Bible Reference: Hosea 10.5.
Hosea was a prophet in the Northern Kingdom, composed of the ten northern tribes of Israel that separated from Judah. Almost immediately these Northern Kingdom tribes began to worship idols. Hosea attempted to win them from their idolatry. Despite his words and those of other prophets, most individuals and kings of the Northern Kingdom ignored fair dealings outlined by Moses. Many acted dishonestly. Consequently, Hosea told them:
“They make many promises, take false oaths and make agreement; therefore, lawsuits spring up like poisonous weeds in a plowed field” (Hosea 10.5 NIV).
In Holy Lands, there are several other plants that are poisonous and grow in cultivated fields. Israeli botanist, Michael Zohary, identified species of Hyoscyamus as poisonous plants. Hyoscyamus grows in very dry areas, such as in plowed fields in most of Israel. In Israel, the most common henbane is golden henbane (H. aureus), which grows from between rocks on the Western Wall (Wailing Wall).
Hyoscyamus is a small genus of flowering plants in the nightshade family, Solanaceae. The henbane plant is toxic to mankind if consumed, breathed, or contacted. The plant is deemed so poisonous that the smell of flowers can cause dizziness. If consumed in large quantities, henbane plants may cause extremely high blood pressure, coma, and convulsions. Because breathing the flower causes hallucinations, some cultures use henbane as a recreational drug.
When farmers see the henbane in a plowed field, they remove plants immediately. Because the henbane has characteristics of parsley, parsnips, and wild carrots, children have eaten it.
Henbane has a long taproot; consequently, surface plowing, as was done in ancient Israel, couldn’t remove the entire taproot. Attempting to pull the henbane didn’t always have a positive result. Henbane tops break off when pulled from dry soil, but roots remain in the soil and regrow. Eradicating the poisonous henbane weed from a field was difficult in ancient Israel. Today, westernized gardeners and farmers rely on herbicides to kill the henbane plant.
Just as henbane continued to grow in a plowed field and had the potential to poison livestock and man, the effects of false promises and oaths haunted and eventually destroyed the Northern Kingdom. In shorter than fifty years (c. 721 BC) after Hosea’s prophecy, the Northern Kingdom fell to the Assyrian army.
Reflection: The Hebrew word for henbane is shikkeron (shikrona). One definition of shikkeron is “intoxication.” Was there a message in naming the henbane “intoxication” that descendants of Israelite immigrants into Canaan should have contemplated and applied to their lives in this “new world?” What message should we living in the United States take from a Bible plant named shikkeron?
Copyright 12/18/19: Carolyn A. Roth
Please visit my website for more information on plants in the Bible: http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com