Category Archives: Plants in Christ’ Ministry in Perea & Judea

Moving a Mulberry Tree

Christ reassured the apostles that with faith they could move a mulberry tree in Luke 17:1-6.

In the mulberry tree discussion, Christ outlined some responsibilities for his disciples.  One was to never lead another person into sin.  Christ told his disciples that it would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause another to sin. A second responsibility for a disciple was to rebuke a brother if he sins. The third responsibility was is to forgive a brother if he repents of sin and asks for forgiveness. Christians were to forgive a repentant brother even if the brother sinned and repented seven times a day. Seven times a day meant that repentance-forgiveness cycle was limitless. 

After hearing this teaching, Christ’s apostles must have felt overwhelmed with the extent of their responsibilities as followers of Christ. How could they live so blameless a life that they never caused another individual to sin? Did they have the courage to rebuke a fellow Christian when he or she sinned? How could they, simple men that they were, forgive and forgive and forgive?  In desperation, the apostles cried out to Christ, “Increase our faith!”  (Luke 17:5). 

Christ gave them a simple response – if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can tell a mulberry tree to be uprooted and transplanted into the sea. With sufficient faith, the mulberry tree will obey. 

mulberry fruitThe Mulberry Tree

The mulberry tree is the Morus nigra also known as the sycamine tree. The tree is indigenous to Persia (Iran).  In Israel mulberry tree remains have been found from the late Iron Age. In modern Israel, mulberry trees grow wild and are domesticated from Mount Hermon in northern Israel to Eilat in the southern Negev Desert. During our stay at Kibbutz Lotan in the southern Negev Desert area in 2012, we saw a 25 foot tall mulberry tree which had been planted for its shade as well as its fruit.  After pollination female flowers ripen into .4-1 inch blackberry-shaped edible fruits. Ultimately, the berry becomes succulent, fat, and full of juice. Mulberry berries vary in color with the M. nigra tree producing black mulberries.

Symbolism: Delay or Wise

The genus name of the mulberry is Morus derived from the Latin word mora meaning “delay” because the mulberry tree is the last tree to bud in the spring (Grieve, 1971). Because the mulberry waits until all possibility of frost is past, the mulberry tree has been called the wisest of all trees. When his disciples asked Christ to increase their faith, his response was that they could and would accomplish great acts with a small amount of faith. Wisely, Christ did not tell them that they needed a large amount of faith. At that point in their walk with Christ, probably the disciples did not have unswerving faith in Christ; they were still getting to know him and coming to the realization that he was the promised Messiah. Christ met the disciples where they were in their awareness of him.

Reflection. Name some ways you have grown in the intensity of your walk with Christ.

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

Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth, 9/13


Prodigal Son Eats Carob Pods

Carob Pod

The parable of the lost son eating carob tree husks is in Luke 15:11-32.       

Christ told the parable of the lost, or prodigal, son in response to the Pharisees and teachers of the law criticizing him for welcoming and eating with sinners. This parable was one of three parables that made the point that God searches for the lost, whether a lost sheep, coin, or person.  The parable of the prodigal son goes like this:

A father had two sons. The younger asked his father for his inheritance. After receiving his share of the estate, the young man went into another country and squandered the money on wild living.  After his money was spent, there was a severe famine in the entire country. With no money, the young man hired himself out to a citizen who sent him to the fields to feed pigs. The young man longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating; but no one gave him anything to eat. 

Sometime later the young man came to his senses and determined to go home to his father. He planned to tell his father that he no longer deserved to be called a son; he would gladly be treated like a hired man.

From a far distance, the father saw his son returning home. He ran to his son and hugged and kissed him. The son confessed to his father that he sinned and was no longer worthy to be called a son. Before the son could asked his father to treat him like a hired hand, the father called servants to bring a robe, a ring for his son’s hand, and sandals for his feet. The father ordered a feast to celebrate the younger son’s return.

During the celebration, the older son came home from working in the field. He learned his younger brother returned home and his father ordered a celebration. The older son became angry and would not enter the house. When his father came out to him, the older son complained that he served his father year after year, never disobeying him; however, his father never gave him an animal to hold a celebration with his friends. Yet, the younger son who demanded then squandered his inheritance came home and is greeted with a party.  

The father acknowledged the older son’s value saying you are always with me and everything I have is yours. At the same time, the father averred that they must celebrate the younger son’s return because “this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Matthew 15:32).

Carob Pods

The pods that the younger son longed to eat were carob pods, the fruit of the Ceratonia siliqua.  Common names are carob tree, St. John’s bread, locust tree, and Egyptian fig.  Although the carob tree grows to 55 feet in the United States, in Israel carob trees are smaller. After pollination, long (up to 12 inches by 1 inch) pods develop.  Pods are filled with soft brown pulp and 10-13 flat, hard seeds. In May on Kibbutz Ketura in the southern Negev Desert, I gathered and ate a ripe carob pod. It tasted sweet and was fibrous. Carob pods are grounded into flour and used to make a cocoa (chocolate) substitute.  

Symbolism: Substitute

The carob plant can be associated with several concepts. The genus name of the carob tree, Ceratonia, is comes from the Greek word keras (κερας) meaning “horn,” the shape of the carob pod. Called poor man’s bread, carob pods and flour are also associated with humility. Certainly both horn and humility make sense in the parable of the lost son; however, so does “substitute.” 

As a noun substitute means a person or thing that takes the place or function of another. Used as a verb, substitute means to exchange, switch, and replace with.

Substitute is what the younger son did in this parable. He substituted his life as a valued son for a short life of flagrant living followed by feeding pigs. He replaced eating the best foods money could buy with longing to have carob pods to eat. He planned to ask his father to substitute life as a hired hand for life as a younger son.  From a Kingdom of God perspective, Christ substituted his perfection for our sin.  Christ was the perfect substitute for each of us, who would be lost and starving without him.

Have you thought about what you are substituting in your life for time with God? Is it your kids, spouse, career, or even activities at church. I look at celebrities and pundits — many have no discernible relationship with God. They are substituting glory here on earth for the glory of spending time with God in heaven.

Reflection.  Do you want the real thing or are you content with substitutes in your life?

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

September 2, 2013; Carolyn A. Roth

Rue, the Protective Herb

Jesus’ regretRue chalepensis (2) over the priorities of the Pharisees is described in Luke 11:37-44.

This entry is part of the previous one where Jesus was invited to eat in a Pharisee’s home.  Mentally, the Pharisee host criticized Jesus because Jesus did not wash his hands before eating. To the Pharisee hand washing was important not because he was concerned about hygiene, but because he care about ceremonial purity. 

Knowing what the Pharisee was thinking, Jesus attempted to show him that preoccupation with externals had little to do with real religion. Christ declared, “Woe to you Pharisees because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue, and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God” (Luke 11:42). When Christ used the word “woe,” he was not calling down a curse on the Pharisees, being sly, or amusing. Christ’s “woe” was an expression of deep regret, an expression of the anguish he felt for these men. The Pharisees missed the point of God’s law. They had their priorities and their interpretation of God’s laws upside down and inside out. By this time in Jewish history, the Pharisees had the teachings of the Torah and the Old Testament prophets. They were aware that God did not require 1,000 rams, or 10,000 rivers of oil, or their first born child as a sacrifice (Micah 6:7-8). God wanted men and women to act justly, to extend mercy toward their brothers and sisters, and to love God.


The rue of the Bible is the Ruta chalepenis called African rue, common rue, and fringed rue.  Rue is native to the Middle East. In ancient Israel, rue grew wild; therefore, a tithe was not paid when the herb was used. In New Testament times, rue was grown in gardens, necessitating growers to pay a tithe on its sell. Rue can grow in almost any type of soil, but grows best in sand or clay loam. Young plants require average to moist soil; however, after plants are established they are drought tolerant.  Rue enjoys full sun. In Israel, rue grows in the northern and central parts of the country, but not in the Negev region. It can tolerate only low levels of salt; consequently, rue is not grown along the Mediterranean coastline of Israel. In ancient Egypt and Greece, it was used as to stimulate menstruation and to induce abortion. Currently, rue is used both as a condiment.  In natural medicine, rue is use as an anti-spasmodic and to strengthen eye sight. 

Symbolism: Regret, Regret

In English, its common name — rue – means regret. Historically, rue was regarded as a protective substance. It was one of the ingredients in mithridate, a substance used in ancient medicine and folklore as an antidote for every poison and a cure for every disease. Possibly the genus name Ruta is derived from “rhutos,” a Greek word meaning “shield” in view of its history as an antidote. Ostensibly, the Pharisees teachings were to act as a shield for the common citizen of Judea to protect them from any blasphemy against God and his commandments.  Instead, their man-made laws often made the Jews rue or regret their presence.

Repeatedly, the Bible – particularly Psalms – identified that God is our shield. A shield is defensive armor or someone who protects and defends. Paul instructed Christians to take up the shield of faith, a deep abiding confidence in God (Ephesians 6:16). He said that with the shield of faith, we can extinguish all of the flaming arrows of the devil. 

Reflection. Possibly Jewish citizens expected too much of the Pharisees. It is never good to rely on men or governments to shield or protect us. Who is your shield and protector?

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

Copyright July 20, 2013; Carolyn A. Roth