Straw in the Bible, How Uninteresting

 

 The Word of the Lord: Genesis 24.22-27: When the camels had finished drinking, the man took out a gold nose ring weighing a beka and two gold bracelets weighing ten shekels. Then he asked, “Whose daughter are you? Please tell me, is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?”

She answered him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, the son that Milkah bore to Nahor.” And she added, “We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as room for you to spend the night.”

Then the man bowed down and worshiped the Lord, saying, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.”

Meditation: In this Bible story, an aged Abraham gives a senior servant the task of traveling to Abraham’s hometown, Nahor in Aram, and obtaining a wife for his son, Isaac.

Traveling by camel, the servant arrived at a Nahor well. There, the servant met Rebekah. Rebekah drew water for the camels. The servant gave her valuable jewelry. After seeing the jewelry, Rebekah’s brother, Laban, invited the servant to the family home and offered straw and fodder for the traveler’s camels.

As the story unfolds, we learn that Rebekah is the granddaughter of Abraham’s brother. Subsequently, Rebekah travels to Canaan and becomes Isaac’s wife.

Straw: “Fodder” is food (mostly plants) given to animals rather than food which animals forage (graze the land) for themselves. Fodder includes hay, straw, and grasses.

Why the Genesis recorder included that fodder and straw were given to the servant’s camels puzzles me. It seemed unnecessarily  detailed in a book that emphasizes spiritual life. As I thought more about camel and camels’ intake I remembered Christ’s words that individuals can’t live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God’s mouth (Matthew 4.4).

Although camels can live on straw and fodder, you and I must have more than physical food. Physical food doesn’t nourish our spirits. To be completely nourished, daily we need to take in God words just as we consume physical food.

Reflection: How are you daily taking in the Word of God so you can be well-fed? Alternatively, are you so occupied with your physical, emotional, and social life that you neglect your  spiritual life?

9/15/2020: Carolyn Adams Roth

Prosperity — I want it!

The Word of the Lord: Genesis 22.9-14: And the two of them went on together. When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!

“Here I am,” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

 Meditation: The myrtle tree/bush is another plant that appears in thickets in Israel. At one time, wild myrtle was common throughout the Promised Land. Today, in Israel most myrtle bushes are used for ornamental purposes; rarely are they seen in uncultivated areas.

Many world cultures assigned meaning to the myrtle blossom to include beauty, love, paradise, and immortality. The myrtle is one of the four blessed plants used in the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles or Booths (Sukkot), an autumn harvest festival.

For Jews, myrtle symbolizes sweetness, justice, peace, divine generosity,  God’s promise, and recovery. An Old Testament prophet, Zechariah, assigned  “prosperity” to the myrtle tree. Prosperity means a person or group thrives or flourishes and is successful, especially in financial or economic ways.

Because we are Christians doesn’t mean we will prosper in the sense of being rich financially. Because we aren’t Christians doesn’t mean we won’t prosper. According to the prophet Zachariah, for Israelites to prosper they needed to repent of sins, obey God’s will and laws, and walk in God’s ways to include living righteously. Their prosperity will be eternal life with Christ.

Jewish sages compared the myrtle tree, which has a good smell but no taste, to Israelites who do good deeds, but don’t study the Torah (first five books of the Old Testament). Today’s Christian sage could compare the myrtle tree to believers who do good deeds, but, don’t study the four Gospels.

 Reflection: Can we prosper without studying Holy Scriptures? Think how Zechariah would answer that question.

Copyright 9/15/2020, Carolyn Adams Roth

Renewal

The Word of the Lord: Genesis 22.9-14: And the two of them went on together. When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!

“Here I am,” he replied. Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

Meditation: Normally, Mount Moriah was covered with trees and excluded thickets. Thickets are present only where tall trees have been burnt or otherwise destroyed. The destruction of trees that resulted in growth of the thicket on Mount Moriah most likely occurred because of a natural disaster. Whatever occurred, when Abraham reached Mount Moriah, a thicket was adjacent to where Abraham built a stone altar to God.

An evergreen shrub common to the dry, sandy soil on Mount Moriah is the broom tree. The broom tree symbolizes renewal. With renewal comes a restoration of vigor and freshness; what was faded or disintegrated is made whole.

If anyone needed renewal, it was Abraham. Think about what Abraham endured. When Abraham arrived on Mount Moriah he was exhausted and depressed. By this time, Abraham was 120-130 years-of-age. Some of his stamina was lost. Abraham was heart sick: God wanted him to sacrifice his only heir. Isaac was the son of Abraham and Sarah’s old age. Isaac was supposed to be their reward for following God from Haran to Canaan.

Most of us want so badly to have the kind of faith that Abraham had – faith that God will keep his promises when logic tells us something can’t or won’t happen. Most of us want to be renewed, to be changed from the inside out, i.e., in our heart, mind, and spirit. We want to be different from the society we live in. We want to exhibit Christ in our lives.

One of my firmly held beliefs is that God is aware of my every deep-seated desire. He is pleased when I yearn to be renewed and when you yearn to be renewed. Further, God rewards our yearnings to be renewed in his image.

Reflection: Spend the day pondering ways you need to be renewed. List actions you can take to be renewed in the image of God.

Copyright 9/10/2020, Carolyn Roth Ministry

Rooted in God

Chaste, Does it Matter?

This meditation is related to a type of tree that Abraham found in the thicket on Mount Moriah.

The Word of the Lord:  Genesis 22.9-14: And the two of them went on together. When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham! “Here I am,” he replied. Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

 Meditation: Experienced hikers rarely attempt to hike through a thicket. They know that thick and irregular spaced trees, shrubs, and vines in the thicket can obscure the direction they want to travel. Generally, hikers travel around a thicket.

Thickets, similar to the one in which Abraham saw the ram on Mount Moriah, often contain chaste trees. Chaste trees grow as bushy, thick shrubs many with attractive white or lavender flowers.

The name “chaste” occurred because berries and leaves of the tree were believed to stop desire. A middle-ages tradition was that monks ate berries to keep themselves free from sexual desires, thus, kept themselves pure.

In twenty-first century United States, chastity is no longer valued. Often, the opposite is true in some, if not most, segments of society. Yet, when I was a girl, female chastity and purity were important.

In contrast to girls and women, male chastity wasn’t necessarily valued. In fact, men were expected to have sexual experiences prior to marriage so they could satisfy their wives.

Think about God’s expectations for chastity in humankind. Are God’s expectations different for males and females? Has God changed his mind about chaste behavior as society changed its expectations? J. Vernon McGee sums it up this way: what was once done in the back yard is now done in the front yard.

Reflection: Have you heard the words “sexual revolution?” What is it? Is it from God?

Copyright 6/23/2020:Carolyn Adams Roth

 

Are you Committed to God?

 

The Word of the Lord

 Genesis 21.32-34: After the treaty had been made at Beersheba, Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his forces returned to the land of the Philistines. Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God. And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time.

Meditation

Abraham was living near Beersheba in Canaan. By this time, he had a son, Isaac, dug a well, found water, and negotiated peace with neighbors. Then, Abraham planted a grove of trees and called on El Ôlām, naming God “the Eternal God.” This site near Beersheba is the only place Abraham planted trees. Trees that Abraham planted were tamarisk.  

Tamarisk trees make the desert heat more bearable. At night, moisture increases in the cool air and water adheres to salt particles excreted from branches of this salt cedar. In the morning tiny water droplets appear on branches. As morning sun warms the air, water droplets evaporate, cooling both trees and the shade below trees.

These tamarisk trees were a memorial to Abraham’s commitment to God. God welcomes all individuals to turn to Him. God said, “If a wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him” (Ezekiel  18.21-22).

I’m so happy that God forgave all the sins that I committed as a college student and young woman. This forgiveness means that I’m not going to live my immortal life without God because of my lack of commitment to God in my early years.

God also said, “The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chronicles 16.9). God’s roaming eyes see us. God wants to see a fully committed person.

Reflection: Do you think that you need to be more fully committed to God or are you doing okay at your current level? How can you demonstrate a fuller commitment to him?

Copyright 6/21/2020

Entangled

The Word of the Lord

Genesis 22.2-14: Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”

And the two of them went on together. When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham! “Here I am,” he replied.

Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

 Meditation

 Isaac was the son that God promised Abraham and Sarah, the son through whom the Messiah would come. When Isaac was about 16 years-old, God commanded Abraham to take him to Mount Moriah and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. Abraham didn’t hesitate or question God’s command.

On Mount Moriah, Abraham built an altar, arranged wood on it, and tied Isaac on the top of the altar. Abraham picked up his knife. Abraham was fully prepared to sacrifice his heir as God directed him. At the last minute, an angel told Abraham not to kill Isaac. The angel commended Abraham for being willing to obey God.

Abraham saw a ram caught by the horns in a nearby thicket. The thicket held the ram in place in much the same way that Isaac’s bindings held him in place on the altar. Abraham killed the ram and substituted the ram for Isaac as a burnt offering to God.

Thickets are entangled branches, i.e., branches twisted together.  Often entanglements cause confusion. Imagine the confusing thoughts that Satan brought to Abraham’s mind during the three-day walk to Mount Moriah.

Abraham didn’t become entangled in Satan’s lies or become confused by his limited understanding of God or God’s instructions to him. Abraham focused on obeying God.

Most of us have been in situations when our minds are entangled with a problem. We worry the problem as a dog gnaws at a bone. Our minds go around and around trying to focus on every possible solution. Perhaps, we need to focus on how Abraham solved the problem. To him, the solution was simple—obey God.

In this episode, God communicated with Abraham directly, perhaps by voice, in a dream, or in Abraham’s mind. Generally, God doesn’t communicate with us in one of these three ways. Instead, God communicates with us through the Bible. To get his communications, we must read the Bible.

Reflection: Did you ever become entangled in Satan’s lies? Looking back, what did you learn? Was there a better way to proceed through the situation than the one you opted for?

Copyright 6/22/2020

Expel

The Word of the Lord

 Genesis 21.8-14: The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.” The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.

Meditation

 When Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael from his camp, he gave them food and water. Although types of food wasn’t specified, bread was included.

Very likely, the bread was made from barley grain. Barley was a sustaining food source from about 7000 BC in Canaan. Barley, a drought-resistant grain, grew in the arid habitat around Beersheba where Abraham made his primary camp during this Bible episode.  Barley was the first grain that ripened in the new year; thus, ancient Israelites associated it with “first fruits.”

Although Ishmael was the first fruit of Abraham’s body, God directed Abraham to force Ishmael and his mother to leave his camp. Abraham expelled them; he no longer fed Hagar and Ishmael, protected them, or supported them.  Abraham took away rights and privileges that Ishmael had as Abraham’s first-born son.

This story makes me uncomfortable. I’m between knowing that God and all his decisions/actions are  for good, while imagining how the approximately 16year old Ishmael must have felt. True, Ishmael was complicit in mocking Isaac at his weaning ceremony. Still, my heart hurts when I read the story and imagine how the characters, i.e., Abraham, Ishmael, Hagar, felt.

Abraham followed God’s directions no matter how much following them hurt him. Likely, Abraham hurt when he left his family at Haran, hurt when he believed that his nephew Lot was destroyed in Sodom, and hurt when he expelled Ishmael. Through all of these hurts, Abraham obeyed and his obedience was credited to him as righteousness.

Rarely, do Americans obey God to the point that they hurt emotionally.  Many decades ago a Christian said that she prays that if the time  comes that she is tortured for her belief in God that she can stand firm. That is a prayer all of us could pray. The prayer can include that if we ever feel  pain, emotional or physical, for following God, that we can bear that pain.

Reflection: Have you ever obeyed God to the point that it hurts?

Copyright: 6/20/2020

Live Long and Prosper

The Word of the Lord

Genesis 14.13:  Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshkol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram.

Genesis 18.1: The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre.

Meditation

Abram traveled through Canaan and settled at the great trees of Mamre near Hebron. The great trees at Mamre were most likely Palestinian oak trees. The oak trees would have provided shade for Abram’s tents and individuals in them.

In the Bible, oaks were associated with power, strength, and longevity in the sense of a long life. The great oaks of Mamre symbolized Abram’s long life. A Palestinian oak near Hebron, named 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 (Psalms 71.18). Christians don’t have to worry about what they will do in retirement. They can use Abram as their role model. God called Abram to a new adventure when Abram was 75 years-of-age.

If you are retired, think about adventures you have  experienced since retirement. What are some of them? How did they enhance your life? Do you anticipate new adventures in your life going forward? Adventures can include ministering in your home church and community as well as travel.

The religious order that I belong to includes women in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. At monthly meetings, women report the numerous activities they are involved in. Each is totally excited by what she contributes to the church as well as to her community. 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).

Reflection: Is having a long life important to you? How do you think a long life is related to fear of the Lord? Is a long life span more important that what you do with that life span?

Copyright 6/19/2020

Going it Alone

Pistacia terebinthus

The Word of the Lord

 Genesis 12.1-7: The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. He took his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

 Meditation

God called Abram to leave Haran and travel to Canaan. There, God promised to make Abram the father of a large nation. Abram didn’t worship God when God called him. In fact, Abram worshiped the gods of the Chaldeans; yet, Abram complied with this strange new God’s direction.

 Abram was approximately 75 years-of-age and childless. He had been married for decades. I believe that part of Abram’s motivation for following God’s direction was God’s promise that Abram would be the father of a nation. This promise implied that Abram would sire at least one son.

When Abram reached Canaan, Abraham stopped at the great tree of Moreh in the vicinity of Shechem. There, Abram offered a sacrifice to God. Some of the underlying motivation for his sacrifice at Moreh could have been Abram telling God, “I’m here in Canaan; now remember your promise.”

Notice, the Bible’s description was of a tree, not trees. Modern-day Bible scholars believe the tree was a terebinth. Normally, the terebinth tree tops out at 33 feet; however, this tree may have been larger than the norm.

In the ancient near East, terebinth trees didn’t grow in groves or groups.  Usually, they grew alone without other trees around them; thus, were seen from far distances and/or used to identify locations. Abram was the first Israelite patriarch. Similar to the terebinth growing alone, Abram and his family traveled to Canaan alone.

One feature of the terebinth tree is its deep root system. Botanists claim that the tree’s deep root system gives it stability. Abram’s root system was God. Abraham was willing to be planted where God wanted him even if he was the only one of his nationality in Canaan.

Reflection: What is your root system? What makes your life stable? Are you rooted in God?

Copyright: 6/18/2020