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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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In the language of the Hebrews, every place where plants and trees were cultivated with greater care than in the open field, was called a garden. The idea of such an enclosure was certainly borrowed from the garden of Eden, which the bountiful Creator planted for the reception of our first parents. Beside, the gardens of primitive nations were commonly, if not in every instance, devoted to religious purposes. In these shady retreats were celebrated, for a long succession of ages, the rites of Pagan superstition. Thus Jehovah calls the apostate Jews, "a people that provoketh me continually to anger to my face, that sacrificeth in gardens,"

Isaiah 65:3 . And in a preceding chapter, the prophet threatens them in the name of the Lord: "They shall be ashamed of the oaks which ye have desired, and ye shall be confounded for the gardens which ye have chosen." The oriental gardens were either open plantations, or enclosures defended by walls or hedges. Some fences in the Holy Land, in later times, are not less beautiful than our living fences of white thorn; and perfectly answer the description of ancient Jewish prophets, who inform us that the hedges in their times consisted of thorns, and that the spikes of these thorny plants were exceedingly sharp. Doubdan found a very fruitful vineyard, full of olives, fig trees, and vines, about eight miles south-west from Bethlehem, enclosed with a hedge; and that part of it adjoining to the road, strongly formed of thorns and rose bushes, intermingled with pomegranate trees of surpassing beauty and fragrance. A hedge composed of rose bushes and wild pomegranate shrubs, then in full flower, mingled with other thorny plants, adorned in the varied livery of spring, must have made at once a strong and beautiful fence. The wild pomegranate tree, the species probably used in fencing, is much more prickly than the other variety; and when mingled with other thorny bushes, of which they have several kinds in Palestine, some of whose prickles are very long and sharp, must form a hedge very difficult to penetrate. These facts illustrate the beauty and force of several passages in the sacred volume: thus, in the Proverbs of Solomon, "The way of the slothful man is as a hedge of thorns," Proverbs 15:19; it is obstructed with difficulties, which the sloth and indolence of his temper represent as galling or insuperable; but which a moderate share of resolution and perseverance would easily remove or surmount. In the prophecies of Hosea, God threatens his treacherous and idolatrous people with many painful embarrassments and perplexities, which would as effectually retard or obstruct their progress in the paths of wickedness, as a hedge of thorny plants stretching across the traveller's way, the prosecution of his journey: "Therefore, behold, I will hedge up thy way with thorns, and make a wall, that she shall not find her paths," Hosea 2:6 . In the days of Micah, the magistrates of Judah had become exceedingly corrupt: "The best of them is a brier; the most upright is sharper than a thorn hedge;" to appear before their tribunal, or to have any dealings with them, was to involve one's self in endless perplexities, and to be exposed to galling disappointments, if not to certain destruction. They resembled those thorny plants which are twisted together, whose spines point in every direction, and are so sharp and strong that they cannot be touched without danger, and so entangling that when the traveller has with much pain and exertion freed himself from one, he is instantly seized by another. "But the sons of Belial," said the king of Israel, "shall be all of them as thorns thrust away, because they cannot be taken with hands: but the man that shall touch them must be fenced with iron, and the staff of a spear; and they shall be utterly burned with fire in the same place," 2 Samuel 23:6-7 . Other enclosures had fences of loose stones, or mud walls, some of them very low, which often furnished a retreat to venomous reptiles. To this circumstance the royal preacher alludes, in his observations of wisdom and folly: "He that diggeth a pit, shall fall into it: and whose breaketh a hedge, a serpent shall bite him," Ecclesiastes 10:8 . The term which our translators render hedge in this passage, they might with more propriety have rendered wall, as they had done in another part of the writings of Solomon: "I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down," Proverbs 24:30 .

2. The land of promise has been, from the earliest ages, an unenclosed country, with a few spots defended by a hedge of thorny plants, or a stone wall built without any cement. At Aleppo, most of the vineyards are fenced with stone walls; for in many parts of Syria a hedge would not grow for want of moisture. But, as their various esculent vegetables are now not unfrequently planted in the open fields, both in Syria and Palestine, so Chardin seems to suppose they were often unfenced in ancient times; and, on this account, those lodges and booths, to which Isaiah refers, in the first chapter of his prophecy, were built. In Hindostan they follow the same custom. At the commencement of the rainy season, the peasants plant abundance of melons, cucumbers, and gourds, which are then the principal food of the inhabitants. They are planted in the open fields and extensive plains, and are therefore liable to the depredations of men and beasts. In the centre of the field is an artificial mount, with a hut on the top, sufficiently large to shelter a single person from the inclemency of the weather. There, amid heavy rains and tempestuous winds, a poor solitary being is stationed day and night to protect the crop. From thence he gives an alarm to the nearest village. Few situations can be more unpleasant than a hovel of this kind, exposed for three or four months to wind, lightning, and rain. To such a cheerless station the prophet no doubt alludes, in that passage where he declares the desolations of Judah: "The daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers,"

Isaiah 1:8 . If such watch houses were necessary in those gardens which were defended by walls or hedges, some of which, indeed, it was not difficult to get over, they must have been still more necessary in those which were perfectly open.

3. The oriental garden displays little method, or design; the whole being commonly no more than a confused medley of fruit trees, with beds of esculent plants, and even plots of wheat and barley sometimes interspersed. The garden belonging to the governor of Eleus, a Turkish town on the western border of the Hellespont, which Dr. Chandler visited, consisted only of a very small spot of ground, walled in, and containing only two vines, a fig and a pomegranate tree, and a well of excellent water. And, it would seem, the garden of an ancient Israelite could not boast of greater variety; for the grape, the fig, and the pomegranate, are almost the only fruits which it produced. This fact may perhaps give us some insight into the reason of the sudden and irresistible conviction which flashed on the mind of Nathanael, when our Saviour said to him, "When thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee." The good man seems to have been engaged in devotional exercises in a small retired garden, walled in, and concealed from the scrutinizing eyes of men. The place was so small, that he was perfectly certain no man but himself was there; and so completely defended, that none could break through, or look over, the fence; and, by consequence, that no eye was upon him, but the all-seeing eye of God; and, therefore, since Christ saw him there, Nathanael knew he could be no other than the Son of God, and the promised Messiah.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Gardens'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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