Israeli Strawberry Tree

1-DSC06144The eastern strawberry tree (Arbutus andrachne) is in the Ericaceae, or heather, family of trees. The pictures in this blog entry were taken in Neot Kedumim, the Biblical Landscape Reserve in Israel.

It is evergreen, or partially deciduous tree, and known for its bright red bark. Every year the tree peels in picturesque scales. The new bark underneath is at first green-brown and then turns red.


Today Arbutus andrachne is known as a small shrub or small tree (up to 20 feet); but archeological evidence showed that specimens were once large enough to be a structural building timber. The Arbutus andrachne remains of a beam supporting the roof of the “Sunken Room” at Sidon, Lebanon, were grown c.1390-1120 BCE.

In Israel the eastern strawberry tree grows in Galilee, Gilboa, Carmel, Samarian mountains, Judean mountains, and Shefela.  The tree likes the chalky soils in Israel, e.g., the soil is poorly aerated and anaerobic.

Leaves are simple with a smooth edge that comes to a point on the end.


Small white flowers bloom in March and April,and turn to a small red strawberry like fruit in late spring and early summer. The fruit are about the size of American cherries.


Reflection: I like the idea of my bark sloughing off and starting new every year and becoming an attractive color. In reality, that is what God does for me when He forgives my sin. God allows me to start over. The problem is that I remember my sins and all I do and did that was wrong. I do not forget and allow myself to start over as God planned.

Candy Tufts

Candy Tufts 1Candy tufts (Iberis sempervirens) were not mentioned in the Bible; nor do they grow in our church Bible garden or at my home. I cannot seem to grow candy tufts. Several years I planted them in containers and after an initial spurt of growth they died.

For me candy tufts is like the parable of the sower and the seed. Remember that some of the seed fell on shallow ground. The seed promptly germinated and grew, producing good looking plants. Then, when adversity came, the plant died. After the initial bloom my candy tufts died. Perhaps, they did not receive enough water or I over watered them. Maybe the  soil in the containers was too shallow or they did not get enough plant food to thrive. For whatever reason, they died.

Christ said some new Christians are like that. They receive the message of Christ gladly and seem to follow him, e.g., they sprang up over night. Because their soil had no depth, they died.Iberis sempervirens

Reflection: What kind of Christian soil do you have in your life? Are you fertilizing your soil by going to church and studying your Bible?

Transient Plants and Wicked Men

Laurus noblisSome Old Testament parables tell a complete story, e.g., Jotham’s parable of the trees crowning a king. Others, such as those in Psalm 37 are short and sometimes even appear terse. Whether long or short, each parable has a spiritual message that unfolds through ideas, incidents, or natural objects in the physical world. In Psalm 37 King David included three parables of one to two verses each. These short parables compared wicked, ruthless men to plants.

As we read reading Psalm 37, we imagine an older and wiser King David. He is no longer the brash aspirant to Israel’s throne or a newly crowned king. This King David comes across as a person has seen a wide range of events and people in his life time. David has dealt with his sin of having Uriah killed so he could marry Bathsheba. He knew his daughter was raped and subsequently dealt with the murder of Crown Prince Amnon. King David was deposed at Israel’s king and fought a heart-breaking battle to regain the throne. God, who David adored, told David that his hands were too bloody to build God’s temple.

Many of King David’s words were written as praise or prayers addressed to God (Adeyemo, 2006). In contrast, Psalm 37 is a teaching directed toward all who will listen. The 40 verses contain a number of separate thoughts loosely organized around a central theme. The theme is problems that result when good people see wicked, godless people prosper. Notice, that through David’s psalm God views righteous (good) versus wicked, ruthless individuals differently:
“Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like
the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away”
(Psalm 37:1-2 NIV).

“But the wicked will perish: The LORD’s enemies will be like the beauty of
the fields, they will vanish” (Psalm 37:20 NIV).

Psalm 37 begins with a parable in verses 1 and 2. Evil men are compared to grass which will soon withers and dies away. When I lived in San Francisco, plants bloomed all year around because of continuous rain and moisture in the air. It was difficult for me to imagine grass withering and field flowers fading (verse 20). But, sometime I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and travel up Highway 80 into the Sacramento Valley. In July, August, and even into September and October, the grass along the highway was brown and appeared dead. Few if any wildflowers grew along the highway.

The same was true of David’s Israel. There, the rains came October through March. At that time, the grass was green and flourished. As spring progresses into summer, the grass turned brown from the scorching heat of the sun and paucity of rain. The beauty of the fields to include any wild flowers that grew there, dried and turned brown. David identified that wicked men will vanish like the beauty of the fields (Psalm 37:20), i.e., in the heat of summer with little rain fall, plants turn into brown straw.

David’s third plant parable, verses 35-36, is the most complete. In it David compared wicked and ruthless men to a green tree in its native soil; but, over time these men disappear. In some Bibles (KJV and ESV), green tree is translated as a green bay tree. Characteristics of the bay laurel tree make it a fitting comparison to the transience of wicked, ruthless men.

“I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a green tree in its
native soil, but he soon passed away and was no more; though I looked for
him, he could not be found” (Psalm 37:35-36 NIV).

Bay Leaves

In both the KJV and ESV versions of the Bible, green tree is translated as green laurel tree. In Israel, laurel trees are Laurus nobilis, called the sweet bay laurel because bay leaves come from the tree. Laurel trees grew on Mount Hermon, in the Judean and Samarian mountains, and in the Jordan Valley. Although laurel trees grow in a wide variety of soils, they thrive in moisture-retentive soils. The laurel is an evergreen tree that can grow 60 feet tall; however, most are much smaller at eight-to-twelve feet. Left unattended, laurel trees can form a small thicket. One way to identify a laurel tree is to bruise or cut a leaf and smell the sweet aroma; the aroma is of a bay leaf.

One of the most important attributes of laurel trees—and one that King David apparently knew—was that laurel trees thrive where they are planted. They tend to wilt and even die if they are moved repeatedly. Ideally, gardeners plant laurel trees and allow them to grow in place. Laurel trees prefer partial shade. Although they tolerate strong winds, laurel trees haven’t adapted to maritime exposure. The tree is frost-sensitive. A few master gardeners including myself planted laurel trees here in the Roanoke Valley. Although smaller laurel trees tolerated several of our (plant zones seven) winters, all died after a few years. We learned that in the Roanoke valley, laurel trees grow best in protected areas such as next to a building.

King David said that he saw wicked and ruthless men who flourished like a green laurel tree in its native soil. Probably, he was thinking of a mature laurel tree with a broad canopy and numerous branches. This tree never suffered the setback from being transplanting. Likewise, prosperous, wicked men never seemed to suffer set-backs. They achieved wealth and influence, caring little who they step on in the process. In spite of their seeming charmed lives, David noted that later he looked for these wicked men. They were gone. David concluded that wicked men don’t endure; they have no staying power. Perhaps, like a laurel tree wicked men can’t tolerate adversity—they are frost sensitive—and only flourish in a narrow environment.

In the threee these parables in Psalm 37, King David went beyond identifying the puzzle of seeing wicked ones prospering. In verse eight David elaborated on advice he gave in verse one. David said not to fret when evil men prosper because fretting leads to evil. When David said evil, he meant anger, resentful, or mimicking wicked and ruthless men’s business practices. Instead refrain from anger and hope in the Lord. When we hope in the Lord we take our bad as well as good times to him. We take our cares and our joys.

The spiritual focus of these parables is: righteous men and women’s incentive to act right (using biblical moral-ethical standards) comes from knowing that ultimate power on earth and in heaven is in the hands of a just God. Even if the righteous person doesn’t experience worldly prosperity, they will be rewarded in heaven for how they acted on earth. In a later Psalm, David averred that the righteous flourish like a palm tree and like a cedar of Lebanon planted in the Lord’s house (Psalm 92:12-14). Righteous men bear fruit in old age and stay both fresh and green.

In contrast to King David’s parables that speak to the transience of wicked men, probably each us have seen such men and woman thrived their entire career, even life. Was David wrong in verses 35-36? What did he mean? MacDonald (1990) wrote that King David may have been stating a general principle. He noted that Holy Scripture often makes sweeping statements; it describes a general, or normal, outwork of spiritual laws. Exceptions don’t disprove the overall principles.

Reflection: Have you studied the behavior of wicked persons? Do they have staying power?

Copyright: September 12, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth


Balaam’s Aloe Tree Parable

Agarwood tree

The parable of the aloe and cedar trees (Numbers 24:5-7) was included in an oracle; it was spoken. This third oracle given by Balaam named two trees – the aloe and the cedar. In this entry the aloe is emphasized.

Back Story

When the Moabites saw Moses and the Children of Israel approach their country, they were afraid the “horde’ was going to destroy the land, i.e., cut trees for firewood, consume pasture lands needed for their own livestock. Moab wanted to turn the Israelites away from their land. The problem was that Moab didn’t have an army to fight against the Israelites. Until recently, Moab was subject to the Amorites. Moab was only freed when the Israelites conquered of King Sihon and the Amorite army.

In an effort to combat the Israelites, the Moabite king, Balak, sent for the most the renowned seer/diviner in the known world—Balaam. King Balak planned for Balaam to curse the Israelites. In ancient times people believed that cursing a person or people could influence their outcome. God allowed Balaam to go with the Moabites; however, God warned Balaam that he could only speak the words God gave him.

What followed was Balaam offering five oracles, each of which blessed the Israelites. The one parable that included plants compared the Israelites to aloes and cedars planted by God in watered land:

How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!
Like valleys they spread out, like gardens beside a river, like aloes planted
by the LORD, like cedars beside the waters. Water will flow from their
buckets; their seed will have abundant water. Their king will be greater
than Agag; their kingdom will be exalted.” — Numbers 24:5-7 NIV

Aloe Tree’s Interpretation

In contrast to the aloe of the New Testament which came from an herbaceous plant, Old Testament aloe came from a tree. The Old Testament aloe tree was the eaglewood tree (Aquilaria malaccensis also known Aquilaria agallocha). Likely, Old Testament traders brought its wood from India. Aquilaria species have adapted to live in different habitats, e.g. rock, limestone, sand, well-drained slopes and ridges, and land near swamps.

Aloe is made from agarwood of the eaglewood tree. Only about 10% of mature trees produce agarwood. The fragrant oleoresin that permeates the heartwood of some eaglewood trees is produced in response to a fungal infection. Once the fungus establishes itself on the tree, it turns the woody trunk into a deep brown color. The darker the heart wood, the more valuable the wood. Trees over 50 years old produce the best agarwood. Agarwood is harvested, cut into small pieces, and burned. The result is a distinct aroma described as being a cross between sandalwood and balsam. Linens packed with pieces of agarwood take on the smell of the agar in the same manner as linens packed in a cedar chest take on the smell of cedar.


Balaam heard traders’ descriptions of the majesty of the aloe-producing tree. Something in or about the Israelite encampment resonated with description Balaam heard of the uprightness of the tree. These Israelites came to adult hood as free men and women. They stood upright. They live in the dry, rugged Sinai. They were used to standing upright, looking off into the distance for the first sign of danger to their families or for signs of water and food.

Balaam was smart and knew his craft well. He knew the Israelite history. He knew how they left Egypt. He knew about their 40-year trek in the wilderness. Possibly Balaam compared the 50 years it took the eaglewood tree to produce mature agarwood (aloes) with the 40 years the Israelites wondered in the desert coalescing into a cohesive nation. Another comparison could be that just as only 10% of eaglewood becomes agarwood and sweet smelling aloes so too of all the peoples in the known world, God touched the Children of Israel for his own. This small nation was unique in being God’s chosen people.

Reflection: The spiritual interpretation of Balaam’s parable is: what God has declared blessed, man shouldn’t curse. The opposite is also true, what God has declared as sinful, damaged, and depraved, man can’t declare as valuable and good.

Copyright September 5, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth


We are honored to announce that our Bible
Garden has been named the “Bible Garden of the Year” by
the Biblical Botanical Gardens Society, USA. This national
branch of an international organization identifies each
year a Garden to be recognized for its outstanding
excellence and contribution to preserving
and presenting the flora of the Bible
to church and community.

The Lord gave Carolyn and Bruce Roth in our congregation
the vision and inspiration a couple of years ago to plant
the Bible Garden, and they continue to serve as the primary
gardeners of this lovely and important ministry of the
church. We are grateful to them as our Bible Garden
brings much glory to God. The award will be presented by
the Executive Director of the BBGS, Dr. Ed Bez at 9:45
a.m. on Sunday, September 20th.

Crafty Characters and Poplar Tree

White poplar limbs

Bible Reference: Genesis 30:25-43

Jacob was living in Paddan Aram with his father-in-law, Laban. Jacob married two of Laban’s daughters (Leah and Rachel). Laban was also Jacob’s uncle, the brother of Jacob’s mother Rebecca. Given these close relationships, in the Near East culture we could expect that Laban treated Jacob fairly; but, that was not the case. Continually, Laban changed his son-in-laws wages so that Jacob could acquire no personal wealth by increasing the size of this own herds.

After Rachel gave birth to Joseph, Jacob told Laban, he wanted to go back to Canaan. Laban requested Jacob to stay with him and asked Jacob what he wanted in return. Jacob agreed to stay with the stipulation that he be given every speckled or spotted sheep, every dark colored lamb, and every spotted or speckled goat. Any non-speckled sheep, lamb, or goat would belong to Laban. Always devious, Laban agreed to Jacob’s plan; but, immediately Laban took all the speckled livestock from his herds and moved them three days journey from remaining flocks. Laban’s planned to prevent speckled animals from being born so Jacob would work for no or minimal wages.

Jacob had another plan. He took fresh cut branches from poplar, almond, and plane trees. He made white stripes on the branches by pealing the bark and exposing the white inner wood. The branches appeared speckled – the dark colored bark contrasted with the white inner wood of the branch. When stronger females were in heat and came to drink, Jacob placed the peeled branched in the water troughs. The peeled branches were in front of the animals when they mated. The result was that the strong female birthed offspring that were speckled. In this way, Jacob grew exceedingly prosperous with huge flocks of sheep and goats.

Poplar Tree

Native to the Middle East including Palestine, the white poplar tree (Populus alba) grows well in moist areas to include along water courses. The white popular grows as tall as 60 feet; the trunk darkens with age but new shoots are white. Spring flowers are green on female trees and a bright crimson on male trees. The white poplar tree is attractive and fast growing. It is a good tree to grow between properties for privacy. Problems include brittle branches and persistent suckers requiring removal.

Crafty Characters

Both Laban and Jacob were crafty, i.e., they were deceitful, tricky, scheming, and devious. Laban agreed to give Jacob all the speckled animals for his wages. Then, immediately moved all speckled animals away from herds Jacob tended to that no speckled animals were available to breed. Jacob placed speckled branches in front of water troughs, believing that seeing the rods when they mated would cause the females animals to birth speckled offspring. Jacob’s scheme was superstitious behavior. Most definitely, the color of branches female livestock saw when they mated didn’t influence the color of offspring. It is true that the female stock produced a high percent of speckled animals. However, the reason was God’s intervention and his will and not Jacob’s conniving.

Do you admire Jacob? I don’t! He was a liar, showed partiality to his wives and children, condoned the rape of his daughter, and I could go on and on. But it really doesn’t matter what I think of Jacob. God decided to bless Jacob. God chose Jacob to be an ancestor of the Messiah in spite of Jacob’s character defects. At the same time, God didn’t condone Jacob’s behavior. Here are some Bible verses about crafty behavior:

“He catches the wise in their craftiness and the schemes of the wily are swept away” (Job 5:13). This verse was repeated by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthian church. Paul wrote, “For the wisdom of the world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: He catches the wise in their craftiness” (1 Corinthians 3:19). Paul encouraged Christians to grow and become mature in their faith so they are “no longer infants tossed back and forth by waves and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 2: 14). God averred that even in the church, crafty men would try to de-rail Christian belief.

Reflection: Are you crafty? Do you scheme to get your own way with your spouse or at work? If you do, please don’t forget Job’s words (which Paul repeated). God knows when we try to get our own way by being sly or crafty. His words are – the schemes of the wily are swept away.

Copyright August 25, 2015: Carolyn A. Roth

Dead Men/Women Walking

Dead nettles, church

Dead nettles is one of my favorite plants. It’s leaves are an attractive green with white stripes right down the middle. In Southwestern Virginia, it is a perennial, and blooms all summer. The flowers are small and a delicate pink shade. My eyes like to look at this plant; it makes me smile.


I never went to see the movie, “Dead Man Walking;” but, I know that there are a lot of individuals in the world, my nation, state, and community who are dead men and women, nevertheless they walk around. These people live without God. They have no hope for an eternal future with God. It doesn’t matter if they are attractive to the eye, live year after year, or are hardy in the heat of the summer. They are dead men/women walking.

Jesus said, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:22). The corollary is that on earth, the alive can bury the alive. I follow Christ. I’m alive. Eventually, someone will bury me because my body will give out; but I’m alive now and I will be alive in heaven.

Reflection: What about you–are you a dead man or woman walking? Or are you an alive man or woman walking?

Copyright: August 14,2015: Carolyn A. Roth





Serving Him Now

Snap dragons

The snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) is one of the most striking flowers that blossoms in Southwestern Virginia. Often it is found growing along the side of the road as a wild flower. Because the flower is so delicate, sometimes it seems to have no staying power in a bouquet. Having staying power as a Christian is not easy. Christian staying power means doing the right thing, even thinking the right thoughts, day after day. It means we are consistent in our walk with God.

Do you ever wonder about your staying power?  How long have you been a Christian? Are you the type of Christian that Christ described in his parable of the sower?  When you heard the Word of God,  you accepted it gladly, only to be buffeted by the cares of the world; then you outright rejected God or slowly fell away from your new Christian belief? Did the seed in you, germinate immediately only to be choked by weeds in the world, e.g., in your home, job, school, etc.?

I’ve been a Christian for decades; but if someone were to graft my Christian walk you would see that I’ve had ups and (plenty of) downs; but, I believe I am making headway as a Christian woman. This week I put on my Facebook page these words by a popular singing group:

” Someday every tongue will confess He is God, Someday every knee will bow. But the greatest treasure remains for those who gladly serve Him now.”

Reflection: I may have days when I am delicate like a snapdragon; however, I am so happy that I serve God now — right now — today.

Copyright: August 2, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth



Feeling Tangled Up

Chaste Tree Flower

Photograph is Chaste tree flower in St. John Lutheran Bible Garden

Bible Reference: Genesis 22:1-19.

Isaac was the son that God promised Abraham and Sarah – the son through whom all the peoples of the earth would be blessed. When Isaac was about 16 years old, God commanded Abraham to take Isaac to the region of Mount Moriah and sacrifice him as a burnt offering.

Abraham didn’t hesitate or question God’s command. Early the next morning, Abraham, Isaac, and two servants started walking toward Mount Moriah. As Abraham and Isaac walked together, Isaac asked his father where the lamb was for the burnt offering. Abraham responded that God would provide the lamb.

When they reached Mount Moriah, Abraham built an altar, arranged wood on it, and bound Isaac on top of the wood. Abraham picked up his knife, prepared to slay Isaac. At the last minute, the angel of the Lord told Abraham to not kill Isaac. The angel commended Abraham for fearing God enough to sacrifice his son.

Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by the horns in a nearby thicket. The thicket held the ram in place in much the same way that Isaac’s bindings held him on the altar. Just as Isaac didn’t struggle against his bindings, the Bible doesn’t indicate that the ram struggled to loosen its horns from the thicket. The ram was simply there, waiting for Abraham to see it. Abraham killed the ram and offered it as a burnt offering.

What is a Thicket?

Although Abraham, Isaac, and the ram played major roles in this Bible episode, so did the thicket. A thicket is a group of wild shrubs and occasional small trees which grow together to form impenetrable branches and roots. In thickets, trees rarely grow more than 10-20 feet tall. Often shrubs have thorns and vines entangle with them. Trees and shrubs that could have composed the Mount Moriah thicket were the chaste tree, prickly juniper, and myrtle.

Abraham’s planned sacrifice of Isaac on Mount Moriah was in approximately 2050 B.C. At that time, much of the Judean Mountains including Mount Moriah was tree covered; however, approximately 30-40 years earlier, a natural or manmade disaster (earthquake, flood, or fire) occurred. Thickets grow only in response to disturbances where large trees are destroyed.

In present day Israel, many wild trees and shrubs have been replaced by plants, e.g., flowers and domesticated trees; however, some thickets still grow where cultivated land was abandoned. An example is the Ramat Hanadiv Nature Park northwest of Jerusalem. When we hiked a park trail, we didn’t see a ram; however, cattle foraged the area. It was easy to image one reaching into the thicket for succulent leaves and getting its horns tangled in branches.

For wilderness hikers, a thicket can be a difficult landscape to traverse. Often when experienced hikers encounter a thicket, they don’t enter it; they go around the thicket. Trying to go through a tangled, thorn-infested thicket can result in loss of direction and damage to skin and clothes.


The Hebrew word for thicket comes from the word çâbak, which means to entwine in the sense of interwoven branches. In English, entanglement means to wrap or twist together and to ensnare. Often entanglements cause confusion. Imagine the confusing thoughts that Satan brought to Abraham’s mind during the three day walk to Mount Moriah; e. g., “Surely God doesn’t mean for you to sacrifice Isaac? A God that really loved and cared about you would never require you to kill your beloved son.”

In contrast to the ram entangled in the thicket, Abraham didn’t become entangled in Satan’s lies or become confused by his limited understanding of God and the situation. Abraham obeyed God, believing that God would keep his promise and Isaac would be the father of all nations.

Reflection: Think about a time when you were wrapped up, twisted, or entangled in a problem. Did God fit in anywhere? Knowing what you know now, how could you have involved God more?

Copyright July 24, 2015: Carolyn A. Roth

Flowering Tobacco Plant

1-DSC07130Never have I read in the Bible that ancient near east people smoked tobacco; however, I’m including the flowering tobacco plant (Nicotianium, cultivar Crimson Bedder) in God as a Gardener because the plant is beautiful. The leaves are a shiny dark green and the flower is breath taking. The flowering tobacco is a sub-tropical plant and in Virginia grows as an annual. These pictures were taken inside at the Washington DC Botannic Garden in June, 2015.

Depending on the cultivar you purchase, flowering tobacco plants will grow between 6-8 inches to 5 feet tall. Flowers grow on slender stems and look good when they are planted in mass. They can be grown in pots. The flowering tobacco plant grows best in partial shade to sun. While they like lots of water, they do not like soggy soil.1-DSC07129

Tobacco plants are grown for their color and fragrance. Humming birds are attracted to them. Plants are poisonous, if swallowed. Keep away from children or pets! As expected from the name, the flowering tobacco plants contain high levels of nicotine.

Reflection: Have you noticed that so many beautiful plants are poisonous, e.g., the castor bean plant and now the flowering tobacco? Gardening is not for wimps. Gardeners have to carefully select and decide where to position each plant for safety. Perhaps, God thinks about positioning each of us so we grow where we are safe, even where we do not harm others. I want to grow in the garden God planted just for me. What about you, are you in the garden God planted for you?
Copyright July 13, 2015: Carolyn A. Roth