Category Archives: Plants & the Early Monarchy

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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