Tag Archives: King Ahaz

Isaiah’s Palestinian buckthorn

Bible Reference: Isaiah chapter 7.

Isaiah (740-681 BC) began his ministry the year that King Uzziah died. Isaiah ministered during the reigns of Kings Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, and early in Manasseh’s reign. The Bible identified Jotham and Hezekiah as kings who walked with God. In contrast, Kings Ahaz and Manasseh were two wicked kings.

From the beginning of his sixteen-year reign, King Ahaz rejected God and worshiped foreign gods. Ahaz sacrificed his son to a false god.  When Arameans and Israelites (ten northern tribes) banded together to attack Jerusalem, Ahaz was shaken “as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind” (Isaiah 7.2 NIV).  Instead of turning to God for rescue, Ahaz turned to the king of Assyria.

When Arameans and the Northern Kingdom joined and attacked Jerusalem, God sent Isaiah to reassure King Ahaz that Jerusalem wouldn’t be overrun by this coalition. At the meeting, God directed Ahaz to ask for a sign of God’s intention to protect Jerusalem.  Ahaz refused saying that he wouldn’t put God to the test.  The first time I read Ahaz’s response, I thought it was a good answer; however, Isaiah had a different opinion.

Isaiah told King Ahaz that the king was trying God’s patience. Then, Isaiah prophesied that in the next twelve-to-thirteen years both Aram and Israel would be laid waste. The Lord would bring Judah devastation from Egypt and Assyria.  Where there were a thousand vines worth a thousand silver shekels, the land would be covered with briers and thorns.  Men would carry bows and arrows for protection when they went among briers and thorns. Where there was once cultivated land, cattle and sheep would run loose in a brier- and thorn-infested land.

Most likely the shrub in Isaiah’s prophecy to King Ahaz was the Rhamnus lycioides (R. palaestinus), commonly known as the Palestine buckthorn. In Israel, the buckthorn is a slow-growing shrub that reaches a height of three-to-six feet; however, in the United States they grow to twenty-feet tall. The Palestine buckthorn is an evergreen shrub in Israel and grows with a many-branched, tangled form, and velvety thin thorns. Young stems and thorns are green. As bark matures it become gray.

Most gardeners don’t plant buckthorn. It’s an unattractive shrub that normally doesn’t grow in cultivated gardens or fields. Buckthorn grows well in poor soil that is gritty and highly eroded. Along with the thistle, the buckthorn is the last species to disappear when livestock over-graze an area. Overall the Mediterranean buckthorn has no value for mankind or livestock. An ancient strategy to eradicate buckthorn is to burn the land.

Isaiah used buckthorn to describe once-fertile agricultural lands in Judah that would be destroyed as a result of God’s judgment.  This particular judgement was an assault from Assyria. Instead of vines and grains, the land would produce thorns and briers. Shayith is a Hebrew word for the thorn.6 A translation of shayith is “trash.”  Trash is debris from plant materials, something worth little or nothing, and something thrown away.3  Trashed is an excellent symbol for what was going to happen in Judah as a result of King Ahaz leading Judahites to reject God.

King Ahaz treated God’s Temple like trash.  When the Arameans and Israelites attacked Judah, Ahaz plundered the Temple for its gold and silver and sent it to the Assyrian king to purchase the king’s military assistance.  Later, Ahaz barred doors to God’s Temple so no one could enter and worship God.  King Ahaz set up worthless idols at street corners in Jerusalem.  In every town in Judah, Ahaz built high places to burn sacrifices to man-created gods.

People that treat God and his laws as trash weren’t confined to the Old Testament.  Paul identified that some people in New Testament times were senseless, faithless, heartless, and ruthless. “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things, but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1.32 NIV). We need only spend an hour watching television to know that many people today act similar to people in first-century Palestine; and, similar to first century Palestinian onlookers, we applaud these degenerate behaviors.

Reflection: Name aspects of God’s laws you treat as trash? Do you ever watch television or read books that God would name degenerate and say, “right on?” When you treat God’s laws as trash, are you helping your country?

Copyright April 4, 2019; All rights reserved.