Tag Archives: Bible Plant

Death in the Stew

Bible Reference: 2 Kings 4.38-41.

Elisha was a prophet  (848-797 BC) in the Northern Kingdom and a disciple of Elijah. Elisha’s long ministry was during reigns of Kings Joram (Jehoram), Jehu, and Jehoash (Joash) over the Northern Kingdom. In this story, Elisha was in Gilgal, north of Jericho in the tribal lands of Manasseh. Gilgal was in the midst of a famine.  A company of prophets was meeting with Elisha. Elisha directed his servant to cook a large pot of stew for the men.  The servant went out into the field to gather herbs.  Finding a wild vine, the man filled a fold of his cloak with gourds from the vine.  Although no one recognized gourds, they cut them up and placed them in the stew.

After the stew cooked, it was fed to prophets.  As they ate the stew, they became sick and cried out, “O, man of God, there is death in the pot” (2 Kings 4.40 NIV).  Immediately, Elisha directed servants to get flour.  He put the flour into the pot.  The flour was probably stirred into the stew.  Then, Elisha directed that the floured-stew be given to the company to eat.  Believing Elisha mitigated the poisonous substance in the stew, the prophets ate it.  None became sick.

The Plant

Many botanists and Bible scholars proposed that the wild vine and gourds were Citrullus colocynthis, a cucumber-like plant with laxative effects. C. colocynthis is called “the bitter gourd.”  In the past, it may have been eaten, however, in the twenty-first century this gourd isn’t considered an edible plant.  It grows in sandy soil and gravel in Israel. As an herbaceous vine, the bitter gourd trails over the ground or climbs fences using tendrils. Leaves resemble those of a watermelon or the familiar garden pumpkin.

After the vine withers, gourds are seen lying in the soil or sand. Over time, rinds break down. Seeds enter the soil or are eaten by animals.  Bitter gourd is propagated by seeds or by root segments; seeds germinate after spring rains. The bitter taste and severe laxative effect are in the pulp. When washed and consumed separately from pulp, seeds are described as tasteless.

Likely, flour added to stew was from barley, the flour of the poor in Israel. Possibly, flour coated the gourd pulp and/or the prophets’ stomachs and intestinal tracts. Flour reduced or eliminated the gourd’s severe purgative effect, which could easily lead to dehydration and death. Alternatively, prophets’ faith in Elisha and his flour remedy could have opened a door for God’s power to detoxify the gourd stew. The chronicle of Elisha’s life showed that time-after-time God assisted Elisha as he walked in God’s path (2 Kings chapters 4 through 6).

Symbolism of Elish’s vine

In the Elisha episode, the bitter gourd is associated with death. The prophets thought they were dying after they ate the gourd-filled stew. Originally, God’s plan was that men and women didn’t die, but, lived forever. Because Adam and Eve desired to be independent of God, they disobeyed him. Subsequently,  the human race became subject to death. Throughout the Old Testament millennia, only Enoch and Elijah didn’t die physically. God doesn’t take pleasure in death. God wants even the wicked to repent and live. Certainly, God wouldn’t have taken pleasure in the death of his prophets.

Some individuals fear death. Job personified death as the “king of terrors” (Job 18.14 NIV); however, Job declared that death is naked before God. Ever gracious, God made a simple way for men and women to live forever. Jesus, the Christ, said that anyone who hears his word and believes God … “has crossed over from death to life” (John 5.24 NIV). By his own death, Jesus bought immortality for the human race. Jesus’s death overcame Satan, who holds the power of death in this world.

A way of looking at physical death is that death is a gift, not punishment, from God.  God allows our bodies—often with pains and diseases—to die so we can be raised to a new life. Younger individuals may die so they don’t have to face agonies that result from life in a fallen world.  Possibly, you and I will physically die before Jesus comes to take the saved from the earth.  As Christians, we don’t have to believe that death is the “king of terrors.”

When Jesus comes the second time, Christians who have died will rise. This is named the “first resurrection.”  Our bodies—decomposed, blown up, or cremated—will be raised.  Perishable, mortal bodies will become imperishable and immortal. Our physical death will be swallowed up in Jesus’s death and resurrection.  Then, we will live with Jesus eternally.

The apostle John wrote that blessed and holy are those who take part in the first resurrection.  They won’t participate in or be hurt by the second death.  The second death is the lake of fire reserved for those who didn’t believe in Jesus as Savior. Elisha’s belief and actions saved prophets from dying from poisonous gourd stew.  Jesus’s actions save us from eternal death.  After reading about the lake of fire, I know it’s not someplace I want to go.

Reflection: Why did God, the author of the Bible, put the story of Elisha and a deadly vine in the Bible? This story seems so unimportant in the scheme of the Bible. What are we to learn from it?

Copyright: July 6, 2019; Carolyn Adams Roth

Please visit my website at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

Joyful Peppermint

Bible Reference: Luke 11:37-44. 

At the end of a day of teaching, a Pharisee invited Jesus to his house to eat. Christ entered the house and reclined at the table. The Pharisee was surprised that Jesus did not wash his hands before the meal for two reasons. First, most foods were eaten with the hands. Second, although not a Mosaic Law, Jewish hierarchy advocated a procedure for hand washing before meals. Knowing what his host was thinking, Jesus admonished him, saying that Pharisees clean the outsides of dishware while they disregard the insides which are full of greed and wickedness. Pharisees’ tithe on mint, rue, and garden herbs, but neglect justice and the love of God. Christ admonished the Pharisees to practice justice and love as well as tithing.

The Book of Law required that Jews tithe. Tithing meant that they gave 10% of their money and/or crops to the Lord which usually went to the Temple (Leviticus 27:30). Mint and rue were herbs produced by farmers and other agriculturists for commerce; therefore, Mosaic Law required Jews to tithe on them. Importantly, when Christ spoke to the Pharisee, he did not tell the Pharisee that tithing on mint production was wrong. Just the opposite, Christ reinforced the need for God’s people to tithe. At the same time, Christ instructed the Pharisees that loving God and seeking justice were the greater good.

Mint, the Plant

The mint that grew in the Holy Land was Mentha longifolia, sometimes known as Mentha spicata L., wild mint, and horsemint. The large mint family, Lamiaceae, has 250 genera and 6,700 species; species names are often confused and confusing. Probably, M. longifolia originated in the countries of the Mediterranean Basin; however, South Africa claims it as indigenous. Mint thrives in most soils as long as soils are moist. If mint plants are propagated to secure a specific aroma, it is best to cut a piece of the original root (rhizome) and plant it. Virtually any part of a root will grow into a new plant.   When mint is planted for its essential oils, full sun is optimal; however, it will grow in partial shade. Wild mint tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure; it is not frost tender. In Israel, wild mint is found in Galilee, the central mountains and valleys, and south into the Northern Negev Desert and Aravah Valley. 

 Symbolism: Happiness, Joyful

The Greek word for mint is hēduŏsmŏn which is derived from hēdista meaning very gladly and kauchaŏmai, which means joy and rejoice. These two Greek words denote happiness and joy. Both words are appropriate for mint which medicinally relieves headaches, aids digestion, and is used to cover unsavory tastes and smells (Plants for a Future, 2012).

King David associated righteous behavior with gladness, happiness, and joy (Psalm 68:3). When Pharisees tithed on their income to include the relatively unimportant herb mint, they acted rightly. If they lived in strict adherence to the Mosaic laws, the Pharisees could have been happy, joyful people; yet, I could find no place in the Bible where the Pharisees were described as happy or joyful. Is it possible that righteous behavior does not lead to happiness? Was David wrong to associate righteousness with joy? Or was there something wrong about the righteousness of the Pharisees?

William MacDonald (1995) succinctly summarized why Pharisees were not happy and joyful.  They were externalists; which means the Pharisees were punctilious about small details of the ceremonial law, i.e., hand washing. At the same time, they neglected the greater commandments to love God and their neighbors (Matthew 22:37-40). They emphasized the subordinate and overlooked the primary laws of God. Happiness and joy cannot come when God or his primary commandments are ignored. Happiness comes from loving God and striving to please him in all things. Joy comes from doing good to others. 

Reflection. Christ said, whatever you do to the least man, woman or child, you do to me; and whatever you do not do to the least man, woman, or child you do not do to me (Matthew 25:40, 45). Christ is the “least” man, woman, or child.  

Copyright January 31, 2018; Carolyn A. Roth

Oleander, A Bible Rose

References: Sirach 24:18; Sirach 39:13; Esdras 9:26

The Plant:

The website “Flowers in Israel” noted the following references:

  1. 2 Esdras 9:26: So I went my way into the field which is called Ardath, like as he commanded me; and there I sat among the flowers, and did eat of the herbs of the field, and the meat of the same satisfied me.
  2. Book of Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus) 24:18: I was exalted like a palm tree in Cades, and as a rose plant in Jericho.
  3. Book of Sirach (or Ecclesiasticus) 39:17: By a voice he saith: Hear me, ye divine offspring, and bud forth as the rose planted by the brooks of waters.

These references are from the Apocraypha, an addendum to the Bible which most Protestants don’t adhere to, but Catholics fully embrace. In these books the plant named is the “rose;” botanists translated rose as oleander. In Sirach 39:14 the section is identified “In Praise of Creation.”  Indeed, many individuals perceive the oleander as one of the more beautiful blooms in nature. H.B.Tristram in The Natural History of the Bible ” wrote that the oleander is unequalled for the gorgeous beauty of its flowers, which shed a glowing sheet of pink over the fringe of every lake and water-course for several weeks in the early summer.”

The oleander (Nerium olander) is a broadleaf evergreen plant that grows well in Plant Zones 8–10. I live in Zone 7. After two years of vegetative growth each summer, my oleander has yet to produce flowers. Perhaps the climate is just too cold here in Roanoke. The oleander received its name from the leaves looking like olive leaves.

The Oleander grows up to eight feet tall and horizontally to five feet. Supposedly it is a seasonal bloomer with blooms pink, purple, or white. Blooms have five petals and the flower is funnel-shaped. The oleander should grow and bloom in full sun to part shade. It requires little maintenance and is drought tolerant. Supposedly, oleander grow well in tubs which are taken indoors in winter. Promptly deadhead spent blooms to prevent seed pods (very unattractive) from forming.

Symbolism: Sin

All parts of the oleander plant are poisonous if ingested. Plant saps can cause allergic skin reactions in some people. Smoke from burning plant material can be toxic. Ponder that something (the oleander plant) this beautiful to the eye is toxic to mankind. The oleander plant reminds me of many types of sin in our world. So many sins, i.e., beautiful, sleek, fast cars; seemingly glitzy life styles of the rich and famous; sumptuous banquets with an overabundance of rich foods to include desserts, are attract the eye but when consumed are poisonous.

Reflection: Just as the oleander plant is poisonous, so are certain sins that we encounter daily. The oleander plant is a lesson for Christians.

Copyright: November 5, 2017; Carolyn A. Roth

For more information on Bible plants, visit my website: http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

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Poinsettia, Symbol of Purity

poinsettia image

The Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is known as a Christmas flower, but it didn’t grow in Judea at the time of Christ’s birth. Poinsettia is native to Mexico where it was a symbol of purity to Aztec Indians. Joel Roberts Poinsett introduced the flower into the United States. While Ambassador to Mexico, he had poinsettia sent to his home in Greenville, SC. He distributed the flower to botanical gardens and to friends interested in horticulture.

Today, poinsettias occur in different colors, e.g., red, pink, white. There are mini poinsettias to large specimen tree-size poinsettia. Their stems are woody and they tend to quickly drop flower petals.  The poinsettia is not only the most popular Christmas flower, but the number one flowering potted plant in the United States. My brother had a poinsettia for about 7 years. Every year it blooms around Christmas. He started to decorate it like a Christmas tree.

Every Christmas, members of my Church can donate a poinsettia to decorate the altar.  I suppose the reason is the beautiful color of the plant — I’ve never heard any discussion about the flower being symbolic of purity.  In the future when I see a poinsettia at  the  church altar, I am going to think about the purity of the Christ child who came to earth.

Reflection: If you receive a poinsettia for Christmas, enjoy it and don’t forget to think about ways you can be a pure light in a darkening world.

Copyright: December 17, 2016; Carolyn A. Roth

Please visit my website to learn about other Bible plants: http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

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Pistachios in Canaan — the Best

pistachio-orchard-in-greece

Bible Reference:  Genesis 43:11

I admit it, I have a new addiction. It is pistachios. There is always a container setting on the counter in the kitchen. Most times when I go there, I stop and open several shells and eat the nuts.

In the Bible, pistachios are mentioned only once. Jacob told his sons to take them as a gift to the man (Joseph) in control of the Egyptian food supply. The background of the story was that Jacob’s sons made a previous trip to Egypt to buy food after a famine hit Canaan. There, Joseph (the same Joseph that the brothers sold into slavery) met with his brothers; but they failed to recognize him.

Joseph told his brothers that he would sell them additional food if Benjamin came with them when the brothers returned to Egypt. Jacob was reluctant to allow his youngest son to leave Canaan and go to Egypt with the older brothers. In Jacob’s mind, Rachel’s first son (Joseph) was dead and he had only Benjamin’s Rachel’s youngest son left alive.

Judah persuaded Jacob to allow Benjamin to accompany the brothers to Egypt lest the entire family starve. Jacob gave Judah the direction to take pistachios to Egypt to give to the man in charge of selling food. Jacob identified pistachios as one of the “best products” of Canaan.

Pistachios

Pistachios are a two-sided small greenish seed that grows in a whitish-brown hard shell. Pistachio trees (Pistacio vera) were cultivated in Israel for 4000 years. The modern pistachio tree, P. vera, was first cultivated in Bronze Age Central Asia (Uzbekistan).

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Pistachio trees are a desert plant and highly tolerant of saline soil. Trees can survive temperatures ranging between −10 °C (14 °F) in winter and 48 °C (118 °F) in summer. They grow poorly in high humidity. Pistachio tree are susceptible to root rot in winter if soil is not free-draining. Long, hot summers are required for proper ripening of the fruit.

Symbolism: Best

Remember in grade school you learned that something could be “good, better, or best?” Pistachios were one of the “best” products of Canaan. According to the dictionary “best” means “excelling all others.” Over time, I’ve learned that I cannot be “good” in my own strength. Believe me I tried – hard! Further, I should not compare myself with other Christians and attempt to be “better” than they. There was always someone “better” than me.

Instead, I should work at being the “best” Christian I am capable of being regardless of what others are doing or where they are in their walk with Christ. God wants me to be the “best” Christian “me” that I can be.

Reflection: How do you evaluate your Christian walk?

Copyright November 7, 2016; Carolyn A. Roth

I love studying plants in the Bible, even the relatively uncommon ones. If you are interested in learning more about Bible plants, check my website www.CarolynRothMinistry.com. I have a store where you can purchase books on Bible plants.

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Beautifully Ugly

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Isaiah chapter 34 is titled “Judgment Against the Nations” in the NIV Bible.  In God’s description of judgement against Edom, he says, “Thorns will overrun her citadels, nettles and brambles her strong holds. She will become a haunt for jackals, a home for owls” (Isaiah 34:13). The point that God is making is that Israel (and Judah) who trusted other nations for their defense rather than God would be overrun and destroyed. Equally true, the nations in which Israel put her trust would be overrun. Having thorns, nettles, and brambles overrun strongholds implies that people no longer living in these citadels and strongholds. If an individual were to enter these once well-populated, supposed secure areas, they would see jackals slinking around. At night owls that lived on rats and other rodents would hunt there.

Cotoneaster Bramble

Often the Bible bramble is a fast-growing, rough, and prickly shrub of the Rubus Family of plants. This Family contains blackberries and raspberries. Although both are good to eat, the bramble identified in Isaiah most likely was not one that produced any human food. They were just that – brambles that would have to be removed for people to live in the area.

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This photograph of a bramble it one that grows here in the mountains of Roanoke. It is called the cotoneaster (Cotoneaster frigidus) and in the Rosaceae (think rose) Family. I first remember seeing it when I was fishing in the Appalachian Mountains near Paint Bank, Virginia. It grew as a very thick hedge 3-4 feet tall. However, my neighbor has two cotoneaster bushes in his front yard that are about 12 feet tall. He planted them both sides of his front walk.  We live here in the Roanoke Valley (Plant Zone 7 a).  Cotoneaster had its origins in China.

Cotoneaster flowers are light white or light pink and bloom in May in the mountains. It is September, and my neighbor’s cotoneaster still has beautiful flowers. I purchased two cotoneasters and Bruce planted them at church in our Bible garden. They will get afternoon sun. Hopefully, they will make it through our winter.

What we can learn

I didn’t receive any consolation or encouragement from Isaiah’s words. My thoughts were that the United States has put her confidence in politics, money, military; rather than God. We have even built strategic alliances with other nations, NATO, OAS, etc. Yet, look what happened to ancient Israel when she did that. Where are our heads both as individuals and as a nation?

If I allowed myself, I could get depressed; however, I must always remember two things: 1) God is sovereign and 2) God  expects me to do my part to promote him and his kingdom. In the Fellowship of the Ring, an elf says something to the effect, “we fight the long defeat” (Tolkein). Like the elf character, I must continue to fight; but ultimately, I fight the long victory.

Reflection: Why did Isaiah write this Chapter? How can we see it as victory?

If you want to learn more about Bible plants, visit my website: CarolynRothMinistry.com

Copyright September 12, 2016; Carolyn A. Roth

 

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Poison on the Tongue

Amos’s comparison of the Northern Kingdom to a poisonous hemlock plant is found in Amos 6:12.

Conium maculatum flower

Amos is the third book of the Minor Prophets.  The minor prophets were considered minor in the sense that their books were much smaller than those of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, not because their messages were less important.  Amos prophesied over a 10 year period, 760-750 B.C.

Amos’ home was Tekoa, a town about 12 miles south of Jerusalem.  When God called him to be a prophet, Amos was a herdsman and tender of sycamore trees.  Amos completed most of his ministry in the area of Bethel, the Northern Kingdom’s main sanctuary.  At Bethel, Jeroboam I set up one of the golden calves soon after the 10 Northern tribes formed an independent kingdom.  All manner of pagan worship practices occurred at Bethel.  At the time of Amos’ prophecy the Northern Kingdom was politically secure and prosperous under the rule of Jeroboam II (sole reign 782-753 B.C.).

Amos was a vehement spokesman for God’s justice.  He argued that true righteousness and piety were displayed through social justice for all citizens.  Although Amos did not identify Assyria as the means of God’s judgment on the Northern Kingdom, he warned them that God’s judgment was fast approaching.  The judgment would be more than military conquest and tribute to a foreign conqueror.  It would involve total destruction of the Northern Kingdom as a nation and dispersion of its citizens to foreign lands.  Amos accused leaders and ordinary citizens of turning justice into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock (Amos 6:12, TEB).  Hemlock was a poisonous plant.

The Hemlock Plant

The botanical name for the hemlock plant is Conium maculatum, also known as the poisonous hemlock. It is indigenous to Eastern Mediterranean countries where it is classified as a toxic weed.  In about 399 B.C., the Greek philosopher Socrates was condemned to drink hemlock poison as a means of committing suicide.  Poisonous hemlock is found on banks of streams and rivers, along roadsides and hedgerows, in wasteland, pastures, and meadow lands.  The poisonous hemlock should not be confused with the Canadian hemlock tree  or the American water hemlock tree.  A single plant can produce 35,000-40,000 seeds.  Leaves and seeds are harvested for medicinal purposes are the leaves and seeds; however, medicinal uses of hemlock are limited because of the closeness of therapeutic and poisonous levels.  Sometimes children see the plant top, mistake it for carrots or parsley, and eat it.  Because hemlocks are rare in North America and initially hemlock signs and symptoms mimic other acute conditions, physicians may not immediately diagnose hemlock poisoning when children present in emergency departments.

Symbolism: Poison

At times the hemlock plant has been associated with bitterness, calamity, and sorrow.  In Amos, the Hebrew word laʽǎnâh was used as the word for hemlock; the word laʽǎnâh comes from an unused root meaning “to curse.”  All these words are good candidates for the symbolism of poisonous hemlock; however, I am going to associate the hemlock plant with poison or poisonous.  A poison is a substance that kills, injures or impairs; it is destructive, harmful, and corrupt. Poisonous described the hemlock plant and best depicted the words and behaviors of the Northern Kingdom leaders and citizens in the book of Amos.

When I looked at the behavior of the Northern Kingdom people, I thought, “I’m never going to act like they did; nor say and do the things they did.”  Then, I recalled some Bible teachings on poison and the tongue.  In Psalms (140:3), we read that evil men make their tongues as sharp as the poison of snakes.  Similarly, James pointed out that man has tamed all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea, but man cannot take the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of poison (James 3:7-8).  James said that the tongue is set on fire by hell which is a figuratively way of saying by the devil (James 3:6).

Reflection:  Some days my tongue is so sharp that I am embarrassed by what comes out of my mouth.  On those days, my words are not from God; but, from the Devil. Have you ever wished words unsaid? How can we prevent poison from coming out of our mouths?

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 12, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth

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