Any of numerous thorny or prickly plants. Over 70 varieties of thorny plants have been reported as growing in Israel, among them being the thorny burnet, the thorny caper, the acanthus, the boxthorn, and hawthorns. Although thorns proved to be troublesome to man, they were not altogether useless. Thorny plants were employed as hedges (Ho 2:6) and for fuel (Ec 7:6), and they served as food for asses, camels, and goats. In more recent times, as may have been the case anciently, the boxthorn and the bramble in particular have been used for hedges, and the thorny burnet has been cut up as fuel for limekilns.—Isa 33:12.
The effects of the cursed ground, with its thorns and thistles, were keenly felt by the descendants of Adam (Ge 3:17, 18), so that Noah’s father Lamech spoke of “the pain of our hands resulting from the ground which Jehovah has cursed.” (Ge 5:29) After the Flood, Jehovah blessed Noah and his sons, stating that his purpose for them was to fill the earth. (Ge 9:1) God’s curse on the ground was apparently lifted. (Ge 13:10) However, Jehovah did not, as in perfect Adam’s case, tell Noah and his family to ‘subdue the earth.’ (Compare Ge 1:28 with Ge 8:21–9:2.) This suggests that imperfect man, without divine guidance, could never subdue the earth in the way God had originally purposed. Man would continue experiencing difficulties in cultivating the soil, including having to fight such troublesome plants as thorns and thistles. Undoubtedly man’s mismanagement of earth’s resources has increased his problems in this regard.
In the Promised Land, “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:8), the Israelites had to work to keep the land free of thorns and other weeds, as these quickly take over neglected or desolated land. (Isa 5:6; 7:23-25; 34:13) Eventually, through disobedience to Jehovah, Israel brought spiritual ruin to the nation, God’s “inheritance,” and this was reflected both figuratively and literally in their laboring in vain, sowing wheat but reaping thorns.—Jer 12:7, 13.
As highlighted by Jesus’ illustration concerning the sower, thorns threaten the growth of cultivated crops. (Mt 13:7; Lu 8:7) So before a field covered with thorns and thistles was cultivated, these troublesome plants were removed, generally by burning the field over. (Heb 6:8) Thorns also presented somewhat of a fire hazard. Especially at harvesttime, when the thorns alongside the standing grain are dry, they readily catch fire, and an entire field can be consumed as the fire spreads from the thorns to the standing grain.—Ex 22:6.
In mockery, Roman soldiers braided a crown of thorns and placed it on Jesus’ head. (Mr 15:17; Joh 19:2) While the particular plant in question has been linked by many with Paliurus spina-christi, a shrub growing to a height of 6 m (20 ft) and having flexible branches with stiff thorns, no certain identification is possible.
Figurative Use. Frequently “thorns” are mentioned in a figurative, or an illustrative, sense. The Assyrians, although interwoven like thorns, were to be consumed as fully dry stubble. (Na 1:10) Thorns are used to denote people, even rulers, whose actions being bad, are in line for adverse judgment. (2Ki 14:9, 10; Isa 9:18, 19; 10:17-19) Wicked opposers of Jehovah’s servant are depicted as being extinguished like a fire of thornbushes. (Ps 118:10, 12) Jesus Christ referred to thorns when illustrating the truth that individuals are known by their fruits.—Mt 7:16.
Thorns designate persons and things that cause injury and are troublesome. (Nu 33:55; Pr 22:5; Eze 28:24) Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (2Co 12:7) may have been an affliction of his eyes or another part of his body (see Ac 23:1-5; Ga 4:15; 6:11) or perhaps the false apostles and other disturbers who challenged Paul’s apostleship and work. (See 2Co 11:5, 6, 12-15; Ga 1:6-9; 5:12; 6:17.) Jehovah, through his prophet Jeremiah, compared the hearts of the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to ground covered with thorns, that is, with untruth, injustice, and unrighteousness. (Jer 4:1-4; compare Ho 10:12, 13.) Fittingly the replacement of thorns by trees represents the restoration of divine favor.—Isa 55:13; see BRAMBLE; BRIER; BUSH; LOTUS TREE; WEEDS.