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Wormwood in the Bible: What Scripture Says

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Have you ever encountered wormwood in the Bible and been completely lost on what that is? Or just skipped over it entirely without a second thought? I’ve done both, but when you actually take the time to study it, the word wormwood has great meaning in the Bible and is a good thing to understand.

image of the herb wormwood with the text Wormwood in the Bible: What Scripture Says

Wormwood in the Bible

The meaning of wormwood in the Bible builds itself up throughout the Old Testament and comes to final fruition in the New Testament, where it appears in one of John’s end-times prophecies as the name of a star. 

As much fun as it is to jump into and dissect the book of Revelation, doing so in this instance would revert us back to skipping over the reference to wormwood. Instead, we first need to understand what wormwood is (I hadn’t even heard of it before coming across it in scripture) and the literary purpose it serves throughout the Bible. Then, we can finally understand its use in John’s prophecy.

What is Wormwood

Wormwood, whose scientific name is Artemisia Absinthium, is a “perennial herb used in the alcoholic beverages absinthe and vermouth.” Looking at the scientific name, you can see that this herb is actually where the alcoholic drink absinthe gets its name from. 

The wormwood plant is characterized as having a very bitter taste. It is used for medicinal purposes, such as to treat inflammation, pain, and intestinal worms, however, it is incredibly toxic in it’s pure, untreated form, causing fatal hallucinations and seizures. 

Of course, in modern times, this herb would not be used in its untreated form, but in bible times, that was the only known form. And that leads us to its literary use as a symbol of bitterness and poison in the Bible

Wormwood in the Old Testament

The next step in understanding the meaning of wormwood in the Bible, specifically its use in the book of Revelation, is to track its use throughout the Old Testament. According to Got Questions, the word wormwood “appears eight times in the Old Testament, each time associated with bitterness, poison and death.” 

Let’s examine a few of these appearances of wormwood in the Old Testament and explore their common significance.

“So that there may not be among you man or woman or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations, and that there may not be among you a root bearing bitterness or wormwood;”

Deuteronomy 29:18 (NKJV)

Not every version of the Bible directly uses the term wormwood in this passage, which is why I have used the New King James Version, but each, of course, has the same meaning. In this chapter of Deuteronomy, Moses encourages the Israelites to obey the law of the God of Israel. Verse 18 specifically presents the purpose of doing so – so that their hearts would not turn away from the Lord of hosts and so that there will be no bitterness or wormwood. 

It becomes clear in this use of wormwood that it is no positive thing but an analogy to something that the Israelites should keep out of their hearts. That is, a root of bitterness – a type of bitterness that is poison to the body of Jesus Christ.

“Seek the Lord and live, lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour, with none to quench it for Bethel, O you who turn justice to wormwood and cast down righteousness to the earth!”

Amos 5:6-7 (ESV)

In chapter five of Amos, God speaks to Israel, which is in rebellion against Him, urging them to “seek the Lord and live.” In this passage, God warns Israel that an unquenchable fire will consume them if they do not turn from their wicked ways—as they turn justice to wormwood. 

Gardener examining common wormwood plants in garden, close up of hand touching herb for the post on wormwood in the Bible

We know that our God, the God of Israel, is a God of justice, so if he is condemning the Israelites for turning justice to wormwood, we know once again that wormwood contains a negative connotation of bitter evil as it is the opposite of the fruit of righteousness that the Israelites are casting down. 

“For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.”

Proverbs 5:3-4 (ESV)

This passage is found within a warning against adultery, even in the midst of temptation. Even though a forbidden woman – that is, a woman that is not one’s wife – may tempt a man with sweet and smooth lips, pursuing her leads to nothing but intense bitterness, characterized in this verse with wormwood. 

“Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Behold, I will feed them, this people, with wormwood, and give them water of gall to drink.”

Jeremiah 9:15 (NKJV)

This is another passage where I used the New King James Version due to different wording. This section of Jeremiah is a judgement of God towards the Jews as they live in sin, continually turning away from their God. God says that he is going to give them wormwood and water of gall, which is bitter waters, or poisoned waters; sometimes even water poisoned by wormwood specifically. 

This little snippet out of Jeremiah parallels directly with the appearance of wormwood in Revelation, as prophesied by John.

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Wormwood in Revelation

Wormwood in the Bible comes to final fruition in the book of Revelation at the end of the New Testament, as it is the name of the star that brings upon God’s judgment. 

“The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell one a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star is wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.”

Revelation 8:10-11 (ESV)

You may have a question that is very commonly asked about the book of Revelation: what the heck is going on?

Up to this point in Revelation, John has seen Jesus Christ open six out of the seven seals of God’s judgment. Revelation eight is the beginning of the opening of the seventh. In this seal, there are seven angels, each with a trumpet that brings upon God’s judgment when blown. 

Whenever the first angel blows their trumpet, hail and fire mixed with blood rained down on the earth, burning a third of the earth. When the second angel blew the second trumpet, a great mountain on fire was thrown into the sea, turning a third of it into blood. 

The use of wormwood is contained in the third of the trumpet judgments, the catastrophe following the blowing of the third trumpet by the third angel. The angel blew the trumpet, and a great star fell from the sky and poisoned a third of the waters of the earth. What’s special about this star is that it has a name; it is the wormwood star. 

As we now understand, wormwood is bitter and toxic to life. The star wormwood is the manifestation of God’s warning in Jeremiah. He turned a third of the  rivers and a third of the springs of water into poison, killing many inhabitants of the earth. 

The word wormwood in the Bible is no longer something to skip over. It is serious—so much so that it is worthy of being the name of the star used in the seventh seal of judgment to bring upon the great fury and full wrath of the Lord in the end times. 

Whenever you see the term wormwood in your Bible study, stop and think on it, for it must be an intense warning against something in the life of a follower of Christ. 

You may enjoy this video What is the meaning of “wormwood” in Revelation 8:10?

Or one of these recommended resources:

Wormwood: The little book from Revelation by Hannah Orion

If you enjoy herbs or symbolism in the Bible, consider one of my ebooks on the topic:

Nature Symbolism in the Bible eBook

Essential Oils of the Bible eBook

ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

NKJV – Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved

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