Punishment with Thistles

Bible  Reference: Judges 8.1-21.

God called Gideon to lead Israelites when Midianites and allies invaded the Promised Land. The Midianites were marauders who swarmed across Israel stripping bare farm lands. Gideon was from the Israelite tribe of Manasseh and lived west of the Jordan River.  Gideon and 300 men routed a massive force (over 100,000 swordsmen) of Midianites near Morah.

Midianites fled south along the Jordan River. Some crossed the Jordan River near the Jabbok River. Gideon and his 300 men pursued them and came to the town of Succoth, in the tribal lands of Gad. Gideon told Succoth elders he was pursuing two Midian kings, Zebah and Zalmunna. Gideon asked the town for  food for his worn-out men. Gideon had every expectation of receiving help from this Israelite town. All twelve Israelite tribes had pledged to assist each other in the face of foreign threats.

Not only did the elders of Succoth refuse Gideon food, they were  insolent in their refusal. Elders told Gideon that he assumed a victory over Midianite kings which may not occur. Succoth wasn’t about to assist Gideon and his small army. Apparently, Succoth elders feared reprisal from Midianites. Stop reading and think a minute. Would you have been angry with the Succoth officials? Would you have been able to restrain yourself from attacking them verbally or physically? Would you have wanted to strike out at these elders? I am offended on Gideon’s behalf.

Hearing Succoth elders’ refusal, Gideon promised that he would return and punish them. Gideon proceeded with his main goal. Gideon and men routed 15,000 Midianites at Karkor and later captured both kings. Returning from battle, Gideon learned names of the seventy-seven Succoth elders, who had refused bread to his army. Then, Gideon went to Succoth, captured town elders, and punished them with desert thorns and briers.

Historical writers claimed that when thorns and briers were used as punishment, men were stripped of clothes. Thorns and briers were placed on both sides of their bared bodies. Then, heavy sledges (sleighs) were pressed on thorns and pulled across bodies so the skin was severely torn. Considering that Succoth elders refused food to the pursuing Israelite soldiers, they vigorously applied punishment to Succoth elders. Every time I read this story, I want to say, “You go, Gideon.”

In the episode of Gideon and Succoth elders, most likely thistles were the Syrian thistle (Notobasis syriaca or Cirsium syriacum). The Syrian thistle is native to Middle Eastern countries. It is an annual plant that grows in semi-desert areas. In Israel, it grows throughout the entire country including the desert south. Often, Syrian thistles are found in disturbed lands, i.e., sides of roads and construction sites. Leaves are deeply lobed and gray-green in color with white veins. Leaves have sharp spines on both leaf margins and apices (apexes). At times, leaves look more like spines than leaf blades. Flowers are purple and attractive.

At Succoth, the Syrian thistle symbolized retribution. Retribution is dispensing or receiving reward or punishment. Retribution is given or exacted in recompense for words or actions.3 Retribution is often confused with revenge, which means to avenge oneself usually by retaliating in kind.3 Although retribution and revenge are sometime confused, retribution includes justice.

In the United States, we have a judicial system where individuals stand trial for offenses against civil laws. The judicial system doesn’t exact revenge for persons who were harmed. Rather, the judicial system punishes individuals who break the law. Judicial punishment isn’t revenge, but, retribution because it includes justice.

I am fairly sure that if Gideon didn’t take retribution on Sukkoth elders, God would have repaid them for their fear and selfishness. Jeremiah wrote that God is a God of retribution and that God will repay in full.

The Old Testament stated that the Israelites weren’t to seek revenge or bear a grudge. They were to love their neighbors as they loved themselves. Neighbors included not only Israelites who lived near-by, but those who lived far distances, i.e.,  Succoth in the territory of Gad east of the Jordan River. Saint Paul directed New Testament Christians to not take revenge on those who persecuted them; rather, Christians are to leave room for God’s wrath. So much for my “You go, Gideon.”

Reflection: We don’t know what Gideon felt and thought when he punished the Succoth elders with thistles. Hopefully, he was exacting retribution, not revenge,  from them. There is no record that God was displeased with Gideon’s actions. What do you think—retribution or revenge?

Copyright May 2019; Carolyn Adams Roth

Compassion – Lessons from Jonah’s Vine

Most of you know something about Jonah. Jonah’s ministry was almost 3000 years ago; but, the message is timeless. Jonah begins with God telling Jonah go to Nineveh, Assyria to warn the people to repent of their wickedness. If Ninevites didn’t repent, God was going to destroy them.

Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh! He boarded a ship sailing across the Mediterranean Sea in the opposite direction. Every Sunday School child knows what happened next. God cause a giant storm in the Sea, sailors threw Jonah overboard. A fish swallowed Jonah.

Jonah remained in the fish’s belly three days. During that time, he rethought his disobedience to God’s command to go to Nineveh. I would have rethought my disobedience if I was in the belly of a fish, wouldn’t you?

Jonah repented. In response, God caused the fish to vomit Jonah onto land.  Can you imagine your clothes and skin after being in a fish’s belly three days? Slime, mucus, digestive juices! All I can say is “Yuck, I need to bathe and a clean set of clothes. Where’s the shower?”

After this experience, Jonah went to Nineveh and proclaimed the message God give him:  Forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed unless you repent.

Ninevites, including their king, believed Jonah. They fasted and repented in sackcloth and ashes. When God saw that Ninevites turned from their evil ways, he had compassion. God did not destroy Nineveh.

Likely, Ninevites were ecstatic over God’s decision not to destroy them; however, Jonah was angry.  Jonah went to a hill top, east of Nineveh, built a small shelter, and sat down under it. Jonah waited to see what would happen to Nineveh. Jonah had no confidence that Ninevites would continue their reformed ways. Jonah wanted God to destroy Nineveh and he wanted a front row seat.

As he watched Nineveh, God caused a vine to grow over Jonah to screen him from the sun. Jonah was glad for the vine’s protection. The next day, God caused a worm to chew the vine. It withered. Later in the day, God caused a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah and the sun to shine on his head. Jonah grew faint.

Jonah was angry with God for destroying the vine. God asked Jonah: “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” Jonah’s response was a resounding “I do and I am angry enough to die.”

God told Jonah that Jonah was concerned about a vine that he neither caused to grow nor tended. How much more should God be concerned about Nineveh, a city of 120,000 people who didn’t know right from wrong.

Compassion

Jonah’s vine symbolized God’s compassion. Compassion is awareness of another person’s distress, together with a desire to alleviate the distress. Throughout Jonah, God leads Jonah to a new understanding of God himself and God’s compassion. God was never angry with the sulky Jonah. Instead, God gave patient explanations, using Jonah’s feelings for the vine to parallel God’s feelings for Ninevites.

Reflection: I wonder if our lack of compassion on individuals of other nationalities results from Americans believing that God and Christianity belongs to us. I hope not. Hopefully, we rejoice that God has compassion on all peoples.

Copyright April 23, 2019; All Rights Reserved.

Pleases visit my website for more insights on plants in the Bible: http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

St. Mary’s Thistle

Thorns and thistles were an original consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin. The Bible used thorns and thistles as symbols of desolation and a description of a wilderness environment. In almost every Bible instance when thistles were identified, the desolation and wilderness were the result of mankind’s continued sin. Frequently, mankind turned from God and worshiped foreign (man-made) idols.

Some thistle seeds have feathery growths. When blown by the wind, feathery seeds float over a wide region. For the most part seeds remain dormant; however, after rain, they germinate and grow rapidly. Although many thistles produce beautiful flowers, farmers and gardeners rarely want them in a field or a garden. Thistles are an invasive species.

Bible  Reference: Genesis chapter 3

Which thistle grew first after God cursed the ground? It’s impossible to know. Today, Holy Lands are largely arid, with many thistle species. Sun and burning heat dominate landscapes. Once-cultivated areas are an ideal growth environment for thistles.

Assuming that the Garden of Eden was located east of Israel where the Tigris and Euphrates joined, the first thistle grew in that area where Adam and his offspring lived after being expelled from Eden. One thistle present in this region and in Israel for thousands of years is the Silybum marianum, also named the blessed milk thistle and St.  Mary’s thistle. Once established, milk thistles form two-to-six feet dense clumps. On the milk thistle, flowers are red-purple and have spiny sharp leaves (bracts) directly under the flower base.  Milk thistle leaves are attractive. They are large, with white veins. When leaves are cut or torn, a milky substance is released.7,10

For thousands of years, the milk thistle has been used in folk medicine to treat liver, cancerous, and psychiatric disorders; however, there’s no reliable science validating the efficacy of milk thistle to treat these conditions. Milk thistle plants displace desirable forage plants, such as grasses. Because milk thistle accumulates nitrogen, it  can be lethal if eaten by livestock.

Fully mature milk thistle seeds are glossy, brown-to-black,  with an umbrella-like appendage. When released, seeds blow over a wide region.  A single flower head can produce 100–200 seeds.  Seeds can lay dormant on/in soil up to nine years, then germinate after a rainfall. Milk thistle is an annual or biennial plant. When I planted seeds in the church Bible garden, milk thistle grew two years then died. In the subsequent years, milk thistle didn’t regrow.

Sometimes I create an environment for thistles, rather than for flowers, to grow in my life. In the past, I have taken on major projects at home, church, or job. Like Adam and Eve, I’ve sweated over these projects, expending tremendous energy and time. Despite my efforts, some projects failed completely or partially—thistles resulted rather than beautiful flowers.

Looking back on these projects, I know that, more often than not, thistles were a consequence of my disobedience. I let pride combined with my desire to “do it my way” block listening to God, whether he was instructing me through another individual, his word (Bible), or my conscience.  I grope, sometimes even groan, trying to find my way toward God. I want to obey his word and submit fully to him.

Reflection: Think of times in your life that you  tried to reach God, but you couldn’t get to him. You felt like your life was filled with thistles; everything growing in your life was wrong. What did you do? Did it work? If not, propose to yourself other options to try when you find yourself in similar circum- stances in the future.

Copyright April 4, 2019; All rights reserved.

God as a Gardener

This book is a Bible Study of plants in the parables. It costs $15.00 and can be purchased at http://www.carolynrothministry.com or on Amazon.

12 parables are from the Old Testament and 12 from the New Testament. New Testament parable mostly are not Jesus’s parables, but other ones.

Isaiah’s Palestinian buckthorn

Bible Reference: Isaiah chapter 7.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright April 4, 2019; All rights reserved.

The Desert Bloomed

From my sister (Julie Roth) back yard in Arizona.

Laughter of Fools

Bible Reference: Ecclesiastes 7.6

Possibly, Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon, one of his offspring, or a learned teacher in the Israelite assembly.  Within Ecclesiastes, the writer referred to himself as “Teacher.” One saying the Teacher wrote was, “Like the crackling of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of fools. This too is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 7.6 NIV).

Israelite cooking fires were located in outer courtyards or inside homes. The time of year influenced where the fire was located.  In hot weather, the cooking fire was outside the home. In cooler or cold weather, the fire was located inside the home to give heath. Many poorer Israelites cooked over a simple hole in the ground surrounded by rocks (a fire pit). Wealthier Israelites had ovens, either inside the home or in the courtyard.

In ancient Israel, wood was the primary fuel used for cooking; however, in Ecclesiastes 7.6, thorns fueled fire. Thorn bushes burn faster and with less heat than dense wood, i.e., oak, olive. Many times when thorns were collected and burned, green branches were present at the base, even when the thorn bush appeared dry on top and in the middle. When burned, green branches emitted a crackling sound. Thorns, as fuel, made the point of the Teacher’s saying: The laughter of fools is like a short-lived fire fueled by thorns, not dense wood. A fool’s laughter, although perhaps loud, doesn’t last very long. It is relatively valueless or meaningless.

In ancient Israel, wood was the primary fuel used for cooking; however, in Ecclesiastes 7.6, thorns fueled fire. Thorn bushes burn faster and with less heat than dense wood, i.e., oak, olive. Many times when thorns were collected and burned, green branches were present at the base, even when the thorn bush appeared dry on top and in the middle. When burned, green branches emitted a crackling sound. Thorns, as fuel, made the point of the Teacher’s saying: The laughter of fools is like a short-lived fire fueled by thorns, not dense wood. A fool’s laughter, although perhaps loud, doesn’t last very long. It is relatively valueless or meaningless.

The thorn plant of Ecclesiastes is the Sarcopoterium spinosum. Other names are the thorny burnet and prickly burnet.9,10 On the female flower, ovaries are set in four-or-five joined sepals so that female flowers resemble a covered pot. These flower pots are numerous on stems. When the female flower is young, it is green, and turns red-orange at maturity and rusty brown as it dries.  In the heat of a fire, the flower “pots” produce a small explosive sound when they pop open. The sound resembles crackling. On the thorny burnet, thorns grow up to four inches. Individuals who harvest and prepare the thorny burnet for fuel and other purposes have a high chance of being scratched by thorns.

In Ecclesiastes 7.6, the meaning of thorny burnet was futility. Futility implies an action that has no use or purpose.3 Synonyms are ineffective, pointless, and vainness; an  antonym is useful. Although a thorny burnet fire can snap, crackle, and pop, and be pleasing to the ears, the sound adds little to the heat.

Paul identified several ways and situations where man’s thoughts were futile, i.e., useless and ineffective. Two points seem particularly important today.  First, God is revealed through his creation, yet unrighteous men neither glorified God, nor give him thanks. Instead their thinking becomes futile and their foolish hearts  darkened. They exchanged worship of the immortal God for worship of man-made images such as birds, animals,  and reptiles. Most men and women in the twenty-first century don’t worship animals, but, sometimes, they hang onto the words of men/women rather than focusing on God’s instruction for life.

Writing to the Corinthian church, Paul stated that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sin” (1 Corinthians 15.17 NIV). Redemption of our bodies, eternal life in Christ, depends on a risen Lord. When I was in college, The Passover Plot.11 was required reading for anyone trying to be intellectual.  The book argued that Jesus and disciples implemented an elaborate ruse to have Jesus declared Messiah. Jesus never died on the cross. He was taken from the cross and hidden by close associates. Then, Jesus reappeared three days later to fulfill Jews’ expectations for the Messiah.

The problem with The Passover Plot’s argument is the lived experiences of individuals who saw both Jesus’s death and his resurrected body. Evidence of Jesus’s death comes from eye-witness accounts of non-believers as well as believers. In his resurrected body, Jesus appeared at least eleven times to over 500 people.

My reading The Passover Plot allowed me to appear intellectual when I discussed arguments against Jesus’s death during my college years. Yet, my arguments were as the crackle of thorn bushes in a cook fire—not of much value. Recently, I read another book, None Like Him.12 The author said that God is self-sufficient. That means that God doesn’t need my arguments for or against his existence. The phenomenon of Jesus’s death and resurrection may confound the wise, but, that doesn’t make it any less real. My take away message from reading both books, one futile and one valuable for Christian growth, is that reading and believing commentaries on the Bible should never take the place of reading (and believing) God’s word.

Reflection: What are you spending your time doing that isn’t of much value? Let me assure you that it didn’t take me more than a second to come up with several time-wasters in my life. How can you, more importantly, how are you going to eliminate these time-wasters from your life? If you spent more time promoting Christ’s message, how would that benefit the USA?

Copyright April 4, 2019. All rights reserved.