Bible References: Amos 6.12.
Amos was a minor prophet who ministered for about a ten-year-period, 760-750 BC. When God called Amos to be a prophet, he was a herdsman and tended sycamore trees. Amos’s home was Tekoa, about twelve miles south of Jerusalem; however, Amos completed most of his ministry in the area of Bethel, the Northern Kingdom’s main sanctuary. At Bethel, Jeroboam I set up a golden calf soon after the ten Northern tribes formed an independent kingdom. Jeroboam I told inhabitants in the Northern Kingdom that the calf was their god. All manner of pagan worship practices occurred at Bethel. At the time Amos prophesied, the Northern Kingdom was politically secure and prosperous under the rule of Jeroboam II.
Amos was a vehement spokesman for God’s justice. He argued that true righteousness and piety were displayed through social justice for all citizens. Although Amos didn’t identify Assyria as the means of God’s judgment on the Northern Kingdom, he warned them that God’s judgment was fast approaching. The judgment would be more than military conquest and tribute to a foreign conqueror. It would involve total destruction of the Northern Kingdom as a nation and dispersion of citizens to foreign lands. Amos accused leaders and ordinary citizens of turning justice into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into a poisonous plant, hemlock.
Many plant scientists speculated that the gall offered Jesus at his crucifixion contained poisonous hemlock. If Jesus consumed the gall, he would have died of respiratory muscle paralysis, rather crucifixion. In about 399 BC, the Greek philosopher Socrates was condemned to drink poisonous hemlock and die.
The botanical name for the hemlock plant is Conium maculatum. It is indigenous to Eastern Mediterranean countries where it is classified as a toxic weed. The poisonous hemlock shouldn’t be confused with the Canadian hemlock tree or the American water hemlock tree.
Leaves and seeds are harvested for medicinal purposes; however, medicinal uses of hemlock are limited because between the dose between therapeutic and poisonous levels is so small. Sometimes children see the plant top, mistake it for carrots or parsley, and eat it. Because hemlocks are rare in North America and initially hemlock signs and symptoms mimic other acute conditions, physicians may not diagnose hemlock poisoning when children are present in emergency departments
At times the hemlock plant was associated with bitterness, calamity, and sorrow. In Amos, the Hebrew word laʽǎnâh was used for hemlock; the word laʽǎnâh comes from an unused root meaning “to curse.” Bitterness, calamity, sorrow, and curse are all word-candidates for the symbolism of poisonous hemlock; however, the best symbolism is the simplest. That word is “poison” or “poisonous.” A poison is a substance that kills, injures, or impairs; it is destructive, harmful, and corrupt. “Poison” described the hemlock plant and optimally depicted the words and behaviors of Northern Kingdom leaders and citizens.
When I first looked at the behavior of the Northern Kingdom people, I thought, “I’m never going to act like they did; nor say and do the things they did.” Then, I recalled some Bible teachings on poison and the tongue. In Psalms, we can read that evil persons make their tongues as sharp as the poison of snakes. Similarly, James pointed out that individuals have tamed all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and sea creatures; but, can’t tame the tongue. The tongue is a restless evil, full of poison. James said that the tongue is set on fire by hell, which is a figuratively way of saying by the devil.
Reflection: Some days my tongue is so sharp that I am embarrassed by words that come out my mouth. I wish I had never spoken some of them. On those days, my words aren’t from God. They do Satan’s handiwork. I need, and maybe even you need, to resolve and pray to keep the poison from coming out my mouth. We need to pray that poison will cease spewing from the mouths of politicians.