Category Archives: Plants & the Southern Kingdom – Judah

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

Strange Vine: Devolvement

Bible Reference: Jeremiah 2.21.

Historically, the domesticated grape vine and vineyards were associated with Israelites. Israelites went from being a choice vine, planted with sound and reliable vine  stock, to a strange (corrupt, foreign) vine. The alteration between a choice versus strange vine occurred because Israelites turned from God.

In the Ancient Near East, the grape vine was the Vitis vinefera. Archeology records suggested that the V. vinefera was domesticated in the Late Stone Age, which in the Ancient Near East ended about 3000 BC. After the Flood (Deluge) and during the era of Israelite patriarchs, grapes, and grape vines were V. vinefera.

Vitis orientalis was the wild grape from which the Israelite grapevine was domesticated. A major difference between the wild and domesticated grape vine was what the two vines produced. The wild grape vine bears red fruit, like red currents. These small red, sometimes black, berries have an acid taste and are considered worthless by individuals living in the Middle East. In contrast, the domesticated grapevine produces succulent, large grapes which could be eaten fresh, dried into raisins for winter consumption, and made into wine.

Wild grapes (undomesticated) have male and female flowers on separate plants.  Unless different-sex vines are planted in proximity to each other and the wind or a pollinator (insect, such as a bee) carries pollen from the male to the female flower, the flower won’t develop into a fruit.

When mankind domesticated the grape, they developed a grape variety (V. vinefera) in which the vine produced both male and female flowers. Opportunity for the grape flower to remain unpollinated was reduced substantially. Plants that contain both male and female flowers are called “perfect” or “complete. ”

The Plant

In Jeremiah’s allegory, we read that Israelites, a complete grape vine (V. vinefera), became a wild vine (V. orientalis). The choicest vine went backward to an earlier version. This wild vine once again produced red, hard, acid-tasting fruit. No longer did it produce juicy grapes. A further explanation is found in the English Standard Version Bible which reads, “you turned degenerate and became a wild vine” (Jeremiah 2.21 ESV).

Interpretation

Degenerate means immoral, corrupt, perverted, wicked, or deteriorated.3 How did it happen that God’s chosen people, who were to be his light in the world, devolve to such an extent? Apparently, Israelites made a conscious decision to stop serving God. On high hills and under spreading trees, Israelites set up idols.

Jeremiah wrote that despite Israelites turning their backs on God. When trouble hit their country, Israelites entreated God to come and save them. Jeremiah recorded God’s response to the degenerate Israelites—get the gods you made yourself to come and save you in your trouble.

In the United States of America (USA), most twenty-first century Christians read Jeremiah chapter two and don’t relate to his message. They don’t set up idols under trees and worship them. They are (nominally) Christians. The USA, the richest and most powerful country in the world, was founded primarily by religious groups. Almost everyone knows about the Puritans and Quakers who believed in God and wanted freedom to live out those beliefs.

Reflection: USA citizens don’t worship idols—how absolutely obscene to even suggest that they do! There is no comparison between them and Israelites in the Promised Land. USA citizens would never act like Israelites acted! Most assuredly, USA citizens haven’t degenerated! The USA is a Christian nation. They remain complete and perfect. Or, maybe not. Think about both scenarios, i.e., degenerating into a strange vine and remaining as a strong, productive vine. The distance between the two isn’t all that far.

Copyright July 10, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Matrimony Vine

Bible References: Joshua 10.10-11; 1 Samuel 17.1-2;  Chronicles 11.9; Nehemiah 11.30; Jeremiah 34.7.

Azekah was a notable Israelite town located at the foot of the western mountains in tribal lands of Judah. When Joshua routed Canaanites at Gibeon, Israelites pursued and killed Canaanites all the way to Azekah. In the war between Israelites and Philistines in which David killed Goliath, Philistines camped near Azekah. King Rehoboam built up Azehak as part of fortifying Judah. Azekah was a city which held out against the Babylonian king’s army when Judah was attacked and Jerusalem under siege. After the Jews were restored to Jerusalem and Judah, Jews lived in Azekah.

The Plant

In the Bible it was common to name a town for an abundant plant in an area. Azekah means Lycium, which Israeli botanists and Bible scholars identify as box thorn.7,16 Israeli botanists identified the box thorn of Israel as the Lycium mediterraneum (L. eupoeaeum), commonly called the European matrimony vine, Chinese matrimony vine, and desert thorn. The box thorn is a member of the largely-poisonous nightshade family, Solanaceae; but the killing alkaloid found in most nightshades isn’t  detectable in matrimony vine.

Box thorns are thorny shrubs that grow between four-inches and two-feet tall. Stems, light brown and hairless, branch profusely. Older vines contain spines which can be up to five-inches long. Most stems end in a pointed spine. Green leaves, small and narrow, grow on alternative sides of stems. Leaves shed with the onset of summer.

Flowers are attractive. They grow solitary or in clusters and are funnel-shaped with white, green, or purple corolla. I can imagine a bride carrying down the church aisle a bouquet that includes these white flowers. Lycium produces complete flowers with functional male and female parts, but on occasion a flower is only female.

Most Lycium fruit is two-chambered, fleshy, and a juicy berry. Israeli box thorn berries are red and eaten by birds. Berries are seed-filled. There are as many as seventy-to-eighty species of Lycium. The L. barbarum grows in China where roots and leaves are used in traditional medicine to treat skin rashes and promote hair growth. The fruit of L. barbarum is the goji berry, commonly consumed as a dried fruit.

Often a plant genus spreads and grows in contiguous countries. In contrast, the Lycium genus has a non-contiguous distribution around the globe. South America has the most species, followed by North America and southern Africa. Most Lycium species occur in arid and semi-arid climates.

One of the most abundant plants in the Middle Atlantic states where I live is the boxwood shrub. Buxus is a genus of about seventy species in the Family Buxaceae. Although box thorn (matrimony vine) and boxwood shrubs have similar names, they are two  distinct plants. I am not sure I’ve ever seen a box thorn growing in southwestern Virginia.

Reflection: The matrimony vine is a thorny bush. That seems strange at first thought, considering its common name is matrimony vine. On deeper reflection, I concluded any couple who has been married for any length of time knows that marriage has thorns as well as beautiful flowers.

Copyright July 6, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Please visit my website at http://www.carolynrothministry.com

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

Thistle Riddle

Bible References:  2 Kings 14; 2 Chronicles chapter 25.

The spotted golden thistle is part of a riddle that King Jehoash (Northern Kingdom, Israel, 798-782 BC) sent to King  Amaziah (Southern Kingdom, Judah, 796-767 BC). The background to this Bible narrative has two distinct parts. First, when King Amaziah planned a military campaign against Edom, he recruited 100,000 mercenaries from Israel. Warned by a prophet to not allow Northern Kingdom mercenaries to march with him, King Amaziah dismissed them. Despite being paid, soldiers were furious. Northern Kingdom soldiers knew that they lost out on plunder of Edom. In response they plundered and murdered in Judah while King Amaziah battled in Edom. Second, when King Amaziah returned to Jerusalem after a successful campaign against Edom, he brought back Edomite idols. Instead of destroying these false gods as Mosaic law required, King Amaziah bowed down and worshiped them.

King Amaziah knew he had to respond to Northern Kingdom soldiers’ killing and plundering Judah while he battled Edom. King Amaziah sent a challenge to King Jehoash to meet him in battle. King Jehoash sent a riddle and a warning back to King Amaziah. The riddle was:

A thistle in Lebanon sent a message to a cedar in Lebanon, ‘Give your daughter to my son in marriage.’ Then, a wild beast in Lebanon came along and trampled the thistle underfoot (2 Chronicles 25.18 NIV).

Then, Jehoash warn Amaziah that because he defeated Edom, he was haughty and proud. King Amaziah was asking for trouble if he persisted in challenging King Jehoash.

The interpretation of Jehoash’s riddle was that he and the Northern Kingdom was a majestic cedar of Lebanon, while King Amaziah and Judah was an insignificant thistle. The demand, give to me your daughter in marriage, could have meant that  Israelite soldiers return plunder taken from Judah’s lands. Alternatively, this part of King Jehoash’s riddle was a further insult. In Old Testament times, a king  gave his daughter to another kingdom for marriage only if the two countries were equal in power. King Jehoash insulted King Amaziah by saying Israel was much more powerful than Judah, i.e., the Northern Kingdom was a cedar and the Southern Kingdom a thistle. King Jehoash would trample King Amaziah and Judah underfoot.

Despite King Jehoash’s warning, King Amaziah moved his army against Israel. A battle ensued where King Jehoash defeated King Amaziah. With King Amaziah of Judah a prisoner, King Jehoash proceeded to Jerusalem. There, Jehoash seized Temple gold, silver, and other valuables, the palace treasury, and hostages. King Jehoash had 600 feet of the Jerusalem wall destroyed. Despite King Jehoash’s victory, he allowed King Amaziah to live.

King Jehoash wasn’t a king who obeyed God;  he did evil in God’s eyes. Jehoash continued the idol worship started by the first king of Israel, Jeroboam I. King Jehoash wouldn’t have won the battle over King Amaziah, but for Amaziah’s sin of rejecting God and worshiping Edomite idols.

In Jehoash’s riddle, the Hebrew word for thistle is choâch or hoah and is associated with the Scolymus genus of plants.7 When Jehoash named Amaziah a thistle, possibly he was thinking of the spotted golden thistle, Scolymus maculatus. The spotted golden thistle was a common plant throughout Israel, growing everywhere except along the extreme Mediterranean seashore. Although occasionally cultivated, more often the spotted golden thistle is found in uncultivated lands and along paths and trails. In very hot temperatures, these thistles grow rapidly. Leaves (or bract) have tooth shaped margins tipped with spines and a white vein all around their outline

In this incident, the spotted golden thistle can be associated with several

concepts, i.e., pride, insult, and insignificance; however, in this story reject or rejection are the best symbols. Examples of rejection include Amaziah’s rejection of the 100,000 Israelite Kingdom mercenaries; Amaziah rejecting God in favor of Edomite idols; Jehoash’s willingness to excuse (or reject) Amaziah’s challenge; and Jehoash’s rejecting the sanctity of God’s Temple.

This Bible episode typifies the Northern Kingdom’s rejection of God. They rejected God’s decrees, the covenant he made with their fathers, and warnings he gave them through prophets. The Northern Kingdom rejected God by plundering his home, the Jerusalem Temple. Eventually, God rejected Northern Kingdom tribes as they first rejected him. God allowed Assyria to destroy the Northern Kingdom.

How do we, living in the twenty-first century, reject God? We do it by not setting aside time to spend with God every day, i.e., failing to have daily Bible study and prayer time. We make the decision to skip Sunday church services, identifying that we are just too tired after a busy work-week. We reject God when we reject other persons for whatever reason, i.e., they are just not our type, we have nothing in common with them, they are poor, they look disheveled.

Reflection: A couple of months ago I determined to start my day with God, reading the Bible and praying. I even identified which book of the Bible to read and contemplate one chapter a day. My good intention lasted about twenty-five days. Then, I defaulted to first making a cup of coffee and second checking what was new on my computer. I rejected God by not putting him first. How about you? Do you ever reject God? How do you start your day?

Copyright May, 6, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Isaiah’s Palestinian buckthorn

Bible Reference: Isaiah chapter 7.

Isaiah (740-681 BC) began his ministry the year that King Uzziah died. Isaiah ministered during the reigns of Kings Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, and early in Manasseh’s reign. The Bible identified Jotham and Hezekiah as kings who walked with God. In contrast, Kings Ahaz and Manasseh were two wicked kings.

From the beginning of his sixteen-year reign, King Ahaz rejected God and worshiped foreign gods. Ahaz sacrificed his son to a false god.  When Arameans and Israelites (ten northern tribes) banded together to attack Jerusalem, Ahaz was shaken “as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind” (Isaiah 7.2 NIV).  Instead of turning to God for rescue, Ahaz turned to the king of Assyria.

When Arameans and the Northern Kingdom joined and attacked Jerusalem, God sent Isaiah to reassure King Ahaz that Jerusalem wouldn’t be overrun by this coalition. At the meeting, God directed Ahaz to ask for a sign of God’s intention to protect Jerusalem.  Ahaz refused saying that he wouldn’t put God to the test.  The first time I read Ahaz’s response, I thought it was a good answer; however, Isaiah had a different opinion.

Isaiah told King Ahaz that the king was trying God’s patience. Then, Isaiah prophesied that in the next twelve-to-thirteen years both Aram and Israel would be laid waste. The Lord would bring Judah devastation from Egypt and Assyria.  Where there were a thousand vines worth a thousand silver shekels, the land would be covered with briers and thorns.  Men would carry bows and arrows for protection when they went among briers and thorns. Where there was once cultivated land, cattle and sheep would run loose in a brier- and thorn-infested land.

Most likely the shrub in Isaiah’s prophecy to King Ahaz was the Rhamnus lycioides (R. palaestinus), commonly known as the Palestine buckthorn. In Israel, the buckthorn is a slow-growing shrub that reaches a height of three-to-six feet; however, in the United States they grow to twenty-feet tall. The Palestine buckthorn is an evergreen shrub in Israel and grows with a many-branched, tangled form, and velvety thin thorns. Young stems and thorns are green. As bark matures it become gray.

Most gardeners don’t plant buckthorn. It’s an unattractive shrub that normally doesn’t grow in cultivated gardens or fields. Buckthorn grows well in poor soil that is gritty and highly eroded. Along with the thistle, the buckthorn is the last species to disappear when livestock over-graze an area. Overall the Mediterranean buckthorn has no value for mankind or livestock. An ancient strategy to eradicate buckthorn is to burn the land.

Isaiah used buckthorn to describe once-fertile agricultural lands in Judah that would be destroyed as a result of God’s judgment.  This particular judgement was an assault from Assyria. Instead of vines and grains, the land would produce thorns and briers. Shayith is a Hebrew word for the thorn.6 A translation of shayith is “trash.”  Trash is debris from plant materials, something worth little or nothing, and something thrown away.3  Trashed is an excellent symbol for what was going to happen in Judah as a result of King Ahaz leading Judahites to reject God.

King Ahaz treated God’s Temple like trash.  When the Arameans and Israelites attacked Judah, Ahaz plundered the Temple for its gold and silver and sent it to the Assyrian king to purchase the king’s military assistance.  Later, Ahaz barred doors to God’s Temple so no one could enter and worship God.  King Ahaz set up worthless idols at street corners in Jerusalem.  In every town in Judah, Ahaz built high places to burn sacrifices to man-created gods.

People that treat God and his laws as trash weren’t confined to the Old Testament.  Paul identified that some people in New Testament times were senseless, faithless, heartless, and ruthless. “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things, but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1.32 NIV). We need only spend an hour watching television to know that many people today act similar to people in first-century Palestine; and, similar to first century Palestinian onlookers, we applaud these degenerate behaviors.

Reflection: Name aspects of God’s laws you treat as trash? Do you ever watch television or read books that God would name degenerate and say, “right on?” When you treat God’s laws as trash, are you helping your country?

Copyright April 4, 2019; All rights reserved.

I will stand my watch

Bible Reference: Book of Habakkuk

I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me (Habakkuk 2.1)

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior (Habakkuk 3.17-18).