Category Archives: Plants & the Early Monarchy

Samuel and the Vineyard

Grapes from Gimso IsraelBible Reference:  1 Samuel chapter 8.

Samuel was a priest, a prophet, and the last judge over Israel.  Samuel’s life was at the intersection of two time points in Israel’s history: (1) when Israel was a theocracy and judges conveyed God’s will to the people and (2) when there was an earthly king over Israel.  Samuel was about 65 years old when the leaders of Israel came to his home at Ramah.  There, Israel’s leaders requested a king.  Their reasons were 1) Samuel was old; 2) his sons did not walk in his ways; i.e, Samuel’s sons’ perverted justice by accepting bribes; and 3) like other nations the Israelites wanted a king who would protect them and fight their battles for them.

Samuel was not pleased that Israel’s leaders asked for a king.  Most likely, Samuel was hurt, perceiving that the Israelites were rejecting his judgeship.  For approximately 350 years, Israel was ruled by God through judges.  Now, during Samuel’s tenure as judge, they asked for a king.  Despite his feelings, Samuel took the elders’ request to God. Possibly, Samuel thought God would be jealous of his divine rule and reject the Israelite’s request.  God’s response was to assure Samuel that the tribal elders were not rejecting Samuel, but that they were rejecting him (God).  God told Samuel to accede to the Israelites request for a king; but to first warn the Israelites what a king who ruled over them would do.  Acting on God’s direction, Samuel told the Israelites that a king would:

  • Take their sons to man and equip his chariots and horses, serve as warriors, make weapons of war, plow the kings ground, and reap the king’s harvest.
  • Take their daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers.
  • Give to his officials and attendants the best of their fields, vineyards (grapes), and olive groves and 1/10th of their grain and vintage (wine).
  • Take the best or their cattle and donkeys and 1/10 of their flocks.
  • Take for his use their menservants and maidservants

Samuel warned the Israelites that they would become the king’s slaves. When this happened, the Israelites would cry out to God, but God would not answer them. The Israelites refused to listen to Samuel’s warnings; emphatically, they asked for a king.  Once again Samuel took their demands to God.  God’s response was, “Listen to them and give them a king” (1 Samuel 8:22). Chapter 8 ends with Samuel telling the men of Israel to go back to their own town.  Chapter 9 begins with the story of the first king of Israel.

The Grape Vine

The plant that illustrates Samuel’s message to the Israelites is the grapevine. The grapevine is one of the seven plants that God told the Israelites would be available to them in the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 8:8).  In ancient Israel, grape vines were a principle crop because grapes were used fresh or dried or made into wine. Taking the best of an Israelite’s vineyards could deprive a family of food and/or affect their income. Vitis vinifera is the botanical name for the grape that grows in Israel.  In ancient Israel when a family had only a few vines in the yard, often the vines remained laying on the ground.  The V. vineifera fruit is the grape.  The best grapes  are obtained when vines are pruned.  Wine is fermented grape juice.  Although the Negev was a popular area for wine growing in ancient times, today there are wine regions all over Israel.

Symbolism: Destiny

The grape vine and vineyards are mentioned over 500 times in the Bible.  At times the vine referred to peace and prosperity (1 Kings 4:25; Micah 4:4, and Zechariah 3:10).  At other times, the vine was associated with the Israelites and their destiny as God’s chosen Old Testament people (Psalms 80:8-16 and Isaiah 1:5-8).  Destiny means a predetermine course of events. Israel’s destiny was that God be their king; he was to be the watchman over the vineyard Israel (Psalm 121:3-4).  In Old Testament Israel, large vineyards were surrounded by a thorny hedge or stone wall.  A tower was placed in the vineyard for a watchman to guard the vineyard from thieves and/or destroyers.

Psalm 80 provides a succinct description of Israel as a vine and Israel’s destiny.  God brought a vine out of Egypt and drove out the nations and planted the vine in Canaan/Israel.  Initially the vine grew and flourished.  Then, the Psalmist laments, “why have you broken down its wall so that all who pass by pick its grapes?” (Psalm 80:12).  Regardless of the Psalmists lament, we must remember that the Israelites, not God, changed their destiny.  Had they continued in obedience and trust, God would have remained their watchman.  Certainly, Samuel’s warned the Israelites what their destiny would look like under an earthly king and numerous prophets warned them against rejecting God and turning to idolatry.

Despite Israel rejecting their God-given destiny, God did not leave the Israelites without hope.  In Zachariah, God told the Israelites that he would send them his servant, the Branch and remove the sin of the land in a single day (Zechariah 3:8–10). The branch is a title for the Messiah.  On the day Christ was crucified a way was opened to removed sin from Israel and the world.

What this story means for the 21st century

God has appointed a destiny for Christians, unbelievers, men, and women. This life or death destiny applies to all people.  Jews and Gentiles no longer have separate pathways to everlasting life (Ephesians 2:11-22).  Saint Paul described that destiny as, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).  The true and absolute pathway to life is through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

Reflection.   Spend some time reflecting on your final destiny. Are you sure about it or do you have some doubts?  If so, read Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, and John 3:16.  Then, talk to God about your life. Ask God to forgive your sins through belief in his son, Jesus Christ, who died for the sins of every man and woman

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 November 4, 2011; carolyn a. roth

 

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Balsam Tree, Shaking in Fear

God using the balsam tree to give David victory over the Philistines is described in 2 Samuel 5:17-25 and 1 Chronicles 14:8-18.

When the Philistines discovered that DaPopulus euphraticavid was anointed king over Israel as well as over Judah, they went out in force to search for him.  During the seven years David was king over Judah at Hebron, the Philistines were not too concerned about his kingship.  For them the problem occurred when Israel (northern tribes) asked David to be their king.  The Philistines cities were in the lands of the northern tribes; they feared David would wage war against their cities.  The Philistines entered the Valley of the Rephaim, located on the border between Judah and Benjamin on the west and southwest sides of Jerusalem.  There they raided and plundered the inhabitants who were mainly Israelites.  David responded to the Philistine’s raids and at Baal Parazim David and the Israelites fought a battle with the Philistines.  The Philistines were routed.  When they fled, the Philistines abandoned their idols.  Following Mosaic law, David burnt the idols (Deuteronomy 7:5, 25).

Perhaps outraged by the previous defeat and David’s destruction of their idols, the Philistines raided the Rephiam Valley a second time.  David asked God if he should attack the Philistines.  God’s answer was “yes;” but David’s army should not go straight at the Philistines. Instead, the Israelite army should circle around the Philistines and attack them in front of the balsam trees.  The signal for the Israelite army to attack was the sound of God marching in the tops of the balsam trees.  The marching sound meant that the Lord went in front of the Israelites to strike the Philistines.

In the Rephiam Valley balsam trees grew in groves.  God made the wind blow through the tops of the balsam tree so that leaves rustling and branches rubbing against each other and created a sound like men marching.  The sound was so loud that the Philistine army thought that a huge Israelite army was advancing toward them.  Terrified they fled the valley.  David’ army pursued and struck down the Philistines from Gibeon to Gezar, a range of about 15 miles.  At the time of this battle, Gezar was not a Philistine city; it was held by the Egyptians (Joshua 10:33).  Apparently, the Philistine soldiers were so frightened that they fled to the powerful Egyptians for safety.  The episode concludes with, “so David’s fame spread throughout every land, and the Lord made all the nations fear him” (1 Chronicles 14:17).

Populus euphratica leavesThe Balsam Tree

The balsam tree is a species of aspen, most likely the Populus euphratica, which is believed to be native to Israel and Middle Eastern countries. The balsaam is also called the  Euphrates popular and salt poplar.  In Israel the tree grows throughout the country; it grows well in rocky and hilly soils and in brackish water. The balsaam tree grows as tall as 45 feet and has spreading branches.  On older branches bark is thick, olive green to gray-brown, and roughly striated.  Branches are bent and almost always forked.  The balsaam’s flower is called a catkin because it resembles a cat’s tail and droops from the stem.  In mid-summer, the P. euphratica produces a green to reddish brown fruit which is a 2-4 valve capsule.  Seeds are minute and enveloped in silky hairs which aid wind dispersal.

Symbolism: God’s people

Balsam trees are associated with the word “people.”  The word Populus in the name Populus euphratica is derived from the trees ancient Latin name arbor populi which means “the people’s tree.”  When God identified the Israelites as his chosen people, God told them that he would dwell with them, walk with them, and protect them (Leviticus 26:12; Deuteronomy 11:22-25).  In the Valley of Rephiam, God gave his chosen people victory through the sound of an army (people) marching in the tops of balsam trees.  Israel’s victory was so decisive that David’s fame spread to people of every land; the Lord made people of every nation fear David.

In the Old Testament, God took a people for himself who were of one race.  In the New Testament, Christ directed his disciples to take the good news of the gospel to all his creation (Mark 16:15).  Over 2000 years later, people of all races believe in him.  Despite Christ’s welcome and guaranteed love of all people, the Bible cautions, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).  What does such an ominous verse mean to people?

The writer of Hebrew’s elaborated by saying if people keep on sinning after they receive the knowledge of truth, no sacrifice for sin is left;  only a fearful expectation of judgment (Hebrews 10: 26-30).  The writer compared the Old Testament Jews rejection of the Law of Moses to an individual who rejects the truth of Christ after they know it.  His argument was if Old Testament Jews who rejected the Law of Moses died, then how much more will individuals who trample the Son of God deserve punishment?   The latter individuals insult the Spirit of grace because they show contempt for the blood of Christ who sanctifies them.  The Lord lives with his people, protects them, and loves them.  In addition, the Lord judges his people.

Reflection.  In the battle where God marched in the tops of the balsam trees, David counted on God rather than his army to protect the people of the Rephiam Valley and Israel.  In a later story, we learn that David took a census of eligible fighting men in Israel rather than trust God to protect the people (2 Samuel 24:10).  Do David’s actions have any parallels to our own life?  Do we believe that God will protect his people?

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 7, 2016, Carolyn A. Roth

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David Waits for God

God using the balsam tree to give David victory over the Philistines is described in 2 Samuel 5:17-25 and 1 Chronicles 14:8-18.

When the Philistines discovered that DaPopulus euphraticavid was anointed king over Israel as well as over Judah, they went out in force to search for him.  During the seven years David was king over Judah at Hebron, the Philistines were not too concerned about his kingship.  For them the problem occurred when Israel (northern tribes) asked David to be their king.  The Philistines cities were in the lands of the northern tribes; they feared David would wage war against their cities.  The Philistines entered the Valley of the Rephaim, located on the border between Judah and Benjamin on the west and southwest sides of Jerusalem.  There they raided and plundered the inhabitants who were mainly Israelites.  David responded to the Philistine’s raids and at Baal Parazim David and the Israelites fought a battle with the Philistines.  The Philistines were routed.  When they fled, the Philistines abandoned their idols.  Following Mosaic law, David burnt the idols (Deuteronomy 7:5, 25).

Perhaps outraged by the previous defeat and David’s destruction of their idols, the Philistines raided the Rephiam Valley a second time.  David asked God if he should attack the Philistines.  God’s answer was “yes;” but David’s army should not go straight at the Philistines. Instead, the Israelite army should circle around the Philistines and attack them in front of the balsam trees.  The signal for the Israelite army to attack was the sound of God marching in the tops of the balsam trees.  The marching sound meant that the Lord went in front of the Israelites to strike the Philistines.

In the Rephiam Valley balsam trees grew in groves.  God made the wind blow through the tops of the balsam tree so that leaves rustling and branches rubbing against each other and created a sound like men marching.  The sound was so loud that the Philistine army thought that a huge Israelite army was advancing toward them.  Terrified they fled the valley.  David’ army pursued and struck down the Philistines from Gibeon to Gezar, a range of about 15 miles.  At the time of this battle, Gezar was not a Philistine city; it was held by the Egyptians (Joshua 10:33).  Apparently, the Philistine soldiers were so frightened that they fled to the powerful Egyptians for safety.  The episode concludes with, “so David’s fame spread throughout every land, and the Lord made all the nations fear him” (1 Chronicles 14:17).

Populus euphratica leavesThe Balsam Tree

The balsam tree is a species of aspen, most likely the Populus euphratica, which is believed to be native to Israel and Middle Eastern countries. The balsaam is also called the  Euphrates popular and salt poplar.  In Israel the tree grows throughout the country; it grows well in rocky and hilly soils and in brackish water. The balsaam tree grows as tall as 45 feet and has spreading branches.  On older branches bark is thick, olive green to gray-brown, and roughly striated.  Branches are bent and almost always forked.  The balsaam’s flower is called a catkin because it resembles a cat’s tail and droops from the stem.  In mid-summer, the P. euphratica produces a green to reddish brown fruit which is a 2-4 valve capsule.  Seeds are minute and enveloped in silky hairs which aid wind dispersal.

Symbolism: God’s people

Balsam trees are associated with the word “people.”  The word Populus in the name Populus euphratica is derived from the trees ancient Latin name arbor populi which means “the people’s tree.”  When God identified the Israelites as his chosen people, God told them that he would dwell with them, walk with them, and protect them (Leviticus 26:12; Deuteronomy 11:22-25).  In the Valley of Rephiam, God gave his chosen people victory through the sound of an army (people) marching in the tops of balsam trees.  Israel’s victory was so decisive that David’s fame spread to people of every land; the Lord made people of every nation fear David.

In the Old Testament, God took a people for himself who were of one race.  In the New Testament, Christ directed his disciples to take the good news of the gospel to all his creation (Mark 16:15).  Over 2000 years later, people of all races believe in him.  Despite Christ’s welcome and guaranteed love of all people, the Bible cautions, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).  What does such an ominous verse mean to people?

The writer of Hebrew’s elaborated by saying if people keep on sinning after they receive the knowledge of truth, no sacrifice for sin is left;  only a fearful expectation of judgment (Hebrews 10: 26-30).  The writer compared the Old Testament Jews rejection of the Law of Moses to an individual who rejects the truth of Christ after they know it.  His argument was if Old Testament Jews who rejected the Law of Moses died, then how much more will individuals who trample the Son of God deserve punishment?   The latter individuals insult the Spirit of grace because they show contempt for the blood of Christ who sanctifies them.  The Lord lives with his people, protects them, and loves them.  In addition, the Lord judges his people.

Reflection.  In the battle where God marched in the tops of the balsam trees, David counted on God rather than his army to protect the people of the Rephiam Valley and Israel.  In a later story, we learn that David took a census of eligible fighting men in Israel rather than trust God to protect the people (2 Samuel 24:10).  Do David’s actions have any parallels to our own life?  Do we believe that God will protect his people?

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: October 4, 2014: Carolyn Adams Roth

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Dethroned King David

Vicia faba beans, Rignanese (192x128)The story of Absalom’s conspiracy and David’s retreat to Mahaniam where he and his men received welcome supplies is told in 2 Samuel chapters 15-18.

After killing his older brother Amnon, Absalom fled to Geshar.  Only after five years did David welcomed Absalom back into his presence.  After returning from exile, Absalom set out to win the hearts of the men of Israel from David.  Absalom greeted those who approached him warmly reaching out his hand and kissing them.  Absalom’s primary assertion was that David was unresponsive to the claims and complaints of the people.  After years of undermining David, Absalom went to Hebron where he had himself declared King.  Hebron was where David ruled Judah for 7 years.  Absalom had a large following of men from Israel and some from the tribe of Judah where Hebron was located.  In addition, Ahithophel, David’s most important and most trusted adviser, sided with Absalom.

Hearing that Absalom was declared king and not knowing the extent of the rebellion, David fled Jerusalem with his household and close fighting men.  David walked barefoot up the road to the top of the Mount of Olives; he wept and his head was covered in grief.  When David reached the summit, Hushai, one of his trusted advisers, met him.  David sent Hushai back to Jerusalem to foil Absalom’s plans and to serve as David’s spy.  Shortly, after David passed over the summit of the Mount of Olives, Ziba met him with a string of donkeys, food, and wine.

As David traveled away from Jerusalem and approached Buhurim, Shimei a man from the tribe of Benjamin (the tribe of Saul) cursed David and threw stones at him; however, David would not allow his men to harm Shimei.  David said that Shimei’s cursing may be at God’s direction.  Eventually, David, his tired household, and fighting men arrived at Mahanaim where he set up camp.  About 100 miles north-northwest of Jerusalem, Mahanaim had historical significance.  It was in Mahanaim that Saul’s son, Ish-Bosheth, lived during his two year reign as king over the tribes of Israel.  While David was at Mahanaim, three wealthy men brought him provisions that included bedding, cooking and eating bowls, sheep, dairy products, grains, and beans. The three benefactors were an Ammonite leader, Shobi, who probably was appointed governor after David conquered Rabbah (2 Samuel 12:29); Makir of Lo Debar who first sheltered Mephibosheth, the crippled son of Jonathan (2 Samuel 9:4); and the 80 year old  Barzillai, the Gileadite from Rogelim.

Meanwhile King Absalom entered Jerusalem and took over David’s palace.  Increasingly more men from the northern tribes of Israel and from Judah swore allegiance to Absalom. Through God’s intervention, Abaslom decided not to mount a focused attack to kill David immediately.  Rather Absalom led his men against David and his fighters who were on the eastern side of the Jordan River in the forest of Ephraim.  David must have been confident his commanders would win the battle against Absalom because them to deal gently with Absalom.  In the battle David’s long-time commander, Joab, deliberately killed Absalom.  After some negotiations, David returned to Jerusalem as King over Israel and Judah.

The Broad Bean    

The bean was the Vicia faba  known as the broad bean, faba bean, and Vicia vulgaris. Beans are one of the oldest cultivated plants.  Their origin is North Africa or the Middle East.    Although beans are not drought resistant, they are sufficiently hearty to live through mild frosts. The broad bean can grow in semi-shade as well as strong sunlight and tolerates. Beans are a green, up-right, annual, legume. The attractive flower is white with dark purple markings.  Mature beans are between 3–9 inches long. Beans should be harvested as beans inside mature.  If harvesting is delayed until all pods are ripe, pods nearer the bottom of the plant split and beans are lost.  Beans are oblong or oval, smooth, and flattened on the sides. Bean color is mottled reddish-brown. In the ancient Middle East, beans were and are an important alternative source of protein particularly for those living in or near poverty.  Even today in the Middle East beans remain one of the most important winter crops. Broad bean flour is very rich in protein, vitamins and minerals; therefore, it is used alone or mixed with other flours to make bread.

Symbolism: Extend, Extent

Traditionally, beans were associated with pending conflict, laughter, or something small. European folklore claims that planting beans during the night time or on Good Friday is good luck.  In Nicaragua newlyweds are given a bowl of beans for good luck. When beans were included in the provisions brought to David at Manhaniam, luck was probably not considered. More likely David’s benefactors were providing a high source of protein that was both a meat and flour extender.

Extend means to make the offer of or to make available. David’s three benefactors at Manhaniam extend provisions including beans to David when he was in severe need.  The three men who extended themselves to support David knew that they would likely forfeit their lives and lands if Absalom’s rebellion prevailed. The Bible has a great deal to say about individuals who willingly extend help to the needy.  A proverb in Biblical Israel about a noble woman was, “she opens her arms to the poor and extends her hand to the needy” (Proverbs 31:20).  Extending assistance to the needy included sharing food (Proverbs 22:9), lending money (Proverbs 28:8) and defending rights (Proverbs 31:9).  Those who were kind and extend assistance to the needy were blessed (Proverbs 14:21; 22:9) and lacked nothing (Proverbs 28:27).

In the New Testament two verses use the word “extend or extent.”  In describing God’s great and glorious provision of salvation for his people, Mary (the mother of Christ) said that God extends his mercy to those that fear him from generation to generation (Luke 1:50).  Saint John wrote that Christ loved his own who were in the world and showed them the fullest extent of his love (John 13:1).  Showing the fullest extent of his love entailed Christ being tortured, crucified, and dying in place of each of us.

Absalom won the hearts of the Israelites because he was young, attractive, smooth talking, and extended himself with handshakes and kisses to the Israelites (2 Samuel 14:25; 15:1-6).  In contrast, David was elderly, more introspective, and less available to the people. Yet, David had solid friends who stood by him during Absalom’s rebellion even when David retreated to the east side of the Jordan River.  From the time David began his retreat and all during the time of his exile, David extended his plans to return as king of Israel and Judah.  Similarly, during his entire life Christ demonstrated the extent of his love for individuals and humanity.

Reflection.  How can you extend your love to other individuals?  How can you share your food and money with others?  How can you defend the rights of the poor and needy?

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 December 29, 2011; carolyn a. Roth

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King David’s Confession & Repentance

Origanum syriacum stem, JBGThe background and story of David and the hyssop plant are related in 2 Samuel chapters 11:1–12:25 and Psalm 51 (New International Version Study Bible, 2002).

In the spring David remained in Jerusalem when the Israelite army went out to fight the Ammonites.  Unable to sleep one evening, David walked on the palace roof.  Looking down he saw a beautiful woman, Bathsheba, bathing. David had Bathsheba brought to him and they spent the night together.  Later Bathsheba sent David a note saying she was pregnant.  The problem was that Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah, a soldier serving with the Israelite army.

God’s law prescribed the death penalty for both David and Bathsheba because of their adultery (Leviticus 20:10).  Attempting to cover his transgression, David ordered Bathsheba’s husband to be placed in the front lines of battle without adequate support.  Uriah was killed.  After Bathsheba’s mourning period, David married Bathsheba.  Chapter 11 ends with the statement, “the thing that David had done displeased the Lord” (2 Samuel 11:27).

God sent the prophet Nathan to confront David with his sin and to tell David God’s punishment for it.  The punishment was

1)      Because David killed Uriah with the sword of the Ammonites and took Bathsheba as a wife, the sword would never depart from David’s house.

2)     Calamity will come on David from his own household and his wives would be given to one who is close to David.

David’s immediate response was to acknowledge his sin before Nathan and before God.  Nathan assured David that God took his sin away and that David would not die; but, David and Bathsheba’s child would die.

Psalm 51 was written by David soon after Nathan confronted him with his adultery and murder.  Psalm 51 is classified as one of the Penitential Psalms.  David began the Psalm asking God for mercy and to wash away his sins.  Specifically, David asked God to cleanse him with hyssop.  The hyssop plant was used in the first Passover in Egypt to mark Israelite homes with the blood of the Passover lamb or goat (Exodus 12:21-23).  It was also used by them in ritual cleansing or purification, e.g., after an individual recovered from a skin infection (Leviticus 14:3-7) and after a home was cleaned from mildew (Leviticus 14:48-53).  The hairy surface of hyssop leaves and branches held liquids well; thus, it was adopted as a sprinkling device in purification rituals.

The Old Testament Hyssop

The hyssop that David referred to was most likely the aromatic plant Origanum syriacum called wild majoram, hyssop, and za`atar (Arabic).  The hyssop is indigenous to Turkey and  the eastern Mediterranean, e.g., Israel.  In Israel, hyssop is distributed distributed throughout the country except the deserts. It is frost-sensitive. O. syriacum is an up-right perennial and a giant among oreganos growing as tall as four feet. As the oregano plant ages, stems become a woody brown and leaves a dark, dusty green.  The O. syriacum is harvested and used fresh when the plant is young until flowers bloom. Mature leaves and flowering stems are dried and sold commercially as “oregano,” a name that should be restricted to Origanum vulgare.  The fresh or dried herb can be mixed with olive oil and spread over warm pita bread for a delicious accompaniment to a meal.  Flower stems can be made into fresh herbal wreaths. As in ancient Israel, the O. syriacum was gathered in bunches and used as a brush or sprinkler for purification rituals.

Symbolism: Humility

The hyssop plant is a symbol of humility. When David murdered Uriah and took Bathsheba as his wife, he mimicked the proud behavior of foreign kings; however, God called the Israelites to a higher standard of behavior (Leviticus 20:10).  Murder was murder and adultery was adultery whether committed by the king or the lowest servant in Israel.  When David cried out his remorse and asked to be cleansed with hyssop, he acknowledged his sin and repented.  David showed his humility before God and before the people in his kingdom.

Humility is a spirit of deference or submission, not being proud, haughty, arrogant, or assertive. Many Bible verses focus on humility.  In the Old Testament we read that God guides the humble in what is right (Psalm 25:9), gives grace to the humble (Proverbs 3:34), and crowns the humble with salvation (Psalm 149:4).  Humility takes precedence over both wisdom and honor (Proverbs 11:2, 15:33, 18:12).  In the New Testament, humility is first mentioned in Matthew when Christ identified himself as gentle and humble in heart  (Matthew 11:29).  Paul told the Church at Philippi that Christ humbled himself and obeyed God, even though Christ’s obedience meant his death on the cross (Philippians2:8).

As he was humble, Christ instructed us, his followers, to be humble (Matthew 18:4; Luke 14:7–11).  Christ was concerned particularly about the humility of religious leaders.  He noted that some Pharisees dressed in religious clothing, sat at places of honor at banquets, and loved to be called “Rabbi.”  These Pharisees were more concerned with outward piety and praise than practicing their faith.  Christ said “whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12, New International Version Study Bible, 2002).  In this same instruction, Christ averred that the greatest among you will be your servant (Matthew 23:11).  Recently, I attended a church dinner in a parishioner’s home.  When I finished eating, I picked up my husband’s and my dishes and walked to the kitchen.  At the sink I saw our senior pastor.  He was alone in the kitchen washing dishes, in no way calling attention to him.  As a fairly new member of the church, I began to realize why Pastor Mark was so loved. He exhibited humility and was willing to quietly serve others.

For many of us, not acting haughty or arrogant is fairly easy.  Haughty means blatantly or disdainfully proud; while arrogant is exaggerating our own worth or importance. We’ve seen individuals who are haughty and arrogant, and we don’t want to be like them.  Not being assertive is harder.  Asserting oneself is speaking or acting in a manner that compels recognition especially of one’s rights.   Many individuals today, especially women, minorities, and students have taken courses on how to present themselves assertively.  How do we reconcile the image of ourselves as being equals with not being assertive?  The answer may be in the word compel in the definition of asserting oneself.  To compel means to cause someone to do something because of overwhelming pressure. Christianity is not about compelling or forcing others to do what we want.  Assertive, forcing, and compelling behaviors are antithetical to humility.

You may be thinking that humility is all well and good for David; but, you are a minority in the work world or a student in a university.  If you don’t demand, compel, or force your employer/teacher to acknowledge your rights, you will not have them.  That could be true or it may not be true.  Perhaps we could present our petitions and requests in non-forceful ways; in ways that distinguish us from non-Christian employees or students.  I think about students who have disagreed with my grades and grading comments.  When students communicate humbly, honestly questioning a grade, and asking for an explanation, I am much more prone to re-read their papers and re-thing the grade than when students’ communications are forceful and demanding.

God does not always promise that Christians will achieve their every desire by acting humbly; yet Christians are called to be humble, to have a spirit of deference and submission.  In his first letter Saint Peter wrote that we should clothe ourselves with humility toward one another because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5).  Further, God instructed through Peter to “humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand so that he may (is free to) lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).  Notice that we must take the first step to reap God’s rewards.  We must first be humble so we can receive God’s grace and be lifted up by God.

Reflection.  What would happen if for one week when you dressed every morning you imagined you were clothing yourself with humility?  Try it and keep a daily journal of how your week goes. Think about the outcomes in relation to 1 Peter 5:5-6.

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 Dec. 19, 2011; carolyn a. roth

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God Marching in the Balsam Trees

God using the balsam tree to give David victory over the Philistines is described in 2 Samuel 5:17-25 and 1 Chronicles 14:8-18.

When the Philistines discovered that DaPopulus euphraticavid was anointed king over Israel as well as over Judah, they went out in force to search for him.  During the seven years David was king over Judah at Hebron, the Philistines were not too concerned about his kingship.  For them the problem occurred when Israel (northern tribes) asked David to be their king.  The Philistines cities were in the lands of the northern tribes; they feared David would wage war against their cities.  The Philistines entered the Valley of the Rephaim, located on the border between Judah and Benjamin on the west and southwest sides of Jerusalem.  There they raided and plundered the inhabitants who were mainly Israelites.  David responded to the Philistine’s raids and at Baal Parazim David and the Israelites fought a battle with the Philistines.  The Philistines were routed.  When they fled, the Philistines abandoned their idols.  Following Mosaic law, David burnt the idols (Deuteronomy 7:5, 25).

Perhaps outraged by the previous defeat and David’s destruction of their idols, the Philistines raided the Rephiam Valley a second time.  David asked God if he should attack the Philistines.  God’s answer was “yes;” but David’s army should not go straight at the Philistines. Instead, the Israelite army should circle around the Philistines and attack them in front of the balsam trees.  The signal for the Israelite army to attack was the sound of God marching in the tops of the balsam trees.  The marching sound meant that the Lord went in front of the Israelites to strike the Philistines.

In the Rephiam Valley balsam trees grew in groves.  God made the wind blow through the tops of the balsam tree so that leaves rustling and branches rubbing against each other and created a sound like men marching.  The sound was so loud that the Philistine army thought that a huge Israelite army was advancing toward them.  Terrified they fled the valley.  David’ army pursued and struck down the Philistines from Gibeon to Gezar, a range of about 15 miles.  At the time of this battle, Gezar was not a Philistine city; it was held by the Egyptians (Joshua 10:33).  Apparently, the Philistine soldiers were so frightened that they fled to the powerful Egyptians for safety.  The episode concludes with, “so David’s fame spread throughout every land, and the Lord made all the nations fear him” (1 Chronicles 14:17).

Populus euphratica leavesThe Balsam Tree

The balsam tree is a species of aspen, most likely the Populus euphratica, which is believed to be native to Israel and Middle Eastern countries. The balsaam is also called the  Euphrates popular and salt poplar.  In Israel the tree grows throughout the country; it grows well in rocky and hilly soils and in brackish water. The balsaam tree grows as tall as 45 feet and has spreading branches.  On older branches bark is thick, olive green to gray-brown, and roughly striated.  Branches are bent and almost always forked.  The balsaam’s flower is called a catkin because it resembles a cat’s tail and droops from the stem.  In mid-summer, the P. euphratica produces a green to reddish brown fruit which is a 2-4 valve capsule.  Seeds are minute and enveloped in silky hairs which aid wind dispersal.

Symbolism: God’s people

Balsam trees are associated with the word “people.”  The word Populus in the name Populus euphratica is derived from the trees ancient Latin name arbor populi which means “the people’s tree.”  When God identified the Israelites as his chosen people, God told them that he would dwell with them, walk with them, and protect them (Leviticus 26:12; Deuteronomy 11:22-25).  In the Valley of Rephiam, God gave his chosen people victory through the sound of an army (people) marching in the tops of balsam trees.  Israel’s victory was so decisive that David’s fame spread to people of every land; the Lord made people of every nation fear David.

In the Old Testament, God took a people for himself who were of one race.  In the New Testament, Christ directed his disciples to take the good news of the gospel to all his creation (Mark 16:15).  Over 2000 years later, people of all races believe in him.  Despite Christ’s welcome and guaranteed love of all people, the Bible cautions, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).  What does such an ominous verse mean to people?

The writer of Hebrew’s elaborated by saying if people keep on sinning after they receive the knowledge of truth, no sacrifice for sin is left;  only a fearful expectation of judgment (Hebrews 10: 26-30).  The writer compared the Old Testament Jews rejection of the Law of Moses to an individual who rejects the truth of Christ after they know it.  His argument was if Old Testament Jews who rejected the Law of Moses died, then how much more will individuals who trample the Son of God deserve punishment?   The latter individuals insult the Spirit of grace because they show contempt for the blood of Christ who sanctifies them.  The Lord lives with his people, protects them, and loves them.  In addition, the Lord judges his people.

Reflection.  In the battle where God marched in the tops of the balsam trees, David counted on God rather than his army to protect the people of the Rephiam Valley and Israel.  In a later story, we learn that David took a census of eligible fighting men in Israel rather than trust God to protect the people (2 Samuel 24:10).  Do David’s actions have any parallels to our own life?  Do we believe that God will protect his people?

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 December 7, 2011; carolyn a. roth

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David & Goliath in the Terebinth Valley

P. terebinthusThe story of Saul, David and Goliath is found in 1 Samuel chapter 17 (New International Version Study Bible, 2002).

The Challenge in the Valley of Elah relates the story of Saul, David, and Goliath.  The Philistines assembled an army and prepared for battle with the Israelites.  The Philistines camped at Ephes Dammim between Socoh and Azejah; Socoh is about 18 miles WSW of Jerusalem in Judah territory.  Saul and the Israelite army camped in the Valley of Elah.  The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another hill with the Valley spread between them. The Philistines had a champion call Goliath.  Goliath was a giant man over nine feet tall and wore bronze armor.  Goliath challenged the Israelites, demanding that their champion come out and battle against him.  Goliath said that the loser’s people would become subjects of the winner’s people.  When Saul and the Israelites heard Goliath’s proposal, they were dismayed and terrified because Goliath was so physically overpowering.  No soldier or leader in the Israelite army would meet Goliath in individual battle.

David had three brothers serving in Saul’s army and brought them food from home.  When David heard about Goliath’s challenge, he asked, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17:26).  When David’s words were reported to Saul, Saul ordered David to be brought to him.  David told Saul that he battled bears and lions with his slingshot while tending his father’s sheep and he would accept Goliath’s challenge.  Saul gave David permission to battle Goliath, but insisted that David wear his armor.  After David was dressed in Saul’s armor, David reported that he could not wear them.  Apparently, the armor was too large and cumbersome for David.   Instead, David faced Goliath in his own clothes and with five smooth stones and his slingshot.

When he saw David that was only a boy, Goliath despised David and cursed him. David was not intimidated and he told Goliath, “you come against me with sword and spear and Javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied” (1 Samuel 17:45). When Goliath moved forward to attack, instead of running from Goliath David ran forward to meet him.  Taking out a stone, David slung it and struck Goliath on the forehead.  Immediately, Goliath dropped face forward onto the ground. David moved forward to Goliath, picked up Goliath’s sword, and cut off Goliath’s head.  When the Philistines saw that their champion was dead, they fled.  The Israelites pursued the Philistines as far as two of the Philistines walled cities.  Then the Israelites returned to the Philistine camp and plundered it.

David took Goliath’s head and offered it to Saul.  From that day onward Saul kept David with him.  Saul’s son Jonathan and David became loyal friends.  Even though David beat Goliath in battle, the Philistines did not keep their word and become subjects to the Israelites.

The TerebinthTree

The valley of “Elah” where Saul and the Israelites prepared to battle the Philistines received its name from terebinth trees growing there. The Hebrew word êlâh refers to Pistacia.  The pistacia of the Valley of Elah was the Pistacia terebinthus variation palaestina, also known as the Pistacia palestina, terebinth tree, turpentine tree, and by its Arabic name butm. Terebinth trees  grows on the lower slopes of mountains and in the hills Israel, where it is thought to be a native plant.  Generally, the terebinth grows as a solitary tree rather than in thickets or forests.  When left undisturbed, the terebinth can reach a height of 30–33 feet tall and live up to 1000 years. In ancient Israel, terebinth trees were well-known landmarks and sometimes used as memorials for the dead.  The terebinth develops a very deep and extensive root system; consequently, leaves are green even in years of drought.  Terebinths are deciduous trees, often with a short gnarled trunks and spreading boughs.  Limbs can be irregular and sharply angled.  Young branches are red in color as are sprouting leaf stems (petioles).  Terebinth trees can reproduce by fertilized seed, semi-woody cuttings, or by layering.  Even after being cut back to a small trunk, P. terebinthus may sprout and re-grow.

Symbolism: Solitary

Several authors  identified a symbolic meaning for the P.terebinthus to include as memorials to death, mighty or sturdy, and as representing knowledge of right and wrong which leads to peace and smoothness when living in society.  Although these meanings have value, the terebinth in the Valley of Elah is better associated with the word “solitary.”  Solitary means occurring singly, or being, or going alone without companions.  In the ancient Middle East, terebinth trees did not grow in groves or groups.  Usually, they grew alone without other trees around; thus, can   be seen from far distances and used to identify locations.  Similar to the terebinth growing alone, David went out to meet and to slay Goliath alone and without companions.

Sheep-herding was largely a solitary job and David was alone as he tended his father’s flock.  Tending sheep allowed David to solve problem alone; e.g., David encountered wild animals, sudden storms, and all types of sheep-induced situations.  Sheep have never been identified as one of the more intelligent animals in the Bible; rather many times sheep are described as inept and getting lost from the flock.  As a shepherd, the situations David encountered gave him the ability to quickly assess a situation and respond.  He used his experiences when he challenges Goliath and Goliath moved toward him with sword drawn.  Even though David was alone, he was not paralyzed with fear.  He responded by knocking Goliath unconscious with a stone from his sling shot. Then, he killed the nine-foot tall warrior with Goliath’s own sword.

Earlier in this book, I wrote about how Christians need the support of the Church, fellow Church members, and other Christians.  At the same time, accepting Christ is a solitary act.  We ourselves must make the decision to accept or not accept Christ; no one can do it for us. We must responsibility for our own actions in this life.  Do you remember the old hymn, “Jesus Walk this Lonesome Valley?”  Please read the words to this hymn and reflect on how they apply to your life.

Reflection.

Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley (Author Unknown)

Jesus walked this lonesome valley.  He had to walk it by Himself;
O, nobody else could walk it for Him, He had to walk it by Himself.

We must walk this lonesome valley, We have to walk it by ourselves;
O, nobody else can walk it for us, We have to walk it by ourselves.

You must go and stand your trial, You have to stand it by yourself,
O, nobody else can stand it for you, You have to stand it by yourself.

From Moser, J. (2011).

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/

Copy right except for poem on November 27, 2011; carolyn a. roth

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Saul Camped under a Pomegranate Tree

Pomegranate flower, leafThe battle waged against the Philistines from Saul’s base under a pomegranate tree at Gibeah is described in 1 Samuel 13:16–14:23.

Following God’s instructions, Samuel anointed Saul king over Israel privately (1 Samuel 10:1).  Sometime later, Saul was selected to be king by lot from all eligible Israelite men (1 Samuel 10:20-21).  Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin, the smallest of all Israelite tribes.  In Saul’s reign, the Philistines were a persistent enemy of the Israelites.  The Philistines were well armed with weapons made of iron, e.g., swords, spears, iron-tipped arrows.  With the exception of King Saul and his son Jonathan, the Israelites did not have iron weapons because there were no blacksmiths in Israel at that time.

Early in his kingship, Saul began a military campaign against the Philistines.    The Philistines were camped north of the Micmash pass while the Israelite forces were south of the pass.  Saul and 600 men were staying on the outskirts of Gibeah (in Benjamin) under a pomegranate tree in Migron.   Unbeknown to Saul, Jonathan and his armor-bearer went to a Philistine outpost and allowed the Philistines to see them.  The Philistines called insults and dared Jonathan to come up to the outpost.   Jonathan took the dare; he and his armor bearer climbed to the outpost.  In their first attack, Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed 20 Philistine soldiers.  Then, God caused the ground to shake and a panic to strike the entire Philistine army (1 Samuel 14:15).

When Saul’s lookouts in Gibeah reported that the Philistine army was scattering, Saul mustered his forces to attack the Philistines.  Before he went into battle, Saul decided to seek God’s will.  He ordered the Ark of the Testimony brought forward and the priest, Ahijah, to asked God if the Israelites should attack the Philistines.  While Ahijah and Saul were talking, the uproar in the Philistine camp increased.  Just as Ahijah began to ask God if Saul should attack, Saul ordered him to stop.  Then, Saul and his men went to the battle area.  They found the Philistines in total confusion and in flight.  Saul and his men pursued the Philistines.  Hearing that the Philistines were retreating, Israelites hidden in the Ephraim hill country joined the battle and pursued the Philistines.  This battle ended with the conclusion, “So the Lord rescued Israel that day” (1 Samuel 14:23).

Pomegranate Tree

The pomegranate tree’s botanical name is Punica granatum which means a many-seeded apple.  Wild pomegranates predate modern human history and were possibly indigenous to the mountains of present day Iran and south central Asia. Pomegranates were cultivated over 4000 years ago in the ancient Sumer civilization, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.  The pomegranate was listed as one of the seven plant species that the Israelites would find in Canaan (Deuteronomy 8:8).  It tolerates drought and can be grown in dry areas with either winter or summer rainfall.  In comparison to other trees, pomegranate trees need little care to produce fruit.  The pomegranate is classified as a small tree, but it is similar to a shrub, normally reaching a height of only 20 feet.  King Saul camped under the pomegranate tree so possibly in ancient Israel pomegranate tree were larger than they are today.  Alternatively, this particular pomegranate tree could have been taller than normal; thus it was a well-known location.  Apparently, it was customary for early Israelite leaders to camp and/or hold court under well-known trees (Judges 4:5). Classified as a berry, the pomegranate fruit (2–5 inches in diameter) is between a lemon and orange in size.  Over 600 seeds can be held in each fruit.  Seeds are spongy, tart, and located in the center of the pulp.

Symbolism: Exalt

In many cultures, e.g., Greek, Egyptian, Hindu, the pomegranate symbolizes human fertility, procreation, and life.  The pomegranate was mentioned several times in Song of Songs where it symbolized fertility.  Saul choosing to camp under a pomegranate tree likely had a different meaning.  The Hebrew word for pomegranate tree and fruit is rimmôwn or rimmôn derived from the primitive root râman which means “to exalt, or lift or get (oneself) up or to mount up.”  Probably this meaning was in Saul’s mind when he camped under a pomegranate tree in the campaign against the Philistines.  Saul knew that as the first king over Israel his behavior and choices were dissected by supporters and detractors alike (1 Samuel 10:27; 1 Samuel 11:12-15).  By camping under a pomegranate tree, he reminded the people that God exalted or lifted him to the position of king.

God’s people have the privilege and duty to exalt him.  The Bible demonstrated the central role exulting God played in the lives of the Israelites.  Immediately after safe passage through the Red Sea, the Israelites sang a song to God which began with, “I will sing to the Lord for He is highly exalted” (Exodus 15:1).  The Israelites glorified God because he demonstrated power over the mighty Egyptians and their gods.  On a more personal and intimate level, David exalted God when he said, “I will exalt you, O Lord, for you have lifted me out of the depths” (Psalm 30:1).  The depths that David referred to were the human experiences of sin and despair.

As people of God, we exalt God with songs and prayers during corporate worship.  During songs and prayers is not the time for minds to wonder, e.g., to count the number church attendee, or (as one of my friends described) the number of wooden beams in the sanctuary ceiling.  Singing is a time to concentrate on the words of the song and lift our voices in praise to God.  Active listening during prayers allows us to agree that God is a creator, sustainer, and provider. Yes, we go to church to learn; but, the primary purpose of corporate worship is to exalt and praise God.

As individuals, every day we can exalt God by praising him for what He does in our lives.  God has lifted, or wants to lift, each of us out of despair or the draining numbness of our daily lives.  God’s plan is for each of his children to experience life – vital, creative life – in Him.  God wants us to live exposed to Him, and his purpose and will for our lives.  Sometimes it is difficult to think of the right words to use to exalt God particularly if we are not in the habit of making exaltation a part of our prayers.  Praying the Psalms may be an answer to how to exalt God.  Most Psalms have six sections: praise, protest, plea, trust, thanksgiving, and obedience.  When we pray the Psalms, we can hone in on exultation of God.  In addition, the following Psalms have exaltation and praise of God as their main focus:  Psalms 9, 30-32, 46, 131, 145-150.

Reflection.  How can we live so that we continually exalt God with our lives?  Equally important, how can we lift ourselves up, or prepare ourselves, for God’s purpose in our lives?

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/

Copy right November 18, 2011; carolyn a. roth

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