So, yesterday, while one of my roommates was watching tv, someone (I think it was Willie Nelson, but I’m not sure) made a comment about marijuana in the Bible, and I was asked if that was the case. I said, “Of course not,” and then Ezekiel 34:29 was quoted about a ‘plant of reknown’ with that plant obviously referring to cannabis. In dealing with this sort of obvious and self-serving misinterpretation of scripture, we need to examine a few matters to solve the ‘mystery’ that this particular verse presents. First, we need to examine how and why this verse is viewed in such a way. Then, we need to look at what this verse actually means, in its immediate and its larger context to see what the reality is behind this mystery.
First of of all, let us look at the verse itself and see how and why it is misused by advocates for the legitimacy and legalization of pot. Ezekiel 34:29 reads: “I will raise up for them a garden of renown, and they shall no longer be consumed with hunger in the land, nor bear the shame of the Gentiles anymore.” At first glance, this particular millennial verse could have any number of meanings, which makes it an easy enough target for those who claim that any sort of renowned plant must refer to mary jane. To be sure, there are useful purposes of the plant, but it is not the fulfillment in any way of a biblical prophecy. Anyone who has even a slight familiarity with the side effects of smoking marijuana knows that the use of pot carries with it two effects that are contrary to this verse (and its immediate context). First, pot use tends to give one the munchies, which is not the way that someone is kept from being consumed with hunger. Any plant that meets this definition (or any garden) is going have to either dull hunger or (to fulfill the promise of this verse) fill it. Pot simply does not meet that standard. Furthermore, this plant is related to promises of an absence of fear and terror, and pot is among the plants that makes one the most afraid and paranoid (helping, no doubt, to fuel the paranoia of libertarians in our contemporary political scene). For these two reasons, there is no possible way this verse is talking about pot.
Why would this verse be so transparently misused to advocate for pot use, though? That is itself a bit of a mystery, but it can be related to a couple of interrelated factors. For one, a lack of general biblical knowledge means that most people could reference this verse and make it seem at least plausible to uninformed listeners that the Bible does indeed have something that could be approving to marijuana use. Likewise, the frequent use of prooftexting and quoting sections of verses out of context to support one’s preconceived notions allows this sort of travesty of biblical eisegesis to occur, though seldom with the violence that scripture suffers here. There are other verses that would better support the use of marijuana in teas (to give but one example) as a mild pain reliever, when the Bible gives Adam and Eve and their descendents every green herb for food, provided (of course) that it was not poisonous. Yet this sort of verse is not used because the use of plants for food, rather than smoking, cuts against the desire of those who would wish to legitimize pot use. Yet the fact that the Bible still retains some cachet in political discourse suggests that those who do not understand the Bible or necessarily believe it would still want to find a verse of scripture to justify their behavior if one could be found or twisted.
So, if this particular verse is obviously not referring to marijuana, what does it actually mean? First, let us look at this verse in its immediate context, Ezekiel 34:25-30, which reads: “I will make a covenant of peace with them, and cause wild beasts to cease from the land, and they will dwell safely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. I will make them and the places all around My hill a blessing; and I will cause showers to come down in their season; there shall be showers of blessing. Then the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield her increase. They shall be safe in their land; and they shall know that I am the Eternal, when I have broken the bands of their yoke and delivered them from the hand of those who enslaved them. And they shall no longer be a prey for the nations, nor shall beasts of the land devour them; but they shall dwell safely and no one shall make them afraid. I will raise up for them a garden of renown, and they shall no longer be consumed with hunger in the land, nor bear the shame of the Gentiles anymore. Thus they shall know that I, the Eternal their God, am with them. and they, the house of Israel, are My people, says the Lord God.” This particular passage is a straightforward account of the blessings that will result when God makes peace with Israel, brings them back from captivity, and gives them a secure place in a millennial rule. It belongs to a lengthy list of scriptures about the restoration of Israel that have yet to be fulfilled, but that represent a promise of restoration that is at least part of what we long for, a world at peace without dangers and fear, under the rule of the returned Messiah.
This dream of restoration is a far better dream than the twisting and violence suffered by this passage in order to support a bogus and immoral political agenda. The cases that can be made for the use of marijuana in non-smoking for health benefits, and the equivalences that can be argued between pot and smoking tobacco or alcohol, if one wants to make them, are a subject for lengthy study and serious argument. It is not my intent in this particular passage to discuss that much larger and more contentious matter. That said, if one wants to make the case for the legitimacy of cannabis, one has to do so in an honest matter, without trying to illegitimately smuggle in nonexistent scriptural support for one’s position. To do so is not only grossly immoral, but also a sign of substantial intellectual laziness and dishonesty, in that one has so little support for one’s own judgments that one feels the need to twist scriptures to attempt a justification for one’s position. Fortunately, even a surface level understanding of the text in question will make the false interpretation of it go up in smoke, as it so richly merits.