Category Archives: Plants & the Northern Kingdom – Israel

Spiritual Adultery and the Lily

Resurrection LilyBible Reference: Hosea chapter 14.

The book of Hosea is the first book of the Minor Prophets.  Hosea lived in the final disastrous days of the Northern Kingdom when 6 kings reigned within 25 years.  Because Hosea came from the northern tribes, he was aware of every pride and perversion of the people.  Hosea spoke of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness.  At the same time, Hosea averred that Israel’s disloyalty to God and idol worship was spiritual adultery.  Hosea identified Assyria as the source of God’s judgment on the Northern Tribes.

Hosea implored Israel to repent so that God could heal their waywardness.  God wanted to love them freely and turn his anger from them.  God said that if Israel repented, he would be like the dew and Israel would blossom like a lily.  Dew symbolized God’s blessing on Israel, mirroring Jacob’s blessing on Joseph, e.g., “may the Lord bless his (Joseph’s) land with the precious dew from heaven above” (Deuteronomy 33:13)  God was willing to use this heavenly dew to refresh and stimulate Israel to be like a pristine lily blossom.

The Hebrew word shôshân (shôwshân), translates as “lily,” and means a beautiful flower.  Possibly the word shôshân was derived from shesh, the primary root for “six” the number of petals on the lily plant.  The lily is the most mentioned flower in the Bible.   In ancient times, supposedly the lily was dear to the heart of God and to all Israelites.  Over time the lily became known as the Star of David which appears on the modern Israeli flag.

The Lily

The lily described in Hosea is most likely the Lilium candidum, also known as the Madonna lily because it appeared frequently in pictures with the Virgin Mary.   The origin of the L. candidum is probably the Middle East and/or Greece.  In Israel, wild lilies grow in Mediterranean wood and Carmel and Upper Galilee. It can grow in semi-shade or full sun. L. candidum grows from a bulb planted just below the soil surface. Typical of plants in Mediterranean climates, this lily’s leaves die down in the very hot summer and grow up again in the rainy fall and early winter.  Usually each stem has several large flowers which live for 5-6 days. The dazzlingly white corolla is funnel shaped with six pointed petals that form a symmetrical star shape. The lily fruit splits open and disperses many small seeds which can germinate in up to four weeks.  Most gardeners purchase small plants or bulbs for propagation.

Symbolism:  Chastity & Innocence

In Latin, Lilium means shining or pure white. In Hosea 14, the lily symbolized chastity and innocence. Chastity means abstaining from unlawful sexual intercourse. If Israel ceased prostituting themselves to idols, they would be chaste before God. They would no longer commit spiritual adultery. Innocence is freedom from guilt or sin by being unacquainted with evil. If Israel repented and returned to God, then God would restore their innocence. Their previous spiritual adultery would not have occurred. God was willing to make the degenerate Northern Kingdom chaste and innocent similar to a young man or woman who never had sex or even thought about sex.

Through Christ, God invites each of us to become chaste and innocent, no matter our sins, crimes, or idols. Chastity and innocence occurs when we have new birth by accepting Christ as our savior. We can maintain that same chastity and innocence by confessing our sins to God on an ongoing basis (1 John 1:9).

Reflection. Do you feel innocent and chaste before God? What are your idols? Are you ready to give them up for a return to God-given innocence and chastity?

Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth, April 2014, narrative and photograph.

Hosea Prophecy about a Lily Blossom

Easter LilyIf Israel repented, God would cause them to blossom like a lily; see Hosea chapter 14.

The book of Hosea is the first book of the Minor Prophets.  Hosea lived in the final disastrous days of the Northern Kingdom when 6 kings reigned within 25 years.  Because Hosea came from the northern tribes, he was aware of every pride and perversion of the people.  While Amos addressed God’s justice and social justice, Hosea spoke of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness.  At the same time, Hosea averred that Israel’s disloyalty to God idol worship was spiritual adultery.  Hosea identified Assyria as the source of God’s judgment on the Northern Tribes.

Hosea implored Israel to repent so that God could heal their waywardness.  God wanted to love them freely and turn his anger from them.  God said that if Israel repented, he would be like the dew and Israel would blossom like a lily.  Dew symbolized God’s blessing on Israel, mirroring Jacob’s blessing on Joseph, e.g., “may the Lord bless his (Joseph’s) land with the precious dew from heaven above” (Deuteronomy 33:13)  God was willing to use this heavenly dew to refresh and stimulate Israel to be lily blossom.

The Hebrew word shôshân (shôwshân), translates as “lily,” and means a beautiful flower.  Possibly the word shôshân was derived from shesh, the primary root for “six” the number of petals on the lily plant.  The lily is the most mentioned flower in the Bible.   In ancient times, supposedly the lily was dear to the heart of God and to all Israelites.  Over time the lily became known as the Star of David which appears on the modern Israeli flag.

The Lily

The lily described in Hosea is most likely the Lilium candidum, also known as the Madonna lily because it appeared frequently in pictures with the Virgin Mary.   The origin of the L. candidum is probably the Middle East and/or Greece.  In Israel, wild lilies grow in Mediterranean wood and Carmel and Upper Galilee. It can grow in semi-shade or full sun. L. candidum grows from a bulb planted just below the soil surface. Typical of plants in Mediterranean climates, this lily’s leaves die down in the very hot summer and grow up again in the rainy fall and early winter.  Usually each stem has several large flowers which live for 5-6 days. The dazzlingly white corolla is funnel shaped with six pointed petals that form a symmetrical star shape. The lily fruit splits open and disperses many small seeds which can germinate in up to four weeks.  Most gardeners purchase small plants or bulbs for propagation.

Symbolism:  Chastity & Innocence

In Latin, Lilium means shining or pure white. In Hosea 14, the lily symbolized chastity and innocence. Chastity means abstaining from unlawful sexual intercourse. If Israel ceased prostituting themselves to idols, they would be chaste before God. They would no longer commit spiritual adultery. Innocence is freedom from guilt or sin by being unacquainted with evil. If Israel repented and returned to God, then God would restore their innocence. Their previous spiritual adultery would not have occurred. God was willing to make the degenerate Northern Kingdom chaste and innocent similar to a young man or woman who never had sex or even thought about sex.  

Through Christ, God invites each of us to become chaste and innocent, no matter our sins, crimes, or idols. Chastity and innocence occurs when we have new birth by accepting Christ as our savior. We can maintain that same chastity and innocence by confessing our sins to God on an ongoing basis (1 John 1:9). 

Reflection. Do you feel innocent and chaste before God? What are your idols? Are you ready to give them up for a return to God-given innocence and chastity?

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 July 20, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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The Hemlock in Amos’ Prophecy

Conium maculatum flowerAmos’ comparison of the Northern Kingdom to a poisonous hemlock plant is found in Amos 6:12.

Amos is the third book of the Minor Prophets.  The minor prophets were considered minor in the sense that their books were much smaller than those of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, not because their messages were less important.  Amos prophesied over a 10 year period, 760-750 B.C.

Amos’ home was Tekoa, a town about 12 miles south of Jerusalem.  When God called him to be a prophet, Amos was a herdsman and tender of sycamore trees.  Amos completed most of his ministry in the area of Bethel, the Northern Kingdom’s main sanctuary.  At Bethel, Jeroboam I set up one of the golden calves soon after the 10 Northern tribes formed an independent kingdom.  All manner of pagan worship practices occurred at Bethel.  At the time of Amos’ prophecy the Northern Kingdom was politically secure and prosperous under the rule of Jeroboam II (sole reign 782-753 B.C.).

Amos was a vehement spokesman for God’s justice.  He argued that true righteousness and piety were displayed through social justice for all citizens.  Although Amos did not identify Assyria as the means of God’s judgment on the Northern Kingdom, he warned them that God’s judgment was fast approaching.  The judgment would be more than military conquest and tribute to a foreign conqueror.  It would involve total destruction of the Northern Kingdom as a nation and dispersion of its citizens to foreign lands.  Amos accused leaders and ordinary citizens of turning justice into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock (Amos 6:12, TEB).  Hemlock was a poisonous plant.

The Hemlock Plant

The botanical name for the hemlock plant is Conium maculatum, also known as the poisonous hemlock. It is indigenous to Eastern Mediterranean countries where it is classified as a toxic weed.  In about 399 B.C., the Greek philosopher Socrates was condemned to drink hemlock poison as a means of committing suicide.  Poisonous hemlock is found on banks of streams and rivers, along roadsides and hedgerows, in wasteland, pastures, and meadow lands.  The poisonous hemlock should not be confused with the Canadian hemlock tree  or the American water hemlock tree.  A single plant can produce 35,000-40,000 seeds.  Leaves and seeds are harvested for medicinal purposes are the leaves and seeds; however, medicinal uses of hemlock are limited because of the closeness of therapeutic and poisonous levels.  Sometimes childrenay see the plant top, mistake it for carrots or parsley, and eat it.  Because hemlocks are rare in North America and initially hemlock signs and symptoms mimic other acute conditions, physicians may not immediately diagnose hemlock poisoning when children present in emergency departments.

Symbolism: Poison

At times the hemlock plant has been associated with bitterness, calamity, and sorrow.  In Amos, the Hebrew word laʽǎnâh was used as the word for hemlock; the word laʽǎnâh comes from an unused root meaning “to curse.”  All these words are good candidates for the symbolism of poisonous hemlock; however, I am going to associate the hemlock plant with poison or poisonous.  A poison is a substance that kills, injures or impairs; it is destructive, harmful, and corrupt. Poisonous described the hemlock plant and best depicted the words and behaviors of the Northern Kingdom leaders and citizens in the book of Amos.

When I looked at the behavior of the Northern Kingdom people, I thought, “I’m never going to act like they did; nor say and do the things they did.”  Then, I recalled some Bible teachings on poison and the tongue.  In Psalms (140:3), we read that evil men make their tongues as sharp as the poison of snakes.  Similarly, James pointed out that man has tamed all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea, but man cannot take the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of poison (James 3:7-8).  James said that the tongue is set on fire by hell which is a figuratively way of saying by the devil (James 3:6).

Reflection:  Some days my tongue is so sharp that I am embarrassed by what comes out of my mouth.  On those days, my words are not from God; but, from the Devil. Have you ever wished words unsaid? How can we prevent poison from coming out of our mouths?

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 July 7, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Jonah and the Vine

Ricinus communis (2)This book of Jonah is only four chapters long; the episode of Jonah and the vine is in Jonah Chapter 4.

Jonah was the only Old Testament prophet sent directly to the Gentiles.  The theme of Jonah is the God’s divine mercy is applied without favoritism to Jews and Gentiles.  Jonah was from the tribe of Zebulun.  His ministry was between 800-750 B.C. about the time of King Jeroboam II in the Northern Kingdom.  By the end of 721 B.C., Assyria conquered and deported the Northern Kingdom Jews.

The Book of Jonah begins with God telling Jonah to travel to Ninevah, Assyria to warn the people of pending retribution because of their wickedness.  Instead of heading northeast to Nineveh, Jonah booked passage on a ship to Tarshish, a city located in southern Spain.  God caused a violent storm to buffet the ship.  The superstitious sailors cast lots to identify who was responsible for the calamity. The lot fell on Jonah.  Jonah was thrown into the Mediterranean Sea where he was swallowed by a giant fish.  While inside the fish, Jonah acknowledged his disobedience and the sovereignty of God.  After three days, the fish vomited Jonah onto dry land, probably near an eastern Mediterranean country.

Again, God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and proclaim a message that God would give to him.  Jonah went and proclaimed, “forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned” (Jonah 3:4, NIV-SB, 2002).  The Ninevehites including their king believed Jonah’s prophecy.  They fasted in sackcloth and ashes.  When God saw that the Ninevehites turn from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not destroy Nineveh.

Likely, the Ninevites were ecstatic over God’s decision, however, Jonah was angry.  His complaint to God and about God included (Jonah 4:2):

  • isn’t this just what I said would happen when I was at home?
  • that’s why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish.
  • I knew that you are gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love, and relent from sending calamity.

Jonah was so upset that he told God to kill him; it would be better for him to be dead than alive.  God’s response was to ask Jonah the question, “Have you any right to be angry” (Jonah 4:4).  Instead of answering God, Jonah went to a spot east of Nineveh, built a small shelter, sat down under it, and waited to see what would happen to Nineveh.  Jonah had no confidence that the Ninevehites would continue their reformed ways.  As Jonah watched the city, God stimulated a vine to grow over Jonah to screen him from the sun and to ease his discomfort.  Jonah was very happy about the vine.  At dawn the next day, God made a worm chew the vine so it withered.  When sun rose, God caused a scorching east wind and the sun to shine on Jonah’s head.  Jonah grew faint and again told God that it would be better for him to die than live.

God asked Jonah, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine” (Jonah 4:9).   Jonah’s response was a resounding “I do and I am angry enough to die.” God said told Jonah was concerned about a vine that he neither caused to grow nor tended.  How much more should God be concerned about Nineveh, a city of 120,000 people who did not know right from wrong.

Castor bean leavesCastor Bean Plant

The majority of present day botanists and scholars agree that Jonah’s gourd was the  Ricinus communis, also known as the castor bean, castor oil plant, and palma Christi (hand of Christ).  The castor bean vine is indigenous to Northeastern Africa, the Middle East, or India.  It was found in 5000 year-old Egyptian tombs.  The castor oil bean tree grows wild in Israel and can be seen on rocky hillsides, in waste areas, along road shoulders, and in fallow fields. Established plants are drought tolerant; but are killed by substantial frost. It grows as an annual that reaches 8-15 feet tall in a single growing season. When young, leaves are red and shining; however, when fully expanded (12-30 inches across), leaves are blue-green and paler on the underside. These large leaves produce abundant shade when the tree is full grown. When the growing season is short, gardeners start seeds inside or scar the seeds before planting. The castor oil tree produces a variety of products.  Made from the castor oil seed coat, ricin is a deadly chemical which can be used in biological warfare.  Ingesting ricin in even small doses can be fatal.  Castor oil is a distasteful laxative made from castor seeds.

Symbolism:  Compassion

The Biblical gourd is a symbol of compassion.  Compassion means a sympathetic awareness of another person’s distress together with a desire to alleviate the distress.  In the story of Jonah, we see compassion juxtaposition with lack of compassion.  God had compassion on the Ninevehites and sent Jonah to call them to repentance.  Jonah had no compassion for the 120,000 Ninevehites who repented of their sins.  God had compassion on Jonah and caused a leafy gourd to grow over Jonah’s shelter.  Jonah had compassion on the gourd that protected him from the sun; he was angry when a worm chewed through the vine and caused it to die.

Possibly some of Jonah’s lack of compassion for the Ninevehites was the result of seeing God as belonging to the Israelites.  He did not fully comprehend that God was the God of the world and cared about all peoples to include the Ninevehites (Psalm 145:9).  Throughout the book of Jonah, God leads Jonah to a new understanding of God himself.   We never read that God was angry with the sulky Jonah.  Instead God gave patient explanations using Jonah’s feelings for the gourd vine to parallel God’s feelings for the Ninevehites.

In his ministry Christ demonstrated compassion consistently.  In the Gospels we can read that Christ had compassion on individuals and groups (Matthew 9:36, 14:14; 20:34; Mark 1:41, 6:34; and Luke 7:13, 10:13).  Repeatedly Christ used the word “compassion” when he told stories of love (Matthew 18:27, 33; Mark 5:19; and Luke 7:13, 15:20).

When investigating compassion, I read that personal salvation should bear fruit in social compassion.  Not being too sure of that statement, I searched the scriptures for confirmation or dis-confirmation.  I found these words penned by St. John: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?  Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions” (I John 3:17-18.   John was calling us to have social compassion on others.

Jonah called the Ninevehites to repentance because of God’s compassion for them.  Because of Christ’s love for us, we need to have compassion on our brothers and sisters in need.

Reflection.  As I write this unit, it is 9 days until Christmas.  Many of us have softer hearts at this time of year. We remember that Christ came into the world because he had compassion on us. How do you exhibit Christ’s compassion all year long?

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 June 11, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Jehoash’s Parable of the Thistle

SGT (2)The story of King Jehoash of the Northern Kingdom sending a thistle parable to Amaziah, King of Judah, is told in two places: 2 Kings Chapter 14 and 2 Chronicles Chapter 25.

King Jehoash ruled the Northern Kingdom for 16 years between 798-782 B.C. (Rulers of the Divided Kingdom of Israel and Judah, 2002).  He won a significant battle over King Amaziah (796-767 B.C) of Judah primarily because Amaziah rejected God.  The background to this Bible narrative has two distinct parts.  First, when King Amaziah planned a military campaign against Edom, he recruited 100,000 mercenaries from the Northern Kingdom and paid them 100 talents of silver.  Warned by a prophet to not allow the mercenaries to march with him, Amaziah dismissed the Northern Kingdom soldiers.  The soldiers were furious and proceeded to plunder and murder in Judah while Amaziah was battling the Edomites.  Second, when Amaziah returned to Jerusalem after a successful campaign against the Edomites, he brought back Edomite gods.  Instead of destroying the false gods as Mosaic law required (Deuteronomy 7:5, 25), Amaziah accepted the Edomite gods as his own gods, bowed down to them, and offered sacrifices to them.  Angry with Amaziah, God sent a prophet to warn him about worshipping Edomite gods.  Amaziah would not allow the prophet to speak and threatened to kill him.  The prophet told Amaziah that because of his response, God would destroy him.

The incident between King Jehoash of the Northern Kingdom and Amaziah began with Amaziah sending a message to Jehoash to come and meet him in battle.  Probably Amaziah’s challenge was the result of the Northern Kingdom plundering and killing in Judean towns.  King Jehoash sent a parable and a warning back to Amaziah.  The parable was, “A thistle in Lebanon sent a message to a cedar in Lebanon, ‘Give your daughter to my son in marriage.’  Then, a wild beast in Lebanon came along and trampled the thistle underfoot” (2 Chronicles 25:18).  Following the parable, Jehoash warn Amaziah that because he defeated Edom, he was haughty and proud; but with his challenge to Jehoash, Amaziah was asking for trouble that would cause his own downfall and that of Judah.

The interpretation of Jehoash’s parable was that he and the Northern Kingdom were the majestic cedar of Lebanon while Amaziah was an insignificant thistle.  The lowly thistle (Amaziah) had the audacity to demand from the cedar (Jehoash) a prize possession.   Instead of giving the King of Judah a prize, Jehoash and the Northern tribes would trample Judah underfoot.

Amaziah did not listen to Jehoash’s warding; he moved the Judean army against the Northern Kingdom. The result was a battle where Jehoash defeated Amaziah and took him prisoner.  Amaziah’s soldiers fled to their homes.  With his prisoner, Jehoash proceeded to Jerusalem.  There Jehoash seized the Temple gold, silver, and other valuables, the palace treasury, and hostages.  King Jehoash had 600 feet of the wall surrounding Jerusalem broken down.  Despite his overwhelming victory, Jehoash allowed Amaziah to remain king of Judah.

King Jehoash was not a king who obeyed God; rather, he did evil in God’s eyes (2 Kings 13:10-13).   Jehoash continued in the idol worship of Jeroboam I (the first King of the Northern tribes).   King Jehoash would not have won the battle over Amaziah, but for Amaziah’s sin of rejecting God and worshipping the Edomite gods.

Spotted Golden ThistleThe Spotted Golden Thistle

In the Bible, about 20 different words are related to some type of prickly or thorny plant. In Jehoash’s parable, the Hebrew word for thistle is choâch or hoah and is associated with the Scolymus genus of plants. When Jehoash named Amaziah a thistle, possibly he was thinking of the spotted golden thistle, Scolymus maculatus, an annual thistle which grows almost everywhere in Israel.  Although occasionally cultivated, more often spotted golden thistle it is found in uncultivated lands, e.g., abandoned fields and ditches, and along paths and trails. Each flower is composed of narrow, 1–2 inch yellow petal growing in   3-4 concentric circles around a center.  Fruits are flat seeds. The thistle drops seed to the ground where they readily germinate.

Symbolism: Rejection, Reject

The spotted golden thistle in the Jehoash story can be associated with several concepts, e.g., pride, insult, and insignificance; however, in this story reject or rejection are the best symbols for the plant.   Examples of rejection include Amaziah’s rejection of the 100,000 Northern Kingdom mercenaries, Amaziah rejecting God and his prophet in favor of the Edomite gods, Jehoash’s willingness to excuse or reject Amaziah’s challenge, Jehoash’s rejecting the sanctity of the Temple and plundering its treasury, and even most people rejecting thistle leaves as a food source.

Rejection is exactly what the Northern Kingdom did to God. They rejected God’s degrees, the covenant he made with their fathers, and the warnings he gave them over the centuries through his prophets (2 Kings 17:14).  God was so angry with the Northern Kingdom that he used the Assyrian’s as his vehicle of retribution.  Between 738-732 B.C., Assyrian, Tiglath-Pilesar III invaded the Northern Kingdom (Assyrian Campaign against Israel and Judah, 2002).  The mode of warfare included beheading, individuals skinned alive, and corpses impaled on stakes.  The Assyrians conquered much of the Northern Kingdom and deported the inhabitants to Assyria (2 Kings 15:29).  After that war, the Israelite king who reigned in Samaria had a small kingdom that primarily included the tribal lands of Ephraim.  In 732 B.C., Hoshea became king in Samaria and again rebelled against Assyria.  During the campaigns of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser V (725-722 B.C.), the remainder of the Northern Kingdom was conquered; 27,290 inhabitants were taken as booty to Assyria.  By the end of 721 B.C., God rejected the people of the Northern Kingdom as they first rejected him.

Christians need to be alert so they do not reject God.  Paul wrote to the Thessalonians (4:8) that individuals who reject God’s instruction reject God.  Paul provided instruction to the Christians of Thessalonica on how to please God (I Thessalonians 4:1-7).  Some of the instruction included the need to keep their bodies holy and honorable and to reject sexual immorality.  One piece of Paul’s instruction included that no one wrong his brother or take advantage of him.  We wrong our brother and sister when we commit adultery.   In adultery, the spouse of the adulterer is always wronged.  Premarital sex or fornication robs a future spouse of the virginity of the fornicator.  Viewing pornography, imagining pornographic episodes, and reading pornographic novels remove the beauty of intimacy from the marital relationship and can lead to sexual dissatisfaction and impotency.  Incest robs children of innocence and destroys families.

The sexual perversions mentioned above are not new in present day society.  They occurred in pre-Noah time, in Sodom and Gomorrah in Abraham’s time, in Canaan before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, and in the Northern Kingdom.  In the next chapter we will read that sexual perversions were present in Judah.  Sexual misconduct is against God’s law.  God punishes men and women for sexual sins   As usual, Paul summed up our sexual responsibilities when he wrote “for God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life” (I Thessalonians 4:7).

Reflection.  Are you controlling your mind and body in a way that is holy and honorable?   Are you wronging your brothers and sisters?  Are you wronging your present or future spouse?

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 May 29, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Dove’s Dung as Food at Samaria

Dove's DungThe story of the siege of Samaria is found in 2 Kings 6:24-7:20.

The king of Aram, Ben-Hadad, mobilized his entire army and attacked the Northern Kingdom besieging its capital Samaria.  Aram was located directly north of the Northern Kingdom; Damascus was its capital.  Probably the attack occurred around 850 B.C. when Joram was king of the Northern tribes.  Elisha was still the main prophet in the Northern Kingdom and remained in Samaria during the siege.  It last so long that a severe famine occurred in the city.   People were starving.  At donkey’s head sold for 80 shekels of silver and a quarter of a cab of seed pods for five shekels.  One day as King Joram was walking the city wall, he learned that cannibalization was occurring in Samaria.  Joram tore his robes and threatened to kill Elisha.

We are not told the exact reason for Joram’s anger at Elisha; but, clearly Joram considered Elisha responsible for conditions in besieged Samaria.  Perhaps, Elisha told Joram to hold out against the Arameans and that God would deliver the city.  King Joram went to Elisha house where he confronted Elisha with “This disaster is from the Lord. Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?” (2 Kings 6:33).  Elisha’s responded that by about this time tomorrow, the cost of grain would be much reduced; meaning the siege would be lifted.  King Joram must have been reassured because he did not kill Elisha.

The Bible narrative then moved to four lepers.  The lepers were so hungry that they left the city and walked to the Aramean camp for food.  When the lepers arrived at the camp, it was deserted.  The Lord caused the Arameans to hear the sound of a great army approaching.  Believing that both the Hittites and Egyptians were attaching them, the Arameans fled, abandoning their tents, provisions, horses, and donkeys.  After eating their fill, the lepers talked among themselves saying, “We’re not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves” (2 Kings 7:9).  The four lepers returned to Samaria and reported what they found.  Although King Joram was suspicious of the report, he sent men in chariots to investigate the Aramean camp.  The men returned and reported the camp was empty and the road was strewed with clothing and equipment.   Samaritan citizens swarmed the Aramean camp taking food and supplies.  Thus, God saved Samaria from the Aramean army and from starvation

In the siege of Samaria, the Bible used a quarter cab of seed pods to demonstrate how scarce food was in the city.  In ancient Hebrew, a quarter of a cab was about 1 pint.  During the siege, a pint of seed pods sold for five silver shekels; equivalent to about 2.62 ounces of silver.  Today in the United State, silver sells for about $35.00 an ounce; therefore, one pint of pods was valued at $92.00.  In ancient Israel, the value of a male child one month through five years of age was 5 silver shekels, while the value of a female child was 3 silver shekels (Leviticus 27:6-7).

Cab of Seed Pods

Both the King James Bible and the Revised Standard Version translated seed pods as dove’s dung.  Many botanists and Bible scholars agree that the plant was the Ornithogalum umbellatum.  Another popular name is the Star of Bethlehem because of the six petals on its flower.  Dove’s dung seems like a distasteful name for this beautiful plant.  Most likely the name “dove’s dung” came from Hebrew’s viewing large fields containing the white Star of Bethlehem flower in the spring.  The small white flowers appeared like dove’s droppings from a distance.  In temperate climates the plant  blooms April to May.  Flower stalks grow from below ground level and each produces a single flower. After flowering and producing seeds, the Star of Bethlehem remains dormant during the e summer heat.  In autumn or cooler weather, bulbs reproduce underground. In the United States, the Star of Bethlehem is often considered an invasive weed being more difficult to control with herbicides than many other species of plants.

The edibility of Dove’s dung has generated much discussion. Reading the arguements,  James Duke harvested a few of the bulbs from in his lawn (Duke, Duke, & duCellier, 2008).  After boiling them vigorously without salt, he ate one.  To Duke the bulbs tasted similar to soap and had a bitter aftertaste.  He added salt and found that the boiled bulbs improved in taste. Because he experienced some shortness of breath following ingestion of only two bulbs, Duke concluded to eat the Star of Bethlehem he would need to be near starvation.

Symbolism: Value or Valuable

Value is an assigned or computed numerical quantity, or something intrinsically desirable.  In several places, Bible writers presented perspectives on what was valued and valuable.   Moses regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as more valuable than the treasures of Egypt (Hebrews 11:26).  Israelite proverbs says that kings value a man who speaks the truth (Proverbs 26:28) and the husband of a wife of noble character lacks nothing of value (Proverbs16:13). Christ told the parable of a man who searched for just the right pearl (Matthew 13:46).  When the man found the pearl of great value, he sold all his belongings and bought it.  This parable can be compared to a person seeking truth and meaning in life.  Once they find Christ, all possessions become secondary in value to following Christ.

God considers his people valuable.  Christ told his disciples to stop worrying about what they should eat or drink by using ravens as an example.  Ravens are a fairly large, black bird with a shrill voice and aggressive manner.  Ravens do not sow or reap, nor do they have storerooms or barns, yet, God feeds them.  Christ reminded and reassured his disciples that they were more valuable to God than birds, and that God will meet their needs (Luke 12:24, 30-31).

On another occasion, Christ’s teaching on what was valued and valuable was not meant to reassure.  At the time Christ was teaching about trust using the parable of the shrewd manager (Luke 16:1-14).  The Pharisees who loved money were listening and sneering at Jesus.  Aware of their actions and hearts, Christ said to them, “what is highly valued (e.g., money) among men is detestable in God’s sight” (Luke 16:15).  In another teaching, Christ likened money to a master or a god (Matthew 6: 24).  He told his disciples that they cannot serve both God and Money.

In Paul’s first letter to his beloved disciple Timothy, Paul reminded Timothy that “physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things” (1Timothy 4:8).  Once we are born in Christ, we no long live a life characterized by sin (1 John 3:9).  When we emulate Christ’s actions and obey God’s word, we train ourselves and God trains us to be godly.  Being godly is intrinsically desirable; it is valuable both in the present life we live and most assuredly in the life to come (1 Timothy 4:8).

Reflection.  What is valuable to you? Do you value your spouse, children, career, or home more than God?  Sometimes I worry that I value my husband more than my walk with God.  Monitoring our priorities is a continuous process.

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 May 19, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Elijah under the Broom Tree

Retama raetam, NKThe story of Elijah is told in 1 Kings with the specific story of Elijah and the broom tree in 1 Kings Chapter’s 18 and 19.

The Northern Kingdom had eight kings in its first 58 years as a nation.  This story about the great prophet Elijah occurred during the reign (874-853 B.C.) of King Ahab.  Ahab married Jezebel, daughter of the king of Sidon, who worshiped Baal.  Ahab built a temple to Baal and consecrated priests to serve Baal.

In an encounter between Elijah and King Ahab, Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal.  The challenge was to see which god — Baal or God — would answer his prophet(s).  Ahab took the challenge, gathered 450 Baal prophets, and met Elijah on Mount Carmel.  Many Israelites were present to watch the outcome.  Baal’s prophets placed a cut up bull on an altar of wood dedicated to Baal; the prophets called to Baal to ignite the sacrifice.  Despite entreating Baal from morning until evening and slashing themselves, the sacrifice to Baal did not catch on fire.

Elijah repaired God’s altar on Mount Carmel which had fall apart from disuse and neglect.  He arranged wood on the altar, cut a bull in pieces, and placed the pieces on the altar.  Massive amounts of water were poured over the bull and altar.  Elijah prayed naming God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.  He asked God to light the fire so a) the people would know that he did these things at God’s direction and b) to let the people know that the Lord was God.  Immediately, fire consumed Elijah’s sacrifice.  The people fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord – he is God!  The Lord – he is God!” (1 Kings 18:39).  Elijah commanded the people to seize the Baal’s prophets; they were taken to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered.

When King Ahab reported what happened to Queen Jezebel, she sent a messenger to Elijah that she would have him killed by that time tomorrow.  Instead of a day of triumph for Elijah, it became a day of terror.  He fled Samaria and ran over 100 miles to an area south of Beersheba in Judah.  Elijah came to a broom tree, sat down under it, and prayed that he would die.  Elijah was completely disheartened; finally he fell asleep.

While he was sleeping, an angel touched Elijah, and directed him to get up and eat.  Looking around, Elijah saw a cake of bread baked over embers and a jar of water.  Elijah ate and drank, then lay down again.  The angel came back a second time, touched Elijah and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you” (1 King 19:7).  Elijah rose, ate, and drank.  Strengthened by the food, Elijah traveled 40 days and nights until he reached Mount Horab, where God gave Moses the 10 Commandments.

In Biblical Israel, the white broom tree was used for kindling in cooking stoves and coals were made from its roots, trunks, and branches (Job 30:4).  Broom embers retain their heat for long periods after they appear to be dead ashes.  An ancient Israelite reading that on awakening Elijah saw bread baked on embers would have assumed the embers retained fire from an earlier traveler and were blown into heat to bake the bread.  Desert travelers have reported forming a layer of broom embers to suit their size. They covered the embers with a 2–4 inch layer of sand or fine soil.  The sand-cover embers provided a warm mattress during the cold desert night.  Perhaps Elijah had such a mattress as he slept under the broom tree.

The Broom Tree

The broom tree that Elijah rested under in the Negev was the Retama raetam, also known as the white broom and the white weeping broom tree).  The broom tree is thought to be indigenous to the Middle East, North Africa, and possibly Sicily.  In Israel, it is widespread in deserts including extreme deserts, shrub steppes, and Mediterranean woodlands.  Although called a tree, it is a shrub with a broad canopy. In Israel, the white broom tree is most beautiful between January and April when it is covered with a myriad of white flowers.  Flowers  emit a honey fragrance. At times seeds remain viable in the soil for several years until the seed coat wears down.  Mass germination can occur after a fire that destroys seed coats.  In Israel rabbits consume pods and have been known to disperse seeds up to 6.2 miles from parent plants.  Seeds can survive soil being mulched or composted.

Symbolism: Renewal

The symbolism of the broom tree is renewal.  With renewal comes a restoration of vigor and a new freshness; what is faded or disintegrated is made  whole. When Elijah arrived at the bloom tree, he was exhausted, depressed, and ready to die.  What was to be a victory for God and Elijah over Baal and his prophets turned into Elijah fleeing for his life from Jezebel and her henchmen.  If anyone needed to be renewed, it was Elijah.  The broom tree provided this renewal for Elijah.  If the shrub was blooming, Elijah would have seen thousands of tiny white blooms and smelled their soothing scent.  Sinking below the tree’s canopy, Elijah fell asleep on a soft bed of broom leaves. Warm embers under the sand may have helped maintain his warmth in the cool desert night.  The broom tree’s embers were used to bake a cake of bread for Elijah; and God provided Elijah water in the desert.

Just as God renewed Elijah using attributes of the broom tree, God’s renews us.  We are made new when we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior; however, God knew that after our new birth, we would need to be refreshed and restored to vigor from time-to-time.  For just these times, God had Isaiah write, “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. (Isaiah 40:31 2002).  When we hope in the Lord, we have confidence in him.  Having confidence in God can renew us so we can walk, run, and soar without collapsing from the weight of the world’s challenges.

Paul told Christians another way they could be renewed was to stop conforming to the patterns of this world (Roman 12:2).  Patterns of this world include being politically correct and not talking about God and religion, using Sunday morning to play golf or grocery shop without crowds rather than attending worship service, or believing that marriage is not a sacrament from God and divorce is a viable alternative to working through tough times.  In The Message, Peterson (2003, p. 343) puts renewal this way, “don’t become so well adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking”  instead fix your eyes on God and he will change you from the inside out.

Reflection:  God, I want so badly to be renewed, to be changed from the inside out.  I want to be different from this culture I live in.  Why should I feel comfortable in this society when my true home is heaven?

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 April 15, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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