Category Archives: Plants & the Promised Land

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

Copyright August 23, 2013, Carolyn A. Roth

Samson Secured with Yitran Rope

Thymelea hirsute, yitranRead about Samson in Judges Chapters 13-16.

The well-known judge Samson is the final character described in Plants and the Promised Land. Samson was a judge over Israel for 20 years between 1075-1055 B.C.  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.

The T. 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 (Hareuveni, 1989). 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.

Reflection: 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

Copyright July 25, 2011; Carolyn A. Roth; all rights reserved.



Ruth and Barley Grain

Hordeum vulgareRead the four chapters in the book of Ruth.

Ruth and barley  is the topic of the fifth plant included under Plants and the Promised Land. The book of Ruth described day-to-day life during a period of the Judges when there was peace between Israel and Moab. The book begins with Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons (Mahlon and Kilion) leaving Bethlehem and moving to Moab because there was a famine in Bethlehem. In Moab Elimelech died and Mahlon and Kilion married Moabite women; Mahlon married Ruth and Kilion married Orphah. After about ten years, Mahlon and Kilion died and Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem. Naomi encouraged both daughters-in-law to return to their Moabite family. Orphah did so; however, because of her love for Naomi, Ruth determined to remain with Naomi.

Naomi and Ruth returned to Bethlehem at the time of the spring barley harvest. To have bread, Ruth went to the barley fields and gleaned grain leftover from the harvested fields. Ruth gleaned in fields owned by Boaz, a wealthy kinsman of Elimelech. Aware of Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi, Boaz encouraged Ruth to glean in his fields where she would be safe. Boaz told his men to pull extra sheaves from their bundles for Ruth to pick up.

Ruth continued to glean in Boaz’s fields until the barley and wheat harvests were completed and threshing started. Boaz and his men often stayed at the threshing floor during the night. One night Noami instructed Ruth to go to the threshing floor and after Boaz was asleep to lie at his feet. Ruth did as instructed. During the night Boaz woke, found a woman at his feet, and inquired who she was. Ruth identified herself and told Boaz that he was a kinsman-redeemer. Under Levirate law (Deuteronomy 25:5-6) a kinsman-redeemer was the nearest male family member of a woman whose husband died. The kinsman-redeemer had the responsibility of marrying the widow. The couple’s first son took ownership of the dead man’s property; thus, land remained in the clan or tribe. Mahlon’s inheritance needed to be secured by a kinsman marring Ruth. The Bible described Boaz as present while the grain was threshed, even spending the night on the threshing floor (Ruth 3:7).  His presence at the threshing floor supports his character as a good steward of his land and crops.

Boaz told Ruth that there was a nearer kinsman-redeemer than himself; however, if that man would not meet the responsibilities of a kinsman-redeemer to Ruth, he would do so. Early the next morning Boaz sent Ruth away with a gift of a large quantity of barley. That same day Boaz asked the next-of-kin if he would redeem Elimelech’s land and marry Mahlon’s widow. The man declined saying that acting as kinsman-redeemer to Ruth might endanger his own estate. The role of Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer transferred to Boaz. Boaz married Ruth who conceived and gave birth to a son named Obed. Ruth was the great grandmother of King David and an ancestor of Christ (Matthew 1:1 – 16).

What is Barley?

Barley was a sustaining food source from earliest times.  Accepted theory is that barley was domesticated in the Fertile Crescent which encompassed Canaan and the Promised Land. The earliest remains of wild barley (Hordeum spontaneum) were discovered in Iran and Syria around 8000 B.C. Domesticated barley, Hordeum vulgare, has six rows of kernels per spike and dates from 7000 – 6000 B.C. Barley is a small grain cereal used for human food, livestock feed, and malting into alcohol. For Hebrews, barley was a food staple for several reasons. First, barley was less expensive to purchase than wheat (II Kings 7:1). Second, barley was drought resistant and tolerant of both alkaline and saline soils; therefore, could grow in the diverse habitats of the Promised Land. Third, normally barley took 90 – 120 days to ripen; however, it could ripen in as few as 60 – 70 days.

Symbolism of Barley:First Fruits

Barley is mentioned repeatedly as a food source in Israel; barley bread and cereal were primary foods of poor Israelites. The Midianites referred to Israelites as “cakes of barley” (Judges 7:13), a scornful term because barley was considered an inferior grain when compared to wheat. Even today Arabs use the term “cakes of barley” in reference to Israelites.

Barley is synonymous with first fruits. In ancient Israel, God’s annual Feasts revolved around the harvest cycle. The Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread occurred near the barley harvest in Abib, the first month of the Hebrew calendar. Israelites were required to present a sheaf of the first grain harvested to their priest. The priest waved the barley sheaf before God, a wave offering thanking God for providing the harvest (Leviticus 23:4 –14). The field that produced the first green barley ears provided the wave sheaf. Once the wave sheaf was offered, barley harvesting could begin elsewhere in the community.

Both Israel and Christians are God’s first fruits. Jeremiah (2:3) recorded God as saying that Israel was the first fruits of His harvest. In the New Testament, Christ who rose from the dead was identified as the first fruit of those who are asleep (I Corinthians 15:20). Christians have the first fruits of the Holy Spirit living in them (Romans 8:23).  At the final resurrection, Christians’ bodies will be redeemed by Christ and raised just as Christ’s body rose from the grave (I Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Israelites demonstrated their thanks for the harvest by giving first fruits to God. In the same way Christians are called to give the first fruits of their labors to God. I have heard that giving the first fruits of our labors to God is an Old Testament commandment not relevant to Christians living under grace. Yet, Christ himself lived under the law and said that he came to fulfill the law not abolish it (Matthew 5:17). Surely, first fruit sacrifices that the Israelites made under the law should be matched, or even exceeded, by Christians who live under grace.

I find it easy to give the first fruits of my money to God. I have a lot more trouble giving the first fruits of my time to God. I have so many things to do with my time; e.g., part time job, husband, house and garden. These activities do not sound all that time consuming when compared to demands of working women with children; yet, my days are filled. I have to consciously schedule church activities on my calendar. I need to agree with God that he deserves my time as much as He deserves my money.

Reflection: With all his wealth, God does not need anything from us. God’s commandment to give Him our first fruits (time, talent and treasury) was designed so that He can shower blessings on us (Malachi 3:10). Are you giving the first fruits of your life to God?

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

Copyright: June 16, 2011, Carolyn A. Roth; all rights reserved.



Joshua & the Henbane

Hyoscyamus aureus

Read Joshua chapter 15.

While in Israel and Jordan, I became aware of the number of regions and cities that were named after plants. As a result, I am adding an additional plant – the golden henbane to the list of Plants and the Promised Land.  The Hebrew word for henbane is shikkeron (or less often shikrona).  Shikkeron is identified in the Bible only in the book of Joshua (Joshua 15:11).

The distribution of the Promised Land on the west side of the Jordan was determined by lot. The tribe of Judah received the first allocation of land. The size of each tribe’s territory was according to the tribe’s population. The largest tribe among the 12 tribes of Israel, Judah numbered over 76,000 warriors. God set the boundaries for the Promised Land lands that each tribe was to conquer and retain.

When Joshua described the borders of Judah, the detailed description of the northern border (Joshua 14:5 -11), included that it “went to the northern slope of Ekron, turned toward (or bent around) to Shikkeron, passed along to Mount Baalah and reached Jabneel.” The northern boundary ended at the Mediterranean Sea on the east.  Shikkeron was not identified as one of the towns or cities that Judah was to occupy (Judah 15: 20 – 63); consequently, it may have been a small village or an identifiable site rather than a town.  A map of Judah showed that Shikkeron was located on an arc that connected two hills (Ekron and Baalah) which were about 6 – 8 miles apart.

God wanted Shikkeron to be part of Judah rather than the tribe of Dan which was allocated land on the northwest border of Judah (Joshua 19:40–48). The Books of Joshua and Judges revealed that the Danites had difficulty taking possession of their territory from the Amorites (Joshua 19:47; Judges 1: 34). Eventually, many Danites abandoned their assigned land northwest of Judah. They moved to the far northern portion of Canaan near the tributaries of the Jordan River (Judges Chapter 18).  There they rapidly turned to idolatry. Overall it was better for Shikkeron to belong to Judah than to Dan. Judah maintained itself as an intact kingdom for  approximate 900 years.

Golden Henbane

Five species of Hyoscyamus grow in Israel; however, the Shikkeron sited in Joshua 15:11 referred to Hyoscyamus aureus, known as yellow or golden henbane.  Henbane is thought to have originated in the Mediterranean regions of Asia Minor. Henbane is wide-spread in Israel. When we were in Jerusalem, we saw clumps of henbane growing out from between stone cracks on the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem. Henbane is a non-woody perennial that can grow 2 – 3 feet tall.  Both stems and leaves are gray-green and covered with sticky hairs. Flowers are yellow with a darker (almost black) throat). Henbane self-sows and can be grown in uncultivated areas of a garden. When propagating, sow seeds as soon as they are ripe as henbane seeds lose their viability rapidly. Maturing henbane produce a long taproot; consequently established plants do not respond well to attempts to move them from place to place.

Symbolism: Obedience

Although the Book of Joshua detailed (chapters 13 – 21) tribal boundaries and identified towns within each boundary, today it is almost impossible to trace the exact boundaries of tribal lands. Many of us who read Joshua just skim these chapters, asking why this degree of detail was included in a book as important as the Bible.  I think God was giving His people an example of obedience when He said that mighty Judah should occupy and retain a site as small as Shikkeron.  If Judah was obedient to God in the small details, likely Judah would be obedient in larger activities.

God expects obedience from His people. When Joshua became leader of the Israelites, God told him to a) be strong and courageous and b) to obey all the laws that Moses gave to Joshua (Joshua 1: 7). In turn, Joshua told the Israelites to obey God, to walk in His ways, and to serve Him (Joshua 22:5). As I read the descriptions (Joshua, Judges, and Ruth) of the Israelites conquering and occupying the Promised Land, one fact was clear: obedience was central to Israel’s success.  When the Israelites disregarded and disobeyed God’s commandments and laws, their enemies overcame them. The result was destruction in Israelite lands and loss of Israelite lives.

Obedience is not an ancient Israelite concept that today’s Christian can ignore. There are about 124 verses in the New International Version Study Bible (2002) that contain the word obey or one of its derivatives. These verses are divided almost equally between the Old (n = 61) and New (N = 63) Testaments.  In the New Testament Christ told his followers that if they want to enter life, they need to obey the commandments (Matthew 19:17) and “if anyone loves me (Christ) he will obey my teaching” (John 14:23).

Thought:  God’s people are called to obey His Word; but, surely we get a pass for disobeying specifics of God’s Word when we don’t know them.  I mean, well, gosh, I can’t know everything, can I? Whose fault is it if I don’t know what God wants me to do?  Shouldn’t the preacher — or even my parents –have told me how to do things right? It’s not my fault…… it?

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

Copyright June 11, 2011, Carolyn A. Roth; all rights reserved.



Jotham & the Thorn Tree

Z spina-christi (2)Jotham’s story is in Judges 8:28-9:57.

Jotham was the youngest son of the great Judge Gideon who judged Israel between 1162 – 1122 B.C.  One of the many positive characteristics of Gideon was that he refused to be king of the Israelites after defeating 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). Gideon was from the tribe of Manasseh and lived in Ophrah. Gideon had 70 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 the 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 son, Jotham. On the day that Abimelech was crowned, Jotham climbed Mount Gerizim and loudly proclaimed a parable to the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo over which 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). The parable continued as the trees said to the olive tree, “Come be our king.” The olive tree declined as did the fig tree and the vine. Finally, the trees said to the thorn bush, “Come be our king” (Judges 9:14). 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). Then, Jotham challenged the men of Shechem asking whether or not they acted honorable and in good faith to the family of Gideon, the same Gideon who saved them from the Midianites. If their answer is “yes,” Jotham wished them joy in Abimelech’s kingship. If their answer is “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 governed the towns three years; then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem. The result was that Abimelech destroyed Shechem. He set fire to the tower of Shechem burning the people inside. Abimelech salted the land to condemn Shechem to barrenness and desolation. Then Abimelech attack Thebez. In the process of attempting to take the tower, a woman dropped a millstone on Abimelech’s head cracking his skull. Because Abimelech did not want a woman to receive credit for killing him, he demanded that his armor-bearer kill him. When Abimelech’s men saw that he was dead, they went home. This story conclusion is that God repaid the wickedness that Abimelech did to his brothers and made the men of Shechem pay for their wickedness.

The Thorn Tree

In his parable Jotham compared Abimelech to a thorn tree. Israel and Middle East botanists identify the thorn bush as the Ziziphus spina-christi tree. The Hebrew word for thorn bush is “âtâ.;”  The origin of the atad tree is the warm and humid landscapes of tropical Sudan. The species most likely arrived in Israel approximately 4000 B.C. The oldest Z. spina-christi in Israel – about 800 years old – is located at Ein Hatzeva. In Israel the tree is widely distributed in warm valleys and desert oases.  The atad is larger than all other fruit tree native to Israel.  Its deep and wide-spreading root system often leaches all nourishment from the surrounding soil. For an orchard to succeed, farmers must first remove all atad 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. In southern Israel the atad is evergreen; but, in the colder climate of northern Israel, it shed its leaves in the colder months. The fruit is yellow and small, about 3/4 – 1 inch in diameter. Each fruit contains a large stone (pit) in the center which is surrounded by a fleshy pulp. Although not very tasty, the fruit can and is eaten by people living in poverty. Fruit is best eaten green and tastes like sour apples.

Symbolism: Pierce or Penetrate

The Hebrew word for thorn tree, âtâd, is derived from an unused root meaning to pierce. Jotham pierced the conscience of the men of Shechem and Beth Millo when he asked them if they acted honorably to the family of Gideon. Jotham 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 illustration, referring to the king providing protection for his people. Yet, the farmers and travelers among Jotham’s hearers knew it was difficult to rest in the shade of the wild atad; often long hanging intertwined branches made the area under the tree inaccessible.

The Israelites had a proverb, “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18). Jotham’s parable was not reckless, but his words pierced his listeners like a sword — in three year Abimelech was dead by the hand of his subjects. Hearing piercing words are not 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 a un-friend.

When I was in the work world, I dreaded annual evaluations. Even when the evaluative comments were constructive and kind, I cringed when they were offered. At times I discounted the comments or rationalized my behavior. I know now 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.

Thought: What about you? Do you allow constructive evaluations to pierce or penetrate inside of you? Or, do you ignore learning situations, parables, and proverbs, putting up mental barriers to personal reflection?

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

Copyright May 21, 2011, Carolyn A. Roth; all rights reserved.



Deborah & the Palm Tree

Palm trees, JBGRead the story of Deborah as an Israelite judge in Judges chapters 4 and 5.

As a Prophetess, Deborah heard messages from God and transmitted them to the Israelites. Judges settled difficult (mostly legal) cases from the people, led the Israelites in war against their enemies, and attempted to keep the Israelites from turning to idolatry.  Deborah was from the tribe of Ephraim. She held court in a fixed location rather than traveling a circuit. Deborah’s court was located 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, the Israelites had been oppressed for 20 years by Jabin, king of Hazor.  Jabin ruled a large, well fortified city in northern Canaan. It is probable that he also led a confederation of Canaan city states.  King Jabin had a disciplined, well-armed army under the command of Sisera.  This Canaanite army had 900 iron chariots. To put this number into perspective, Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose had 924 chariots in the entire Egyptian army. Israelites living in the area were demoralized. It was not safe for them to travel main roads. Instead they took winding paths to avoid enemy troops and marauders.  Village life ceased; villagers fled to walled towns for protection. The Israelites had few weapons to defend themselves.

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. God specified the approach to use to defeat the superior army – “I will lure Sisera … with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon  River and give them into your hands.”  When Deborah delivered God’s message to Barak, Barak did not trust God’s deliverance of the Canaanite army into his hands. Possibly Barak was thinking of the military advantage of the 900 iron horse-drawn chariots over the poorly armed Israelite men. Barak told Deborah that he would fight the battle, but only if Deborah would go with him. Deborah agreed to go with Barak; but apprised Barak that because of his lack of trust, honor for Sisera’s death would go to a woman.

Barak gathered his troops on Mount Tabor, a hill in the Jazreel  Valley about 10 miles SW of the Sea of Galilee. The Kishon River passed through the Jazreel Valley. The area near the river is flat and normally dry; however, if the river floods, the area becomes muddy and virtually impassable.  God lured Sisera to the Jazreel Valley by allowing Sisera to learn that Barak’s army was camped on Mount Tabor. Probably,  Sisera approached this battle with confidence. The flat Jazreel Valley was an ideal place to maximize the advantage of his chariots against the Israelite foot soldiers; however, Sisera did not count on God’s intervention. God caused a heavy down pour of rain. The result was the Kishon River flooding into the Jazreel Valley making it a muddy quagmire.  Sisera’s chariots could not maneuver in the mud and all Sisera’s troops were killed by the Israelites.

Sisera fled on foot and arrived at the tent of Jael, a Kenite woman. After Sisera went to sleep in her tent, Jael killed Sisera with a peg driven through his temple. When Barak came to Jael’s tent in pursuit of Sisera, Jael showed Barak the dead body of Sisera; thus, a woman, not Barak, was credited with killing Sisera.

After the destruction of Jabin’s army and Sisera’s death, the Israelites grew stronger and eventually destroyed King Jabin. This military action gave the Israelites, who mainly lived in the hills, access to the fertile Jazreel Valley.  The Bible records that after these events Israel had peace for 40 years.  The Bible does not describe what Deborah did after the military victory. Likely Deborah went back to the palm tree and continued to act as a Judge. Old Testament Chronology records that Deborah was a Judge for 40 years (NIV Study Bible, 2002).

The Palm Tree

The date palm tree, Phoenix dactylifera, is native to the Middle East and Southwest Asia. In Israel the palm tree is widely distributed. 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 30 – 65 feet tall. In contrast to many other trees, P. dactylifera has only a single point of growth – the terminal bud. If the terminal bud is cut away the tree will die. Palm tree leaves ( called fronds and branches) grow from the tree top (crown) in an alternate pattern such that palm trees resemble an umbrella at the top of the long, slender handle. Palm branches are used in Easter processions in Christian churches. Each year palm trees grow a new group of leaves. The date palm is an evergreen. When the Promised Land was described to the Children of Israel, it was called a land of milk and honey. Contrary to common believe, in these verses honey was not produced by bees. Rather, honey was syrup preserved from dates from the P. dactylifera..

Symbolism of the Palm Tree

The Phoenix dactylifera has much symbolism attached to it. The palm tree and/or its branches represented peace, plenty and fruitfulness, grace and elegance, and majesty and military triumph. Juxtaposition to these perspectives is how the palm tree fits into the story of Deborah.  In Deborah’s situation, the palm tree signified justice. Deborah held court under the palm tree and distributed justice. Deborah responded to God’s call and initiated a battle that obtained justice for the Israelites against their Canaanite oppressors.  Deborah dispensed God’s justice when she told Barak that a woman (Jael) would be credited with killing Sisera because Barak refused to go to war without Deborah’s presence.

God expected the Israelites to exhibit justice.  Through God’s laws they were instructed not to pervert justice, show partiality to the poor, or favoritism to the great (Exodus 23:6; Leviticus 19:15; Deuteronomy 16:19).  They were told the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow is cursed (Deuteronomy 27:19).  The prophets exhorted the Israelites to “learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed” (Isaiah 1:17). The Israelites even had proverbs that addressed justice, e.g., “when justice is done, it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers” (Proverbs 21:15).

Three millennia after Deborah dispensed justice to the Israelites, God still expects his people to show justice. For Christians this means that we need to think critically about the meaning of justice and how to act justly. Some words that are synonyms of justice are fairness, evenhanded, honesty and integrity. Are we just persons? Do we show partiality by talking and acting differently around our pastor versus our friends and relatives?  Are we assertive even aggressive in our work situation, yet act humbly in Church meetings or Bible study groups? Do we give persons with broken or poor English language skills less time or credence than persons with excellent English skills? The prophet Micah asked the question, “What does the Lord require of you?” (Micah 6:8). Then Micah answered the question with, “To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Thought: How can I show justice in my various roles and duties today – just today – no other day? Do I have to change some of my behaviors to act justly today, just this one day?  Hmmm – do I really want to change my behaviors to act justly even if it is only for one day?

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

Copyright May 16, 2011, Carolyn A. Roth; all rights reserved.




Joshua and an Oak Tree

Quercus calliprinos with BruceRead Joshua chapter 24, particularly verses 25 and 26.

Joshua is the first individual who is described under Plants and the Promised Land. Joshua was from the tribe of Ephraim, the second son of Joseph. God gave Joshua leadership of the Israelites on the west side of the Jordan River (1406 B.C.). He 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. Joshua 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 (Genesis 50:26 study note, NIV Study Bible, 2002)

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) lead 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 Israelite 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 home, “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

The tree associated with Joshua is the Palestine oak (Quercus calliprinos) also called the Kermes Oak. Some Bibles  translated oak as terebinth; however, the oak is a distinctly different tree from the terebinth. The Hebrew word used to identify the tree in Joshua 24:26 is allâh , translated as oak. Quercus calliprinos is the most common tree found in the wildlife of Israel. A Palestinian oaknear 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 plows, 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 Providences 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 should not esteem one vocation or one 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

Copyright May 9, 2011, Carolyn A. Roth; all rights reserved.