Elisha & Deadly Gourd Stew

Bible Reference: 2 Kings 4:38-41.

Elisha was a prophet in the Northern Kingdom between 848-797 B.C.; his name means “God is Spirit.”  Elisha was a disciple of Elijah.  Because Elisha saw Elijah taken up into heaven, he received a double portion of Elijah’s spirit to support his ministry (2 Kings 2:10).  Elisha long ministry was during the reigns of Kings Joram (Jehoram), Jehu, Jehoahaz, and Jehoash (Joash) over the Northern tribes.

At the time of this story, Elisha was in Gilgal, north of Jericho in the tribal lands of Manasseh.  Gilgal was in the midst of a famine.  While a company of prophets were meeting with Elisha, he directed his servant to cook a large pot of stew for the men.  A servant went out into the field to gather herbs.  Finding a wild vine, the man filled a fold of his cloak with gourds from the vine.  Although no one recognized the gourd, they were cut up and put in the stew.

After the stew cooked, it was poured out for  prophets.  As the prophets ate the stew, they became very sick and cried out, “O, man of God, there is death in the pot” (2 Kings 4:40).  Immediately, Elisha directed them to get flour.  He put the flour into the pot.  The flour was probably stirred into the stew.  Then, Elisha directed that the stew be given to the company to eat.  Believing Elisha mitigated the poisonous substance in the stew, the prophets ate it.  None became sick.

Wild Gourd

Many botanists and Bible scholars proposed that the wild vine and gourds were Citrullus colocynthis, a cucumber-like plant with purgative qualities. Likely the flour was from barley, the flour of the poor in Israel.  Possibly the barley flour coated the gourd and/or the stomach and intestinal tract; thus reducing or eliminating the gourd’s severe purgative effect.  Alternatively, the prophets’ faith in Elisha and his flour remedy could have opened a door for God’s power to detoxify the stew.  The chronicle of Elisha’s life showed that time-after-time God assisted Elisha as he walked in God’s path (2 Kings Chapters 4-6).

Citrullus colocynthis is called the bitter gourd.  In the past the gourd may have been eaten, however, it is not now considered an edible plant.  Its origins are North Africa or the Eastern Mediterranean area. It grows in sandy soil and gravel in Israel. As an herbaceous vine, the bitter gourd trails over the ground or climbs shrubs and fences using tendrils. Its leaves resemble those of a watermelon or the familiar garden gourd in the United States. After the vine has withered, gourds can be seen lying in the soil or sand.  Over time, the rind breaks down. Seeds enter the soil or are eaten by animals.  Bitter gourd is propagated by seeds or by root segments; seeds germinate after spring rains. The bitter taste and possibly purgative effect associated with bitter gourd is in the pulp. When seeds are washed and consumed separate from pulp, they are generally described as tasteless.

Symbolism: Death

In the Elisha episode, the bitter gourd is associated with death.  The prophets thought they were dying because they ate the gourd-filled stew.  Originally, God’s plan was that men and women did not die, but lived forever.  Because Adam and Eve desired to be independent of God’s laws, the human race became subject to death.  Through the Old Testament millennia only Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11-12) did not die physically; yet God does not take pleasure in death, even the death of the wicked.  God wants the wicked to repent and live (Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11).

Some individuals fear death.  Job personified death as the “king of terrors” (Job 18:14); however, Job declared that death is naked before God (Job 26:5).  Ever gracious, God made a simple way for men and women to not die, but live forever.  Christ said that anyone who hears his word and believes God … will cross over from death to life (John 5:24).  By his own death, Christ destroyed death and bought immortality to the human race (2 Timothy 1:10).  Christ’s death overcame the devil that holds the power of death (Hebrews 2:14).

A way of looking at physical death is that it is a gift, not a punishment, from God.  God allows our bodies – often with pains and diseases — to die so we can be raised to a new life.  Younger individuals may die so they do not have to face the agonies that result from living in a fallen world.   Possibly you and I will physically die before Christ comes to take the saved from the earth.  As Christians we do not have to believe that death is the “king of terrors.”

When Christ comes, Christians who have died will rise; this is called the first resurrection.  Our bodies – decomposed, blown up, or cremated – will be raised.  Perishable, mortal bodies will become imperishable and immortal (1 Corinthians 15:52-55).  Our physical death will be swallowed up in Christ’s death and resurrection.  Then, we will live with Christ eternally.  John wrote that blessed and holy are those who take part in the first resurrection (Revelations 20:6).  They will not participate in or be hurt by the second death (Revelations 2:11 and Study Note).  The second death is the lake of fire reserved for those who did not believe in Christ.  According to Revelations, the following individuals/groups are destined for the lake of fire:  the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderous, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters, and all liars (Revelations 21:8).  Along with Death and Hades, these individuals/groups will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelations 20:14).

Reflection.  Elisha’s belief and actions saved the prophets from dying from the poisonous gourd.  Christ’s actions saved us from eternal death.  After reading about the lake of fire, I know it’s not someplace I want to go. What about you – do you want to take part in the first resurrection or the second death?

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright 20/08/18; carolyn a. roth

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Carolyn Roth Ministry October 2018 Newsletter

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John, Unbendable Reed

 

Reference: Luke 7:19-28

John the Baptist’s public ministry lasted one-to-two years. Jesus went to John to be baptized. Baptizing Jesus was the high point of John’s ministry. Then, King Herod Antipas arrested John and imprisoned him at Machaerus, a walled fortress with special quarters for political prisoners. When King Herod arrested John, the ostensible reason was that John criticized Herod for divorcing his powerful Nabatean wife.

Although King Herod used a personal reason for imprisoning John, getting John out of circulation made political sense. John mandated that individuals, who came to him for baptism, change their behavior.  John advocated economic changes that influenced King Herod’s income. For example, John told tax collectors to collect only the amount of money required by Rome. They should stop lining their pockets and those of King Herod by over-taxing citizens. Soldiers must be content with their pay and stop extorting money from individuals. John had tremendous influence with people in Herod’s kingdom. According to the first century historian, Josephus, Herod feared that John, with his widespread support from the common people, would instigate rebellion against him.5

After John was in prison perhaps 15-18 months, he sent two disciples to Jesus. They asked Jesus if he was the expected Messiah, or if they should look for someone else (Luke 7.19). Jesus didn’t give the disciples a direct “Yes” or “No” answer.  Instead Jesus told the disciples to go back to John and report what they saw and heard, i.e., the blind received their sight, the lame walked, lepers were cured. After John’s messengers left, Jesus asked the crowd what they expected when they went to see John in the desert. Jesus contrasted John the Baptist’s behavior with a reed that blew in the wind, swaying first one way than another.

The reed that Jesus referred to when talking about John was the Arundo donax, known as the giant reed or the Cypress cane. Reed colonies were located on the banks of natural water courses, in floodplains of medium or large sized streams, and in dry river banks far from permanent water sources. Reeds grew throughout Israel from Mount Hermon to the Negev Desert.

Giant Reed

Giant reeds are perennials; they regrow year-after-year. Reeds  reach a height of 20 feet and may grow 10-12 feet in a single season. In frost areas, reeds are smaller. Often, they die back in winter, only to regrow in spring. Like bamboo grass, the giant reed spreads readily. Roots are thick, knobby rhizomes. In nature, this reed often propagates by rhizomes breaking from the main root stock, moving through the water, and taking root in a new location. The central reed stalk is called a culm; culms are about 1 ½ inches in diameter and hollow. Each culm has many leaves that resemble corn stalks; however, leaves have sharp edges that can cut fingers.

Culms and leaves are green in spring and early summer. As drier weather prevails, foliage turns light brown and rattles in the wind. Giant reeds bend with the wind, even when they grow in large colonies. In ancient times, reeds were used to check soil erosion and functioned as wind breaks.

Symbolism: Unbendable

Jesus asked the crowd if they expected to see a reed swaying in the wind when they went out to see John the Baptist. In New Testament times, individuals knew about reeds.  At a minimum, they saw reeds growing along the Jordan River. To them reeds elicited mainly positive thoughts. Perhaps, they remembered how Isaiah associated reeds with humility (Isaiah 58.5).

Jesus denied that John was a swaying reed. John was firm and upright, unlike a reed that swayed in the wind. Jesus averred that John’s beliefs were firm, and he lived by them. John stayed on message (repentance) and on task, (baptism). John didn’t have a politically correct bone in his body. He didn’t pander to public opinion, giving one message to common people and a second one to the rich and powerful. John called the Jerusalem elite “a brood of vipers.” Nor, was John silent when King Herod divorced his first wife, Phasaelis, to marry his brother’s wife, Herodias.  Instead, John labeled Herod an adulterer.

Despite Jesus denying that John was a swaying reed, John’s behavior reflected how reeds were used in ancient Judea and Galilee. By his words and life, John stood against the erosion of godly living. He called ordinary citizens, tax collectors, and civil and religious leaders to a life changed to reflect God’s standards.

Like reeds used as windbreaks, John stood as a buffer between people who were righteous and the secular society of the Roman Empire. The best windbreaks lower wind chill in man, animals, and plants. Everything we know about John the Baptist showed a priest and prophet who lived close to God. As a windbreak John, lowered the chilling effects of the secular Roman society on inhabitants of Galilee and Judea.

Jesus’s comments on John the Baptist included a eulogy for John. In addition to commendatory words given at a memorial service, eulogy means “high praise.” Although John was still alive, Jesus eulogized him by saying of all men (and women) born of woman, there was none greater than John the Baptist. John wasn’t a weak reed, or as we would say in the 21 century, John the Baptist wasn’t a “shrinking violet.”

Reflection: What about you? Do you bend and sway with all types of adversity?

Copyright: 7/26/18; Carolyn A. Roth

Visit my website: CarolynRothMinistry.com

Separating Wheat and Chaff

Bible Reference: Matthew 3:12

In John the Baptist teaching, wheat referred to the kingdom of heaven. John the Baptist discussed separating wheat from chaff. According to John wheat will be taken into God’s storehouse while weeds and chaff are destroyed.

Wheat was the first grain identified in the Old Testament (Genesis 30.14); and one of seven species that Moses told Israelites that they would find growing in the promised land (Deuteronomy 8.8). Wheat was valued because of its high nutrition content. Although an important food source, growing, threshing, winnowing, and grinding wheat required effort.

John referred to Jesus when he said: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather and store his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3.12 ESV).  In ancient Judea, wheat was emmer or einkorn; not the wheat grown in Israel today, nor the wheat grown in the United States.

At harvest,  men cut wheat stalks with a sickle. Farmers with livestock cut stalks close to the ground to use stalks as animal fodder. Farmers without livestock cut stalks close to the seed head to minimize amount of threshing. Children gathered stalks into bundles and took  bundles to the threshing floor, a cleared and compacted parcel of ground up to 40 feet in diameter. Sometimes, one threshing floor served an entire village.

On threshing floors, farmers used an ox-drawn disc or threshing sledge to cut wheat stalks, but not crush grain (Isaiah 28.27-28). Threshing sledges were made of wooden boards with iron or stone projections on the bottom. The projections cut the stalks and allowed grain to separate and fall to the floor. Horses or oxen pulled sledges over grain stalks spread on the threshing floor.

The farmer separated wheat kernels from chaff (dirt, grain hulls) using winnowing. Winnowing consisted of throwing the threshed materials (chaff and grain) into the air with a fork or a basket. Wind separated valuable wheat grains from chaff. Because wheat kernels were heavier than chaff, they fell to the ground or back into the basket. The lighter chaff, dirt, etc., were blown away by wind. At times, farmers used fans to create air currents to separate chaff and other impurities away from valuable wheat kernels. Often, threshing floors were located on a hill top or side to take advantage of wind currents. Finally, the grain was gathered into jars or bins for storage; chaff was burned (Matthew 3.12).

John preached personal acknowledgement and repentance of sins followed by baptism—full body emersion—in water as an outward sign of repentance. Mostly, John baptized individuals in the Jordan River.  Figuratively, the water of baptism washed sins away. John didn’t stop with a message of repentance and physical act of baptism. John exhorted those baptized to change their behavior and bear fruit consistent with repentance (Luke 3.8-14).

Reflection: God doesn’t want any individual to perish. He gives each person time to repent.  Regretfully, individuals who don’t repent and trust in Jesus as their Savior are going to be pulled up, bundled, and destroyed.

Copyright: July 24, 2018; Carolyn A. Roth

Website: CarolynRothMinistry.com

Focusing Message on Audience

Dill for Blog Jesus named three herbs while teaching in the Temple Court during Holy Week; read Matthew 23:1-32. This dill plant is from St. John Church Bible Garden.

Matthew is the only gospel writer who recorded seven “Woes” as part of Jesus’s teaching in the Temple Courtyard during what Christians call Holy Week. The first day of the week, Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem, the second day he cleared the Temple of money changers, and the third day was a day of controversy and parables. This day must have been challenging and exhausting for Jesus.  Group after group, e.g., Pharisees, teachers of the Law, Sadducees and Herodians, came forward to challenge Jesus. They attempted to trip him up so that they could condemn both Jesus and his answers. At one point during their challenges, Jesus spoke seven “Woes” in which he condemned both the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. As we read these 32 verses, we hear the agony that Jesus feels at the blindness of these spiritual leaders of Israel.  Jesus is so frustrated that he names them “hypocrites.” 

In the fourth “Woe,” Jesus told the Pharisees that they give 1/10 of spices – mint, dill and cummin; but neglect the more important parts of the Law that have to do with justice, mercy, and faithfulness. He advised them to practice justice, mercy, and faithfulness while tithing on the herbs. Then, Jesus gave a concluding denouncement to the Pharisees and teachers by saying that “you strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24).

Jesus’s teaching that justice, mercy and faithfulness are more important than tithing on herbs was similar to one he gave while eating a meal in a Pharisee’s home (Luke 11:37-44). The differences were that Jesus used a different list of herbs than in Luke’s gospel, and in Luke he only he directed the Pharisees to practice justice and to love God. Despite these dissimilarities, the point of both teachings was the same. Jesus wanted the Pharisees to get their priorities in line with God’s priorities. God’s priorities are summed up in a simple Bible verse (Micah 6:8),  “What does the Lord of require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Dill

Photo taken at Kibbutz Ketura in southern Israel.

The species name of New Testament dill is Anethum graveolens.  Early Israelite settlers cultivated dill on the coastal Sharon Plain, possibly in sheltered area because strong winds can destroy or damage tall dill stocks. Dill is an erect annual herb that grows about 3 but sometime 5 feet tall. All parts of the dill plant are edible except the roots.  Young foliage is used to flavor meat and fish sauces. Dill weed can be frozen with foliage on the stems.  Dry or green seeds give the spicy tang to pickles, relishes and vinegar and add zest to potato and egg salads. Dried crushed seeds are used in soups.

Symbolism: Offering

Because dill is common in Western cooking, we do not fully comprehend how valuable it was to ancient peoples.  In ancient times, the dill plant was a luxury item often used as an offering.  Today we think of an offering as money or something valuable given to support the church.  The ancients had a similar view of an offering.  In ancient Egypt, dill was placed in the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs (god-kings) as an offering for the Pharaoh’s afterlife.  Israel’s Talmud required that a tithe be paid on dill stems, leaves, and seeds; therefore, dill was used as an offering to the Temple.  Shortly after this teaching in the Temple Courtyard, Jesus offered his body as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.  His bodily sacrifice was an offering for the sins of these Pharisees and teachers of the Law who attempted to trip him up so they could justify condemning him.

It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around Jesus offering his body — even dying — for men he knew were hypocrites and who had the goal of condemning him. My first reaction to hypocritical behavior is anger, even contempt.Perhaps I need to step back from these emotions and consider what my teacher did.

Reflection. How do you react to hypocritical behavior in your spouse, neighbors, or church family members? Think about what you can offer them besides judgment and anger.

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth, 12/13

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Flowering Rush and Legacy

“Can reed flourish where there is no water? While yet in flower and not cut down they wither before any other plant” (Job 8.11-12, ESV).

In this verse Bildad, one of Job’s friends recommends to Job that he repent of his sin. Then, God will forgive Job and restore his losses. Typical of wisdom literature, Bildad uses an analogy from nature to illustrate the vulnerability of the wicked. Bildad is sure that Job did something wicked for God to give Job all the disasters that occurred in his live. The flowering rush is primarily a Mediterranean plant. Its presence in Job suggested that his home country possibly had rivers or lakes.

Flowering Rush

The flowering reed in Job 8.12 is the flowering rush (Butomus umbellatus). The word butomus comes from the root words bous (ox) and temmo (cut). The temmo portion of Butomus is an allusion to the sharp leaf margins of the flowering rush. Some writers put this rush in the sedge family known for its cutting leaves. The flowering reed produces flowers April to August. Inflorescence contain 20-25 flowers. The flower itself has three large pink petals.

Flowering reeds grow rapidly in wet lands. They can reach a height of 15 feet. At the same time, the flowering rush is vulnerable, dependent on a constant supply of water. The merest drought results in death. Like most reeds, Butomus umbellatus produces rhizomes. Rhizomes break from the parent plant and migrate to new sites where they take root and grow.

Symbolism

In Bildad speech to Job, he makes use of a characteristic of flowering rush which suggests that he had studied the plant. Flowering rush rhizomes can move from their original site leaving no trace of their presence. Bildad cautions Job that if he does not repent despite his previous wealth and influence, Job will pass from existence leaving no trace of his presence.

Reflection

Most of us want to be remembered. We want to leave something that makes an impact on the earth when we are gone. Some individuals have children. Others write books, design buildings, or determine to be great politicians. What do you want to leave as your legacy?

Copyright July 22, 2018; Carolyn A. Roth

Visit my website to purchase books on Bible plants: http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

September newsletter

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Back to Eden

Guest Blogger: Tom Breene

Once in a great while, I am inspired; rather compelled to write about what I see are the present and most urgent issues that we are facing as a race of people on the face of the earth.

In my humble opinion, it all began in the garden of Eden when Satan put a spin on what God told Adam and Eve about the forbidden fruit. Eve was so intrigued, (was won over so to speak) by this new way of understanding an idea, that she threw caution to the wind, accepted the words of this new creature, and partook of the fruit.  The next thing she did was to convince Adam of this bigger and better deal, and he too was won over to the dark side. I call this the (dark) side because on that day the focus of man was shifted from God to this new and persuasive being that promised a new reality based on his reality.

No longer could God be trusted to tell the truth about life, or to be trusted concerning the issues of life, because now the original man and women had made the first step (of many), away from the Author of life and into the hands of the deceiver. Their precious, innocent, loving relationship with the One who made them and who cared deeply for them, was replaced with the new reality of them having to pull up their bootstraps, (along with their rest and peace), and follow this new siren because (after all), he now had their best interests in mind (right?) They were now convinced that God wasn’t really telling them the truth; that He was just leading them along for His personal benefit, taking advantage of their trusting relationship in order to exploit them for His selfish purposes. Shoot, He didn’t really care for them; maybe He wasn’t even good. From now on they were going to have to look out for themselves because who else could they trust? Oh yeah, the new guy. He would show them the real way….but where was he now? Thus, the liberal, leftist progressive movement was born.

Fast forward to the world we live in today. No one can deny the culture war that is raging. There seems to be two sides that are pitted one against the other. Both claim to have the truth on their side. Both claim that their truth is the real truth; but we all know that there can not be but one Truth. Therefore one side must be deceived.

I said there is a culture war. The present culture determines what we call politics. Politics is what determines power; and power is what determines the order in our society. The side that is in power determines the agenda, and so on and so forth.

So the battle rages still; and despite all that one may hear from the media and all the talking heads of today’s world about this issue, or that issue, and who said what, and who is right and who is wrong; it is a spiritual battle that we are experiencing. It is also a worldwide phenomena. This (new) leftist, progressive movement is nothing new. Like I said earlier, it all began so long ago. So no matter what you hear, there are only two choices, two sides. The one side still believes that there is a creator, a God who loves us, and who is GOOD, and who is still pursuing us to come back to Him and have that original relationship restored. That is the side who believes in the rule of law; who respects authority; who believes that God did not leave us without instructions on how to live a good life, and who believes that God provided a Way for us to be restored to our original state of relationship and purpose with Him. That is the side who doesn’t have to struggle to feel good about themselves, and say all the right things and speak with political correctness, and try to justify themselves by themselves and all their good intentions and thoughts and so on and so forth.

The other side doesn’t believe that there is order to the universe. They don’t believe in an all powerful loving Creator who is waiting to receive them. They don’t believe in the Spirit of Truth, but that there are many truths, and yours are just as good as mine. That truth is what you make it to be, and all that matters is that I respect yours and you respect mine. So I suppose that makes the author of truth to be man himself. Wow! Then I guess that makes man an idol to himself. Where, where do we go from here? Well, that means we have to solve all the problems of the universe in order to be FREE! Personal freedom at all costs! Isn’t that what all the noise is about? I want mine, you want yours, but things get in the way don’t they? Other’s agendas for instance; or other’s expectations of us. Or our own inability to figure everything out; the balancing act of trying to meet all the requirements of making that freedom work for us. That’s right; in order for my freedom to work, everyone else has to cooperate the way I think they should to make it a reality. It’s a fragile thing! People get angry when others get in the way. They start shouting, accusing others of faults and aggression; organizing marches and protests; even threatening violence.

Sound familiar? So, if history tells us anything, it may be that this is how wars get started. I don’t know about you, but I tend to believe that if mankind had the ability to make himself free and happy he would have done so by now. The left claims it is more compassionate, more loving, and has more of a passion to make everything fair for everyone; than anyone else. If the aim of the leftist progressive movement was to finally someday free mankind of all it’s fetters, and if it were even possible; how would that be fair to the billions of people that have lived and died before that time were to come? How can one keep going through life enjoying all the benefits and all the mystery; along with the wonder and beauty and living art of creation without seeking the One who made it?

In spite of all the rhetoric one might hear of who has the most passion, the most intelligence, and insight about what to do to fix all the problems of humankind today, they will all fall short; because we are not facing an intelligence problem, we are wrestling with a spiritual one. There is a spirit that is driving and influencing and powering the individuals of the left today, and I don’t have to tell you who he is. If history tells us anything, it reveals that it is possible for humans to be so deceived that they begin to call evil good and good evil. (consider the Nazis or read the first Chapter of Romans).

No matter how one colors it; no matter how one disguises it; what mankind is missing and what he needs the most is rest. The rest that the first pair had before they were deceived by the serpent. It’s time to admit you need a Savior. Not a superhero on the big screen. Not an idol like mother earth or the government, or even mankind itself. Look for the One who’s footprint is all around you. He has already done everything to make your rest possible. If you’re looking for freedom, you will never find it until your heart is captured by Christ. Receive and trust Him today.

Reflection: Maybe Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were on to something when at Woodstock they sang the song that contained the refrain: “we are stardust, we are golden, and we got to get ourselves back to the garden”.

Author: Tom Breene, Copyright June 1, 2018.

Too Late for Healing Aloe

Joseph of Arimathea was a prominent member of the Jewish council who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Boldly, Joseph went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’s body. After confirming with a Roman officer, that Jesus was dead, Pilate released Jesus’s body to Joseph. Along with Nicodemus, Joseph took Jesus’s body from the cross. They wrapped the body in linen stripes and 75 pounds of mixed aloe and myrrh. The Jewish burial custom of using spices in burial linens was associated with covering the smell of the decaying body.  Scholars suggested that because aloe had little odor, aloes were used to “fix,” or hold the scent of the myrrh. Based on my knowledge of aloe plants, I have another proposed reason for  aloes in the linen grave cloths. Aloe gel is moist and slightly sticky. Perhaps, aloe gel didn’t so much “fix” the myrrh aroma in the linen cloths as hold them together and onto the body of the deceased.

The aloe of the New Testament is the Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis, Aloe vulgaris medicinal aloe). Some sources identified aloe as the oldest medicinal plant. Certainly, it figures prominently in ancient Egyptian medicine. In Israel, aloe grows as far south as Kibbutzim Lotan and Ketura in the Arava Desert near the Gulf of Aqaba. Old and New Testament aloe are from different species of plants. In contrast to New Testament aloe which is an herbaceous plant, Old Testament aloe comes from a tree. The Old Testament aloe tree was the eaglewood tree (Aquilaria malaccensis, A. agallocha). Likely, Old Testament traders brought aloe wood from India.

Currently, aloe is used to reduce the pain of burns and scrapes. When aloe is harvested for its medicinal gel, older leaves are harvested because they contain more gel. I keep an aloe plant in my home. When I get a burn, I slice off a piece of aloe and rub the fluid on the burn, which takes the pain away.

Isaiah wrote these prophetic words about Jesus, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace” (Isaiah 53.5 ESV) Jesus’s body was dead; therefore, aloes couldn’t heal him; aloes couldn’t take away the sting of his death. Aloe couldn’t heal Jesus’s wounds. The healing aloes in Jesus’s burial cloth exemplified Jesus’s healing of mankind, not himself.

After Jesus’s resurrection some individuals in Judea and the Roman Empire accepted healing from him. They accepted Jesus as Messiah, as the promised Savior of the world. Other individuals weren’t willing to be healed. 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 need to die for their few sins? For still others it was easier to continue their same religious observances, i.e., make an animal sacrifice or give a little money into a treasury, than to accept a new way of thinking. These individuals often want to cover over the smell of their sin rather than be healed of that sin. The rationale and rationalizations that individuals used 2,000 years ago for not accepting healing from Jesus are the same ones that individuals use today.

In church on Sunday morning, we pray the “Prayers of the People.” Frequently, there are prayer requests for healing – surgery, diagnostic tests, cancer – from members of the congregation. I’m always surprised that congregates don’t offer more prayers for loved ones’ spiritual healing. My dear friend isn’t a Christian; I love him so much. From time to time, I ask congregates to pray that he comes to a saving knowledge of Jesus. I really should ask them to pray for him every Sunday. My friend needs the healing that only Jesus can give.

Reflection: Like the reason for aloe in Jesus’s burial cloths, do you attempt to stick close to Jesus? What excuse do you give for not accepting Jesus as your Savior now?

Copyright July 8, 2018; Carolyn A. Roth

Wrapped in Linen

First century Palestinians made clothes from linen and cotton in addition to using animal hides and fleece.  Both linen and cotton were made from plants, with linen the more valuable material.  Linen was used almost exclusively for wrapping bodies of dead individuals. Israelites didn’t cremate their dead. Rather, they interned them in a cave or crypt.

According to Mosaic Law, a dead body had to be buried or entombed the day the individual died or was killed, so the land wasn’t defiled (Deuteronomy 21.23). At the same time, two other Mosaic laws were applicable: First, a man couldn’t work on the Sabbath. Preparing a body for burial was work. Second, an individual who touched a dead body was ceremonially unclean for seven days (Numbers 19.11). Devout Jews internalized these law; thus, Joseph of Arimathea asked Governor Pilate for the body of Jesus as soon as Jesus died. Because Jesus died at about 3:00 p.m. and because the Sabbath begun about 6:00 p.m., Joseph had a three-hour window of opportunity to prepare and intern Jesus’s body. Joseph and his helper, Nicodemus, both devout Jews, knew that they would be unclean for seven days because they touched Jesus’s dead body.

Nicodemus supplied 75 pounds of aloes and myrrh to infuse Jesus’s grave cloths. While Jesus lived, his clothes were made from cotton or wool. Linen would have been a luxury item for an itinerate rabbi (Luke 16.19).  After his death, I don’t believe Jesus cared if he was wrapped in linen cloths or simply cotton rags, as his mother used for swaddling cloths at his birth.

One Bible scholar11 wrote that first century Jews wrapped the corpse’s body with a wide long cloth beginning at the feet and ending with the head.  This perspective contrasts with John’s description of Lazarus, when he came out of the grave. John wrote that when Lazarus came out of the grave, his hands and feet were bound with perfumed linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth (John 11.44). Logic suggests that Jesus was wrapped for burial in the same manner as Lazarus.

The gospel writer, John, identified that Jesus was wrapped in linen cloths, not in a linen cloth. As I pondered the proposal that Joseph and Nicodemus buried Jesus in a single piece of linen, I remembered 30 years ago when I practiced nursing. Part of the care of a deceased body in the hospital was wrapping it in a single sheet of cloth and tying this “shroud” around the body. Only then, was the body transported through the hospital halls to the morgue. Perhaps, Jesus was wrapped in strips of linen cloths, then wrapped in a shroud.

In New Testament Greek, words for linen (bussos, sindōn) generally, translated as “fine linen.”1 Fine linen cloth was associated with coverings in the tabernacle and with Israelite priests’ robes. The ancient Hebrew word for fine linen, was shêsh. Shêsh denotes a type of linen of peculiar whiteness and fineness.

 In the ancient Near East, the flax plant (Linum usitatissimum, was used to make linen.  In Biblical times, flax was the most important fiber crop. Although flax may have originated in Mesopotamia, it was extensively cultivated in Egypt and less so in Palestine.  In Egypt flax grew along the sides the Nile River, particularly the Nile Delta region. In Egypt and the Middle East, flax was planted in the early winter and harvested in the spring. Egypt exported linen cloth and linen threads to Palestine in the first century.

The flax plant has a single stem that grows up to 4 feet tall.  The fiber is in the stem.  Initially, the stem is green, but turns yellow as the plant ripens and readies for harvest. When flax plants were harvested for fiber, mature plants were pulled up by their roots. Harvested plants were allowed to dry, then retted.  Retting is a process of soaking flax to separate the fiber from the woody tissue (straw).  Fibers were spun, then woven into linen cloth. Ancient people dyed some linen threads.

Have you ever wondered why each of the gospel writers recorded something about Jesus’s body being wrapped in grave cloth/cloths? Wouldn’t it have been easier to stop with Jesus’s death?  We are given all the detail about Jesus’s body being wrapped in linen grave cloths and then possibly in a shroud so that we believe absolutely that Jesus died on the cross. His corpse was treated the way all dead Jews were treated.

Reflection: Will it matter what you are wrapped in at your death?

Copyright July 8, 2018; Carolyn A. Roth