by Heather Bock
Last Saturday, while I was at work, my husband took all three kids to soccer games. After the games, Greg sent me a text saying that our youngest son, JP, “was attacked by deadly burs–about 100.” Apparently, JP had them attached to the outside and inside of his pants and shoes, and they were so bad that JP couldn’t even sit. I’d never heard of “deadly burs,” and the term really made me smile, but I was pretty sure I knew what he was talking about. Recently, on runs, I’ve come back with some pretty deadly burs sticking to my shoes. I wasn’t able to take them off bare-handed without them piercing my fingers, causing them to bleed. They turned out to be the same kind. I learned their name is grass bur or sand bur (since our soil is basically a beach). They have been yet another surprise Texas has had to offer us (to be fair, not all the surprises have been bad).
We also had some small, sharp thorns or burs pop up all over our backyard last spring; it took some serious weeding on my part before my kids could go around barefoot again. Another day in late spring, I spread my wool blanket over a bunch of weeds in a park, only to pick it up after lunch absolutely covered with clover burs. I tried washing it in the washing machine with no effect. It took me one or two hours with my daughter’s help to pick each bur individually off that blanket. Thank goodness they resembled Velcro–they were annoying, but at least they weren’t as sharp as the other kind.
Therefore, when the speaker in church on Sunday read these words out of Isaiah 55:13: “Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle,” you can believe he caught my attention. Not only have I had some recent bad experiences with thorns and briers, but I also wrote a Bible study a few years ago called Glimpses of Jesus in Genesis, during which I learned that thorns are symbols of the Fall and the consequences for our sin.
Why is this? After Adam and Eve sinned, God told Adam that because of his sin,
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
In toil you will eat of it
All the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you;
And you will eat the plants of the field;
By the sweat of your face
You will eat bread,
Till you return to the ground” (Gen. 3:17-19).
When thorns are mentioned in such an important place, and we then read the words in Isaiah about God turning our thorns into cypress and myrtle, we should know this is a message we need desperately. If thorns represent consequences of our sin, what does cypress represent? The only mention of cypress up to this point in the Bible is when Solomon was building God’s temple. At that time, cypress was brought from far away to overlay floors, walls, and doors with the durable, natural decay and bug resistant wood. Cypress is useful and was set apart for God.
What about myrtle? I learned that the common myrtle is the one that grows in the Middle East, so this is likely the type mentioned in Isaiah. It is a fragrant bush on which small white flowers grow every summer. It even produces edible berries, usually used for seasoning. It is evergreen, and needs to be planted by water. Myrtol is an oil that comes from this plant, and it was used as an antiseptic and tonic. Myrtle is not only useful, but it is beautiful in its scent and flowers. Can you see the symbolism?
I believe God is saying in Isaiah 55 that He can take the consequences of our sin, which normally bring about difficulty and pain, and turn them into something useful, something that actually prevents decay instead of bringing it. Instead of hardship for our livelihood, He can provide abundance. We will not be like thorny weeds out in the desert, but instead, we can be planted next to the Water of Life coming from Jesus Himself (Jn. 7:38). He takes ugliness and makes it beautiful.
I loved when I read that “in Greco-Roman antiquity, the common myrtle was held to be sacred to Venus and was used as an emblem of love in wreaths and other decorations.” Venus, or Aphrodite, is supposed to be the goddess of love, just a shadow of the true God of love. Our God uses myrtle, this emblem of love, to show His love to us–His love so strong that it breaks the bonds of our sin.
When was this prophecy in Isaiah fulfilled? If we look ahead, we’ll find that thorns showed up in another important place in Scripture. When Jesus was being prepared for crucifixion, when He would take our sins upon Himself, so we don’t have to carry them anymore, the soldiers pressed on Him a cruel crown of thorns (Jn. 19:2). He literally carried this symbol of the consequences of our sin on His head as He took care of those consequences for us.
This is not just some ancient prophecy. This is true for us today. If you haven’t already, let Jesus take your thorns, briers, and burs, and turn them into myrtle and cypress. Ask Him how He can do this in your life.
Last Saturday, I reviewed an excellent new book called Parenting by Paul David Tripp. I am right in the middle of a giveaway of one of these books. For an entry in the giveaway:
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To earn more entries, or if you’re already following my blog,
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Giveaways are open to residents of the continental U.S. and Canada only.
I will announce the winner this coming Saturday, so look for it! Thank you!