Tag Archives: Aquilaria malaccensis

Balaam’s Aloe Tree Parable

Agarwood tree

The parable of the aloe and cedar trees (Numbers 24:5-7) was included in an oracle; it was spoken. This third oracle given by Balaam named two trees – the aloe and the cedar. In this entry the aloe is emphasized.

Back Story

When the Moabites saw Moses and the Children of Israel approach their country, they were afraid the “horde’ was going to destroy the land, i.e., cut trees for firewood, consume pasture lands needed for their own livestock. Moab wanted to turn the Israelites away from their land. The problem was that Moab didn’t have an army to fight against the Israelites. Until recently, Moab was subject to the Amorites. Moab was only freed when the Israelites conquered of King Sihon and the Amorite army.

In an effort to combat the Israelites, the Moabite king, Balak, sent for the most the renowned seer/diviner in the known world—Balaam. King Balak planned for Balaam to curse the Israelites. In ancient times people believed that cursing a person or people could influence their outcome. God allowed Balaam to go with the Moabites; however, God warned Balaam that he could only speak the words God gave him.

Parable of Aloe Tree

What followed was Balaam offering five oracles, each of which blessed the Israelites. The one parable that included plants compared the Israelites to aloes and cedars planted by God in watered land:

How beautiful are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!
Like valleys they spread out, like gardens beside a river, like aloes planted
by the LORD, like cedars beside the waters. Water will flow from their
buckets; their seed will have abundant water. Their king will be greater
than Agag; their kingdom will be exalted.” — Numbers 24:5-7 NIV

Aloe Tree’s Interpretation

In contrast to the aloe of the New Testament which came from an herbaceous plant, Old Testament aloe came from a tree. The Old Testament aloe tree was the eaglewood tree (Aquilaria malaccensis also known Aquilaria agallocha). Likely, Old Testament traders brought its wood from India. Aquilaria species have adapted to live in different habitats, e.g. rock, limestone, sand, well-drained slopes and ridges, and land near swamps.

Aloe is made from agarwood of the eaglewood tree. Only about 10% of mature trees produce agarwood. The fragrant oleoresin that permeates the heartwood of some eaglewood trees is produced in response to a fungal infection. Once the fungus establishes itself on the tree, it turns the woody trunk into a deep brown color. The darker the heart wood, the more valuable the wood. Trees over 50 years old produce the best agarwood. Agarwood is harvested, cut into small pieces, and burned. The result is a distinct aroma described as being a cross between sandalwood and balsam. Linens packed with pieces of agarwood take on the smell of the agar in the same manner as linens packed in a cedar chest take on the smell of cedar.

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Balaam heard traders’ descriptions of the majesty of the aloe-producing tree. Something in or about the Israelite encampment resonated with description Balaam heard of the uprightness of the tree. These Israelites came to adult hood as free men and women. They stood upright. They live in the dry, rugged Sinai. They were used to standing upright, looking off into the distance for the first sign of danger to their families or for signs of water and food.

Balaam was smart and knew his craft well. He knew the Israelite history. He knew how they left Egypt. He knew about their 40-year trek in the wilderness. Possibly Balaam compared the 50 years it took the eaglewood tree to produce mature agarwood (aloes) with the 40 years the Israelites wondered in the desert coalescing into a cohesive nation. Another comparison could be that just as only 10% of eaglewood becomes agarwood and sweet smelling aloes so too of all the peoples in the known world, God touched the Children of Israel for his own. This small nation was unique in being God’s chosen people.

Reflection: The spiritual interpretation of Balaam’s parable is: what God has declared blessed, man shouldn’t curse. The opposite is also true, what God has declared as sinful, damaged, and depraved, man can’t declare as valuable and good.

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

Copyright September 5, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth

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Proverb of the Adulteress

Agarwood seed aloeswood (1)Solomon’s proverb warning his son about an adulteress is found in Proverbs chapter 7.

The proverb of the adulteress showed an older and perhaps wiser Solomon than the exuberant Lover in Song of Songs.  In this proverb, Solomon addressed his son.  He described looking through the lattice of a window and seeing a young man who lacked judgment.  In the twilight of the day, the youth walked in the direction of the adulteress’ house.  The woman came out to meet the youth.  She was dressed like a prostitute; e.g., provocative, revealing.  In the street, the woman took hold of the young man and kissed him on the face.

Unashamedly, the adulteress invited the young man to her home for a sumptuous meal and to spend the night making love with her.  Enticingly, she described her bed as covered with linens from Egypt and perfumed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.   Possibly to reassure the youth that they will not be disturbed, she declared that her husband was not at home.  He was on a long journey with a purse full of money.  With persuasive and seductive words, the adulteress led the young man astray.  He followed her like an ox going to the slaughter.

Solomon concluded this proverb to his son by telling him not to let his heart turn toward an adulteress or stray into her paths.  The adulteress has brought many victims down and killed a mighty throng.  Solomon’s final warning was “her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death” (Proverbs 7:27).

Solomon’s proverb identified three plants: myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.  Aloes is described here.  The aloe of the New Testament and today is an herbaceous plant; however, the aloe of the Old Testament was from a tree.  The Hebrew word for aloe used in Proverbs was ʼǎhâlôwth.  This same word was used for aloe in Numbers 24:6 when Balaam blessed rather than cursed the Israelites, in the wedding song of Psalm 45:8, and when Solomon described his Beloved bride as an orchard of the finest trees, e.g., pomegranates, cinnamon, aloes (Song of Songs 4:12-14).

The Aloe Tree

Agarwood seed aloeswood (2)The Old Testament aloe tree was the Aquilaria malaccensis, also known as A. agallocha and the eaglewood tree.  Aquilaria malaccensis is on the world list of threatened trees.The eaglewood tree is native to India. Aloe is made from the agarwood of the eaglewood tree.  Only about 10% of mature Aquilaria trees produce agarwood.  Research suggested that the fragrant oleoresin that permeates the heartwood of some eaglewood trees is produced in response to a fungal infection.  Once the fungus establishes itself on the tree, it turns the woody trunk into a deep brown color.  The darker the heart wood, the more valuable the wood.  Trees over 50 years old produce the best agarwood.  Agarwood is harvested, cut into small pieces, and burned.  The result is a distinct aroma.  Linens packed with pieces of agarwood take on the smell of the agar in the same manner as linens packed in a cedar chest. There is a popular belief in Middle East that the aloe tree was descended from the Garden of Eden even though all other trees were lost (Walker, 1979).  According to legend, Adam brought shoots from the aloe tree from Eden and planted them in the land where he and Eve settled.  Today, this tree is called Shoot of Paradise and Paradise Wood.

Symbolism: Aphrodisiac

Aloes are associated with both beauty and with aphrodisiacs.  In the parable of the adulteress, aloes symbolizes an aphrodisiac.  An aphrodisiac is a substance, e.g., drink, smell, or food, which is believed to arouse sexual desire or pleasure.  As a young woman, I imagined creating a home for my husband that invited love and sexual desire.  Our home would be filled with pleasant aromas from fragrant candles and simmering potpourri.  Bed linens would be kept in a closet with pleasant perfumed sachets that would imbue the linens with their fragrance.  Hmmm, I learned quickly that my husband became “stuffed up” by the perfumed air in the house and on the bed linens.  Those fragrances did not arouse him to love and sexual desire, but to sneezing and coughing.

To my husband an aphrodisiac was something different than my perspective.   His point of view can best be described by a story.  We were newly engaged and my birthday arrived.   I was excited to see what Bruce would get me.  Would it be flowers or a floral perfume which I loved?   He came into the house with a beautifully wrapped box that was about 5 inches by 18 inches.  What could it be?  As quickly as possible while still trying to be graceful, I removed the ribbon and paper and opened the box.  It was… it was…. it was a fishing rod and reel!  Bruce was so excited.  Immediately, he showed me how to put the rod together, admiring it tensile strength.  He talked about the fishing trips we could take.  But, I did not fish!

Over the years, I have learned to love fishing and I still have that fishing rod.  To Bruce seeing me wading streams, casting a line, and occasionally pulling in a fish is an aphrodisiac.  He gets so excited by taking me fishing that sometime he doesn’t even fish.  He stays available in the event I lose my fly or get my line tangled.   Sexual arousal, excitement, and stimulation come in many ways.  Hopefully starry-eyed young women grow into mature, loving wives.

Reflection.    David wrote that God satisfies our desires with good things (Psalm 103:5).  God knows our need for sexual pleasure and love; his plan is that they occur together.

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 February 19, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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