Christmas Holly = Holy

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It’s Christmas, it’s Christmas. Time for holly. These pictures are of the beautiful American holly tree (Ilex opaca) that grows in southeastern United States. This one is in the St. John Church Bible Garden. It is evergreen. These picture were taken on December 12 when the temperature is freezing at night.

Don’t confuse this tree with the holm tree in the Bible. That tree is an evergreen oak (Quercus ilex). Both species take their name from the pointed leaves.

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If you want to grow holly trees you need a male and a female. Only the female tree produces the beautiful red berries.

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A Christmas carol is The Holly and The Ivy.

Reflection: When I see, or hear, the word holly, I always think of holy. God is holy–pure, just, kind, bright–and I am not. If I were holy, I would want to be like the colors of the holly tree, e.g., vibrant, pleasing to look at, even colorful. I would want people to look at me and smile, as I do when I look at a holly tree.

Copyright: December 13, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth

 

Solomon’s crown

Cyclamen persicumDuring the Christmas season, cyclamens are a popular gift, possibly because they are associated with the Holy Land. The beautiful cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) is often called Solomon’s crown. Although not identified in the Bible, cyclamen grow freely among rocks and on rock walls in Israel. It is native to the eastern Mediterranean region.

In Israel, cyclamen begin to blossom in November and continues through March-April. In Upper Galilee cyclamen bloom even into early May. Leaves are heart-shaped and dark green with white mottling. In Israel, flowers are generally white or vivid pink; however, they can also be lavender. The blossom (6-9 inches tall) rises from a single stem. The bloom can last an entire month. Flowers are reminiscent of orchids.

Generally, cyclamen grow from corms (small bulbs), but with enough patience, they can be grown from seeds. In the United States, cyclamen are winter hardy in zones 9–11. Recently, florists have developed smaller cyclamen (2-4 inch tall blossoms) that are hardy in zones 5-8.  Last fall, I purchased and planted three of the hardy cyclamen corms in St. John Church Bible Garden. I am hoping that they will grow in the spring.

Owners generally keep cyclamen in a cool, semi-shaded area on a porch or balcony during summer and bring them inside during winter. If cyclamen are planted outdoors, they need a semi-shaded area, composted soil, and plenty of moisture.

Reflection: The more I read about Solomon, the worse I feel about him. He had so much going for him; however, he succumbed to worship of his wifes’ gods. We need to be sure that we never slowly drift (like Solomon) to worship of a god other than God.

Advent Amaryllis

1-DSC05080The Amaryllis has become a popular Christmas flower; however, mine never blooms until January.

It is showy and brilliant and puts plants with only green foliage to shame; but they should never be ashamed.  Plants with only, or mostly, green foliage have great value. It is the green-foliage in plants that gives oxygen into the atmosphere and adds appreciable to the pleasing environment of our homes.

As we walk for Christ in 21st century, most of us aren’t showy or even brilliant; we tend to be more quiet and  simple  as we live each day. That doesn’t make us less valuable, it just makes us what we are: a Christian who does his or her part daily for Christ. We raise children in a Christian home, we are a witness in the workplace, we let a driver into the traffic lane in front of us.

Reflection: Perhaps it is more important to walk day-by-day, year-after-year for Christ than  have a brilliant flare.

BTW: If you are growing amaryllis, be sure not to let the water level go above the top of the root bulb. I’m sure  there is a lesson in Christian living in that. If you have an idea what it is, please write a comment.

Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth, 2/14

Rock Rose and Loss

Rock Rose, SJL

This rock rose (Cistus villosus) grew last spring and summer in the St John Church Bible Garden in Roanoke, VA; but died as the summer progressed. Some botanists associate the rock rose with Isaiah’s (chapter 15) prophecy against Moab, while other contend that the rock rose was actually a myrrh. In Palestine and the surrounding area, there were about 9 different flowers named rose. Supposedly, the rock rose grew specifically on Mount Carmel.

I was sad when my plant died and visited my local nursery to determine if I could buy another. The excellent horticulturist  said they would not be getting more of the plants because too many customers reported the plant died after one year. Perhaps I should be happy that I had mine two years.

What happens when an idea, personal aim, or goal dies or we realize it is time to give it up? A part of our idealized self fades or is abruptly gone.  I think that we mourn these inanimate desires sometimes as much as we mourn a person or animal’s passing. We are sad; part of ourselves is lost. Because the grief is not associated with someone or something tangible that we hold in our hands does not make the loss any less real.

Reflection: Recently, I had to accept that I would never achieve a personal goal. It was hard. I told God in excruciating detail about my loss and how I felt. God did not give me back platitudes. He listened. Now, I’m eager to see what he does with my loss. I have absolute faith that he will turn my loss into something positive, even more positive than I can ever imagine.

Cinnamon, a Valuable Commodity

Bark, Cheekwood GardenIn Revelation chapter 18, cinnamon is mentioned as a valuable spice.

When John wrote Revelation, he prophesied the end of Rome and the Roman Empire. At the same time, John was writing under the direction of the Holy Spirit; therefore, his writings could refer to world systems which operate today or in the future. From this perspective Revelations 18 could predict a future collapse of the commercial-economic systems of the world from the perspective of world leaders, merchants, and individual involved in commerce on the seas.

These verses demonstrated the inter-connections of politics and trade, with an immediate application to shipping. All countries are connected by shipping, e.g., the United States gets oil from the Middle East, clothing from China, and ships food to African countries and coal to Asia. The fall of naval commerce will have national and worldwide effects. Within each country, individual jobs and buying power will be cut. Taxable income will be reduced, national debt will increase, and banks will fail. Private industries, e.g., the health care industry which consumes about 15 percent of the U.S. gross national product, will be curtailed severely. Eventually, governments will collapse.

John prophesied that when commerce failed, there would be no cargoes of cinnamon and spice. Most of us could get along without spices; it is difficult to imagine why cinnamon was mentioned in a list of valuable cargo items. Yet, in the Biblical world, the cinnamon trade was huge. Tons of cinnamon used for rituals, medicine, and everyday purposes. Egyptians used cinnamon in embalming potions. Cinnamon was a key ingredient in the Tabernacle anointing oil (Exodus 30:23-25). Medically, cinnamon was used to reduce inflammation, promote menstruation, and stimulate the urinary tract. Along with other perfumes, cinnamon was used to perfume bed linens and clothing (Proverbs 7:17). Cinnamon was used to mask smells. In the first century Pliny wrote that the market price for an Egyptian pound (350 grams) of cinnamon was over 1000 denarius or about 2.5 years wage for a typical Hebrew worker.

Cinnamon   Cinnamonum zeylanicum, cinnamon

The Bible cinnamon was Cinnamomum zeylanicum, also known as Cinnamomum verem. Cinnamon is an aromatic tree bark used as a spice. The cinnamon tree was native to Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) and the southeast coast of India. Today, all commercial cinnamon grows in plantations. The cinnamon tree does not grow naturally in Israel; however, in 2012 the Jerusalem Botanical Garden we saw small specimens in the Conservatory.
The cinnamon tree is a small, bushy, and evergreen. It grows 30-40 feet tall, often with wide spreading branches. Young branches, or shoots, are crimson often with dark green and orange spots. As bark matures, it turns pale brown (ash). Mature bark is rough to the touch because it is covered with raised dots, scales, and points. Cinnamon trees are harvested in their third year of growth. After two years, the tops of trees are pruned. The third year, small shoots appear. These shoots are stripped and the thin inner bark is peeled from the tree. During the peeling process, the inner bark curls into the “stick” shape associated with cinnamon.

Symbolism: Spice, Zest

Arguably, cinnamon is synonymous with spice; certainly cinnamon is the definitive spice. The archaic meaning of spice is a small portion or quantity, a dash; or something that gives zest, i.e., to food or life. In the end times, commerce will cease. An imported product, cinnamon will be unavailable for cookery and for perfumes that scent candles, potpourri, and individuals. This dash or bit of zest will be absent from our individual lives. Christians may or may not be in the world when the commerce-economic systems fails; however, to Christians having or not having cinnamon, luxury items, or even the basic necessities of life is not as important as having Christ. Christ is not just a small portion, or dash, of spice in Christian lives. Christ is omnipresent. For Christians, Christ is their world view.

Reflection: Is your life zestful?

Copyright: November 8, 2014, Carolyn A. Roth, Use with permission

Pickles

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Citron Wood, A Luxury Item

Citron wood fruitReference: Revelation 18:11-17

John wrote Revelation near the end of the first century. At that time, the Roman Empire was the dominant geographic-political entity, stretching from Britain, through Europe, and into the Middle East. In Revelation 18, John prophesied the end of Rome and the Roman Empire; however, the Roman Empire did not end for about another 375 years. In 476 A.D., Rome fell when the last western emperor, Romulus Augustus, was deposed by the Hun general, Odoacer, who then ruled Italy.

Revelation Chapter 18 contains three laments; one by the kings of the earth (Revelation 18:9-10), one by the merchants of the earth (Revelation 18:11-17), and another by sea captains, sailors and all who earned their living from the sea (Revelation 18:18-20). The merchants of the earth are crying out because Romans (and its Empire) no longer buy their cargoes. These cargoes include precious metals and stones, linen and cloths, every sort of citron wood and articles of every kind made of ivory and costly wood, spices and food products, horses and carriages, and slaves.

During the Roman Republic, elite members of society were known for their sumptuous banquets. The best banquet tables were made of citron wood because the wood did not stain when wine and other food was spilled on them. The Roman philosopher and statesman Cicero (106 B.C.-43 B.C.) recorded that a citron wood table could cost as much as 1.3 million sesterces. To put this amount of money into a New Testament framework, this citron banquet table was valued at an amount equivalent to 20 Jewish workers each laboring 45 years (assume: 1/4 of a denarius equaled 1 sesterce and a typical Jewish laborer earned 1denarii per day).

Citron Wood

Citron wood comes from the Tetraclinis articulata tree which most of us call the sandarac gum tree, thyine wood, or the thuya. T. articulata is the sole species in this genus of plants. It was native to the western Mediterranean region particularly southern Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Malta. The expansion of agricultural activity, over grazing, urbanization, exploitation, and fires have reduced the number of sandarac trees. In Israel, the sandarac grows in Galilee and the northern valleys, central hills (Carmel) and in the entire Negev desert area. It can grow in rock fissures and rocky slopes. T. articulata is an evergreen coniferous tree in the cypress family.

Symbolism: Luxury

In the Roman Empire, citron wood was a luxury item. A luxury item is an indulgence that provides pleasure, satisfaction, or ease. To wealthy Romans, a citron wood banquet table provided all three of these. These wealthy Romans and their decadent ways were the same individuals that persecuted early Christians, laughing when Christians were killed in the Coliseum. Their self- indulgence  led to the downfall of Rome. Perhaps we need to reflect on what we pay more attention to: acquiring luxury items or walking in the Spirit.

Copyright: October 28, 2014, Carolyn A. Roth

Harps on Willow Trees

Salix babylonicaThe story of the fall of Jerusalem is in 2 Kings 25:1-12 and Psalm 137 is a lament of the exiles in Babylon.

After King Zedekiah of Judah rebelled, Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem (January 15, 588 B.C.). About 2 ½ years later, King Zedekiah and his army broke through the Jerusalem wall near the king’s garden and fled the city. Nebuchadnezzar pursued and captured Zedekiah at Riblah. Zedekiah was taken to Babylon and killed. On August 14, 586 B.C., the Babylonians set fire to the temple, royal palace, and every important building in Jerusalem. The walls of Jerusalem were broken down. Israelites that remained in Jerusalem were taken as captives into Babylon with the exception of the poorest people who were left to tend the vineyards and fields.  In Babylon, Jewish captives were treated as slaves or servants (2 Chronicles 36:20).

Psalm 137 remembers the Babylonian captivity and provides insight into the life of the Jerusalem captives in Babylon. The first stanza (first 3 verses) possibly indicates that the captives lived near and/or worked building canals that connected rivers around Babylon and provided irrigation for crops. The captives were so wretched that at times they could do nothing but sit and weep for their lost freedom and land. Verse 2 recorded that they hung harps, used to accompany songs to God, on willow trees. Probably the men did not technically hang their valued musical instruments on willow tree branches. More likely, they set them aside or as we say today, “put them on a back shelf,” having no heart to play or sing. To further add to the captive’s agony, their Babylonian captors demanded the Jewish play harps and sing songs of joy about Zion. The Babylonians want the captives to entertain them!

Stanza 2 (verses 4-6) is about repentance. It begins by the captives asking how they can sing God’s songs in a foreign land. In the captives’ minds, songs should praise God and reverberate through the Temple and Jerusalem, not be sung for the entertainment of a heathen people. The two verses of the stanza are pledges and curses on themselves if they forget Jerusalem. Verse 5 says: may their right hand – the hand used to play the harp – lose its skill (become numb) if they forget Jerusalem. Verse 6 avers:  may their tongues cling to the roof of their mouth – never sing – if they do not remember and consider Jerusalem their highest joy.

Stanza 3 (verses 7-9) is a petition for God to punish the Edomites and the Babylonians. The Edomonites were off-spring of Esau who was Jacob’s (Israel) twin brother. Yet, the Edomites encouraged the Babylonians when they destroy Jerusalem. Although the Babylonians were the vehicle of God’s punishment of the Jewish people, they embraced their conquest with gleeful brutality. The brutality included taking Jewish babies from the arms of Jewish mothers and beating their heads against walls and trees.

Babylon Willow Tree

The Babylonian willow is the Salix babylonica  known as the weeping willow. The tree is native to central Asia, probably China. From China it was transported along the silk route to the Middle East. The willow was planted and grew around ancient Babylon which gave its name to the species.  Weeping willows favors bright sunlight.  Under too much shade, the tree grows unevenly. In Israel, S. babylonica grows in Mediterranean woodlands and shrub-lands and is found in the Sharon Plain. Typically, Babylonian weeping willows grow between 30-50 feet tall. Flexible stems move gracefully in the wind. The weeping willow is deciduous and loses its leaves in the late fall and early winter months. The upper leaf surface looks olive-green while the underside appears silver. Like branches and stems, leaves hang down, or droop, as they grow. Weeping will trees produce leaves and flowers simultaneously.

Symbolism:  Repentance

Depression and weeping are concepts that could be associated with the Salix babylonica because they described the behavior of the Jewish captives in Psalm 137:1-3; however, “repentance” is the better symbolism. Repentance means turning from sin and amending one’s life.  Repentance implies sorrow, regret, and contrition for previous sinful behavior.  The captive Jewish men repented. The result was that they could not sing God’s songs in a land of heathen idolaters.  They saw moral impropriety in mixing the songs of the Lord with the things of the world.

The Bible did not describe how the captivities came to repentance. They may have remembered and talked among themselves about the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah. Both warned of the coming judgment on Israel, but also talked about Israel’s deliverance and restoration. Perhaps they heard directly or indirectly the consoling words of Ezekiel, who like they lived in Babylon.  Ezekiel’s assured the captives that Israel would return home to Jerusalem and inhabit the towns of Judah (Ezekiel 36:8-12).  Ezekiel even promised that a new Temple would be built.

However repentance came about, the Jewish captives pledged their loyalty to Jerusalem, home of God. The Good News Bible (1976) provides a succinct translation of their oath:

May I never be able to play the harp again if I forget you Jerusalem!  May I never be able to sing again if I do not remember you, if I do not think of you as my greatest joy (Psalm 137:5-6).

In April 1948 immediately before Israel declared itself an independent nation, the Jewish sector of Jerusalem was practically in a state of siege (MacDonald, 1995). Food supplies were almost exhausted. Weekly rations for each person was 2 ounces of margarine, 4 ounces of potatoes, and 4 ounces of dried meat. Then, news came that a convoy of food and supplies was coming from Tel Aviv. Hundreds of people ran out to welcome the trucks. Jews in Jerusalem reported that they will never forget the sight of the first truck in the convoy.  Written on the front bumper of the blue Ford were the words “If I ever forget you, O Jerusalem….”

Reflection. The Jews learned the value of repentance in Babylon.Have you learned the value of repentance?

Copyright: October, 18, 2014, Carolyn A. Roth

David Waits for God

God using the balsam tree to give David victory over the Philistines is described in 2 Samuel 5:17-25 and 1 Chronicles 14:8-18.

When the Philistines discovered that DaPopulus euphraticavid was anointed king over Israel as well as over Judah, they went out in force to search for him.  During the seven years David was king over Judah at Hebron, the Philistines were not too concerned about his kingship.  For them the problem occurred when Israel (northern tribes) asked David to be their king.  The Philistines cities were in the lands of the northern tribes; they feared David would wage war against their cities.  The Philistines entered the Valley of the Rephaim, located on the border between Judah and Benjamin on the west and southwest sides of Jerusalem.  There they raided and plundered the inhabitants who were mainly Israelites.  David responded to the Philistine’s raids and at Baal Parazim David and the Israelites fought a battle with the Philistines.  The Philistines were routed.  When they fled, the Philistines abandoned their idols.  Following Mosaic law, David burnt the idols (Deuteronomy 7:5, 25).

Perhaps outraged by the previous defeat and David’s destruction of their idols, the Philistines raided the Rephiam Valley a second time.  David asked God if he should attack the Philistines.  God’s answer was “yes;” but David’s army should not go straight at the Philistines. Instead, the Israelite army should circle around the Philistines and attack them in front of the balsam trees.  The signal for the Israelite army to attack was the sound of God marching in the tops of the balsam trees.  The marching sound meant that the Lord went in front of the Israelites to strike the Philistines.

In the Rephiam Valley balsam trees grew in groves.  God made the wind blow through the tops of the balsam tree so that leaves rustling and branches rubbing against each other and created a sound like men marching.  The sound was so loud that the Philistine army thought that a huge Israelite army was advancing toward them.  Terrified they fled the valley.  David’ army pursued and struck down the Philistines from Gibeon to Gezar, a range of about 15 miles.  At the time of this battle, Gezar was not a Philistine city; it was held by the Egyptians (Joshua 10:33).  Apparently, the Philistine soldiers were so frightened that they fled to the powerful Egyptians for safety.  The episode concludes with, “so David’s fame spread throughout every land, and the Lord made all the nations fear him” (1 Chronicles 14:17).

Populus euphratica leavesThe Balsam Tree

The balsam tree is a species of aspen, most likely the Populus euphratica, which is believed to be native to Israel and Middle Eastern countries. The balsaam is also called the  Euphrates popular and salt poplar.  In Israel the tree grows throughout the country; it grows well in rocky and hilly soils and in brackish water. The balsaam tree grows as tall as 45 feet and has spreading branches.  On older branches bark is thick, olive green to gray-brown, and roughly striated.  Branches are bent and almost always forked.  The balsaam’s flower is called a catkin because it resembles a cat’s tail and droops from the stem.  In mid-summer, the P. euphratica produces a green to reddish brown fruit which is a 2-4 valve capsule.  Seeds are minute and enveloped in silky hairs which aid wind dispersal.

Symbolism: God’s people

Balsam trees are associated with the word “people.”  The word Populus in the name Populus euphratica is derived from the trees ancient Latin name arbor populi which means “the people’s tree.”  When God identified the Israelites as his chosen people, God told them that he would dwell with them, walk with them, and protect them (Leviticus 26:12; Deuteronomy 11:22-25).  In the Valley of Rephiam, God gave his chosen people victory through the sound of an army (people) marching in the tops of balsam trees.  Israel’s victory was so decisive that David’s fame spread to people of every land; the Lord made people of every nation fear David.

In the Old Testament, God took a people for himself who were of one race.  In the New Testament, Christ directed his disciples to take the good news of the gospel to all his creation (Mark 16:15).  Over 2000 years later, people of all races believe in him.  Despite Christ’s welcome and guaranteed love of all people, the Bible cautions, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).  What does such an ominous verse mean to people?

The writer of Hebrew’s elaborated by saying if people keep on sinning after they receive the knowledge of truth, no sacrifice for sin is left;  only a fearful expectation of judgment (Hebrews 10: 26-30).  The writer compared the Old Testament Jews rejection of the Law of Moses to an individual who rejects the truth of Christ after they know it.  His argument was if Old Testament Jews who rejected the Law of Moses died, then how much more will individuals who trample the Son of God deserve punishment?   The latter individuals insult the Spirit of grace because they show contempt for the blood of Christ who sanctifies them.  The Lord lives with his people, protects them, and loves them.  In addition, the Lord judges his people.

Reflection.  In the battle where God marched in the tops of the balsam trees, David counted on God rather than his army to protect the people of the Rephiam Valley and Israel.  In a later story, we learn that David took a census of eligible fighting men in Israel rather than trust God to protect the people (2 Samuel 24:10).  Do David’s actions have any parallels to our own life?  Do we believe that God will protect his people?

Copyright: October 4, 2014: Carolyn Adams Roth

Life is a Garden

My 97 year old friend in assisted living shared this poem with me today:

Life is a Garden

Life is a garden, good friends are the flowers; and time spent together life’s happiest hours.

Friendship, like flowers, blooms ever more fair when carefully tended by dear friends who care.

And life’s lovely garden would be sweeter by far if all who pass through it were as nice as you are!

Source: Anonymous