Category Archives: Plants & the Southern Kingdom – Judah

Jeremiah Longs for Balm of Gilead

Jeremiah’s cry for balm of Gilead to soothe Judah and other nations is found in the book of Jeremiah in chapters 8, 46, and 51(New International Version (NIV) Study Bible, 2002).

Jeremiah’s ministry was from 626-586 B.C.  He was described several ways to include the Prophet of Doom, and the Weeping Prophet.  He ministered during the last half of Josiah’s reign, and during the reigns of Jehoahaz (3 months), Jehoiakim (9 years), Jehoiachin (3 months), and Zedekiah (9 years).  Jerusalem was conquered by Babylon 586 B.C.; at that time elders and leaders of Judah and their families were killed or deported to Babylon.

Jeremiah was a Levite who was possibly from the priestly family of Abiather (David’s reign) and Eli.  His home town, Anata, was a short three miles northeast of Jerusalem.  Anata was located in a broad range of hills that overlook the Jordan valley to the East and the Dead Sea to the South.  From a young age Jeremiah may have herded goats and/or spent time farming; his writings were filled with examples from nature and agriculture (Hareuveni & Frenkley, 1988).

God called Jeremiah to be a prophet when Jeremiah was 18 years old.  At first Jeremiah demurred saying that he was a youth and inadequate to speak God’s word.  Jeremiah agreed when God reached out and touched his mouth and told Jeremiah, “I have put my words in your mouth” (Jeremiah 1:9).  God commanded Jeremiah to not marry and raise children because the forthcoming divine judgment on Judah would sweep away the next generation.  During the invasion by Babylon, Anata was used as a staging area for Babylon’s siege against Jerusalem.  Much of Anata was destroyed and many citizens killed

Jeremiah used the plant “balm of Gilead” to describe healing in three of his prophecies.  The first time Jeremiah foretold the destruction and exile of Judah.  Jeremiah asked, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?” (Jeremiah 8:22).

The second time Jeremiah prophesied against Egypt.  Jeremiah advised Egypt to go to Gilead and get balm, yet there would be no healing for them (Jeremiah 46:11).  The third time, Jeremiah used the exemplar of balm for healing was to predict Babylon’s fall.  Jeremiah suggested obtaining balm to heal Babylon; yet, Babylon could not be healed because her sins reached to the skies (Jeremiah 51:8-9).  Even though God used Babylon to exact judgment against Judah, in God’s time Babylon would be destroyed.

The land of Gilead was on the east side of the Jordan River.  Early in the history of Israel, the mountains (up to 4,090 feet) and hills were heavily forested (Bible Places, 2012).  The land was ideal for large herds and flocks of livestock.  In the division of land among the 12 tribes Gilead was assigned to Gad and Rueben (Numbers 32:1-5).  With terracing, the Gilead hills were farmed, e.g., olive trees and vineyards.  On lower foot hills, wheat was planted.   When the Ishmaelite traders (1898 B.C.) purchased Joseph from his brothers, they carried balm from Gilead to Egypt (Genesis 37:25-28).  Balm of Gilead was prized by the Egyptians who used it to prepare the bodies of their dead for burial.  Pilgrims to present day Jericho can purchase balm of Gilead in small tin boxes.  The extract is from the B. aegyptiaca plant that grows in Jordan in the region called Ghor el Safi.

Balm of Gilead

Jeremiah’s balm of Gilead was probably the Balanites aegyptiaca, a small multi-branched spiny tree  The plant is also called the Ximenia aegyptiaca L, Jericho balsam, and desert date.  Although widely distributed around the globe, B. aegyptiaca is thought to be native to Africa, India, and parts of the Middle East to include Israel.   In Israel, it grows in  in valleys, on river banks, and in depressions. Hasselquist who completed pioneering work on Holy Land plants described the gum of the B. aegyptiaca as yellow and light reflecting.  Leaf stems and possibly roots produce a  glutinous and tenacious resin.  Sticking to the fingers, it can be drawn into long threads.  Turkish surgeons used the gum to treat wounds.  Supposedly, a few drops are applied to a fresh wound will cure it.  Possibly wound edges could be connected by the glue-like property of the gum. Using Balm of Gilead to treat wounds is consistent with Jeremiah question of where was the balm of Gilead to heal the wounds of his people Judah (Jeremiah 8:22).

Symbolism: Balm

Medically, balms are healing or soothing substance, e.g., ointment, salve or cream.  Balms can be analgesic and give pain relief.   Figuratively, balms have the effects of calming, soothing and comforting, and providing solace and consolation.  Jeremiah asked for pain relief for Judah which involved comfort and solace for their spirits as well as analgesia for their physical bodies.

In today’s society many individuals hurt spiritually.  Much of the spiritual pain is the result of personal choices.  When I left home as a young woman, I was determined to live life my way.  I made a conscious decision not to follow God.  One of my rationalizations was that I would consign God to Sunday at church, e. g., departmentalize him.   The remainder of the week, I could live an egocentric and indulgent life.  At one point, I even thought, “When I am older, I will turn back to God.”  In retrospect, I am stunned at my thoughts and actions.  As a teen in Youth for Christ and church fellowship, I did not anticipate that my outlook would change so radically.

The Israelites did not start out to reject God’s laws and turn to idols.  They promised both Moses and Joshua to worship only God and to follow his covenants (Joshua 24:24-27).   For many of them, the change occurred over years, over generations, or even as a result following the leadership of a godless king.  Whatever the mechanism of each individual’s disregard, the outcome was that as a nation Judah rejected God.

Because God is just, Judah had to pay for his sins.  Jeremiah’s book is a description of a prophet whose heart broke for his countryman even though they deserved their punishment.  When Jeremiah’s predictions of calamity came true, Jeremiah never gloated; rather he wept for individuals and the nation.  He longed to provide pain relief for their bodies, minds, and spirits; to soothe them with the Balm of Gilead.

God was not surprised by my rebellion or the apostasy of Judah.  Both our rebellions caused great spiritual, mental, and physical pain to ourselves.  At the time, it felt like nothing would calm, comfort, and console; however, God was there waiting for me and for Judah to turn from our individual idols to him.  Do you remember the African-American spiritual “There is a Balm in Gilead?” The refrain goes something like this:

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin sick soul.

Reflection.  Have you ever experienced a sin-sick soul?  The solution is God, our balm of Gilead.

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright October 24, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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King Josiah and Prickly Lettuce

Lactuca serriola, prickly lettuce (394x800)The story of Josiah and the Passover is in 2 Kings 22:1-23:30 and 2 Chronicles 34:1-35:25.

Josiah was one of the best kings of Judah.  He was the great grandson of good king Hezekiah, however, Josiah was also the grandson of Manasseh, without argument the foulest king in Judah’s history.  Josiah (640-609 B.C.) was crowned king when he was eight.  When Josiah was 16 he began to seek God, and at 20 initiated the purification of Judah.  The purification processed extended into the tribal towns of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin where small pockets of Israelites lived after the deportation of most Northern Kingdom citizens.  Josiah had all false gods, carved images, and idols removed.  Housetop altars erected by Ahaz and Manasseh were destroyed.  The high places that Solomon erected for his wives to worship their gods were removed.  Rather than sit in Jerusalem and order the reforms, Josiah traveled throughout Judah and the southern towns of Northern Kingdom to ensure that his reforms were implemented.

As part of purifying the land, Josiah had the Temple cleansed and repaired the Temple.   In the process of renovating the Temple, the Book of Law was found.  In Old Testament times, the Book of Law was the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament.  When the Book of Law was read to Josiah, he tore his clothes in anguish over how God’s laws were neglected in Judea.  He sent emissaries to Huldah, a prophetess who lived in Jerusalem, and asked Huldah to consult the Lord on the people’s behalf.  Huldah responded that God was going to bring disaster on Judea and its people because they turned from God and burned incense to other gods.   Although God’s decision on the coming disaster was irrefutable, because Josiah humbled himself, Josiah would be buried in peace.

Josiah gathered the people in the Temple and had the Book of Law read to them.  After the Law was read, they pledged to live according to the covenant of the God of their fathers.  To rededicate himself and the people, Josiah ordered a Passover celebration and provided the ritual lambs and goats for slaughter.  For seven days the people celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover).  The Bible recorded that the Passover had not been observed like this in Israel (and Judea) since the days of the prophet Samuel.  The Feast included the people eating bitter herbs in the same manner as they ate bitter herbs when the Death Angel passed over their homes in Egypt.  In the chapter on Plants in the Life of Moses, the bitter herb endive was associated with the Passover.  Here the bitter herb will be wild lettuce.

Wild Lettuce

In Israel, a common bitter herb used to commemorate Passover was the wild lettuce.  Jewish experts believe the ancient Israel wild lettuce was Lactuca serriola, frequently called prickly lettuce.  Prickly lettuce is native to the Middle East, Europe, and possibly North Africa.  It is found throughout the entire country of Israel from the  vegetation of Mount Hermon to the extreme deserts of the Negev.  As you read through this description and look at the picture(s), remember the L. serriola has different characteristics than the common garden lettuce (L. sativa) eaten in the United States. When rain is sufficient, prickly lettuce grows 5–7 feet tall.  In the United States animals (cattle and deer) eat the L. serriola  only when preferred plants are not available. Often flower heads dry to a purple or blue color. Prickly lettuce can germinate in near freezing winter temperatures, then grow and flower in the spring and summer. Prickly lettuce is easily differentiated from other plants by its production of a white milky latex substance with a rank odor.  When stems and leaves are opened or torn, the milky substance leaks from the plant.

 Symbolism:  Passover

The prickly lettuce was a bitter herb available in the early 7th century B.C. for the people of Judea to use to celebrate the Passover.  The symbolism of this lettuce is “pass over.”  In this symbolism pass over is not one word, nor is it spelled with a capital with a “p” to depict the Jewish Passover celebration.  To express its association with the prickly lettuce plant, pass over is two words and uses a small p.   The dictionary has a definition for pass over separate and distinct from the Passover celebration.  Pass over means to ignore in passing and to pay no attention to the claims of.

Pass over reflected the amount of consideration given the prickly lettuce plant and God’s laws in Judea.  People largely ignored the prickly lettuce when they went out to the fields to glean wild plants for food.  Animals ate the plant only when there was nothing better available.  Unlike other lettuces, prickly lettuce was and is not now touted as a source of vitamins or minerals.  Pass over described the way Judah treated its prophets’ warnings in the 70 plus year period between King Hezekiah’s death and King Josiah hearing the Book of Law.

Often we ignore God’s laws as we live out our busy lives; we pay no attention to God’s claims or directions.   Despite our behavior God does not ignore us.  From heaven God sees all mankind; he watches all who live on earth (Psalm 33:13-14).  The inheritance of the blameless (righteous) will endure forever; but God’s enemies will vanish like the beauty of the fields (Psalm 37:18-20).  Individuals who ignore God and his laws are God’s enemies (Philippians 3:18-19).

At some point in our education, most of us memorized the following verse and thought it was cute:

My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light (Millay, 1920).

We act like the only outcome of our “pass over living” is that we make a lovely light.  In reality, those who live paying no attention to God can look forward to one outcome and it is not light.  The outcome for ignoring God and paying no attention to his claims is eternity without God, not just the four score and ten years that we may have on earth (Piper, 2004).  We will all have eternal life; the question is where will be spend it.

Reflection.  “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

copyright: October 10, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Zephaniah’s Prophecy Using Nettles

Urtica urens RignaneseZephaniah prophecy that Moab and Ammon would be like a place of nettles is in Zephaniah 2:8-11.

Zephaniah was a minor prophet and a fourth generation descendent of King Hezekiah.  Most likely he lived in Jerusalem and ministered between 640-630 B.C. during the early years of King Josiah’s reign.  His words reflected a familiarity with court circles and political issues.  He seemed to know firsthand Judah’s rejection of God and the idol worship which occurred under Kings Manasseh and Amon.

The book of Zephaniah is three spell-binding chapters that not only announce God’s pending judgment on Israel but God’s judgment on many nations living in the region, e.g., Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Cush, and Assyria.  Zephaniah’s prophecy which included the nettle plant was against Moab and Ammon.  Both the Moabites and Ammonites were offspring of Lot and his incestuous union with his two daughters (Genesis 19:30-38).  From the time Israel attempted to pass through Moab on their way to the Promised Land, there was enmity between Moab and Israel (Numbers chapter 21-26).  Ammon initiated war on Israel in the time of Israel’s judges (Judges 3:12-13).

Zephaniah began his prophecy against Moab and Ammon by writing that God heard their insults, taunts, and threats against Israel.  God was aware of the pride of the Moabites and Ammonites.   In retaliation for their behavior, Moab would become like Sodom and Ammon like Gomorrah.   Both would become places of nettles and salt pits, a wasteland forever.

God’s declaration that Moab and Ammon would become like Sodom and Gomorrah should have disturbed the Moabites and Ammonites.  Their ancestors (Lot and his daughters) once lived in Sodom.  Ancestral history would have included tales of God reigning burning sulfur on the two cities (Genesis 19:23-29).   The outcome was fiery destruction of the cities, people, and vegetation on the plain where the cities were located.

Nettle Plants

Many botanists agree that the nettle of Zephaniah was the Urtica urens L, also known as the burning nettle, dwarf nettle, and small nettle.  The burning nettle grows best in temperate regions and is thought to be indigenous to Europe.  In Israel, nettles grow in disturbed sites such as ditch banks, road sides and fence rows; however, it does well in vegetable gardens and orchards.  Urtica urens does not tolerate shade. Both the leaf blade and slender stalks grow stinging and non-stinging hairs. Stinging hairs are long, sometimes bristly.   Prickly hairs contain two parts 1) a softer vessel at the base and 2) a minute tube-like structure tipped by a round bulb.  When a hair contacts the skin, the bulb breaks off, exposing a needle-like point.  The point penetrates the skin and injects an irritating substance.  The outcome is a burning dermatitis which can last more than 12 hours.  Burning can occur even after visible symptoms (redness, swelling) fade.  Unlike poison oak which affects only a portion of the population, nettles burns the skin of everyone who comes into contact with it.  Gloves should always be worn to protect the skin from the hairs.

Symbolism: Burn, Fire 

In the prophecy of Zephaniah against Moab and Ammon, the burning nettle symbolized burning and fire.   Burning means to destroy by fire.  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, e.g., the burning bush, the cloud of fire above the Tabernacle.   Equally, burning and fire had negative connotations, often describing destruction.   For example, Isaiah (5:24) prophesied that Judah who rejected God was to be destroyed as fire licks up straw and as dry grass sinks down in flames.

We know that the reason Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire and burning was the extreme evil and perversions that occurred in these cities reached to the heavens (Genesis 18:20).   In comparison to Sodom and Gomorrah the behavior of Moab and Ammon didn’t seem too bad; their sin was taunting and insulting the Israelites and threatening to occupy Israelite territories.  To understand the extent of Moab’s and Ammon’s taunts, read Ezekiel’s prophecy.  Ammon rejoiced maliciously when God’s sanctuary (Temple) was desecrated (Ezekiel 25:1-7).  When Moab saw Judah vulnerable and fall, they discounted Judah’s God (Ezekiel 25”8-11).  They did not recognize that Judah and the God of the universe were separate entities.

Sometimes I feel frightened when I hear or read of clergy, politicians, and ordinary citizens mocking God and discounting God.  Equally, when the United States waffles in its support of Israel, I feel disquiet.  Do these individuals know Bible and secular history?  Do they know that Israel holds a special place in God’s eyes and heart?  God may punish the Israelites with burning fire; but, he will never destroy them or reject them totally.  God’s plans are to redeem a remnant of the Israelites (Zephaniah 3:8-20).   God said, “at that time I will deal with all (nations) who oppress you (Israel” (Zephaniah 3:19, NIV-SB, 2003).

Prayer.  God, help me to never discount what you do in our national life as well as in my individual life.   Help the United States to never oppress the people of Israel.

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

copyright September 30, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Isaiah, Ahaz & the Buckthorn

Buckthorn fruitAn interaction between Isaiah’s and King Ahaz is described in Isaiah chapter 7 with other parts of Ahaz life described in 2 Kings chapter 16 and in 2 Chronicles chapter 28.

Isaiah (740-681 B.C.), son of Amoz, is listed as the first of the three Major Prophets; he wrote the book that bears his name.  Isaiah began his ministry the year that king Uzziah died and ministered during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, and early in the reign of Manasseh.  The Bible identified Jotham and Hezekiah as kings who walked with God.  In contrast Kings Ahaz and Manasseh were two of the wickedest kings who reigned over Judah.

From the beginning of his 16 year reign, Ahaz rejected God and burnt incense and offered sacrifices on hill tops and under spreading trees.  Ahaz even sacrificed his son to a false god.  When the Arameans and Israelites (Northern Tribes) banded together to attack Jerusalem, Ahab and the citizens of Jerusalem were shaken “as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind” (Isaiah 7:2).  Instead of turning to God for rescue, Ahaz turned to the king of Assyria.  Ahaz plundered the Temple silver and gold and sent it to Assyria to buy help.

When the Arameans and Israelites joined to attach Jerusalem, God sent Isaiah to reassure Ahaz that Jerusalem would not be overrun by this coalition of armies (Isaiah chapter 7).  At the meeting, God directed Ahaz to ask for a sign of God’s intention to protect Jerusalem.  Ahaz refused saying that he would not put the Lord to the test.  Isaiah’s responded that Ahaz was trying the patience of God. Then, Isaiah prophesied that in the next 12–13 years both the lands of Aram and Israel would be laid waste and the Lord would bring on 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 need to carry bows and arrows for protection when they went among the briers and thorns.  Where there was once cultivated land, cattle and sheep would run loose in a brier and thorn infested land.

The Buckthorn Shrub

This shrub associated with Isaiah is the Rhamnus lycioides, also known as the Rhamnus palaestinus and Palestine buckthorn. This buckthorn is native to countries that border the Mediterranean Sea and is well adapted to dry climate of Mediterranean Basin.  In Israel buckthorns grows primarily in woodlands, shrub-lands, and the mountain vegetation of Mount Hermon.  It occupies some of the same sites as the Kermes oak, Aleppo pine, and juniper. In Israel, the buckthorn is a slow growing shrub that reaches a height of 3-6 feet; however, in the more temperate climate of central Europe, it can grow to a height of 39 feet.  The Palestine buckthorn is evergreen in Israel and grows with a many branched, tangled form, and velvety thorns.  Young stems are green but as the bark matures they become gray. The buckthorn fruit is a small (1/4 inch), oval, berry which is initially green but turns black with maturity.  Berries are poisonous to humans, but a good source of food for birds. Bbuckthorn plants  can be propagated from cuttings.

Symbolism: Trash

Isaiah used the thorn to describe once fertile agricultural lands destroyed as a result of God’s judgment.  Instead of vines and grains, the land would produce thorns and briers (7:19, 23-25).  The Hebrew word for the thorn in Isaiah 7:23-25 is shayith which is translated as scrub, trash, and thorn.  Trash is defined as debris from plant materials, something worth little or nothing, and something thrown away.  Trashed is an excellent symbol for what was going to happen in Judea as a result of Ahaz leading the Judeans to reject God.

Essentially, King Ahaz treated God’s Temple like trash.  When the Arameans and Israelites attacked, Ahaz plundered the Temple of its gold and silver and sent it to the Assyrian king.  Later, Ahaz removed the furnishing from the Temple, e.g., the basins from the moveable stands, the Sea from the bronze bulls, the Sabbath canopy, and the royal entryway from the Temple (2 Kings 16:17-18; 2 Chronicles 28:24).  Ahaz shut the doors to God’s Temple.  He set up worthless idols at every street corner in Jerusalem.  In every town in Judah, Ahaz build high places to burn sacrifices to man-created gods (2 Chronicles 28:25).

Isaiah prophesied that God would allow the land of Judah to become the trash Judah claimed for itself.  Formerly fertile fields would become brier and thorn (trash) infested as the result of God’s punishment of Judah’s sin.

People that treat God and his laws as trash were not confined to the Old Testament.  Paul identified that some people in New Testament times were senseless, faithless, heartless, and ruthless (Romans 1:31).  “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).  We need only spend an hour watching television to know that many people act similar to people in the first century; and like in the first century, onlookers applaud their degenerate behaviors.

God’s judgment is not confined to the Old Testament.  Today God’s judgment will fall on people who treat God and his laws as worthless.  If individuals want to be something that is thrown away like trash, God will allow them to be this way (Romans 1:28).  God will give them over to a reprobate mind as he did the Judeans.

Reflection.  When I started to write about God and trash, I felt anxious.  The anxiety caused me to wonder if I love God, but treat his laws as something I can accept or throw away. What about you – do you pick and choose which of God’s laws to obey?

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright August 27, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Joel & the Apricot Tree

Prunus armeniaca, RignaneseThe story of the locust plague on Judea is in Joel chapter 1.

Joel was a prophet in the Southern Kingdom (Judea).  Joel was categorized as a Minor Prophet and his book is placed second (between Hosea and Amos) among the 12 Minor Prophets.  Joel is a short three chapters.  Controversy surrounds when Joel was written.  Probably the controversy resulted because the book is divided into two distinct parts.  In the first part (Joel 1:2-2:17), Joel described Judea being invaded by locust.  From this perspective Joel was written during the locust plague early in the divided kingdom period.  In the latter portion of his book, Joel (Joel 2:18-3:21) delivered a prophecy about the restoration of Judah and God’s coming judgment on all nations.  Because of the language in this prophecy, some scholars believe Joel lived concurrent with Jeremiah or even after the restoration of Judah.  My perspective was that Joel was written during the reign of King Joash (835-796 B.C.) or early in the reign Uzziah (792-740 B.C).

Most scholars agree that Joel wrote about an actual scourge of locust into Judea. Joel’s descriptions of locust movements are graphic and accurate.  The locust devastated the harvest and ruined the land.  Field crops were destroyed with grains and vines eaten; plants that remained dried up.  New seeds did not germinate; they shriveled beneath clods of dry soil.  Because there was no fodder or pastures, cattle milled about and moaned in discomfort.  Even the sheep suffered from lack of food.  Fig trees were stripped of their bark as well as fruit, leaves, and stems.  All the trees of the fields – the pomegranate, palm, and apple tree – were dried up.

The year the locust invaded Judea was a horrible year for most Judeans.  Many suffered from inadequate food and nutrients because Judean agriculture was destroyed.  Likely imported foods were scarce and/or costly.  Even in subsequent years, the nation’s food supply was reduced.  Seeds did not germinate during the locust year; consequently, no seeds were available to plant the next growing season.  Farmers and families would have to buy seeds from other nations.  Trees and vines were damaged or destroyed.  Heavily damaged trees take years to recover; e.g., to grow new branches and produce fruit.

Despite the dire problems of food security that came about because of Judah’s sins, God loved his people and reassured them.  God promised “I will repay you for the years the locust have eaten – my great army that I sent among you” (Joel 2:28).  This verse tells each Judean and each of us that God will restore the times/years that we wasted living far from him.  The children of Judah and we have a part in this restoration.  Our part is to turn to God with our whole heart; to rend (tear or break) our hearts because of our sins (Joel 2:12-13).Apricots from Roanoke

The Apricot Tree

Joel identified one tree of the field as an apple tree.  The preponderance of scholarly and botanical evidence points to the apple tree as being an apricot tree.   Refer to the discussion in Chapter 1 on the Tree of Knowledge for growth requirements of apple trees.  The Apricot tree of the Bible is the Prunus armeniaca L. The apricot tree is native to northern China.  Probably the apricot tree was introduced into Mesopotamia and Israel about 2500 B.C.  Normally, P. armeniaca grows about 30 feet tall; however, wild trees have grown to 45 feet.  When cultivated, apricot trees reach full production in five years and have an economic life of about 30 years. The fruit of the tree is the apricot. In ancient Israel, apricots were handpicked from trees or trees were shaken so that apricots were dislodged and dropped to the ground.  Shaking trees has two problems.  First, when mature fruits hit the ground, they easily bruise, which promotes rot (Rhizopus fruit rot).  Second, apricot trees are more susceptible to trunk damage from shaking than many other fruit trees.  Often an apricot tree can be picked over 2–3 times each harvest.  Apricots were eaten fresh, cooked, or dried.  Fresh apricots taste best when eaten in 1-2 weeks. Ancient Judeans laid the apricots out in the sun, usually in a single layer, to dry.

Symbolism: Encouragement

In his book on correspondences of Bible plants, Worcester (2009) suggested that sweet fruit trees such as the apricot symbolized pleasant encouragement for good.  Providing encouragement is a key component of our role as Christians.  In the Bible over 60 references address encouragement.   When used in the Bible, “encouragement” meant to inspire with courage or hope, to give help, to lift a person’s confidence, or to strengthen their purpose.  In the Old Testament, several people or groups were identified as needing encouragement.  Moses was told to encourage or inspire Joshua because Joshua would lead the Israelites into the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 1:38, 3:28).   Israel’s soldiers strengthened comrades with words of encouragement during battles (Judges 20:22).  Joab warned David that if David did not go to his soldiers and encourage (lift their confidence) them after Absalom’s death, that the soldiers would desert (2 Samuel 19:7).  The righteous were entreated to encourage or give aide to the afflicted oppressed, fatherless, and widows (Psalm 10:17; Isaiah 1:17).

New Testament church stories include stories about encouragers and encouragement.  In fact, encouragement is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:6).  In Acts, we read that the Holy Spirit encouraged the churches throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria (Acts 9:13).  When we lived in Charleston, we had the privilege of attending a charismatic Lutheran church.  Walking into the church, we felt the Holy Spirit.  His presence permeated the songs/hymns, liturgy, and communion.  We came from a church that had severe financial challenges and were amazed one Sunday to hear that the church had so much money that they were having a large free shrimp picnic for the congregation and friends.  If you have lived in the South, you are probably smiling about now remembering that shrimp picnic had every side dish imaginable.  Each Sunday this Lutheran church operated a bus that went to the Rescue Mission area.  The Mission did not offer meals on Sundays.  The bus brought homeless individuals to the church, fed them a hearty breakfast, and invited them to church.  These folks were also invited to the shrimp picnic.  What an absolute blessing when the Holy Spirit intervenes in churches to inspire members and to strengthen their purpose.

Paul wrote that everything written in the past was written to teach … and encourage us so that we can have hope (Romans 15:4).  Repeatedly Paul wrote how he was encouraged (heartened) when he learned that Church plants were thriving; e.g., Corinthians   Paul even rejoiced that his imprisonment encouraged (inspired) his brothers in the Lord to speak the word of God courageously and fearlessly (Colossians 2:2).

Tychicus was an early church encourager.  Writing from a Roman prison in about 60 A.D., Paul described Tychicus as a dear brother, a faithful minister, and a fellow servant in Christ (Ephesians 6:21-22; Colossians 4:7-8).  Tychicus knew Paul’s circumstances, e.g., how and what Paul was doing.  He delivered Paul’s letters to the churches as Ephesus and Colosse.  Paul sent Tychicus to these churches with the expressed purpose that Tychicus would encourage – lift, inspire, strengthen – them.

Prayer.  God, thank you for letting us see the importance of the gift of encouragement and it purpose in the life of the Church.  Help us to be intentional encouragers.

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

copyright August 3, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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