Bitterness is symbolical of affliction, misery, and servitude
(Ex. 1:14; Ruth 1:20; Jer. 9:15). The Chaldeans are called the
"bitter and hasty nation" (Hab. 1:6). The "gall of bitterness"
expresses a state of great wickedness (Acts 8:23). A "root of
bitterness" is a wicked person or a dangerous sin (Heb. 12:15).
The Passover was to be eaten with "bitter herbs" (Ex. 12:8;
Num. 9:11). The kind of herbs so designated is not known.
Probably they were any bitter herbs obtainable at the place and
time when the Passover was celebrated. They represented the
severity of the servitude under which the people groaned; and
have been regarded also as typical of the sufferings of Christ.
(1) Heb. mererah, meaning "bitterness" (Job 16:13); i.e., the
bile secreted in the liver. This word is also used of the poison
of asps (20:14), and of the vitals, the seat of life (25).
(2.) Heb. rosh. In Deut. 32:33 and Job 20:16 it denotes the
poison of serpents. In Hos. 10:4 the Hebrew word is rendered
"hemlock." The original probably denotes some bitter, poisonous
plant, most probably the poppy, which grows up quickly, and is
therefore coupled with wormwood (Deut. 29:18; Jer. 9:15; Lam.
3:19). Comp. Jer. 8:14; 23:15, "water of gall," Gesenius, "poppy
juice;" others, "water of hemlock," "bitter water."
(3.) Gr. chole (Matt. 27:34), the LXX. translation of the
Hebrew _rosh_ in Ps. 69; 21, which foretells our Lord's
sufferings. The drink offered to our Lord was vinegar (made of
light wine rendered acid, the common drink of Roman soldiers)
"mingled with gall," or, according to Mark (15:23), "mingled
with myrrh;" both expressions meaning the same thing, namely,
that the vinegar was made bitter by the infusion of wormwood or
some other bitter substance, usually given, according to a
merciful custom, as an anodyne to those who were crucified, to
render them insensible to pain. Our Lord, knowing this, refuses
to drink it. He would take nothing to cloud his faculties or
blunt the pain of dying. He chooses to suffer every element of
woe in the bitter cup of agony given him by the Father (John
(1.) Heb. rosh (Hos. 10:4; rendered "gall" in Deut. 29:18;
32:32; Ps. 69:21; Jer. 9:15; 23:15; "poison," Job 20:16;
"venom," Deut. 32:33). "Rosh is the name of some poisonous plant
which grows quickly and luxuriantly; of a bitter taste, and
therefore coupled with wormwood (Deut. 29:18; Lam. 3:19). Hence
it would seem to be not the hemlock cicuta, nor the colocynth or
wild gourd, nor lolium darnel, but the poppy so called from its
heads" (Gesenius, Lex.).
(2.) Heb. la'anah, generally rendered "wormwood" (q.v.), Deut.
29:18, Text 17; Prov. 5:4; Jer. 9:15; 23:15. Once it is rendered
"hemlock" (Amos 6:12; R.V., "wormwood"). This Hebrew word is
from a root meaning "to curse," hence the accursed.
(1.) Heb. hemah, "heat," the poison of certain venomous reptiles
(Deut. 32:24, 33; Job 6:4; Ps. 58:4), causing inflammation.
(2.) Heb. rosh, "a head," a poisonous plant (Deut. 29:18),
growing luxuriantly (Hos. 10:4), of a bitter taste (Ps. 69:21;
Lam. 3:5), and coupled with wormwood; probably the poppy. This
word is rendered "gall", q.v., (Deut. 29:18; 32:33; Ps. 69:21;
Jer. 8:14, etc.), "hemlock" (Hos. 10:4; Amos 6:12), and "poison"
(Job 20:16), "the poison of asps," showing that the _rosh_ was
not exclusively a vegetable poison.
(3.) In Rom. 3:13 (comp. Job 20:16; Ps. 140:3), James 3:8, as
the rendering of the Greek ios.
Heb. mor. (1.) First mentioned as a principal ingredient in the
holy anointing oil (Ex. 30:23). It formed part of the gifts
brought by the wise men from the east, who came to worship the
infant Jesus (Matt. 2:11). It was used in embalming (John
19:39), also as a perfume (Esther 2:12; Ps. 45:8; Prov. 7:17).
It was a custom of the Jews to give those who were condemned to
death by crucifixion "wine mingled with myrrh" to produce
insensibility. This drugged wine was probably partaken of by the
two malefactors, but when the Roman soldiers pressed it upon
Jesus "he received it not" (Mark 15:23). (See GALL ¯T0001419.)
This was the gum or viscid white liquid which flows from a
tree resembling the acacia, found in Africa and Arabia, the
Balsamodendron myrrha of botanists. The "bundle of myrrh" in
Cant. 1:13 is rather a "bag" of myrrh or a scent-bag.
(2.) Another word _lot_ is also translated "myrrh" (Gen.
37:25; 43:11; R.V., marg., "or ladanum"). What was meant by this
word is uncertain. It has been thought to be the chestnut,
mastich, stacte, balsam, turpentine, pistachio nut, or the
lotus. It is probably correctly rendered by the Latin word
ladanum, the Arabic ladan, an aromatic juice of a shrub called
the Cistus or rock rose, which has the same qualities, though in
a slight degree, of opium, whence a decoction of opium is called
laudanum. This plant was indigenous to Syria and Arabia.
a common mode of punishment among heathen nations in early
times. It is not certain whether it was known among the ancient
Jews; probably it was not. The modes of capital punishment
according to the Mosaic law were, by the sword (Ex. 21),
strangling, fire (Lev. 20), and stoning (Deut. 21).
This was regarded as the most horrible form of death, and to a
Jew it would acquire greater horror from the curse in Deut.
This punishment began by subjecting the sufferer to scourging.
In the case of our Lord, however, his scourging was rather
before the sentence was passed upon him, and was inflicted by
Pilate for the purpose, probably, of exciting pity and procuring
his escape from further punishment (Luke 23:22; John 19:1).
The condemned one carried his own cross to the place of
execution, which was outside the city, in some conspicuous place
set apart for the purpose. Before the nailing to the cross took
place, a medicated cup of vinegar mixed with gall and myrrh (the
sopor) was given, for the purpose of deadening the pangs of the
sufferer. Our Lord refused this cup, that his senses might be
clear (Matt. 27:34). The spongeful of vinegar, sour wine, posca,
the common drink of the Roman soldiers, which was put on a
hyssop stalk and offered to our Lord in contemptuous pity (Matt.
27:48; Luke 23:36), he tasted to allay the agonies of his thirst
(John 19:29). The accounts given of the crucifixion of our Lord
are in entire agreement with the customs and practices of the
Roman in such cases. He was crucified between two "malefactors"
(Isa. 53:12; Luke 23:32), and was watched by a party of four
soldiers (John 19:23; Matt. 27:36, 54), with their centurion.
The "breaking of the legs" of the malefactors was intended to
hasten death, and put them out of misery (John 19:31); but the
unusual rapidity of our Lord's death (19:33) was due to his
previous sufferings and his great mental anguish. The omission
of the breaking of his legs was the fulfilment of a type (Ex.
12:46). He literally died of a broken heart, a ruptured heart,
and hence the flowing of blood and water from the wound made by
the soldier's spear (John 19:34). Our Lord uttered seven
memorable words from the cross, namely, (1) Luke 23:34; (2)
23:43; (3) John 19:26; (4) Matt. 27:46, Mark 15:34; (5) John
19:28; (6) 19:30; (7) Luke 23:46.