Category Archives: Plants in the Wisdom Literature

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Meaningless Crackling Thorns

Thorny burnetThe Teacher compares the meaning of life to a burning thorn under a pot in Ecclesiastes 7:6.

Bible scholars are not sure who wrote Ecclesiastes. Possibly it was written by Solomon, one of his offspring who reigned later in Israel’s history, or a learned teacher in the Israelite assembly.  Within Ecclesiastes, the writer refers to himself as Teacher. One proverb that the Teacher wrote was, “Like the crackling of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of fools. This too is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 7:6, NIV-SB, 2002).

In ancient Israel, cooking fires were located in outer courtyards or inside homes. The time of year influenced where the fire was located.  In hot weather it could be found in the courtyard.  While in cooler or cold weather, the fire was probably located inside the home to add warmth.   Many poorer Israelites cooked over a simple hole in the ground (a fire pit) with rocks around it.  Others had ovens, either inside the home or in the courtyard. When King Jehoiakim sat in his winter house with a fire burning in the firepot (Jeremiah 36:22), the firepot was probably a three-legged hearth of copper or bronze.

Wood was the primary fuel used for cooking in ancient Israel; however, in Ecclesiastes 7:6 thorns fueled the fire. Thorn bushes burn faster than dense wood. Many times when thorns were collected and burned, green branches were present at the base of the thorn plant even when the bush appeared dry. Burning green branches contributed to the crackling sound when thorns were burnt. Thorns as the fuel made the point of the Teacher’s proverb. The laughter of fools is like a short-lived fire fueled by thorns not wood. A fool’s laughter, although perhaps loud, does not last very long. It is valueless or meaningless.

The Thorny Burnet

The thorn plant of Ecclesiastes is the Sarcopoterium spinosum. Other names are the thorny burnet and prickly burnet. The thorny burnet’s origins are prehistoric, but it may be native to the Middle East. In present-day Israel, the plant is wide spread in Israel from Mount Hermon and Galilee in the north to the Negev hills and Eilat in the South including the Mediterranean coast. The thorn burnet is a dwarf, perennial shrub that resembles a ball or pillow.  In the female flower, two or three ovaries are set in 4-5 joined sepals. The top of the corolla is covered by the tips of the sepals which make the female flower resemble a covered pot. These flower pots are numerous on stems. When the female flower is young, it is green, but turns reddish at maturity and rusty brown as it dries.  In the heat of fire, the flower “pots” pop and produce a small explosive sound which sounds like crackling. The thorny burnet is used to make brooms, to stuff mattresses, and to form low-growing hedges.

Symbolism: Futility

In the Bible, thorny plants were often associated with desolation and ruin. In the Teacher’s parable in Ecclesiastes 7:6, the meaning was futility. Although a thorny burnet fire may snap, crackle and pop, and be pleasing to the ears, the sound adds nothing to the heat. Futility implies an action that has no use or purpose. Synonyms are ineffective, pointless, and vainness and the antonym is useful.

Malachi is one of the few, if only, prophet in the Old Testament who wrote about futility. He related a hypothetical conversation between God and men of Israel (Malachi 3:13-18). One group identified that it was futile to serve God and carry out his requirements. Arrogant, evildoers prospered. The redemption (Messiah) that good men looked for had not appeared even after many centuries.  Another group of men feared and followed God. God wrote this group’s names in a scroll of remembrance, similar to a record of notable deeds kept by earthly kings (Esther 6:1-6; Isaiah 4:3). God promised that in the day he makes up his treasured possessions, the men’s names in the scroll would be spared. Malachi’s point is that fearing and serving God are not futile but have long-term rewards.

Paul identified several ways and situations where man’s thoughts were futile, e.g., useless and ineffective (Romans 1:18-23, 8:20; 1 Corinthians 3:20-21, 15:17; Ephesians 4:17). Two points seem particularly important today.  First, God is revealed though his creation, yet unrighteous men neither glorify God nor give him thanks (Romans 1:18-23). Instead their thinking becomes futile and their foolish hearts are darkened. They exchanged worship of the immortal God for worship of man-made images, e.g., birds, animals and reptiles. Today, most men and women do not worship animals, but, sometimes, they let their admiration for another man or women approach worship of them. They hang onto the words of these men/women rather than focusing on God’s instruction for life.  Reading commentaries of the Bible should never take the place of reading God’s word.

Writing to the Corinthian church, Paul stated that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sin” (1 Corinthians 15:17, NIV-SB, 2002). Redemption of our bodies, eternal life in Christ, depends on a risen Christ. When I was in college, The Passover Plot (Schoenfield, 1995) was required reading for anyone trying to be intellectual.  The book argued that Christ implemented an elaborate plan to have himself declared the Messiah. He never died on the cross but was hidden away by his closest associates. He appeared three days later to fulfill the Jew’s expectations for the Messiah.

The problem with The Passover Plot’s argument is the lived experiences of individuals who saw Christ’s death and his resurrected body. Evidence of Christ’s death comes from eye-witness accounts of non-believers as well as believers (Mark 15:39; Luke 23:46-49). In his resurrected body, Christ appeared at least 11 times to over 500 people. The phenomena of Christ’s death and resurrection may confound the wise; but do not make the phenomena any less real.

Reflection. The Lord knows that the thoughts of the (supposed) wise are futile (1 Corinthians 3:20). We cannot believe everything we read in books. Truth is not a prerequisite for publication.

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 March 14, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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Solomon’s Proverb on Vegetables

cucumbersSolomon used vegetables as an example in Proverbs 15: 17

Solomon’s proverb was “Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred” (Proverbs 15: 17, NIV-SB, 2002).  In today’s language, the proverb would be something like “better a meal of vegetables with love than filet mignon with hatred or resentment.”  In Bible times killing and serving a fatted calf was a luxury reserved for special occasions (Matthew 22:5; Luke 15:23). Unlike today where a plate of vegetables makes an excellent meal, ancient people were not serve vegetable as the main course of the meal unless they were very poor. Vegetables were held in low esteem. When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they ate vegetable, i.e., cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic (Numbers 4:5).

In Solomon’s proverb love and hate are contrasted. Where love is present, it matters little what is served at the dinner table. The warmth, caring, and affection around the table makes meager fare seem like a banquet. For the poor of Egypt and Palestine, cucumbers and barley bread were often a meal. In contrast, the most delicious meal is as dust when those eating it have hard hearts and there is hatred around the table. At times eaters are so resentful that it is difficult to swallow. The most luxurious food tastes like saw dust.  If present, conversation is coldly polite or bursts forth from angry lips.

Cucumber Plant

The vegetable that will be described is the Cucumis sativus L, the common cucumber. The cucumber has been cultivated in warm countries of the world from pre-historic times. Its country of origin could have been India or Thailand. Wandering in the desert (circa 1400 B.C.), the Israelites longed for Egypt where they had cucumbers to eat. Isaiah (circa 740 B.C.) wrote that fields of cucumbers grew in Israel, but possibly he was referring to muskmelons.  No remains of cucumbers plants, fruit, or seeds remain from ancient Israel. Flowers are yellow and are shaped like a bell. The fruit is a cucumber. Cucumbers hang freely from stems and the green skin is hair free. The cylindrical cucumber can grow over 1 foot long. It is often slightly curved and beset with small knobby prominences when young. Inside the skin is pale green flesh with many seeds in the inner 2/3 of the cucumber.

Symbolism: Hard, hardened

The Hebrew word for cucumber is qishshû which comes from an unused root word meaning to be hard, possibly because the cucumber is often considered hard to digest (Strong, 2007).  Solomon’s proverb was “better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred” (Proverb 15:17, NIV-SB, 2002). In the first clause the hard to digest cucumber was softened by love. In contrast, hatred toughened or hardened the succulent flesh of the fatted calf.

The Bible tells us that nothing is too hard for God (Genesis 18:14; Jeremiah 32:17). Although it is not always easy for us to understand, the Bible also tells us that God has mercy on those he wants to have mercy and hardens those he wants hardened (Romans 9:18). For example, God hardened the heart of Pharaoh so that both the Egyptians and the Israelites would realize that it was God not Pharaoh that saved them from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 10:20). Although God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, there is no Biblical evidence that he hardened the hearts of the Israelites the many times they turned against their leaders and against him (Psalm 95:8; Zechariah 7:12; Mark 10:5). The Israelites’ hard hearts were their own doing.

When Christ was teaching in the Synagogue in Capernaum, he told the Jewish leaders and his disciples that he was the bread of life which came down from heaven (John 6:43-65). If individuals wanted eternal life, they must eat his flesh and drink his blood. Only those who ate his flesh and drank his blood could be raised up on the last day. Jesus’ disciples told him that his words were a “hard teaching.” They asked Christ, “How can we accept it?”  Jesus did not back down but tried to explain his teaching. He told the questioning disciples that his words were about spiritual aspects of life. Still, many disciples could not grasp Christ’s words and turned back and stopped following Christ.

Jesus loved the disciples who turned away from him and his teachings as much as he loved those disciples who remained. Christ grieved over the hard hearts that produced lack of insight into his teachings.  We see how much the departed disciples hurt Christ by the way he questioned those who remained, “You do not want to leave too, do you” (John 6:67, NIV-SB, 2003).  Imagine how much you would have to hurt to ask your spouse, children, or best friend the same question in the same way.

Reflection. “He who hardens his heart falls into trouble” (Proverbs 28:14, NIV-SB, 2002). She who hardens her heart falls into trouble.  Pray for a soft heart.

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 March 2, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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Asaph and the Tumbleweed

Grundelia tournefortiiAsaph’s prayer for God to make Israel’s foes like tumbleweeds is in Psalm 83.

Although Asaph is credited with writing Psalms 50 and 73-83, possibly he was the ancestor of the actual writer of Psalm 83. The content of Psalm 83 indicates it may have been written in the years immediately before the Exile. Psalm 83 is more an urgent prayer than a song.

Psalm 83 takes the same form as several other psalms. First the present situation is defined (verses 1-4). Second, the Lord is reminded how he gave victory to the Israelites in the past (verses 5-12). Finally, a specific request for help is outlined (verses 13-18).

Situation defined: God’s people are threatened by enemies. If God does not defend them, they will be destroyed completely (Psalm 83:1-4). The psalmist named 10 nations who allied themselves against God’s chosen. Asaph pleaded for Israel’s safety in a way that made Israel’s circumstances God’s challenge; he referred to Israel’s foes as your (God’s) enemies, those who hate you (God), your (God’s) people, they form an alliance against you (God).

Past victories from God: Asaph reminded God he gave Israel victory over the Canaanites (Jabin and Sisera) at the Kishon River. When the Midianites attempted to co-opt Israelites pastures, God gave Israel the ability to drive them out and kill their kings, e.g., Zebah and Zalmunna.

Request for help: Asaph pleads with God to destroy – blow away — the kingdoms who want to destroy God’s chosen people. Specifically Asaph wrote, “make them like tumbleweed, O my God, like chaff before the wind” (Psalm 83:13, NIV-SB, 2002).

The Tumbleweed

Most often the Bible tumbleweed is identified as the Gundelia tournefortii sometimes called a tumble thistle. Israeli botanists use the Hebrew name, galgal, while Arabs call it the A’Kub.  The tumbleweed is native to the Middle East including semi-desert areas of Israel and the Palestinian Authority where it has been documented as an edible plant for the last 2000 years. In Israel, tumbleweeds grow in wastelands and along roadsides from Mount Hermon and Golan in the north to the Negev hills and Eilat in the south. Tumbleweeds do not grow well in the shade. The fruit is a seed. After the fruit is formed, thistle stems separate from roots. Because the tumbleweed is round, it rolls like a ball when driven by the wind. Seeds of dead fruits are dispersed by the rolling plant. Young flower heads are removed and sold in Palestinian Authority markets where they supplement the foods of local people. Mature plants are sometimes used as camel fodder.

Symbolism: Action, Act 

Action is the process of doing something in order to achieve a purpose. Synonyms of action are accomplishing, battle, and prosecute. God’s action was central in the two places tumbleweeds were named in the Bible. In Psalm 83:13 the psalmist pleading for God to take action and make Israel’s enemies like tumbleweed before the wind. While Isaiah (17:13) recounted God’s action on behalf of Israel. God rebuked the nations and they were driven before the wind like tumbleweed before a gale.

Asaph’s motivation for asking God to act on behalf of the Israelites was not only for the security of Israel, but for worldwide acknowledgement of God as the true God (Psalm 83:18, study note).  Acknowledgment of God includes seeking God as his people seek him, e.g., to learn about God, his teachings, and his commands.

Christians cannot use Psalm 83 against national enemies because Christianity is broader than national boundaries. Christians are the world-wide fellowship of believers and one Christian should not pray for the downfall of another. Christians can pray Psalm 83 against foes who act to destroy them and all traces of their faith (Psalm 83 text note, ESV-SB, 2008). They can ask God to defeat these plans in a way that persecutors seek and know God and accept Christ as Savior.

When we accept Christ as our Savior, God promises to accept us as his children. That promise requires God to act on our behalves; however, God’s action is not always according to our timetable.  Sometimes we want God, “to do something NOW!”  A number of years ago, I was part of a large congregation attempting to buy our church property from the diocese.  The diocese kept pushing the time back for final notification and sale closing. Church members became more anxious every day, then every hour. Quietly, our minister reminded us, “God is rarely early, but He is never late.”

ReflectionChrist said that wisdom is proven right by her actions (Matthew 11:19). What do you think Christ meant?  How does Christ’s statement apply to 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 http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright February 6, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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David Learns from the Laurel Tree

Leaves on Laurus nobilisThe green laurel tree symbolizing the accomplishment of wicked men is found in Psalm 37.

Psalm 37 was written by King David probably in his later years. Each stanza depicts a complete thought; yet, taken together, all stanzas develop a common theme. In Psalm 37, the common theme is how the wicked flourish. The wicked man’s brief accomplishments are contrasted with God’s continued and sustaining help to the righteous. Several stanzas in Psalm 37 refer to plants.

Christians should not be envious of those who do wrong even when the wicked seem to have everything going for them. The wicked are like the grass, like green plants they die away (Psalm 37:1-2). The wicked are the Lord’s enemies and like the beauty of the fields, they will vanish (Psalm 37:20). Think about wild flowers that grow in the green areas between divided interstate roadways. One week these wild flowers are green, lush, and abundant. A few weeks later they are withered. Road crews mow them down as if they were weeds. Their transient beauty vanishes like smoke; so will wicked men.

Verses 35 and 36 compared wicked men to the green laurel tree.  David wrote that he saw a wicked and ruthless man who flourished like a green tree in its native soil. David’s laurel tree never suffered the setback that comes from transplanting. The tree was in its native soil, thus grew large and vigorous. The wicked man was correspondingly prosperous and powerful. A short time later, however, David looked for the wicked man. He was gone; David could not find him. David’s wisdom was that the wicked do not endure; they have no staying power.

David cautioned his listeners not to fret when they saw wicked, ruthless men prospering.  Fretting leads to evil (Psalm 37:8-9). Instead David implored the righteous to refrain from anger and to hope in the Lord. In a later Psalm, David averred that the righteous will flourish like a palm tree (Psalm 92:12-14); the righteous will grow like a cedar of Lebanon planted in the house of the Lord. They will still bear fruit in old age and stay fresh and green.

Bay LeavesThe Laurel Tree

The laurel tree is the Laurus nobilis. The laurel tree is called the true laurel and the sweet bay laurel because the culinary seasoning bay leaves come from the tree. Bay laurel is native to the southern Mediterranean Sea region. In Israel, laurel trees grow in most areas except the desert. The laurel tree will grow in a wide variety of soils, e.g., sand, loam and clay, but does best in moisture-retentive soils. Leaves are elliptic to ovate in shape and  2-4 inches long and .75-1.75 inches wide. Leaf margins tend to undulate softly; leaves feel leathery.  The leaf surface is a lustrous dark green. One way to identify a laurel tree is to bruise or cut the leaves and smell the sweet aromatic leaves.

Symbolism:  Flourish

A number of writers have proposed symbolism for the Laurus nobilis to include notable, victory, merit, accomplishments, honor, praise, martyrdom, and old age. Psalm 37 seems to fit most of these concepts; however, I believe the best description is flourish. Flourish means to grow luxuriantly, to achieve success or prosper, and to reach a height of development or influence.

King David compared the wicked to a luxuriant laurel tree, perhaps the one about 60 feet tall with a broad canopy and numerous branches growing up from the ground. These wicked, ruthless men flourished like the laurel. They achieved wealth and influence, caring little who they stepped on to achieve. Righteous men see these same ruthless men and women today and ask, how can God let them get ahead when I’m stuck in this job year after year? I’m a Christian, isn’t God supposed to help and bless me? What about God’s promise that “in his days the righteous will flourish; prosperity will abound until the moon is no more” (Psalm 72:7). I’m not flourishing at work or __________(you fill in the blank)!

When believers encounter situations where the wicked seem to achieve everything their heart’s desire, it is time to remember that God cannot lie and his word tells us two important facts. First, the righteous will flourish (Psalm 92:12) and God will not forsake his faithful ones (Psalm 37:28). Second, evildoers will be forever destroyed (Psalm 37:20; Psalm 92:7). Our reaction to evil-doers should not be envy but sadness and prayer for their redemption. The only heaven, or nearest heaven, that wicked, ruthless men and women will experience is on earth.

Seeing ruthless men and women achieve is not easy for a believer. At times I’ve asked God, “how can you let this happen?”  In those times, God did not give me an answer; probably because I was not in a mind frame to receive it. In retrospect, I can see that instead of anger and resentment, my response to workplace wickedness should have been compassion and prayer. I cannot be responsible for evil, ruthless men and women flourishing. I am only responsible for my thoughts and behavior. At all times, I must be right with God, trusting that his ways are not my ways and his thoughts are not my thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). They are much, better and wiser than mine. When I concentrate on flourishing in the garden where God planted me, I don’t obsess about whether or not ruthless individuals are getting ahead.

Reflection.  Father knows best.

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 February 8, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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Job and Salt Herbs

Atriplex halimus fruitJob’s lament about being disdain by men who gather salt herbs is in Job 30:1-15.

Job was a non-Jewish man who worshiped God and was upright in his conduct and dealings with others (Job 1: 1-5). Job lived during the second millennium B.C. in the land of Uz, probably located in present day Jordan. When the book of Job begins, we see God giving Satan permission to test Job’s righteousness and loyalty to God. God allows Satan to do anything to Job except kill him (Job 1:6–2:10). The result is that Satan kills Job’s children, destroys Job’s home, deprives Job of his wealth, and afflicts him with painful boils from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Shortly after these calamities, three of Job’s friends visit him to extend comfort. Most of the Book of Job consists of discourses between Job and the three friends (Job chapters 3–37).  We read Job’s struggle to understand his losses while still retaining faith in God.

In Job 29, Job described how he longs for months gone by when God watched over him. He would walk to the city gate and take his seat in the public square. Young men saw him and stepped aside, old men rose to their feet at his presence. Chief men and nobles listened to his words and all spoke well of him. Now (chapter 30) Job’s life is totally different. He is mocked by younger men whose fathers were dregs of society, e.g., men who Job would not have hired to put with his sheep dogs. In Job’s days, dogs were not pets; they were filthy and viscous. When Job said that men were not fit to keep company with his dogs, it was a grave insult.

Job continued describing the fathers of the mockers. They were haggard from deprivation and hunger. The men roamed desolate places to gather food such as salt herbs and the roots of broom trees. Herb salt leaves were food of the very poor and eaten in times of famine. That the sons of such men now mocked, spit on, and used Job’s name as an epithet was terrifying to Job.

Salt Herb

The salt herb in Job was most likely the Atriplex halimus known as the salt plant, and shrubby orache.  It was native to Northern and tropical Africa, the Middle East including Israel, and southern Europe.  Salt plants grow well in nutritionally poor soils to include sand as long as the soil is well drained. In Israel the salt herb is distributed in deserts, the Dead Sea Valley, and Sharon Plain. It grows best in full sun. If planted in shade, stems become weak and spindly with sparse foliage. The salt plant is damaged by frosts. Leaves and stem are nutritious and have been described as a pot-like spinach; however, American’s will find the salt herb tastes salty and unlike the popular spinach leaf used in salads. In addition to humans eating stems and leaves, animals consume the plant as fodder. Ash from burning the A. helimus is used as the alkali in soap making.

Symbolism: Salt, Seasoning

The symbolism of the salt herb is salt and season. In Hebrew, mallûwach is the word for the salt herb.  Mallûwach is derived from the primary root word mâlach which means to salt or season. Salt can be used to preserve food. A seasoning is a substance that adds flavoring, interest, or excitement.  Salt was a familiar seasoning to the Israelites.  In Leviticus God told the Israelites to use salt to season all grain offerings.  The salt that was to accompany grain offerings was called the “salt of the covenant” (Leviticus 2:13).  Salt symbolized and sealed the promises made between the Israelites and God when a grain offering was made.

In the New Testament Christ identified that salt was good; however, if salt lost its taste or flavor, it might as well be thrown out and trampled by men (Matthew 5:13).  He told his disciples to “have salt in themselves and be at peace with each other” (Mark 9:50).  When Christians have salt, they are anything but blah. Christianity does not depersonalize an individual.  Christianity allows us to be zestful, flavorful, excited, interesting/interested, and tasty.

Generally, the basis for living at peace with others is what and how we talk to them. Christian’s conversation should be full of grace and seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6). At no time should unwholesome talk come from our months (Ephesians 4:29). Instead we should learn what others need and talk about things that will build them up. If our words have these qualities, those who listen can benefit.

At times Christian salt and seasoning will have no effect or even a negative effect on individuals.  What do we do then?  Do we become angry, cynical, indifferent, or uninvolved with the world?  In Life as a Vapor, John Piper (2004) wrote “the salt of the earth does not mock rotten meat.”  Piper contended that where possible we season others with our salt and lead them to Christ.  Where we cannot, we weep and pray. We never shrug our shoulders and say “it’s your choice” to people living in darkness. We labor to give them a taste of Christ.

Reflection. Christ said, “everyone will be salted with fire” (Mark 9:49). What do you think he meant by that statement?   Everyone includes Christians.

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 18, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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