Category Archives: Plant Parables

Grass or Flower???

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Bible Reference: 1 Peter 1:23-26

In Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, he included the parable of lilies adorning grass. In contrast to Jesus’s emphasis on flowers, Peter’s parable mentioned flowers, but focused on field grass. Peter encourages Christians to live a holy life because their physical life on earth is short and then comes a great reward. Belief and hope in Jesus means eternal spiritual life with him. Peter reminded Christians that they were born again through belief in the enduring Word of God. The enduring Word of God is Jesus (John 1:1-5). In his letter, Peter quoted almost verbatim from a parable given initially by the prophet Isaiah. Here is what Peter wrote:

All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.    — 1 Peter 1:24 NIV

Most scholars agree that Silas acted as Peter’s secretary and carried this letter to Christians in what is now inland Turkey. In his first letter, Peter draws comparisons between the transience of field grass and the brevity of mankind’s life. The transiency of life is a common theme in the Bible. Both King David and Isaiah compared man to grass which soon withers and dies away (Psalm 37:2; Psalm 103:15; Isaiah 40:6). This year, the Roanoke Valley received an overabundance of rain; it is December and grass is still green. Yet, I remember when I lived in San Francisco. Sometimes, I drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and traveled up Highway 80 into the Sacramento Valley. June through August, and even into September and October, the grass along the highway was brown and appeared dead.

Orchard Grass

In Israel there were scores of grasses in the local flora. One of the most valuable native grass species was known as orchard grass. Orchard grass grew wild on hill sides and in shallow areas, in both sun and shade. Most likely orchard grass covered the large slopes where crowds set to listen to Jesus’s sermons and smaller areas where Jesus took Peter and other disciples for private talks. In Israel rains came October through March. In those months, grass was green and carpeted the hills. As spring progressed into summer, grass turned brown from the scorching heat of the sun and lack of rain. Grass and wild flowers dried and turned into brown straw.

Orchard grass is a perennial plant. That means that even through it dies in the summer, grass regrows the following year. Orchard grass produces a flower head called a panicle. Seeds are produced in the flower heads. Initially, seeds are green but turn brown as they mature; then, seeds drop to the ground. Although some seeds are carried away by the wind and others eaten by birds, most remain where they drop. Seeds enter the soil, germinate when it rains, and regrow the following year.

Application

Peter told the Christians that they were born again with imperishable seed—the word of God (1 Peter 1:23). In the Bible, the Word of God is the living Christ. St. John wrote that in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God (John 1:1). Christians are born again by believing that Jesus is God’s son and savior of the world. In his physical body, Jesus died on the cross. Most living men and women will die unless Jesus returns to earth first. After physical death, Jesus rose from the dead. Individuals who believe in Jesus and who die physically will rise again. Why—because they are born again with the imperishable seed of belief in the Word of God (1 Peter 1:23).

King David, Isaiah, Peter, and Jesus made the point that life is transient by comparing man’s life with field grass. They were all correct that grass withers and dies and that physical life is transient; it withers and dies. At the same time, most field grass is a perennial. It withers and dies with the heat of the sun and lack of rain. Most field grass has a deep root structure and it produces seeds which germinate and grow.

Individuals who don’t believe that Jesus is the son of God die like field grass at the end of a season. In contrast, we, who are born by the Word of God, have physical lives that wither and die; but, we are perennials. Our root structure is firmly embedded in Jesus. We produce seeds of righteousness. We are going to live with Jesus even after our physical bodies wither and die. As Peter wrote, we are born again not of perishable seed but of imperishable seed (1 Peter 1:23).

Reflection: How do we get to be born again so that we never perish?  If you aren’t sure, read, ponder and explain: Romans 3:22-23, John 3:16, and 1 John 5:11-12. Do you need or want to take any action, or are you where you want to be?

To learn more about Bible plants and their application, go to my website: www. CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright September 27, 2016. Carolyn A. Roth

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Parable of Famine Bread

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Bible Reference: Ezekiel chapter 45

Heart of the Story: Ezekiel offered a parable of the famine that would come on Jerusalem

Back Story: Ezekiel was both a prophet and priest. He was taken to Babylon when King Nebuchadnezzar took Judah’s King, Jehoiachin, and 10,000 captive from Jerusalem to Babylon (597 BC). At that time, Nebuchadnezzar established Zedekiah as puppet king over Judah. After ruling for about five of six years, King Zedekiah rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. He ceased paying tribute and turned to Egypt for military assistance to throw off Babylonian rule. Subsequently, Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem. After about 18 months, the wall around Jerusalem was breached.

When Nebuchadnezzar and his army started for Judah, Jerusalem was flooded with refugees fleeing the countryside. The influx was so great that private homes, inns, and the temple courtyard were crammed with people. The poor set up tents in the streets or lay down wherever they found an empty space at night. People and noise were everywhere; smoke billowed from cooking fires. Although the situation was dire, it got worse after the Babylonians arrived. No additional food supplies entered Jerusalem. Human and animal refuse couldn’t be removed. Filth and stench were everywhere.

In Babylon beside Chebar River, God instructed Ezekiel to act out the siege of Jerusalem. The first action parable used a clay tablet to depict the Babylonians besieging Jerusalem. The second had Ezekiel lying on his left followed by lying on his right side. The third parable encompassed grains and legumes to make bread and to bake the bread.

Parable of Famine Bread: Some scholars advocated that Ezekiel 4:9-16 were two separate parables rather than one. I am describing them as one parable because they encompassed preparing and eating bread.

Here’s is God’s direction to Ezekiel: “Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side.”

Verse 9 describes substances that Jerusalemites will use to make bread during the siege of Jerusalem. Normally, bread was made from one type of flour, i.e., wheat, barley, millet or spelt. Legume flour was not common made into bread, however, when individuals lived in extreme poverty, beans in particular and occasionally lentils could be made into flour and used to prepare bread. Mixing flour from several sources demonstrated the extreme scarcity of flour that would occur during the siege. Scholars disagree whether the mixing of different flour sources in one vessel was a defilement (Deuteronomy 22:9), but all agree that dietary laws were compromised for the Jerusalemites.

“Weigh out twenty shekels of food to eat each day and eat it at set times. Also measure out a sixth of a hin of water and drink it at set times. Eat the food as you would a barley cake; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel.” The LORD said, “In this way the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will drive them.”

Then Ezekiel responded to God: “Not so, Sovereign LORD! I have never defiled myself. From my youth until now I have never eaten anything found dead or torn by wild animals. No unclean meat has ever entered my mouth.”

“Very well,” God said, “I will let you bake your bread over cow manure instead of human excrement.” 

These three verses identified how Ezekiel was to bake the multi-flour bread. During the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, inhabitants would have to bake their bread over human excrement; therefore, God told Ezekiel to do the same. When Ezekiel objected God allowed him to bake his bread over cow manure. Jerusalemites didn’t have the luxury of using animal dung for baking. Near the end Jerusalem siege, no animals were alive in the city. All had been slaughtered and eaten. Human excrement was the primary source of cooking fuel.

Then, God  said to Ezekiel “Son of man, I will cut off the supply of food in Jerusalem. The people will eat rationed food in anxiety and drink rationed water in despair,”    Ezekiel 4:9-16, NIV Online

Interpretation of Parable of Famine Bread: God interpreted the action parable for Ezekiel and for us. The interpretation was that God would cut off the food supply for Jerusalem. Once the Babylonians arrived no food or refuse passed in and out of the city walls. Many people inside Jerusalem starved to death or died from disease. Often the dead could not be buried and remained where they died. Mothers killed and ate their children. Ezekiel’s action shouldn’t be interpreted as sympathetic magic where something done to a model or person has a similar act in reality. True, Ezekiel’s famine bread foreshadowed the starvation behavior of the Jerusalemites; but God, not Ezekiel, caused both the prophet’s actions and of people living in Jerusalem during the siege.

In a larger context, the siege of Jerusalem was a prophecy about judgment. The people of Judah sinned so long and to such a degree that God removed his protect around Jerusalem. When Ezekiel acted out the parables of the siege of Jerusalem, God still dwelled in Jerusalem temple. Before the Babylonian siege, Ezekiel recorded that God’s presence left both the temple and Jerusalem (Ezekiel chapters 10 and 11 NIV).

The Broad Bean

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The Book of Ezekiel is one of the most detailed and well-known references to grains in the Bible; but, we also learn, or relearn, that Israelites dried and crushed legumes (bean and lentils) into bread flour. For a plant in the parable of the famine bread, I have chosen to describe the bean. The bean was the Vicia faba, also known Vicia vulgaris, the broad bean, and the faba bean.  Beans were one of the oldest cultivated plants, at least 6000 years. Their origin is North Africa or the Middle East.  The bean grows in all types of soil as long as the soil is well-drained. Although not drought-resistant, beans are hearty enough to live through mild frosts. In the Middle East, beans remain one of the most important winter crops. Broad beans can grow in semi-shade as well as strong sunlight, but they do not tolerate maritime exposure.

Looking Outward and Deeper

The Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem in 588 BC. About 18 months later the Jerusalem walls were breached. Nebuchadnezzar had no more patience with the rebellious Jews or his puppet king, Zedekiah. He had Zedekiah killed and the Jerusalem temple and major buildings destroyed. The wall around Jerusalem walls razed. Jews not killed by famine and plague were killed by the Babylonian soldiers. Only the poorest Jews were allowed to remain in Judah.

Reflection:  God said “The day is coming, when I will send a famine throughout the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11, NIV).  Do you believe this promise from God will occur in the USA?

I love studying about Bible plants. Do you? If so, please check my website for more information: http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

Copyright August 23, 2016; Carolyn A. Roth

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Winnowing Wheat, Winnowing Us

Girl winnowing wheat

Bible Reference: Matthew 3:12

John the Baptist parable on winnowing described separating chaff from wheat:

His winnowing fan (shovel, fork) is in His hand, and He will thoroughly     clear out and clean His threshing floor and gather and store His wheat in His barn, but the chaff He will burn up with fire that cannot be put out. Matthew 3:13 The Amplified Bible.

John spoke this parable to foretell actions of the coming Messiah (Christ). John preached personal acknowledgement and repentance of sins followed by baptism—full body emersion—in water as an outward sign of repentance. The water of baptism washed sins away. John didn’t stop with his message of repentance and physical act of baptism. John exhorted those baptized to change their behavior and bear fruit consistence with repentance (Luke 3:8-14). When the baptized asked him what they should do, John’s answer wasn’t that they quit their jobs; rather in their lives and jobs, they should act honorably, treat others fairly, and share with the less fortunate. For example, John told men with two tunics to give one to the man who had none. Soldiers should stop accusing people falsely and extorting money from them.

John the Baptist spoke bluntly to the multitudes that came to him for baptism; but reserved his worst denunciations for the Jerusalem’s elite, i.e., Pharisees, Sadducees, and priests. He called them vipers (Luke 3:7). The fierceness of his words, suggests firsthand knowledge of their behavior. Perhaps, when he rotated through the Jerusalem temple as a priest, John saw the excesses, insincerity, and, yes, even corruption that infected the leaders of the Herodian-style Jerusalem temple.

Separating Wheat from Chaff

In ancient Judea, wheat kernels (seed, grain) were separated from the chaff (stalks, straw) on threshing floors. Generally, chaff was unusable except as fodder for livestock. The farmer separated the wheat kernels from the chaff using a process called winnowing. Winnowing consisted of throwing the threshed material (chaff and grain) into the air with a fork or a winnowing basket. The wind separated the valuable grains of wheat from the chaff. Because wheat kernels were heavier than chaff, they fell to the ground. The lighter chaff, dirt, etc., were blown away by the wind. At times, farmers used fans to create air currents to blow chaff and other impurities away from the valuable wheat kernels.

Application

When John the Baptists told the parable of winnowing wheat and chaff, the spiritual reality was that the coming Messiah (Christ) would distinguish or separate the righteous from the unrighteous. Christ would critically analyze peoples’ hearts, not pious actions that were outward displays for show. John said that sincere, righteous individuals – the wheat kernels—would be taken and stored in the farmer’s barn, i.e., heaven. In contrast, the chaff, those with pretend piety, will be forever burned.

Reflection: God is not going to accept any dirt, chaff or straw into his barn. Where does that leave you and me?

Check out http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com books on plants.

Copyright August 11, 2016; all rights reserved.

Living by God’s Rules

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Bible Reference:  Isaiah 28:24-29

The parable of the plowman is a two stanza poem. The first stanza focuses on plowing the ground for planting and the second on threshing a crop. The poem ends with praise to God and the interpretation is unfolded. Although Isaiah lived most of his life in Jerusalem, the content of Isaiah’s book demonstrates a sure knowledge of ways crops were planted, cultivated, and harvested.

The immediate context for the parable of the plowman begins in Isaiah chapter 28, verse 9. The country’s leaders mocked Isaiah; but, more importantly they mocked God. The leaders asked: Who is God to try to teach us? Are we babies? Are we newly weaned children? No! They were adults and didn’t need detailed instructions from God, i.e., “Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule, a little here, a little there” (Isaiah 28:10 NIV). The rulers in Jerusalem boasted they entered a covenant with death and the grave; thus, when a foreign nation invaded them, they wouldn’t be touched (Isaiah 28:14-15).

According to Isaiah, reality for both Israel and Judah will be different. Neither country is prepared militarily or spiritually for foreign invasion, an invasion that God will allow in judgment for their rejection of him and his laws. In order to achieve security for their land, citizens had to recognize and abide by God’s rules. Unfortunately, in Israel and Judah both leaders and citizens rejected God and God’s requirements for national and personal holiness. There was little, if any, justice in either Israel or Judah. Kings and leaders, insulated by their wealth, had almost no understanding of the everyday lives of the poor in their nations.

caraway-seeds

Caraway Seeds

In The parable of the plowman, two herbs were named, caraway and cumin. Caraway is highlighted in this entry. The caraway plant (Carum carvi) is an herbaceous biennial that is only about eight inches tall in year one. Foliage is carrot-like. In the second year, caraway plants triple their size, i.e., about 30 inches tall. Stems are thick and foliage is feathery.  Tiny white flowers appear on the umbels. Flowering begins in May and can last all summer. Dry flowers yield small hard brown seeds– the caraway spice.

Symbolism: Maturity

The result of the sins of Israel and Judah was God’s judgement on each nation and its people. Just like it takes two years for caraway to yield a crop of caraway seeds, so did it take a while for both the Northern and Southern kingdoms to mature in their sin. At any time in this process if God would have seen national repentance he would have forgiven and people and healed it.

In the United States, we will shortly elect a new president. I hear so much rhetoric about the short-comings of each candidate. I don’t hear anything about national repentance.  I don’t hear any reflection on how our country is maturing in its sinfulness; yet, year after year our personal and national sin becomes worse. At the same time, fewer and fewer voices speak out about national sin.

Reflection: Would you say that we in the United States have national sin as the Northern and Southern kingdoms of Israel had national sins. If you said “yes,” what should you be doing about them?

If you want to get more information on plants in the Bible, please see my website: www.CarolynRothMinistry.com.

Copyright: July 31, 2016; Carolyn A. Roth

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Destroyed Vineyards

This September 2015 photo shows the Cremisan Monastery and vineyards in Bethlehem. The winery uses local grapes to make fine wines at the site of an ancient church and also hosts tours. Local Palestinian Christians and Muslims work together in the vineyards. (Kevin Begos via AP)

Bible References: Psalm 88:8-13; Isaiah 5:1-6   

Introduction: Do you want your heart to break? Then, read these two parables about the Israelites rejection of God. The first is contained in Psalm 80. The second, in Isaiah, is called The Song of the Vineyard. Although written at two different times in Israelite history and by two different men, both parables are a cry of anguish from God directed to his chosen people. These parables identify God as the gardener and Israelite as his vineyard.

Back Story: After the death of King Solomon, the Israelite kingdom divided (c. 930 BC). The Northern Kingdom, called Israel, included 10 tribes. The Southern Kingdom was known as Judah. At times Judah included both the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. At other times, Benjamin seemed more aligned with the Northern Kingdom. Levite towns were located in both Israel and Judah.

The first Northern Kingdom king introduced idol worship, which was embraced by much of the population. After 200 years (c. 722/721 BC) Assyria conquered the Northern Kingdom. Most of its inhabitants were exiled throughout the Assyrian Empire. In the Southern Kingdom, Judah, descendants of King David ruled until 586 BC. Judah followed much the same path as the Northern Kingdom, albeit over a longer period of time. Judah turned from God to worship a myriad of idols. Jerusalem fell to the onslaught of the Babylonians and most of its citizens taken captive to Babylon.

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Interpreting Destroyed Vineyards: Isaiah declared, “The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the nation of Israel, and the people of Judah the vines he delighted in. And he looked for justice; but saw bloodshed. God looked for righteousness; but heard cries of distress” (Isaiah 5:7 NIV). The spiritual interpretation for both Psalm 80 and Isaiah 5:1-6 is that there are consequences of sin. The consequence of Israel’s and Judah’s sins was that God abandoning them. God removed his protection from both kingdoms with the result that both was attack and ruined. In their pride both kingdoms forgot that God was their hedge. They believed that their armies were protection for their borders and for their populations.

In these two parables we glean another spiritual lesson: God’s judgment was proportional. After becoming a nation separate from Judah, Israel turned immediately to idol worship, e.g., Jeroboam set golden bull in Dan and Bethel and told his people that the bulls were the gods that brought them out of Egypt. Over 200 years, the nation’s population repudiated God almost completely. In response, God allowed the nation of Israel to cease to exist.

On the physical or natural level, the parables of destroyed vineyards included preparing and protecting a vineyard. Usually, ancient Israelites enclosed vineyards with fences. Often farmers dug a ditch around the vineyard. The earth from the ditch was thrown on the inner side of the ditch. Fence posts and thorny plants were placed on the berm. At other times, a wall of stones or sun-dried mud took the place of the earthen fence with its thorny plants.

God built a watch tower to protect his vineyard Israel; the watchman could see marauders coming from far away.  The vineyard was planted, “with the choicest vine” (Isaiah 5:2). Farmers traded for the best vines available or purchased the highest quality vines that they could afford.

As the vine grower devoted himself to the vineyard and grapes, God devoted himself to the Children of Israel. He did everything possible to select good vines, protect them, and promote good growth in them. When God anticipated a yield of good grapes from his vineyard, he got only bad grapes.  They produced disobedience, rebellion and idolatry. God is so disturbed that he asks: “What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it?” (Isaiah 5:4 NIV).

Reflection:  The consequence of Israel’s and Judah’s sins was that God abandoning them. What do you think will be consequences of the United States of America’s rejection of Godly ways of living?

If you want to learn more about plants in the Bible, go to my website www.CarolynRothMinistry.com and check out my two books devoted to plants in the Bible. Ascertain what God wants us to learn from them.

Copyright July 31, 2016; Carolyn Adams Roth

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Parable: Trashy Thorns

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The Hebrews author inserted a short two-verse parable (Hebrews 6:7-8) to foster readers’ intuitive understanding of more difficult Christian doctrine identified in verses 4-6. He must have believed that an agricultural parable of the land producing crops versus thorns and thistles was an illustration that even the most urban reader of the first century would understand.

Hebrews was addressed to Jewish Christians, but had great applicability to Gentile readers. For centuries biblical scholars believed that Paul wrote the letter to the Hebrews. Within the past five hundred years other writers, i.e., Barnabas and Apollos, have been postulated. Who wrote Hebrews is not as important as its message.

Immediately prior to the parable of productive versus non-productive land, the writer reprimands readers because they were slow to learn (Hebrews 5:11-14). He wants them to become more mature in their faith, moving beyond learning or relearning elementary teachings about Jesus and Christianity to more mature doctrine (Hebrews 6:1-2).

What follows in Hebrews 6:4-6 is a series of statements that includes some of the most hotly contested beliefs among Christian scholars, not to mention among Christian denominations. The writer asked: if an individuals who has rejected Christ after he has been enlightened and shared in the blessings of the Holy Spirit be brought back to repentance?. He goes on to say, that these believers—who have fallen away—crucify Jesus all over again and subject Jesus to public disgrace.

Then, the writer provided this parable to illustrate his point:

Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.                                                       —  Hebrews 6:7-8 NIV

Notice that the subject of the parable is the land – not rain, nor a farming process, not a crop, nor even a farmer, but land. The land receives rain and does something with the rain. In one instance the land responds by producing a useful crop. In other words, the land produced grains, trees, herbs, etc. that gave the farmer food for his family. Possibly, the crop was abundant enough so some could be sold and provide food security for an entire community. Other land responds to the rain by producing thorns and thistles. This land is worthless to that farmer. It is in danger of being cursed; in the end it will be burned.

Thorns Rhamnus_lycioides_branch

 Thorns were first mentioned in Genesis as a way God cursed the ground when he expelled Adam and Eve from Eden. Thorns grew on the acacia tree in the Sinai desert and on Jotham’s thorn tree in the Promised Land.  Isaiah warned Ahaz that the land around Jerusalem would become thorn infested because of his disobedience. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ asked if people can pick grapes from thorn bushes. As these exemplars show, many thorn producing trees and plants were mentioned in the Bible.

The Mediterranean buckthorn (Rhamnus lycoides) is a slow growing thorn bush common in the Mediterranean Basin where Jewish converts lived in the first century Christian church. The buckthorn is an unattractive shrub that doesn’t normally grow in cultivated gardens or fields. It actually likes to grow in poor soil that is gritty and highly eroded. Along with the thistle, the buckthorn is the last species to disappear when livestock over-grazed an area.

Most gardeners and farmers do not view the Mediterranean buckthorn as attractive. Its form is tangled and many branched. Grayish stems are topped with thorny spikes. Small flowers are yellowish, inconspicuous, unattractive, and may appear in the winter. Fruit is small, initially green, but turns black when mature. Although birds like the fruit, humans find it bitter. It acts as a purgative and in large quantities is toxic to humans. Aphids are attracted to the Mediterranean buckthorn. If the buckthorn grows in a damp climate, it tends to develop fungal disease. Once aphids and fungus appear on plants, they often spread to more valuable plants in the area. Overall the Mediterranean buckthorn has no value for either man or livestock. Burning land that it inhabits is one strategy to get rid of it.

Symbolism – Trash

Throughout the Bible thorns don’t have a good reputation; often they symbolized desolation and devastation.  The Hebrew word for the thorn in Isaiah 7:23-25 is shayith which is translated as scrub, thorn, or trash (Strong, 2010).  Trash is debris from plant materials, something worth little or nothing, and something thrown away.  Trash is an excellent symbol for men and women who learned what Christ did for them, tasted the heavenly gift and goodness of the word of God, shared in the Holy Spirit and then turned back, or fallen away from the goodness of God. The outcome for these individuals is not the storehouse of God but a burning trash heap.

Reflection:  Consider the parable in this chapter.

  1. Will increasing the amount of rain that falls on the thorn-infested land, make the land more productive for crops?
  2. Will additional fertilizer add to the productivity of the land?
  3. What do you think God is going to do with the thorn-infested land?

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: June 20, 2016; Carolyn A. Roth

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Christians are Wild Olive Boughs

Olive Tree

Photograph of Olive Tree in Jerusalem.

Bible Reference:  Romans 11:16-24; Before you start to read this entry, please read the Bible reference.

Overview:  Despite Jewish Christians starting the Christian Church in Rome, Gentile Christians resisted accepting Jewish Christians into their fellowship. Paul’s letter to the Romans (about 71 AD) included a parable using cultivated olive and wild olive trees to illustrate Gentile’s proper response to their Jewish Christian brethren.

Historical Context: Initially, the church in Rome was composed of Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. The Church in Rome wasn’t started by an apostle, but by Jews who returned from Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts 2). Almost immediately, Jewish believers evangelized Gentiles. Then, Emperor Claudius banished all Jews from Rome. For 12 years the Christian church in Rome consisted of only Gentiles. When Nero became Emperor, he invited the Jews back to Rome, noting that they were good for business and trade. The problem was that Gentiles refused to allow Jewish Christians back into the Christian church in Rome. Perhaps, Gentile Christians concluded that Emperor Claudius’s rejection of the Jewish Christians meant that God also rejected them. Because Rome was the capital city of the Roman Empire, this discriminatory attitude had the potential to spread beyond Rome.

Paul focused his evangelistic efforts on the Gentiles, that is, individuals who weren’t Jews. He named himself the apostle to the Gentiles. Paul spent years journeying throughout the Roman Empire converting Gentiles and strengthening their commitment to Jesus as Christ (the Messiah, the son of God). In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, Paul made it clear that the current parable was designed for Gentile believers (Romans 11:13). He wrote it to counter Roman Gentile’s arrogant belief that they were better than Jewish Christians. One basis for Gentile arrogance was that unlike Jews, Gentiles didn’t reject Jesus and lobby for his crucifixion. Further, the Gentile converts never denied that Christ rose from the dead as many Jerusalem Jewish leaders denied the resurrection.

Olive Tree Grafting: In the parable of the in-grafted wild olive branch, Paul identified a) a root and branches (boughs) of a cultivated olive tree, b) a branch (bough) of a wild olive tree, and c) grafting a wild olive branch onto a cultivated olive tree. The original cultivated olive tree with its root and branches is the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their offspring, the Jews. This root was solid and sure. Jews who believed in Jesus as Messiah were the original root and branches of the early Christian church. Branches broken off from the cultivated olive tree were Jews who refused to believe that Jesus was the long looked for Messiah. This was the majority of Jews who lived in Palestine and throughout the Roman Empire at the time. The wild olive branch equated to Gentile Christians who believed that Jesus was the son of God and followed his teachings. The interpretation of Paul’s parable in the eleventh chapter of Romans is that the Gentile believers were grafted into—became an integral, productive off shoot—of the Jewish faith.

Although Paul’s parable seems easy to interpret, it has nuances that are only made clear by understanding characteristics of both cultivated and wild olive trees and the grafting process in olive trees. Paul identified that a wild olive branch was grafted onto the root of the cultivated olive tree; however, olive growers rarely graft wild olive branches onto cultivated olive trees. In reality, just the opposite occurs: growers graft cultivated olive tree branches onto wild olive tree roots. Paul was aware of this normal grafting procedure; he wrote that his parable was contrary to nature (Romans 11:24).  Perhaps, Paul believed that making his point was more important than technical accuracy about olive tree grafting.

Horticulturists identify three reasons for tree grafting: 1) to propagate trees that don’t root well by cutting a shoot from the poorly growing tree and grafting it onto a healthy tree; 2) to obtain a stronger root system, and 3) to grow plants faster. Importantly, the root sustains the newly grafted branch; the newly grafted branch doesn’t sustain the root.

Interpretation: In Paul’s parable, all three reasons support grafting the newly converted Gentile believers into the roots of Judaism. Gentiles used the structures and traditions of the established Jewish faith as roots for their worship of Jesus. An example is the Jewish tradition of meeting weekly to hear and study God’s word. Using this Jewish tradition, new Christian church members fellow-shipped regularly and became more knowledgeable about their faith. Further, the Jews had sacred God-inspired writings. Knowing about and hearing Jewish scriptures (Old Testament) facilitated more ready acceptance of the New Testament gospel and letters. In these ways, the Christian faith grew stronger and faster and became a deeper part of Gentile convert’s lives. The new Gentile believers and churches acquired spiritual richness and fertility by being grafted into the deeply rooted, cultivated olive tree.

Although the cultivated olive tree formed the root and some branches of the olive tree in Paul’s parable, the in-grafted wild olive tree branch resonates with most of us. We are the wild olive branch. Today, Gentile believers form most of the body of believers in churches in westernized countries.

Wild olive trees are multi-trunked and often grow as wide as tall. Wild olive trees grow almost everywhere, e.g.,  brackish water and river bottoms where water level is seldom more than two feet below ground surface. They are drought tolerant and indifferent to wind and heat. The spreading growth pattern and diversity of growth sites of wild olive trees mirrored the growth of the new Christian church. Gentiles (non-Jewish) were almost everywhere in the Roman Empire. The Christian church appeared and thrived even in the most inhospitable environments.

The wild olive tree has deep taproot (central root) and well-developed lateral roots. As it looks for water, the wild olive sinks it main root deep into the soil, while spreading horizontal in search of nutrients. This diverse root system adds to the stability of the wild olive tree. About 80% of the United States population self-identifies as Christians. Like the wild olive tree, many have a root deep in their Christian faith. At the same time, they aren’t necessarily tied to one religious denomination. They spread horizontal roots in search of an optimal church family.

Like the cultivated olive tree, the wild olive produces a drupe-like fruit; however, fruit is smaller than and not as tasty as olives from cultivated olive trees. In most countries, wild olives aren’t eaten. Generally, the fruit isn’t used to make olive oil. In Paul’s parable, a wild olive branch was grafted onto a cultivated olive tree; however, the wild olive branch would never produce the same olive that grows on a cultivated olive tree. Similarly, Christianity is a unique religion and doesn’t produce the same fruit as Judaism.

Despite the seeming lesser value of wild olive tree products than cultivated olive tree products, Paul’s parable didn’t mean that Jewish Christians were more valuable than Gentile Christians. Similarly, although Jewish Christians were represented by branches (more than one) and Gentile Christians by a single branch didn’t mean that there were more Jews than Gentiles in the Christian church at Rome. Probably, the opposite was true. Data aren’t available for the number of Jews who became believers in the early centuries after Christ’s death; but, by the early 21st century, the vast majority of Christians were Gentiles. Globally, less than one half percent of Jews self-identify as Messianic Jews; that is Jews who believe in Jesus as Messiah.

Summary:  Paul’s purpose in writing the parable of the in-grafted wild olive branch was to remind Gentile believers that the root of the Christian faith was in God’s covenants with the Jews, i.e., God promised to bless all nations through Abraham’s seed. When he reminded the Rome church about God’s promise, Paul’s wanted to encourage a fully integrated church. Paul wasn’t attempting to make the Christian church in Rome a sect of Judaism, nor was he advocating that Gentile Christians replaced the Jews in God’s favor.

Reflections: Is Christianity an inclusive or exclusive faith? In your church do you have tiers of individuals, i.e., some who are more important than others?

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: June 12, 2016; Carolyn A. Roth

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God as a Gardener book

New book will be available for sale in August from Tate Publishing. Illustrations are original and in color. Maria Lin is the illustrator and a very talented and spiritual woman.

God as a Gardener

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/

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Lost Son, Lost You

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Bible Reference: Luke 15:11-32

The parable of the lost son is one of the longer parables that Christ told. It was the last of three parables in which Jesus made the point that God searches for the lost, whether a sheep, coin, or person. Plant pods were mentioned, seemingly in passing, in the parable; however, the pods played a central role in incentivizing the lost son to return home to his father.

The context for the parable of the lost son is vital to understanding and interpreting it. At the time a large crowd was following Jesus as he traveled from Galilee southward to Jerusalem. Some in the crowd believed what Jesus taught; others wanted to see him perform a great miracle. Some Pharisees traveled with the group. Carefully, they watched Jesus’s behavior and listened to what he said learn if he did or said anything that contradicted Jewish law.

At this particular time, tax collectors and other sinners gathered around Jesus. The Pharisees and teachers of the law started to mutter that Jesus welcomed sinners and even ate with them. In response Jesus told this parable:

There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father,
“Father, give me my share of the estate.”So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

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When he came to his senses, he said, “How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”  But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” So they began to celebrate.

So far, so good!!! The parable sounded the same as that of the lost sheep and lost coin. Listening tax collectors and sinners, who identified with the younger son, rejoiced to hear that God forgave them unconditionally. Even the Pharisees and teachers of the law had no criticism of Jesus’s words at this point. They believed that repentant sinners could be restored to fellowship with God. If Jesus had stopped there, all would have been well. What Jesus said next offended and further alienated the Pharisees. Here are Jesus exact words as recorded by Luke:

Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him whatwas going on. “Your brother has come,” he replied, “and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.” The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” “My son,” the father said, “you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

When Jesus finished the parable, all who listened knew that the older brother was the Pharisees. Jesus’s parable exposed the Pharisees for what they were, i.e., hard-hearted, self-righteous prigs, who believed that their life style earned them special merit before Father God. In their opinion everything they did was right. God was happy to have them as believers and would welcome them into his kingdom. As the older son looked down on the younger, Pharisees looked down on tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. Pharisees had no awareness of their need for a savior. Their opinion of themselves couldn’t let them believe that Jesus’s considered them spiritually impoverished.

1-Carob Pod

The Carob Tree

The pods that the unrepentant son longed to eat were carob pods, the fruit of the Ceratonia siliqua tree. Likely, carob trees were brought from Babylon by Jewish exiles who returned to Judea. In ancient Israel, carob trees were also called John’s bread and the locust tree. When John the Baptists lived in the wilderness, he ate locust and wild honey. Possibly, he ate carob pods rather than the locust insect. Carob trees grew wild throughout Palestine to include in desert areas. In Bible time pods were used to feed livestock. Carob trees produced pods even in time of drought and famine.

Reflection: How would you feel if your son or daughter said, “I wish you were dead?” This is what the younger son said to his father. Are you living as if you wished or declared that God is dead?

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: January 6, 2016; Carolyn A. Roth

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Good and Bad Figs

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Bible Reference: Jeremiah 24:1-7

In the years prior to Jeremiah’s parable of the two baskets of figs, Judah’s King Jehoiakim was murdered. His son, Jehoiachin, succeeded his father to the throne. After ruling three months and ten days, the eighteen year-old king surrendered when Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem. This grandson of godly King Josiah, his mother and wives, capable fighting men, and the most skilled artisans and craftsmen were taken captive (597 BC) to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar made Jehoiachin’s uncle, Zedekiah, the vassal king in Judah. In earlier prophecies, Jeremiah foretold both Jehoiakim’s murder and Jehoiachin being taken captive to Babylon.

In the parable of the two baskets of figs, God gave Jeremiah a vision that included a parable and its interpretation:

Then the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?”“Figs,” I answered. “The good ones are very good, but the bad ones are so bad they cannot be eaten.” Jeremiah 24: 3-4 NIV

In contrast to the good figs, the outcome for the bad figs was dire. The bad figs were King Zedekiah, his officials, and other survivors in Jerusalem. God was going to send sword, famine, and plague on the people who remained in Judah. Indeed, during the siege of Jerusalem, residents suffered famine and pestilence. When they Babylonians broke through the Jerusalem walls thousands of Jerusalemites were murdered. Even though God banish the survivors to foreign kingdoms, God’s planned to make them abhorrent to people of every kingdom on earth.

fig leaf & fruit

How Figs Grow

Figs were identified in written records as early as 9000 B.C. in the area of Jordan. The average fig tree grows about twenty feet tall and develops a spreading canopy. Tree roots spread far beyond the tree canopy searching for water. Some fig trees are damaged by temperatures that drop to 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Perhaps, the bad figs in Jeremiah’s parable were damaged by a late frost.

Interpretation

Jeremiah’s prophecy of the good and bad figs came true. When Jehoiachin arrived in Babylon, he was placed in prison. There, he remained 37 years. When Nebuchadnezzar died, his son Evil-Murdock became king over Babylon. King Evil- Murdock released Jehoiachin from prison, gave him an allowance, and a favored place at the king’s high table for meals. Seventy years later after Jehoiachin’s captivity, his grandson, Zerubbabel, led the first 50,000 Jews who left Babylon and returned to Jerusalem. God considered the exiled Jews as good figs.

Meanwhile in Jerusalem, King Zedekiah rebelled. Nebuchadnezzar returned to Jerusalem, laid siege to the city, killed King Zedekiah, and conquered Jerusalem and the surrounding towns. Nebuchadnezzar assigned Gedaliah, a politically-moderate Jew, as governor of Judea. Gedaliah established his capital at Mizpah. Ishmael, a member of Judah’s former royal family, killed Gedaliah and the Babylonian soldiers garrisoned at Mizpah. Jews not killed feared that Nebuchadnezzar would be furious at governor Gedaliah’s murder. They fled to Egypt for safety. Not too many years later, Nebuchadnezzar invaded Egypt; in the invasion his army killed most of the Jews who fled there. Thus, the bad figs were destroyed.

Reflection

Most Americans resonate to New Hampshire’s state motto: “Live Free or Die.” Yet, God told the Jewish exiles to submit to their Babylonian captors. When they did so, they were good figs. What was God’s rationale for declaring the captives “good?”

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: November 21, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth

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