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

Beautiful Crown of Thorns

Jerusalem thorn bush (2)This beautiful flowered plant is name the Jerusalem thorn (Paliurus spina-christi).  Before the Roman soldiers led Christ away to be crucified at Golgotha, they took him into the Roman Praetorium (the soldier’s section of the governor’s palace). There, they stripped Jesus, whipped him, and placed a crown of thorns on his head. Most Israeli botanists believe the thorn crown was made from the Jerusalem thorn.

Jerusalem Thorn Jerusalem thorn flowers

The plant is native to Europe and western Asia. It grows at a slow to moderate rate and even appears to stop growing for a time. In Israel, Jerusalem thorns grow in the north around Mount Heron and in the Mediterranean wood and shrub lands in central Israel.

Jerusalem thorn plant stems and twigs are flexible and hairless.The flexibility made the Jerusalem thorn ideal to interlace into a crown of thorns. Thorns occur in pairs of unequal length thorns. The longest is about an inch long.

1-DSC07004Symbolism:

Suggested symbolism of the Jerusalem thorn is sin and grief. Perhaps a better symbol is cruelty. A cruel act is one devoid of human feelings when grief, plain, and injury are inflicted. When the Roman soldiers put the crown of thorns on Christ’s head, they were being deliberately cruel. Making him wear the crown of thorns as he attempted to carry the cross through Jerusalem streets and when he was crucified had no purpose. The act was deliberate cruelty.

Reflection: Think about the times when your behavior was cruel, deliberately or by simple neglect of something you could have done. How can you be less cruel?

Copyright: April 1, 2015: Carolyn Adams Roth

Easter Dogwood

Dogwood tree Many 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.
Refrain:
	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.
	(Refrain)

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.
	(Refrain)

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.
dogwood-flowers-11	(Refrain)

Wandering Wisteria

1-DSC06129I love wisteria. I first saw them when we moved to Charleston, SC. In the country area, the vine would grow up the trees. In spring, the beautiful lavender flower would hang down from the vine. Seeing them made my heart celebrate the beauty of God’s creation.

In Southwest Virginia, we are in a mountain valley. You can see wisteria plants about April and May growing along country roads. Wisteria wander up a tree, out on limbs and sometimes even across the road on electrical wire. I always think of them as “wandering wisteria.”

In the Trilogy of the Rings, Tolkein wrote that, “all those who wander are not lost.”  That may be true; certainly in Tolkein’s book, Aragon wandered but was not lost. When the Israelites  wandered 40 years on the Sinai Peninsula, they were not physically lost. They were, however, lost psychologically, because they neither had confidence in themselves or in their God. Only after the slave generation that lived in Egypt died, was God able to use the new generation of Israelites to conquer the Promised Land.

Right now I am wandering  — roaming around not doing much productive — in my relationship with God. I’m busy, but not content. But, God created and planned for me to do work here on earth (Ephesians 2:10), so somehow I need to get my life gear out of park (idle) and begin to move forward again.

Reflection: Are you wandering aimlessly? Read Ephesians 2:10 and think about what God wants you to do.

 

Fore-sightful Forsythia

ForsythiaThe forsythia (Forsythia europaea) is an ornamental shrub; a member of the olive family of plants. There are about eleven species. Most are native to eastern Asia and one native to south-eastern Europe. Some gardeners refer to forsythia as “Golden Bell.”

Forsythias are an early-spring flowering deciduous shrub. Back home in southern Pennsylvania, our forsythia bush bloomed in April, generally the earliest flower to bloom. Our forsythia bush grew on a trellis and was about four feet tall; however, forsythia bushes can grow up to 20 feet tall.

You can force blooms indoors in winter. They will brighten any room on the greyest and snowiest of winter days. Forsythia also makes an attractive hedgerow if you are willing to prune them repeatedly. The deeply four-lobed flower are medium, the petals joined only at the base. Petals become pendant in rainy weather, shielding reproductive parts. Flowers appear before leaves.1-DSC05967

Low hanging forsythia often take root in the soil, and can be removed for transplanting. Commercial propagation occurs through cuttings, taken from green wood in late spring to early summer after forsythia flowers. Alternatively, cuttings may be taken between November and February.

For the longest time, tradition advocated that forsythia flowers produced the milk sugar (lactose). Lactose rarely occurs in other natural sources except milk. However, the presence of lactose was never confirmed.

Christian Fore-sight

I’m multitasking, writing this column and watching a popular news channel. A woman, who wrote a book, claimed Radical Islam wants to create an Armageddon-like situation in the Middle East. Their approach is to kill any group who disagrees with them, even peace-loving Muslims.

St. John wrote about Armageddon in Revelation. If you have never studied Revelation, now would be the time. St. John foresees the end times (the end of the known world) and a huge battle which includes the world’s superpowers. The battle ends with blood, destruction and death of millions.

Seeing this battle must have been difficult for the sensitive apostle to write. For any group to aspire to such a goal is mind-boggling. I don’t know what will happen in the Middle East; however, I do believe in the end-time prophecy fore-seen by John. But, I am not working for it or praying for it to come. Rather, I am praying for the salvation of souls, even of the jihadists.

Reflections: What about you? Do you remember to pray for salvation of the terrorists who are inflecting inhumane atrocities as well as their victims?

Copyright: March 1, 2015 by Carolyn A. Roth; all rights reserved.

Do you Want a Long Life?

Quercus calliprinos with BruceAbraham’s camp near the oaks of Mamre is identified in Genesis
14:13 and 18:1-8.

When Abraham was about 75 years old, God directed him to leave his home in Haran. Abraham traveled with his wife Sarah, nephew Lot, and servants to Canaan. Later, Lot separated from Abraham. Abraham moved his tents to the great trees of Mamre near Hebron where he remained many years.

When Abraham was 99 years old, he had three visitors; one was the Lord. The Lord revealed two things to Abraham. First, Sarah would give birth to Abraham’s son within the next year (Genesis 18:10). Second, the Lord planned to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their extreme wickedness. Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family lived in Sodom.

Abraham was able to negotiate with God so that if as few as 10 righteous persons lived in Sodom, the city would be spared. The next morning Abraham went to a place that overlooked the plain cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham saw dense smoke rising from the plain. God was unable to find 10 righteous individuals in Sodom. Shortly thereafter, Abraham left Mamre and traveled into the Negev region where Isaac was born. At some point after Isaac’s birth, Abraham returned to the area of Mamre near Hebron.

Oak Trees of Mamre Quercus calliprinos (2)

The great trees of Mamre are Quercus calliprinos, called Palestinian oaks. Some Bibles translate oak as terebinth; however, the oak and terebinth are different trees. The Palestinian oak originated in the Mediterranean Basin. It is the most common tree found in the wildlife of Israel. Fine specimens grow the Biblical Landscape Reserve in Israel. Palistinian oaks propagate by producing acorns. Ripe acorns drop from trees and germinate in 1 week. Seedlings grow slowly. At one time the Palestinian oak was an important source of hard wood for ships, ploughs, yokes, canes. Bark was a source of tannin to dye skins and leather. Acorns were roasted and eaten during famine. The tribe of Dan made way-bread from acorns and took it to war.

Symbolism: Longevity

In the Bible, oaks were associated with power, strength, or longevity in the sense of long life. The great oaks of Mamre symbolized Abraham’s long life. A Palestinian oak near Hebron, called Abraham’s Oak, is thought to be over 850 years old.

God promised that he will be with his servants through life, even into their old age and gray hairs (Isaiah 46:4). God’s people don’t need to be concerned about aging, or what they will do in retirement. They can use Abraham as their model. God called Abraham to a new life and adventure when Abraham was 75 years old. Abraham lived 175 years. Following Noah’s death, the Bible documented that after the flood, only Isaac lived as long as Abraham.

An Israelite proverb is that the fear of the Lord adds length to life; but the years of the wicked are cut short (Proverbs 10:27). Perhaps the underlying logic of this proverb is as simple as individuals who fear the Lord live more prudent lives than do the wicked; therefore, they live longer. Whatever the cause and effect of the proverb, it is important and true because it is God’s word.

Reflection. Do you want a long life? How do you think a long life is related to fear of the Lord? Does fear of God have any place in how you live your current life?

Copyright: February 22, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth; All rights reserved.

Attraction: Christ versus a flower

Lonicera sempervirens 'Cedar Lane'When I received my first Bible, in it was a picture of Christ. He had shoulder-length medium brown hair that was clean and combed, he was beardless, and his complexion was medium. Christ’s expression was serene and thoughtful. Recently on-line, I saw another picture of Christ surrounded by disciples. He was a vigorous, healthy-looking male with neck-length light-brown hair. He was beardless and smiling. In both representative pictures, Christ was attractive.

The Bible describes the reality of Christ this way:
• “As Christ grew and in adulthood, he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2).
• After the Roman soldiers were finished torturing Christ, “many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind” (Isaiah 52:14).

Coral Honeysuckle

In contrast to the reality of Christ, the coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is described by all as attractive. It is the 2014 Virginia wildflower of the year. The honey suckle is a twining woody vine that often trails over the ground or climbs other vegetation. When cultivated, gardeners often grow this honeysuckle on trellis to display the beauty of the flowers.

Coral honeysuckle has evergreen leaves and terminal flower clusters. Flowers are produced from early to mid-spring and sporadically thereafter. The corolla is tubular with five fairly equal sized loves. From the outside coral honeysuckle looks deep pink to red; however, the inside is frequently yellow but can be red or orange.

Single flower, Lonicera sempervirens

Coral honeysuckle is famous because it attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Nectar is abundant and has a floral odor. The bright red fruits are attractive to birds such as finches, thrushes and robins. The plant is host to larvae of spring azure butterflies and snowberry clearwing moths.

Native Americans believed the coral honeysuckle had healing properties. They used leaves (dried, smoked, or steeped in water) as a tea to treat asthma, sore throats, and coughs. Chewed leaves were applied to bee stings and supposedly alleviated swelling. Native Americans were aware that in humans honeysuckle berries caused nausea and vomiting.

Application and Reflection

When I saw pictures of the coral honeysuckle and read its attraction to birds and insects, I thought about Christ. Only Christ was not necessarily physically attractive. Because he was fully man, by the end of long days, both he and his clothes smelled like perspiration. He was an itinerant rabbi (teacher). Likely, Christ did not have toilet paper, take a daily shower, or use a tooth brush or dental floss. UGH!

What attracted people of his time to Christ? In those days, 5,000 -7,000 individuals was a large number of folks to go out and listen to even the greatest teacher; but Christ drew this size crowds.

What attracts me to Christ is his message as described in the Bible, but particularly, the gospels. I still cannot comprehend an individual loving me enough to be tortured and die for me. Why would God want to do this? I am indeed a wretched creature and Christ is the Son of God and part of the Trinity.

Reflection: Reflect on Christ’s appearance. Compare it to your ideas of attractiveness.

Copyright: February 8, 2015, Carolyn A. Roth, all rights reserved.

Tree of Life Lives

No picture was included because I don’t know what the Tree of Life looks like.

Read Genesis chapter 3 in an Amplified or New International Version Study Bible.

The Tree of Life was located near the center of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2: 9) along with the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil. Although God told Adam that he could not eat from the Tree of Knowledge, God gave no prohibition against eating fruit from the Tree of Life (Genesis 2: 16). All trees in the Garden were attractive to the eye and/or good for food, so it is likely that Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of Life while they lived in the Garden. After Adam and Eve disobeyed, God reflected on their new found knowledge and its implication. God said: “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat and live forever (Genesis 3: 22).” Adam and Eve’s access to the Tree of Life was based on a proper relationship with God.

To prevent Adam and Eve from eating the fruit of the Tree of Life, God expelled them from the Garden of Eden. God placed cherubim (more than one) on the east side of the Garden to keep Adam and Eve from reentering Eden. The cherubim had a flaming sword that flashed back and forth to block the way to the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:24).

The Garden of Eden was destroyed before or during the great flood of Noah’s time when the topography of the land was changed; however, the Tree of Life was not destroyed. Rather, the Tree of Life was moved.  In the New Testament book of Revelation, John wrote about the Tree of Life in two different chapters. When speaking to the Church of Ephesus, Christ said, “to him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7). At that time the Tree of Life was located in paradise. Christ testified that paradise was an existent place when He said to the thief on the cross, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43. Paradise is the place of happiness and rest between death and resurrection (NIV Study Bible notes, 2002, p. 1618).

The Tree of Life is destined to return to earth. In the new Jerusalem a river of water will flow from the throne of God down the middle of a great street (Revelation 22:1). The Tree of Life is located on both sides of the river that flows from God’s throne. The Tree of Life will produce a different variety of fruit each month (Rev. 22:3). Christians who are victorious in overcoming evil (Rev. 7: 14) will eat the fruit of the Tree of Life (Rev. 7:14, 22:14). The leaves of the Tree of Life will be used for healing of the nations (Rev. 22:2).

Symbolism: Life

In the Hebrew of the Old Testament, the word associated with Life in the Tree of Life is “chay.”  “Chay” means alive, living thing, and life that lives and is contrasted with death. Because Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they forfeited eternal life on earth. Even though God banished them from the Garden of Eden, He remained their Father. He continued to interact with them and their children. God made a way for Adam and Eve’s offspring to be reconciled to Him and have a life that lives forever. The way is through His son, Christ, who died once for all mankind.

Just as God wanted a relationship with Adam and Eve, He desires a relationship with each of us. The question is whether or not we are willing to symbolically eat from the Tree of Life here and now. In the New Testament book of John, Christ told Nicodemus that, “flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3: 5) and “whoever believes in him (Christ) is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son (John 3:18. The birth and death of Christ was the victory over Satan predicted in Genesis 3:15 which Christ explained, “for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him (Christ) shall not perish but have eternal life (John, 3:16)

My earthly parents (Adam and Eve) were condemned to an earthly death, expelled from Eden, and barred from eating fruit from the Tree of Life, however, I am assured of eternal life. By accepting a relationship with Christ, I am no longer condemned to death; but will live in eternity.

Reflection. What about you? Where are you in the process and progress of your life? Is your future eternal death or eternal life?

Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth. Use with permission.

Are you a Bradford pear tree?

1-DSC06022Bradford Pear (Callery pear) is a species of pear tree native to China. It is a deciduous tree with a cone-shaped to rounded crown. The flowers are produced in early spring before leaves expand fully. They are white, with five petals, and about 0.79 to 1.2 inches in diameter. Flowers have a sickly-sweet smell. The fruit is small, hard, and almost woody until softened by frost. Humans don’t eat them, but birds consume them enthusiastically.

Bradford pear trees are an invasive species in some areas of North America, pushing out native American plants and trees. On the Bradford pear tree, limbs grow upward from the main branch at an angle so narrow that hard winds break limbs from the tree. Rarely, will you see an intact mature Bradford pear tree.

Today, many municipalities and individuals who want the spring-time beauty of a flowering Bradford tree buy and plant the Cleveland Select pear tree. The tree in the picture is a Cleveland Select.  Cleveland pear tree is a genetically-improved variety that grows in a uniform globe shape. The Cleveland Select Pear reaches a height of 30 feet. The canopy is about 15 feet wide. It produces no fruit, tolerates urban conditions, and heavy clay soils.

Both cultivars have the same genus and species name (Pyrus calleryana), but the Cleveland select tree is strong because of its limb structure. It withstands ice on branches and/or strong winds without breaking or coming apart because limbs grow at an optimal (45-60 degrees) – rather than a too narrow (5-15 degrees) – angle from the trunk or central leader (limb) of the tree.

When something is optimal, it is best, ideal, finest, or most advantageous. The opposite of optimal is worst. On a continuum between optimal and worst Christ-like behavior, there are a lot of points, i.e., a lot of distance between optimal and worst. Unlike the Cleveland Select pear tree limbs that are strong because they are at a larger angle from the tree’s main leader, Christians aren’t stronger when there is a lot of distance between them and God. Closeness counts in a relationship with God.

Reflection: If you want to be strong and not snap off when ice or a strong wind hits you, what are some actions you can take to stay close to Christ? Do you go to church regularly?

Copyright: January 18, 2015, Carolyn A. Roth. All rights reserved.

God’s Watching You

Dwarf flowering almondRead about the Lampstand of the Tabernacle in Exodus 25.

The almond tree symbolizes God’s watchfulness. The almond tree was central to the Tabernacle and is described in two key situations. First, almond tree buds, blossoms and flowers are the design on the Lampstand (Exodus 25:33-34). The Lampstand and it accessories were made of 75 pounds of gold (MacDonald, 2005). In the Bible, no dimensions (height, width of the top of the Lampstand) were given for the Lampstand; however, its base and arms are described in detail in Exodus 37: 17 – 23).

Three branches extend from one side and three branches from the opposite side of the central base. On each of the six branches there were three cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms. The Lampstand base and central branch had four cups shaped like almond flowers with buds and blossoms. One almond bud was under the first pair of branches, a second bud under the second pair of branches, and a third bud under the third pair of branches. The buds and seven branches were all one piece of gold with the base, hammered out of pure gold. At the top of each of the seven branches was set an oil lamp.

The Lampstand was the only source of light in the Tabernacle. It was positioned in the Holy of Holies on the south side of the room, opposite the Table of the Presence-Bread. Priests lit the seven oil lamps every evening; the lamps were to burn continually throughout the night until morning. Today, Christians and Jews refer to lamps that are similar as a “menorah.”

The second source of almonds in the Tabernacle is Aaron’s staff which sprouted overnight while in front of the Ark of the Testimony (Covenant) in the Tent of Meeting (Numbers 17: 1 – 11). Unlike staffs representing the other 11 tribes of Israel, Aaron’s staff produced buds, blossoms and almonds. Aaron’s staff was not placed in the Tabernacle at its initial construction at Mt. Sinai.

After Aaron’s staff sprouted it was kept in front of the Testimony in the Most Holy of Holies during the wanderings of the Israelites. Paul avers that that Aaron’s staff was placed in the Ark of the Testimony (Hebrews 9:4); however, Aaron’s staff was not in the Ark of the Testimony when Solomon brought the Ark to the first Temple in Jerusalem (I Kings 8: 9).

Almond Tree

The almond tree described in Exodus and Numbers is likely the Prunus amygdalus var. dulcis or Amygdalus (almond) communis(common). The almond tree bears sweet almonds which were used for food in the eastern Mediterranean region. Domesticated almonds were identified in the early Bronze Age (3000-2000 B.C.). Usually almond tree grow 12 – 27 feet in height. The flowering almond tree buds in Israel as early as February and is one of the most beautiful flowering trees in nature.

Amygdalus communis, NK

In Old Testament times almonds were eaten raw or roasted, pressed for almond oil, and used to flavor porridge, breads and other baked goods. In Egypt, almonds were found in Pharaoh Tutankhamen’s tomb in Egypt (around 1327 B.C.); these almonds were likely imported from Canaan. When Jacob directed his sons to go to Egypt to buy grain, he told them to take almonds as a gift to the Egyptians because almonds were “some of the best product of the land” (Genesis43:11).

Symbolism: Alert, Watchful

In the Hebrew language, name for almond tree is shâqêd (Strong, 2010). The primary root of shâqêd is shâqad which means to be watchful, alert, on the lookout, and sleepless. Almond buds and blossoms were placed on the Lampstand where the lamps burned during the night to symbolize two things: first, the constant watchfulness of God over His people and second the need for Israel to be alert to the commandments of God.

The association between the almond tree and watchfulness of God over Israel is repeated in Jeremiah 1: 11 – 12. The Lord asked Jeremiah, What do you see? Jeremiah’s response is, “I see the branch of an almond tree.” God returns, “You have seen correctly, for I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.” Job (7:20) calls God a “watcher of men.” Placing Aaron’s almond rod in the Most Holy of Holies is a reminder that the priesthood must be watchful against any rebellion or turning of the Children of Israel from God’s laws.

By using the symbolism of the almond tree in the Tabernacle, God provided both reassurance and caution to the Children of Israel. He provides reassurance that He is always watching over them. At the same time God cautions His Children to remain alert to events and situations that can detract them from keeping God as the primary focus of their lives.

At this time I am teaching an on-line course to university students. When courses are offered online, faculty and students rarely meet person-to-person. Students can be in Africa as missionaries, in Guam on a military ship, or anywhere across the globe. Faculty must be watchful that students read and implement the course syllabus, content, and assignments. If a student is off track, the faculty must immediately respond to assist her/him to re-read or re-think their work. Students ask questions of the faculty on line in Discussion Boards or via university email. University policy requires faculty to respond to students within 24 hours. At the same time students have a responsibility to be alert. They need to read posted announcements, grading comments, and answers to questions posed by classmates. If students are not constantly alert to the interactions in the course, they can limit their learning and their earned grades.

Faculty-student interactions in an online course are a reflection of how God works with us. He constantly monitors our behavior and when we get off track, He sends us messages that we need to readjust our thinking and our behavior. Unlike my interaction with students, God does not take up to 24 hours to learn what I am thinking/doing and respond to me. He knows immediately. And, thanks be to God, He does not figuratively pull His hair out at some of the things I do or neglect to do.

God is continually and constantly watchful over me. That does not mean that I can float along in my relationship with God and expect Him to do all of the work. I must stay alert and track with His guidelines for a successful life. In Matthew 26:40 Christ warns Peter, “watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Paul instructs Timothy to “watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (I Timothy 4:16).

Reflection: Are you being watchful of your life and behavior so you do not drift from closeness with God? Are you watching and praying so you do not fall into temptation?

Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth, January 15, 2014. All rights reserved.