on Job 30 :4
Who cut up mallows by the bushes - מלוח malluach, which we translate mallows, comes from מלח melach, salt; some herb or shrub of a salt nature, sea-purslane, or the salsaria, salsola, or saltwort. Bochart says it is the ἁλιμος of the Greeks, and the halimus of the Romans. Some translate it nettles. The Syriac and Arabic omit the whole verse. The halimus, or atriplex halimus, grows near the sea in different countries, and is found in Spain, America, England, and Barbary. The salsaria, salsola, or saltwort, is an extensive genus of plants, several common to Asia, and not a few indigenous to a dry and sandy soil.
And juniper roots for their meat - רתמים rethamim. This is variously translated juniper, broom, furze, gorse, or whin. It is supposed to derive its name from the toughness of its twigs, as רתם ratham signifies to bind; and this answers well enough to the broom. Genista quoque vinculi usum praestat, "The broom serves for bands," says Pliny, Hist. Nat. lib. xxiv., c. 9. But how can it be said that the roots of this shrub were eaten? I do not find any evidence from Asiatic writers that the roots of the juniper tree were an article of food; and some have supposed, because of this want of evidence, that the word לחמם lachmam, for their bread, should be understood thus, to bake their bread, because it is well known that the wood of the juniper gives an intense heat, and the coals of it endure a long time; and therefore we find coals of juniper, גחלי רחמים gachaley rethamim, used Psalm 120:4 to express severe and enduring punishment. But that the roots of the juniper were used for food in the northern countries, among the Goths, we have a positive testimony from Olaus Magnus, himself a Goth, and archbishop of Upsal, in lib. vii., c. 4, of his Hist. de Gentibus Septentrionalibus. Speaking of the great number of different trees in their woods, he says: "There is a great plenty of beech trees in all the northern parts, the virtue whereof is this: that, being cut between the bark and the wood, they send forth a juice that is good for drink. The fruit of them in famine serves for bread, and their bark for clothing. Likewise also the berries of the juniper, yea, even the roots of this tree are eaten for bread, as holy Job testifies, though it is difficult to come at them by reason of their prickles: in these prickles, or thorns, live coals will last a whole year. If the inhabitants do not quench them, when winds arise they set the woods on fire, and destroy all the circumjacent fields." In this account both the properties of the juniper tree, referred to by Job and David, are mentioned by the Gothic prelate. They use its berries and roots for food, and its wood for fire.
on Job 30 :4
Who cut up mallows - For the purpose of eating. Mallows are common medicinal plants, famous for their emollient or softening properties, and the size and brilliancy of their flowers. It is not probable, however, that Job referred to what we commonly understand by the word mallows. It has been commonly supposed that he meant a species of plant, called by the Greeks Hallimus, a sunfish plant, or "salt wort," growing commonly in the deserts and poor land, and eaten as a salad. The Vulgate renders it simply "herbas;" the Septuagint, ἄλιμα alima. The Hebrew word, according to Umbreit, means a common salad of a saltish taste, whose young leaves being cooked, constituted food for the poorer classes. The Hebrew word מלוח mallûach is from מלח mâlach, "salt," and properly refers to a marine plant or vegetable.
By the bushes - Or among the bushes; that is, that which grew among the bushes of the desert. They wandered about in the desert that they might obtain this very humble fare.
And juniper-roots - The word here rendered "juniper" רתם rethem, occurs only in this place, and in 1 Kings 19:4-5; Psalm 120:4. In each place it is rendered "juniper." In 1 Kings is mentioned as the tree under which Elijah sat down when he fled into the wilderness for his life; In Psalm 120:4, it is mentioned as a material for making coals. "Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper." It is rendered "juniper" by Jerome, and by the rabbis. The verb (רתם râqab) occurs in Micah 1:13, where it is rendered "bind," and means to bind on, to make fast; and probably the plant here referred to received its name in some way from the notion of "binding" - perhaps because its long, flexible, and slender twigs were used for binding, or for "withes." There is no evidence, however, that the "juniper" is in any case intended. It denotes a species of "broom - spartium junceum" of Linn., which grows abundantly in the deserts of Arabia. It is the "Genista raetam" of Forskal. "Flora" Egypt. Arab. p. 214.
It has small variegated blossoms, and grows in the water-courses of the Wadys. Dr. Robinson (Bibl. Researches, i. 299) says, "The Retem is the largest and most conspicuous shrub of these de sects, growing thickly in the water-courses and valleys. Our Arabs always selected the place of encampment (if possible) in a place where it grew, in order to be sheltered by it at night from the wind; and, during the day, when they often went on in advance of the camels, we found them not unfrequently sitting or sleeping under a bush of Retem, to protect them from the sun. It was in this very desert, a day's journey from Beersheba, that the prophet Elijah lay down and slept beneath the same shrub. The roots are very bitter, and are regarded by the Arabs as yielding the best charcoal. The Hebrew name רתם rethem, is the same as the present Arabic name." Burckhardt remarks, that he found several Bedouins in the Wady Genne collecting brushwood, which they burned into charcoal for the Egyptian market, and adds that they preferred for this purpose the thick roots of the shrub Rethem, which grew there in abundance. Travels in Syria, p. 483. It could have been only those who were reduced to the utmost penury and want that could have made use of the roots of this shrub for food, and this is doubtless the idea which Job means to convey. It is said to have been occasionally used for food by the poor. See Gesenius, Lex.; Umbreit in loc., and Schultens. A description of the condition of the poor, remarkably similar to this, occurs in Lucan, Lib. vii.;
- Cernit miserabile vulgus
In pecudum cecidisse cibos, et carpere dumos
Et morsu spoliare nemus.
Biddulph (in the collection of Voyages from the Library of the Earl of Oxford, p. 807), says he had seen many poor people in Syria gather mallows and clover, and when he had asked them what they designed to do with it, they answered that it was for food. They cooked and ate them. Herodotus, viii. 115, says, that the army of Xerxes, after their defeat, when they had consumed all the grain of the inhabitants in Thessaly, "fed on the natural produce of the earth, stripping wild and cultivated trees alike of their bark and leaves, to such an extremity of famine were they come."
on Job 30 :4
30:4 Who cut - Bitter herbs, which shews their extreme necessity. Juniper - Possibly the word may signify some other plant, for the Hebrews themselves are at a loss for the signification of the names of plants.