This is not a question I have ever had before. I have had to do a bit of research. In my simplicity, I had always looked on Easter lilies as a harmless decoration people would use in the spring. I had never considered its traditional and historical significance. I was surprised by what I found. But first, let's look at your questions--you indeed you have asked three different questions: 1)What is the lily of the valley in the Bible? 2)What is the Easter lily? 3)Are they the same? We will look at each question in turn.
LILY OF THE VALLEY
The Bible mentions lilies 15 times in 15 different verses. Of these 15 mentions, 8 of them occur in the Song of Solomon. Perhaps the most memorable verses are the following:
- Song of Solomon 2:1 I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.
Song of Solomon 2:2 As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.
- Song of Solomon 6:2 My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies.
Hosea 14:5 I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon.
- Matthew 6:28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
Here in these verses, we see several things about the lilies of the Bible. They grow in the valleys and in the field. They may even grow among thorns. Sometimes, they are cultivated to grow in planted gardens. In speaking of God's blessing on Israel, Hosea states that "he shall grow as the lily." This indicates that the lily grows rapidly and commonly in many places.
The many places the lily is found in the Bible (valleys, fields, gardens, among thorns) shows the lily to be a common representation of a wide variety of flowers. This is similar to the usage of lily in English. The dictionary says that the lily is a large genus of perennial plants of the lily family grown from a bulb and having typically trumpet-shaped flowers, some white and some colored. Several plants that are similar to the true lily are also called lilies. In like manner, the biblical lily would refer to a large range of flowering plants that normally grew in the wild fields and covered the valleys at certain times of the year.
Most Bible students agree that the "lily of the valleys" in Song of Solomon 2:1 is a type of Jesus Christ. Benjamin Keach, in his books on types, gives five comparisons between the lily of the valley and the Lord Jesus Christ. Here are his points summarized:
A lily is a sweet and a flagrant flower with a strong scent. Jesus has a sweetness in His ministry especially when He gave "himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour" (Ephesians 5:2).
- A lily is white and very beautiful; exceeding all other flowers for whiteness. Within it are seven grains or seeds that are the color of gold. White is a picture of purity (Revelation 3:4). The bride of the Lamb will be clothed in white (Revelation 19:8). What better representation of the purity of Jesus Christ, the one "who knew no sin" (2 Corinthians 5:21), who "did no sin" (1 Peter 2:22), who was tempted "yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15), and who "in him is no sin" (1 John 3:5), than a beautiful white lily? "For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens" (Hebrews 7:26).
A lily is very fruitful. One root may put forth fifty bulbs. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, He brings forth much fruit (John 12:24). It is by bearing much fruit that He glorified the Father (John 15:8).
- A lily, according to the ancient writer Pliny, is the tallest of flowers and yet hangs its head down. This a beautiful picture of the greatness of the Son of God matched only by the greatness of His humility. "Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:6-8).
- The lily has many medicinal qualities. According to ancient teaching, it could be used to restore a lost voice, help faintness, was good for the liver, and helped dropsy. The Lord Jesus Christ is the great physician and is fully capable of curing all diseases and maladies of the soul.
Certainly, the lily of the valleys is a beautiful picture and type of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Easter Lily as we know it today (Latin: Lilium longiforum) is native to the southern islands of Japan. In the 1880's it was widely cultivated in Bermuda and bulbs were shipped to the United States. The United States replace Japan is the major source for the Easter Lily during the Second World War. The Easter Lily requires three or four years of close care and just the right mixture of climate and soil in order to produce the quality expected by people today. As such, an area on the border of California and Oregon became known as the Easter Lily capital of the world. The Easter Lily has become the traditional flower of Easter and it is considered a symbol of the resurrection. For many, the beautiful white flowers of the lily symbolize purity, life, good, innocence, and hope.
TRADITION OF THE LILY
Although we are free to make the connection between Christ as the lily of the valley and the Easter lily, those who are looking for support from historical traditions are likely to be disappointed. Poetry and mythology from around the world use the beautiful white flowers of the lily in symbolic ways. Many ancient allegories connect the flower with motherhood. One fable tells us that the lily sprang from the milk of Hera, the mythological Queen of Heaven. This may explain why the lily is so closely associated with Mary in Roman Catholic tradition.
In early paintings, the Angel Gabriel is seen handing a bouquet of white lilies to the Virgin Mary. In other paintings, the saints are bringing vessels full of lilies to Mary and the baby Jesus. In another legend, a visit to the tomb of Mary three days after her burial found nothing in the tomb except large bunches of lovely lilies. Artists have often used the lily to represent the Resurrection of Mary. The white petals of the lily are said to represent the spotless body of the Virgin Mary and its golden anthers are said to be her soul glowing this heavenly light.
Clearly, the Easter Lily has a mixed history. Since I reject both the sinlessness and the resurrection of Mary, I could not use the flower in its traditional sense. It is also certain that the lily symbology has certain pagan origins. For this reason, I could not claim biblical evidence for the Easter Lily.
However, this does not change the fact that the lily was used as a type of Jesus Christ in the Bible. The typology is beautiful and powerful. Therefore, although I cannot support the Easter Lily as a biblical tradition, I can still use the lily to picture the sweetness, purity, fruitfulness, humility, and healing qualities of Jesus Christ. As long as we can distinguish between the two, the biblical type can be of great value.
On the other hand, I do not see a purpose in bashing the Easter Lily. When it is used, emphasize the Bible typology as found in the lily of the valley and point people to Jesus Christ. However, do not look to tradition as a support for a biblical meaning. It is just not there.
Sources: Because of the factual nature of this article, I will have some wording that is very close to that in my sources. Here, I freely give those sources:
- "Preaching from the Types and Metaphors of the Bible" by Benjamin Keach
- "Webster's New World Dictionary"