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.

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

Live Long and Prosper

The Word of the Lord

Genesis 14.13:  Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshkol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram.

Genesis 18.1: The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre.

Meditation

Abram traveled through Canaan and settled at the great trees of Mamre near Hebron. The great trees at Mamre were most likely Palestinian oak trees. The oak trees would have provided shade for Abram’s tents and individuals in them.

In the Bible, oaks were associated with power, strength, and longevity in the sense of a long life. The great oaks of Mamre symbolized Abram’s long life. A Palestinian oak near Hebron, named Abraham’s Oak, is thought to be over 850 years old.

God promised that he will be with his servants through life, even into their old age and gray hairs (Psalms 71.18). Christians don’t have to worry about what they will do in retirement. They can use Abram as their role model. God called Abram to a new adventure when Abram was 75 years-of-age.

If you are retired, think about adventures you have  experienced since retirement. What are some of them? How did they enhance your life? Do you anticipate new adventures in your life going forward? Adventures can include ministering in your home church and community as well as travel.

The religious order that I belong to includes women in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. At monthly meetings, women report the numerous activities they are involved in. Each is totally excited by what she contributes to the church as well as to her community. An Israelite proverb is that the fear of the Lord adds length to life; but, the years of the wicked are cut short (Proverbs 10.27).

Reflection: Is having a long life important to you? How do you think a long life is related to fear of the Lord? Is a long life span more important that what you do with that life span?

Copyright 6/19/2020

Going it Alone

Pistacia terebinthus

The Word of the Lord

 Genesis 12.1-7: The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. He took his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

 Meditation

God called Abram to leave Haran and travel to Canaan. There, God promised to make Abram the father of a large nation. Abram didn’t worship God when God called him. In fact, Abram worshiped the gods of the Chaldeans; yet, Abram complied with this strange new God’s direction.

 Abram was approximately 75 years-of-age and childless. He had been married for decades. I believe that part of Abram’s motivation for following God’s direction was God’s promise that Abram would be the father of a nation. This promise implied that Abram would sire at least one son.

When Abram reached Canaan, Abraham stopped at the great tree of Moreh in the vicinity of Shechem. There, Abram offered a sacrifice to God. Some of the underlying motivation for his sacrifice at Moreh could have been Abram telling God, “I’m here in Canaan; now remember your promise.”

Notice, the Bible’s description was of a tree, not trees. Modern-day Bible scholars believe the tree was a terebinth. Normally, the terebinth tree tops out at 33 feet; however, this tree may have been larger than the norm.

In the ancient near East, terebinth trees didn’t grow in groves or groups.  Usually, they grew alone without other trees around them; thus, were seen from far distances and/or used to identify locations. Abram was the first Israelite patriarch. Similar to the terebinth growing alone, Abram and his family traveled to Canaan alone.

One feature of the terebinth tree is its deep root system. Botanists claim that the tree’s deep root system gives it stability. Abram’s root system was God. Abraham was willing to be planted where God wanted him even if he was the only one of his nationality in Canaan.

Reflection: What is your root system? What makes your life stable? Are you rooted in God?

Copyright: 6/18/2020

 

Burning Bright

The Word of the Lord

Genesis 8.6-12: After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

 Meditation

The first place that the olive tree was mentioned in the Bible is when Noah sent a dove out of the ark and it returned with an olive leaf. Olive trees may have survived the torrential rain and lived submerged in water for as long as a year. Alternatively, God may have newly created this olive tree after the flood.

Olive trees are known to live 1000 years. That means that some of the trees on the Mount of Olives are two-to-three-generation offspring of those present when Christ walked the earth.

Olive trees produce olives from which olive oil is made. In ancient times, olive oil fueled lamps, i.e., in the Tabernacle, Solomon’s temple, and individual homes. Olive oil was used in cooking. Olives were eaten both green and ripe.

To ancient Israelites, the olive tree, branch, and leaf were associated with peace and prosperity. Other symbols could be resiliency and light. Jesus told believers: “You are the light of the world…. let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5.14-16).

When I read these three Bible verses, my mind remembers the words of William Shakespeare, “How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

Your small kindnesses can be the beam of light in the world.

Reflection: The interesting point of Jesus’ words is that he didn’t limit them to Sundays, or to interactions only with fellow Christians.

Copyright: 6/17/2020

Do you want to live forever?

The Word of the Lord

Genesis 6.9-22: Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways.So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you.You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.” Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

Meditation

Noah was over 500 years old when God told him to build an ark, a giant water-proof vessel. The ark saved Noah, his family, and animals from a flood that destroyed the known world. The ark was rectangular (450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high).

Most of us remember seeing pictures of the ark from childhood Bible story books. The front (prow,  bow) of the ark was pointed. Sometimes, the back (stern) was pointed. In reality, the ark didn’t have a prow or stern. It didn’t move forward through the water while being steered by a rudder. Instead, the ark was built to floated on the top of the water.

Noah used cypress wood, also called gopher wood, to build the ark. I’m not sure why Noah used gopher wood; but, surmise it had something to do with the long, central tree trunk. Using a long piece of wood reduced the number of trees Noah had to cut down. Also, cypress wood contains resins which prevents wood from absorbing water, which could sink the ark. Cypress wood’s odor makes it unattractive to insects, such as wood termites, which could destroy logs.

In the past centuries, gopher wood became associated with immortality. In the upward tip of the columnar-shaped cypress tree and in every shoot and leaf, cypress branches and needles point upward to immortal life with God.  Today in ancient near east areas, cypress trees are often planted in cemeteries where they denote immortality.

Receiving immortality from God doesn’t absolve men and women from acting right (or righteously). The Bible is the ultimate “self-help” book for a successful life. The Bible tells us (believers and non-believers) how to have immortal life with God. In reality, every individual’s life will have immortality. The question is where we spend that immortal life. By our choices in this physical life, we decide where we will spend our immortal life.

Reflection: How much time do you spend each day reading the Bible, the Christian’s self-help book?

Copyright 6/16/2020

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.”