World’s Strongest Man

Thymelea hirsute, yitranBible Reference: Judges Chapters 13-16.

The well-known judge Samson was from the tribe of Dan; however, few Danites lived in the allocated tribal lands northwest of Judah. Most Danites had moved north to the base of Mount Hermon because they could not seize their allocated land from the Philistines.  God sent the angel of the Lord to announce Samson’s birth to his parents. The angel told them that Samson should be a Nazirite (Numbers 6: 1-21). Nazirite means “separated” or “dedicated” and included that Nazirites abstain from any product made from grapes, e.g. wine, raisins. Nazirites could not use a razor on their head or cut their hair; nor could they go near a dead body, animal or human.

When Samson was born, the Philistines had been oppressing Israel for 40 years (Judges 13:1).  From adulthood until his death, Samson achieved single-handed triumphs over the Philistines. Although Samson was a heroic figure, his personal life was a tragedy. Samson’s downfall was his preference for immoral women. First, Samson married a Philistine woman who betrayed him; this woman was killed by the Philistines. Second, he had a liaison with a prostitute. Finally, he fell in love with Delilah who betrayed him into the hands of the Philistines.

Delilah made an agreement with the Philistines that for a large sum of money she would disclose the source of Samson extraordinary strength. After much cajolery, Samson told Delilah that if he was tied with seven fresh, never dried, thongs (braided rope), he would become as weak as other men (Judges 16: 7–9).  Accessing seven fresh thongs was a significant challenge. The noted Israeli botanist, Hogah Hareuveni  (1989) proposed that the throngs or ropes that Samson identified were made from the Thymelaea hirsute plant, known in Hebrew as yitran. Yitran did not grow in the Valley of Sorek where Delilah lived. Yitran would have been available in local markets; however, it would have been dried not fresh. To make fresh yitran thongs, the Philistines had to cut and bring fresh yitran bark from the Mediterranean Sea coast.  Highest quality yitran bark was needed so the thongs would be strong.  The yitran had to be smooth, without twigs, so that it could be braided into rope.

The book of Judges tells the reader that the Philistines brought Delilah seven thongs and Delilah tied Samson with them. With Philistines hidden in an adjoining room, Delilah called to Samson, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you.” Samson snapped the yitran thongs and killed his attackers so the secret of Samson’s strength was not tied to yitran rope.

Eventually, Samson became weary of Delilah’s pleas to tell her the real source of his strength. Samson’s disclosed that his strength lay in his hair. Delilah cut Samson’s hair and the Philistines captured him. They gouged out Samson’s eyes, bound him in bronze shackles and set him to grinding grain in prison. Surprisingly the Philistines did not keep Samson’s head shaved. Over time his hair grew back.  When the Philistines assembled to celebrate the delivery of Samson into their hands, they brought Samson to exhibit to the crowds. Samson requested the servant who accompanied him to place him between two main temple pillars. There Samson prayed to God for return of his strength. God heard Samson prayer and gave him the strength to push the two pillars down. The result was that Samson razed the temple by knocking the pillars over. More than 3000 Philistines were killed that day as was Samson.

The Yitran Plant

The Thymelaea hirsute (also spelled hirsuta) is known as yitran to Hebrews and as mitran to Arabs.  Yitran is a perennial, evergreen shrub that grows profusely in the Mediterranean coastal plan and in the Sinai Peninsula. The yitran’s root penetrates deep into the soil allowing the plant to remain green throughout the year even in desert areas. Older and well watered yitran grows as tall as 6 feet.  Branches and stems can spread or trail and whip rapidly in the breeze. Branch configuration gives yitran a bow shape.  When yitran branches are rubbed or when the bark is peeled to make ropes, the yitran bush gives off a diffuse sulfurous odor. Stems are densely packed on branches. Yitran branches were and are today braided into a cable-type rope. Ropes are strong enough to haul a full-sized man out of a well, secure a tent during a sandstorm, and yoke camels.  When camel yokes are made row-upon-row of twisted inner bark of fresh yitran branches are braided. Philistines would have been aware of the strength of seven braided thongs of yitran; thus, they accepted that binding Samson with freshly braided yitran was a way of defeating his strength.

Symbolism of Yitran Rope

The yitran plant is associated with strength and no Bible character had more physical strength than Samson.  From his conception God sat Samson apart to act as a judge over Israel using his physical strength; however, Samson’s behavior suggested that he forgot the origin of his strength. In reality it was not from long hair – many individuals have long hair and they are not necessarily strong. Samson’s physical strength was from God.  When Samson placed his love for Delilah over his devotion to God, Samson lost God’s presence and strength. The Psalms recorded that God is the origin of individual strength, e.g., and no warrior escapes by his (own) great strength (Psalms 33:16), God is our strength and shield (Psalm 28:7); the Lord gives strength to his people (Psalm 29:11).

Sometimes I wonder if God gets tired of my asking him for strength to do or be something.  As I was preparing this entry, I turned to Isaiah 40 and found that I had underlined verse 27. The verse was dated about seven years ago and my note beside it was “I’ve felt that way.”  Verse 27 reads:  Why do you ….   complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God?” If Isaiah was writing today, he would identify the Israelites as asking “Do you see my life, God? Do you hear me?”

God answered Israel’s plea for his attention with this assurance: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired and weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (Isaiah 40:28–29).

When Samson was tired and weak, he asked God to give him strength so that he could destroy the Philistines even if it meant his own death (Judges 16:17-30). This was the first time Samson prayed before he judged the Philistines.  It took Samson many years and much heartache before he realized that he must rely not just on his own strength, but on God’s strength.

Thought: The Bible never recorded, “God helps those who help themselves.”   It’s okay if we rely on God’s strength.  In fact He prefers it that way.

Copyright July, 2014: Carolyn A. Roth

Jacob’s Wives were Superstitious

Courtesy Sara Gold, Israel.

Courtesy Sara Gold, Israel.

Read Genesis 30:14-22.

The mandrake is associated with the patriarch Jacob, son of Isaac and Rebekah and grandson of Abraham. This event took place in Paddan Aram where Jacob was living with his mother’s brother, Laban (Genesis 29: 15 – 30: 13). Jacob’s two wives were the daughters of Laban. Leah was the first and older wife and Rachel the younger, second wife. Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. At this time, Leah has birthed four boys and stopped conceiving children. Rachel has born no children. Jacob spent his nights with Rachel.

The story of the mandrakes began with Leah’s oldest son, Reuben, finding mandrake plants in the field and bringing mandrake roots to Leah. Rachel saw the plants and asked Leah for them. Resentful of Jacob’s preference for Rachel, Leah asked Rachel, “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?” Rachel responded by proposing a trade – Jacob can sleep with Leah that night in return for the mandrakes. Leah agreed. When Jacob came in from the fields, he was met by Leah who said, “You must sleep with me. I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” Leah became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son who was called Issachar. Then, Leah became pregnant with a sixth son (Zebulun) and later a daughter (Dinah).  Rachel did not become pregnant as a result of acquiring – and most likely using – the mandrakes from Leah.

Many westerners cannot make much sense of this story. What does the mandrake have to do with pregnancy? In early peoples, the mandrake was associated with the superstitious belief that it promoted fertility and conception in barren women. The mandrake root was consumed in very small amounts, cut into an amulet to wear on the body, or put beneath the bed. The Genesis story revealed that Rachel and Leah believed that mandrakes promoted conception. Both Leah and Rachel wanted children. Leah wanted additional children to win the regard and affection of Jacob.  Rachel wanted children to validate herself as a woman. Rachel was so desperate to have children that she was willing to have Jacob spend a night with Leah to get possession of the mandrakes.

We are not told whether Jacob believed that mandrakes promoted fertility; however, at this time Jacob spent his nights with Rachel knowing she wanted children. In earlier chapters of Genesis, the Bible recorded that Rachel told Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die” (Genesis 30:1 – 2). Jacob responded angrily asking Rachel, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” Jacob’s response can be contrasted with that of his father Isaac and his care for his wife Rebekah. When Rebekah was barren, Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of Rebekah (Genesis 25:21). The Lord answered Isaac’s prayer.  Rebekah became pregnant and gave birth to Esau and Jacob.  There is no record that Jacob prayed about Rachel’s barren state. Rather, many years later the Bible recorded that God listened to Rachel and opened her womb and she conceived Jacob’s 11th son (Genesis 30:22 – 24).

Mandragora autumnalisCharacteristics of the Mandrake Plant

The mandrake, Mandragora officinarum (AKA M, autumnalis) is a member of the Solanacea family that includes some poisonous plants (nightshades), but also important crop plants such as potatoes and egg plants. It is native to lands around the Mediterranean Sea. The mandrake grows best in stony wastelands and uncultivated fields and will not survive severe winters. The most notable segment of the mandrake and the portion associated with fertility and conception is the root. Mandrakes have large brown roots (similar to parsnips) that can run three to four feet into the ground.The thick root is frequently forked similar to two legs. The root can weigh several pounds. On the surface of the ground, the mandrake is a dark green color with a rosette of leaves which can grow up to twelve inches long and six inches wide. Mandrake flowers produce globular yellow to orange berries which resemble small tomatoes.

Application of the Mandrake

The Bible story of the mandrakes speaks to individuals today. It tells us that Rachel could not manipulate her fertility by believing in the superstitious power of a plant, e.g., the mandrake. It was God who gave Rachel fertility after she prayed to him. We do not know if Rachel’s fertility would have occurred earlier if her husband Jacob – God’s chosen man and the son of the patriarch Abraham   – would have prayed for her. We simply know that when Rachel finally turned to God, God responded by granting Rachel’s request for a son. What a son Rachel received! Rachel’s first son was Joseph, one of the greatest men of the Bible whose life is an example for every Jew and Christian.

Many of us engage in superstitious behavior. We read our horoscope every morning and think that it will tell us if we are going to have a good day. We  ask God questions. Then open the Bible expecting that God’s answer will be in the first passage we read. This type of question and answer behavior is superstitious and an attempt to manipulate God’s word to meet our immediate situation and needs. God answers prayers and the answers are based on principles and truths for our lives found in the Bible. Paul wrote (Romans 8:26 – 27) that we do not know what we should pray for, but that the Holy Spirit knows what we need. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express so that our prayers will be in accordance with God’s will for our lives.

Thought:  I am sure that I have engaged in superstitious behavior and have tried to manipulate or end run God. I am equally sure and thankful that the Holy Spirit intercedes for me when I pray. Over time I have become willing to admit that I do not have the answers to every situation. More and more my prayers are simply, “Your will be done, God.” What about you?  Are you like Jacob’s wives trying by superstitious behavior or your own efforts to manage events and situations in your life? Or are you willing to wait prayerfully on God’s time and/or his will for you?

Copyright July 2014: Carolyn Adams Roth

What was the Ark?

Cypress, Jezreel ValleyRead Genesis 6:9-8:22 for the story of Noah and the cypress wood ark.

Noah was over 500 years-of-age when God directed him to build an ark (type of boat). The purpose of the ark was to save Noah, his family, and animals from a pending deluge that would sweep over the known world (Genesis 6: 9 – 8:22). Noah was chosen because he was a righteous man, blameless among the corrupt and violent people of his time. Noah had three sons — Shem, Ham and Japheth — who helped him build the ark. The Bible does not identify where Noah lived while building the ark; however, after the deluge the ark landed on Mount Ararat. Today the state of Ararat is in the Republic of Armenia in Asia Minor.

God directed Noah to build the ark from cypress wood and to coat it with pitch inside and out. The ark was rectangular: 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. Although the roof was not described in Genesis, most likely it was flat as was the floor of the ark. Many scholars believe the roof extended outward over the sides of the ark. The sides of the ark were finished up to 18 inches of the top. The 18 inch opening was for ventilation and light. At one side of the ark, there was a door for entry and exit. (Click the link at the top of the page to see a probable image of the ark).

Most of us can remember seeing pictures of the ark from Bible story books that we read as children. In those books, the front (bow or prow) of the ark was always pointed and often the back (stern) was narrowed. In actuality, the ark had no need for a bow or stern because the ark did not plow through the water nor was it steered by a rudder. Instead, the ark was designed to float on the top of the water and to withstand the impact of rain and flood waters.

After the ark was constructed, Noah, his family, and animals entered the ark. Then God closed the door. After seven days the rain started and “all the springs of the great deep burst forth” (Genesis 7: 11). Many Christian scholars assert that the deluge was turbulent and included movement of the earth’s tectonic plates resulting in massive tsunami floods. The ark’s occupants remained safely in the ark almost a year: they entered the 10th day of the second month and exited the 27th day of the second month of the following year.

Cypress Tree

Today’s scholars are not 100% sure which tree was used on construction of the ark. The landscape of the earth was destroyed by the great deluge and some former plants were destroyed. Several translations of the Bible identify that Noah used cypress wood (AKA gopher wood).  The cypress tree is large, strong and full of resin that acted as a barrier against water seeping into wood and sinking the ark. The wild Cupressus sempervirens var. horizontalis (Mediterranean cypress) is most commonly associated with the cypress tree used in construction of the ark. The Latin word semper means always or ever, while the word virens means green; thus the translation is evergreen.

Archeological evidence revealed that cypress trees grew abundantly in Ararat in the post-deluge period. Frequently, the cypress tree is  columnar in shape and grows to a height of 115 feet. The tree top is cone shaped. Cypress wood is known for its durability; it was a favorite tree of early Phoenician ship builders. Oil produced from the tree has a woody, slightly spicy smell.

Symbolism:  Immortality

Although today the cypress tree is associated with sadness and mourning e.g., it is called the Funeral or Graveyard Cypress because it is planted in Mediterranean cemeteries, in ancient times the cypress was a symbol of immortality. In 1888, John Worcester published Correspondences of the Bible: the Plants. Correspondences refer to the spiritual meaning behind the plants found in the Bible. Worcester wrote that in the upward tip of the columnar-shaped cypress tree and in every shoot and leaf, the cypress points to immortal life with God in heaven (Worcester, 1888, reprint 2009). The cypress-wood ark carried eight individuals through the raging deluge that destroyed life in the then known world. Not surprisingly the tree was associated with immortality through God’s providence.

When I looked up “immortality” in several Bibles, I found only one Old Testament reference.  Proverbs 12: 28 reads, “In the way of righteousness there is life; along that path is immortality.” Through Noah’s righteousness the human race continued on earth, yet Noah’s righteousness and obedience did not guarantee immortality for the human race. Only by accepting the gospel of Christ are men and women guaranteed spiritual immortality (2 Timothy 1:11). Accepting the good news of salvation from Christ is not dependent on our righteousness; rather it is a gift from Christ. This gift came with a cost which Christ paid through His life, death, and resurrection.

Receiving the gift of spiritual immortality from Christ does not absolve men and women from acting right (or righteous). Instead Christ calls us to a new life which includes a new way of behaving. We can no longer ignore the Bible and its guidelines for our new life. Rather, the Bible is our, “How to Live” book.

Thought: Does gratitude for you new life and spiritual immortality result in more than a quick “thank you” to God every now and then?

Copyright: Carolyn Adams Roth July 2014.

Just As I Am

Peace LilyJust as I am, without one plea,
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidst me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, and waiting not
to rid my soul of one dark blot,
to thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
sight, riches, healing of the mind,
yea, all I need in thee to find,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Just as I am, thy love unknown
hath broken every barrier down;
now, to be thine, yea thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Charlotte Elliott, 1789-1871

The Oak of Joshua

Quercus calliprinos (2)Read Joshua chapter 24, particularly verses 25 and 26.

God gave Joshua leadership of the Israelites on the west side of the Jordan River (1406 BC).  He was from the tribe of Ephraim, the second son of Joseph. Joshua was their military commander as the Israelites conquered all the land that the Lord swore to give their forefathers (Joshua 21: 43). Joshua administered the division of the land on both sides of the Jordan to the 12 tribes of Israel. He asked for only one town in the division of land. That town was Timnath Serah, located in the hill country of Ephraim north of Mount Gaash (Genesis 19:50; 24:30). Joshua died when he was 110 years old and was buried at Timnath Serah (Genesis 24:29). To ancient peoples particularly the Egyptians, 110 years was considered an ideal life span.

Near the end of his life, Joshua assembled the elders, leaders, judges, and officials of the tribes of Israel at Shechem (Joshua chapter 24). Joshua reviewed for the assembly how God a) led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt, b) was with them in the wilderness of Sinai, c) delivered them out of the hand of the Amorite king Balik, d) and gave them victory over their enemies in the Promised Land. Then, Joshua asked the assembly to choose which god they would serve. Would they serve the gods of their forefathers beyond the river or the gods of the land in which they were living or would they serve the Lord? Joshua ended his inquiry with the words that many Christians have memorized or have as mottos in their homes, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Firmly, the assembled Israelites averred to Joshua that they “will serve the Lord our God and obey him” (Joshua 24:24). In response Joshua made a covenant for the Israelites at Shechem. The covenant consisted of a pledge the Israelites made to serve God and follow his decrees and laws. Joshua recorded the Israelite’s pledges and God’s laws and decrees in a book called “The Book of the Law of God.” Then, Joshua took a large stone and set it up under an oak tree and told the assembly, “See this stone… will be witness against you if you are untrue to God” (Joshua 24:26-27).

The Palestinian Oak Tree

Quercus calliprinos with Bruce

The tree associated with Joshua is the Palestine oak (Quercus calliprinos) also called the Kermes Oak. Quercus calliprinos is the most common tree found in the wildlife of Israel. A Palestinian oak near Hebron, called Abraham’s Oak, is thought to be 850 + years old.  At one time in Israel, oaks were an important source of hard wood. Oak trunks and branches were used to build ships and make shanks for plough, yoke for oxen, and canes for elderly. In times of famine, acorns were roasted and eaten by the very poor. Oak trees were and are a source of tannin, a substance used for tanning hides and leather.

Symbolism: Providence

In the Bible, oaks were associated with strength and long life. At times, oak groves were places were pagan gods were worshiped (Ezekiel 6:3). The Hebrew name for oak is derived from the word “providence” meaning divine guidance.  Providence is an attribute of God and frequently associated with God’s ability to see ahead. For Jewish people, providence meant that God directed every detail of creation including the life of the Jewish nation and the lives of individual Jews. God expected that Jewish leaders would consult him before they acted. II Kings 16:15 reads that Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord’s decrees and laws and consulted a medium for guidance rather than God.

Providence is the opposite of “chance,” “fortune,” or “luck.” Christians believe in God’s special providence and his extraordinary interventions into their lives. Blessings provided by others to Christians, e.g., the church, government, employer and families, are directed by God and provided only thorough him. God’s divine guidance directs Christian’s selection of vocation and participation in activities, e.g., church activities. As such, Christians shouldn’t evaluate one job, vocation, or role in the church more or less important than another. Rather, Christians acknowledge God’s divine foresight and guidance in the development of diverse skills and talents both in themselves and in the body of Christ.

Thought: Isn’t it amazing that our Abba, or Daddy, who calls each star in the universe by name, also calls each one of us by name? God cares about us to the extent that he knows the number of hairs on each of our heads (Matthew 10:30). To God, nothing is large or small.

Copyright: June, 2014, Carolyn A. Roth

Harsh-Tolerant Plant

Beard's tongueThis attractive perennial is semi-evergreen and has digitalis plant-like white flowers. Flowers bloom April – June

Described as robust and harsh-tolerant, it grows in wide open prairies, fields, along wood margins, etc. It is native to Canada and the entire eastern U.S. seaboard. This one grew in the Hershey, PA garden.

Penstemon digitalis is commonly called Husker red and beard tongue. I understand the red designation, however, don’t know where the beard tongue came from.

After all that Jesus went through — long days of teaching, heat and sweat, challenges from the religious elite who were supposedly looking for his coming — He can be described as harsh-tolerant. Probably the individuals who know me best, would never term me “harsh tolerant.”  When adversity strikes, my default is to whine. Often, my behavior embarrasses even me.

Reflection: How do you respond to harshness, e.g., criticism, high humidity heat, lack of safety and security? Compare and contrast your behavior with Christ’s behavior.

 

A Bad Bargain

Esau traded his birthright for lentil stew; read the story in Genesis 25:19-34.

The great patriarch Abraham was 100 years old when his son Isaac was born (2066 B.C.). At about 40 years of age (2026 B.C.), Isaac married Rebecca. Initially, Rebecca was barren; however, after 20 years (2006 B.C.), she gave birth to twin boys. Esau was the firstborn and Jacob was born second. In Lentils & Lentil Stewancient near east cultures, the law of primogeniture prevailed (Deuteronomy 21:17 notes, NIV Study Bible, 2002). This law allocated a double portion of the father’s wealth to the first born son. It included that the eldest son would be the next head of the family or clan. As the first born, Esau would have been the ancestor of the Messiah.

As Esau and Jacob grew up, Esau enjoyed spending time in the open country and he became a skilled hunter. In contrast, Jacob was a quiet man often staying among the tents. Jacob envied Esau’s right of the first born. One day, Esau returned to camp after a time away in the open fields probably hunting. Esau saw Jacob cooking red lentil stew. Identifying that he was famished, Esau asked his brother for some stew. Jacob’s response was that he would give Esau the stew only if Esau swore an oath to sell Jacob his birthright. Esau answered, “I am about to die, what good is my birthright?” and swore to sell his birthright to Jacob in exchange for lentil stew. Jacob gave Esau stew and bread. When Esau finished eating and drinking, he got up and left. The Bible concludes this story by saying, “so Esau despised his birthright” (Genesis 25: 34).

The Lentil Plant

The red lentil is a type of small bean known scientifically as Ervum lens (aka Lens esculenta) and more recently the Lens culinaris. The lentil originated in the Middle East and central Asia. Wild red lentils were harvested by 9000 B.C. and domesticated as early as 7,000 B.C. Archeology excavations found a large storage of lentils in northern Israel dating about 6,800 B.C. Lentil plants grow well in sandy, loam, and clay soils that are dry or moist, but not wet. In rich soils the lentil plant becomes leafy and produces few pods. Lentil pods were harvested in August or September just as the pods began to turn brown. In ancient time lentil plants were harvested when the foliage was green, and then were laid out in a dry area. To maintain the lentil seed’s flavor, ancient peoples kept lentil seeds in the pod until they were ready to use them. In this way, lentil seeds could be retained two years before cooking or planting. Because lentil seeds have a high nutritional value, often nomadic peoples and traders carried them as a food source.

Symbolism: Nourishment

In this scene, the lentil represents nourishment. Nourish means to sustain or to furnish with something essential for growth, e.g., nutrients. When he returned to camp, Esau suffered severely from hunger (famished). Whether we realize it or not, men and women today are famished for someone to believe in and someone to trust. Jacob provided the nourishing stew that his brother needed for a price, however, Christ’s behavior to his human brothers and sisters is diametrically opposite. Christ invites us to come to him and live with him. Freely he nourishes us with himself and his words, e.g. “the one who feeds on me will live because of me” (John 6:57). We do not have to barter for salvation or for life with Christ.

At the same time that Christ nourishes us, he tells us to feed and nourish others. For example, Christ directed Peter, and through Peter all of us, to feed and nourish his lambs and sheep (John 20: 15 – 17). We are to nourish not only fellow Christians, but our enemies as well. Romans 12:20 is very explicit, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him. We should act intentionally to nourish others both physically and spiritually. We can provide physical nourishment by giving to and assisting at the local food bank, and rescue mission, or inviting others for a meal. Spiritually, we can nourish others by acknowledging their presence with a smile or hello when we walk by them; sending an email or card when we know someone is hurting; or dialing seven digits on the telephone and telling someone you miss them or care about them.

Thought: “The lips of the righteous nourish many” (Proverbs 10: 21). Are you nourishing others with your words or are people around you starving from want of a kind word? Do you nourish only when you get something in return, or do you willing feed your brothers and sisters?

Copyright: June 2014: Carolyn Roth

Fringe Tree snowflower

Fringe trees (Chionanthus virginicus)  are a small (12-20 feet), deciduous, ornamental tree that fits perfectly under telephone and utility lines. The botanical name translates as snow flower, which mirrors the fluffy, white flowers that cover trees in bloom. Some people call the fringe tree Grancy graybeard or old man’s beard, but flowers don’t look like a gray beard. Fringe Tree

Fringe trees are native to eastern United States and aren’t commonly seen in the Holy Lands.  Today I saw a fringe tree for sell in a local nursery in Roanoke, Virginia. Trees grow male and female flowers on separate trees. Until the tree bears flowers, it is difficult to discern if it is male or female. Flowers bloom about 2 weeks out of the year.

The first time I viewed a fringe tree, I was awed by its beauty; however, I could not capture the beauty in a photograph. The flowers didn’t seem to standout from the green limbs and greenish tinge of stems and branches. I had to get a close-up photograph of the flower to see its beauty.Fringe tree flowers

Reflection: I often scan my environment looking for something that stands out and captures my attention. At times I miss true beauty, like the beauty of a fringe tree flower, in these scans. Maybe I should slow down.

This beautiful fringe tree was growing in the Hershey Garden in Hershey, PA. Trees in the garden are well-labeled.

 

Valuable Dove’s Dung

Reference: 2 Kings 6:24-7:20.Dove's Dung

The king of Aram, Ben-Hadad, mobilized his entire army and attacked the Northern Kingdom besieging its capital Samaria.  Probably the attack occurred around 850 B.C. when Joram was king of the Northern tribes. Elisha was still the main prophet in the Northern Kingdom and remained in Samaria during the siege. It last so long that a severe famine occurred in the city. People were starving.  A donkey’s head sold for 80 shekels of silver and a quarter of a cab of seed pods for five shekels. One day as King Joram was walking the city wall, he learned that cannibalization was occurring in Samaria. Joram tore his robes and threatened to kill Elisha.

We aren’t told the exact reason for Joram’s anger at Elisha; but, clearly Joram considered Elisha responsible for conditions in besieged Samaria. Perhaps, Elisha told Joram to hold out against the Arameans and that God would deliver the city.  King Joram went to Elisha house where he confronted Elisha with “This disaster is from the Lord. Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?” (2 Kings 6:33). Elisha’s responded that by about this time tomorrow, the cost of grain would be much reduced; meaning the siege would be lifted.  King Joram must have been reassured because he did not kill Elisha.

The Bible narrative then moved to four lepers. The lepers were so hungry that they left the city and walked to the Aramean camp for food. When the lepers arrived at the camp, it was deserted. The Lord caused the Arameans to hear the sound of a great army approaching.  Believing that both the Hittites and Egyptians were attaching them, the Arameans fled, abandoning their tents, provisions, horses, and donkeys. After eating their fill, the lepers talked among themselves saying, “We’re not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves” (2 Kings 7:9). The four lepers returned to Samaria and reported what they found. Although King Joram was suspicious of the report, he sent men in chariots to investigate the Aramean camp. The men returned and reported the camp was empty and the road was strewed with clothing and equipment. Samaritan citizens swarmed the Aramean camp taking food and supplies. Thus, God saved Samaria from the Aramean army and from starvation

In the siege of Samaria, the Bible used a quarter cab of seed pods to demonstrate how scarce food was in the city.  In ancient Hebrew, a quarter of a cab was about 1 pint. During the siege, a pint of seed pods sold for five silver shekels; equivalent to about 2.62 ounces of silver. Today in the United State, silver sells for about $30.00 an ounce; therefore, one pint of pods was valued at $90.00. In ancient Israel, the value of a male child one month through five years of age was 5 silver shekels, while the value of a female child was 3 silver shekels (Leviticus 27:6-7).

Cab of Seed Pods

Both the King James Bible and the Revised Standard Version translated seed pods as dove’s dung.  Many botanists and Bible scholars agree that the plant was the Ornithogalum umbellatum.  Another popular name is the Star of Bethlehem because of the six petals on its flower.  Dove’s dung seems like a distasteful name for this beautiful plant.  Most likely the name “dove’s dung” came from Hebrew’s viewing large fields containing the white Star of Bethlehem flower in the spring.  The small white flowers appeared like dove’s droppings from a distance.

We planted Star of Bethlehem bulb in the Bible garden last fall. Now (in May) they are blooming. And yes, I do understand why they were called Dove’s dung when viewed from a distance. Flower stalks grow from below ground level and each produces a single flower.

The edibility of Dove’s dung has generated much discussion. Reading the arguements,  James Duke harvested a few of the bulbs from in his lawn (Duke, Duke, & duCellier, 2008).  After boiling them vigorously without salt, he ate one.  To Duke the bulbs tasted similar to soap and had a bitter aftertaste.  He added salt and found that the boiled bulbs improved in taste. Because he experienced some shortness of breath following ingestion of only two bulbs, Duke concluded to eat the Star of Bethlehem he would need to be near starvation.

Symbolism: Value or Valuable

Value is an assigned or computed numerical quantity, or something intrinsically desirable.  In several places, Bible writers presented perspectives on what was valued and valuable.   Moses regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as more valuable than the treasures of Egypt (Hebrews 11:26).  Israelite proverbs says that kings value a man who speaks the truth (Proverbs 26:28) and the husband of a wife of noble character lacks nothing of value (Proverbs16:13). Christ told the parable of a man who searched for just the right pearl (Matthew 13:46).  When the man found the pearl of great value, he sold all his belongings and bought it.  This parable can be compared to a person seeking truth and meaning in life.  Once they find Christ, all possessions become secondary in value to following Christ.

God considers his people valuable.  Christ told his disciples to stop worrying about what they should eat or drink by using ravens as an example.  Ravens are a fairly large, black bird with a shrill voice and aggressive manner.  Ravens do not sow or reap, nor do they have storerooms or barns, yet, God feeds them.  Christ reminded and reassured his disciples that they were more valuable to God than birds, and that God will meet their needs (Luke 12:24, 30-31).

On another occasion, Christ’s teaching on what was valued and valuable was not meant to reassure.  At the time Christ was teaching about trust using the parable of the shrewd manager (Luke 16:1-14).  The Pharisees who loved money were listening and sneering at Jesus.  Aware of their actions and hearts, Christ said to them, “what is highly valued (e.g., money) among men is detestable in God’s sight” (Luke 16:15).  In another teaching, Christ likened money to a master or a god (Matthew 6: 24).  He told his disciples that they cannot serve both God and Money.

In Paul’s first letter to his beloved disciple Timothy, Paul reminded Timothy that “physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things” (1Timothy 4:8).  Once we are born in Christ, we no long live a life characterized by sin (1 John 3:9).  When we emulate Christ’s actions and obey God’s word, we train ourselves and God trains us to be godly.  Being godly is intrinsically desirable; it is valuable both in the present life we live and most assuredly in the life to come (1 Timothy 4:8).

Reflection.  What is valuable to you? Do you value your spouse, children, career, or home more than God?  Sometimes I worry that I value my husband more than my walk with God.  Monitoring our priorities is a continuous process.

Copyright: May 2014. Carolyn A. Roth

Regal Cyclamen

Cyclamen persicumThe beautiful cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) is often called Solomon’s crown. Although not identified in the Bible, cyclamen grow freely among rocks and on rock walls in Israel. It is native to the eastern Mediterranean region. During the Christmas season, cyclamens are a popular gift, possibly because they are associated with the Holy Land.

In Israel, cyclamen begin to blossom in November and continues through March-April. In Upper Galilee cyclamen bloom even into early May. Leaves are heart-shaped and dark green with white mottling. In Israel, flowers are generally white or vivid pink; however, they can also be lavender. The blossom (6-9 inches tall) rises from a single stem. The bloom can last an entire month. Flowers are reminiscent of orchids.

Generally, cyclamen grow from corms (small bulbs), but with enough patience, they can be grown from seeds. In the United States, cyclamen are winter hardy in zones 9–11. Recently, florists have developed smaller cyclamen (2-4 inch tall blossoms) that are hardy in zones 5-8.

Owners generally keep cyclamen in a cool, semi-shaded area on a porch or balcony during summer and bring them inside during winter. If cyclamen are planted outdoors, they need a semi-shaded area, composted soil, and plenty of moisture.

Reflection: Solomon didn’t do anything to become king except be one of King David’s sons; yet, he may be the best known of all Israel’s kings. What did you do to deserve your designation as God’s son or daughter and Christ’s brother or sister?