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

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.