If you’re going to Israel and interested in the grocery, drug and hardware stores of Bible times, you must go to Neot Kedumim. The Bible mentions many plants and trees which are marked along the way beside different walking paths here. I mentioned in an earlier blog how much Israeli culture valued things for their usefulness and not for their appearance. From Tree and Shrub in Our Biblical Heritage,
The story of one of Samson’s actions…Dr. Ephraim Hareuveni…after he had studied one of the interesting plants growing both in the many dry river beds of the Negev…as well as on the coarse sandhills and sandy loam of the coastal plain—areas that were in Philistine hands in Samson’s time…. This plant’s Hebrew name…yitran…best plant for making ropes…. The leaves…are small and flush with the branch. They have a thick membrane on the bottom (outside) and on the upper side (inside) they are covered with white, feltlike hairs…. Its roots penetrate to the deep strata of the soil, enabling the plant to remain fresh and green throughout the year…even in desert areas. The yitran’s branches are bent…easy to distinguish…even at a distance…
This plant can be made into rope “strong enough to tow a jeep from hubcap-deep mud.” This was why Samson chose this as a believable option to bind him with (Judges 16:4-9).
In the foothills of the Judean mountains where Samson lived in “Mahaneh Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol” (Judges 13:25), the yitran does not grow. Ropes made from yitran fibers could certainly have been bought in the local marketplace, but Samson’s instructions to Delilah explicitly prevented this, for he told her that they must be “moist and never been dried.” In other words…precluding their purchase in the local marketplace as ready-made, dry ropes…. Samson’s conditions required the Philistines…to gather huge quantities of yitran fibers on the coastal plain where they grow; these had to be worked clear of twigs in preparation for the actual plaiting…before the strands dried out—all the while paying strictest attention…had to be plaited with special care to ensure the greatest possible strength. All this required…a number of experienced teams…after the ropes were finished, they still had a long journey of at least twenty kilometers…to Samson’s home….
Before I wrote this blog, I thought about this rope in light of the desert dryness. Survival requires ropes to access water in the desert. Apparently, no one would leave rope at public wells because rope was a valuable commodity. You brought your own rope and bucket, or someone would steal it. That’s why Jesus told the Samaritan woman he had nothing to draw with. But as I wrote this blog I started thinking more about the old saying, give the devil an inch and he’ll steal a mile.