pride, insult, and insignificance; however, in this story reject or rejection are the best symbols for the plant. Examples of rejection include Amaziah’s rejection of the 100,000 Northern Kingdom mercenaries, Amaziah rejecting God and his prophet in favor of the Edomite gods, Jehoash’s willingness to excuse or reject Amaziah’s challenge, Jehoash’s rejecting the sanctity of the Temple and plundering its treasury, and even most people rejecting thistle leaves as a food source.
Rejection is exactly what the Northern Kingdom did to God. They rejected God’s degrees, the covenant he made with their fathers, and the warnings he gave them over the centuries through his prophets (2 Kings 17:14). God was so angry with the Northern Kingdom that he used the Assyrian’s as his vehicle of retribution. Between 738-732 B.C., Assyrian, Tiglath-Pilesar III invaded the Northern Kingdom (Assyrian Campaign against Israel and Judah, 2002). The mode of warfare included beheading, individuals skinned alive, and corpses impaled on stakes. The Assyrians conquered much of the Northern Kingdom and deported the inhabitants to Assyria (2 Kings 15:29). After that war, the Israelite king who reigned in Samaria had a small kingdom that primarily included the tribal lands of Ephraim. In 732 B.C., Hoshea became king in Samaria and again rebelled against Assyria. During the campaigns of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser V (725-722 B.C.), the remainder of the Northern Kingdom was conquered; 27,290 inhabitants were taken as booty to Assyria. By the end of 721 B.C., God rejected the people of the Northern Kingdom as they first rejected him.
Christians need to be alert so they do not reject God. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians (4:8) that individuals who reject God’s instruction reject God. Paul provided instruction to the Christians of Thessalonica on how to please God (I Thessalonians 4:1-7). Some of the instruction included the need to keep their bodies holy and honorable and to reject sexual immorality. One piece of Paul’s instruction included that no one wrong his brother or take advantage of him. We wrong our brother and sister when we commit adultery. In adultery, the spouse of the adulterer is always wronged. Premarital sex or fornication robs a future spouse of the virginity of the fornicator. Viewing pornography, imagining pornographic episodes, and reading pornographic novels remove the beauty of intimacy from the marital relationship and can lead to sexual dissatisfaction and impotency. Incest robs children of innocence and destroys families.
The sexual perversions mentioned above are not new in present day society. They occurred in pre-Noah time, in Sodom and Gomorrah in Abraham’s time, in Canaan before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, and in the Northern Kingdom. In the next chapter we will read that sexual perversions were present in Judah. Sexual misconduct is against God’s law. God punishes men and women for sexual sins As usual, Paul summed up our sexual responsibilities when he wrote “for God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life” (I Thessalonians 4:7).
Reflection. Are you controlling your mind and body in a way that is holy and honorable? Are you wronging your brothers and sisters? Are you wronging your present or future spouse?
I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/
Copyright May 29, 2012; carolyn a. roth