By Jim Carlill
In Psalm 120:3 to 4, there is an interesting reference to one of the trees of Israel. “What will he do to you, and what more besides, O deceitful tongue?
He will punish you with a warrior’s sharp arrows, with burning coals of the broom tree.” Psalm 120:3-4
The connection of a deceitful tongue and an arrow is reasonably clear. Just like an arrow, the consequences of a deceitful tongue can go on for a long time, and can travel long distances. But what is the connection of a deceitful tongue and the broom tree?
The Broom Tree referred to is one with sweetly perfumed white flowers and grows prolifically in desert areas. Its small white blossoms still dot the landscape in Israel during the spring. Its long roots can tap moisture below the surface and thus survive for many years without rain. Although it generally grows to a maximum of 1.5 metres, it can grow taller, and offer welcome shade in the hot desert which is why, when Elijah fled from Queen Jezebel in 1 Kings 19, verses 4 and 5, it says that “ .. he went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it …and fell asleep …”
For thousands of years the Rotem, which is its Hebrew name, proved to be a precious source of fuel in a desert landscape where wood is scarce.
Its branches, trunk and roots all make great coals. They light easily and burn slowly, emitting far more heat than one would expect. Its embers last longer than ordinary wood and can remain hot for many hours among the ash. Even when the coals or embers appear to be cold, they may still be burning inside and a fire can be restarted with ease. It was handy for the religious Jew of biblical times. The Broom Tree’s embers could be used to keep food warm during the Sabbath when cooking cannot be done.
The victim of a deceitful tongue can be like those coals. He may be cool and appear appeased on the outside, but is seething on the inside. So the deceitful tongue will be punished by arrows that represent its long reaching consequences and by burning coals that represent the state of its victims.
James 3:5 warns believers of the harm an unbridled tongue can cause, “so also the tongue is a small member, yet boasts of great things, how great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire.” There is lot in scripture that shows God’s displeasure with speech that harms other people, so it’s probably a good practice to daily pray with King David in Psalm 19:14, that the words of our mouth will be acceptable in God’s sight.