The Hebrew term shu·shanʹ and its corresponding Greek equivalent kriʹnon, both rendered “lily,” probably embrace a great variety of flowers, such as the tulips, anemones, hyacinths, irises, and gladioli. According to Koehler and Baumgartner, the Hebrew designation is derived from an Egyptian word meaning “big flower.” (Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti Libros, Leiden, 1958, p. 958) The Greek historian Herodotus (II, 92) speaks of the Egyptian lotus as “lily,” and many believe that in the Scriptural references to the “lily” or “lily work” in ornamentation, the Egyptian lotus, a water lily, is meant. (1Ki 7:19, 22, 26; 2Ch 4:5) However, in view of the fact that the lotus figured prominently in the false religious symbolism of Egypt, the identification of the lily with the lotus is questionable.
The lilies of the Scriptural record were to be found in the low plain, among thorny weeds, and in pastures where flocks and gazelles grazed. (Ca 2:1, 2, 16; 4:5) They may also have been cultivated in gardens (Ca 6:2, 3), and allusion is made to their sweet fragrance. (Ca 5:13) Possibly with reference to the lily’s beauty, Hosea, in foretelling Israel’s restoration, spoke of the time when God’s people would blossom as a lily.
In de-emphasizing the importance generally attached to material things, Jesus Christ pointed out that not even Solomon in all his glory was as beautifully arrayed as the lilies of the field. It has been suggested that Jesus probably had the anemone in mind. However, he may simply have been referring to lilylike flowers in general, as may be inferred from the fact that “lilies of the field” is used in parallel with “vegetation of the field.”