Category Archives: Plants & the Southern Kingdom – Judah

Cumin – Poison or spice????

Bible References: Matthew 23.1-32; Isaiah 28.24-28.

Matthew is the only gospel writer who recorded the seven “Woes” which were part of Jesus’s teaching in the Temple Courtyard during Holy Week. This day must have been difficult and exhausting for Jesus. Group after group, i.e., Sadducees, Pharisees, lawyers, teachers, and Herodians, came forward to challenge him. They attempted to trip him up so that they could condemn both his answers and him. At one point during challenges, Jesus spoke seven “Woes” in which he condemned both  Pharisees and scribes.

In the fourth “Woe,” Jesus told Pharisees and scribes that they tithe on herbs—mint, dill, and cumin; but, neglect the more important parts of the Law that have to do with justice, mercy, and faithfulness. He advised them to practice justice, mercy, and faithfulness while tithing on herbs. Notice, Jesus didn’t tell Pharisees that tithing on grown herbs was wrong. Just the opposite, Jesus reinforced the need for God’s people to tithe. At the same time, Jesus instructed listeners that loving God and seeking justice were the greater good.

When Jesus identified tithing herbs to Pharisees in Jerusalem, he named cumin (Cuminum cyminum). Cumin was closely aligned with Persian cuisine.  Jerusalemites, many who had ancestors who were returnees from the Babylonian captivity, were familiar with cumin. Ancient Greeks used cumin as a table condiment, similar to the way we use a salt shaker.

Harvesting cumin is time-consuming because it is largely done by hand when seeds turn brown. Seeds are dried, then ground. Supposedly, cumin seeds harvested in the morning are  most pungent.

Cumin is safe when eaten in foods in normal amount. In larger amounts, cumin may slow blood clotting and make bleeding disorders worse. In individuals with diabetes mellitus, cumin can lower blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia). Cumin consumption isn’t recommended if a woman is pregnant or is breast-feeding a child. Cumin is an essential oil; however, as an oil cumin can cause skin irritation and blisters, spasms, and seizures.

Although Jesus identified cumin in the New Testament, cumin was mentioned in the Old Testament in the Poem of the Plowman (Isaiah 28.24-28). In that poem, Isaiah said that a farmer plows soil, scatters seeds, and threshes crops. Each type of seed, i.e., barley, spelt, caraway, cumin, requires its own type of soil, sowing method, and threshing technique to get an optimal harvest. The order of these three actions comes from God. They can’t be completed in a different sequence and still obtain an optimal harvest.

As I read that God taught farmers millennia ago how to plant and harvest something as small as cumin, I wondered if today God teaches computer programmers how to write detailed software programs, scientists to extend cryogenic science, and engineers to develop nuclear propulsion engines. Isaiah would say, “Yes.” All knowledge comes from God, whether it is planting a crop or engineering a rocket.

It takes about four months to grow cumin plants. If you want the delicious taste of fresh cumin in food, the wait is worth-while. Growing as a Christian, growing in Jesus, is time-consuming. As I look backward over my life, I can see Christian growth. Importantly, I know that I can’t take credit for that growth. God taught farmers how to plant cumin, even though it has the potential to be harmful. God planted me and assists me to grow. Yes, I have the potential to be harmful; but, I also have the potential to be tasty.

Reflection: I have a jar of cumin in my spice cabinet, but rarely use it.  I also have cumin essential oil. This is the first time I realized cumin was potentially dangerous. What in your life is dangerous to your spiritual well-being that here-to-fore you never thought about? Which of your behaviors are dangerous to your country?

To learn more about Bible plants, visit my we website: http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

Narcissus — Connect with Memory

Bible Reference: Isaiah 35.1-2.

Multiple types of narcissus (daffodils) are present in the twenty-first century because horticulturists developed many cultivars. The narcissus that grows in Israel is the Narcissus tazetta, commonly referred to as a daffodil. Neither words, narcissus nor daffodil, are present in the Bible; however, botanists and Bible scholars proposed that the narcissus was referenced twice:

  1. The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. “Like the crocus it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy” (Isaiah 35.1-2 NIV). Although the NIV Bible translates the flower in this reference as crocus, other Bible translations referred to the plant as narcissus.
  2. Solomon’s bride said that she is the Rose of Sharon (Song of Songs 2.1). In Hebrew, she named herself ha’bazlith or bazlith (bazluth), meaning “she is pealing,” or she has many layers, literally layers of an onion-like flower bulb which would be the narcissus.

Most of us know what a daffodil looks like. They grow in USA gardens and are for sale in stores in late winter and early spring. The Bible daffodil was a different variety than the beautiful yellow blooms that we plant or purchase. The Narcissus tazetta has white or cream-colored petals (usually six) surrounding a central orange-yellow cup. Often, bulbs are planted in the fall before the first frost.

Bulbs grow underground and while they may appear similar to an onion bulb they lack the classic onion odor. The bulb is the deadliest portion of the narcissus plant because it can be confused with the wild onion and because the bulb contains the highest concentrations of a toxic chemical, lycorine. Eating any part of narcissus can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Although never reported in humans, more severe problems, such as low blood pressure, drowsiness, and liver damage were reported in animals that ate large amounts of narcissus, particularly bulbs. The narcissus bulb contains a second poisonous chemical, oxalates, which are microscopic and needle-like. When ingested, oxalates cause severe burning and irritation of the lips, tongue, and throat.

Before I started to research the Bible narcissus, I was unaware of the relationship of the narcissus/daffodil flower to the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto Uprising in 1943. Uprising-commander, Marek Edelman placed daffodils at the foot of the Warsaw Ghetto Fighters Monument each year until his death. The monument was created in 1948 to remember the brave people (Jews and Poles) who fought and mostly perished in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Narcissus paper pins and fresh flowers are part of a campaign to “Connect through Memory.”

Today, the symbolism of narcissus is “new birth.” The great Christian theologian and author of over fifty books, John Piper23 averred that “new birth” has three parts. What happens in new birth isn’t:

  1. About getting new religion, but, getting new life. Obtaining new birth is acknowledging your inability to live without a Savior.
  2. Merely affirming the supernatural Jesus, but, experiencing the supernatural in Jesus yourself. I think of the supernatural within as the Holy Spirit that begins with new birth.
  3. Improvement of the old human nature; but, creation of a new nature (the nature we were meant to be) in each of us. We are forgiven and cleansed by the indwelling Spirit of God.

Reflection: Clearly, having a rebirth through Jesus Christ should move self-worship to God-worship. That movement is a process. It doesn’t happen all at once and it doesn’t happen if we aren’t intentional about making it happen. If you want to be more intentional about putting God front-and-center in your life, what could you do? Is attending church necessary? Is attending church all you need to do? Ponder what would happen if each resident of the USA made an intentional effort to worship God rather than himself/herself.

Copyright December 19, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Please visit my website for more information on Bible plants: www. Carolyn Roth Ministry.com.

Crocus in the Desert

White and purple crocus flower | GardenersPath.com

Bible Reference: Isaiah 35.1.

The Bible named both crocus and saffron, an edible spice of crocus. Currently, true crocus doesn’t grow in Israel. The flower named “crocus” that grows there has harmful effects. Here’s what the Bible says about crocus and saffron:

“Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates with choice fruits, with henna and nard, nard and saffron” (Song of Songs 4.13-14 NIV).

“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice and shout for joy” (Isaiah 35.1 NIV).

In this Song of Songs’ passage the Groom lauded his Bride by comparing her to sweet-smelling flowers and fruits. Despite the Groom’s charming description, I resonate more to Isaiah’s description of the desert blooming with crocus (plural croci). In my Bible (NIV), the title of this Isaiah chapter is “Joy of the Redeemed.” That’s me—I have been redeemed from my previous sinful, self-centered life by God. Instead of thorns, thistles, and weeds, I burst forth as a crocus blooming in the desert.

The name “crocus” is often used to describe two unrelated plants. The true crocus belongs to the iris family of plants. In Israel, another plant, colchicum (Colchicum troodi, C. tunicatum), is a crocus relative. The confusion between the true crocus and colchicum is fostered by laypersons naming colchicum as “autumn crocus.” Appendix A, Table 3 contains the differentiating characteristics of crocus and colchicum.

The true crocus includes popular spring-blooming varieties that mark winter’s end, fall-blooming species, and saffron crocus (Crocus sativum) used in cooking. The saffron crocus blooms in autumn. Saffron is an expensive spice; over 90% of saffron is produced in Iran.

Early spring saffron crocus

Several varieties of colchicum grow in Israel. The colchicum (autumn crocus) bulb contains a poison (colchicine).22 Colchicine poison symptoms include burning in the mouth and throat, fever, abdominal pain and vomiting, and ultimately kidney failure. These symptoms can progress to multiple organ failure. There isn’t a specific antidote for colchicine poison; rather, symptoms are treated, i.e., anti-emetics for nausea and vomiting and intra-venous fluids for kidney failure. If patients don’t die, recovery starts in six-to-eight days.

Reflection: Prevention of colchicine poison is better than treatment. What in your life is poisonous? More importantly, how can you not plant or nourish poison in your own life? Would increasing your service to God be valued in your community? In the USA?

Copyright 12/18/2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Please visit my website for more information on Bible plants: http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

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