Category Archives: Plants & the Ancient Fathers

Plants and the Ancient Fathers encompasses plants associated with Job, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. In all cases the symbolism of the plants are described.

Effect of Jealousy

Bible Reading: Genesis 37. 25-28

Jacob’s brothers, most of them sons of Leah and her concubine, were jealous of Jacob’s preference for Joseph, Rachel’s oldest son. Joseph didn’t help matters. He told them of a dream he had in which they all bowed down to him.

Jacob’s sons were tending the herds of sheep and goats in the area of Dothan in central Canaan. Jacob sent Joseph to check on his brothers. When the brothers saw Joseph approaching they discussed killing him but decided that there was no gain or profit in merely killing him. Instead, they decided to sell him to a caravan of Ishmaelite traders taking spices to Egypt. Thus, Joseph went from being a pampered son to a slave in a foreign nation.

There is so much wrong with this story that it is difficult to know where to start.

First, the Ishmaelites were offspring of Ishmael. Ishmael was the son of Abraham and brother to Isaac, Abraham’s son. These Ishmaelites who bought Joseph and planned to resell him in Egypt were his cousins.

Second, Jacob’s sons were half brothers of Joseph. The sons had the same father  (Jacob) as Joseph, despite having distinct mothers. All sons were reared in the same camp; they knew each other, they worked and traveled together from Paddan Aram to Canaan. Most likely at various times, they protected one another.

Third, Joseph’s brothers knew the degradation that often occurred in a slave’s life, particularly one as young and attractive as Joseph. Casual thinking on their part could anticipate that Joseph would be abused, likely sexually.

Four, Jacob’s sons and Joseph’s brothers knew how much their father loved Joseph. They knew how crushed Jacob would be to learn of Joseph’s death. They didn’t empathize with their father’s feelings.

Five, Joseph’s brothers and his cousins were more focused on gain (profit) than blood ties.

Turmeric plant

Turmeric is a product of the plant Curcuma longa, a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant, that has been used as a medicine dating back 4000 years. In Ayurvedic (traditional India) practices, turmeric is believed to have many medicinal properties including enhancing body energy, relieving gas, dispelling worms, improving digestion, regulating menstruation, dissolving gallstones, and relieving arthritis.

In addition to being used in traditional medicine, turmeric is used as a spice and as a component in religious ceremonies.

The root or rhizome is the principal component of the plant. The name turmeric derives from the Latin word terra merita (meritorious earth), referring to the color of ground turmeric, which resembles a mineral pigment. The turmeric plant needs temperatures between 20°C – 30°C (68°F – 86ºF) and a considerable amount of annual rainfall to thrive. Curcuma longa is native to southern India and possibly southeast Asia. The plant doesn’t grow in Canaan or most other parts of the Middle East. When the turmeric rhizome is dried, it can be ground to yellow powder with a bitter, slightly acrid, yet sweet, taste.

Symbolism – Gain, Profit

Jesus asked, “what good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” “What can anyone give in exchange for their soul? (Mark 8.36-37).

Joseph’s brothers selling him to Ishmaelites provided them with a profit or gain far less than the worth of the entire world. There may have been 6-8, even 10, brothers present when they sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites. When Joseph’s selling price was divided among the brothers, each would have had little profit from Joseph’s sell. Yet, they lived with their conscience. Possibly, some of the brothers weren’t bothered by their actions, but some could have been. They lived with their deception for decades before they learned that God redeemed Joseph’s life in Egypt.

Reflection

So much of our lives we spend getting educated for jobs and attempting to secure better jobs with more income. Would Christ say these are optimal goals?

Copyright 4/1/2020: Carolyn A. Roth

Gardening Genesis

Colleagues, this is my latest book. It contains 40 meditations on the symbolism of plants in Genesis. As always, the focus is how to live a more productive Christian life. Visit my website: http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com to purchase.

Love Plant

Bible References: Genesis 30.14-16; Song of Songs 7.13.

The Hebrew word dudaim means “love plant.” Dudaim occurred twice in the Bible. By far, the more interesting story was in Genesis. Both Leah and Rachel were wives of Jacob. Jacob had a clear preference for Rachel. At the time of this episode, Leah birthed four sons by Jacob; however, Rachel was barren despite Jacob spending nights with her.

This Bible story began with Leah’s oldest son, Reuben, bringing mandrake roots to his mother, Leah. Rachel saw mandrakes and asked Leah for them. Leah’s response was,  “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?” (Genesis 30.15 NIV). Rachel  proposed a trade: Jacob can spend the night with Leah in return for the mandrakes. Leah agreed.

Many twenty-first century western Christians can’t make sense of this story. What does the mandrake have to do with conception? The answer is that ancient people believed that mandrakes were an aphrodisiac which promoted fertility and conception in barren women. Both Rachel and Leah believed this superstition. Leah wanted additional children to win Jacob’s affection and regard.  Rachel wanted children to validate herself as a woman.

The Song of Songs reference on mandrake is a romantic interlude which occurred  among vineyards. The bride tells her husband: “The mandrakes send out their fragrance, and at our door is every delicacy,  both new and old,  that I have stored up for you, my beloved” (Song of Songs 7.13 NIV). This romantic tryst is filled with beautiful imagery from nature.

The Middle East mandrake was the  Mandragora officinalis. The mandrake is a flowering plant in the nightshade family, related to potatoes, eggplants, and tobacco. The mandrake grows directly on top of the soil, long leaves form a rosette pattern.  Flowers are a delicate purple and have five petals. Flowers emit a gentle, sweet fragrance.

The root is the most notable segment of the mandrake plant, the part associated with fertility and conception. Frequently, the thick root is forked similar to two legs; thus, the root is said to resemble a man. The root can weigh several pounds. Ancients cut the root into an amulet to wear, put it beneath the bed, or consumed very small quantities. If eaten, mandrakes (fruit in particular) can cause dizziness, increased heart rate, distorted vision, and hallucinations. In high doses mandrakes cause death.

Courtesy Sara Gold, Israel.

The Bible story of Rachel, Leah, and mandrakes is important to individuals today. The story demonstrates that Rachel couldn’t manipulate her fertility by using the superstitious power of a plant. When Rachel turned to God, God responded by granting Rachel’s request for a son. What a son Rachel received! Rachel’s first son was Joseph, one of the greatest Bible men and an example for every Jew and Christian.

Reflection: Legonier Ministry29 reminds us: “Many passages of Scripture warn the people of God against sorcery, astrology, and other similar practices (Exodus. 22:18; Revelation 22:15). Most of us probably do not engage in such things, but superstitions remain part of the lives of many Christians. For example, some believers think praying the same prayer every day will guarantee a certain result. Take care to cast all superstitions from your life and trust in the Lord’s sovereign will that is working for your good.”

Stinkweed in the Bible! Really??

Bible Reference: Job 31.38-40.

Stinkweed was identified by Job. From what twenty-first century Christians can discern, Job was a contemporary of Abraham. Job lived in Uz. Uz was east of the Jordan River. Because Job was familiar with large sea creatures, he may have lived in the region of the present-day Gulf of Aqaba.

When introduced, Job is healthy, wealthy, and otherwise blessed with beautiful daughters and handsome sons. He worships God; all is right in his world. Then, in a short time, his children are killed and flocks destroyed. Later, his health deteriorates. Apparently, Job’s wife wasn’t harmed. We learn that these calamities were brought about by Satan. God allowed them in order to show Job’s dedication to him.

When friends visited Job, they contended that Job’s losses were from God in payment for Job’s sins. Job defended himself against their accusations. In Job’s final defense, Job concurred that calamities were from God; yet, Job  attempted to vindicate himself. Some of Job’s words focused on stewardship of his land:

If my land cries out against me, and all its furrows   are wet with tears,  if I have   devoured its yield without payment or broken the spirit of its tenants, then let briars grow instead of wheat, and stink weed instead of barley” (Job 31.38-40 NIV).

Some readers have questioned whether or not stinkweed is a specific plant. Both the New International Version Bible translation and the New American Bible19 used the word “stinkweed. Apparently, stinkweed was an identifiable weed that grew in grain fields. Alternatively, the English Standard Version Study Bible17 offered the translation as “foul weeds.” I contacted well-regarded botanists in Israel and questioned if Job chapter forty named a specific weed (stinkweed) or used the word “stink” as an adjective, i.e., foul, noxious, stinking. Those Israeli colleagues responded that in their opinions “stink” was a descriptor, more than a specific type of weed.

The Plant

In the King James Bible, stinkweed is translated as “cockle.” Cockle is the plant associated with stinkweed in the  Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary. This dictionary averred that cockles grow in Palestinian grain fields.

The cockle is the  Agrostemma githago, Present day farmers and gardeners call the plant “corn cockle,” possibly, because it grows in corn and grain fields. The corn cockle is a weed which grew among grain crops for millennia. As you see in the image of the corn cockle, the flower is a beautiful pink and leaves a pleasant green. Possibly, cockles grew in Uz.

The entire cockle plant, especially seeds, contain poisonous compounds which spoil flour if they aren’t removed. When cockle-contaminated flour is eaten, flour products  taste bad and cause nausea, even death if eaten in large quantities. Corn cockle grows in dry fields and waste ground as well as in cultivated soil. Clearly, Job’s plowed furrows were a good place for corn cockle to grow. Whether translated as stinkweed or a stinking weed, corn cockle is an appropriate weed for identification with Job’s comments.

Reflection: The choices we make in our lives—to remove weeds or not—have long-term effects. Sometimes those effects are life-and-death ones. At other times, they are less dire. St. Paul offered a rule of thumb for early Christian decision making. He wrote, “let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves” (Philippians 2.3).

Copyright July 13, 2019; Carolyn Adams Roth

Vine of Depravity

Bible Reference: Deuteronomy 32.32.

Most Jews and Christians know about Sodom and Gomorrah and other cities and towns of the plain. God destroyed these cities by fire because of the abject evil of their inhabitants. Over 500 years after the death of the cities, Israelites still remembered that God destroyed them. In his last message to Israelites before he went to Mount Nebo to die, Moses mentioned the vine of Sodom, thus, naming the city of Sodom.

So much controversy about a one-verse vine named in the Bible – the vine of Sodom.  Some sources identified the vine of Sodom as a shrub or small tree rather than a vine. Other sources said that the vine of Sodom mentioned by Moses wasn’t a real plant. Rather, it was a symbol (metaphor) for individuals/nations who had no belief in the God of Israel.  Here’s what Moses offered about the vine of Sodom:

They are a nation without sense, there is no discernment in them. For their Rock is not like our        Rock even as our enemies concede Their vine             comes from the vine of Sodom and from the field of             Gomorrah. Their grapes are filled with poison and   their clusters with bitterness (Deuteronomy 32.28,         31-32  NIV).

I understand why Bible scholars contended that the vine of Sodom wasn’t an actual plant. In Moses’s message, verse thirty-two reads like Moses is comparing Israelites to nations and individuals who didn’t believe in—some actually rejected—the Israelite God. Moses identified believers in God (Israelites) and contrasting them with the depraved city of Sodom.

For many years, when I read Moses’s song and verse thirty-two, I didn’t believe the vine of Sodom as an actual plant. Then,  my husband and I  went to Israel to study Bible plants. We visited Kibbutz Ketura in the desert area of southern Israel. The renowned plant botanist, Dr. Elaine Solowey, is a member of Kibbutz Ketura. She and her  husband shared information on plants named in the Bible.  One of those plants was the vine of Sodom. Mr. Solowey took us out in the desert and showed us a plant named “the vine of Sodom.” There, my mind changed.

The Plant

A great Israeli botanist, Michael Zohary14 is a biblical scholar who suggested that Moses’s vine of Sodom was an actual plant. Often, it is identified by its Arabic name osher. In Seeds of Transcendence, Jo Ann Gardener15 named three possible plants for the vine of Sodom: the wild gourd (Citrullus colocynthis), the squirting cucumber (Ecballium elaterium), and the apple of Sodom (Calotropis procera). Israeli folklore identifies Calotropis procera as the vine of Sodom.

Sodom Apple Flower

The apple of Sodom/Sodom vine (Calotropis procera) is a small tree that grows on the Sodom and Gomorrah plain and in deserts and oases in the Dead Sea area. Despite being a tree, stems run in all directions. Often, the plant is wider than tall. Three-to-four fruits hang from stems in clusters. Initially, fruit is white with a pink-purple tinge on ends. Later, fruits turn cream-colored or yellow. Fruit is attractive; however, when  pressed (or pinched), as when individuals attempt to pick them, fruit explodes in a puff. All that remains are shreds of the thin rind and a few fibers. The fruit is filled with air rather than pulp. The juice of the Sodom apple is poisonous. A mere touch of the fruit can cause severe skin irritation.

The Message

Characteristics of Sodom vine are apt descriptors for punishments that Israel’s enemies will suffer. At the same time, the vine of Sodom is a warning for Israelites who reject God. God chose  Israelites and loves them; but God is just. If any Israelite (present day Jews), any individual, or any nation rejects God, they will be as passing and empty as the fruit of Sodom vine.

When I tried to pick a vine of Sodom fruit and saw it disintegrate in my hand, I thought about God and Jews. I believe that God can and will continue to protect the traditional homeland of the Jewish people. In the twenty-first century, most Jews (Israelites) don’t recognize that Jesus is the Messiah and Savior. There are multiple nations and other religions that wage ongoing war against Israel, the homeland of current Israelites. Other nations’ efforts to destroy the Israelite peoples won’t succeed any more than my attempt to pick an apple from the vine of Sodom succeeded.

I’m not a Jew (Israelite). I am a Christian who lives in the United States (US). Yes, I am very blessed and as such  I have a responsibility to support Jews, who live in the US and Israel. My primary support takes the form of praying that Jews in my community, nation, and world will come to know Jesus, the Christ, as their Savior. As God directed me, I  pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Reflection: Saturday, eleven Jews were murdered by a deranged killer in Pittsburgh. Apparently, he had negative beliefs about Jews and wanted to protect himself and his community from Jewish influence. As I pondered this event (and too many like them), my thought was that these murdered Jews will never have the opportunity to accept Christ as their Savior. The good news is that the murderer still has time to repent. We need to pray for his conversion and the conversion of Jews in Pittsburgh and throughout the world.

Copyright July 2, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Myrrh Tree and Resin

Bible References: Genesis 37.25; Esther 2.12; Psalm 48.8; Proverbs 7.17; Matthew 2.11; Revelation 18.13.

Myrrh use was recorded throughout the Bible. In Genesis, Joseph was sold to Ishmaelites, who included myrrh in their caravan traveling to Egypt. Esther completed a twelve-month beauty treatment with myrrh before she was taken to King Xerxes. Myrrh perfumed robes of a king  and the bed of an adulteress. Myrrh was catalogued seven times in Song of Songs to describe the Lover, the Maid (Bride), and Solomon’s gardens. In Revelation, John listed myrrh as a commodity no one would buy after Rome fell.

Despite the various times myrrh was identified in the Bible, three times stand out: The earliest is in Exodus. Myrrh was a component of anointing oil used in the tabernacle. This same anointing oil was used in the Temple in first-century Jerusalem when Jesus taught there. Second, myrrh was a gift that wise men brought Jesus at his birth. There, myrrh symbolized the deity of Jesus; he was the Son of God. Also, myrrh represented “gifts.” God gave his son as a gift to mankind. Thirty-three years after Jesus’s birth, Jesus gave his life as a gift for mankind. In turn, the gift that Jesus wants from each of us is that we belief in him as risen Savior. When we belief in Jesus as Savior, we accept God’s gift of his son and Jesus’s gift of his life. Third and finally, myrrh was used in Jesus’s burial. Following Jesus’s death, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus wrapped Jesus’s body in linen saturated with myrrh and aloes. Then, they laid Jesus’s body in a tomb carved in rock.

The Myrrh Tree

New Testament myrrh was from a different plant than in the Old Testament. Most myrrh in the Roman Empire came from the Commiphora myrrha plant; however, in Israel the plant used to make myrrh was the C. abyssinica (C. habessinica, myrrh tree, Arabian myrrh, Yemen myrrh). Probably, the myrrh used by Nicodemus and Joseph was from the C. abyssinica plant, because it was readily available in Judah. The Hebrew word for myrrh is môr or môwr which means bitter because myrrh had a bitter taste.

Myrrh is a dried resin from myrrh trees. The myrrh tree is small, growing only up to twenty feet. The trunk (bole) can be as tall as thirteen feet. Myrrh trees have spiny branches and stems that grow at right-angles from stems. Stems end in sharp spines. Flowers are tiny and inconspicuous. One-or-two round fruits grow each stem; fruit are three-fourth to one-and-one-half inches long.

When myrrh resin is harvested, lateral cuts are made on tree trunks and larger branches. Aromatic gum resin seeps from cuts. When exposed to air, gum hardens forming irregular-shaped yellow or brown globules. Most sold myrrh has sharp-edges and is marble-sized.

Reflection: Because I am interested in Bible plants, I bought a few jars of myrrh resin. The myrrh smelled pleasant; however, I never tasted it. The myrrh just stays in the jar in my closet. I don’t use it to perfume my home. I guess, we could compare my myrrh to a Bible that just lies on a desk or even beside a chair. The Bible never gets opened.

Copyright July 1, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Zillah, Wife of a Murderer and Plant

Bible Reference: Genesis chapter 4.

In the offspring of Cain, Lamech, a seventh-generation grandson of Adam, had two wives simultaneously.  This is the first time that plural wives were identified in the Bible.  Lamech’s second wife was named Zillah.

Although we know little about Zillah, we know that her husband was a murderer. He admitted to his wives that he murdered a young man for injuring him. Lamech averred that if God planned to take sevenfold vengeance on anyone killing Cain, then he, Lamech, should be avenged seventy-seven times. Contemplating Lamech’s words, readers aren’t sure whether he is bragging about his actions or admitting his wrong. Whichever Lamech was doing, most certainly  Zillah, reaped  consequences.

The Plant

Zillah was named after a spiny, woody shrub (Zilla spinosa) that grows in deserts, to include extreme desert, regions.7  Stems can grow up to five feet. The zilla grows as wide as tall, so that the plant appears rounded. Stem and spine color are bluish-gray. Fruit resembles chickpeas (garbanzo beans). When mature, the plant  loosens from soil. Winds blow it across the desert similar to a tumbleweed in western United States.

In contrast to the overall unpleasant stems and spines, Zilla spinosa produces a four-petal lavender, occasionally pink, flower. I imagine that Zillah was named after the lovely flower rather than after the spiny plant. Alternatively, Zillah could have been named after the rounded appearance of the Z. spinosa.

Symbolism, Interpretation

The website, Flowers in Israel,7 named Ezekiel’s brier as the zilla plant: “No longer will the people of Israel have malicious neighbors who are painful briers and sharp thorns. Then they will know that I am the Sovereign LORD” (Ezekiel 28.24 NIV). Ezekiel’s complete prophecy against Sidon is in Ezekiel 28.20-26. Sidon was a  Phoenician city.  Originally, Sidon was included in the inheritance of the tribe of Asher, but Asher didn’t conquer it. Sidon  gloated when Jerusalem was destroyed by Babylon.

One word that encompassed the story of Zillah in Genesis and Ezekiel’s prophecy against Sidon is malicious. Malicious means a desire to cause pain, distress, or injury to another.3 Maliciously, Lamech  injured a young man in the process of murdering him. Most likely, Lamech’s action caused distress to the young man’s family and distress to his wife, Zillah. Sidon’s gloat over Judah’s pain, injury, and distress was malicious. I can just imagine Sidonians rubbing their hands together and laughing when Jerusalem fell.

The take-away message from the Zilla spinosa is that beautiful flowers may occur simultaneously with spines which cause injury. Importantly, we can stop pondering how loved ones hurt us and reframe our thinking: How do we, although beautiful individuals, injure and distress others with our words and behavior?

Reflection: A dear friend told me recently that a mutual friend’s words hurt. At about the same time, the mutual friend shared that she was hurt by my dear friend’s words. I need to always look at my own words and behavior and make sure that I don’t cause pain, injury, or distress to others. Do you find it easier to criticize others than to take accountability for what you do?

Copyright: July, 1, 2019; Carolyn Adams Roth

Please see my website http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com to purchase about bad plants in the good book.

Jointed Anabis, Desert Thistle

Bible References: Genesis 46.16; Numbers 26.15.

The Antabasis articulata is a plant in search of a home. It has been identified as both a thistle and an herb; yet, herb societies refuse to list it. Antabasis articulata doesn’t even have a well-known common name, i.e., the jointed anabis and berry bearing glasswort. I am going to put it in the thistle category, despite it not having sharp pointed projections of  more-notable thistle species. Israeli plant data bases and Hebrew scholars6,7 claimed that the Arabic word shenan is a cognate of the biblical proper name Shuni. Shuni was the third son of Gad (Jacob’s son) and head of the Shunite clan. This plant is an example of a plant named for a notable person, or possibly Shuni was named for the plant.

The jointed anabis is a desert plant found in northern Africa and nations that border the eastern Mediterranean Sea. In Israel, it is located south of Jerusalem in the arid En Gedi region. A number of Bedouin livestock (camels, goats) graze on the jointed anabis. The plant is used to cure at least one type of parasite that affects desert animals.  Bedouin women burn the plant and use ashes for laundry soap. The jointed anabis kills insects and repels rodents. Humans don’t eat this plant. More recently, the jointed anabis is being studied as a way to protect the liver from fibrosis and  to lower blood sugar.

In first year-or-two of growth, jointed anabis is green, but, soon becomes woody, dry, and brown. Stems are leafless. When young, jointed anabis resembles a succulent. Flowers are small and can be green, red, or yellow. Flowers appear in early winter when small amounts of rain falls on their habitat. The fruit is small and appears to grow as two flowers joined together. Each seed has small membranous wings which aids dispersion.

If I considered plants to grow on earth, the jointed anabis wouldn’t come to mind. It doesn’t seem to have any characteristics to recommend it. The jointed anabis is a reminder that inconspicuous individuals have a purpose in God’s creation.

Do you have anyone in your church that is consistently there, but is inconspicuous to most people? I think of two women in my church, both in their 60s, who I saw Sunday morning-after-Sunday morning  for about five years, but never talked to. In the past two years, I  made a point to get to know them. They are both sweet, caring individuals. One is a prayer warrior. The other has started to spend Thanksgiving with us. Both are fun and sincere. I love to spend time with them.

God has blessed me by putting both women in my life. But, I could have overlooked them in my routine of talking to other friends. God wants me and you to embrace individuals who don’t stand out in our world. These individuals are the sheep of Jesus’s pasture.

Reflection: Who is similar to a jointed anabis in your neighborhood, your job site, your church? Who are you and other congregates ignoring? What would Jesus do if he came to your church?

http://www.Copyright May 20, 2019; Carolyn Adams Roth

http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

 

Zillah, wife and plant

Bible Reference: Genesis chapter 4.

In Genesis chapter four, we read about the offspring of Cain. The chapter provides a contrast to chapter five in which the offspring of Seth is outlined. In the offspring of Cain, Lamech, a seventh-generation grandson of Adam, had two wives simultaneously.  This is the first time that plural wives were identified in the Bible.  Lamech’s second wife was named Zillah. One source identified that Zillah was a third cousin of Lamech. Zillah birthed at least two children: Tubal-Cain, who forged tools from bronze and iron, and a daughter named Naamah.

Although we know little about Zillah, we know that her husband was a murderer. He admitted to his two wives that he murdered a young man for injuring him. Lamech averred that if God planned to take sevenfold vengeance on anyone killing Cain, then he, Lamech, should be avenged 77 times. Contemplating Lamech’s words, readers aren’t sure whether his is bragging about his actions or admitting his wrong. Whichever Lamech did, most certainly his  wife Zillah, reaped  consequences.

Zillah was named after a spiny, woody shrub (Zilla spinosa) that grows in desert, to include extreme desert, regions.7  Stems can grow up to five feet tall. The zilla grows as wide as tall so that the zilla appears rounded. Stem and spine color are bluish-gray. Fruit resembles chickpeas (garbanzo beans). When mature, the plant  loosens from soil. Winds blow it  across the desert similar to a tumbleweed in western United States.

In contrast to the overall unpleasant stems and spines, Zilla spinosa produces a lovely four-petal lavender, occasionally pink, flower. I imagine that Zillah was named after the flower rather than after the spiny plant.

The website, Flowers in Israel,7 included that the brier named by Ezekiel is the zilla plant: “No longer will the people of Israel have malicious neighbors who are painful briers and sharp thorns. Then they will know that I am the Sovereign LORD” (Ezekiel 28.24 NIV). Ezekiel’s complete prophecy against Sidon is in Ezekiel 28.20-26. Sidon was a  Phoenician city.  Originally, Sidon was included in the inheritance of the tribe of Asher, but Asher didn’t conquer it. Sidon  gloated when Jerusalem was destroyed by Babylon.

If I identified one word that encompassed the story of Zillah in Genesis and the prophecy of Ezekiel against Sidon, that word would be malicious. Malicious means a desire to cause pain, distress,  or injury to another.3 Maliciously, Lamech  injured a young man in the process of murdering him. Most likely, Lamech’s action caused distress to the young man’s family and distress to his wife, Zillah. Sidon’s gloat over Judah’s pain, injury, and distress was malicious. I can just imagine Sidonians rubbing their hands together and laughing when Jerusalem fell.

The take-away message from the Zilla spinosa is that beautiful flowers may occur simultaneously with spines which cause injury. Importantly, we can stop pondering how loved ones hurt us and reframe our thinking. How do we, although beautiful individuals, have the capacity to  injure and distress others with our words and behavior.

Reflection: A dear friend told me recently that a mutual friend’s words hurt her through what she said. At about the same time, the mutual friend shared that she was hurt by my dear friend’s words. I need to always look at my own behavior and make sure that I don’t cause pain, injury, or distress to others. Do you find it easier to criticize others than to take accountability for what you do?

Copyright: December 1, 2018; Carolyn Adams Roth

Alpha & Omega of Myrrh

Use of myrrh was recorded throughout the Bible. In Genesis (37.25), Joseph was sold to Ishmaelites, who included myrrh in their trade caravan. Esther (2.12) completed a 12-month beauty treatment, which included myrrh, before she was taken to King Xerxes. Myrrh perfumed the robes of a king (Psalm 45.8) and the bed of an adulteress (Proverbs 7.17). Myrrh was catalogued seven times in Song of Songs to describe the Lover, the Maid (Bride), and Solomon’s gardens. In Revelation (18.13), John listed myrrh as a commodity no one would buy after Roman fell.

Despite the various times myrrh was identified in the Bible, three  times stand out:

  1. The earliest is in Exodus. Myrrh was a component of anointing oil used in the tabernacle (Exodus 30.22-33). This same anointing oil was used in the temple in 1st century Jerusalem.
  2. Myrrh was a gift that the wise men brought to Jesus at his birth (Matthew 2.11). There, myrrh symbolized the deity of Jesus; he was the Son of God. Also, myrrh represented “gifts;” God gave his son as a gift to mankind. Thirty-three years after Jesus’s birth, Jesus gave his life as a gift for mankind. In turn, the gift that Jesus wants from each of us is that we belief in him as risen Savior. When we belief in Jesus as Savior, we accept God’s gift of his son and Jesus’s gift of his life.
  3. Myrrh was present at Jesus’s burial. Following the death of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus wrapped Jesus’s body in linen saturated with myrrh and aloes (John 19.39). Then, they laid Jesus’ body in a tomb carved in rock.

Likely New Testament myrrh was from a different plant than in the Old  Testament. Further, different plant species were used to make myrrh in different countries. Most myrrh in the Roman Empire came from the Commiphora myrrha plant; however, in Israel the plant used to make myrrh was the C. abyssinica (C. habessinica, myrrh tree, Arabian myrrh, Yeman myrrh). Probably, the myrrh used by Nicodemus and Joseph was from the C. abyssinica plant. The Hebrew word for myrrh is môr or môwr which means bitter because myrrh had a bitter taste.

The Plant Product

Myrrh is a dried resin from myrrh trees. In present day Israel, pilgrims can view myrrh trees in the Biblical Landscape Reserve. The myrrh plant is a small tree that grows up to twenty feet tall. The trunk (bole) is as tall as thirteen feet. When myrrh resin is harvested, lateral cuts are made on the tree trunk or branches. An aromatic gum resin seeps from the wounds. When exposed to air, gum hardens forming irregular-shaped yellow or brown globules. The globules smell pleasant, but, taste bitter. Today, myrrh is sold by vendors in the bazaar in the old city of Jerusalem. Most the sold myrrh is sharp-edged, marble-size pieces.

Reflection: The Greek word for myrrh is smurna, which translates “strengthened for.” At Jesus’s birth, the Magi brought Jesus a gift that symbolically strengthen him for his life on earth. Considering how Jesus was persecuted on earth, a gift that even symbolically strengthen him was a superlative gift.

Copyright 10/11/2018; Carolyn A. Roth