Bible References: Deuteronomy 29.18; Jeremiah 9.15, 23.15; Lamentations 3.15, 19; Amos 5.7; Revelation 8.1-11.
When Old Testament authors referred to wormwood, the wrote about bitterness and poison. Most illustrated punishment from God because of Israelites’ behaviors. Old Testament events are presented as lessons for those of us living today. In the New Testament, an episode that named wormwood was a prophecy and called mankind to repentance. The prophecy described a future sign which would occur near the end of the age.
In Revelation chapter eight, John described a vision in which seven angels, each with a trumpet, stood before God. The angels were ready to sound trumpets, initiating judgments on the earth. The third trumpet signaled a blazing star to fall on earth. This blazing star was called Wormwood (absinthŏs in Greek).
My conjecture is that Wormwood will be a meteor from outer space. When meteors enter the earth’s atmosphere and start to burn they are called meteorites. In the United States, children call them “shooting stars.” Most meteorites disintegrate by burning before they hit the earth’s surface. If a sufficiently-large meteorite enters the earth’s atmosphere and doesn’t disintegrate, it hits the earth’s surface. A huge cloud rises. Dust and particulates in the cloud spread around the globe moved by winds and the rotation of the earth.
According to Revelation, the meteorite Wormwood will contain a contaminate that turns one-third of the earth’s fresh water bitter; or somehow release pollutants from the earth’s crust that contaminates one-third of fresh water sources. Many people will die from the contaminated water. John’s description in Revelation sounds like a nail-biting science-fiction movie.
The plant wormwood is one of over 300 species of artemisia; appearance varies from plant-to-plant. The artemisia that grew in Bible Israel is Artemisia arborescens, called the tree wormwood.7 Erect branches can reach ten-feet tall. Leaves have fine hairs on their surface. These hairs are thought to cool and defend the plant. Many artemisia produce cinole which gives them a camphor-like aroma; however, don’t be surprised to find some artemisia smell acrid and unpleasant.28 Artemisia are grown for foliage.
With the exception of rue, artemisia is the bitterest herb. The bitter taste is due to thujone content in artemisia. Artemisia leaves flavors stew and sauces; only small quantities of dried or fresh herb is needed. Artemisia leaves are used in tarragon vinegar. A. absinthium is a flavoring in alcoholic liquors, i.e., absinthe, campari, and vermouth. Ancient medicine used artemisia in scores of concoctions.28
In the Old Testament, often wormwood was used as a metaphor for a) idolatry of Northern Kingdom (Israel), b) calamity and sorrow, and c) false judgments. The Wormwood star’s name in Revelation identified that its effects were judgment on mankind for idolatry and injustice. Idolatry is blind or excessive devotion to something or someone, i.e., money, prestige and degrees, charismatic individuals, and political parties and ideologies.
The calamity and sorrow associated with contamination of one-third of the world’s freshwater supply will be a consequence of mankind turning from God to idol worship. It is so easy for me to look at others and identify their idols. It is less easy for me to identify my own. Yet, God expects me to continually assess myself and to make adjustments in my thinking and behavior so they are more in line with his.
Reflection: Several times previously in this book, you read how harmful plants were symbols of idolatry. Given the number of times that idolatry appears in the Bible, God takes it seriously. Do you? When did you last assess your thoughts and behaviors to identify man-made idols in your life?