King Josiah and Prickly Lettuce

Lactuca serriola, prickly lettuce (394x800)

Josiah was one of the best kings of Judah. He was the great grandson of good king Hezekiah, however, Josiah was also the grandson of Manasseh, without argument the foulest king in Judah’s history. Josiah (640-609 B.C.) was crowned king when he was eight. When Josiah was 16 he began to seek God, and at 20 initiated the purification of Judah. The purification processed extended into the tribal towns of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin where small pockets of Israelites lived after the deportation of most Northern Kingdom citizens. Josiah had all false gods, carved images, and idols removed. Housetop altars erected by Ahaz and Manasseh were destroyed. The high places that Solomon erected for his wives to worship their gods were removed. Rather than sit in Jerusalem and order the reforms, Josiah traveled throughout Judah and the southern towns of Northern Kingdom to ensure that his reforms were implemented.

As part of purifying the land, Josiah had the Temple cleansed and repaired the Temple. In the process of renovating the Temple, the Book of Law was found. In Old Testament times, the Book of Law was the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament. When the Book of Law was read to Josiah, he tore his clothes in anguish over how God’s laws were neglected in Judea. He sent emissaries to Huldah, a prophetess who lived in Jerusalem, and asked Huldah to consult the Lord on the people’s behalf. Huldah responded that God was going to bring disaster on Judea and its people because they turned from God and burned incense to other gods. Although God’s decision on the coming disaster was irrefutable, because Josiah humbled himself, Josiah would be buried in peace.

Josiah gathered the people in the Temple and had the Book of Law read to them. After the Law was read, they pledged to live according to the covenant of the God of their fathers. To rededicate himself and the people, Josiah ordered a Passover celebration and provided the ritual lambs and goats for slaughter. For seven days the people celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover). The Bible recorded that the Passover had not been observed like this in Israel (and Judea) since the days of the prophet Samuel. The Feast included the people eating bitter herbs in the same manner as they ate bitter herbs when the Death Angel passed over their homes in Egypt. In the chapter on Plants in the Life of Moses, the bitter herb endive was associated with the Passover. Here the bitter herb will be wild lettuce.

Wild Lettuce

In Israel, a common bitter herb used to commemorate Passover was the wild lettuce. Jewish experts believe the ancient Israel wild lettuce was Lactuca serriola, frequently called prickly lettuce. Prickly lettuce is native to the Middle East, Europe, and possibly North Africa. It is found throughout the entire country of Israel from the vegetation of Mount Hermon to the extreme deserts of the Negev. As you read through this description and look at the picture(s), remember the L. serriola has different characteristics than the common garden lettuce (L. sativa) eaten in the United States. When rain is sufficient, prickly lettuce grows 5–7 feet tall. In the United States animals (cattle and deer) eat the L. serriola only when preferred plants are not available. Often flower heads dry to a purple or blue color. Prickly lettuce can germinate in near freezing winter temperatures, then grow and flower in the spring and summer. Prickly lettuce is easily differentiated from other plants by its production of a white milky latex substance with a rank odor. When stems and leaves are opened or torn, the milky substance leaks from the plant.

Symbolism: Passover

The prickly lettuce was a bitter herb available in the early 7th century B.C. for the people of Judea to use to celebrate the Passover. The symbolism of this lettuce is “pass over.” In this symbolism pass over is not one word, nor is it spelled with a capital with a “p” to depict the Jewish Passover celebration. To express its association with the prickly lettuce plant, pass over is two words and uses a small p. The dictionary has a definition for pass over separate and distinct from the Passover celebration. Pass over means to ignore in passing and to pay no attention to the claims of.

Pass over reflected the amount of consideration given the prickly lettuce plant and God’s laws in Judea. People largely ignored the prickly lettuce when they went out to the fields to glean wild plants for food. Animals ate the plant only when there was nothing better available. Unlike other lettuces, prickly lettuce was and is not now touted as a source of vitamins or minerals. Pass over described the way Judah treated its prophets’ warnings in the 70 plus year period between King Hezekiah’s death and King Josiah hearing the Book of Law.

Often we ignore God’s laws as we live out our busy lives; we pay no attention to God’s claims or directions. Despite our behavior God does not ignore us. From heaven God sees all mankind; he watches all who live on earth (Psalm 33:13-14). The inheritance of the blameless (righteous) will endure forever; but God’s enemies will vanish like the beauty of the fields (Psalm 37:18-20). Individuals who ignore God and his laws are God’s enemies (Philippians 3:18-19).

At some point in our education, most of us memorized the following verse and thought it was cute:

My candle burns at both ends It will not last the night; But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends – It gives a lovely light (Millay, 1920).

We act like the only outcome of our “pass over living” is that we make a lovely light. In reality, those who live paying no attention to God can look forward to one outcome and it is not light. The outcome for ignoring God and paying no attention to his claims is eternity without God, not just the four score and ten years that we may have on earth (Piper, 2004). We will all have eternal life; the question is where will be spend it.

Reflection. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

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

copyright: October 10, 2012; carolyn a. roth


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