Dogwood Cross

GolgothaMany individuals believe that the cross on which Christ was crucified was from a dogwood tree. They associate the dark spot on each petal of the dogwood flower with the wounds on his hands and feet.

In reality, the dogwood tree did not grow in   Judea in Christ’s time. Historians don’t know the species of tree used for the cross. Remember the song – The Old Rugged Cross by George Bennard (1873-1958). Thoughtfully, read (or even sing) the words.

On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
	the emblem of suffering and shame;
	and I love that old cross where the dearest and best
	for a world of lost sinners was slain.
	So I'll cherish the old rugged cross,
	till my trophies at last I lay down;
	I will cling to the old rugged cross,
	and exchange it some day for a crown.

2.	O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
	has a wondrous attraction for me;
	for the dear Lamb of God left his glory above
	to bear it to dark Calvary.

3.	In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
	a wondrous beauty I see,
	for 'twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
	to pardon and sanctify me.

4.	To that old rugged cross I will ever be true,
	its shame and reproach gladly bear;
	then he'll call me some day to my home far away,
	where his glory forever I'll share.

Christ’s Body Wrapped in Aloes


Photo 45. Aloe plantsReference: Mark 15:42-46 and John 19:38-42.
Jewish law and custom required immediate burial of Jesus’ dead body. Mosaic Law required that Jews bury the body of a man put to death by hanging on a tree the same day he died (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). The reason for this Mosaic requirement was so that the land not be desecrated by a dead body remaining unburied. The book of Tobit (Apocrypha, 2009) described the value Jews placed on seeing that all slain Jews had a proper burial even when the Jews were in exile.
Jesus’ crucified body died about 3:00 p.m. on Friday. By Jewish custom, Friday was the Day of Preparation for the Saturday Sabbath. Preparation Day ended at about 6:00 p.m. on Friday when the Sabbath began. No work was allowed on the Sabbath to include burying a dead body. Jesus followers had about three hours between the time he died and the start of the Sabbath celebration.
Joseph of Arimathea was a prominent member of the Jewish council who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Boldly, Joseph went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. After confirming with the centurion that Jesus was dead, Pilate released Jesus’ body to Joseph. Along with Nicodemus, Joseph took Jesus’ body from the cross. They wrapped the body in linen stripes and 75 pounds of mixed aloe and myrrh. The Jewish burial custom of using spices in burial linens was associated with covering the smell of the decaying body.  Because aloe had little odor, possibly the aloes were used to “fix” or hold the scent of the myrrh.
Near the place where Jesus was crucified, Joseph had a tomb cut out of the rock (Matthew 27:59-60). The new tomb was to be Joseph’s burial site; however, it was to this tomb that Joseph and Nicodemus took Jesus’ body for burial. After laying Jesus in the tomb, they rolled a large stone against the entrance to secure it. Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene were present and saw where Jesus was buried.
The aloe of the New Testament is the Aloe vera also known as the Aloe barbadensis, Aloe vulgaris (common aloe) and the medicinal aloe. Some sources identified the aloe as the oldest medicinal plant. The aloe is distributed in Mediterranean woodlands and shrub-lands in hard rock outcrops including maritime sands. We saw aloe plants growing in the southern Negev Desert area in Kibbutzim Lotan and Ketura. The aloe requires full sun and can’t grow in the shade. It can grow in nutritionally poor soils and prefers sand and loam. Adult plants are drought tolerant. Aoe vera is an evergreen, perennial succulent with a strong fibrous root. When aloe is harvested for its medicinal gel, older leaves are harvested as they are larger and contain more gel.

A.vera flowerSymbolism: Healing
Traditionally, aloe has been associated with healing.  In the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 53:5, NIV, 2002) we read these prophetic words about Christ, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Jesus body was dead; therefore, aloes weren’t used to heal him. The healing aloes in Jesus’ burial cloth exemplified Jesus’ continued healing of us even after his physical death.
After Jesus’ resurrection some individuals in Judea and the Roman Empire accepted healing from Jesus. Other individuals weren’t willing to be healed. Some couldn’t comprehend that a man would die for their sins. Others simply didn’t believe that they were all that bad; why would someone need to die for their few sins? For still others it was easier to continue their same religious observances, e.g., make an animal sacrifice or give a little money into a treasury, than to accept a new way of thinking.
The rationale and rationalizations that individuals used 2,000 years ago for not accepting healing from Jesus are the same ones that individuals use today. On Sunday morning in church, we pray the “Prayers of the People.” Frequently, there are prayer requests for healing – surgery, diagnostic tests, cancer – from members of the congregation. I’m always surprised that congregates don’t offer more prayers for loved ones’ spiritual healing. My dear friend isn’t a Christian; I love him so much. From time to time, I ask congregates to pray that he comes to a saving knowledge of Christ. I really should ask them to pray for him every Sunday.

Copyright (narrative and photographs): Carolyn Roth 4/14/2014

There’s Music in the Air

Daffodils are Spring Music






Daffodils are spring’s music

There’s music in the air,
When the infant morn is nigh,
And faint its blush is seen
On the bright and laughing sky.

Many a harp’s ecstatic sound
With its thrill of joy profound,
While we list enchanted there
To the music in the air.

By Frances (Fanny) Jane Crosby (1820-1915)


Creation of Plants

1-Red Rock FormationThe story of creation of the earth and of plants is in Genesis chapters 1 and 2.

On day 3 of creation, God caused the dry land to appear on earth. Initially there were no plants on the earth’s surface.  Prior to plants covering the land, carbon dioxide existed in high levels in the atmosphere secondary to volcanic action in the earth’s crust.  Once plant-like microorganisms appeared on earth, they converted carbon dioxide to oxygen. Subsequently, earth’s atmosphere became rich in oxygen which animals and man needed to breathe and live.

On Creation Day 3, God spoke plants into creation. God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it. And it was so” (Genesis 1:11).  Biology, the study of all life, divides life primarily into two groups: animals and plants. The Kingdom of plants (Plantae) includes trees, shrubs, herbs, bushes, grasses, vines, ferns, mosses and flowers.

The Bible recorded that initially there were no plants on dry land was because God had not yet caused it to rain upon the earth and there was no man to till the ground. This scripture implies that God’s earliest plan was for man and plants to interact, e.g., man to tend plants and plants to supply man with food. As I read the creation story, I wondered why God created plants before the sun. Plants were created on Day 3 and the sun on Day 4.  Yet, plants require light for photosynthesis; e.g., in the presence of light, carbon dioxide + water = plant sugars + oxygen.  If a bright sun was created before plants, the process of plants preparing the earth for man’s habitat would have moved quicker. Intuitively, I wanted to reverse Days 3 and 4 of creation and hurry the process along.

Then, I laughed at myself remembering God’s words that His thoughts are not my thoughts and His ways are not my ways; as the heavens are higher than the earth, God’s thoughts and ways are above mine (Isaiah 58:8). God did not need my input into the creation process. God is infinite and exists separate from man’s (my) perspective on time. God didn’t care if creation took millions of years. It is I, with a limitation of about 80 years of life, who wants to hurry things along.

Reflection: Have you ever made plans for God rather than let him make plans for you? Was the outcome good?

Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth 3/14

What was the Tree of Knowledge?

Sodom Apple Flower

Sodom Apple Flower

Read Genesis chapters 2 and 3.

When God set Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden, He told Adam and Eve they could eat of any tree in the Garden of Eden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil and blessing and calamity. God was explicit – the penalty for eating from the tree of knowledge was that both would die (Genesis 2:17). Adam and Eve knew exactly which tree in Eden God was talking about when He said the tree of knowledge. It was located near the center of Eden and it produced fruit that appeared good to eat and was attractive to the eye.When God confronted Adam and Eve about their disobedience, neither responded with “I didn’t know which tree you meant.”

Even in orthodox Christian communities, there is discussion about the tree of knowledge. Was it an actual tree or a representation (symbol) of mankind’s movement from innocence to awareness of self and sin? If there was an actual tree, what species was it and what kind of fruit did it produce?Some information is available by searching various reference sources, e.g., Hebrew dictionaries, the history and climate of the Middle East, and Latin resources.

Frequently, non Christians and even some Christians assume the tree of knowledge was an apple tree and the fruit that Eve took from the tree was an apple. It is unlikely that the tree of knowledge was an apple tree for two reasons. First, fine varieties of apples were not available in the early Middle East. Second, in the area between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers when the Garden of Eden was most likely located, the climate is arid. The average rainfall in the plains of Iraq between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers is low at about 13 inches annually. Apples trees thrive best in temperate and northern climates where they receive ample water to produce their fruit.

Sodom Apple 1

The notion that the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil may have been an apple tree could have evolved in two ways: First, the Jewish historian Josephus (37 – c.100 AD/CE) wrote about a fruit which he called the Sodom apple. The Sodom apple tree (Asclepius gigantean variety procera) grew near the site of the biblical Sodom. Its fruit resembled a large, smooth apple or orange and was yellow when fully ripe (click link at top of page for a picture). Sodom apples grew in clusters of three or four. To the eye they appeared delicious and they were soft to the touch. When pressed or struck the fruit exploded with a puff leaving only rind and a few fibers. The beauty of the Sodom apple combined with its ephemeral nature could have caused early Jews to associate it with the futility of reaching for fruit from the tree of knowledge.

Sodom Apple 2

Second, an association between the tree of knowledge of good and evil and an apple tree could have evolved millennia after the Garden of Eden. In Latin, an apple tree is Malus domestica. In the same language (Latin) the word malus means evil, calamity, harm, injury or unlawful. Thus, to Christians the tree of knowledge of evil (malus) became associated with an apple (Malus domestica) tree.


Are you as amazed as I am that the God, creator of the universe and maker of man, would explain to Adam (His creation) why he could not eat from a certain tree? Shouldn’t it be enough that God says “no, you cannot do that” and Adam automatically obeys this omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent God? Yet, Adam’s behavior was not surprising to God. God knew that even the first man needed a rationale for God-given commands. God also knew that even with an explanation that included consequences, Adam would disobey His injunction.

What about you and me? Don’t we also want explanations and rationales for what God commands us? Are we more obedient when we know the reason God commands us to do or not to do something? No coincidentally, God speaks to us (through the Bible) telling us what to do for a healthy physical, psychological and spiritual life, however,  we sometimes disobey His word even when we know the consequences.

Adam and Eve chose not to obey the prohibition against eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Can you think of a time that you disobeyed God? Were you beguiled and deceived into disobeying as Eve was? Alternatively, did you disobey God because of your self will or because everyone else was doing it? Did you try to blame or shift the reason for your disobedience on others, even on God?

Reflection: What was the outcome of some of your disobedience to God’s word? In retrospect, would you do the same things again?

Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth 3/14

Adultress’ Bed

Agar tree, aloeSolomon’s proverb warning his son about an adulteress is found in Proverbs chapter 7.

The proverb of the adulteress showed an older and perhaps wiser Solomon than the exuberant Lover in Song of Songs.  In this proverb, Solomon addressed his son.  He described looking through the lattice of a window and seeing a young man who lacked judgment.  In the twilight of the day, the youth walked in the direction of the adulteress’ house.  The woman came out to meet the youth.  She was dressed like a prostitute; e.g., provocative, revealing.  In the street, the woman took hold of the young man and kissed him on the face.

Unashamedly, the adulteress invited the young man to her home for a sumptuous meal and to spend the night making love with her.  Enticingly, she described her bed as covered with linens from Egypt and perfumed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.   Possibly to reassure the youth that they will not be disturbed, she declared that her husband was not at home.  He was on a long journey with a purse full of money.  With persuasive and seductive words, the adulteress led the young man astray.  He followed her like an ox going to the slaughter.

Solomon concluded this proverb to his son by telling him not to let his heart turn toward an adulteress or stray into her paths.  The adulteress has brought many victims down and killed a mighty throng.  Solomon’s final warning was “her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death” (Proverbs 7:27).

Solomon’s proverb identified three plants: myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.  Aloes is described here.  The aloe of the New Testament and today is an herbaceous plant; however, the aloe of the Old Testament was from a tree.  The Hebrew word for aloe used in Proverbs was ʼǎhâlôwth.  This same word was used for aloe in Numbers 24:6 when Balaam blessed rather than cursed the Israelites, in the wedding song of Psalm 45:8, and when Solomon described his Beloved bride as an orchard of the finest trees, e.g., pomegranates, cinnamon, aloes (Song of Songs 4:12-14).

The Aloe Tree

Agarwood seed aloeswood (2)The Old Testament aloe tree was the Aquilaria malaccensis, also known as A. agallocha and the eaglewood tree.  Aquilaria malaccensis is on the world list of threatened trees.The eaglewood tree is native to India. Aloe is made from the agarwood of the eaglewood tree.  Only about 10% of mature Aquilaria trees produce agarwood.  Research suggested that 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.  Linens packed with pieces of agarwood take on the smell of the agar in the same manner as linens packed in a cedar chest. There is a popular belief in Middle East that the aloe tree was descended from the Garden of Eden even though all other trees were lost (Walker, 1979).  According to legend, Adam brought shoots from the aloe tree from Eden and planted them in the land where he and Eve settled.  Today, this tree is called Shoot of Paradise and Paradise Wood.

Symbolism: Aphrodisiac

Aloes are associated with both beauty and with aphrodisiacs.  In the parable of the adulteress, aloes symbolizes an aphrodisiac.  An aphrodisiac is a substance, e.g., drink, smell, or food, which is believed to arouse sexual desire or pleasure.  As a young woman, I imagined creating a home for my husband that invited love and sexual desire.  Our home would be filled with pleasant aromas from fragrant candles and simmering potpourri.  Bed linens would be kept in a closet with pleasant perfumed sachets that would imbue the linens with their fragrance.  Hmmm, I learned quickly that my husband became “stuffed up” by the perfumed air in the house and on the bed linens.  Those fragrances did not arouse him to love and sexual desire, but to sneezing and coughing.

To my husband an aphrodisiac was something different than my perspective.   His point of view can best be described by a story.  We were newly engaged and my birthday arrived.   I was excited to see what Bruce would get me.  Would it be flowers or a floral perfume which I loved?   He came into the house with a beautifully wrapped box that was about 5 inches by 18 inches.  What could it be?  As quickly as possible while still trying to be graceful, I removed the ribbon and paper and opened the box.  It was… it was…. it was a fishing rod and reel!  Bruce was so excited.  Immediately, he showed me how to put the rod together, admiring it tensile strength.  He talked about the fishing trips we could take.  But, I did not fish!

Over the years, I have learned to love fishing and I still have that fishing rod.  To Bruce seeing me wading streams, casting a line, and occasionally pulling in a fish is an aphrodisiac.  He gets so excited by taking me fishing that sometime he doesn’t even fish.  He stays available in the event I lose my fly or get my line tangled.   Sexual arousal, excitement, and stimulation come in many ways.  Hopefully starry-eyed young women grow into mature, loving wives.

Reflection.    David wrote that God satisfies our desires with good things (Psalm 103:5).  God knows our need for sexual pleasure and love; his plan is that they occur together.

copyright: Carolyn A. Roth, 12/12

Crucifixion Thirst

Sorgham from Kibbutz LotanBible References: Mark 15:33-37 and John 19:28-30.

Jesus was crucified at about 9:00 a.m. on Friday morning. At 12 noon, darkness came over the land and remained until about 3:00 p.m. By 3:00 p.m. Jesus was in extreme agony, both physically and mentally. His physical agony was from the effects of the Roman soldiers’ torture, the crown of thorns, and the nails that pierced his hands and feet so that he would hang on the cross. Christ’s mental anguish came from two sources. First, Jesus, who never sinned, had the weight of the world’s sin on his mind; he felt all of mankind’s perversions and violence. Second, the perfect, righteous God could not look at Jesus while Jesus was saturated with the sins of mankind. During the 6 hours Jesus was on the cross, God turned his face away from Jesus.  Jesus was horribly alone for the first time in his life in heaven and in his 33 years on earth.  It is no wonder Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Mark 15:33).

Hearing Jesus’ words, some individuals standing near the cross concluded that Jesus called for Elijah. One man ran and filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put the sponge on the stalk of a hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.  Jesus drank the wine vinegar.  Because the man had the authority to give Jesus wine, he was a Roman soldier or official.  Not uncommonly, Roman soldiers gave water or wine to men being crucified in order to revive them and to prolong the dying process. Attempting to revive Jesus was the man’s motivation for giving Jesus wine vinegar, because he said, “Now, leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down” (Mark 15:36). Neither God nor Elijah came to rescue Jesus.  Instead, soon thereafter Jesus gave his last breath and died.

The hyssop reed

Controversy surrounds the type of the hyssop stalk, or reed, used to offer Jesus wine vinegar while he was on the cross. Very likely this hyssop reed, wasn’t the hyssop of the Old Testament (see the story of David killing Uriah in Chapter 6). This hyssop doesn’t have a long (perhaps up to 6 feet) sturdy stalk that could have reached Jesus’ lips when he was on the cross.  Several writers proposed that the hyssop reed was from the genus Sorghum. The primary sorghum in Israel is Sorghum halepense. In Israel, another name for S. halepense is Aleppo Millet Grass while in the United States it is called Johnson grass. 

Sorghum is suited to the climate and agricultural conditions of Israel. It can thrive in the lowlands and mountains as a non-irrigated summer crop. We saw healthy sorghum growing in the southern Negev Desert in Kibbutz Lotan; however, crops were irrigated on the kibbutz with non-potable water. Often sorghum grows wild in disturbed areas such as ditch banks, and along roadsides. It is partial to heavy soils. 

Symbolism: End or Finish

In this passage, the hyssop reed symbolized the end point or finish. After Jesus received the wine vinegar on the hyssop reed, his final words were, “It is finished” (John 19:30). He finished all the tasks set before him to include enduring the cross. Genesis records another example of finished work; by the 7th day, God finished the work of creating the earth so he rested (Genesis 2:2). For mankind Christ’s finished work on the cross, symbolized by a final sip of water from a reed, was as important an ending as creation of the world.

Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth 3/14


“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy” (Isaiah 35:1). The 35th chapter in Isaiah is named “The Joy of the Redeemed.”

Early spring saffron crocus

Early spring saffron crocus

Christians are redeemed by accepting that Christ died for their sins and inviting him to be Lord of their life.  What joy this act brings us. Joy, not just that we will be with Christ after our death; but equal joy that he is with us now.

Could you or would you want to even try to live in this world without Christ? About a 100 times a day, I pray “Oh, God, help me”  or “Need some help here, Christ”  or simply “Christ.” When I send these e-mails to God, I’m not being flip or disrespectful; instead, I am making a short-hand prayer.

I think that I can safely use these  short email prayers, because I spend more concentrated time to be with Him in my devotions at some point during the day.

Reflection: Do you burst forth like a crocus after the winter snow? Do you take joy in your redemption?

Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth 3/14

Guiding the Young

When we lived up North in Pennsylvania and New York, winters were long. On television I watched the beautiful pictures of palm trees swaying on the beaches. Blue Skies and green blue ocean water made me dream of the days that I could live in Florida near eight of my grandchildren. 

Carol S. Snyder, Guest Blogger

Carol S. Snyder, Guest Blogger

Now, I am sitting here looking up at the palm trees around my house in southern Florida. The grandchildren make huts out of the palm fronds. We go to the market and get the man behind the counter to cut the top off the coconuts that fall from palm trees. We put a straw into the hole and drink luscious water! Then, he cuts the outside shell off the coconut and inside is another hard shell covering the real coconut. The water and the coconut fruit are always deep inside.

The Florida palm tree is a tall upright tree with green fronds growing at the top. It grows 40 – 80 feet tall. A palm tree can bear fruit for 100 years; the best fruit grows when the tree is old. It produces 100 pounds of fruit a year!

Florida coconut palm tree, fronds, coconut

Florida coconut palm tree, fronds, coconut

 In Bible times the stone inside the coconut was ground up for the camels to eat. The leaves of the palm tree were weaved into baskets, mats and bags. The trunk of the tree was used for fences and cages.

Let the palm tree teach us a lesson.  As we get older, we should get stronger in our witness for the Lord!  We experienced many burdens throughout our lives. We can show and guide younger generations how to trust the Lord to help them through difficult times in life: Stand straight, grow tall, and bear much fruit for God.


Prickly Lettuce, Prickly Me

This prickly lettuce plants depicts how I feel today — grumpy. It’s one of those “don’t talk to me” days.

What should I do when I feel like that? Blame myself? Go back to bed? Read a book so I don’t have to deal with myself and my feelings?

I think I’ll tell God how I feel and that I don’t like myself much when I feel this way. He’s big enough to hear about the grumpy me as well as the serene me. Perhaps more importantly, He’s powerful enough to do something about me.

Knowing that I am not in this life alone, but have God on my side and by my side is so reassuring.

St. John Church Bible Garden

St. John Church Bible Garden