Crucifixion Thirst

Sorgham from Kibbutz LotanBible References: Mark 15:33-37 and John 19:28-30.

Jesus was crucified at about 9:00 a.m. on Friday morning. At 12 noon, darkness came over the land and remained until about 3:00 p.m. By 3:00 p.m. Jesus was in extreme agony, both physically and mentally. His physical agony was from the effects of the Roman soldiers’ torture, the crown of thorns, and the nails that pierced his hands and feet so that he would hang on the cross. Christ’s mental anguish came from two sources. First, Jesus, who never sinned, had the weight of the world’s sin on his mind; he felt all of mankind’s perversions and violence. Second, the perfect, righteous God could not look at Jesus while Jesus was saturated with the sins of mankind. During the 6 hours Jesus was on the cross, God turned his face away from Jesus.  Jesus was horribly alone for the first time in his life in heaven and in his 33 years on earth.  It is no wonder Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Mark 15:33).

Hearing Jesus’ words, some individuals standing near the cross concluded that Jesus called for Elijah. One man ran and filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put the sponge on the stalk of a hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.  Jesus drank the wine vinegar.  Because the man had the authority to give Jesus wine, he was a Roman soldier or official.  Not uncommonly, Roman soldiers gave water or wine to men being crucified in order to revive them and to prolong the dying process. Attempting to revive Jesus was the man’s motivation for giving Jesus wine vinegar, because he said, “Now, leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down” (Mark 15:36). Neither God nor Elijah came to rescue Jesus.  Instead, soon thereafter Jesus gave his last breath and died.

The Hyssop Reed

Controversy surrounds the type of the hyssop stalk, or reed, used to offer Jesus wine vinegar while he was on the cross. Very likely this hyssop reed, wasn’t the hyssop of the Old Testament (see the story of David killing Uriah in Chapter 6). This hyssop doesn’t have a long (perhaps up to 6 feet) sturdy stalk that could have reached Jesus’ lips when he was on the cross.  Several writers proposed that the hyssop reed was from the genus Sorghum. The primary sorghum in Israel is Sorghum halepense. In Israel, another name for S. halepense is Aleppo Millet Grass while in the United States it is called Johnson grass. 

Sorghum is suited to the climate and agricultural conditions of Israel. It can thrive in the lowlands and mountains as a non-irrigated summer crop. We saw healthy sorghum growing in the southern Negev Desert in Kibbutz Lotan; however, crops were irrigated on the kibbutz with non-potable water. Often sorghum grows wild in disturbed areas such as ditch banks, and along roadsides. It is partial to heavy soils. 

Symbolism: End or Finish

In this passage, the hyssop reed symbolized the end point or finish. After Jesus received the wine vinegar on the hyssop reed, his final words were, “It is finished” (John 19:30). He finished all the tasks set before him to include enduring the cross. Genesis records another example of finished work; by the 7th day, God finished the work of creating the earth so he rested (Genesis 2:2). For mankind Christ’s finished work on the cross, symbolized by a final sip of water from a reed, was as important an ending as creation of the world.

Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth 3/14

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Pride before Destruction

Styrax officinalis, JBGThe story of King Uzziah and his prideful attempt to burn incense in the Temple is described in 2 Kings 15:1-7 and 2 Chronicles Chapter 26.

Uzziah inherited the crown of Judah when his father Amaziah was murdered.  He reigned for 52 years.  At the beginning of his reign, Uzziah did what was right in the eyes of God and God gave him many successes.  He won decisive battles over the Philistines, the Ammonites paid him tribute, and he added to the fortifications of Jerusalem.  Uzziah had a well-trained, well- equipped army of over 300,000 men.

With success, Uzziah became proud and unfaithful to God.  On one occasion, Uzziah entered the Temple and began to burn incense on the Altar of Incense.  According to Mosaic Law, only consecrated priests who were the descendants of Aaron could burn incense in the Temple.  Uzziah was holding the censer for burning incense when the chief priest Azariah and 80 courageous priests confronted him.  Azariah reminded Uzziah that even though he was king, he could not burn the incense.  Azariah demand that Uzziah leave the sanctuary.  As Uzziah began to rage against the priests, leprosy broke out on his body.

Azariah saw the leprosy and hurried Uzziah from the temple. When Uzziah saw his leprosy and was eager to leave the Temple.  From that time until his death about 10 years later, Uzziah lived in a house separated from the palace.  His son, Jotham, governed Judah.  Uzziah was buried near his ancestors in a field; however, he was not buried in the royal tombs because of the leprosy.

The composition of Tabernacle incense was fragrant spices – stacte, onycha, and galbanum – and pure frankincense all in equal amounts (Exodus 30:34, KJV, Scofield, 1945).  Very likely the same ingredients were used to make Temple incense during the first and the second Temple (Sirach 24:15, Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, 1965; Rabinowitz, 1977).  The plant galbanum was described as an ingredient of the Tabernacle incense in Chapter 4.  In this section, stacte will be used in as the ingredient in the Temple incense.

Stacte, Styrax officinalis

Temple incense stacte comes from the plant Styrax officinalis.   In Israel, S. officinalis has several names to include stacte tree, Official Storax, and styrax.  Stacte is translated as gum resin (Exodus 30:34) in the New International Version Study Bible (2002).

The origin of styrax is Eastern Mediterranean countries, from Italy through Turkey to include Israel.  Styrax is classified as a tree (52 feet in height); but often looks more like a good size shrub. The habitat is dry rocky slopes, in woods and thickets, and besides streams.  In Israel, the styrax tree is seen in the Judean and Samarian mountains and on Mounts Carmel and Herman as well as in the Upper Jordan and Northern valleys.  Because the styrax tree is deciduous, in autumn leaves turn yellow and drop and in spring new leaves sprout.  The styrax tree blooms April through June in Israel.  The entire tree is covered with flowers which look like snowdrops.  Styrax is an important honey plant.  Frequently, pollination occurs via insects, e.g., bees.  When the styrax tree stems and branches are wounded, a highly perfumed balsamic resin (gum) is exuded. The resin has been both described as smelling similar to a hyacinth.

Symbolism: Inspiration

The Hebrew word for stacte is nâtâph derived from the primary root nâtaph which means to ooze in the sense of to distill gradually or to fall in drops (Strong, 2010).  The figurative meaning of nâtaph is to speak by inspiration, e.g., prophesy.  As a nurse and as Master Gardener when I think of inspiration I think of breathing or oxygen taken into a human or a plant; but, the Bible has a different perspective on inspiration.  Inspiration is “God’s breathed out” word into the Holy Scriptures and into the words of the prophets (Renn, 2005).  Similar to the S. officinalis exuding gum resin (stacte), God exuded and exudes his message to the world.

As we talk about passages from the Bible, we often say as “David said in Psalm 51” or “as Paul wrote.”  We need to remember that the authors of the Bible wrote by the Holy Spirit.  The words of the Bible are not words of the author, e.g., David, Jonah, Paul; rather the words of the Bible are God’s words to the human race.  The Bible is God breathed and as such it is both divine authority and without error (Douglas & Tenney, 2011).

God inspired the words of the Bible.  “All scriptures is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” so that God’s people can be thoroughly equipped for all good works (2 Timothy 3:16, NIV Study Bible, 2002).  The Bible is a model for how we should live in this world. We can learn a new way of thinking and behaving from the Bible.

When we read the Bible, we take God’s inspired words into us — or not.  Christmas morning I sat in church listening to the epistle being read and thought how lovely the reader looked.  In retrospect, I asked myself “where was my head?”  Have you ever read the Bible while thinking of something else entirely?  I have. On those occasions, I doubt if I changed any part of myself as a result of my reading.

Reflection.  Allowing God to inspire us from his holy Word is an intentional process on our part.  How intentional are you being when you read The Holy Bible?

Copyright August 17, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Joy of the Redeemed

“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). The 35th chapter in Isaiah is named “The Joy of the Redeemed.”

Early spring saffron crocus

Christians are redeemed by accepting that Christ died for their sins and inviting him to be Lord of their life.  What joy this act brings us. Joy, not just that we will be with Christ after our death; but equal joy that he is with us now.

Could you or would you want to even try to live in this world without Christ? About a 100 times a day, I pray “Oh, God, help me”  or “Need some help here, Christ”  or simply “Christ.” When I send these e-mails to God, I’m not being flip or disrespectful; instead, I am making a short-hand prayer.

I think that I can safely use these  short email prayers, because I spend more concentrated time to be with Him in my devotions at some point during the day.

Reflection: Do you burst forth like a crocus after the winter snow? Do you take joy in your redemption?

Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth 3/14

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Meaningless Name!

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This beautiful plant (Acanthus spinosus) has a terrible common name, that is,” bear’s breeches.” The genus name, Acanthus, comes from the Greek word akantha meaning spine in reference to the toothed edges on leaves in some species. The species name, spinosus, means spiny in reference to the rigid spines on the leaves. Having recorded this information about spines, my own observation of Acanthus spinosus in our church Bible garden is that the leaves are a beautiful shiny green, but, not necessarily spiny or pointy. On the other hand, flowers on the vertical stock feel spiny when touched.

The A. spinosus shrub is native to the Mediterranean region. In the United States, it grows in Plant Zones 5-9. Acanthus leaves have a classical appearance and were the source of the Corinthian leaf motif used as a decoration in ancient Greek and Roman art and architecture.

At our church, I gave the first through third graders a tour of the Bible garden. When we came to the Acanthus spinosum, I asked them to touch the edge of the leaves to feel the spiny nature of the leave. None of them thought the leave were prickly. It was a different story when they touched the vertical, mauve flower that grew well above the plant leaves. None of the children could wrap their hands around the plant because it was so prickly.

Take a look at the photograph of the Acanthus spinosus flower stalk. It resembles the digitalis flower and stalk, but blooms are hardier. Using your sight only, you may decide to plant this easy to grow shrub in your garden; but remember the flower isn’t a good choice in a cut flower arrangements that may be touched.

If you view the “so called” pleasures of the world with your sight only, you may decide to indulge in them. But when you spend more time partaking of them, you realize they are spiny, even prickly. These “pleasure” are not something you really want to rub up against or become immersed in.

Reflection: Are there any activities in your life that are hurting you, that you should stay away from?

Copyright: February 3, 2016; Carolyn Adams Roth

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Better than Filet Mignon

cucumbersSolomon used vegetables as an example in Proverbs 15: 17

Solomon’s proverb was “Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred” (Proverbs 15: 17, NIV-SB, 2002).  In today’s language, the proverb would be something like “better a meal of vegetables with love than filet mignon with hatred or resentment.”  In Bible times killing and serving a fatted calf was a luxury reserved for special occasions (Matthew 22:5; Luke 15:23). Unlike today where a plate of vegetables makes an excellent meal, ancient people were not serve vegetable as the main course of the meal unless they were very poor. Vegetables were held in low esteem. When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they ate vegetable, i.e., cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic (Numbers 4:5).

In Solomon’s proverb love and hate are contrasted. Where love is present, it matters little what is served at the dinner table. The warmth, caring, and affection around the table makes meager fare seem like a banquet. For the poor of Egypt and Palestine, cucumbers and barley bread were often a meal. In contrast, the most delicious meal is as dust when those eating it have hard hearts and there is hatred around the table. At times eaters are so resentful that it is difficult to swallow. The most luxurious food tastes like saw dust.  If present, conversation is coldly polite or bursts forth from angry lips.

Cucumber Plant

The vegetable that will be described is the Cucumis sativus L, the common cucumber. The cucumber has been cultivated in warm countries of the world from pre-historic times. Its country of origin could have been India or Thailand. Wandering in the desert (circa 1400 B.C.), the Israelites longed for Egypt where they had cucumbers to eat. Isaiah (circa 740 B.C.) wrote that fields of cucumbers grew in Israel, but possibly he was referring to muskmelons.  No remains of cucumbers plants, fruit, or seeds remain from ancient Israel. Flowers are yellow and are shaped like a bell. The fruit is a cucumber. Cucumbers hang freely from stems and the green skin is hair free. The cylindrical cucumber can grow over 1 foot long. It is often slightly curved and beset with small knobby prominences when young. Inside the skin is pale green flesh with many seeds in the inner 2/3 of the cucumber.

Symbolism: Hard, hardened

The Hebrew word for cucumber is qishshû which comes from an unused root word meaning to be hard, possibly because the cucumber is often considered hard to digest (Strong, 2007).  Solomon’s proverb was “better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred” (Proverb 15:17, NIV-SB, 2002). In the first clause the hard to digest cucumber was softened by love. In contrast, hatred toughened or hardened the succulent flesh of the fatted calf.

The Bible tells us that nothing is too hard for God (Genesis 18:14; Jeremiah 32:17). Although it is not always easy for us to understand, the Bible also tells us that God has mercy on those he wants to have mercy and hardens those he wants hardened (Romans 9:18). For example, God hardened the heart of Pharaoh so that both the Egyptians and the Israelites would realize that it was God not Pharaoh that saved them from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 10:20). Although God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, there is no Biblical evidence that he hardened the hearts of the Israelites the many times they turned against their leaders and against him (Psalm 95:8; Zechariah 7:12; Mark 10:5). The Israelites’ hard hearts were their own doing.

When Christ was teaching in the Synagogue in Capernaum, he told the Jewish leaders and his disciples that he was the bread of life which came down from heaven (John 6:43-65). If individuals wanted eternal life, they must eat his flesh and drink his blood. Only those who ate his flesh and drank his blood could be raised up on the last day. Jesus’ disciples told him that his words were a “hard teaching.” They asked Christ, “How can we accept it?”  Jesus did not back down but tried to explain his teaching. He told the questioning disciples that his words were about spiritual aspects of life. Still, many disciples could not grasp Christ’s words and turned back and stopped following Christ.

Jesus loved the disciples who turned away from him and his teachings as much as he loved those disciples who remained. Christ grieved over the hard hearts that produced lack of insight into his teachings.  We see how much the departed disciples hurt Christ by the way he questioned those who remained, “You do not want to leave too, do you” (John 6:67, NIV-SB, 2003).  Imagine how much you would have to hurt to ask your spouse, children, or best friend the same question in the same way.

Reflection. “He who hardens his heart falls into trouble” (Proverbs 28:14, NIV-SB, 2002). She who hardens her heart falls into trouble.  Pray for a soft heart.

Copyright March 2, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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Sweet Camel Thorn

References: Although there are no references to the plant “camel thorn” in the Bible as today’s Christians have a copy, Goodspeed substitutes “camel thorn” in a Ecclesiastes reference.

Camel thorn (Alhagi maurorum) is a type of legume native to the Mediterranean Sea Basin, extending into Russia. It has been introduced into Australia, southern Africa and western United States. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, currently, camel thorn does not grow east of the Mississippi River. In western United States, camel thorn is often identified as an invasive species.

At the same time, the flower is beautiful: a small, bright pink to maroon pea flowers and small legume pods.  In Israel, flowers bloom April – September, indicating that camel thorn is hardy because it grows in the heat of Israeli summers. Pilgrims to Israel will see if growing in woodlands, shrublands, steppe, and even into the desert. Because camel thorn appreciates a salty habitat, it can grow on the seashore. It grows best next to a source of water, such as an irrigation ditch.

Pods are brown or reddish and seeds are mottled brown beans. Camel thorn is a perennial with a massive rhizome system which may extend over six feet into the ground. New shoots can appear over 20 feet from the parent plant. Above the ground, the plant rarely reaches four feet in height. It is a heavily branched, gray-green thicket with long spines along the branches.

Uses: In folk medicine camel thorn has been used to treat glandular tumors, nasal polyps, and ailments related to the bile ducts. It is used as a medicinal herb for its gastroprotective, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, laxative, anti-diarrhal and antiseptic properties, and in the treatment of rheumatism and hemorrhoids. I am not sure which parts of the plant are used in these treatments; however, I would be reluctant to take appreciable amounts internally. In the other hand, in the Qur’an, camel thorn is identified as a source of  sweet Manna, thus has been used as sweetener.  Despite being named after the camel, camels do not normally forage on this plant.

Reflection: Not all plants God put on earth can be used for food for either man nor animals. Do you ever wonder why God put them on earth? Perhaps, originally a plant such as camel thorn had a good used but with Adam and Eve’s sin, it was also corrupted. Saint Paul wrote that even creation groans under the weight of man’s sins.

Copyright: February 20, 2018; Carolyn Adams Roth

Visit my blog to learn more about plants: http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

Concieling Curtains

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Photo is of a mature cotton flower before turns in boll.

Esther chapter 1.

Esther is the last of the historical books of the Old Testament. It is the story of a beautiful Jewish girl who became wife to Ahasuerus (Xerxes), king of Persia (486-465 B.C.).

The story begins with Ahasuerus giving an elaborate banquet for his nobles and officials. The banquet was held in the palace’s enclosed garden. The garden had white cotton curtains and violet hangings fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings on marble pillars (ESV). Queen Vashti gave a banquet for the women in another part of the palace.  Feeling merry, Ahasuerus commanded that Vashti come before him to display her beauty to his guest. Vashti refused. Because of her disobedience, Ahasuerus divorced Vashti. Subsequently, Esther became queen.

Then, the plot of the book unfolds. Haman, an enemy of the Jews and chief advisor to Ahasuerus, determined to murder all the Jews throughout Persia. Ahasuerus consented to Haman’s plans not knowing that Queen Esther was a Jew. Esther’s uncle Mordecai sent word to Esther that she must plead to Ahasuerus for the lives of the Jews. Although frightened, Esther agreed to make the plea on behalf of her people. Esther planned two private banquets for Ahasuerus and Haman. At the second banquet Esther humbly admitted she was a Jewess.  She disclosed Haman’s scheme to destroy her people. Both Ahasuerus and Haman were stunned.  They were unaware that in ordering the murder of all Jews, they ordered the Queen’s death.

Angrily Ahasuerus ordered Haman to be hung. Because Ahasuerus could not undo his previous decree, he sent out another decree enabling the Jews to destroy any armed force that might attack them and to plunder the property of their enemies.

Celebration of Purim:

Purim is celebrated on the 14 day of Adar which is usually in March. In March 2012 at the time of the Festival of Purim, the Prime Minister of Israel visited the United States President and presented him with a scroll of the book of Esther.

Cotton

Cotton Flower, leaves

Young cotton flower, before turning cream-colored.

The white cotton curtains (Hebrew karpas) of Esther were probably Gossypium herbaceum also known as Levant cotton and Arabian cotton. G. herbaceum was domesticated in India about 3000 B.C. and present in Mesopotamia about 1000 B.C.  Ahasuerus ruled lands from India to Ethiopia; consequently, finding cotton curtains in his palace is reasonable. In the 7th century B.C. cotton was present in Horvat ʽUza located in the Arad Valley in Palestine. Certainly, the exiles would have brought cotton fabric, if not plants, back with them from exile in Persia. G. herbaceum is not the same species of cotton grown in present-day Israel, nor is it grown in the United States. When cotton plants are irrigated, most flower mid to late summer. Large, showy, solitary blooms have five petals (1-2 inches long). Flowers are yellow (occasionally white) at first, then fade to a soft red or pink. The cotton plant fruit is called a boll. When ripe, the boll splits and a mass of fine white filaments or fibers exude.  The white fibers are the cotton of commerce. Seeds are contained in the white fibers. In ancient times seeds were separated from fibers by hand.  With the invention of the cotton gin in the 18th century, seeds and fibers are separated mechanically.

Symbolism: Curtain, Conceal

In Ahasuerus’ palace, curtains were made from cotton. Curtain has several meanings to include 1) a hanging screen that can be drawn back, 2) a device that conceals or acts as a barrier, or 3) the time that a theatrical performance begins. In the first chapter of Esther, the cotton curtains were associated with all three meanings. Technically, the white cotton curtains were tied back by cords of fine linen and purple to silver rods. In inclement weather or to obscure the sun’s rays, the cotton curtains could be let down. Figuratively, the curtains symbolized Esther concealing her nationality. They symbolized Haman’s concealed desire to murder Mordecai; yet convincing Ahasuerus that all Jews should die because they disobeyed the king’s laws. Finally, the cotton-curtained plaza was the stage where the first act of the drama of Esther began.

Earlier in this blog, we studied the importance of the veil or curtain in the Tent of Meeting. That curtain was made of linen not cotton but it also concealed, e.g., the Most Holy of Holies room from the Holy of Holies room. The chief priest entered the Most Holy of Holies one time per year and then only after making blood sacrifice for his own sins and the inadvertent sins of the Israelites.

Christ death changed the curtain separating the two rooms of the Temple. When Christ died, the curtain separating the Most Holy of Holies from the Holies of Holy rooms tore from top to bottom. Similarly, Christ’s death tore the curtain separating us from God. God became open and available to us; no longer concealed by a curtain. Now through the blood of Jesus Christ we have confidence to stand before God (Hebrews 10:19).

Reflection:  We have ready access to God through Christ.  No more curtain between us and Abba, our Father.  Now the only one who can keep God concealed from us is us.

Copyright 12, 29, 2012; carolyn a. roth; updated 2,23,17

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A Long Life?

Quercus calliprinos with Bruce

Abraham’s camp near the oaks of Mamre is identified in Genesis 14:13 and 18:1-8.

When Abraham was about 75 years old, God directed him to leave his home in Haran. Abraham traveled with his wife Sarah, nephew Lot, and servants to Canaan. Later, Lot separated from Abraham. Abraham moved his tents to the great trees of Mamre near Hebron where he remained many years.

When Abraham was 99 years old, he had three visitors; one was the Lord. The Lord revealed two things to Abraham. First, Sarah would give birth to Abraham’s son within the next year (Genesis 18:10). Second, the Lord planned to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their extreme wickedness. Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family lived in Sodom.

Abraham was able to negotiate with God so that if as few as 10 righteous persons lived in Sodom, the city would be spared. The next morning Abraham went to a place that overlooked the plain cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham saw dense smoke rising from the plain. God was unable to find 10 righteous individuals in Sodom. Shortly thereafter, Abraham left Mamre and traveled into the Negev region where Isaac was born. At some point after Isaac’s birth, Abraham returned to the area of Mamre near Hebron.

Oak Trees of Mamre Quercus calliprinos (2)

The great trees of Mamre are Quercus calliprinos, called Palestinian oaks. Some Bibles translate oak as terebinth; however, the oak and terebinth are different trees. The Palestinian oak originated in the Mediterranean Basin. It is the most common tree found in the wildlife of Israel. Fine specimens grow the Biblical Landscape Reserve in Israel. Palistinian oaks propagate by producing acorns. Ripe acorns drop from trees and germinate in 1 week. Seedlings grow slowly. At one time the Palestinian oak was an important source of hard wood for ships, ploughs, yokes, canes. Bark was a source of tannin to dye skins and leather. Acorns were roasted and eaten during famine. The tribe of Dan made way-bread from acorns and took it to war.

Symbolism: Longevity

In the Bible, oaks were associated with power, strength, or longevity in the sense of long life. The great oaks of Mamre symbolized Abraham’s long life. A Palestinian oak near Hebron, called Abraham’s Oak, is thought to be over 850 years old.

God promised that he will be with his servants through life, even into their old age and gray hairs (Isaiah 46:4). God’s people don’t need to be concerned about aging, or what they will do in retirement. They can use Abraham as their model. God called Abraham to a new life and adventure when Abraham was 75 years old. Abraham lived 175 years. Following Noah’s death, the Bible documented that after the flood, only Isaac lived as long as Abraham.

An Israelite proverb is that the fear of the Lord adds length to life; but the years of the wicked are cut short (Proverbs 10:27). Perhaps the underlying logic of this proverb is as simple as individuals who fear the Lord live more prudent lives than do the wicked; therefore, they live longer. Whatever the cause and effect of the proverb, it is important and true because it is God’s word.

Reflection. Do you want a long life? How do you think a long life is related to fear of the Lord? Does fear of God have any place in how you live your current life?

Copyright: February 22, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth; All rights reserved.

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Desire in a Walnut Grove

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The above picture is a black walnut tree which grows in the US. In Israel walnut trees were Persian walnuts.

Reference: Song of Songs 6:1-12.

Solomon had an expert knowledge of plants (1 Kings 4:33).  He described plant life from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop implying he studied not only the most majestic of plants, but those of little economic significance.  He had flower and herb/spice gardens and a grove of nut trees.  In this Song of Songs entry, Solomon is speaking.   His words seem more reflective than addressed to the Beloved.

Solomon went down to the grove of nut trees to look at the new growth in the valley.  Possibly, Solomon was looking for the first signs of spring (Song of Songs 6:11 note).  Solomon wrote that while in the nut tree grove, “my desire set me among the royal chariots of my people” (Song of Songs 6:12, NIV-SB, 2002).  According to the NIV-SB notes, this verse is the most obscure verse in Song of Songs.  Yet, the meaning could be as simple as, the budding garden reminded Solomon of spring, a time of love.  With thoughts of love, Solomon accessed a chariot to speed to his Beloved.  Solomon was famous for his chariots which for him were a regular means of transportation.

The Walnut Tree

The nut trees in Solomon’s grove were most likely walnut trees. The species name is Juglans regia L., commonly called the Persian walnut.  Those of us living in England and United States call it the English walnut.  Controversy surrounds this walnut’s origin.  While some botanists claim it originated in the Carpathian Mountains of Europe, others assign its origin to the Himalayan Mountains of China and India.  In 2012, the walnut tree was not present in the three data bases allocated to the study of Israeli plants. The English walnut tree  grows well in temperature climates. When the tree matures, often the canopy is as wide as the tree is tall.  Walnut trees are valuable for their walnuts and for high quality wood used in the manufacture of cabinets and gun stocks.  The heavy green rind encasing the walnut can be steeped in boiling water to produce a rich brown dye.  In Jesus time, walnuts grew around the Sea of Galilee.  Walker (1979) proposed that Jesus’ coat was a rich brown, dyed by the leaves and nut of the walnut tree.

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Symbolism: Fertility

In ancient times, the walnut symbolized fertility. Fertility is the manifold and copious ability to grow and develop, or to produce fruit.  This image of fertility is consistent with descriptions used in Song of Songs.  Details of the beauty and abundance of the land were provided; e.g., spice beds, flower gardens, and groves of nut trees.  At the same time, fertility in the sense of producing off-spring was revealed in the love and attraction between Solomon and his Beloved.  God planned for his people Israel to enjoy the land’s fertility — to eat its fruit and rich harvests (Jeremiah 2:7) and to produce strong children in the land.

In the Bible, fertility and abundance are linked with the presence of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit causes the desert to become a fertile field (Isaiah 32:15) and Jacob’s descendants to spring up like grass in a meadow (Isaiah 44:3-4).  The Holy Spirit is the source of prophesies, dreams, and visions in men and women of all ages and rank (Joel 2:28-29; Galatians 3:28-29).

My back garden is on a slope with good drainage. Over the past years, I planted several types of flower seeds and transplanted healthy nursery stock.  We installed a soaking hose to provide a regular water source in dry weather and fertilized the plants.  Yet, some plants did not flourish there.  After a particularly frustrating spring and summer, I decided to have the soil tested. To my surprise, the soil was alkaline (basic) in pH rather than neutral or acidic.  Most of the perennials e.g., rhododendrons, azaleas, and annuals that I planted preferred neutral to acid soil.  Plants do not flourish in the wrong type of soil. They remain the same size or even decline in size.  Some enter a vegetative state where few if any blooms are produced.

God wants us to be fertile like Solomon’s grove of walnut trees.  The Holy Spirit flourishes in us so that we produce fruit, such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Reflection:  I was trying to grow flowers in the wrong type of soil.  How’s your soil?  Is your life’s garden a fertile place for the Holy Spirit to produce fruit?

Copyright February, 2012; Carolyn A. Roth

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An Urgent Prayer

Grundelia tournefortiiAsaph’s prayer for God to make Israel’s foes like tumbleweeds is in Psalm 83.

Although Asaph is credited with writing Psalms 50 and 73-83, possibly he was the ancestor of the actual writer of Psalm 83. The content of Psalm 83 indicates it may have been written in the years immediately before the Exile. Psalm 83 is more an urgent prayer than a song.

Psalm 83 takes the same form as several other psalms. First the present situation is defined (verses 1-4). Second, the Lord is reminded how he gave victory to the Israelites in the past (verses 5-12). Finally, a specific request for help is outlined (verses 13-18).

Situation defined: God’s people are threatened by enemies. If God does not defend them, they will be destroyed completely (Psalm 83:1-4). The psalmist named 10 nations who allied themselves against God’s chosen. Asaph pleaded for Israel’s safety in a way that made Israel’s circumstances God’s challenge; he referred to Israel’s foes as your (God’s) enemies, those who hate you (God), your (God’s) people, they form an alliance against you (God).

Past victories from God: Asaph reminded God he gave Israel victory over the Canaanites (Jabin and Sisera) at the Kishon River. When the Midianites attempted to co-opt Israelites pastures, God gave Israel the ability to drive them out and kill their kings, e.g., Zebah and Zalmunna.

Request for help: Asaph pleads with God to destroy – blow away — the kingdoms who want to destroy God’s chosen people. Specifically Asaph wrote, “make them like tumbleweed, O my God, like chaff before the wind” (Psalm 83:13, NIV-SB, 2002).

The Tumbleweed

Most often the Bible tumbleweed is identified as the Gundelia tournefortii sometimes called a tumble thistle. Israeli botanists use the Hebrew name, galgal, while Arabs call it the A’Kub.  The tumbleweed is native to the Middle East including semi-desert areas of Israel and the Palestinian Authority where it has been documented as an edible plant for the last 2000 years. In Israel, tumbleweeds grow in wastelands and along roadsides from Mount Hermon and Golan in the north to the Negev hills and Eilat in the south. Tumbleweeds do not grow well in the shade. The fruit is a seed. After the fruit is formed, thistle stems separate from roots. Because the tumbleweed is round, it rolls like a ball when driven by the wind. Seeds of dead fruits are dispersed by the rolling plant. Young flower heads are removed and sold in Palestinian Authority markets where they supplement the foods of local people. Mature plants are sometimes used as camel fodder.

Symbolism: Action, Act 

Action is the process of doing something in order to achieve a purpose. Synonyms of action are accomplishing, battle, and prosecute. God’s action was central in the two places tumbleweeds were named in the Bible. In Psalm 83:13 the psalmist pleading for God to take action and make Israel’s enemies like tumbleweed before the wind. While Isaiah (17:13) recounted God’s action on behalf of Israel. God rebuked the nations and they were driven before the wind like tumbleweed before a gale.

Asaph’s motivation for asking God to act on behalf of the Israelites was not only for the security of Israel, but for worldwide acknowledgement of God as the true God (Psalm 83:18, study note).  Acknowledgment of God includes seeking God as his people seek him, e.g., to learn about God, his teachings, and his commands.

Christians cannot use Psalm 83 against national enemies because Christianity is broader than national boundaries. Christians are the world-wide fellowship of believers and one Christian should not pray for the downfall of another. Christians can pray Psalm 83 against foes who act to destroy them and all traces of their faith (Psalm 83 text note, ESV-SB, 2008). They can ask God to defeat these plans in a way that persecutors seek and know God and accept Christ as Savior.

When we accept Christ as our Savior, God promises to accept us as his children. That promise requires God to act on our behalves; however, God’s action is not always according to our timetable.  Sometimes we want God, “to do something NOW!”  A number of years ago, I was part of a large congregation attempting to buy our church property from the diocese.  The diocese kept pushing the time back for final notification and sale closing. Church members became more anxious every day, then every hour. Quietly, our minister reminded us, “God is rarely early, but He is never late.”

ReflectionChrist said that wisdom is proven right by her actions (Matthew 11:19). What do you think Christ meant?  How does Christ’s statement apply to your life?

Copyright February 6, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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