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.

What Motivates You?

The Word of the Lord: Genesis 30.35-40: That same day he removed all the male goats that were streaked or spotted, and all the speckled or spotted female goats (all that had white on them) and all the dark-colored lambs, and he placed them in the care of his sons. Then he put a three-day journey between himself and Jacob, while Jacob continued to tend the rest of Laban’s flocks.

Jacob, however, took fresh-cut branches from poplar, almond and plane trees and made white stripes on them by peeling the bark and exposing the white inner wood of the branches. Then he placed the peeled branches in all the watering troughs, so that they would be directly in front of the flocks when they came to drink.

When the flocks were in heat and came to drink, they mated in front of the branches. And they bore young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. Jacob set apart the young of the flock by themselves, but made the rest face the streaked and dark-colored animals that belonged to Laban. Thus he made separate flocks for himself and did not put them with Laban’s animals.

Meditation: After Rachel gave birth to her first son, Jacob told Laban, he wanted to go back to Canaan; but, he didn’t want to go back empty handed. Jacob wanted wealth in  flocks to accompany his wealth in sons. By this time, Jacob had 11 sons, two wives,  two concubines, and servants. He needed possessions to feed and clothe them.

Jacob was motivated to return to Canaan to see his father and live in the land of his birth. At the same time, Laban, Jacob’s father-in-law was motivated to keep Jacob with him. Laban believed that God blessed Jacob; thus, contributed to Laban’s prosperity.  Both men wanted tangible wealth.  Because Jacob was an Israelite patriarch and because Laban was presented in the Bible as manipulative, most readers support Jacob’s motives and reject Laban’s. In reality, nowhere do we read that either Jacob nor Laban made any, or much, effort to ascertain God’s will.

Jacob knew about God from stories and discussions from his father (Isaac) and possibly his grandfather (Abraham). Yet, despite all of Jacob’s foolish decisions earlier in his life and experiencing Laban’s manipulations, Jacob didn’t turn to God for help. Instead, Jacob attempted to influence the color of sheep and goat using tree branches, to include the popular tree. Jacob’s flock of spotted and striped goats and sheep increased. Most twenty-first century Christians don’t believe that spotted and stripped branches impacted the color of sheep and goats.

Ponder: Ponder your actions when you aren’t sure how to proceed.  Do you pray and ask God to intervene in the situation? Alternatively, are you more prone to attempt to solve the situation on your own? If you pray, are you willing to take the same petition to God more than once? A much-quoted American proverb is “God helps those who help themselves.” That proverb isn’t in the Bible. Instead, the Bible tells us to cast your cares on God because God care for you (1 Peter 5.7).

Action: If you aren’t sure whether or not to pray, or if  persistence in prayer is valuable, read Jesus’ parable of the Unjust Judge (Luke 18.1-8).

Copyright 9/29/2020: Carolyn Adams Roth

Superstition! Are You?

The Word of the Lord: Genesis 30.14-17: Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” But she said to her, “Wasn’t it enough that you took away my husband? Will you take my son’s mandrakes too?” “Very well,” Rachel said, “he can sleep with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.”

So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. “You must sleep with me,” she said. “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he slept with her that night.

God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob another son.

Meditation: The patriarch Jacob married two sisters: Leah and Rachel. Leah birthed four sons, then stopped conceiving children. Rachel had no children even though Jacob spent his nights with her.

When Leah’s son brought mandrakes to his mother, Rachel proposed a trade to Leah: Jacob will spend the night with Leah in return for Leah giving Rachel the mandrakes. Leah agreed and gave the mandrakes to Rachel. Leah informed Jacob that per the agreement with Rachel, Jacob would spend the night with her.

Jacob appeared powerless in this Bible story. No questions or push-back from Jacob were recorded in the Bible. His wives dictated Jacob’s actions, at least in this episode.

Leah conceived another child as a result of Jacob spending the night with her. Acquiring and somehow using mandrakes didn’t result in Rachel conceiving.

The long mandrake root is shaped like two legs descending from a trunk. The root is most often associated with fertility and conception.

The story of Jacob’s wives and  mandrakes showed that both Leah and Rachel were superstitious. Before we are too critical of these two women, think about individuals today who read their horoscope daily. Believing that mandrakes promoted conception and that a horoscope foretells type of day are   attempts to circumvent God’s will. Both actions reflect a dependence on something other than the God of the universe.

Christians don’t believe in superstition or search for omens in the sky as with a horoscope. Christians have the Holy Spirit to instruct and guide them. God’s Word itself, the Bible, is our source of spiritual insight.

Reflection: Have you ever used superstitious behavior to achieve something you wanted? Why don’t you turn your problems over to God and allow him to handle them?

Copyright: 9/28/2020: Carolyn A. Roth

I’m not good enough

 The Word of the Lord: Genesis 30.14: During wheat harvest, Reuben went out into the fields and found some mandrake plants, which he brought to his mother Leah.

Meditation: At this time, Jacob and Leah’s oldest son, Reuben, would have been 8-10 years old. He was old enough to assist the reapers in cutting wheat in the fields. He was old enough to realize that his father, Jacob, didn’t love his mother, Leah. Perhaps, Reuben sensed that Jacob resented that Leah was his wife and he had to provide for her.  Reuben may have doubted his father’s love for him because Jacob made it obvious that he wanted sons with Rachel, his preferred wife.

Reuben wanted to help his mother, Leah, when she stopped conceiving children. When Reuben found mandrakes in the wheat field, he brought them to her. Apparently, Reuben, like Leah and Rachel, believed that mandrakes caused conception in a woman. Reuben wanted his mother to continue having children and being valued by Jacob, if not as a beloved wife at least the mother of additional children.

My concern with this Bible story is that Leah transmitted her anxiety at no longer conceiving children to her son. Equally true, Jacob made his ongoing disregard for Leah and concomitant preference for Rachel obvious to the entire family.

As a child, Reuben may have thought he did something wrong because his father wanted children through Rachel.  Even though he was Jacob’s first-born son, Reuben wasn’t enough to make Jacob happy. Likely, this 10-year-old was distressed by how Jacob discounted his mother. Reuben believed it was his responsibility to make this situation better.

Through the lens of 21st century child psychology, we view this situation as a “no-win” for Reuben. Probably, we would suggest that Leah get him counseling; yet, two centuries before the birth of Christ, there weren’t child psychologists. Like Reuben, children had to weather mal-adaptive family dynamics that from the perspective of the twenty-first century are appalling.

Reflection: What do you do when you feel inadequate in situations, or when you feel discounted by others? God never discounts our feelings. If you aren’t sure about God’s acceptance of you and how you feel, read how King David pour his heart out to God in the Psalms.

Copyright 9/18/2020: Carolyn Adams Roth

I’m Famished, Are You?

The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left. So, Esau despised his birthright.

Meditation: Isaac married Rebecca who gave birth to twin boys. Esau was the firstborn and Jacob was born second. In ancient near east cultures, the law of primogeniture (first-born son) prevailed.  As the first-born son and legitimate heir to Isaac, Esau would have been the ancestor of Jesus, the Messiah. But, the line of succession changed.

One day, Esau returned to camp after a time away in the open fields, probably hunting. Esau saw Jacob cooking red lentil stew. Identifying that he was famished, Esau asked Jacob for stew. Jacob’s response was that he would give Esau the stew if Esau swore an oath to give Jacob his birthright. Esau swore the oath in exchange for lentil stew.

Someone in the camp may have heard Esau’s oath to transfer his birthright to Jacob. Despite the tumultuous relationship between the two brothers, Esau never denied that he traded his birthright to Jacob.

Consider the difference in value between a bowl of lentil soup versus being the heir to a wealthy father. Obviously, Esau cheapened his birthright. It wasn’t valuable to him.

Men and women today are famished for someone to believe in, someone to trust. Jesus’ behavior to his human brothers and sisters is diametrically opposite from the behavior of Jacob. Jesus invites each of us to come to him and live with him. We don’t have to barter for Jesus’ blessing.  Freely, he nourishes us with himself and his words, i.e., “the one who feeds on me will live because of me” (John 6.57).

Reflection: You don’t have to barter for salvation, for immortal life with Christ. He gives it to you free-of-charge.

Copyright 9/1/2020: Carolyn Adams Roth 

Straw in the Bible, How Uninteresting

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9/15/2020: Carolyn Adams Roth

Prosperity — I want it!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 9/15/2020, Carolyn Adams Roth

Chaste, Does it Matter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 6/23/2020:Carolyn Adams Roth

 

Are you Committed to God?

 

The Word of the Lord

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

Meditation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 6/21/2020

Entangled

The Word of the Lord

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

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

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

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

 Meditation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright 6/22/2020

Expel

The Word of the Lord

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

Meditation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright: 6/20/2020