Category Archives: Plants & the Southern Kingdom – Judah

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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