Don't eat unknown plants! This simple but wise advice we give to the youngest children. How is it, then, that one of the sons of the prophets would go out and gather this unknown plant (II Kings 4:39)? A description of this interesting plant, very common in the Middle East but mentioned only in two places in the Bible, may help us understand.
The gourd, more accurately termed the colycinth, Citrullus colycinthus, is a common vine found in dry areas. Like its close relative the watermelon, which it resembles in many ways, the colycinth creeps along the ground and has leaves which vaguely resemble those of the grape. The fruit is about the size of an orange with a yellowish rind, greenish pulp and light brown seeds. The taste of the flesh is extremely bitter.
The sons of the prophets had to prepare a meal for a large group and apparently at short notice. We can well imagine the panic as thirty or forty people arrive unexpectedly at the door for a meal! Elisha had faith that God would provide the food as he told them to put on the large pot. Adam was told that the wild herbs were created for food (Genesis 1:30) so it is not surprising that in Bible days people collected wild plants to eat, a common practice among the nomadic Bedouin in the Middle East today. Similarly, this son of the prophets went out into the field to get some food. As he was collecting various edible plants he happened upon the colycinth. Here was a large supply of food right at hand. No further work was needed. The f act that he gathered the colycinths up in his garment might imply that his basket or other collecting utensil was filled.
Gourds were used ornamentally in Solomon's temple (I Kings 6: 18a.); they are not mentioned in Ezekiel's temple. No doubt their symmetry added beauty in the carved cedar walls. Or perhaps the vines were used along with the small flowers and fruits.
For paintings of gourd in Jordan go to Jordan in Bloom.