Biblical Usage
Use of Gall and Wormwood
Medical Use
Fruit of Idolatry
Venom of Serpents
Food That Poisons the Reversionist
Strange Woman Like Wormwood
Doom of the Client Nation
Wormwood and Gall in Alcohol
Bitter Punishment of the Reversionist
Intensified Punishment
Pouring Out Gall in Death
Perversion of Righteousness and Justice
Wormwood Meteorite
Gall of Bitterness
Vinegar and Gall
Prostitute of Babylon's Cup of Abominations


Wormwood, Artemisia AbsinthiumWormwood is the English translation of Artemisia Absinthium (ref. illustration), a bitter shrub.

     Hebrew hn*u^l^ (la`anah), from Arabic root meaning to curse.
     Greek ayivnqion (apsinthion)  (Rev 8:11).

Gall is the English translation of (1) the poppy and its juice (opium) and (2) bile from the liver and gallbladder.

    1.  Poppy
         Hebrew var) (ro'sh) = gall; the poppy, so called from its heads.
         Hebrew var ym@ (me-ro'sh) = juice of poppies, opium (Jer. 8:14; 9:15; 23:15); hence poison, (Deut. 32:32, 33; Job 20:16); synonymous with bitter, poison, venom.

    2.  Bile
         Hebrew hr*r{m+ (merorah), for gall (from gallbladder), poison, venom, or a bitter thing.
         Greek colhv  (chole) = gall, bile.

Biblical Usage

Gall and wormwood were well-known to the writers of scripture.  The substances evoke strong memories to anyone who had ever tasted them.  They were both very bitter.  Gall was the poppy from which came the juice called opium.  Gall was also the bitter bile from the gallbladder.  And wormwood was a green shrub, which was used to produce very bitter medicine.  The bitter substances in wormwood are  absinthin and anabsinthine.  Gall and wormwood were well-known because of their wide use.

In the Bible gall and wormwood are used as metaphors for very bitter experiences.  Since both substances are very bitter and very potent, they evoke memories of taking very bitter medicine.  Descriptions of eating and drinking the substances are metaphors for very bitter experiences.  For this reason, the translators have generally erred in giving interpretive translations of the metaphors, such as poison, poison water, or bitterness.  In such cases, the metaphors would not even be seen in the verse.  It would usually be better to leave the metaphors and teach the readers their meaning.  For example, for those who have ever taken castor oil, there is nothing that could explain the experience better than using the words "castor oil" to describe the experience.

Use of Gall and Wormwood

Opium was both eaten and made into a black tea.1  It was also mixed with wine to be used as a narcotic or medicine.  Wormwood was leached in wine to make a strong drink or medicine and used in tea.  It could also be mixed in some foods and eaten.  It is used in green songpyeon (Korean rice cake).  In addition to records of its use in the Bible, it was used by the Egyptians in 1550 BC and by the ancient Greeks.  In the late 1700's a recipe was discovered for using it in a very strong alcoholic beverage called Absinthe.2
The use of opium dates back to the earliest civilizations.  The poppy is called in Hebrew, ro'sh, meaning head.  The poppy head exudes a juice called opium during the night.  Thus, the poppy head on a stalk with its nocturnal emission of opium was known to symbolize the male.  It was known in the Stone Age and cultivated by the Sumerians in 3400 BC.  The Assyrians scored the pods and collected the juice (opium) the next morning.  Opium was produced by the Babylonians and Egyptians.  Later, after 400 AD, Arab traders introduced opium to China.  And from the 14th century Muslims used the drug.  The Ottoman Turks ate and drank opium to reach ecstasy for their whirling dervishes, whereby they were mesmerized by the demons of the Prostitute of Babylon.

Medical Use

Opium was used as a cure-all, sleep aid, and to relieve pain and suffering.  It was heavily used as late as the 1800's in the US War Between the States before the discovery of how to extract morphine,  codeine, and other alkaloids from it.

Wormwood contains thujone, which is a poison but does not pose a problem in proper dosage.    Wormwood is used to strengthen health and soothe the stomach.  It is used as an antiseptic and antispasmodic and to treat intestinal gas, indigestion and gastric pain, bile discharge, and fever.  And it is used as a worm treatment, from which wormwood got its name.  Wormwood tea is used for labor pain, and the oil of the plant is used as a cardiac stimulant to improve blood circulation.


Wormwood and gall symbolize a very bitter experience.  They evoke memories of the taste of bitter medicine and the stupefying effects of drugs.  Gall, corresponding to the poppy with its head and stalk, symbolizes the male, while the bush of wormwood symbolizes the female, especially the "strange woman" (Prov 5:4).  The nocturnal emission of the poppy (opium) symbolizes semen.  Gall of the gallbladder symbolizes both bitterness and life.  The yellowish color of the bile symbolizes life, and the strength of the bile symbolizes vitality from the source of physical life.

Wormwood and gall also symbolize the abominations in the cup of the Prostitute of Babylon (Rev 17:4).  Wormwood and gall were mixed in sour wine (vinegar) to give to those who were dying.  During the Crucifixion, Jesus Christ was offered a drink of vinegar mixed with gall and myrrh.  And wormwood is used to make a very strong drink called Absinthe, which has a reputation for being a strong intoxicant and way to the demon powers of the Prostitute of Babylon (Prov 23:30-35).6

Fruit of Idolatry

Gall and wormwood are the fruit of idolatry and reversionism (Deut 29:18; 32:32)
Deut 29:18
That there may not be among you a man or woman, family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the LORD our God to go and serve the gods of those nations; that there may not be among you a root bearing fruit of gall and wormwood.
Idolatry was prohibited by the Mosaic Law.  Idolatry was practiced by the Gentile nations, but Client Nation Israel was to worship only one God.  The production of idolatry and reversionism is called the fruit of gall and wormwood.  Gall is the Hebrew ro'sh, for gall the poppy with its opium.  And wormwood is the Hebrew la`anah, for Artemisia Absinthium,  from the Arabic root for a curse.

The reversionists of Israel who rejected Bible Doctrine were like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Deut 32:32
For their vine is from the vine of Sodom and from the fields of Gomorrah;  their grapes are grapes of gall; their clusters are clusters of bitterness.
The fruit (production) of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah was grapes of wrath (gall, Hebrew ro'sh).  The clusters of grapes corresponded to bitterness, Hebrew merorah, for gall or bitterness..

Venom of Serpents

Gall is a metaphor for the venom of serpents (Deut 32:33).

The idolaters and reversionists of Israel were like those who drank the poisonous venom of serpents.

Deut 32:33
Their wine is the poison of serpents and the virulent venom (gall) of asps.
Here gall is the Hebrew ro'sh.

Food That Poisons the Reversionist

The food of reversionists is converted into the poison (gall) of vipers (Job 20:14, 16).

The food of the reversionist is digested to produce poison like that of a viper within his bowels.  This will lead to sickness and death.

Job 20:14
His food is changed in his bowels to the poison of vipers within him.
"Poison" is the Hebrew merorah, for gall, poison, or a bitter thing.
Job 20:16 Doom of the Reversionist

He sucks the poison of asps,
The tongue of the viper will kill him.

The reversionist will be doomed by sucking the poison of asps.  "Poison" is the Hebrew ro'sh, for gall of the poppy, which corresponds to poison (Deut. 32:32, 33).

Strange Woman Like Wormwood

Cursing from the strange woman is as bitter as wormwood (Prov 5:3-4).
Prov 5:3-4
3 For the lips of the strange woman drip honey,
And smoother than oil is her tongue;
4 But in the end, she is bitter as wormwood,
Sharp as a two-edged sword.
The strange woman is someone other than the Right Woman.  She is the Prostitute of Babylon.  Although she is sweet and a smooth talker, after intercourse with her, the curse that she brings is bitter as wormwood and the punishment cuts like a two-edged sword.  This is intensified discipline, which is next to dying discipline.  This is analogous to a bad hangover (Prov 23:30-35).

Doom of the Client Nation

The doom of the Client Nation is analogous to eating wormwood and drinking gall (opium) (Jer 8:14; 9:15; 23:15).
Jer 8:14 Doom of Judah
Why do we sit still? Assemble yourselves, and let us go into the fortified cities, and perish there; for the LORD our God has doomed us, and given us gall (opium, poppy juice) to drink, because we have sinned against the LORD.
The destruction of the Southern Kingdom of Judah was like drinking gall.  Gall is the Hebrew me-ro'sh, meaning poppy juice (opium) (GES).3  Because the Lord has decreed their doom, the people have no recourse but to go into the fortified cities and perish.  Their doom is symbolized by giving them gall to drink to represent their bitter suffering in death.
Jer 9:15 Wormwood and Gall

Therefore, thus says the LORD of the Armies, the God of Israel, "Behold, I will feed this people with wormwood and give them gall (opium, poppy juice) to drink."

The Divine Punishment of Judah was as bitter as forcing the people to eat wormwood and drink gall (opium).  The Lord would curse the false prophets who lied to the people with the same punishment.
Jer 23:15 Cursing of the Prophets

Therefore, thus says the LORD of the Armies concerning the prophets, "Behold, I will feed them with wormwood and give them gall (opium, poppy juice) to drink; for from the prophets of Jerusalem pollution has gone forth into all the land."

Wormwood and Gall in Alcohol

Wormwood and gall dissolved in alcohol produces a strong intoxicant with narcotic properties (Lam 3:15).

Jeremiah described the bitter cursing of the fall of Jerusalem as like being drunk with wormwood.

Lam 3:15 Drunk with Wormwood

He has filled me with bitterness;
He has made me drunk with wormwood.

The implication is that the wormwood was mixed in wine to make a strong intoxicant.  Heavy concentrations of alcohol are required to dissolve the tar of wormwood.  In more modern times, Absinthe, which is made with wormwood, is 72% alcohol (144 proof).  Being drunk on wormwood wine symbolizes terrible cursing.

Bitter Punishment of the Reversionist

The punishment of the reversionist is like the bitter medicine of wormwood and gall (Lam 3:19).
Lam 3:19 Rebound, Recovery

Remember my affliction and my straying, the wormwood and the gall (opium).

When Jeremiah was overcome with grief and Emotional Revolt of the Soul after the destruction of Jerusalem, he remembered to Rebound in order to recover his Spiritual life.  He recalled the intense punishment he had endured earlier as being like the curse of wormwood (la`anah) and gall (Hebrew ro'sh).  Wormwood and gall are bitter curses that Jeremiah has endured.

Intensified Punishment

Gall symbolizes intensified punishment (Lam 3:5).
Lam 3:5
He besieges and surrounds me with gall and tribulation.
God's intensified punishment is like being besieged and surrounded by gall (Hebrew ro'sh) and tribulation.  Punishment is overpowering and comes from all directions so that there is nowhere to run.

Pouring Out Gall in Death

Pouring out one's gall is a metaphor for death (Job 16:13).
Job 16:13 Death (Pouring Out Gall)

His arrows encompass me;
He pierces my kidneys without mercy;
He pours out my gall on the ground.

Job described his Divine Punishment as arrows fired at him from all directions.  His kidneys were pierced, and his gall was poured out on the ground.  Pouring out the gall (Hebrew mererah) from the gallbladder is a metaphor for death.  Similarly, piercing or pouring out the liver is a metaphor for death (Pr 7:23; La 2:11) since gall, bile, and the liver are associated with life and vitality.

Perversion of Righteousness and Justice

Wormwood and gall are analogous to the perversion of Divine Righteousness and Justice (Amos 5:7; 6:12; Hos 10:4).

God was about to destroy the Northern Kingdom of Israel because of idolatry.  Idolatry was a perversion of God's perfect Justice and absolute Righteousness.  Sacrificing to idols was a rejection of God's Justice and Righteousness.

Amos 5:7 Perverting Justice and Righteousness

"Those who change Justice into wormwood, and cast Righteousness down to the ground.

Those who practiced idolatry changed Divine Justice into wormwood (bitter cursing) and trampled on Divine Righteousness.  Idols have no Righteousness.
Amos 6:12 Perversion of Justice and Righteousness

"Do horses run upon rocks, or does one plow there with oxen?  Yet, you have turned Justice into gall (opium), and the fruit of Righteousness into wormwood.

Horses are not made to run on rocks, nor can oxen plow rocks.  Similarly, these people have replaced Divine Justice with bitter gall (opium) and Divine Righteousness with the curse of wormwood.
Hosea 10:4
They have proclaimed empty words, sworn falsely in making treaties; thus, Judgment sprouts like gall (opium poppies) in the furrows of the field.
The leaders of Israel were corrupt.  Their words were empty.  They made treaties with false promises and no intention of keeping them.  They kept the treaties so long as it suited them.  Consequently, God's Judgment was sprouting up like gall (opium poppies) in the furrows of the fields.  The destruction of Israel would be bitter.

Wormwood Meteorite

The Wormwood Meteorite will fall to Earth in the Tribulation and make the water bitter and poisonous (Rev 8:10-11).
Rev 8:10-11 Third Trumpet - Wormwood Meteorite

10 The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great meteor fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell upon a third of the rivers and upon the springs of waters.
11 The name of the meteorite is called Wormwood; and a third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the waters because they had become bitter.

During the Tribulation a great meteorite will strike the Earth, poison a third of the waters, and make them bitter.  The name of the meteorite is called Wormwood, which is the Greek apsinthion, meaning wormwood, Artemisia Absinthium.

Gall of Bitterness

Gall is a metaphor for bitterness (Acts 8:23).

When Simon offered Peter money to purchase the Holy Spirit, Peter accused him of being in the "gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity."  He was hardened and enslaved to his sins without regard for the Grace of God.

Act 8:23 Gall of Bitterness

For you see, I perceive that you are in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity.

Gall is the Greek chole (colhv ), meaning gall or bile.  Gall is a metaphor for bitterness.

Vinegar and Gall

Vinegar and gall were mixed to produce a strong sedative for those who were dying (Psa 69:21; Matt 27:34; Mk 15:23; Jn 19:29-30).

The Psalmist described the cursing of evil men who tried to kill him as being fed gall and drinking vinegar.  This became prophetic of what Jesus Christ was offered on the Cross.

Psa 69:21 Gall and Vinegar

They gave me gall for my food,
And for my thirst, they gave me vinegar to drink.

Gall is the Hebrew ro'sh, corresponding to the opium poppy.  Vinegar was wine vinegar or sour wine.  Depending upon its strength, vinegar could be very distasteful.

Before morphine was extracted from opium, a strong sedative was made by mixing gall (opium) with wine.  When Jesus was dying on the Cross, the Roman soldiers offered Him some of their sour wine (vinegar) (Jn 19:29-30) mixed with gall and myrrh.  The Roman soldiers normally carried sour wine with them to drink.  It was a cheap wine for thirst quenching.

Matt 27:34
They (the Roman soldiers) gave Him wine to drink mixed with gall; and after tasting it, He was not willing to drink it.
Gall is the Greek chole (colhv ), meaning gall.  The gall was probably a drug, like opium.  The wine also contained myrrh, which was used as a pain killer.
Mark 15:23
They tried to give Him wine mixed with myrrh, but He did not take it.
Jesus, however, refused to drink the sour wine mixture.

Prostitute of Babylon's Cup of Abominations

Absinthe, van GoghThe cup of wine in the hand of the Prostitute of Babylon was filled with abominations and impurities.  Gall and wormwood mixed with wine symbolize abominations and impurities.
Rev 17:4
The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup filled with abominations and impurities of her prostitution,
The wine was strong.  "Those who dwell on the Earth were made drunk by the wine of her prostitution" (Rev. 17:2b).  Mixing gall or wormwood in wine makes it a strong intoxicant.  Though not mentioned as being in the cup, gall and wormwood symbolize abominations and impurities.  In the drunken state a person is in the Cosmic System under the power of the demon of the Prostitute of Babylon.  Thus, strong alcoholic drinks are a way to the Prostitute of Babylon.
Demon, Green Goddess, Maignan
A glass of Absinthe illustrates the cup of wine of the Prostitute of Babylon.  Absinthe, made from wormwood, is a strong drink, which is 72% alcohol (144 proof).  Even though it is mixed with water before drinking, it quickly intoxicates.  And being a favorite of artists and poets, its effects are well documented.  Van Gogh lost an ear after getting drunk on Absinthe.  Picasso conceived more deranged illustrations.  Albert Maignan captured the image of the demon of the Prostitute of Babylon called "The Green Goddess" (La Muse Verte).  And murders and criminality attributed to Absinthe inspired the Prohibition movement in Europe and the United States in the early 1900's.6  Absinthe was banned in Switzerland (followed by other countries in Europe) after an Absinthe drinker, Jean Lanfray, murdered his pregnant wife and children.  The Star Chart at the time of the murders on August 28, 1905 contained a carafe, like the one in van Gogh's still life of Absinthe.


1.  Opium, Wikipedia.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opium
2.  Artemisia absinthiumWikipedia.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artemisia_absinthium
3.  Gesenius, W., & Tregelles, S. P. (2003). Gesenius' Hebrew and Chaldee lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures (752). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
4.  Vincent van Gogh, "Still Life with Absinthe," Paris, 1887.
5.  Albert Maignan, "Green Muse (La Muse Verte)," 1895.
6.  Larry Wood.  "Absinthe Murders," February 20, 2012.

Author:  Larry Wood,   Released February 19, 2012 - Revised February 21, 2012

Top Author Comments Home