Avoiding Life

“On each side of the river stood the tree of life …. yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse” (Revelation 22.1-3 NIV).

 In Genesis chapter three, God cursed the earth to include plants. In this curse, God provided hope to Adam and Eve; that is they would be redeemed. God made no mention of restoration of plants.

When I get to heaven, I want to see flowers—flowering trees, flowering shrubs, and all manner of plants that produce flowers. When I am sad, I look at a plant and my emotions immediately lift. Inside my house, I have flower figurines. Doilies and placemats have flower designs. Even clock faces include flower illustrations. No wonder I look for evidence of plant restoration in the Bible?

At first, I concluded that of 1089 chapters in the Bible, only one (Revelation chapter twenty-two) gave specific information on the restoration of plants in contrast to the many chapters that identified redemption of people. A closer look showed that plant restoration was a theme throughout God’s word.  Plant restoration is tied to the restoration of creation. God promised that: “There will be a time for restoring of all things” (Acts 3.19-21 NIV). “All things” includes plant life. God promised mankind that he will hear them if they confess their sins, will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7.14 NIV).

Today, God waits for us to confess our sins so he can forgive us and heal the United States of America.

In the new heaven and new earth, plants in chapters two through eight (the bad/harmful plants) will no longer be present, or they will no longer have a harmful component. The Syrian thistle may have its beautiful purple flower, but not harmful spines. Poison hemlock with soft beautiful white flowers will no longer yield poison. No child or pet will become sick, and even die, if they eat lily bulbs thinking they are wild onions.

Gardening Genesis

Colleagues, this is my latest book. It contains 40 meditations on the symbolism of plants in Genesis. As always, the focus is how to live a more productive Christian life. Visit my website: http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com to purchase.

Poison

Bible References: Amos 6.12.

Amos was a minor prophet who ministered for about a ten-year-period, 760-750 BC. When God called Amos to be a prophet, he was a herdsman and tended sycamore trees. Amos’s home was Tekoa, about twelve miles south of Jerusalem; however, Amos completed most of his ministry in the area of Bethel, the Northern Kingdom’s main sanctuary. At Bethel, Jeroboam I set up a golden calf soon after the ten Northern tribes formed an independent kingdom.  Jeroboam I told inhabitants in the Northern Kingdom that the calf was their god. All manner of pagan worship practices occurred at Bethel. At the time Amos prophesied, the Northern Kingdom was politically secure and prosperous under the rule of Jeroboam II.

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 didn’t 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 citizens to foreign lands.  Amos accused leaders and ordinary citizens of turning justice into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into a poisonous plant, hemlock.

Many plant scientists speculated that the gall offered Jesus at his crucifixion contained poisonous hemlock. If Jesus consumed the gall, he would have died of respiratory muscle paralysis, rather crucifixion. In about 399 BC, the Greek philosopher Socrates was condemned to drink poisonous hemlock and die.

The botanical name for the hemlock plant is Conium maculatum. It is indigenous to Eastern Mediterranean countries where it is classified as a toxic weed.  The poisonous hemlock shouldn’t be confused with the Canadian hemlock tree or the American water hemlock tree.

Leaves and seeds are harvested for medicinal purposes; however, medicinal uses of hemlock are limited because between the dose between therapeutic and poisonous levels is so small. Sometimes children 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 diagnose hemlock poisoning when children are present in emergency departments

At times the hemlock plant was associated with bitterness, calamity, and sorrow.  In Amos, the Hebrew word laʽǎnâh was used for hemlock; the word laʽǎnâh comes from an unused root meaning “to curse.”  Bitterness, calamity, sorrow, and curse are all word-candidates for the symbolism of poisonous hemlock; however, the best symbolism is the simplest. That word is “poison” or “poisonous.”  A poison is a substance that kills, injures, or impairs; it is destructive, harmful, and corrupt. “Poison” described the hemlock plant and optimally depicted the words and behaviors of Northern Kingdom leaders and citizens.

When I first 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, we can read that evil persons make their tongues as sharp as the poison of snakes.  Similarly, James pointed out that individuals have tamed all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and sea creatures; but, can’t tame the tongue. The tongue is a restless evil, full of poison. James said that the tongue is set on fire by hell, which is a figuratively way of saying by the devil.

Reflection: Some days my tongue is so sharp that I am embarrassed by words that come out my mouth. I wish I had never spoken some of them. On those days, my words aren’t from God. They do Satan’s handiwork.  I need, and maybe even you need, to resolve and pray to keep the poison from coming out my mouth. We need to pray that poison will cease spewing from the mouths of politicians.

Love Plant

Bible References: Genesis 30.14-16; Song of Songs 7.13.

The Hebrew word dudaim means “love plant.” Dudaim occurred twice in the Bible. By far, the more interesting story was in Genesis. Both Leah and Rachel were wives of Jacob. Jacob had a clear preference for Rachel. At the time of this episode, Leah birthed four sons by Jacob; however, Rachel was barren despite Jacob spending nights with her.

This Bible story began with Leah’s oldest son, Reuben, bringing mandrake roots to his mother, Leah. Rachel saw mandrakes and asked Leah for them. Leah’s response was,  “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?” (Genesis 30.15 NIV). Rachel  proposed a trade: Jacob can spend the night with Leah in return for the mandrakes. Leah agreed.

Many twenty-first century western Christians can’t make sense of this story. What does the mandrake have to do with conception? The answer is that ancient people believed that mandrakes were an aphrodisiac which promoted fertility and conception in barren women. Both Rachel and Leah believed this superstition. Leah wanted additional children to win Jacob’s affection and regard.  Rachel wanted children to validate herself as a woman.

The Song of Songs reference on mandrake is a romantic interlude which occurred  among vineyards. The bride tells her husband: “The mandrakes send out their fragrance, and at our door is every delicacy,  both new and old,  that I have stored up for you, my beloved” (Song of Songs 7.13 NIV). This romantic tryst is filled with beautiful imagery from nature.

The Middle East mandrake was the  Mandragora officinalis. The mandrake is a flowering plant in the nightshade family, related to potatoes, eggplants, and tobacco. The mandrake grows directly on top of the soil, long leaves form a rosette pattern.  Flowers are a delicate purple and have five petals. Flowers emit a gentle, sweet fragrance.

The root is the most notable segment of the mandrake plant, the part associated with fertility and conception. Frequently, the thick root is forked similar to two legs; thus, the root is said to resemble a man. The root can weigh several pounds. Ancients cut the root into an amulet to wear, put it beneath the bed, or consumed very small quantities. If eaten, mandrakes (fruit in particular) can cause dizziness, increased heart rate, distorted vision, and hallucinations. In high doses mandrakes cause death.

Courtesy Sara Gold, Israel.

The Bible story of Rachel, Leah, and mandrakes is important to individuals today. The story demonstrates that Rachel couldn’t manipulate her fertility by using the superstitious power of a plant. When Rachel 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 Bible men and an example for every Jew and Christian.

Reflection: Legonier Ministry29 reminds us: “Many passages of Scripture warn the people of God against sorcery, astrology, and other similar practices (Exodus. 22:18; Revelation 22:15). Most of us probably do not engage in such things, but superstitions remain part of the lives of many Christians. For example, some believers think praying the same prayer every day will guarantee a certain result. Take care to cast all superstitions from your life and trust in the Lord’s sovereign will that is working for your good.”

Wormwood, A bitter herb

Bible References: Deuteronomy 29.18; Jeremiah 9.15, 23.15; Lamentations 3.15, 19; Amos 5.7; Revelation 8.1-11.

When Old Testament authors referred to wormwood, the wrote about bitterness and poison. Most illustrated punishment from God because of Israelites’ behaviors. Old Testament events are presented as lessons for those of us living today. In the New Testament, an episode that named wormwood was a prophecy and called mankind to repentance.  The prophecy described a future sign which would occur near the end of the age.

In Revelation chapter eight, John described a vision in which seven angels, each with a trumpet, stood before God. The angels were ready to sound trumpets, initiating judgments on the earth. The third trumpet signaled a blazing star to fall on  earth. This blazing star was called Wormwood (absinthŏs in  Greek).

My conjecture is that Wormwood will be a meteor from outer space. When meteors enter the earth’s atmosphere and start to burn they are called meteorites. In the United States, children call them “shooting stars.” Most meteorites disintegrate by burning before they hit the earth’s surface.  If a sufficiently-large meteorite enters the earth’s atmosphere and doesn’t disintegrate, it hits the earth’s surface. A huge cloud rises. Dust and particulates in the cloud spread around the globe moved by winds and the rotation of the earth.

According to Revelation, the meteorite Wormwood will contain a contaminate that turns one-third of the earth’s fresh water bitter; or somehow release pollutants from the earth’s crust that contaminates one-third of fresh water sources. Many people will die from the contaminated water. John’s description in Revelation sounds like a nail-biting science-fiction movie.

 

The plant wormwood is one of over 300 species of artemisia; appearance varies from plant-to-plant. The artemisia that grew in Bible Israel is Artemisia arborescens, called the tree wormwood.7 Erect branches can reach ten-feet tall. Leaves have fine hairs on their surface. These hairs are thought to cool and defend the plant. Many artemisia produce cinole which gives them a camphor-like aroma; however, don’t be surprised to find some artemisia smell acrid and unpleasant.28 Artemisia are grown for foliage.

 

With the exception of rue, artemisia is the bitterest herb. The bitter taste is due to thujone content in artemisia. Artemisia leaves flavors stew and sauces; only small quantities of dried or fresh herb is needed. Artemisia leaves are used in tarragon vinegar. A. absinthium is a flavoring in alcoholic liquors, i.e., absinthe, campari, and vermouth. Ancient medicine  used artemisia in scores of concoctions.28

In the Old Testament, often wormwood was used as a metaphor for a) idolatry of Northern Kingdom (Israel),  b) calamity and sorrow, and c) false judgments. The Wormwood star’s name in Revelation identified that its effects were judgment on mankind for idolatry and injustice. Idolatry is blind or excessive devotion to something or someone, i.e., money, prestige and degrees, charismatic individuals, and political parties and ideologies.

The calamity and sorrow associated with contamination of one-third of the world’s freshwater supply will be a consequence of mankind turning from God to idol worship. It is so easy for me to look at others and identify their idols. It is less easy for me to identify my own. Yet, God expects me to continually assess myself and to make adjustments in my thinking and behavior so they are more in line with his.

Reflection: Several times previously in this book, you read how harmful plants were symbols of idolatry. Given the number of times that idolatry appears in the Bible, God takes it seriously. Do you? When did you last assess your thoughts and behaviors to identify man-made idols in your life?

A Diabolical Herb

Bible Reference: Luke 11.42.

Although used by Old Testament Israelites, the herb rue was never mentioned by Old Testament writers. Luke is the only New Testament writer who told a story about Jesus naming rue: “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs; but, you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone” (Luke 11.42 NIV).

In Old Testament time, rue grew wild in fields. When Israelites harvested rue, they weren’t required by Levitical law to tithe on it. By the New Testament era, rue grew in home gardens or was bought in markets; thus, growers and sellers were required to tithe on the plant’s value. The tithe on rue was miniscule, which was a point that Jesus was making to Pharisees.

The primary rue species that grew in Israel was Ruta chalepensis know as African rue and fringe rue. When I researched rue, I learned that R. graveolens is the more common rue, grown world-wide to include in the United States.27 Many characteristics of these two species overlap; however, leaves on the graveolens species appear less dense than on the chalepensis species. Some commentators speculated that the group of three rue leaves was the source for the club suit in decks of English and American playing cards.

Rue chalepensis (2)

Rue leaves taste bitter and when bruised smell pungent. Today, rule is primarily grown for ornamental purposes. Rue is rarely used by United States chefs because of its bitter taste. Not only does rue taste bitter, it can lead to gastric pain and vomiting. Individuals who consumed large quantities died. Exposure to common rue, or herbal preparations derived from it, can results in burn-like blisters on skin.

During the Middle Ages, rue was a common ingredient in witchcraft and spell-making. Rue was a sign of recognition among witches. At one time, the Catholic Church used a rue branch to sprinkle holy water on followers; thus, rue was known as the “Herb of Grace.” Historically, rue was regarded as a protective substance. It was an ingredient in mithridate, a substance used in ancient medicine and folklore. Mithridate was an antidote for every poison and a cure for every disease.

The genus name, Ruta, may be derived from “rhutos,” a Greek word meaning “shield” in view of its history as an antidote. Alternatively, Ruta may come from the Latin word meaning bitterness or unpleasantness. The bitter taste of  leaves led to the rue plant being associated with the verb “ruewhich means “to regret.” Pharisees’ teachings were to act as a shield for common citizens of Judea to protect them from any blasphemy against God. Instead, Pharisees’ man-made laws often made the Jews rue or regret their presence in society.

Pharisees missed the point of God’s laws and actions. They had their priorities and their interpretations of God’s laws upside down and inside out. By this time in Jewish history, Pharisees had teachings of Torah and Old Testament prophets. They were aware that God didn’t require 1,000 rams, or 10,000 rivers of oil, or their first-born child as a sacrifice. God wanted men and women to act justly, to extend mercy toward their brothers and sisters, and to love God.

Reflection: Repeatedly, the Bible identified that God is our shield. A shield is defensive armor or someone who protects and defends. Paul instructed Christians to take up the shield of faith, a deep abiding confidence in God. Paul said that with the shield of faith, Christians extinguish the Devil’s flaming arrows.  Name defensive and offensive weapons you have to fight back against  Satan’s fiery darts. If you used each one of these weapons would they be sufficient to protect you from Satan’s wiles and temptations? Any weapons that you don’t need? Name weapons that you need to defend yourself against Satan that God didn’t give you?

To get more information about plants, visit http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

Aloe can be poisonous

Bible Reference: John 19.38-42.

When I contemplated writing about the aloe plant, I felt warm and comfortable because it is such a familiar plant. Since getting my first job, I’ve kept an aloe plant on the porch in summer and in front of a sunny window in winter. If I burned a finger when cooking or burned my forehead when using my curling iron, I rubbed aloe gel on the burn to take away the sting. Only recently, did I learn that aloe had a poisonous component.

In the Old Testament, aloe (called agarwood) developed from a fungal infection in the eaglewood tree. Agarwood was cut in small pieces and used as a perfume. In the New Testament, most likely the source of aloe was  different than Old Testament agarwood.

After Jesus died by crucifixion, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus wrapped his body in stripes of linen and seventy-five pounds of mixed aloe and myrrh. Jews used myrrh to cover the smell of the decaying body.  Scholars suggested that because aloes have little odor, aloes were used to “fix,” or hold the scent of myrrh. Aloe gel is moist and slightly sticky. Perhaps, aloe gel “fixed” myrrh crystals in linen cloths and held cloths together and to the deceased’s body.

The New Testament aloe is Aloe vera (A. barbadensis, A. vulgaris, and medicinal aloe). A. vera is a perennial in Israel; however, in my area of the Appalachian Mountains it grows as an annual. When A. vera  is harvested for its medicinal gel, older leaves are harvested because they contain more gel.  The out layers of the leaf feels rubbery and have soft spines on edges.

Aloe has been used in medicine for 3500 years. The first detailed description of aloes is in The Papyrus Ebers, c. 1550 BC. A. vera was used to treat worms and allergies, relieve headaches, soothe chest pains, burns, and skin ulcers, and treat the common cold. Dr. James Duke, head of the US Department of Agriculture, reported than many individuals wrote to him lauding aloe as a remedy for skin cancer.26 Currently, cosmetic companies use aloe in makeup, tissues, moisturizers, soaps, sunscreens, incense, shaving cream, and shampoos. Most cosmetic companies label all products that contain A. vera.

Despite the popularity of aloe, A. vera  has a dark side.  It isn’t widely known that both plants and gel can be poisonous. The poisonous compounds are aloin and anthraquinone c-glycoside. These compounds occur mostly on the inside layer of leaves. When harvesting A. vera gel, cut away the plant skin and retain only the actual gel. Although older plant leaves contain more gel, the inside layer of older plant leaves can be more irritating. This layer causes  contact dermatitis in sensitive individuals. If the aloe plant is eaten, it can cause abdominal cramping, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, and red urine. Thankfully, red urine isn’t due to blood in the urine, but a compound in the aloe. Ensure children and pet companions don’t eat aloe leaves.

Jesus’s body was dead when Joseph and Nicodemus wrapped it in linen-infused myrrh and aloes. Aloes couldn’t heal him or take away the sting of his wounds. The healing aloes in Jesus’s burial cloths exemplified Jesus’s healing of mankind, not himself.

After Jesus’s resurrection some individuals in Judea and throughout the Roman Empire accepted healing from him. They accepted Jesus  as the promised Savior of the world. Many other individuals weren’t willing to be healed by Jesus. Some couldn’t comprehend that a man would die for their sins. Others simply didn’t believe that they were all that bad. Why would someone have to die for their few sins? For still others, it was easier to continue their same religious practices, i.e., make an animal sacrifice or give a little money into an offering box/plate, than to accept a new way of thinking. These individuals wanted to cover over the smell of their sins rather than be healed of those sins. The rationale and rationalizations that individuals used 2000 years ago for not accepting healing from Jesus are the same ones that individuals use today.

Reflection: Do you tend to rationalize your sins? Try to cover them over? Decide that they aren’t too bad? Ignore them? What could you do decrease those sins or better yet eradicate them completely? Contemplate/discuss how sin and obedience to national laws are the same and different to God’s laws.