(1.) Heb 'arabim (Le 23:40; Job 40:22; Isa 15:7; 44:3-4; Ps 137:1-2). This was supposed to be the weeping willow, called by Linnaeus Salix Babylonica, from the reference in Ps 137. This tree is frequently found "on the coast, overhanging wells and pools. There is a conspicuous tree of this species over a pond in the plain of Acre, and others on the Phoenician plain." There are several species of the salix in Palestine, but it is not indigenous to Babylonia, nor was it cultivated there. Some are of opinion that the tree intended is the tamarisk or poplar.
(2.) Heb tzaphtzaphah (Eze 17:5), called by the Arabs the safsaf, the general name for the willow. This may be the Salix AEgyptica of naturalists.
Tristram thinks that by the "willow by the water-courses," the Nerium oleander, the rose-bay oleander (Illustration: Rose-Bay Oleander), is meant. He says, "It fringes the Upper Jordan, dipping its wavy crown of red into the spray in the rapids under Hermon, and is nutured by the oozy marshes in the Lower Jordan nearly as far as to Jericho...On the Arnon, on the Jabbok, and the Yarmuk it forms a continuous fringe. In many of the streams of Moab it forms a complete screen, which the sun's rays can never penetrate to evaporate the precious moisture. The wild boar lies safely ensconced under its impervious cover."
Used in constructing booths at the feast of tabernacles (Le 23:40). Spring up along watercourses. Spiritually it is thus made manifest to us that in using the means of grace the believer thrives (Isa 44:4). The Jewish captives in Babylon hung their harps on the weeping willow along the Euphrates. The Salix alba, viminalis (osier), and Egyptiaca are all found in Bible lands. Before the date of the Babylonian captivity the willow was associated with joy, after it with sorrow, probably owing to Psalm 137. Babylonia was a network of canals, and would therefore abound in willows.
The Jews generally had their places of prayer by the river side (Ac 16:13) for the sake of ablution before prayer; the sad love streams, inasmuch as being by their murmuring congenial to melancholy and imaging floods of tears (La 2:18; 3:48; Jer 9:1). Tear bottles are often found in the ancient tombs, and referred to in old inscriptions. The willow of Babylon has long, pointed, lance-shaped leaves, and finely serrated, smooth, slender, drooping branches. Vernon, a merchant at Aleppo, first introduced it in England at Twickenham park where P. Collinson saw it growing 1748. Another tradition makes Pope to have raised the first specimen from green twigs of a basket sent to Lady Suffolk from Spain (Linnaean Transactions, 10:275).
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With respect to the tree upon which the captive Israelites hung their harps, there can be no doubt that the weeping willow Salix babylonica, is intended. This tree grows abundantly on the banks of the Euphrates, in other parts of Asia as in Palestine. The Hebrew word translated willows is generic, and includes several species of the large family of Salices, which is well represented in Palestine and the Bible lands, such as the Salix alba, S. viminalis (osier), S. aegyptiaca.