Zillah, Wife of a Murderer and Plant

Bible Reference: Genesis chapter 4.

In the offspring of Cain, Lamech, a seventh-generation grandson of Adam, had two wives simultaneously. This is the first time that plural wives were identified in the Bible. Lamech’s second wife was named Zillah.

Although we know little about Zillah, we know that her husband was a murderer. He admitted to his wives that he murdered a young man for injuring him. Lamech averred that if God planned to take sevenfold vengeance on anyone killing Cain, then he, Lamech, should be avenged seventy-seven times. Contemplating Lamech’s words, readers aren’t sure whether he is bragging about his actions or admitting his wrong. Whichever Lamech was doing, most certainly Zillah, reaped consequences.

The Plant

Zillah was named after a spiny, woody shrub (Zilla spinosa) that grows in deserts, to include extreme desert, regions.7 Stems can grow up to five feet. The zilla grows as wide as tall, so that the plant appears rounded. Stem and spine color are bluish-gray. Fruit resembles chickpeas (garbanzo beans). When mature, the plant loosens from soil. Winds blow it across the desert similar to a tumbleweed in western United States.

In contrast to the overall unpleasant stems and spines, Zilla spinosa produces a four-petal lavender, occasionally pink, flower. I imagine that Zillah was named after the lovely flower rather than after the spiny plant. Alternatively, Zillah could have been named after the rounded appearance of the Z. spinosa.

Symbolism, Interpretation

The website, Flowers in Israel,7 named Ezekiel’s brier as the zilla plant: “No longer will the people of Israel have malicious neighbors who are painful briers and sharp thorns. Then they will know that I am the Sovereign LORD” (Ezekiel 28.24 NIV). Ezekiel’s complete prophecy against Sidon is in Ezekiel 28.20-26. Sidon was a Phoenician city. Originally, Sidon was included in the inheritance of the tribe of Asher, but Asher didn’t conquer it. Sidon gloated when Jerusalem was destroyed by Babylon.

One word that encompassed the story of Zillah in Genesis and Ezekiel’s prophecy against Sidon is malicious. Malicious means a desire to cause pain, distress, or injury to another.3 Maliciously, Lamech injured a young man in the process of murdering him. Most likely, Lamech’s action caused distress to the young man’s family and distress to his wife, Zillah. Sidon’s gloat over Judah’s pain, injury, and distress was malicious. I can just imagine Sidonians rubbing their hands together and laughing when Jerusalem fell.

The take-away message from the Zilla spinosa is that beautiful flowers may occur simultaneously with spines which cause injury. Importantly, we can stop pondering how loved ones hurt us and reframe our thinking: How do we, although beautiful individuals, injure and distress others with our words and behavior?

Reflection: A dear friend told me recently that a mutual friend’s words hurt. At about the same time, the mutual friend shared that she was hurt by my dear friend’s words. I need to always look at my own words and behavior and make sure that I don’t cause pain, injury, or distress to others. Do you find it easier to criticize others than to take accountability for what you do?

Copyright: July, 1, 2019; Carolyn Adams Roth

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