Have you ever lived through what you could honestly call an experience that’s worse than your worst nightmare? I have, but this blog is more about the experience of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They didn’t know if God would rescue them before being thrown into the fire. Despite their resolve, they must’ve struggled with dread. Daniel 3:19 says Nebuchadnezzar was so angry he commanded the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than usual. How could they do that?
The authors of my sources sometimes quote from three ancient Jewish sources, the Talmud, Mishnah, and Midrash. Last week I mentioned Neot Kedumim, an Israeli location to learn about the Bible’s plants and trees. Nogah Hareuveni and his father Ephraim were among its founders. Nogah wrote today’s source, Tree and Shrub in Our Biblical Heritage, and here he quotes the Midrash:
The seerim shrubs in the lime kiln were also found, it seems, in the midrash on Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego “…the thorns of the seera broke off…” the Lord protected the three from the fiery flames…. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were not even scratched!
What are seerim shrubs or thorns of the seera? Ephraim believed they are the very common, small plant
throughout the hill regions on both sides of the Jordan (except for regions of basalt rock in the Galilee and wide expanses of the Negev mountains) …along the calcareous sandstone hills of the coastal plain, and occasionally even border the seashore.
They radically change their appearance depending on if they grow where there’s lots of moisture or in the desert. The plant becomes very green and its thorns become soft where there’s much moisture. But in dry climates, the thorns become very sharp and hard. This plant also grows little “fruits” which are like small pots. That’s why they’re called seerim. “Seer” in Hebrew means pot. These little “pots” burst when they’re burning, making small explosive sounds. But
green branches are usually to be found at the base of the shrub even when it appears completely dry. The noisiest “voices” are…when a green seerim shrub is set on fire…the seerim shrubs…burn even when they are green…occasionally…a dull roaring sound of the hot wind passing quickly through the air pockets…
When seerim is set on fire,
The dry branches catch fire easily…. At first, very thick white smoke rises from the flame, especially if…compressed before being ignited. The second stage of burning produces heat many times more intense than that of a regular campfire…. The great heat…can be used on rainy days to dry wet kindling, otherwise not fit for burning.
How useful this would be to the Israelites when they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. Winters can get quite cold and wet at times. Travelers would need the warmth. Judah kept up shepherding in the south when the tribes settled in the Promised Land. And there were some shepherds in the other tribes, too. John the Baptist lived in the wilderness. Jesus fasted there. Elijah was in the wilderness different times, like when he was depressed. These branches probably granted them all heat if they were exposed to winter conditions.
The branches are also extremely pliable and dichotomic. In fact, they can be used under a car to prevent it from sinking in the mud. So, they offer the springiness desired in a mattress. Stomping on piles of seerim can break off the thorns. Or at least the thorns can all be bent to face one direction (downwards). Then with a thick blanket on top, they make a good sleeping surface above the cold wet ground in the winter.
But they also could’ve been the fuel for the fire Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego dreaded. Like so many things in life, they could be both a blessing and a curse. Praise God for his salvation, and for the comfort and relief he gives us. Even if it’s in the form of thorny weeds.
The above pictures of seerim are scanned from Tree and Shrub in Our Biblical Heritage