Category Archives: Plants & the Promised Land

Punishment with Thistles

Bible  Reference: Judges 8.1-21.

God called Gideon to lead Israelites when Midianites and allies invaded the Promised Land. The Midianites were marauders who swarmed across Israel stripping bare farm lands. Gideon was from the Israelite tribe of Manasseh and lived west of the Jordan River.  Gideon and 300 men routed a massive force (over 100,000 swordsmen) of Midianites near Morah.

Midianites fled south along the Jordan River. Some crossed the Jordan River near the Jabbok River. Gideon and his 300 men pursued them and came to the town of Succoth, in the tribal lands of Gad. Gideon told Succoth elders he was pursuing two Midian kings, Zebah and Zalmunna. Gideon asked the town for  food for his worn-out men. Gideon had every expectation of receiving help from this Israelite town. All twelve Israelite tribes had pledged to assist each other in the face of foreign threats.

Not only did the elders of Succoth refuse Gideon food, they were  insolent in their refusal. Elders told Gideon that he assumed a victory over Midianite kings which may not occur. Succoth wasn’t about to assist Gideon and his small army. Apparently, Succoth elders feared reprisal from Midianites. Stop reading and think a minute. Would you have been angry with the Succoth officials? Would you have been able to restrain yourself from attacking them verbally or physically? Would you have wanted to strike out at these elders? I am offended on Gideon’s behalf.

Hearing Succoth elders’ refusal, Gideon promised that he would return and punish them. Gideon proceeded with his main goal. Gideon and men routed 15,000 Midianites at Karkor and later captured both kings. Returning from battle, Gideon learned names of the seventy-seven Succoth elders, who had refused bread to his army. Then, Gideon went to Succoth, captured town elders, and punished them with desert thorns and briers.

Historical writers claimed that when thorns and briers were used as punishment, men were stripped of clothes. Thorns and briers were placed on both sides of their bared bodies. Then, heavy sledges (sleighs) were pressed on thorns and pulled across bodies so the skin was severely torn. Considering that Succoth elders refused food to the pursuing Israelite soldiers, they vigorously applied punishment to Succoth elders. Every time I read this story, I want to say, “You go, Gideon.”

In the episode of Gideon and Succoth elders, most likely thistles were the Syrian thistle (Notobasis syriaca or Cirsium syriacum). The Syrian thistle is native to Middle Eastern countries. It is an annual plant that grows in semi-desert areas. In Israel, it grows throughout the entire country including the desert south. Often, Syrian thistles are found in disturbed lands, i.e., sides of roads and construction sites. Leaves are deeply lobed and gray-green in color with white veins. Leaves have sharp spines on both leaf margins and apices (apexes). At times, leaves look more like spines than leaf blades. Flowers are purple and attractive.

At Succoth, the Syrian thistle symbolized retribution. Retribution is dispensing or receiving reward or punishment. Retribution is given or exacted in recompense for words or actions.3 Retribution is often confused with revenge, which means to avenge oneself usually by retaliating in kind.3 Although retribution and revenge are sometime confused, retribution includes justice.

In the United States, we have a judicial system where individuals stand trial for offenses against civil laws. The judicial system doesn’t exact revenge for persons who were harmed. Rather, the judicial system punishes individuals who break the law. Judicial punishment isn’t revenge, but, retribution because it includes justice.

I am fairly sure that if Gideon didn’t take retribution on Sukkoth elders, God would have repaid them for their fear and selfishness. Jeremiah wrote that God is a God of retribution and that God will repay in full.

The Old Testament stated that the Israelites weren’t to seek revenge or bear a grudge. They were to love their neighbors as they loved themselves. Neighbors included not only Israelites who lived near-by, but those who lived far distances, i.e.,  Succoth in the territory of Gad east of the Jordan River. Saint Paul directed New Testament Christians to not take revenge on those who persecuted them; rather, Christians are to leave room for God’s wrath. So much for my “You go, Gideon.”

Reflection: We don’t know what Gideon felt and thought when he punished the Succoth elders with thistles. Hopefully, he was exacting retribution, not revenge,  from them. There is no record that God was displeased with Gideon’s actions. What do you think—retribution or revenge?

Copyright May 2019; Carolyn Adams Roth

Thorn Tree Challenge

Bible References: Judges chapter 9.

Ziziphus spina-christi tree. Photo taken in Israel.

Jotham was the youngest son of Gideon, who judged Israel between 1162–1122 BC. One of the many positive characteristics of Gideon was that he refused to be king over Israelites after he defeated the Midianites. His words were, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you” (Judges 8.23 NIV). Gideon was from the tribe of Manasseh and lived on the west side of the Jordan River. He had seventy sons by his wives and one son, Abimelech, by his concubine. Abimelech lived with his mother’s people in Shechem.

After Gideon’s death, Abimelech negotiated with men of Shechem to make him king. Abimelech and a group of paid adventurers murdered Gideon’s legitimate sons with the exception of the youngest, Jotham. On the day that Abimelech was crowned king, Jotham climbed Mount Gerizim and loudly proclaimed a parable to the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo over whom Abimelech was to rule.

Jotham began the parable by saying, “One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves” (Judges 9.8 NIV). The parable continued as trees said to the olive tree, “Come be our king.” The olive tree declined, as did the fig tree and vine. Finally, the trees said to the thorn bush, “Come be our king” (Judges 9.14 NIV). The thorn bush responded, “If you really want to anoint me king over you, come and take refuge in my shade, but if not, then let fire come out of the thorn bush and consume the cedars of Lebanon” (Judges 9.16 NIV).

Then, Jotham challenged the men of Shechem, asking whether or not they acted honorable and in good faith to Gideon’s family, the same Gideon who saved them from Midianites. If their answer was “Yes,” Jotham wished them joy in Abimelech’s kingship. If their answer was “No,” then Jotham’s curse was that Abimelech and the citizens consume each other with fire. After telling this parable and giving this curse, Jotham fled the area.

Abimelech ruled area towns and surrounding lands for  three years. Then, God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the people he ruled, most notably Shechemites. The result was that Abimelech attacked and destroyed Shechem. He attacked Thebez, another city in his kingdom. In the attack Abimelech was killed. When Abimelech’s men saw that he was dead, they went home. This story’s concluded that God repaid the wickedness that Abimelech did to his brothers and made the men of Shechem pay for their wickedness.

In his parable Jotham compared Abimelech to a thorn tree. Israel and Middle East botanists identify the thorn tree as the Ziziphus spina-christi tree. In Israel, this  tree is widely distributed in warm valleys and desert oases. The Z. spina-christi is larger than most fruit trees native to Israel. It has a deep and wide-spreading root system. This root system can leach nourishment from surrounding soil. For an orchard to succeed, farmers must first remove all Z. spina-christi prior to planting fruit trees.

Each leaf has a pair of stipules at its base which turn into thorns. One hard thorn is straight, while the other is hooked. The fruit is yellow and small, about one inch in diameter. Each fruit contains a large stone (pit) in the center which is surrounded by a fleshy pulp. Although not very tasty, fruit is eaten by people living in poverty. Fruit is best eaten green and tastes like sour apples. Sometimes, fruit pulp was made into bread.10

The Hebrew word used for thorn tree, âtâd, is derived from an unused root meaning “to pierce.”6 Jotham pierced the conscience of the men of Shechem and Beth Millo, when he asked them if they acted honorably to Gideon’s family. Jotham’s words penetrated their thoughts when he included in his parable the thorn tree’s request that other trees come and rest in its shade. In ancient times, resting in the shade of a king was a common metaphor that referred to a king providing protection for his people. Yet, farmers and travelers among Jotham’s hearers knew it was difficult to rest in the shade of the Z. spina-christi. Often, long hanging intertwined thorn branches made the area under the tree inaccessible.

Figure 3.3, Ziziphus spina-christi (Thorn Tree).

The Israelites had a proverb, “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12.18 NIV). Jotham’s parable wasn’t reckless; but, his words pierced his listeners like a sword. Hearing piercing words isn’t always bad. At times, we need to hear words that pierce our conscious, heart, or soul. Frequently, it is easy to accept piercing words from a pastor or friend. It is harder to accept them from an un-friend. Because they are not-friends, we easily discount their words, when what they say may be spot on.

When I was in the work world, I dreaded annual evaluations. Even when the evaluative comments were constructive and kind overall, I cringed when they were offered. At times, I discounted the comments or rationalized my behavior. Now, I know that my attitude was wrong. I should have accepted the comments, carefully evaluating each so that I could grow and accommodate myself to the environment in which I worked.

Reflection: In Jotham’s parable, several trees/plants refused to be king. What about you? Are you working to be at the top of the decision-making tree? What is the down side of being in charge?

Honestly, evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and decide if you have characteristics to be in charge.

Copyright 1, 22, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Date Palm, Thorny Tree in Ancient Israel

Bible References: Judges chapters 4 and 6.

Before Israelites entered the promised land, Moses told them that it would be filled with milk and honey. Contrary to common belief, most honey-like substance wasn’t produced by bees. Rather, honey was syrup preserved from dates on date palm trees. When Israelites entered the Promised Land, the palm tree was the Phoenix dactylifera.

Deborah was a prophetess and judge over Israel in Canaan. Deborah heard messages from God and transmitted them to Israelites. She settled difficult (mostly legal) cases among individuals, led Israelites in war against enemies, and attempted to keep them from turning to idolatry.  From the tribe of Ephraim, Deborah held court under a palm tree in the hill country between Ramah and Bethel. The site was called the Palm of Deborah.

At the time that Deborah was judging Israel, Israelites had been oppressed for twenty years by Canaanite king Jabin, from the city of  Hazor. God instructed Deborah that Jabin’s yoke of tyranny was to be thrown off under the military leadership of Barak, a man from the tribe of Naphtali. Deborah recruited Barak for this leadership role.

Barak gathered Israelite troops on Mount Tabor, a hill in the Jezreel Valley. The Kishon River passed through the Jezreel Valley. God lured Sisera to the Jezreel Valley by allowing Sisera (Jabin’s war commander) to learn that Barak’s army was camped on Mount Tabor. Probably,  Sisera approached this battle with confidence. After all his army possessed 900 horse-drawn chariots. The flat Jezreel Valley was an ideal place to maximize the advantage of chariots against Israelite foot soldiers; however, Sisera didn’t count on God’s intervention.

God caused a heavy down pour of rain. The result was the Kishon River flooding into the Jezreel Valley making it a muddy quagmire. Sisera’s chariots couldn’t maneuver in the mud. Sisera and troops were killed. The Israelites grew stronger and eventually destroyed King Jabin and obtained  access to the fertile Jezreel Valley.

In the Hebrew language tōmer means palm trunk or tree; tōmer is derived from a root word meaning “to be erect.”  Usually, date palms are thirty-to-sixty-five-feet tall, but at times grew up to 100-feet tall. The P. dactylifera has only a single point of growth – the terminal bud. If the terminal bud is removed, the tree will die. Palm tree leaves (called fronds and branches) grow from near the tree top (crown), resembling an umbrella at the top of the long, slender handle. Each year palm trees grow a new group of leaves. Palm fronds further down tree trunks turned brown and drop from trees. This date palm tree is an evergreen. The date palm tree bears spines/thorns four-to-six inches long.9

About 500 AD date palm trees (P. dactylifera) died or were destroyed in Israel, however, trees remained in large numbers in Syria. Currently, date palm trees growing in Israel were imported from surrounding countries.

To ancient Israelites and early Christians, the date palm tree and/or its branches represented peace, plenty and fruitfulness, grace and elegance, majesty, and military triumph. Crowds waved palm tree fronds to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem at the beginning of the Passover Festival.

Juxtaposition to these positive perspectives is the presence of thorns on palm fronds. Just as the acacia tree used to build the tabernacle had thorns, so did the palm tree under which Deborah acted as judge. When the Israelites didn’t exhibit God’s justice, i.e., God punished them. Their land became thorn-filled and foreign armies decimated it.

Three millennia after Deborah dispensed justice for Israelites. God still expects his people to exhibit justice. For Christians this means that we need to think critically about the meaning of justice and how to act justly. Some synonyms of justice are fairness, evenhanded, honesty, and integrity.3 Are we just persons? Do we show partiality by talking and acting differently around pastors versus our friends and relatives?  Are we assertive, even aggressive, in our work situation, yet act humbly in Church meetings or Bible study groups? The prophet Micah asked: “What does the Lord require of you?” (Micah 6.8 NIV). Then, Micah answered his own question with, “To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Reflection: Think about your behavior today, or if it is early morning, about your behavior yesterday. Did you act justly to people you came into contact with? Did you show mercy to people in your life, particularly your spouse and children? Name one occasion when you acted humbly to others and one when you were humble before  God.

Copyright January 22, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Camel Thorn, Persian Manna

References: Although there are no references to the plant “camel thorn” in the Bible as today’s Christians have a copy, Goodspeed substitutes “camel thorn” in a Ecclesiastes reference.

Camel thorn (Alhagi maurorum) is a type of legume native to the Mediterranean Sea Basin, extending into Russia. It has been introduced into Australia, southern Africa and western United States. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, currently, camel thorn does not grow east of the Mississippi River. In western United States, camel thorn is often identified as an invasive species.

At the same time, the flower is beautiful: a small, bright pink to maroon pea flowers and small legume pods.  In Israel, flowers bloom April – September, indicating that camel thorn is hardy because it grows in the heat of Israeli summers. Pilgrims to Israel will see if growing in woodlands, shrublands, steppe, and even into the desert. Because camel thorn appreciates a salty habitat, it can grow on the seashore. It grows best next to a source of water, such as an irrigation ditch.

Pods are brown or reddish and seeds are mottled brown beans. Camel thorn is a perennial with a massive rhizome system which may extend over six feet into the ground. New shoots can appear over 20 feet from the parent plant. Above the ground, the plant rarely reaches four feet in height. It is a heavily branched, gray-green thicket with long spines along the branches.

Uses: In folk medicine camel thorn has been used to treat glandular tumors, nasal polyps, and ailments related to the bile ducts. It is used as a medicinal herb for its gastroprotective, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, laxative, anti-diarrhal and antiseptic properties, and in the treatment of rheumatism and hemorrhoids. I am not sure which parts of the plant are used in these treatments; however, I would be reluctant to take appreciable amounts internally. In the other hand, in the Qur’an, camel thorn is identified as a source of  sweet Manna, thus has been used as sweetener. Animals cannot forage eat the plant despite its ready invasion of grazing land. Despite being named after the camel, camels do not normally forage on this plant.

Reflection: Not all plants God put on earth can be used for food for either man nor animals. Do you ever wonder why God put them on earth? Perhaps, originally a plant such as camel thorn had a good used but with Adam and Eve’s sin, it was also corrupted. Saint Paul wrote that even creation groans under the weight of man’s sins.

Copyright: February 20, 2018; Carolyn Adams Roth

Visit my blog to learn more about plants: http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

World’s Strongest Man

Thymelea hirsute, yitranBible Reference: Judges Chapters 13-16.

The well-known judge Samson was from the tribe of Dan; however, few Danites lived in the allocated tribal lands northwest of Judah. Most Danites had moved north to the base of Mount Hermon because they could not seize their allocated land from the Philistines.  God sent the angel of the Lord to announce Samson’s birth to his parents. The angel told them that Samson should be a Nazirite (Numbers 6: 1-21). Nazirite means “separated” or “dedicated” and included that Nazirites abstain from any product made from grapes, e.g. wine, raisins. Nazirites could not use a razor on their head or cut their hair; nor could they go near a dead body, animal or human.

When Samson was born, the Philistines had been oppressing Israel for 40 years (Judges 13:1).  From adulthood until his death, Samson achieved single-handed triumphs over the Philistines. Although Samson was a heroic figure, his personal life was a tragedy. Samson’s downfall was his preference for immoral women. First, Samson married a Philistine woman who betrayed him; this woman was killed by the Philistines. Second, he had a liaison with a prostitute. Finally, he fell in love with Delilah who betrayed him into the hands of the Philistines.

Delilah made an agreement with the Philistines that for a large sum of money she would disclose the source of Samson extraordinary strength. After much cajolery, Samson told Delilah that if he was tied with seven fresh, never dried, thongs (braided rope), he would become as weak as other men (Judges 16: 7–9).  Accessing seven fresh thongs was a significant challenge. The noted Israeli botanist, Hogah Hareuveni  (1989) proposed that the throngs or ropes that Samson identified were made from the Thymelaea hirsute plant, known in Hebrew as yitran. Yitran did not grow in the Valley of Sorek where Delilah lived. Yitran would have been available in local markets; however, it would have been dried not fresh. To make fresh yitran thongs, the Philistines had to cut and bring fresh yitran bark from the Mediterranean Sea coast.  Highest quality yitran bark was needed so the thongs would be strong.  The yitran had to be smooth, without twigs, so that it could be braided into rope.

The book of Judges tells the reader that the Philistines brought Delilah seven thongs and Delilah tied Samson with them. With Philistines hidden in an adjoining room, Delilah called to Samson, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you.” Samson snapped the yitran thongs and killed his attackers so the secret of Samson’s strength was not tied to yitran rope.

Eventually, Samson became weary of Delilah’s pleas to tell her the real source of his strength. Samson’s disclosed that his strength lay in his hair. Delilah cut Samson’s hair and the Philistines captured him. They gouged out Samson’s eyes, bound him in bronze shackles and set him to grinding grain in prison. Surprisingly the Philistines did not keep Samson’s head shaved. Over time his hair grew back.  When the Philistines assembled to celebrate the delivery of Samson into their hands, they brought Samson to exhibit to the crowds. Samson requested the servant who accompanied him to place him between two main temple pillars. There Samson prayed to God for return of his strength. God heard Samson prayer and gave him the strength to push the two pillars down. The result was that Samson razed the temple by knocking the pillars over. More than 3000 Philistines were killed that day as was Samson.

The Yitran Plant

The Thymelaea hirsute (also spelled hirsuta) is known as yitran to Hebrews and as mitran to Arabs.  Yitran is a perennial, evergreen shrub that grows profusely in the Mediterranean coastal plan and in the Sinai Peninsula. The yitran’s root penetrates deep into the soil allowing the plant to remain green throughout the year even in desert areas. Older and well watered yitran grows as tall as 6 feet.  Branches and stems can spread or trail and whip rapidly in the breeze. Branch configuration gives yitran a bow shape.  When yitran branches are rubbed or when the bark is peeled to make ropes, the yitran bush gives off a diffuse sulfurous odor. Stems are densely packed on branches. Yitran branches were and are today braided into a cable-type rope. Ropes are strong enough to haul a full-sized man out of a well, secure a tent during a sandstorm, and yoke camels.  When camel yokes are made row-upon-row of twisted inner bark of fresh yitran branches are braided. Philistines would have been aware of the strength of seven braided thongs of yitran; thus, they accepted that binding Samson with freshly braided yitran was a way of defeating his strength.

Symbolism of Yitran Rope

The yitran plant is associated with strength and no Bible character had more physical strength than Samson.  From his conception God sat Samson apart to act as a judge over Israel using his physical strength; however, Samson’s behavior suggested that he forgot the origin of his strength. In reality it was not from long hair – many individuals have long hair and they are not necessarily strong. Samson’s physical strength was from God.  When Samson placed his love for Delilah over his devotion to God, Samson lost God’s presence and strength. The Psalms recorded that God is the origin of individual strength, e.g., and no warrior escapes by his (own) great strength (Psalms 33:16), God is our strength and shield (Psalm 28:7); the Lord gives strength to his people (Psalm 29:11).

Sometimes I wonder if God gets tired of my asking him for strength to do or be something.  As I was preparing this entry, I turned to Isaiah 40 and found that I had underlined verse 27. The verse was dated about seven years ago and my note beside it was “I’ve felt that way.”  Verse 27 reads:  Why do you ….   complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God?” If Isaiah was writing today, he would identify the Israelites as asking “Do you see my life, God? Do you hear me?”

God answered Israel’s plea for his attention with this assurance: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired and weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (Isaiah 40:28–29).

When Samson was tired and weak, he asked God to give him strength so that he could destroy the Philistines even if it meant his own death (Judges 16:17-30). This was the first time Samson prayed before he judged the Philistines.  It took Samson many years and much heartache before he realized that he must rely not just on his own strength, but on God’s strength.

Thought: The Bible never recorded, “God helps those who help themselves.”   It’s okay if we rely on God’s strength.  In fact He prefers it that way.

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, 2014: Carolyn A. Roth

Save

The Oak of Joshua

Quercus calliprinos (2)Read Joshua chapter 24, particularly verses 25 and 26.

God gave Joshua leadership of the Israelites on the west side of the Jordan River (1406 BC).  He was from the tribe of Ephraim, the second son of Joseph. Joshua was their military commander as the Israelites conquered all the land that the Lord swore to give their forefathers (Joshua 21: 43). Joshua administered the division of the land on both sides of the Jordan to the 12 tribes of Israel. He asked for only one town in the division of land. That town was Timnath Serah, located in the hill country of Ephraim north of Mount Gaash (Genesis 19:50; 24:30). Joshua died when he was 110 years old and was buried at Timnath Serah (Genesis 24:29). To ancient peoples particularly the Egyptians, 110 years was considered an ideal life span.

Near the end of his life, Joshua assembled the elders, leaders, judges, and officials of the tribes of Israel at Shechem (Joshua chapter 24). Joshua reviewed for the assembly how God a) led the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt, b) was with them in the wilderness of Sinai, c) delivered them out of the hand of the Amorite king Balik, d) and gave them victory over their enemies in the Promised Land. Then, Joshua asked the assembly to choose which god they would serve. Would they serve the gods of their forefathers beyond the river or the gods of the land in which they were living or would they serve the Lord? Joshua ended his inquiry with the words that many Christians have memorized or have as mottos in their homes, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

Firmly, the assembled Israelites averred to Joshua that they “will serve the Lord our God and obey him” (Joshua 24:24). In response Joshua made a covenant for the Israelites at Shechem. The covenant consisted of a pledge the Israelites made to serve God and follow his decrees and laws. Joshua recorded the Israelite’s pledges and God’s laws and decrees in a book called “The Book of the Law of God.” Then, Joshua took a large stone and set it up under an oak tree and told the assembly, “See this stone… will be witness against you if you are untrue to God” (Joshua 24:26-27).

The Palestinian Oak Tree

Quercus calliprinos with Bruce

The tree associated with Joshua is the Palestine oak (Quercus calliprinos) also called the Kermes Oak. Quercus calliprinos is the most common tree found in the wildlife of Israel. A Palestinian oak near Hebron, called Abraham’s Oak, is thought to be 850 + years old.  At one time in Israel, oaks were an important source of hard wood. Oak trunks and branches were used to build ships and make shanks for plough, yoke for oxen, and canes for elderly. In times of famine, acorns were roasted and eaten by the very poor. Oak trees were and are a source of tannin, a substance used for tanning hides and leather.

Symbolism: Providence

In the Bible, oaks were associated with strength and long life. At times, oak groves were places were pagan gods were worshiped (Ezekiel 6:3). The Hebrew name for oak is derived from the word “providence” meaning divine guidance.  Providence is an attribute of God and frequently associated with God’s ability to see ahead. For Jewish people, providence meant that God directed every detail of creation including the life of the Jewish nation and the lives of individual Jews. God expected that Jewish leaders would consult him before they acted. II Kings 16:15 reads that Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord’s decrees and laws and consulted a medium for guidance rather than God.

Providence is the opposite of “chance,” “fortune,” or “luck.” Christians believe in God’s special providence and his extraordinary interventions into their lives. Blessings provided by others to Christians, e.g., the church, government, employer and families, are directed by God and provided only thorough him. God’s divine guidance directs Christian’s selection of vocation and participation in activities, e.g., church activities. As such, Christians shouldn’t evaluate one job, vocation, or role in the church more or less important than another. Rather, Christians acknowledge God’s divine foresight and guidance in the development of diverse skills and talents both in themselves and in the body of Christ.

Thought: Isn’t it amazing that our Abba, or Daddy, who calls each star in the universe by name, also calls each one of us by name? God cares about us to the extent that he knows the number of hairs on each of our heads (Matthew 10:30). To God, nothing is large or small.

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, 2014, Carolyn A. Roth

Save

Cowards Punished with Thistles

Notobasis syriaca

The episode of Succoth refusing to assist Gideon and his punishment of them is in Judges chapter 8:1-21.

God called Gideon to judge Israel when the Midianites and allies invaded the land. The Midianite army was marauders who swarmed across Israel stripping the farm land bare. Gideon was from the tribe of Manasseh which held land on both the east and west side of the Jordan River. Gideon’s home was Ophrah, a town southeast of the hill of Moreh on the west side of the Jordan.  

Prior to the incident at Succoth, Gideon and 300 men routed a massive force (over 100,000 swordsmen) of Midianites near Morah. The Midianites fled south along the Jordan River. Some crossed the River in the area of Succoth and Peniel near the Jabbok River. Gideon and his 300 men pursued them and came to the town of Succoth, in the tribal lands of Gad. Gideon told the elders of Succoth that he was pursuing two Midian kings, Zebah and Zalmunna, and asked for bread for his worn-out men. The elders of Succoth refused to give Gideon any provisions and were insolent in their refusal saying that Gideon and his men were assuming a victory that was not yet realized. Possibly, the Succoth elders were unsure that Gideon would defeat the Midianite kings. They feared reprisal from the kings. Hearing the Succoth elder’s refusal, Gideon promised that he would tear their flesh with desert thorns and briers when he returned. 

Gideon and his 300 men routed Zebah and Zalmunna and 15,000 Midianites at Karkor and later captured both of them. Returning from battle, Gideon captured a young man of Succoth and learned the names of the 77 elders of Succoth who refused bread to him and his men. Gideon proceeded to Succoth, took the elders of the town, and punished them with desert thorns and briers. The Bible does not describe how the elders were punished, but historical writers’ claimed that when thorns and briers were used as punishment, men were stripped of clothes. Thorns and briers were placed on both sides of their body; heavy sledges (sleighs) were pressed on thorns and pulled across the body so the skin was severely torn. Considering the Succoth elders refused food to the pursuing Israelites, their punishment would have been severe and probably eagerly applied by the Israelite soldiers.

The Syrian Thistle

The thorn described in the episode of Gideon and the elders of Succoth is thought to be the  Syrian thistle. The Syrian thistle is native to Middle Eastern countries and southern Europe. It is an annual plant that belongs to the semi-desert flora. In Israel it grows throughout the entire country including the desert south. The Syrian thistle is often found in disturbed lands, e.g., sides of road and construction sites.  Leaf margins or edges are deeply lobed and gray-green in color with white veins. Leaves have sharp spines on both the leaf margins and the apex; at times leaves look more like spines than leaf blades. Israeli researchers suggested that over centuries or millennia, leaves developed into spines as a protection against mammalian grazers.

Symbolism: Retribution

The Syrian thistle symbolized retribution in the episode at Succoth. Retribution is the dispensing or receiving of reward or punishment; or something given or exacted in recompense. Retribution is often confused with revenge, which means to avenge oneself usually by retaliating in kind, e.g., to inflict injury in return for an insult. Although retribution and revenge have many of the same synonyms, e.g., retribution includes the synonyms a reckoning and justice.  

In the United States we have a judicial system where men and women stand trial for offenses against the civil laws. The purpose of the judicial system is not to exact revenge for persons who were harmed. Rather the judicial system punishes individuals who break the law. Judicial punishment is not revenge, but retribution because it includes justice.

I am fairly sure that if Gideon had not taken retribution on the elders of Succoth, God would have repaid them for their fear and selfishness. Jeremiah wrote that God is a God of retribution and that God will repay in full (Jeremiah 51:56).

The Old Testament stated that the Israelites were not to seek revenge or bear a grudge against their people (Leviticus 19:18). They were to love their neighbors as they loved themselves. Neighbors included not only Israelites who lived near-by, but those who lived far distances, e.g., Succoth in the territory of Gad. Saint Paul wrote to New Testament Christians not to take revenge on those who persecuted them (Romans 12:14, 19); rather, Christians were to leave room for God’s wrath.

We do not know what Gideon was feeling and thinking when he punished the Succoth elders with thorns. Hopefully, he was exacting retribution, not revenge,  from the elders of Succoth for refusing to feed his weary, hungry men. There is no record that God was displeased with Gideon’s actions.

Reflection.  Retribution and revenge are inextricably tied together. Often it is not possible to determine if individuals are exacting retribution or revenge. Ideally, God’s people will followed God advice and let him apply vengeance for what is done against them.   

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 August 23, 2013, Carolyn A. Roth