Separation from God

Commiphora africana lightRead Genesis Chapters 1 and 2.

On Creation Day 6 God planted a garden in the east in Eden (Genesis 2: 8-9).  Most scholars believe that the location of Eden “in the east” is in reference to Israel, where Genesis was probably written. In the ancient Hebrew language, Eden means “delight.”  The Garden of Eden was a place of pristine and abundant natural beauty.  All manner of plants were present. A river ran through Eden to water the garden. The Bible did not give the river a name.  After leaving Eden, the river formed the headwaters of four rivers: the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and Euphrates.  It’s tempting to conclude that Eden was located near present day Iraq because rivers named Tigris and Euphrates are located in Iraq; however, these Iraqi rivers are probably not the original rivers named in Genesis.  The devastating flood of Noah’s time destroyed and changed the topography of the land.  Later peoples probably named the present day rivers Tigris and Euphrates in the same manner that early American colonists named American locations after sites in Europe, e.g., Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

The Bible described the Pishon River as winding through the land of Havilah, noted for its gold and aromatic resin.  The aromatic resin was bdellium, the first plant named in the Bible.

What is a bdellium?

Bdellium’s genus and species names are Commiphora africana. The generic name ‘Commiphora’ is based on the Greek words ‘kommi’ (gum) and ‘phero’ (to bear).  The bdellium is a deciduous tree indigenous to sub-Saharan African.  In 2012, bdellium did not appear in Israeli plant data bases.  Bdellium grows best in red or sandy clay and rocky ground to include from escarpments.  It leafs before or at the beginning of the wet season and loses leaves as the dry season begins.  If rainfall is sparse and interrupted, two crops of leaves may be produced.  Underground roots spread many feet around the tree in search of water. The bark is pleasantly scented and exudes a clear gum or resin.  Nomadic peoples use the bdellium tree for several purposes.  Roots of young plants have a sweet taste and are chewed.  Timber is used for stools, milk containers, spoons and on occasion for building houses. Bark is brewed for red tea.  Soft gum is eaten while hard gum is used to make arrows.  Fruit is chewed to prevent gum disease and stop toothaches.   In ancient Egypt women carried small pouches filled with bdellium pieces as a source of perfume.

Bdellium Symbolism

The Hebrew word for bdellium is bedôlach, derived from the word’s primary root, bâdal which means to separate, divide or distinguish from. The symbolism of the bdellium plant in the creation story mirrored the separation or differentiation of the Biblical Garden of Eden from the lands outside.  The Biblical Eden included beautiful plants and plants available for man to eat; it was all sufficient.  In contrast, the land of Havilah was noteworthy only for its gold and one aromatic resin-producing plant, bdellium.  None of the lands outside of Eden were described as attractive, lush, or food producing.

Living inside of Christ is like living in Eden.  With Christ our lives are beautiful, fertile and satisfying.  When we are outside of Eden — separated from Christ – our lives are bland, unproductive and we are left hungering for something that is not there.  That something is Christ. Sometimes I feel like I am simply smelling the aromatic bdellium in Havilah, rather than living in Eden.   I worry that I am separated from Christ; that I am not spending enough time with him or the right kind of time with him.

At those times I am reassured by Romans 8:35 where Paul asked the question, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ. Will trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”  The answer Paul provided is as relevant today as it was to the Romans 2000 year ago.  Paul’s answer was, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:38-39).

Thought: Nothing can stop God from loving us. What stops us from loving God. Remember is we love God, we obey him.

Copyright: September 21, 2014: Carolyn A. Roth

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New Gardener

What can I say?

Death by Wormwood

WormwoodWormwood was a falling star with the same name as a plant; read Revelation 8:1-11.

St. John, the Beloved Disciple, is credited with writing Revelation. Revelation is an unveiling of spiritual forces operating behind the scenes in history (ESV-SB, 2008). Revelations is largely prophecy, describing what will occur in future time. The book was written in the form of a letter addressed to the 1st century churches in the 7 cities of the Roman province of Asia in the region now known as western Turkey. Probably, John wrote Revelation in 95-96 AD when he was exiled to the island of Patmos

In Revelation chapter 8, John described a vision in which 7 angels, each with a trumpet, stood before God. The angels were ready to sound the trumpets, initiating judgments on the earth. These judgments were not the final judgment on the earth; rather, they were to warn the people of coming destruction and call them to repentance (ESV-SB, 2008). The sounding of the first four trumpets caused plagues in nature – land, sea, fresh water, and heavenly bodies. See Table 1 for a synopsis of the effect of the sounding of the four trumpets.

Table1, Outcome of Blowing Trumpets 1-4.

Trumpet Caused Outcome on the earth
First: land Hail and fire, mixed with blood, were thrown on the earth 1/3 of the earth was burnt to include 1/3 of trees and plants. Every form of plant life was affected.
Second: sea Something like a great burning mountain – a great burning mass – was thrown in to the sea. 1/3 of the sea became blood, 1/3 of living creatures in sea died, 1/3 of ships were destroyed.
Third: fresh water A blazing star called Wormwood fell on 1/3 of the rivers and springs of the earth. 1/3 of waters (possibly fresh waters) became bitter and many people died from the bitter water.
Fourth: heavenly bodies Sun, moon and stars were struck 1/3 of the day and 1/3 of the night was without light.

When the third trumpet sounded, a blazing star fell to earth. This blazing star was called Wormwood or Absinthus. When meteors enter the earth’s atmosphere and start to burn they are called meteorites. In the United States, we commonly call them shooting stars. When a large meteorite hits the earth’s surface, a huge dust cloud rises. The dust and particulates in the cloud spread around the globe moved by winds and the rotation of the earth. Wormwood contained a contaminate that turned 1/3 of the earth’s fresh water bitter; or somehow released pollutants on earth that contaminated 1/3 of fresh water sources.

Wormwood

The Revelation 8:11 wormwood reference is to Artemisia absinthium, the best known of the approximately 400 artemisias. According to legend, wormwood grew up in the trail left by the serpent’s tail as it slithered out of the Garden of Eden. The earliest known description of wormwood was found on an Egyptian papyrus dated approximately 1600 BC; it was described as a medicine to rid the body of worms. With the exception of rue, wormwood is the bitterest known herb. Wormwood is native to North Africa and temperate regions of Eurasia. Americans describe wormwood as similar to Western sagebrush.

An addictive drink, absinthe, can be made from the Artemisia leaves and flower tops. Absinthe is illegal in most countries of the world including the United States, Canada and France. The active ingredient in wormwood is thujone, which in large quantities is a convulsive poison.

Symbolism: Idolatry

In the Old Testament, wormwood was used as a metaphor in the following ways: a) idolatry of Israel (Deuteronomy 29:18); b) calamity and sorrow (Jeremiah 9:15, 23:15; Lamentations 3:15, 19); and c) false judgment (Amos 5:7) (McGee, 1991). The star’s name identified that its effects were judgment on man for his idolatry and injustice. In the Bible era, idolatry primarily referred to worship of idols or graven images, e.g., Baal, Artemis, Neptune. Most westerners do not worship statues, but that does not mean that we are not idolaters. Idolatry is blind or excessive devotion to something or someone, e.g., money, prestige, a charismatic individual. The calamity and sorrow associated with contamination of 1/3 of the fresh water supply of the world will be natural consequences of turning from God and worshipping idols.

copyright September 4, 2014: Carolyn A. Roth

Moses’ Bulrushes in U.S.

PapyrusRead the account of Moses and the bulrush cradle in Exodus chapter 1 – chapter 2:10.

Jacob and his family (70 members in all) settled in the Goshen area of Egypt in about 1876 B.C.   Moses was born about 350 years later.  In the interim years, the Israelites becoming so numerous that Goshen was filled with them. A new pharaoh came to power who did not know the history of Joseph helping Egypt.  Feeling threatened by the number of Israelites living in Egypt, the new Pharaoh made them slaves.  He ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill all Israelite newborn males.  The midwives worked around Pharaoh’s edict and the numbers of Israelites continued to grow.  Still determined to reduce the number of Israelites, Pharaoh ordered that every Israelite male infant must be thrown into the Nile River where the infant would die.

When Moses was born to an Israelite family, his mother was determined to keep him alive. She crafted a cradle made from bulrushes and coated it with bitumen (tar-like substance) to make it water resistant.  Moses’ mother placed him in the cradle and put the cradle among Nile River reeds. Moses’ sister, Miriam, was tasked with guarding the baby in the cradle.  Guarding the cradle was dangerous; predators, e.g., wild animals, crocodiles, and snakes, lived in and around the Nile River reeds.

Pharaoh’s daughter came to the Nile River to bathe and saw the cradle floating among the reeds.  She sent a slave girl to get the cradle. When Pharaoh’s daughter opened the cradle, she recognized a Hebrew baby.  Feeling compassion for the baby, Pharaoh’s daughter decided to make the baby her son. At that time Miriam stepped forward. Miriam asked Pharaoh’s daughter, if should obtain a Hebrew woman to nurse the baby.  When Pharaoh’s daughter agreed, Miriam went home and returned with Moses’ mother.  Pharaoh’s daughter directed her to nurse Moses until he was weaned. In ancient times, it was common to nurse infants for two to three years.  Probably, Moses’ mother nursed him the maximum time possible.  After Moses was weaned, Pharaoh’s daughter took him and Moses became her son. In the Hebrew language, Moses meant “drawn from the water,” while in Egyptian Moses meant “son of” or “born of.”

The Bulrush Cradle

The bulrush cradle was made from the Cyperus papyrus, a stately aquatic reed also called the Nile papyrus.  The reed is  indigenous to Africa and other countries around the Mediterranean Sea. For optimal growth, reeds need full sun. Throughout Africa many swamps, shallow lakes, and stream and river banks are dominated by papyrus reeds; however, in Egypt the papyrus plant is now rare.  In Israel there are only limited papyrus reeds, generally in tended gardens. In ancient Egypt, the bulrush had multiple uses. The reed was renowned as the source of ancient Egyptian paper called papyrus.  In Egypt, references to papyrus paper occurred as early as 3100 B. C. Bulrushes were excellent pens because air-spaces in the stems could hold ink. Papyrus reeds were used to make boxes and baskets because they were light weight. Giant stems were buoyant, therefore, used in construction of reed boats, cradles, and bed mattresses.  Today in sub-Saharan Africa, mothers craft reed or wooden cradles for newborns that they call a Moses’ Basket.

For the first time this year, local nurseries were selling the Cyperus papyrus. I bought several for the church Bible garden. They were a great hit especially with the children.  I planted them in part sun and part shade and watered them frequently. Unfortunately they are an annual but perhaps they will regrow next year if I mulch their roots this fall.

Symbolism of the Papyrus: Absorb

The symbolism of the bulrush reed is related to its ability to absorb. The Hebrew word for bulrush is derived from the Hebrew word gâmâ’ which means “to absorb.” Moses’ cradle was made of porous bulrushes which absorbed air; thus, it was buoyant and floated and saved Moses’ life.  In the English language, the meaning of absorb is to take in and make part of an existent whole.

The body of Christ is the world-wide universe of believers who have God’s spirit living in them (I Corinthians 12: 12-13; Ephesians 1:25; Colossians 1: 24). When we accept Christ as our lord and savior, we automatically become members of the body of Christian believers. Then, ideally we affiliate with and are absorbed into a local body of believers.  Being absorbed into a local body of believers takes several intentional steps.  First, we need to find other Christian believers.  Second, we need to open ourselves to fellow Christians so we can absorb the essence of Christ-likeness in them. Third, we need to willingly give the Christ in us to others.

God tells us “not to give up meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25); but where do we find members of the body of Christ? Generally, we find them in a Bible-believing church. Finding a Bible-believing church can begin with exploring church websites. Most churches describe their doctrine and beliefs on their website; believers can ascertain if a church’s doctrine is congruent with the Holy Scriptures.  After evaluating a church’s doctrine and beliefs, believers can attend the church.

When we moved to Roanoke, we started looking for Bible-believing churches.  After prayer, receiving friends’ recommendations, and evaluating church web-sites, we decided to visit several churches.  Some were large, others were small. One met in a movie theater on Sunday mornings; another in a large century-old stone church.  Some churches we eliminated after one visit; however, generally we made several visits to each church. Not limiting ourselves to churches in our present denomination was a big step. It was hard to act on our belief that we were members of the body of Christ, rather than members of a certain denomination. Finally, with continued prayer we agreed on a church that promoted Christian growth and development in an inclusive body of believers.

Making an effort to be absorbed into the Church’s body of believers is work.  In addition to Sunday church, we attended Sunday morning Bible School. Attending Bible school was important because we heard the teacher’s point of view and that of congregates who participated in discussions. We joined ministries that used our spiritual gifts and talents.  My husband and I noted repeatedly that congregates “knew their Bible” and applied it to situations encountered in meetings and ministries. We participated in a number of one-day mission/community outreach activities where we interacted with more church members.

Not every individual slides automatically into fellowship with others in the church. My husband is outgoing and is comfortable in just about any setting.  I’m just the opposite; I prefer to stay at home, have my personal devotions, journal, and meditate.  At one time I felt inadequate because I was introverted. Now I realize that God does not require us to change our personality (I Corinthians 12:12–30). Within the body of Christ, there is room for individual differences. What God expects is for each of us be absorbed into a body of believers (Hebrews 10:25).

Thought: How we absorb and are absorbed into the body of Christ can take many forms.  What form is your absorption taking?

Copyright: August 25, 2014: Carolyn A. Roth

Common Beauty

Vicia faba flower

Vica Faba flower.

When I was growing up in rural central Pennsylvania, we had a garden. It was a big garden in which we grew vegetables. Mother canned most of them so the family would have nutritious food during the winter months.

We grew several rows of beans. They weren’t one of my favorite vegetables to eat in the summer when other fruits and vegetables were abundant; however, in the cold winter when Mother prepared beans with onions, boiled potatoes and ham, all six of us children sat right up to the table.

As a child, I never paid any attention to how plants grew. I again marvel how I spent decades of my life not appreciating the smaller beauties of nature, like a bean flower.  Last Sunday in church, I spoke about the Church Bible Garden to another Sunday school teacher’s helper. He questioned, “what’s Bible garden?” Is it in the back of the church? We never park there.”

Carefully, I explained that St. John’s Lutheran Bible Garden included 70 of approximately 125 plants named in the Bible. Also, the plants were labeled with their name and the Bible verses where they were found. The gardens were located in the front of the church.

My feelings were hurt: Here was my beautifully designed, planted and weeded garden and he did not even know it existed. Why was my husband and I doing all this work if the congregates didn’t even notice?

Reflection:  Our good works — even planting a garden– are to point toward God, not toward ourselves. It doesn’t matter that many, even most, individuals are un-aware of our efforts. God knows our heart and our sacrifice to him.

 

Weeping Hemlock

Weeping HemlockIn the Hershey Garden this summer we saw several specimens of weeping hemlock (Tsuga candensis “Pendula”). The name caught my eye because from a Bible perspective, we associate “hemlock” with a poison. Using that perspective, the name for this tree is the “weeping poison.”

The weeping hemlock is a north American conifer with needles that are green all year long. It can grow as tall as 10-12 feet, but, ofter tree stewards keep it pruned to 2-3 feet so the tree appears as a mound of weeping foliage. The weeping hemlock can spread horizontally 8-10 feet. It grows in part shade to full sun and prefers cool, moist conditions. The weeping hemlock is intolerant of drought.

In the Old Testament, drought was frequently associated with lack of rain falling on the land because of sins of the Israelites. Today, we don’t associate drought, or lack of rain, with sin. Americans are much to sophisticated to think that God sends and with-holds rain in response to our sin. But, God is unchangeable; He said so in the Bible. So maybe drought is a response to sin.

I have times of drought in my life. They occur when I don’t spend time with God. In those times, I am not refreshed with the dew of God’s mercy. I stop blooming. I have nothing or little positive to give others.

Tsuga canadensis PendulaReflection: Why in the world do I and why in the world do you at times neglect to spend time with God? Our young associate pastor last Sunday said that we become like individuals we spend time with. It really is simple: I want to be like God, so I need to spend time with him.

 

The Wildflower and the Rich

Crown Daisys, Israeli seashore James uses the image of a transient wild flower to depict the brevity of wealth in James 1:10-11.

Most scholars agree that the James who wrote the New Testament book was the half-brother of Jesus. James could have been written as early as 50 A.D., which would make it one of the earliest books of the New Testament. The book of James has a distinctive Jewish nature; the letter was written to the “12 tribes scattered among the nations” (James 1:1). James’ focus is vital Christianity faith exemplified by works.

In James 1:10-11, James provided instruction for the Christian who was financially rich. Many of the world’s people view riches as a reason for pride; riches can buy comfort, prestige, and all types of world goods. In contrast to this world view, James wrote that riches are a reason to be humble. James’ rationale was that the rich man will pass away like a wild flower. With the heat of a scorching sun, the wild flower withers, its blossoms fall and its beauty is destroyed. Similarly, a rich man fades away as he goes about his business.
Throughout his letter, James reinforced his assertion that riches were a reason for humility. He wrote that the poor are rich in faith (James 2:5-7). In contrast, the financially rich often exploit others and drag them to court. The rich even slander the name of Christ. James advised rich people to weep and wail because misery would come upon them; they hoarded their wealth, refuse to pay their workers, and condemned and murdered innocent men (James 5:1-6).

Crown Daisy

A common wild flower in Israel is the crown daisy, also known as the Chrysanthemum coronarium and in the United States as the Glebionis coronarium. Noted Israeli botonists Michael Zohary proposed that James’ wildflower was the crown daisy. The crown daisy was native to the Mediterranean Basin and is now distributed throughout Asia, Europe, and North America. Crown daisies grow in every region of Israel, from northern Mount Hermon though the southern deserts. Often the crown daisy grows where humans disturbed the natural vegetation, e.g., waste areas, along roadsides. Yellow flower heads are 1-2 inches in diameter with a central disk surrounded by 15-12 flower petals. Petals are 1-1.5 inches long. Both the disk and petals are yellow; however, the disk is a darker (almost gold) yellow with up to 100 florets. In Israel, crown daisies bloom from February through May. Plants can self-sow when the soil is disturbed, for example by hoeing or raking.

Symbolism: Crown

In Latin, the language used to name plants, coronarium means crown in the sense of garland. Often daisies are woven into daisy chains for around the forehead or neck. James echoed Jesus’ admonishment that a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12:15). Rather, life is like an ephemeral wild flower or like mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes (James 4:14). Life here on earth is short. Ideally, we live so that when life ends, we receive the crown of life that God promised to those who love him (James 1:12).

Reflection

Considering doing a personal inventory; ask yourself if you are satisfied with how you are living your life. Include in the self-assessment a question about what you are doing to earn/receive your crown of life.

World’s Strongest Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Yitran Plant

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

Symbolism of Yitran Rope

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright July, 2014: Carolyn A. Roth

Jacob’s Wives were Superstitious

Courtesy Sara Gold, Israel.

Courtesy Sara Gold, Israel.

Read Genesis 30:14-22.

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

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

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

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

Mandragora autumnalisCharacteristics of the Mandrake Plant

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

Application of the Mandrake

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

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

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

Copyright July 2014: Carolyn Adams Roth

What was the Ark?

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

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

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

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

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

Cypress Tree

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

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

Symbolism:  Immortality

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

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

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

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

Copyright: Carolyn Adams Roth July 2014.