Tag Archives: Bible Gardens

Job and the Lotus Plant

????????????????????Read Job chapter 40.

Job was a non-Jewish man who worshiped God. He was upright in his conduct and dealings with others (Job 1: 1- 5). Job lived during the second millennium B.C. in the land of Uz, probably located in present day Jordan. When the Book begins, we see God giving Satan permission to test Job’s righteousness and loyalty to God; Satan can do anything to Job but kill him (Job 1: 6 – 2: 10). The result is that Satan kills Job’s children, destroys Job’s home, deprives Job of his wealth, and afflicts him with painful boils from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Shortly after these calamities, three of Job’s friends visit him to extend comfort. Most of the Book of Job consists of discourses between Job and the three friends (Job chapters 3 – 37). We read Job’s struggle to understand his losses while still maintaining his faith in God. Finally, God becomes involved in a conversation with Job (Job chapters 38 – 41). God identifies himself as the creator of all things and as such Job should be able to trust God’s wisdom, love, and power.

The plant associated with Job is the lotus. The only place the lotus is mentioned in the Bible is Job 40: 21 – 22 when God speaks to Job. In response to Job’s accusations that God has wronged him (Job 19:6), God asserts that He is able to determine and administer justice. One of the ways God makes His point is by asking Job if Job can create and control the behemoth (Job 40: 15 – 24). Behemoth in Hebrew is behêmôwth meaning a large quadruped animal. An example of the behêmôwth is the hippopotamus, a semi-aquatic, plant-eating mammal that spends time under the water. The behemoth is described as lying under the lotus and concealed in the lotus’ shadow among marsh reeds and streams (Job 40: 21 – 23).

The Lotus Plant

The Bible information on the lotus plant is sketchy: it grows in marshes and streams and the plant grows large enough to cover and conceal the behemoth. The Mid-Eastern lotus is the Nelumbo nucifera, also called the sacred lotus. The lotuses presence has been documented for some 5000 years. The N. nucifera is an aquatic perennial. Lotus roots, called rhizomes, grow up to 4 feet and spread in wet soils such as a marsh, pond, or river bottom. Lotus stalks grow as high as 5 – 6 feet with a horizontal spread of 3 ½ yards. Leaves and flowers grow several inches above the water surface.In the center of the lotus blossom, there is a head or pod. The pod contains round lotus seeds in small circular chambers on its flat surface. The circular chambers cradle the seeds until they are fully ripe. At that time the pod bends over and releases the seeds into the water. Seeds fall to the bottom of the water, takes root, and in turn produce new lotus plants. Often dried lotus pods with seeds are used in flower arrangements.

Symbolism: Vitality

Most eastern cultures and religions identify some sort of symbolism with the lotus plant, e.g., the lotus represents creative power, purity, faithfulness, divine birth, and vitality. Vitality is the ability to live, grow, and develop. Often vitality is associated with the power to endure and survive. In the dry season in Jordan, water in ponds and streams are low and lotus seeds and roots remain dormant in the mud or cracked earth. With the coming of the rains, lotus seeds and roots grow from the mud. Leaf and flower buds emerge over the top of the water and unfold into the visible beauty of the lotus leaf and blossom.

Like the lotus plant, Job’s dialogues demonstrate vitality – persistent life, endurance, and growth in extreme adversity. At times Job’s speeches indicate that he wishes he had never been born (Job 3: 3, 11, 16) and he longs for death (Job 3: 20 – 21). Repeatedly, Job cries to God for answers so he can understand how God could allow these over-whelming losses in his life (Job 7: 20; 10: 1 – 7). Yet, Job’s belief in God remains alive in spite of all his hardships. Job avers, “to God belong wisdom, and power; counsel and understanding are His” (Job 12: 13). In the midst of his anguish Job utters the words that have been a part of Judeo-Christian belief for almost 3000 years, “though he slay me, yet will I hope (trust) in him” (Job 13: 15). It is from Job that we have the promise and prophecy, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth” (Job 19: 25).

Near the end of the Book of Job (chapters 38 – 41) God responds to Job, not to give Job a reason for his suffering, but to remind Job that the wisdom that directs God’s ways is beyond the reach of human understanding. Finally, Job understands that God’s purposes are supreme over all creation to including Job himself (42: 1 – 6). As a result of Job’s honesty, God blesses the latter part of Job’s life more than the first part. God give Job a long life that includes seven sons and three beautiful daughters (Job 42: 10 – 17). God rewards Job with more than twice as much prosperity as Job had before his adversity.

Like the beautiful lotus plant and like Job, we have the opportunity to grow into more vital Christians when we encounter unfavorable and difficulty situations. When we encounter these situation, the way to become a more alive Christian is not to “curse God and die” (Job 2: 9), but to cling even tighter to the giver and sustainer of our lives. When we experience desolation and despair, we need to spend time in prayer and read God’s Word. Just like God judged the attitude of Jobs heart and spoke directly to Job’s situation, so does the Bible speak directly to Christians. God tells us in Hebrews 4: 12 – 13: The word of the Lord is living and active. The word of the Lord judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight (NIV). If we open our hearts to God through prayer and Bible reading, God gives us insight into our circumstance that we can use to live and grow. God provides clear perception that we can use to move beyond our present situation to a new vitality.

Thought: All women and men encounter tough times. The question is what do we do in these tough times? Do we use them to grow (vitality) in the face of adversity, or do we collapse under the weight of the circumstance and turn from God?

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 March 19, 2011, Carolyn A. Roth; all rights reserved.

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Prosperity and Myrtle Tree

myrtle-tree-at-dan-israel-01

The story of Zechariah’s vision of horses among myrtle trees is in Zechariah 1:1-17.

The first year the Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem they rebuilt the Temple Altar. The second year (536 B.C.), they laid the Temple foundation. Non-Jewish people who lived in the area, largely Samaritans, offered to help rebuild the Temple. When the Jews refused their assistance, these enemies initiated a systematic program to discourage the Jews from rebuilding the Temple. Temple construction stopped for about 10 years through the end (530 B.C.) of Cyrus reign down into the reign of Darius I (522-486 B.C.).

In the 2nd year of Darius reign, God spoke through the prophet Haggai (August, 520 B.C.).  God’s message was for the Jews to complete the Temple. Haggai attributed the drought in Judah to the Temple being in ruins. Almost immediately the Jews initiated Temple construction. Two months after Haggai message from God, Zechariah received a message. Zechariah’s prophecy mirrored that of Haggai, e.g., rebuild the Temple; but included that the Jews repent and serve the Lord.

Several months later Zechariah received eight visions in one night. In the first vision, Zechariah saw a man riding a red horse. Then, the man stood among myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind the man were other horses. The man explained to Zechariah that these were the riders that God sent throughout the earth. The riders came back and reported that the world was at peace. Hearing the riders’ reports, the angel of the Lord asked God how long he was going to withhold mercy from Jerusalem. God responded with kind and comforting words to the concerned angel: God was jealous for Jerusalem and Zion. He was angry with the nations who punished the Jews because they went too far in brutality against Judah. God’s plan was to punish the offending nations and return to Jerusalem with comfort and mercy. He promised that Judah’s towns would again overflow with prosperity.

The setting for Zechariah’s first vision is defined in detail. The man who rode the red horse stood among myrtle trees in a small, narrow, steep-sided valley. MacDonald (1995) said that the myrtle trees in the ravine represented Israel under Gentile subjection. In the Bible, the angel of the Lord is often identified as the second person of the Trinity (Christ); consequently, it was Christ expressing his concern for the well-being of the Jews and Jerusalem (Adeyemo, 2006).

Myrtle  Myrtle for book (2)

The myrtle of the Bible is the Myrtus communis. Its origins are the Middle East and the Mediterranean region. At one time wild myrtle was common throughout Palestine and Lebanon. Today in Israel, most myrtle bushes are grown intentionally and used for ornamental purposes; however, some wild plants remain in the Upper Galilee and Golan areas. Although myrtle is hardy to temperatures as low as 5 degrees Fahrenheit, it is damaged by cold drying wind. Myrtle is classified as an evergreen shrub or small tree that will grow to 24 feet tall. The myrtle fruit is a purplish-black berry known in the Middle East as mursins. Mursins can be dried then ground add flavor to stews or boiled to yield a jelly or a beverage.

The myrtle is one of the four blessed plants used in the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles (Sukkoth). To fill the requirement for Sukkoth, three leaves must grow from one point on the myrtle stem.  Jewish sages compared the myrtle, which has a good smell but no taste, to Israelites those who do good deeds, but do not study the Torah (first five books of the Old Testament).

Symbolism: Prosper, Prosperity

Many world cultures assigned meaning to the myrtle blossom to include beauty, love, paradise, and immortality.  For the Jews, myrtle can symbolize sweetness, justice, divine generosity, peace, God’s promise, and recovery. Zechariah’s vision of horsemen, angels and God among the myrtle trees reinforced God’s promise that the returned exiles would be prosperous.  Prosperity means a person or group thrived or flourished and was successful, especially in financial or economic terms.

For the Jews of Zechariah’s time to prosper, God required that they repent, serve the Lord, and rebuild the temple  Other Bible verses identified additional requirements for prosperity.  See Table 4 for a summary of some of these requirements for prosperity. They apply equally to Christians today.

Table 4:  Some Biblical Requirements for Prosperity

God’s Requirements for the Jews to Prosper Source: Bible Verses
Repentance Deuteronomy 30: 1-5
Obedience to the will and laws (commandments)  of God Deuteronomy 28:9-11, 30:8-9;  I Kings 2:3; Ezra 6:6; Proverbs 3:1-2
Fear the Lord (and walk in his ways) Psalm 128:1-2
Do right in God’s eyes, pursuing and living righteously 2 Chronicles 14:2-7, 31:20-21;

When we consider God’s requirements for prosperity, they do not seem particularly onerous, e.g., repent, obey God’s laws, trust God, do what is right in God’s eyes, and be generous.  Prosperity not only benefits people who receive God’s abundance; it also benefits and causes joy in the entire city and region (Proverbs 11:10).

The Bible revealed reasons that people do not prosper. The chief reasons were the opposite of behaviors that cause prosperity.  Disobeying God (Deuteronomy 28:62), having a perverse heart (Proverbs 17:20), and concealing sin (Proverbs 28:13) lead to lack of prosperity  The problem is that we all see and know people who have no regard for God or his laws but they seem to get ahead (prosper) in the workplace and in society. How can we meld our personal experiences with what the Bible says, yes, even promises, about prosperity being related to a godly life?

The great prophet Jeremiah asked God the same question. Jeremiah’s explicit words were “why do the ways of the wicked prosper” Why do the faithless live at ease?” (Jeremiah 12:1, NIV-SB, 2002). God response was to Jeremiah but also to all of us who ask him the same question. God assure Jeremiah that evil individuals will sow wheat but reap thorns; they will wear themselves out but gain nothing (Jeremiah 12:13).

Over breakfast Bruce and I talk about how difficult it is to deal with friends and relatives who do not embrace the ways of Christ. Some are prosperous and seem to live charmed lives. At times their actions are deliberately or indifferently cruel. We know that as Christians, we can not to be offended by what they do, nor can we respond in kind. Instead, our prayers must be that we do not hurt them inadvertently. We need to pray for their redemption and their prosperity.

Reflection. Because we are Christians does not mean we will be prosperous. Because a person is not a Christian does not mean he will not be prosperous.

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 April 4, 2016, Carolyn A. Roth; all rights reserved.

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What a terrible 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?

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 3, 2016; Carolyn Adams Roth

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Friendship and the Treaty Oak

Lisa under Treaty Oak

The Jacksonville, Florida Treaty Oak is one of the oldest and most significant trees (Quercus virginiana) in United States history. The tree is estimated to be 250-300 years old and predates the finding of Jacksonville. The origin of the name “Treaty Oak” is related to a local story of a peace accord between Native Americans and early Spanish or American settlers.

The tree’s trunk is over 25 feet in circumference and its crown or canopy spreads over 145 feet ; however, the tree is only about 75 feet tall. Recently, the city of Jacksonville started to make seedlings from the Treaty Oak available for Jacksonville residence to plant all over their city.

Several oak trees were mentioned in the Bible. For example Abraham camped under an oak tree. Saul was given bread from a traveler under the Tabor oak. Finally, most of us have read about the mighty oaks of Bashan.  In the Bible oak is often a symbol of longevity and stability. I think of the oak in this photograph as a symbol friendship.

In the photograph, the beautiful woman sitting below the Treaty Oak is Lisa McClendon-Brailsford. Lisa is a follower of God as a Gardener and sent the photograph to me.

The Treaty Oak is old and massive. It has historical significance. My budding friendship with Lisa is young, but important to me. In the Bible, God spoke about friendship:

  • A friend loves at all times
  • Wounds from a friend can be trusted
  • Do not foresake your friendships

Reflection: Are you taking the time to value your friendships, whether young or old?

Copyright: December 30, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth

Fig Leaves for Clothes

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Reference: Genesis 3

Originally, man was created with free will. Adam and Eve could choose to obey or disobey God. While they obeyed God, Adam and Eve were without sin. Neither wore clothes; they were naked in each others presence and God’s presence yet felt no sense of shame or embarrassment (Genesis 2:25).

When Adam and Eve chose to disobey God’s command, they lost their innocence or sinless state. It was their choice to disobey to God — not solely the act of biting into, chewing, and swallowing a fruit — that introduced sin into the world. Disobeying God word is always a sin. Immediately after disobeying God, Adam and Eve became aware of their nakedness. Adam was ashamed and embarrassed for Eve to see his naked body; likewise, Eve was embarrassed and ashamed for Adam to see her nakedness. To hide their nakedness and shame, Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together to make an apron-like girdle.

Chagawr is the Hebrew word used for the apron-like girdle in Genesis 3:7. When compared with other Biblical references using the word (chagawr), a picture emerges of a belt tied around the waist with fig leaves sewed to the belt and each other that hung down and created a cover for the lower abdominal and genital areas. The underside of fig trees are rough. When disturbed or punctured they exude a gel-like substance. Fig leaves sewed together and put on for  clothes would have been very sticky and uncomfortable to wear.

Adam and Eve were wearing fig leaf aprons when they tried to avoid God in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8-10). In God’s presence, Adam blurted out, “I was afraid (to come before you) because I was naked.” In reality, Adam was not naked; he was wearing a fig leaf apron. Adam saw the fig leaf apron as adequate to cover his nakedness front of Eve, but not in front of God.

Fig Trees

fig leaf & fruit

The fig tree (Ficus carica ) is a deciduous tree indigenous to the Mediterranean Sea area and eastward into Afghanistan.  Figs were identified in written records as early as 9000 BC in the area of Jordan. Fig trees grow as tall as 25 – 30 feet and develop a spreading canopy of branches and leaves. Fig leaves are plentiful and typically 5 – 10 inches long and 4 – 7 inches wide. Leaves contain 3 – 5 deep lobes. Given the size of fig leaves, Adam and Eve would have used multiple fig leaves together to create aprons.

Symbolism: Disobedience

When I read that Adam ascribed his avoidance and fear of God to nakedness, I was skeptical.  Adam knew he disobeyed God; probably Adam’s fear was more related to awareness of his disobedience than of his nakedness.

Today wearing clothes is the norm. Opting to be naked versus being clothed is not something we think about. Automatically, we dress for the day soon after getting out of bed. I don’t know about you, but I want to look good to others. I don’t want them to see the naked, unadorned parts of me. I want to present myself as a person who is attractive and together physically, psychologically, and spiritually. In reality, often I have enough baggage to fill my closet and then some.

Perhaps worse than projecting  false pictures and hiding ourselves from others is trying to hide ourselves from God. Do you lie to God? I do, when I attempt to obscure my true motives from Him in my prayers; often I try to “white wash” my behavior or rationalize my motives. God wants us to be naked and unashamed before Him. He knew us before creation and when we were in our mother’s womb. He knows our circumstance and behavior. God knows us so well that He can identify the exact number of hairs on each of our heads. There is nothing we can do that God doesn’t anticipate or know. Yet, He still loves us and calls us into a personal, intimate relationship with Him. There is no need to hide ourselves from God or to put a “spin” on our behavior when we talk to Him.

Reflection: Are you hiding yourself, to include your motives, from God?

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: November 10, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth

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False Prophets?

Centaurea iberica

Reference:  Matthew 7:15-20.

This teaching is labeled “A Tree and Its Fruit” (NIV-SB). Jesus began with “watch out for false prophets” (Matthew 7:15). Then, he told the crowds the reason for his warning: false prophets were ferocious wolves that acted like gentle sheep. The good news was that people could recognize false prophets by their fruit – by looking at both their words and their actions. Just as a woman cannot pick grapes from thorn bushes or a man pick figs from a thistle, neither can a false prophet produce good fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Although false prophets could appear humble and mild like Christ or even blunt and rough like John the Baptist, their words are full of lies.

When Christ compared the words of false prophets to thorn bushes and thistles he was still teaching in Galilee. Primarily his listeners were from rural areas and small towns who had experience growing and picking grapes and figs. They knew about good and bad vines and productive and non-productive trees. These listeners weren’t surprised when Jesus said that trees that do not bear good fruit are cut down and thrown into the fire. The sooner bad trees were uprooted and destroyed the better. Although newly planted trees take 3-4 years to grow, they have the potential to produce good fruit; with bad trees there was no hope for a good crop. When Christ noted that bad trees were cut down, he was not implying that the people should kill false prophets. Rather, he was saying that the correct response to a false prophet is to stop listening to them.

Spanish Thistle Centaurea iberica, butterfly

The plant associated with the thistle in Matthew 7:15-20 is the Centaurea iberica, known as the Spanish thistle or Iberian star thistle. The Spanish thistle is native to India, the Middle East, and southeastern Europe. Often the thistle is found in disturbed areas including over-grazed lands and construction sites. Seeds are spread by livestock, vehicles, equipment, and contaminated hay and seed crop. Seeds can be transported on clothing. The Spanish thistle grows throughout Israel from the northern Golan and Hermon areas, through the central mountains and plains including the Mediterranean coast to the Northern Negev Desert area. Spanish star thistle is an invasive plant that displaces valuable forage species and space in pasture lands. The plants sharp spines deter grazing animals, impede recreational use, and restrict access for wildlife.

Symbolism: Recognize, Recognition           

Christ told his disciple that plants and prophets could be recognized by what they produce. When we recognize someone, we are familiar with them, distinguish them from others, and comprehend what they do and say. God gave some guiding principles to differentiate between a true versus a false prophet.

First, a true prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ is the son of God in the flesh (1 John 4:3).  In contrast, a false prophet does not acknowledge Jesus as God. When prophets, pastors, or theologians say that it is not important whether Christ was truly God or in some way deny the deity of Christ, they are false prophets.  

Second, false prophets can be recognized by how they respond to and preach the word of God.  True prophets read and obey God’s word (1 John 4:6). They preach the Bible, because it contains God’s truths for personal salvation and for successful everyday life.  In today’s society, the norm is to “spin” information. “Spin” is a form of propaganda that provides an interpretation of an event in order to persuade opinion for or against it. Often spin is disingenuous, deceptive, or manipulative. False prophets spin God’s truths. Believers need to discerningly read the scriptures so they do not get taken in by the words of false prophets.

Third, false prophets can be recognized by sin in their lives. One way to recognize sin is to compare a prophet’s life with The Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments identify sins, e.g., coveting, lying, and putting career achievement before God. A prophet who breaks God’s Commandments consistently and without repentance is a false prophet.  

Finally, in the Sermon on the Mountain, Jesus outlined expectations for followers. False prophets have said that these standards are unrealistic, e.g., so high that people cannot meet them. False prophets argued that the moral-ethical standards that Christ described in the Sermon on the Mount will only be achieved when Christ returns to earth the second time. Prophets or pastors who advocate this view are denying Christ’s words. In the Sermon on the Mountain, Christ outlined how individuals should live now, not in the new heaven and the new earth. False prophets sin when they distort God’s word and they provide an instantaneous way for Christians to recognize them.

Reflection. Do you know the Bible well enough to recognize when it is being preached truthfully? If you answered “No,” what are some options?

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: June 22, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth

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What was the Ark?

Cypress, Jezreel ValleyRead Genesis 6:9-8:22 for the story of Noah and the cypress wood ark.

Noah was over 500 years-of-age when God directed him to build an ark (type of boat). The purpose of the ark was to save Noah, his family, and animals from a pending deluge that would sweep over the known world (Genesis 6: 9 – 8:22). Noah was chosen because he was a righteous man, blameless among the corrupt and violent people of his time. Noah had three sons — Shem, Ham and Japheth — who helped him build the ark. The Bible does not identify where Noah lived while building the ark; however, after the deluge the ark landed on Mount Ararat. Today the state of Ararat is in the Republic of Armenia in Asia Minor.

God directed Noah to build the ark from cypress wood and to coat it with pitch inside and out. The ark was rectangular: 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. Although the roof was not described in Genesis, most likely it was flat as was the floor of the ark. Many scholars believe the roof extended outward over the sides of the ark. The sides of the ark were finished up to 18 inches of the top. The 18 inch opening was for ventilation and light. At one side of the ark, there was a door for entry and exit. (Click the link at the top of the page to see a probable image of the ark).

Most of us can remember seeing pictures of the ark from Bible story books that we read as children. In those books, the front (bow or prow) of the ark was always pointed and often the back (stern) was narrowed. In actuality, the ark had no need for a bow or stern because the ark did not plow through the water nor was it steered by a rudder. Instead, the ark was designed to float on the top of the water and to withstand the impact of rain and flood waters.

After the ark was constructed, Noah, his family, and animals entered the ark. Then God closed the door. After seven days the rain started and “all the springs of the great deep burst forth” (Genesis 7: 11). Many Christian scholars assert that the deluge was turbulent and included movement of the earth’s tectonic plates resulting in massive tsunami floods. The ark’s occupants remained safely in the ark almost a year: they entered the 10th day of the second month and exited the 27th day of the second month of the following year.

Cypress Tree

Today’s scholars are not 100% sure which tree was used on construction of the ark. The landscape of the earth was destroyed by the great deluge and some former plants were destroyed. Several translations of the Bible identify that Noah used cypress wood (AKA gopher wood).  The cypress tree is large, strong and full of resin that acted as a barrier against water seeping into wood and sinking the ark. The wild Cupressus sempervirens var. horizontalis (Mediterranean cypress) is most commonly associated with the cypress tree used in construction of the ark. The Latin word semper means always or ever, while the word virens means green; thus the translation is evergreen.

Archeological evidence revealed that cypress trees grew abundantly in Ararat in the post-deluge period. Frequently, the cypress tree is  columnar in shape and grows to a height of 115 feet. The tree top is cone shaped. Cypress wood is known for its durability; it was a favorite tree of early Phoenician ship builders. Oil produced from the tree has a woody, slightly spicy smell.

Symbolism:  Immortality

Although today the cypress tree is associated with sadness and mourning e.g., it is called the Funeral or Graveyard Cypress because it is planted in Mediterranean cemeteries, in ancient times the cypress was a symbol of immortality. In 1888, John Worcester published Correspondences of the Bible: the Plants. Correspondences refer to the spiritual meaning behind the plants found in the Bible. Worcester wrote that in the upward tip of the columnar-shaped cypress tree and in every shoot and leaf, the cypress points to immortal life with God in heaven (Worcester, 1888, reprint 2009). The cypress-wood ark carried eight individuals through the raging deluge that destroyed life in the then known world. Not surprisingly the tree was associated with immortality through God’s providence.

When I looked up “immortality” in several Bibles, I found only one Old Testament reference.  Proverbs 12: 28 reads, “In the way of righteousness there is life; along that path is immortality.” Through Noah’s righteousness the human race continued on earth, yet Noah’s righteousness and obedience did not guarantee immortality for the human race. Only by accepting the gospel of Christ are men and women guaranteed spiritual immortality (2 Timothy 1:11). Accepting the good news of salvation from Christ is not dependent on our righteousness; rather it is a gift from Christ. This gift came with a cost which Christ paid through His life, death, and resurrection.

Receiving the gift of spiritual immortality from Christ does not absolve men and women from acting right (or righteous). Instead Christ calls us to a new life which includes a new way of behaving. We can no longer ignore the Bible and its guidelines for our new life. Rather, the Bible is our, “How to Live” book.

Thought: Does gratitude for you new life and spiritual immortality result in more than a quick “thank you” to God every now and then?

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 Adams Roth July 2014.

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Identifying False Prophets

Centaurea iberica, butterflyJesus’ identified that we can recognize good and bad prophets by their fruits; see Matthew 7:15-20.

This teaching is labeled “A Tree and Its Fruit” (NIV-SB). Jesus began with “watch out for false prophets” (Matthew 7:15). Then, he told the crowds the reason for his warning: false prophets were ferocious wolfs that acted like gentle sheep. The good news was that people could recognize false prophets by their fruit – by looking at both their words and their actions. Just as a woman cannot pick grapes from thorn bushes or a man pick figs from a thistle, neither can a false prophet produce good fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Although false prophets could appear humble and mild like Christ or even blunt and rough like John the Baptist, their words are full of lies.

When Christ compared the words of false prophets to thorn bushes and thistles he was still teaching in Galilee. Primarily his listeners were from rural areas and small towns who had experience growing and picking grapes and figs. They knew about good and bad vines and productive and non-productive trees. These listeners weren’t surprised when Jesus said that trees that do not bear good fruit are cut down and thrown into the fire. The sooner bad trees were uprooted and destroyed the better. Although newly planted trees take 3-4 years to grow, they have the potential to produce good fruit; with bad trees there was no hope for a good crop. When Christ noted that bad trees were cut down, he was not implying that the people should kill false prophets. Rather, he was saying that the correct response to a false prophet is to stop listening to them.

Spanish Thistle

The plant associated with the thistle in Matthew 7:15-20 is the Centaurea iberica, known as the Spanish thistle or Iberian star thistle. The Spanish thistle is native to India, the Middle East, and southeastern Europe. Often the thistle is found in disturbed areas including over-grazed lands and construction sites. Seeds are spread by livestock, vehicles, equipment, and contaminated hay and seed crop. Seeds can be transported on clothing. The Spanish thistle grows throughout Israel from the northern Golan and Hermon areas, through the central mountains and plains including the Mediterranean coast to the Northern Negev Desert area. Spanish star thistle is an invasive plant that displaces valuable forage species and space in pasture lands. The plants sharp spines deter grazing animals, impede recreational use, and restrict access for wildlife.

Symbolism: Recognize, Recognition           

Christ told his disciple that plants and prophets could be recognized by what they produce. When we recognize someone, we are familiar with them, distinguish them from others, and comprehend what they do and say. God gave some guiding principles to differentiate between a true versus a false prophet.

First, a true prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ is the son of God in the flesh (1 John 4:3).  In contrast, a false prophet does not acknowledge Jesus as God. When prophets, pastors, or theologians say that it is not important whether Christ was truly God or in some way deny the deity of Christ, they are false prophets.  

Second, false prophets can be recognized by how they respond to and preach the word of God.  True prophets read and obey God’s word (1 John 4:6). They preach the Bible, because it contains God’s truths for personal salvation and for successful everyday life.  In today’s society, the norm is to “spin” information. “Spin” is a form of propaganda that provides an interpretation of an event in order to persuade opinion for or against it. Often spin is disingenuous, deceptive, or manipulative. False prophets spin God’s truths. Believers need to discerningly read the scriptures so they do not get taken in by the words of false prophets.

Third, false prophets can be recognized by sin in their lives. One way to recognize sin is to compare a prophet’s life with The Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments identify sins, e.g., coveting, lying, and putting career achievement before God. A prophet who breaks God’s Commandments consistently and without repentance is a false prophet.  

Finally, in the Sermon on the Mountain, Jesus outlined expectations for followers. False prophets have said that these standards are unrealistic, e.g., so high that people cannot meet them. False prophets argued that the moral-ethical standards that Christ described in the Sermon on the Mount will only be achieved when Christ returns to earth the second time. Prophets or pastors who advocate this view are denying Christ’s words. In the Sermon on the Mountain, Christ outlined how individuals should live now, not in the new heaven and the new earth. False prophets sin when they distort God’s word and they provide an instantaneous way for Christians to recognize them.

Reflection. Do you know the Bible well enough to recognize when it is being preached truthfully? If you answered “No,” what are some options?

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 27, 2013; Carolyn A. Roth

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Ezra Orders Wild Olive Branches Gathered

?????????????Nehemiah chapter 8 tells the story of the Jews cutting wild olive boughs to make booths for the Festival of Tabernacles (Sukkoth).

After Aharuerus’ death, Artaxerxes I (465-425 B.C.) ruled the Persian Empire.  His support for the Jews may have been related to a positive relationship with the Jew Mordecai, the chief official during Aharuerus reign.  In his 7th year as king, Artaxerxes aided the priest-scribe Ezra to return to Jerusalem (458 B.C.).  Ezra’s main contribution to restored Zion was interpreting and exhorting the Jews to keep the Mosaic laws.

Nehemiah was cup-bearer and personal confident of King Artaxerxes I.  When Nehemiah heard (circa 445 B.C.) that Jerusalem’s walls were not yet rebuilt, he grieved.  The first Jews had returned to Jerusalem over 90 years earlier.   Nehemiah secured support from Artaxerxes I to go  to Jerusalem and rebuild the city walls. Working almost day and night, the Jews rebuilt Jerusalem’s walls in 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15.).  Excavations showed the Jerusalem city wall built in Nehemiah’s time was about 9 feet thick.

After the city walls were rebuilt, the Jews assembled in Jerusalem.  At this time Nehemiah was governor and Ezra was chief priest.  Ezra read from the Book of Law.  Hearing God’s laws and statutes, the listeners became aware of their transgressions and began to weep.   Nehemiah told them to stop weeping and to celebrate the restoration of Jerusalem by feasting.  The following day, family heads met with Ezra to discuss the Law they heard read.  Part of the Law required that the people live in booths during the feast of the 7th month, the feast of Tabernacles or booths.  Ezra directed the people to go into the hill country and bring back branches to build the booths.  The types of branches were from olive and wild olive trees and from myrtle, palm, and shade trees.

The people built the booths on their roofs, in their courtyards, and in the square by the Water Gate; one booth was built by the Gate of Ephraim.  The entire nation became involved in building booths and living in them to commemorate their forefather’s 40 year wandering in the desert after leaving Egypt.  Nehemiah recorded that the Festival of Tabernacles was never before celebrated like it was at that time in Jerusalem

The Wild Olive Tree

In the past various Bible scholars translated the Hebrew êtz shamen as oil tree or pine tree; however, today most Bible scholars and botanists agree that êtz shamen is the wild olive tree. The wild olive tree is the Elaeagnus angustifolia, also known as the oleaster and Russian olive.  The oleaster was native to southern Europe and western Asia.  Dense stands are present in river bottoms where the water table is seldom more than two feet below the ground surface.  At the same time, oleaster is drought tolerant and indifferent to wind and heat. In Israel, oleaster is found in woodlands (e.g., around Mount Tabor), shrub-lands, and on Mount Hermon. In some parts of the United States, oleaster has naturalized and is considered an invasive weed. Oleaster is a thorny shrub or small tree. The oleaster tree has several uses.  It can be used to make booths for Jewish festivals.  The flower produces oil used to make perfume.  A gum from the plant is used in calico printing.  The hard, fine-grained wood of the trunk and branches is used for posts and beams and for wood carving.  The wood makes excellent fuel.  In some countries, to include Palestine, oleaster trees are pruned into hedges.

Symbolism: Security

Despite  building a secure wall around Jerusalem in a short 52 days, the Jews were aware that their security did not come from rocks and mortar.  Their security came from God.  As early as the days of King Solomon, the Jews had a proverb that described the source of their security: “He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge” (Proverbs 14:26, NIV-SB, 2002).  Just as Old Testament Jews relied on God for their security, so do New Testament Christians.  Christians have a secure position based on Christ as savior and redeemer.  Still, St. Peter cautioned new Christians to be on guard so that they did not get carried away by lawless men (and women) and fall from their secure position (2 Peter 3:17-18).  In addition to guarding against erroneous teaching, Christians are to grow in the knowledge of Christ.

Over the past year, I spent time writing this blog, e.g., reading the Bible story where the plant is located along with its historical setting, researching the plant origins and characteristics, and prayerfully considering the plant’s symbolism.  Recently, I’ve become convicted about the time consumed by these activities – albeit Bible-centered activities.   They have taken from and taken over my God-focused time and my prayer time.  I think Peter would have included my deviation from God-focused devotions as a way to fall from a secure position in Christ.

Reflection:  Think over your activities, e.g., church related and possibly even Bible-study related.  Are any of them interfering with God-focused time?

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 January 13, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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Esther’s Palace with Cotton Curtains

Cotton Flower, leavesThe description of the king’s palace at Susa is in 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.). Esther’s Jewish name was Hadassah which translates as myrtle; she was from the tribe of Benjamin.

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. On the 13th day of the Jewish month of Adar, the Jews destroyed all of their enemies; however, they did not plunder their property. From that time onward, Purim was a festival of celebration for the Jews.  Purim is the Hebrew word for “lots” and refers to the lottery that Haman used to choose the date for the massacre of Jews in Persia. 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

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 a hanging screen that can be drawn back, a device that conceals or acts as a barrier, or 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 book, 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. On a daily basis, priest entered the Holy of Holies and attended to the lamps and incense. The same was not true for the Most Holy of Holies where God dwelled.  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). In a way I empathize with the ancient Israelites who requested that God speaking Moses instead of speaking directly to them (Exodus 20:18-19).  The thought of standing before the God of the universe can be somewhat intimidating. Then, I remember that the God of the universe is my loving Father; no one loves me more than God loves me.

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.

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 December 29, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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