The Lilies and Grass of the Field

The Lilies and Grass of the Field

     Jesus Christ often used objects in nature to teach his followers how to live according to God’s Word. Some familiar examples are the lilies and grass of the field in Matthew 6, which is part of what is often referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. The customs of Jesus’ day shed light on these verses.
     In Matthew 6:25 and 26, Jesus taught his followers that they did not need to worry about having their physical needs met:
Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
     Here Jesus is talking about our physical needs—what we eat, drink, and the clothing we wear. To show his disciples that they did not need to be anxious regarding these things, he pointed to familiar objects in nature.
Matthew 6:28 and 29 [The Amplified Bible]:
And why should you be anxious about clothes? Consider the lilies of the field and learn thoroughly how they grow; they neither toil nor spin.
Yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his magnificence (excellence, dignity, and grace) was not arrayed like one of these.
     The Prevailing Word edition of Outreach Strategies of Jesus Christ helps us to picture Jesus and “the lilies of the field”:

When he continued his exhortation to consider the lilies of the field and how they grew, there was probably a field of lilies close by to which he pointed with a sweeping gesture of his hand. Perhaps there was even a child at his feet holding a bouquet of lilies, and he used one to teach the multitude, bending the petals back to show the wonderful intricacy of God’s design and the beauty of their “clothing.”

     Henry J. Van-Lennep, writing in 1875 in Bible Lands: Their Modern Customs and Manners Illustrative of Scripture, notes that it is easy to imagine children gathering and arranging flowers and presenting them to the teacher.
     In the spring of the year, the hills are a tapestry of brilliant flowers and new grass. Jesus wanted his followers to be as free from anxiety as these colorful, carefree blooms, whose beauty exceeded that of King Solomon’s finest robes.
     Jesus’ use of the lily served to teach his followers to turn to God—to trust in Him to have their needs met. The lilies of the field that he was referring to were not the popular Easter lily of the West with its large, showy white blooms. This cultivated flower had not been developed at this time and does not grow naturally in the Bible lands. When Jesus paid his compliment to the lilies of the field, he would have been referring to lilies that were naturally growing spring wildflowers. The lilies would have been common but colorful flowers that bloom in the spring of the year.
     In the Encyclopedia of Bible Life by Madeleine S. Miller and J. Lane Miller, one botanist estimated that there are four hundred varieties of Palestinian and Syrian desert flowers not found elsewhere and that many have never been classified. Also, the flowering vegetation may have changed over the centuries. Therefore, it is not surprising that customs writers and botanists alike do not agree on a specific identity for the lilies of the field. More varieties of spring wildflowers bloom in a given area of Palestine than almost anywhere else in the world. With their wide array of brilliant colors, no wonder Jesus declared, “…even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”
     Yet as glorious as the spring flowers are as they grow with God’s care, their beauty is short-lived.
Matthew 6:30:
Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith [believing]?
     James Neil in Everyday Life in the Holy Land explains that the “grass of the field” is a term used to denote “wild growth generally,” and this includes all the varied and beautiful wildflowers of Palestine. He notes that if a local person is asked the name of a particular flower, he will shrug and say, “Oh, sir, it’s grass.” The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible also explains that although Jesus was speaking primarily of flowering plants, Biblically the term “grass” can also be used as a general reference to green plants.
     With the coming of the summer’s intense heat, the spring vegetation dries quickly, and it is the custom to gather it to provide a source of fuel at home. The dry vegetation is “cast into the oven” and used as fuel for cooking. Charles W. Budden and Edward Hastings in The Local Colour of the Bible write:

…The “latter rains” at the end of the winter water the ground so thoroughly that when spring-time comes, with its pleasant warmth, all vegetation grows as if by magic, and for a few weeks the country is resplendently verdant. Then, within perhaps a week or ten days after the rains cease, the summer sun scorches the ground, “the grass withereth, the flower fadeth,” and the delightful colours of the hillsides are exchanged for a dull brown; the flowers are replaced by a rapid multiplication of insect and reptile life, and the dried grass is used as fuel for the household cooking.

     G. Christian Weiss in Insights into Bible Times and Customs says it well regarding the spiritual truths Jesus was presenting in these verses:

Our earthly lives in comparison to eternity and in relation to spiritual considerations are so brief and insignificant as to be likened to “grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven” (v. 30). This being the case, why should the children of God spend so much time worrying about this brief and comparatively insignificant side of life?…

Since God takes such magnificent care of the transient “grass” as to adorn these stalks with beautiful flowers, is this not evidence that He will also take care of His own children?…

     Jesus’ teaching to his followers about the lilies and grass of the field gave them something familiar and concrete to relate to from their daily lives regarding God’s care. His words helped them to build their trust in God and put Him first in their lives so that they could claim the promise of Matthew 6:33:
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

This is a reprint from the July/August 2012 issue of The Way Magazine.
Copyright© 2012 by The Way International. All rights reserved.
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