Category Archives: Plants & the Promised Land

Nettles, Nuthin but a weed

Bible References: Job 30.7; Proverbs 24.30-31; Isaiah 34.13; Hosea 9.6; Zephaniah 2.9.

Nettles are a weed. Together with various underbrush, they comprise the short, scrubby plants in Holy Lands. Often, when reading the Bible, I thought that nettles was merely a synonym for  thorn or brier; however, various translators and scholars offered five times when Bible writers specified “nettles.”6,17,18 In each instance, the writer asssociated nettles with wastelands.

The first Bible writer to use “nettles” was Job. Job lived east of the Jordan River in Uz. Job documented haggared, hungry men, banished from society, huddled among nettles. In one Proverb, the sayings of the wise, the writer described lands of a sluggard: Where once there was a vineyard, the land was covered with nettles. Prophets, Isaiah, Hosea, and Zephaniah, foretold destruction of Edom, Northern Kingdom, Moab, and Ammon. Specifically, Bible prophets described that these kingdoms would become wastelands, with nettles growing in once-cultivated places.

Of the five references to nettles, I was intrigued with the one by  Zephaniah who wrote that Moab and Ammon would be places of nettles, a wasteland forever. Zephaniah declared that God heard Moab and Ammon’s  insults, taunts, and threats against Judah.  In retaliation for that behavior, Moab would become like Sodom and Ammon like Gomorrah.   Both would become places of nettles and salt pits.

In comparison to Sodom and Gomorrah, Moab and Ammon’s behavior didn’t seem that bad. Their sins were taunting and insulting Israelites and threatening to occupy Israelite territories. To understand the extent of Moab and Ammon’s taunts, read Ezekiel’s prophecy (chapter 5). According to Ezekiel, Ammon rejoiced when God’s sanctuary (Temple) was desecrated. When Moab saw Judah vulnerable and fall, they discounted Judah’s God.  Neither Moab nor Ammon recognized that Judah and God  were separate entities.

God’s declaration that Moab and Ammon would become like Sodom and Gomorrah should have disturbed Moabites and Ammonites.  Their ancestors (Lot and his daughters) once lived in Sodom.  Ancestral history would have included tales of God raining burning sulfur on the two cities.  The outcome was fiery destruction of the cities, people, and vegetation on the plain where cities were located.

The Plant

In present day Israel, five different types of nettles grow. Bible scholars aren’t positive which nettle Bible writers had in mind when they used “nettles.” Many botanists agree that Zephaniah’s nettle was the Urtica urens, known as the burning nettle, dwarf nettle, and small nettle.  Both the leaf blade and slender stalks grow stinging and non-stinging hairs. Stinging hairs are long, sometimes bristly. Prickly hairs contain two parts a) a softer vessel at the base and b) a minute tube-like structure tipped by a round bulb. When a hair contacts skin, the bulb breaks off, exposing a needle-like point. The point penetrates  skin and injects an irritating substance. The outcome is a burning dermatitis which can last more than twelve hours.  Burning can occur even after visible symptoms (redness, swelling) fade.

Symbolism

In Zephaniah’s prophecy against Moab and Ammon, the burning nettle symbolized burning and fire. Burning means to destroy by fire.3  Fire occurs from combustion of a fuel and results in light, flame, and heat.  In the Bible, sometimes fire and burning had a positive meaning, i.e., burning bush, the cloud of fire above the Tabernacle. At other times, the Bible depicts burning and fire as negative, i.e., they cause destruction. For example, Isaiah  prophesied that Judah, who rejected God, was to be destroyed in the same way that fire licks up straw and as dry grass sinks down in flames.

Sometimes I’m frightened when I hear or read of clergy, politicians, and ordinary citizens mocking and discounting God.  Equally, when the United States waffles in its support of Israel, I feel disquiet.  Do these individuals read Bible and secular history?  Do they know that Israel holds a special place in God’s eyes and heart?  God may punish  Israelites with burning fire; but, God will never reject them totally.  God’s plan is to redeem a remnant of Israelites. “At that time I will deal with all (nations) who oppress you” (Zephaniah 3.19 NIV).

Reflection: Have you ever felt oppressed? When? What was the situation? By whom? Are you a child of the living God? Have you considered that God is going to deal with individuals who oppress you?

Copyright 7/13/2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Madder Vine, Blowing in the Wind

Bible Reference: Exodus 1.15-20; Judges 10.1.

Some Bible persons were named after plants. Puah means madder in Hebrew. One of the Israelite midwives in Egypt was named Puah. We have little information about her, other than that she willfully disobeyed the pharaoh of Egypt to save Israelite newborn sons. In response to her brave actions, God gave Puah a family of her own. Tola’s father was named Puah. Tola was a judge for twenty-three years in early years after Israelites entered the Promised Land. Tola and his father, Puah, were from the tribe of Issachar.

The Plant

In Israel, madder is an evergreen perennial vine (Rubia tinctorial, R. tinctorium). Madder vines can reach a length of six feet; each vine is only about one-fourth inch in diameter. I planted madder seeds where they received afternoon sun. They grew vigorously. Roots ran under the ground to spring up as much as six-feet from the original planting site. Roots contain a compound, alizarin, that is brilliant red. At one time this compound was used to dye military jackets (red coats) of British soldiers. When animals eat roots, milk, urine and bones can turn red.

Supposedly, the madder plant climbs on trees and posts; however, I couldn’t train vines to climb a trellis. They just sprawled on soil, going in multiple directions. The vine wanted to take over the entire section of the garden. The madder vine feels rough. The feel comes from leaves which are prickly on the top. On the underside, leaves are covered with tiny spines which adds to their rough texture. Flowers aren’t distinctive, appearing yellow-green with five petals. Madder vine grows from seeds, produced in the fruit. Seeds are initially red, but turn black when mature.

The Message

The Hebrew word for Puah is puvvâh, from the primary root word, pâ’âh which means “to blow away” in the sense of scatter into corners. The symbolism of madder comes from its Hebrew root. In ancient Israel, the cycle of apostasy, repentance, and redemption presented in Judges was repeated for centuries. Finally, God scattered Israelites throughout Assyrian and Babylonian Empires.

Jesus gave listeners a powerful word on scattering. He said, “He who doesn’t gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12.30 NIV). If Christians don’t gather individuals into the kingdom of heaven, they are in effect allowing them to be scattered.

Reflection: At the end of each day, ask yourself if you gathered or scattered for God that day. When you stand before God’s judgement seat, how will you feel when you realize that some individuals aren’t there because of your lack of effort? You left them scattered in the world without Jesus.

Copyright: July 2, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Land Overgrown with Thistles

Bible Reference: Isaiah 32.13-14.

The globe thistle is frequently planted for its beauty. When we visited Greenbrier Resort in the West Virginia Appalachian Mountains, globe thistles were carefully cultivated in gardens.  Blossoms can be white, blue, or purple and looks like a three-dimensional globe.

In contrast to gardener’s deliberate planting of globe thistles is the way the globe thistle was used by Bible prophets in Judah and Israel. Isaiah prophesied that the land would be overgrown with thistles as fortresses were abandoned and citadels and watchtowers turned into wastelands.

A contemporary of Isaiah who lived in Israel (Northern Kingdom), the prophet Hosea predicted that  high places of idol worship would be destroyed. These altars will be abandoned and thistles will grow up and cover the altars. God planned to destroy the kingdom of Israel (Northern Kingdom) because of its idol worship and failure to obey God’s commandments. Hosea said that the Northern kingdom planted wickedness and reaped evil. They depended on their own strength, rather than God’s protection.

Globe Thistle

The genus of  Israelite globe thistles is Echinops. In Israel, the globe thistle is Echinops viscosus, commonly called viscous globe-thistle. Traditional Jewish texts claim that the E. viscosus was native to Palestine and Babylon. Several flower heads grow on each stem. In Israel, the color of most globe thistle flowers is metallic blue.  Heads are two-to-three inches in diameter. Globe thistle grows best in humid habitats such as treed hills, i.e., Mount Hermon, and Golan Heights. In present-day Israel, globe thistle blooms in June and July. As summer progresses, flowers turn tan/brown.

Application

As I studied “bad plants” in the Bible, I became fearful. Behaviors of both Northern and Southern Kingdom Israelites—idol worship, not caring for the poor, lack of justice in society and courts—have parallels in United States’ society in the twenty-first century. The difference is  names of these behaviors. We attempt to sanitize current behaviors by giving them politically correct names. We worship the idols of money which provide a big house, nice car, and a comfortable life style. We love the prestige of belonging to a country club, having a series of letters after our name, and working in academe or a well-known corporation. Those who have less money are “unfortunate,” sometimes even “unmotivated” because they didn’t work hard enough, plan, save, etc. White collar crime (embezzlement, lying to stock holders, misrepresenting on tax forms) often goes unpunished, or is under-punished, in comparison to outright burglary.

Reflection: Contemporary United States society isn’t all that different from the first millennium before Jesus in Israel. Ponder how God punished Judah/Jerusalem for discounting, even killing, his Son. Don’t you become concerned that God may punish the United States for discounting his Son? What can you do to stop this downward spiral from God in current society?

Copyright May 18, 2019; Carolyn Roth Ministry.

http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

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