Tag Archives: Abraham

Chaste, Does it Matter?

This meditation is related to a type of tree that Abraham found in the thicket on Mount Moriah.

The Word of the Lord:  Genesis 22.9-14: And the two of them went on together. When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham! “Here I am,” he replied. Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

 Meditation: Experienced hikers rarely attempt to hike through a thicket. They know that thick and irregular spaced trees, shrubs, and vines in the thicket can obscure the direction they want to travel. Generally, hikers travel around a thicket.

Thickets, similar to the one in which Abraham saw the ram on Mount Moriah, often contain chaste trees. Chaste trees grow as bushy, thick shrubs many with attractive white or lavender flowers.

The name “chaste” occurred because berries and leaves of the tree were believed to stop desire. A middle-ages tradition was that monks ate berries to keep themselves free from sexual desires, thus, kept themselves pure.

In twenty-first century United States, chastity is no longer valued. Often, the opposite is true in some, if not most, segments of society. Yet, when I was a girl, female chastity and purity were important.

In contrast to girls and women, male chastity wasn’t necessarily valued. In fact, men were expected to have sexual experiences prior to marriage so they could satisfy their wives.

Think about God’s expectations for chastity in humankind. Are God’s expectations different for males and females? Has God changed his mind about chaste behavior as society changed its expectations? J. Vernon McGee sums it up this way: what was once done in the back yard is now done in the front yard.

Reflection: Have you heard the words “sexual revolution?” What is it? Is it from God?

Copyright 6/23/2020:Carolyn Adams Roth

 

Are you Committed to God?

 

The Word of the Lord

 Genesis 21.32-34: After the treaty had been made at Beersheba, Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his forces returned to the land of the Philistines. Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God. And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time.

Meditation

Abraham was living near Beersheba in Canaan. By this time, he had a son, Isaac, dug a well, found water, and negotiated peace with neighbors. Then, Abraham planted a grove of trees and called on El Ôlām, naming God “the Eternal God.” This site near Beersheba is the only place Abraham planted trees. Trees that Abraham planted were tamarisk.  

Tamarisk trees make the desert heat more bearable. At night, moisture increases in the cool air and water adheres to salt particles excreted from branches of this salt cedar. In the morning tiny water droplets appear on branches. As morning sun warms the air, water droplets evaporate, cooling both trees and the shade below trees.

These tamarisk trees were a memorial to Abraham’s commitment to God. God welcomes all individuals to turn to Him. God said, “If a wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him” (Ezekiel  18.21-22).

I’m so happy that God forgave all the sins that I committed as a college student and young woman. This forgiveness means that I’m not going to live my immortal life without God because of my lack of commitment to God in my early years.

God also said, “The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chronicles 16.9). God’s roaming eyes see us. God wants to see a fully committed person.

Reflection: Do you think that you need to be more fully committed to God or are you doing okay at your current level? How can you demonstrate a fuller commitment to him?

Copyright 6/21/2020

Entangled

The Word of the Lord

Genesis 22.2-14: Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”

And the two of them went on together. When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham! “Here I am,” he replied.

Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

 Meditation

 Isaac was the son that God promised Abraham and Sarah, the son through whom the Messiah would come. When Isaac was about 16 years-old, God commanded Abraham to take him to Mount Moriah and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. Abraham didn’t hesitate or question God’s command.

On Mount Moriah, Abraham built an altar, arranged wood on it, and tied Isaac on the top of the altar. Abraham picked up his knife. Abraham was fully prepared to sacrifice his heir as God directed him. At the last minute, an angel told Abraham not to kill Isaac. The angel commended Abraham for being willing to obey God.

Abraham saw a ram caught by the horns in a nearby thicket. The thicket held the ram in place in much the same way that Isaac’s bindings held him in place on the altar. Abraham killed the ram and substituted the ram for Isaac as a burnt offering to God.

Thickets are entangled branches, i.e., branches twisted together.  Often entanglements cause confusion. Imagine the confusing thoughts that Satan brought to Abraham’s mind during the three-day walk to Mount Moriah.

Abraham didn’t become entangled in Satan’s lies or become confused by his limited understanding of God or God’s instructions to him. Abraham focused on obeying God.

Most of us have been in situations when our minds are entangled with a problem. We worry the problem as a dog gnaws at a bone. Our minds go around and around trying to focus on every possible solution. Perhaps, we need to focus on how Abraham solved the problem. To him, the solution was simple—obey God.

In this episode, God communicated with Abraham directly, perhaps by voice, in a dream, or in Abraham’s mind. Generally, God doesn’t communicate with us in one of these three ways. Instead, God communicates with us through the Bible. To get his communications, we must read the Bible.

Reflection: Did you ever become entangled in Satan’s lies? Looking back, what did you learn? Was there a better way to proceed through the situation than the one you opted for?

Copyright 6/22/2020

Expel

The Word of the Lord

 Genesis 21.8-14: The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.” The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.

Meditation

 When Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael from his camp, he gave them food and water. Although types of food wasn’t specified, bread was included.

Very likely, the bread was made from barley grain. Barley was a sustaining food source from about 7000 BC in Canaan. Barley, a drought-resistant grain, grew in the arid habitat around Beersheba where Abraham made his primary camp during this Bible episode.  Barley was the first grain that ripened in the new year; thus, ancient Israelites associated it with “first fruits.”

Although Ishmael was the first fruit of Abraham’s body, God directed Abraham to force Ishmael and his mother to leave his camp. Abraham expelled them; he no longer fed Hagar and Ishmael, protected them, or supported them.  Abraham took away rights and privileges that Ishmael had as Abraham’s first-born son.

This story makes me uncomfortable. I’m between knowing that God and all his decisions/actions are  for good, while imagining how the approximately 16year old Ishmael must have felt. True, Ishmael was complicit in mocking Isaac at his weaning ceremony. Still, my heart hurts when I read the story and imagine how the characters, i.e., Abraham, Ishmael, Hagar, felt.

Abraham followed God’s directions no matter how much following them hurt him. Likely, Abraham hurt when he left his family at Haran, hurt when he believed that his nephew Lot was destroyed in Sodom, and hurt when he expelled Ishmael. Through all of these hurts, Abraham obeyed and his obedience was credited to him as righteousness.

Rarely, do Americans obey God to the point that they hurt emotionally.  Many decades ago a Christian said that she prays that if the time  comes that she is tortured for her belief in God that she can stand firm. That is a prayer all of us could pray. The prayer can include that if we ever feel  pain, emotional or physical, for following God, that we can bear that pain.

Reflection: Have you ever obeyed God to the point that it hurts?

Copyright: 6/20/2020

Live Long and Prosper

The Word of the Lord

Genesis 14.13:  Now Abram was living near the great trees of Mamre the Amorite, a brother of Eshkol and Aner, all of whom were allied with Abram.

Genesis 18.1: The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre.

Meditation

Abram traveled through Canaan and settled at the great trees of Mamre near Hebron. The great trees at Mamre were most likely Palestinian oak trees. The oak trees would have provided shade for Abram’s tents and individuals in them.

In the Bible, oaks were associated with power, strength, and longevity in the sense of a long life. The great oaks of Mamre symbolized Abram’s long life. A Palestinian oak near Hebron, named 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 (Psalms 71.18). Christians don’t have to worry about what they will do in retirement. They can use Abram as their role model. God called Abram to a new adventure when Abram was 75 years-of-age.

If you are retired, think about adventures you have  experienced since retirement. What are some of them? How did they enhance your life? Do you anticipate new adventures in your life going forward? Adventures can include ministering in your home church and community as well as travel.

The religious order that I belong to includes women in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. At monthly meetings, women report the numerous activities they are involved in. Each is totally excited by what she contributes to the church as well as to her community. 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).

Reflection: Is having a long life important to you? How do you think a long life is related to fear of the Lord? Is a long life span more important that what you do with that life span?

Copyright 6/19/2020

Going it Alone

Pistacia terebinthus

The Word of the Lord

 Genesis 12.1-7: The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. He took his wife, Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

 Meditation

God called Abram to leave Haran and travel to Canaan. There, God promised to make Abram the father of a large nation. Abram didn’t worship God when God called him. In fact, Abram worshiped the gods of the Chaldeans; yet, Abram complied with this strange new God’s direction.

 Abram was approximately 75 years-of-age and childless. He had been married for decades. I believe that part of Abram’s motivation for following God’s direction was God’s promise that Abram would be the father of a nation. This promise implied that Abram would sire at least one son.

When Abram reached Canaan, Abraham stopped at the great tree of Moreh in the vicinity of Shechem. There, Abram offered a sacrifice to God. Some of the underlying motivation for his sacrifice at Moreh could have been Abram telling God, “I’m here in Canaan; now remember your promise.”

Notice, the Bible’s description was of a tree, not trees. Modern-day Bible scholars believe the tree was a terebinth. Normally, the terebinth tree tops out at 33 feet; however, this tree may have been larger than the norm.

In the ancient near East, terebinth trees didn’t grow in groves or groups.  Usually, they grew alone without other trees around them; thus, were seen from far distances and/or used to identify locations. Abram was the first Israelite patriarch. Similar to the terebinth growing alone, Abram and his family traveled to Canaan alone.

One feature of the terebinth tree is its deep root system. Botanists claim that the tree’s deep root system gives it stability. Abram’s root system was God. Abraham was willing to be planted where God wanted him even if he was the only one of his nationality in Canaan.

Reflection: What is your root system? What makes your life stable? Are you rooted in God?

Copyright: 6/18/2020

 

Caught in a Thicket

Photograph is Chaste tree flower in St. John Lutheran Bible Garden

Bible Reference: Genesis 22:1-19.

Isaac was the son that God promised Abraham and Sarah – the son through whom all the peoples of the earth would be blessed. When Isaac was about 16 years old, God commanded Abraham to take Isaac to the region of Mount Moriah and sacrifice him as a burnt offering.

Abraham didn’t hesitate or question God’s command. Early the next morning, Abraham, Isaac, and two servants started walking toward Mount Moriah. As Abraham and Isaac walked together, Isaac asked his father where the lamb was for the burnt offering. Abraham responded that God would provide the lamb.

When they reached Mount Moriah, Abraham built an altar, arranged wood on it, and bound Isaac on top of the wood. Abraham picked up his knife, prepared to slay Isaac. At the last minute, the angel of the Lord told Abraham to not kill Isaac. The angel commended Abraham for fearing God enough to sacrifice his son.

Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by the horns in a nearby thicket. The thicket held the ram in place in much the same way that Isaac’s bindings held him on the altar. Just as Isaac didn’t struggle against his bindings, the Bible doesn’t indicate that the ram struggled to loosen its horns from the thicket. The ram was simply there, waiting for Abraham to see it. Abraham killed the ram and offered it as a burnt offering.

What is a Thicket?

Although Abraham, Isaac, and the ram played major roles in this Bible episode, so did the thicket. A thicket is a group of wild shrubs and occasional small trees which grow together to form impenetrable branches and roots. In thickets, trees rarely grow more than 10-20 feet tall. Often shrubs have thorns and vines entangle with them. Trees and shrubs that could have composed the Mount Moriah thicket were the chaste tree, prickly juniper, and myrtle.Chaste Tree Flower

Abraham’s planned sacrifice of Isaac on Mount Moriah was in approximately 2050 B.C. At that time, much of the Judean Mountains including Mount Moriah was tree covered; however, approximately 30-40 years earlier, a natural or manmade disaster (earthquake, flood, or fire) occurred. Thickets grow only in response to disturbances where large trees are destroyed.

In present day Israel, many wild trees and shrubs have been replaced by plants, e.g., flowers and domesticated trees; however, some thickets still grow where cultivated land was abandoned. An example is the Ramat Hanadiv Nature Park northwest of Jerusalem. When we hiked a park trail, we didn’t see a ram; however, cattle foraged the area. It was easy to image one reaching into the thicket for succulent leaves and getting its horns tangled in branches.

For wilderness hikers, a thicket can be a difficult landscape to traverse. Often when experienced hikers encounter a thicket, they don’t enter it; they go around the thicket. Trying to go through a tangled, thorn-infested thicket can result in loss of direction and damage to skin and clothes.

My friend from Texas calls the chaste tree a “Texas lilac” Its if from the Genus,  Vitus. They are perennials and grow all over the Roanoke Valley (plant zones 6 and 7).

Symbolism

The Hebrew word for thicket comes from the word çâbak, which means to entwine in the sense of interwoven branches. In English, entanglement means to wrap or twist together and to ensnare. Often entanglements cause confusion. Imagine the confusing thoughts that Satan brought to Abraham’s mind during the three day walk to Mount Moriah; e. g., “Surely God doesn’t mean for you to sacrifice Isaac? A God that really loved and cared about you would never require you to kill your beloved son.”

In contrast to the ram entangled in the thicket, Abraham didn’t become entangled in Satan’s lies or become confused by his limited understanding of God and the situation. Abraham obeyed God, believing that God would keep his promise and Isaac would be the father of all nations.

Reflection: Think about a time when you were wrapped up, twisted, or entangled in a problem. Did God fit in anywhere? Knowing what you know now, how could you have involved God more?

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

Copyright July 21, 2017: Carolyn A. Roth

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Abraham’s symbol of commitment

Tamarisk (2)When I looked back over my blog entries, this one was the most read. So I am re-posting it with a few changes.

Abraham  planted tamarisk trees at Beersheba. Read Genesis 21:22-34.

In about 2091 B.C., God directed Abraham to leave Haran and travel to Canaan. God told Abraham that in Canaan, the Promised Land, He would make Abraham the father of a great nation (Genesis chapters 12–17). When Abraham left Haran he was about 75 years old. He traveled with his wife Sarah and his nephew Lot.  After entering Canaan, Abraham pitched his tents between Bethel (on the west) and Ai (on the east).  With the exception of a brief time in Egypt, Abraham lived in this region for the next 14 – 15 years.

When Abraham was 99 years old, he had a visit from three angels (Genesis chapter 18). The angels announced that Sarah would give birth to Abraham’s son and that they planned to destroy Sodom for the depraved sinfulness of its people. Shortly after Sodom’s destruction, Abraham left the Bethel-Ai region and traveled south into the Negev Desert (Genesis chapter 20). He spent a short time near the city of Gerar (western Negev) where he met Abimelech, king of Gerar.  After Abimelech caught Abraham in a misrepresentation, Abraham left Gerar traveling south-east-east in the Negev Desert area.  After some days journey, Abraham camped. In this area Abraham and Sarah’s son, Isaac, was born (2066 B.C.) when Abraham was 100 years old (Genesis 21: 1 – 7).

With these events in mind, the Bible tells a short but important story called “The Treaty at Beersheba” in which Abraham plants tamarisk trees. The story begins with Abimelech, King of Gerar and his military commander’s arrival at Abraham’s campsite.  The purpose of Abimelech’s visit was to elicit an oath from Abraham that he would not “deal falsely,” but with kindness (friendship) toward Abimelech and his descendents. Willingly, Abraham gave Abimelech his oath. Then Abraham complains to Abimelech about a well that Abraham’s men dug and Abimelech’s servants seized. Abimelech expressed surprise – he did not know his servants had seized the well. Because Abraham wanted the well, he gave Abimelech seven ewe lambs in return for Abimelech’s oath that the well belonged to Abraham. The site became known as Beersheba, “the well of the oath.” After Abimelech returned to Gerar, Abraham planted a tamarisk, or a grove of tamarisk trees, at Beersheba. There Abraham called on El Ôlām, naming God the Eternal (forever, everlasting) God. The Bible recorded that Abraham stayed in the area a “long time” (Genesis 21:34).

Beersheba is the only place that the Bible recorded Abraham planting trees. Today there is still an ancient well located at, or near, this site called Abraham’s well and tamarisk trees grow in the area.

The Tamarisk Tree

Most botanists and Christian scholars are unanimous in their agreement that the trees that Abraham planted were the Tamarix aphylla. It is also called the athel pine, and athel tree.  The tamarisk is a commonly occurring tree in the Middle East and probably originated in semi-arid to arid northern Africa and western Asia. It is evergreen tree and can reach a height of 50 feet. The tree grows needles rather than leaves; Aphylla means “without leaves.” Often needles excrete salt on their surfaces which give the needles a white color. Because the T. aphylla excretes salt, it is sometimes called a “salt cedar.” The tamarisk tree provides shade and a pleasant coolness.  At night, moisture increases in the cool air. Water vapor adheres to the salt particles excreted on branches and needles and forms droplets. In the morning tiny droplets of water appear on the thin branches. As the morning sun warms the air, the water droplets evaporate and cool the tree and the shade below it. The water droplets are most plentiful after a humid night and generally evaporate before noon.

Symbolism: Commitment

Why did Abraham plant a Tamarix aphylla or a grove of T. aphylla at Beersheba? The answer could be as simple as Abraham was familiar with living in the high country of Canaan between Bethel and Ai where there were tall trees for shade, coolness and beauty. He wanted to reproduce this environment in his new home.  Another answer is that the tree was a memorial to the oath between himself and Abimelech. This reason doesn’t seem as likely because Abraham named the place Beersheba, meaning the well of the oath. This name Beersheba was a reminder or memorial to the oath between Abraham and Abimelech.

I believe that Abraham planted the Tamarix trees as a memorial to his re-commitment to El Ôlām, the everlasting God. This interpretation is supported by events in time – Abraham now had the son that God promised, peace with his neighbors, and water for physical life in the dessert.  God kept his promises to Abraham; Abraham’s life is filled with blessings. God welcomes individuals who have sinned to turn to Him. In Ezekiel 18: 21- 22 we can read, “if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him.” Ezekiel (520 – 480 B.C.) lived 1500 years after Abraham. Abraham didn’t have the benefit of Ezekiel’s instruction; but Abraham was aware that he had sinned by not believing that God would provide a son for him through Sarah and misrepresenting to Abimelech that Sarah was his sister rather than his wife. It is probably that when Abraham called on El Ôlām (Genesis 21:  33), he built an altar and offered sacrifices for his sins (Genesis 12:8). Then, Abraham memorializes his re-commitment to God by planting Tamarix trees.

We should not have to think deeply about committing our lives to God. There is ample evidence in the scriptures that God wants His people to be fully committed to Him; and God blesses both nations and individuals who commit to him. Samuel told the Israelites that they must first returned to the Lord and commit themselves to Him, and then God would deliver them from the hand of the Philistines (I Samuel 7:3). Psalm 37:5 reads, “commit your ways to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.”   Finally, Proverbs 16:3 instructs us to “commit to the Lord whatever you do and your plans will succeed.”  The preceding Bible verses are conditional statements, they are If – Then statements.  If nations and individuals commit to the Lord, then God will deliver them, and He will make their righteousness shine and their plans succeed. Notice — we must take the first step by committing ourselves and our ways to God.

The question is: Why don’t we commit — seriously commit — our ways to God? Do we simply forget to make these commitments? Do we think God doesn’t care about what we do or want to do? Do we think that we can do it ourselves?  Whatever the reasons for not committing our ways to God, they are not adequate or sufficient. God is very clear: if we want our plans to succeed, we must commit them to God.  Commitment doesn’t mean half heartedly saying to God, “I am going to do_____ (you fill in the blank) and I commit it to you.” Committing ourselves and our plans to God is more than a quick e-mail prayer. Real commitment means taking time to discern with God what His will for our lives entails. Do we stay in our current job or change? Is this the right person for me to marry? Do I buy this new car or get my current one repaired? Committing our ways to God often requires that we do not go with the moment; rather we pause, seek, and reflect on Biblical precepts before making decisions; and we commit the decisions to God.

Thought: “The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (II Chronicles 16:9). Do you want to be strengthened by God?  What should you change in your life to make this happen?

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: Carolyn A. Roth, 1/14

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Isaac and the Thicket

Thicket, Ramat HanadivRead Genesis 21:1-7 and Genesis 22:1-19.

Isaac was the son that God promised Abraham and Sarah – the son through whom all the peoples of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 17:15-19, 22:17-18). Isaac was born in 2066 B.C.  when Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah about 90 years-of-age.  When Isaac was about 16, God gave Abraham the command to take Isaac to the region of Mount Moriah and there sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering.  Abraham did not question God’s command. Early the next morning Abraham cut wood for the burnt offering and saddled his donkey. With two servants and Isaac, Abraham started off to Mount Moriah.  Three days later, Abraham saw the place where God wanted him to make the burnt offering. Telling his servants to remain behind, Abraham and Isaac went forward together.  Isaac carried the wood for the burnt offering while Abraham carried the fire.

As Abraham and Isaac walked on the final leg of the journey, Isaac asked his father< where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7).  Abraham assured Isaac that God himself would provide the lamb. When Abraham and Isaac reached the God-ordained place on Mount Moriah, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Abraham laid Isaac on top of the wood and bound Isaac there.  Abraham picked up his knife and prepared to slay Isaac.  At the last minute, the angel of the Lord called to Abraham and told Abraham not to lay a hand on Isaac. The angel commended Abraham for fearing God enough to give his only son, Isaac, to God.

Abraham looked up and in a thicket saw a ram caught by the horns.  The thicket held the ram in place in much the same way that Isaac’s bindings held him on the altar. Just as Isaac did not struggling against his bindings, the ram did not struggling to loosen its horns from the thicket. The ram was simply there waiting for Abraham to see it. Abraham took the ram and offered it as a burnt offering instead of Isaac.

Thickets on Mount Moriah

Abraham, Isaac, and the ram played major parts in this Bible episode; but the role of the ticket was also important.  What is a thicket and how did its being there contribute to the successful outcome of the story?  The Hebrew word for thicket is çᵉbâk, derived from the Hebrew word çâbak, which means to entwine in the sense of interwoven branches.  A thicket is a group of wild shrubs and occasional small trees which grow together to form impenetrable branches. At times vines entangle with the shrubs and small trees. Thickets are not merely shrubs planted near each other; rather branches and roots join or entangle as if the shrub was a single plant. Often shrubs have thorns.  In thickets rarely are shrubs and small trees taller than 10 – 20 feet. Abraham’s planned sacrifice on Mount Mariah was in approximately 2050 B. C.  At that time, much of the Judean Mountains including Mount Moriah was tree covered; however, approximately 30 – 40 years before this story a natural or manmade disaster (earthquake, flood or fire) must have occurred locally. Thickets grow in response to natural disturbances in which large trees are destroyed.  Some shrubs that may have participated in thicket formation on ancient Mount Moriah are in Table 1.

Symbolism of the Thicket: Entanglements

In the story of the Isaac and the burnt offering, the ram was entangled in the interwoven branches of the thicket. Entangle means to wrap or twist together, to interweave, and to ensnare (Merriam-Webster, 2005). An entanglement is a condition of being confused.  In contrast to the ram in the thicket, Abraham was not entangled or confused. Abraham understood that God had first priority in his life. Imagine the thoughts that Satan brought to Abraham’s mind during the three day walk to Mount Moriah. Some of these thoughts could have been: “Surely God did not tell you to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering? You must have misunderstood. If you sacrifice Isaac then you will have no son alive to be the father of all nations. A God that really loved and cared about would never put you through the pain of killing your beloved son. How can a god who is demanding this sacrifice be a just god that you want to follow and obey?”

Abraham did not become entangled in Satan’s lies or confused by the limitations of his own understanding of God and this situation. Abraham believed God would keep his promises: God promised that Isaac would be the father of all nations and all the world would be blessed through Isaac (Genesis 17:15-19).  Abraham did not understand how God would work out this situation; yet, Abraham believed that even if he offered Isaac as a burnt offering, God would ensure that Isaac was the father of all nations.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews directed readers to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1).  Many times we get entangled and confused by Satan’s arguments when he tempts us to do something that the Bible defines as a sin. Satan tries to make us doubt God’s word or he redefines the situation so that we think God is being unfair to us. When we become entangled and confused by Satan’s temptations and arguments, we need to remember the thicket.

For wilderness hikers, the most difficult landscape to traverse is often a thicket. In many cases when a thicket is encountered, hikers do not attempt to cut through them; rather they go around the thicket.  Hikers know that if they try to go through a tangled, thorn-infested thicket, they will get hurt. They may even lose their direction. When Satan tries to draw us into a thicket of confusion or doubt, like hikers facing a thicket, we need to circumvent his ploys. An alternative to heading straight through masses of interwoven branches is to calmly rest in God’s care and go around the thicket.

Reflection: What lies and arguments has Satan tried to entangle you in lately?  Are you listening to his arguments or are you remembering God’s promises?

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 July 29, 2011, Carolyn A. Roth; all rights reserved.

Table 1 Shrubs and small trees in a thicket in the area of Mount Moriah

Names Characteristic
Prickly juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus) Evergreen dioecious tree that can grow up to 46 feet tall but more often a shrub. Needles display in groups of three; needles are sharp and up to ¾ inches long.  Fruit (cone) berry-like, red, spherical. Grows in mountain elevations up to 4,593 feet.
Myrtle (Myrtus communis) In ancient Canaan and even when the Children of Israel entered the land, wild myrtle thickets were abundant. Evergreen; grows up to 18 feet tall; purplish black berries.
Strange vine (Vitis orientalis) Bushy shrub; sometimes climbing, deciduous vine. Smooth and sometimes slightly ribbed shoots. Leaves have serrated edges. Round fruit similar in appearance to currents. Prolific in mountains of Israel, can grow at elevations as high as 5000 feet.
Buckthorn orPalestine buckthorn (Rhamnus lycioides, orRhamnus palaestinus)  Used for centuries as hedges (Walker, 1979). Evergreen bush or small tree; up to 6 feet in height. Grows on hillsides of much of Israel. Rhamnus comes from “ram” meaning branching; branches are intertwined.

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Abraham Planted Tamarisk Trees

Tamarisk (2)Abraham  planted tamarisk trees Beersheba. Read Genesis 21:22-34.

In about 2091 B.C., God directed Abraham to leave Haran and travel to Canaan. God told Abraham that in Canaan, the Promised Land, He would make Abraham the father of a great nation (Genesis chapters 12 – 17). When Abraham left Haran he was about 75 years old. He traveled with his wife Sarah and his nephew Lot.  After entering Canaan, Abraham pitched his tents between Bethel (on the west) and Ai (on the east).  With the exception of a brief time in Egypt, Abraham lived in this region for the next 14 – 15 years.

When Abraham was 99 years old, he had a visit from three angels (Genesis chapter 18). The angels announced that Sarah would give birth to Abraham’s son and that they planned to destroy Sodom for the depraved sinfulness of its people. Shortly after Sodom’s destruction, Abraham left the Bethel-Ai region and traveled south into the Negev Desert (Genesis chapter 20). He spent a short time near the city of Gerar (western Negev) where he met Abimelech, king of Gerar.  After Abimelech caught Abraham in a misrepresentation, Abraham left Gerar traveling south-east-east in the Negev Desert area.  After some days journey, Abraham camped. In this area Abraham and Sarah’s son, Isaac, was born (2066 B.C.) when Abraham was 100 years old (Genesis 21: 1 – 7).

With these events in mind, the Bible tells a short but important story called “The Treaty at Beersheba” in which Abraham plants tamarisk trees. The story begins with Abimelech, King of Gerar, and his military commander’s arrival at Abraham’s campsite.  The purpose of Abimelech’s visit was to elicit an oath from Abraham that he would not “deal falsely,” but with kindness (friendship) toward Abimelech and his descendants. Willingly, Abraham gave Abimelech his oath. Then Abraham complains to Abimelech about a well that Abraham’s men dug and Abimelech’s servants seized. Abimelech expressed surprise – he did not know his servants had seized the well. Because Abraham wanted the well, he gave Abimelech seven ewe lambs in return for Abimelech’s oath that the well belonged to Abraham. The site became known as Beersheba, “the well of the oath.” After Abimelech returned to Gerar, Abraham planted a tamarisk, or a grove of tamarisk trees, at Beersheba. There Abraham called on El Ôlām, naming God the Eternal (forever, everlasting) God. The Bible recorded that Abraham stayed in the area a “long time” (Genesis 21:34).

Beersheba is the only place that the Bible recorded Abraham planting trees. Today there is still an ancient well located at, or near, this site called Abraham’s well and tamarisk trees grow in the area.

The Tamarisk Tree

Most botanists and Christian scholars are unanimous in their agreement that the trees that Abraham planted were the Tamarix aphylla. It is also called the athel pine, and athel tree.  The tamarisk is a commonly occurring tree in the Middle East and probably originated in semi-arid to arid northern Africa and western Asia. It is evergreen tree and can reach a height of 50 feet. The tree grows needles rather than leaves; Aphylla means “without leaves.” Tiny segments on athel pine needles are often less than 1/8 inch long. The gray-green needles appear to wilt or hang down from the stems. Often needles excrete salt on their surfaces which give the needles a white color. Because the T. aphylla excretes salt, it is sometimes called a “salt cedar.” The tamarisk tree provides shade and a pleasant coolness.  At night, moisture increases in the cool air (Hareuveni, 1989). Water vapor adheres to the salt particles excreted on branches and needles and forms droplets. In the morning tiny droplets of water appear on the thin branches. As the morning sun warms the air, the water droplets evaporate and cool the tree and the shade below it. The water droplets are most plentiful after a humid night and generally evaporate before noon.

Symbolism: Commitment

Why did Abraham plant a Tamarix aphylla or a grove of T. aphylla at Beersheba? The answer could be as simple as Abraham was familiar with living in the high country of Canaan between Bethel and Ai where there were tall trees for shade, coolness and beauty. He wanted to reproduce this environment in his new home.  Another answer is that the tree was a memorial to the oath between himself and Abimelech. This reason does not seem as likely because Abraham named the place Beersheba, meaning the well of the oath. This name Beersheba was a reminder or memorial to the oath between Abraham and Abimelech.

I believe that Abraham planted the Tamarix trees as a memorial to his re-commitment to El Ôlām, the everlasting God. This interpretation is supported by events in time – Abraham now had the son that God promised, peace with his neighbors, and water for physical life in the desert.  God kept his promises to Abraham; Abraham’s life is filled with blessings.

God welcomes individuals who have sinned to turn to Him. In Ezekiel 18: 21- 22 we can read, “if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die. None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him.” Ezekiel (520 – 480 B.C.) lived 1500 years after Abraham. Abraham did not have the benefit of Ezekiel’s instruction; but Abraham was aware that he had sinned by not believing that God would provide a son for him through Sarah and misrepresenting to Abimelech that Sarah was his sister rather than his wife. It is probably that when Abraham called on El Ôlām (Genesis 21:  33), he built an altar and offered sacrifices for his sins (Genesis 12:8). Then, Abraham memorializes his re-commitment to God by planting Tamarix trees.

We should not have to think deeply about committing our lives to God. There is ample evidence in the scriptures that God wants His people to be fully committed to Him; and God blesses both nations and individuals who commit to him. Samuel told the Israelites that they must first returned to the Lord and commit themselves to Him, and then God would deliver them from the hand of the Philistines (I Samuel 7:3). Psalm 37:5 reads, “Commit your ways to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.”   Finally, Proverbs 16:3 instructs us to “Commit to the Lord whatever you do and your plans will succeed.”  The preceding Bible verses are conditional statements, they are “if – then” statements.  If nations and individuals commit to the Lord, then God will deliver them, and He will make their righteousness shine and their plans succeed. Notice — we must take the first step by committing ourselves and our ways to God.

Taking Action

The question is: Why don’t we commit — seriously commit — our ways to God? Do we simply forget to make these commitments? Do we think God doesn’t care about what we do or want to do? Do we think that we can do it ourselves?  Whatever the reasons for not committing our ways to God, they are not adequate or sufficient. God is very clear: if we want our plans to succeed, we must commit them to God.  Commitment does not mean half heartedly saying to God, “I am going to do_____ (you fill in the blank) and I commit it to you.” Committing ourselves and our plans to God is more than a quick prayer. Real commitment means taking time to discern with God what His will for our lives entails. Do we stay in our current job or change? Is this the right person for me to marry? Do I buy this new car or get my current one repaired? Committing our ways to God often requires that we do not go with the moment; rather we pause, seek, and reflect on Biblical precepts before making decisions; and we commit the decisions to God.

Reflection: “The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (II Chronicles 16:9). Do you want to be strengthened by God?  What should you change in your life to make this happen?

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 May 24, 2011, Carolyn A. Roth, all rights reserved.

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