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In present day Israel, many wild trees and shrubs have been replaced by plants, e.g., flowers and domesticated trees; however, some thickets still grow where cultivated land was abandoned.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.

Symbolism

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

Truth or Fiction: The Burning Bush

R. sanguineusReferences: Exodus Chapters 3 and 4.

From the time he was weaned through approximately age 40, Moses lived in royal splendor as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. In that time he received an excellent education that included content on history, culture, Egyptian religion, leadership, and military tactics and arms. Despite these benefits, Moses knew that he was not an Egyptian. He was an Israelite and his people were slaves in Egypt.

As an adult, Moses went to where some Israelites were working at slave labor. Seeing an Egyptian overseer beating an Israelite, Moses killed the Egyptian and hid the body. The next day Moses went to the same location and saw two Israelites fighting. When he tried to break up the fight, one man asked Moses, “Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” (Exodus 2:14). Hearing these words, Moses became afraid; he realized others knew he murdered the Egyptian. Shortly thereafter, Pharaoh learned of the murder and attempted to kill Moses.

Precipitated by these events, Moses fled Egypt and traveled to Midian. Midian was located east of the Sinai Peninsula and outside Egyptian influence. In Midian Moses met Jethro, a Midian priest, whose name means “friend of God”. The Midianites were offspring of Abraham and his second wife Keturah (Genesis 25:1–4). In Midian Moses married Jethro’s daughter, Zipporah (Exodus 2:21). Moses became a shepherd for his father-in-law’s (not his own) sheep (Exodus 3:1). After about 40 years in Midian, Moses led the sheep to the west side of the Midian desert, arriving at Mount Horab in the Sinai Peninsula.

There the angel of the Lord appeared in flames of fire within a bush. Moses noticed that although the bush was on fire, it was not consumed by the fire. Deciding to take a closer look at the strange phenomenon, Moses made his way toward the burning bush. When God saw Moses approaching the bush, he called to Moses from within the bush and told him to come no closer. God instructed Moses to take off his sandals because Moses was standing on holy ground. Then God introduced himself to Moses, naming himself the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. At this introduction, Moses hid his face, afraid to look at God.

Talking from the burning bush, God told Moses that the Israelites were suffering severely under the slave masters in Egypt. God shared that he planned to rescue them from the Egyptians and lead them to a land of milk and honey. To this point, Moses was probably nodding his head and agreeing with God’s plan. Then, God stunned Moses by saying, “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10).

Immediately, Moses started questioning his qualifications to be the leader God described. God’s response was to continue telling Moses to go back to Egypt. In Egypt, Moses was to notify the elders of Israel first and then Pharaoh that the Israelites were to be permitted to leave Egypt. God warned Moses that Pharaoh would oppose him; but, God himself would work wonders to compel Pharaoh to set the Israelites free.

Moses tried several ways to evade being the highly visible leader that God demanded. One of Moses’ fears was that he was “slow of speech and tongue” (Exodus 4:10). God told Moses that his brother Aaron, a Levite who spoke well, would be Moses’ speaker. Convinced by God to be the Israelite leader, Moses returned to Jethro where he took his wife and two sons and started for Egypt.

Rubus sanctusThe Burning Bush (Rubus sanctus).

The nature of the burning bush is a source of debate among botanists and Biblical scholars. Some believe that the burning bush was not a bush, but a figurative representation of a supernatural phenomenon. Others contend that God spoke through a natural bush. The opinion of Jewish scholars and botanists is that the burning bush was the blackberry bush, Rubus sanctus. Other names for the R. sanctus, are the Rubus sanguineus and the holy blackberry. Most likely the R. sanctus originated in the eastern Mediterranean region of Iran or Turkey. It is a perennial shrub that grows as a large thicket near water sources, e.g., in oases, on wadi banks, and in moist fields. The plant has no central stem; instead it produces long thin branches which can reach 5 – 6 feet in length. Branches have spiked thorns that bend downward. If a person reaches into the plant to pick the fruit, he will feel nothing; however, when he withdraws his hand, thorns will fasten into the flesh like sharp teeth.

Jewish writers drew a parallel between blackberry thorns and the movement of the Israelites in and out of Egypt. When the Israelites entered Egypt, they did so with little notice. In contrast when they left Egypt, the entire country knew of them because of supernatural events and battles associated with their exodus. Generally the blackberry flower is pink. New blackberries are green. As they ripen, they turn red then black. Fully ripe blackberries are plump, firm, and fully black. Never pick blackberries before they are ripe as they will not ripen off the shrub. Blackberries also propagate by vegetative regeneration; for example, re-growth occurs from the perennial root stalk, from the root stem tips, and from root fragments.

Symbolism: God Reveals Himself

Rubus sanctus is a symbol of God revealing himself to man. “Reveal” means to make known something that was secret or hidden and to open up to view. Synonyms of “reveal” are “disclose” and “tell”. In the entire Old Testament nowhere does God reveal more about himself to one man than in the passage of the burning bush. In fact, this passage is sometimes called the “Mosaic revelation of God about himself.”

Some of the truths that God revealed about himself were:

• God revealed to Moses that he was the God of Moses’ ancestors: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God remembered Moses’ ancestors and the promises he made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob from more than 400 years ago.

• God revealed to Moses that he heard the cries and saw the agony of the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt. God was not limited to one land area such as Haran or Canaan where he appeared to Moses’ ancestors; rather God heard the cries of his people wherever they were. The Bible does not identify that the Israelite cries were in the form of prayers, but, God heard them.

• God revealed to Moses that he was going to take action on behalf of the Israelites. God cared about his chosen people so much that he was willing to intervene in history to help them.

• God revealed to Moses that he had a plan to see that his promises to Moses’ ancestors were realized. God is a God of specifics and details. Part of that plan was for Moses to act as the leader of the Israelites before Pharaoh.

• God revealed to Moses that he knew the opposition that Moses would face from Pharaoh. God knows the hearts of men; he knew Pharaoh’s pride and stubbornness.

• God revealed his power to Moses. God was able to take other forms, in this instance he was talking to Moses from a burning bush. God revealed his power by telling Moses that the “supposed” power of the gods of the greatest nation on earth, Egypt, would be no obstruction to God’s will and plan.

Considering the attributes that God revealed about himself makes me glad that God is on my side. At the same time, I feel overwhelmed that God who is all powerful (omnipotent), all knowledge (omniscient), and always present (omnipresent) claimed me for his child. It is understandable that Moses hid his face in God’s presence – he doesn’t want God to see him and he was afraid to look on God. What am I going to do when God reveals himself totally to me?

Reflection: How will you respond when you are face-to-face with God, when God is revealed fully to you?

Copyright July 3, 2015: Carolyn A. Roth

How to identify a false prophet?

Centaurea iberica

Reference:  Matthew 7:15-20.

This teaching is labeled “A Tree and Its Fruit” (NIV-SB). Jesus began with “watch out for false prophets” (Matthew 7:15). Then, he told the crowds the reason for his warning: false prophets were ferocious wolfs that acted like gentle sheep. The good news was that people could recognize false prophets by their fruit – by looking at both their words and their actions. Just as a woman cannot pick grapes from thorn bushes or a man pick figs from a thistle, neither can a false prophet produce good fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Although false prophets could appear humble and mild like Christ or even blunt and rough like John the Baptist, their words are full of lies.

When Christ compared the words of false prophets to thorn bushes and thistles he was still teaching in Galilee. Primarily his listeners were from rural areas and small towns who had experience growing and picking grapes and figs. They knew about good and bad vines and productive and non-productive trees. These listeners weren’t surprised when Jesus said that trees that do not bear good fruit are cut down and thrown into the fire. The sooner bad trees were uprooted and destroyed the better. Although newly planted trees take 3-4 years to grow, they have the potential to produce good fruit; with bad trees there was no hope for a good crop. When Christ noted that bad trees were cut down, he was not implying that the people should kill false prophets. Rather, he was saying that the correct response to a false prophet is to stop listening to them.

Spanish Thistle Centaurea iberica, butterfly

The plant associated with the thistle in Matthew 7:15-20 is the Centaurea iberica, known as the Spanish thistle or Iberian star thistle. The Spanish thistle is native to India, the Middle East, and southeastern Europe. Often the thistle is found in disturbed areas including over-grazed lands and construction sites. Seeds are spread by livestock, vehicles, equipment, and contaminated hay and seed crop. Seeds can be transported on clothing. The Spanish thistle grows throughout Israel from the northern Golan and Hermon areas, through the central mountains and plains including the Mediterranean coast to the Northern Negev Desert area. Spanish star thistle is an invasive plant that displaces valuable forage species and space in pasture lands. The plants sharp spines deter grazing animals, impede recreational use, and restrict access for wildlife.

Symbolism: Recognize, Recognition           

Christ told his disciple that plants and prophets could be recognized by what they produce. When we recognize someone, we are familiar with them, distinguish them from others, and comprehend what they do and say. God gave some guiding principles to differentiate between a true versus a false prophet.

First, a true prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ is the son of God in the flesh (1 John 4:3).  In contrast, a false prophet does not acknowledge Jesus as God. When prophets, pastors, or theologians say that it is not important whether Christ was truly God or in some way deny the deity of Christ, they are false prophets.  

Second, false prophets can be recognized by how they respond to and preach the word of God.  True prophets read and obey God’s word (1 John 4:6). They preach the Bible, because it contains God’s truths for personal salvation and for successful everyday life.  In today’s society, the norm is to “spin” information. “Spin” is a form of propaganda that provides an interpretation of an event in order to persuade opinion for or against it. Often spin is disingenuous, deceptive, or manipulative. False prophets spin God’s truths. Believers need to discerningly read the scriptures so they do not get taken in by the words of false prophets.

Third, false prophets can be recognized by sin in their lives. One way to recognize sin is to compare a prophet’s life with The Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments identify sins, e.g., coveting, lying, and putting career achievement before God. A prophet who breaks God’s Commandments consistently and without repentance is a false prophet.  

Finally, in the Sermon on the Mountain, Jesus outlined expectations for followers. False prophets have said that these standards are unrealistic, e.g., so high that people cannot meet them. False prophets argued that the moral-ethical standards that Christ described in the Sermon on the Mount will only be achieved when Christ returns to earth the second time. Prophets or pastors who advocate this view are denying Christ’s words. In the Sermon on the Mountain, Christ outlined how individuals should live now, not in the new heaven and the new earth. False prophets sin when they distort God’s word and they provide an instantaneous way for Christians to recognize them.

Reflection. Do you know the Bible well enough to recognize when it is being preached truthfully? If you answered “No,” what are some options?

Copyright: June 22, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth

Little Japanese Umbrellas Springing Up All Over!

Originally posted on The Transmutational Garden:

Pleated Inkcap (Parasola plicatilis) Pleated Inkcap (Parasola plicatilis)

When I went outside to fetch the newspaper this morning I was greeted with the sight above — Pleated Inkcap Mushrooms galore — in a mulched corner that’s slowly being converted into a flowerbed. Depending on the source, the botanical name for these mushrooms is either Parasola plicatilis or Coprinus plicatilis.

Pleated Inkcap (Parasola plicatilis) Pleated Inkcap (Parasola plicatilis)

Other common names for these small mushrooms, which can quickly appear overnight following rain, include Pleated Inky Cap, Japanese Parasol and Japanese Umbrella.

Pleated Inkcap (Parasola plicatilis) Pleated Inkcap (Parasola plicatilis)

The almost ground level photo above highlights the narrow stalks of the many, many hundreds of mushrooms that popped up overnight.

Pleated Inkcap (Parasola plicatilis) Pleated Inkcap (Parasola plicatilis)

I originally discovered these mushrooms at about 6:30 AM and took these photos around 8:30 AM. About an hour and a half later I headed back outside with my camera…

View original 79 more words

A Dangerous Riddle

SGT (2)Bible Reference: 2 Kings Chapter 14 and 2 Chronicles Chapter 25.

The Story:

King Jehoash ruled the Northern Kingdom for 16 years (798-782 B.C.). He won a significant battle over King Amaziah (796-767 B.C) of Judah. The background to this Bible narrative has two distinct parts. First, when King Amaziah planned a military campaign against Edom, he recruited 100,000 mercenaries from the Israel. Warned by a prophet to not allow the mercenaries to march with him, Amaziah dismissed them. Despite being paid for their service, the soldiers were furious. They plundered and murdered in Judah while Amaziah battled the Edomites. Second, when Amaziah returned to Jerusalem after a successful campaign against the Edomites, he brought back Edomite idols. Instead of destroying the false gods as Mosaic law required (Deuteronomy 7:5, 25), Amaziah bowed down and worshipped them.

The incident between Kings Jehoash and Amaziah began when Amaziah sent a challenge to Jehoash to meet him in battle. King Jehoash sent a parable and a warning back. The parable was:

A thistle in Lebanon sent a message to a cedar in Lebanon, ‘Give your daughter to my son in marriage.’ Then, a wild beast in Lebanon came along and trampled the thistle underfoot (2 Chronicles 25:18). Then, Jehoash warn Amaziah that because he defeated Edom, he was haughty and proud; Amaziah was asking for trouble if he persisted in challenging Jehoash.

The interpretation of Jehoash’s parable was that he and the Israelites were the majestic cedar of Lebanon while Amaziah was an insignificant thistle. The prized possession Jehoash mentioned could have been associated with a demand from King Amaziah for the Israelite soldier’s to return plunder taken from Judah lands. Instead of giving King Amaziah a prized possession, King Jehoash said that Israel would trample Judah underfoot.

Despite King Jehoash’s warning, Amaziah moved his army against Israel. A battle ensued where Jehoash defeated Amaziah. With Amaziah prisoner, Jehoash proceeded to Jerusalem. There Jehoash seized the Temple gold, silver, and other valuables, the palace treasury, and hostages. King Jehoash had 600 feet of the Jerusalem wall destroyed. Despite Jehoash’s victory, he allowed Amaziah to remain alive and king of Judah.

King Jehoash was not a king who obeyed God; rather, he did evil in God’s eyes (2 Kings 13:10-13). Jehoash continued the idol worship started by Jeroboam I, the first king of Israel. King Jehoash would not have won the battle over Amaziah, but for Amaziah’s sin of rejecting God and worshipping Edomite idols.

The Spotted Golden Thistle

In the Bible, about 20 different words are related to some type of prickly or thorny plant. In Jehoash’s parable, the Hebrew word for thistle is choâch or hoah and is associated with the Scolymus genus of plants. When Jehoash named Amaziah a thistle, possibly he was thinking of the spotted golden thistle, Scolymus maculatus.

The spotted golden thistle was and is a common plant throughout Israel, growing everywhere except along the extreme Mediterranean seashore. Although occasionally cultivated, more often the spotted golden thistle is found in uncultivated lands, e.g., abandoned fields and ditches, and along paths and trails.

Classified as a hearty herbaceous plant, the spotted golden thistle grows well in clay soils. It can be found in semi-shade, light woodlands, and full sunlight. The thistle grows best in temperate climates; however, it will grow in both cold and hot climates. In very hot temperatures, the plant grows rapidly.

Symbolism: Reject, Rejection

In the story of Jehoash, the spotted golden thistle can be associated with several concepts, e.g., pride, insult, and insignificance; however, in this story reject or rejection are the best symbols for the plant. Examples of rejection include Amaziah’s rejection of the 100,000 Israelite Kingdom mercenaries, Amaziah rejecting God in favor of Edomite idols, Jehoash’s willingness to excuse or reject Amaziah’s challenge, and Jehoash’s rejecting the sanctity of the Temple.

Primarily, this Bible episode typifies the Northern Kingdom’s reject of God. They ejected God’s decrees, the covenant he made with their fathers, and warnings he gave them through his prophets. The Northern Kingdom rejected God by plundering his home, the Jerusalem Temple. Eventually, God rejected the Northern Kingdom tribes as they first rejected him.

How do we living in the 21st century reject God? We do it by not setting aside time to spend with God every day, e.g., failing to have daily biblical study and prayer time. We make the decision to skip Sunday church services identifying that we are just too tired after a busy work week. We reject God when we reject other persons for whatever the reason, e.g., they are just not our type of person, we have nothing in common with them, they look poor and maybe even disheveled, they are hard to understand linguistically.

Reflection

In the last paragraph, you read how I reject God. What about you? How do you reject God?

Copyright: May 28, 2015: Carolyn A. Roth

Poison on the Tongue

Amos’s comparison of the Northern Kingdom to a poisonous hemlock plant is found in Amos 6:12.

Conium maculatum flower

Amos is the third book of the Minor Prophets.  The minor prophets were considered minor in the sense that their books were much smaller than those of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, not because their messages were less important.  Amos prophesied over a 10 year period, 760-750 B.C.

Amos’ home was Tekoa, a town about 12 miles south of Jerusalem.  When God called him to be a prophet, Amos was a herdsman and tender of sycamore trees.  Amos completed most of his ministry in the area of Bethel, the Northern Kingdom’s main sanctuary.  At Bethel, Jeroboam I set up one of the golden calves soon after the 10 Northern tribes formed an independent kingdom.  All manner of pagan worship practices occurred at Bethel.  At the time of Amos’ prophecy the Northern Kingdom was politically secure and prosperous under the rule of Jeroboam II (sole reign 782-753 B.C.).

Amos was a vehement spokesman for God’s justice.  He argued that true righteousness and piety were displayed through social justice for all citizens.  Although Amos did not identify Assyria as the means of God’s judgment on the Northern Kingdom, he warned them that God’s judgment was fast approaching.  The judgment would be more than military conquest and tribute to a foreign conqueror.  It would involve total destruction of the Northern Kingdom as a nation and dispersion of its citizens to foreign lands.  Amos accused leaders and ordinary citizens of turning justice into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock (Amos 6:12, TEB).  Hemlock was a poisonous plant.

The Hemlock Plant

The botanical name for the hemlock plant is Conium maculatum, also known as the poisonous hemlock. It is indigenous to Eastern Mediterranean countries where it is classified as a toxic weed.  In about 399 B.C., the Greek philosopher Socrates was condemned to drink hemlock poison as a means of committing suicide.  Poisonous hemlock is found on banks of streams and rivers, along roadsides and hedgerows, in wasteland, pastures, and meadow lands.  The poisonous hemlock should not be confused with the Canadian hemlock tree  or the American water hemlock tree.  A single plant can produce 35,000-40,000 seeds.  Leaves and seeds are harvested for medicinal purposes are the leaves and seeds; however, medicinal uses of hemlock are limited because of the closeness of therapeutic and poisonous levels.  Sometimes childrenay see the plant top, mistake it for carrots or parsley, and eat it.  Because hemlocks are rare in North America and initially hemlock signs and symptoms mimic other acute conditions, physicians may not immediately diagnose hemlock poisoning when children present in emergency departments.

Symbolism: Poison

At times the hemlock plant has been associated with bitterness, calamity, and sorrow.  In Amos, the Hebrew word laʽǎnâh was used as the word for hemlock; the word laʽǎnâh comes from an unused root meaning “to curse.”  All these words are good candidates for the symbolism of poisonous hemlock; however, I am going to associate the hemlock plant with poison or poisonous.  A poison is a substance that kills, injures or impairs; it is destructive, harmful, and corrupt. Poisonous described the hemlock plant and best depicted the words and behaviors of the Northern Kingdom leaders and citizens in the book of Amos.

When I looked at the behavior of the Northern Kingdom people, I thought, “I’m never going to act like they did; nor say and do the things they did.”  Then, I recalled some Bible teachings on poison and the tongue.  In Psalms (140:3), we read that evil men make their tongues as sharp as the poison of snakes.  Similarly, James pointed out that man has tamed all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea, but man cannot take the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of poison (James 3:7-8).  James said that the tongue is set on fire by hell which is a figuratively way of saying by the devil (James 3:6).

Reflection:  Some days my tongue is so sharp that I am embarrassed by what comes out of my mouth.  On those days, my words are not from God; but, from the Devil. Have you ever wished words unsaid? How can we prevent poison from coming out of our mouths?

Copyright: May 12, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth

Becoming Fruitful

Last summer I searched for the “goodly fruit” mentioned in the Bible because I wanted to plant it in our Church Bible Garden. The goodly fruit was used in the Festival of Tabernacles (booths) which commemorated the Israelites traveling and living in the wilderness for 40 years. Most scholars agree that the original goodly fruit was a pine cone; but by the time of the Restoration, it was the Citrus media. This fruit grows on trees in tropical areas and is wide spread in Israel. Ripe fruit is yellow and resembles a lemon.

This Meyer lemon is the nearest plant I was able to find to plant in our garden. Last summer, it was about 15 inches tall. Leaves grew from each stem. Over winter I had it inside my home in front of a sunny window. Most leaves dropped; then, a few flower buds formed. Below are pictures of  buds, blooming flowers, dying flowers, and finally the fruit.

1-DSC06965t1-DSC06971 1-DSC069741-DSC07002

Often flowers buds are beautiful. As the bud transits to a flower, then to a fruit, it goes through stages. Not all stages are attractive; but at least for plants, transition is needed to get fruit.

As we are progressively made holy — sanctified — we go through stages to become fruitful Christians. Not all stages are beautiful, but maybe they are needed so we bear fruit.

Copyright: April 26, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth

How Do You Know?

Family Circus035 (2)

For Christians, there is a message in this cartoon. It has to do with how we know we are a Christian, living in God’s will, and growing where He wants us to grow.

Futility and Fool’s Laughter

Thorny burnet (2)The Teacher compares the meaning of life to a burning thorn under a pot in Ecclesiastes 7:6.

Bible scholars are not sure who wrote Ecclesiastes. Possibly it was written by Solomon, one of his offspring who reigned later in Israel’s history, or a learned teacher in the Israelite assembly.  Within Ecclesiastes, the writer refers to himself as Teacher. One proverb that the Teacher wrote was, “Like the crackling of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of fools. This too is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 7:6, NIV-SB, 2002).

In ancient Israel, cooking fires were located in outer courtyards or inside homes. The time of year influenced where the fire was located.  In hot weather it could be found in the courtyard.  While in cooler or cold weather, the fire was probably located inside the home to add warmth.   Many poorer Israelites cooked over a simple hole in the ground (a fire pit) with rocks around it.  Others had ovens, either inside the home or in the courtyard. When King Jehoiakim sat in his winter house with a fire burning in the firepot (Jeremiah 36:22), the firepot was probably a three-legged hearth of copper or bronze.

Wood was the primary fuel used for cooking in ancient Israel; however, in Ecclesiastes 7:6 thorns fueled the fire. Thorn bushes burn faster than dense wood. Many times when thorns were collected and burned, green branches were present at the base of the thorn plant even when the bush appeared dry. Burning green branches contributed to the crackling sound when thorns were burnt. Thorns as the fuel made the point of the Teacher’s proverb. The laughter of fools is like a short-lived fire fueled by thorns not wood. A fool’s laughter, although perhaps loud, does not last very long. It is valueless or meaningless.

The Thorny Burnet

The thorn plant of Ecclesiastes is the Sarcopoterium spinosum. Other names are the thorny burnet and prickly burnet. The thorny burnet’s origins are prehistoric, but it may be native to the Middle East. In present-day Israel, the plant is wide spread in Israel from Mount Hermon and Galilee in the north to the Negev hills and Eilat in the South including the Mediterranean coast. The thorn burnet is a dwarf, perennial shrub that resembles a ball or pillow.  In the female flower, two or three ovaries are set in 4-5 joined sepals. The top of the corolla is covered by the tips of the sepals which make the female flower resemble a covered pot. These flower pots are numerous on stems. When the female flower is young, it is green, but turns reddish at maturity and rusty brown as it dries.  In the heat of fire, the flower “pots” pop and produce a small explosive sound which sounds like crackling. The thorny burnet is used to make brooms, to stuff mattresses, and to form low-growing hedges.

Symbolism: Futility

In the Bible, thorny plants were often associated with desolation and ruin. In the Teacher’s parable in Ecclesiastes 7:6, the meaning was futility. Although a thorny burnet fire may snap, crackle and pop, and be pleasing to the ears, the sound adds nothing to the heat. Futility implies an action that has no use or purpose. Synonyms are ineffective, pointless, and vainness and the antonym is useful.

Malachi is one of the few, if only, prophet in the Old Testament who wrote about futility. He related a hypothetical conversation between God and men of Israel (Malachi 3:13-18). One group identified that it was futile to serve God and carry out his requirements. Arrogant, evildoers prospered. The redemption (Messiah) that good men looked for had not appeared even after many centuries.  Another group of men feared and followed God. God wrote this group’s names in a scroll of remembrance, similar to a record of notable deeds kept by earthly kings (Esther 6:1-6; Isaiah 4:3). God promised that in the day he makes up his treasured possessions, the men’s names in the scroll would be spared. Malachi’s point is that fearing and serving God are not futile but have long-term rewards.

Paul identified several ways and situations where man’s thoughts were futile, e.g., useless and ineffective (Romans 1:18-23, 8:20; 1 Corinthians 3:20-21, 15:17; Ephesians 4:17). Two points seem particularly important today.  First, God is revealed though his creation, yet unrighteous men neither glorify God nor give him thanks (Romans 1:18-23). Instead their thinking becomes futile and their foolish hearts are darkened. They exchanged worship of the immortal God for worship of man-made images, e.g., birds, animals and reptiles. Today, most men and women do not worship animals, but, sometimes, they let their admiration for another man or women approach worship of them. They hang onto the words of these men/women rather than focusing on God’s instruction for life.  Reading commentaries of the Bible should never take the place of reading God’s word.

Writing to the Corinthian church, Paul stated that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sin” (1 Corinthians 15:17, NIV-SB, 2002). Redemption of our bodies, eternal life in Christ, depends on a risen Christ. When I was in college, The Passover Plot (Schoenfield, 1995) was required reading for anyone trying to be intellectual.  The book argued that Christ implemented an elaborate plan to have himself declared the Messiah. He never died on the cross but was hidden away by his closest associates. He appeared three days later to fulfill the Jew’s expectations for the Messiah.

The problem with The Passover Plot’s argument is the lived experiences of individuals who saw Christ’s death and his resurrected body. Evidence of Christ’s death comes from eye-witness accounts of non-believers as well as believers (Mark 15:39; Luke 23:46-49). In his resurrected body, Christ appeared at least 11 times to over 500 people. The phenomena of Christ’s death and resurrection may confound the wise; but do not make the phenomena any less real.

Reflection. The Lord knows that the thoughts of the (supposed) wise are futile (1 Corinthians 3:20). We cannot believe everything we read in books. Truth is not a prerequisite for publication.

Copyright: April, 14, 2015, Carolyn A. Roth