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Lessons From The Farm – Poison Ivy

by Bob Yarbrough

Our two oldest grandsons acquired a poison rash during a recent visit to the farm.  Like most boys ages 10 and 11, Josh and Jacob love to explore when they come, and their imaginations and creativity are in a heightened state when they start.  This time they decided to build a tree fort in a wooded area by our back pond, and that is where they contacted the poison plant.  Both boys had been cautioned previously, but they were boys on a mission, and they just didn’t think.  They wore T-shirts and short jeans – an attire just asking for trouble in a wooded area.  The rash did not show up for a day; but when it appeared, it showed up with a vengeance.

Both moms began to investigate treatments from their family doctors – even making office visits with their suffering sons.  All kinds of meds were tried – oral, topical, and injections.  It is the kind of problem that takes about 21 days to wear off and only three weeks with the help of medicines.  In other words, it just takes time and patience.  Josh missed two days of school and Jacob missed four.  Jacob’s case was much worse as he had it on his legs, arms, and face.  Unknowingly, he probably rubbed it all over himself.  He could not walk for two days.  Both boys were miserable.  Some of you have been there and can sympathize with the whole situation.  Of course, the rest of us felt so sorry for them – we “itched” for them, and the more they scratched, the more it spread. They didn’t intend to do this to themselves, but through carelessness, they did.  The one redeeming thing to come from all of this is that the tree fort looked pretty good!

One can make some obvious applications from this “disaster:” 1) the sin problem which easily can get all over us; 2) Murphy’s Law which states, ‘you can’t do just one thing –everything has its consequences; 3) wrong choices sometimes have lasting results (Ex. 20:4-5).  But these topics have been explored in previous lessons from the farm; so I decided to search the scriptures to see how poison was used in the Bible, and I uncovered some interesting things.

I discovered that the word poison is used sparingly in scripture (less than 10 times).  First, poison served as a frequent image for wickedness, especially lying speech.  How interesting that most of these scriptures refer to that which can come out of the human mouth as poison!  The psalmist condemns rulers and leaders who speak unjustly and deceptively.  Their lies are compared to venom (poison) from a cobra.  These evil men speak lies like the poison of vipers on their lips (Psa. 58:1-4; 140:1-3; Rom. 3:13). God has always been concerned with the words that come from the human tongue.  Solomon, reminds us that God hates a lying tongue (Prov.6:17).  “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful” (Prov. 12:22).  “He who restrains his lips is wise” (Prov. 10:19).  Jesus said, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person” (Matt. 15:11).  Speaking of the tongue, James says, “It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (Jas. 3:6b).  These scriptures speak of the poison of our speech.  It is no wonder that when the new heaven and new earth are described in Revelation 21 and 22, those who are excluded from the gates of the Holy City are those who love and practice lying (21:8).  Lying is a poison that has the potential to destine the soul to hell.  The big fat lie that will assign one there is denying that Jesus is Lord.

A second use of the word poison relates to the idea of injustice and unruly evil (Amos.6:12). A direct reference to poison ivy is found in the Book of Hosea when the prophet compared it to lawsuits springing up from broken oaths and covenants (Hosea 10:4).    In Hosea’s day, national sins such as falsehood, licentiousness, murder, robbery, and oppression were rampant; and law suits were in abundance.  Governmental officials and priests took advantage of the poor.  Because of these conditions, Hosea told the people that God’s judgment would be sure and swift.  It was!  The Northern Kingdom of Israel was defeated and taken into Assyrian captivity in 722 B.C.  The poison of their society in many ways mirrors our own.  It seems to have an eerie comparison to our day and our national leaders.  But God is gracious and has provided a way to escape His coming judgment.  It is through faith in Jesus Christ.  But just as it was in Hosea’s day, so it is in our own, “How shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation” (Heb. 2:3)?  Like Israel of old, America needs to turn from its evil ways and return to God (2 Chron. 7:14).

One final thought about how the scriptures use the word poison.  When Josh and Jacob ignored parental warnings and were careless in exposing themselves to the poisonous plants, they paid the price.  There is always a price to be paid when one fails to heed the warnings.  Especially is this true in the spiritual realm. While a “Sabbath Rest” awaits the people of God (Heb. 4:9), judgment awaits those who do not “bow the knee” and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10-11).  The prophet Jeremiah used the imagery of poisoned waters to picture God’s judgment on sin.  Jeremiah prophesied before and during the captivity of the Kingdom of Judah by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., and he personally witnessed this judgment.  Jeremiah cried, “For the Lord our God has doomed us to perish and given us poisoned water to drink, because we have sinned against Him” (Jere. 8:14).  Job viewed his suffering as God’s poisoned judgment upon him.  In poetic fashion he exclaimed, “The arrows of the Almighty are in me, my spirit drinks in their poison, God’s terrors are marshaled against me” (Job. 6:4).
  When one resides in a semi-wooded part of the country, poisoned plants are a part of reality and one learns to co-exist.  You do your best to control these plants in the more heavily used land; and you continue to point out the dangers of treading into forbidden areas.  It is a never ending task because the plants continue to grow.  I view poison plants much like I do hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, etc.-  that part of creation that also awaits its redemption (Rom. 8:19-22).  And you cannot warn against these poison plants enough!  For example, four weeks later one of the grandsons thought it would be OK to go back to the tree fort and work on it again.  He was sure that if he wore a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and gloves he would be safe from harm.  The only thing he forgot was not to rub his face with his gloves.  Guess what he contracted – again?  We must heed the warnings!

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