Tag Archives: Bible Plants

Elisha & Deadly Gourd Stew

Bible Reference: 2 Kings 4:38-41.

Elisha was a prophet in the Northern Kingdom between 848-797 B.C.; his name means “God is Spirit.”  Elisha was a disciple of Elijah.  Because Elisha saw Elijah taken up into heaven, he received a double portion of Elijah’s spirit to support his ministry (2 Kings 2:10).  Elisha long ministry was during the reigns of Kings Joram (Jehoram), Jehu, Jehoahaz, and Jehoash (Joash) over the Northern tribes.

At the time of this story, Elisha was in Gilgal, north of Jericho in the tribal lands of Manasseh.  Gilgal was in the midst of a famine.  While a company of prophets were meeting with Elisha, he directed his servant to cook a large pot of stew for the men.  A 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 the gourd, they were cut up and put in the stew.

After the stew cooked, it was poured out for  prophets.  As the prophets ate the stew, they became very sick and cried out, “O, man of God, there is death in the pot” (2 Kings 4:40).  Immediately, Elisha directed them to get flour.  He put the flour into the pot.  The flour was probably stirred into the stew.  Then, Elisha directed that the stew be given to the company to eat.  Believing Elisha mitigated the poisonous substance in the stew, the prophets ate it.  None became sick.

Wild Gourd

Many botanists and Bible scholars proposed that the wild vine and gourds were Citrullus colocynthis, a cucumber-like plant with purgative qualities. Likely the flour was from barley, the flour of the poor in Israel.  Possibly the barley flour coated the gourd and/or the stomach and intestinal tract; thus reducing or eliminating the gourd’s severe purgative effect.  Alternatively, the prophets’ faith in Elisha and his flour remedy could have opened a door for God’s power to detoxify the 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 4-6).

Citrullus colocynthis is called the bitter gourd.  In the past the gourd may have been eaten, however, it is not now considered an edible plant.  Its origins are North Africa or the Eastern Mediterranean area. It grows in sandy soil and gravel in Israel. As an herbaceous vine, the bitter gourd trails over the ground or climbs shrubs and fences using tendrils. Its leaves resemble those of a watermelon or the familiar garden gourd in the United States. After the vine has withered, gourds can be seen lying in the soil or sand.  Over time, the rind breaks 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 possibly purgative effect associated with bitter gourd is in the pulp. When seeds are washed and consumed separate from pulp, they are generally described as tasteless.

Symbolism: Death

In the Elisha episode, the bitter gourd is associated with death.  The prophets thought they were dying because they ate the gourd-filled stew.  Originally, God’s plan was that men and women did not die, but lived forever.  Because Adam and Eve desired to be independent of God’s laws, the human race became subject to death.  Through the Old Testament millennia only Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11-12) did not die physically; yet God does not take pleasure in death, even the death of the wicked.  God wants the wicked to repent and live (Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11).

Some individuals fear death.  Job personified death as the “king of terrors” (Job 18:14); however, Job declared that death is naked before God (Job 26:5).  Ever gracious, God made a simple way for men and women to not die, but live forever.  Christ said that anyone who hears his word and believes God … will cross over from death to life (John 5:24).  By his own death, Christ destroyed death and bought immortality to the human race (2 Timothy 1:10).  Christ’s death overcame the devil that holds the power of death (Hebrews 2:14).

A way of looking at physical death is that it is a gift, not a 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 do not have to face the agonies that result from living in a fallen world.   Possibly you and I will physically die before Christ comes to take the saved from the earth.  As Christians we do not have to believe that death is the “king of terrors.”

When Christ comes, Christians who have died will rise; this is called the first resurrection.  Our bodies – decomposed, blown up, or cremated – will be raised.  Perishable, mortal bodies will become imperishable and immortal (1 Corinthians 15:52-55).  Our physical death will be swallowed up in Christ’s death and resurrection.  Then, we will live with Christ eternally.  John wrote that blessed and holy are those who take part in the first resurrection (Revelations 20:6).  They will not participate in or be hurt by the second death (Revelations 2:11 and Study Note).  The second death is the lake of fire reserved for those who did not believe in Christ.  According to Revelations, the following individuals/groups are destined for the lake of fire:  the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderous, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters, and all liars (Revelations 21:8).  Along with Death and Hades, these individuals/groups will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelations 20:14).

Reflection.  Elisha’s belief and actions saved the prophets from dying from the poisonous gourd.  Christ’s actions saved us from eternal death.  After reading about the lake of fire, I know it’s not someplace I want to go. What about you – do you want to take part in the first resurrection or the second death?

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 20/08/18; carolyn a. roth

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John, Unbendable Reed

 

Reference: Luke 7:19-28

John the Baptist’s public ministry lasted one-to-two years. Jesus went to John to be baptized. Baptizing Jesus was the high point of John’s ministry. Then, King Herod Antipas arrested John and imprisoned him at Machaerus, a walled fortress with special quarters for political prisoners. When King Herod arrested John, the ostensible reason was that John criticized Herod for divorcing his powerful Nabatean wife.

Although King Herod used a personal reason for imprisoning John, getting John out of circulation made political sense. John mandated that individuals, who came to him for baptism, change their behavior.  John advocated economic changes that influenced King Herod’s income. For example, John told tax collectors to collect only the amount of money required by Rome. They should stop lining their pockets and those of King Herod by over-taxing citizens. Soldiers must be content with their pay and stop extorting money from individuals. John had tremendous influence with people in Herod’s kingdom. According to the first century historian, Josephus, Herod feared that John, with his widespread support from the common people, would instigate rebellion against him.5

After John was in prison perhaps 15-18 months, he sent two disciples to Jesus. They asked Jesus if he was the expected Messiah, or if they should look for someone else (Luke 7.19). Jesus didn’t give the disciples a direct “Yes” or “No” answer.  Instead Jesus told the disciples to go back to John and report what they saw and heard, i.e., the blind received their sight, the lame walked, lepers were cured. After John’s messengers left, Jesus asked the crowd what they expected when they went to see John in the desert. Jesus contrasted John the Baptist’s behavior with a reed that blew in the wind, swaying first one way than another.

The reed that Jesus referred to when talking about John was the Arundo donax, known as the giant reed or the Cypress cane. Reed colonies were located on the banks of natural water courses, in floodplains of medium or large sized streams, and in dry river banks far from permanent water sources. Reeds grew throughout Israel from Mount Hermon to the Negev Desert.

Giant Reed

Giant reeds are perennials; they regrow year-after-year. Reeds  reach a height of 20 feet and may grow 10-12 feet in a single season. In frost areas, reeds are smaller. Often, they die back in winter, only to regrow in spring. Like bamboo grass, the giant reed spreads readily. Roots are thick, knobby rhizomes. In nature, this reed often propagates by rhizomes breaking from the main root stock, moving through the water, and taking root in a new location. The central reed stalk is called a culm; culms are about 1 ½ inches in diameter and hollow. Each culm has many leaves that resemble corn stalks; however, leaves have sharp edges that can cut fingers.

Culms and leaves are green in spring and early summer. As drier weather prevails, foliage turns light brown and rattles in the wind. Giant reeds bend with the wind, even when they grow in large colonies. In ancient times, reeds were used to check soil erosion and functioned as wind breaks.

Symbolism: Unbendable

Jesus asked the crowd if they expected to see a reed swaying in the wind when they went out to see John the Baptist. In New Testament times, individuals knew about reeds.  At a minimum, they saw reeds growing along the Jordan River. To them reeds elicited mainly positive thoughts. Perhaps, they remembered how Isaiah associated reeds with humility (Isaiah 58.5).

Jesus denied that John was a swaying reed. John was firm and upright, unlike a reed that swayed in the wind. Jesus averred that John’s beliefs were firm, and he lived by them. John stayed on message (repentance) and on task, (baptism). John didn’t have a politically correct bone in his body. He didn’t pander to public opinion, giving one message to common people and a second one to the rich and powerful. John called the Jerusalem elite “a brood of vipers.” Nor, was John silent when King Herod divorced his first wife, Phasaelis, to marry his brother’s wife, Herodias.  Instead, John labeled Herod an adulterer.

Despite Jesus denying that John was a swaying reed, John’s behavior reflected how reeds were used in ancient Judea and Galilee. By his words and life, John stood against the erosion of godly living. He called ordinary citizens, tax collectors, and civil and religious leaders to a life changed to reflect God’s standards.

Like reeds used as windbreaks, John stood as a buffer between people who were righteous and the secular society of the Roman Empire. The best windbreaks lower wind chill in man, animals, and plants. Everything we know about John the Baptist showed a priest and prophet who lived close to God. As a windbreak John, lowered the chilling effects of the secular Roman society on inhabitants of Galilee and Judea.

Jesus’s comments on John the Baptist included a eulogy for John. In addition to commendatory words given at a memorial service, eulogy means “high praise.” Although John was still alive, Jesus eulogized him by saying of all men (and women) born of woman, there was none greater than John the Baptist. John wasn’t a weak reed, or as we would say in the 21 century, John the Baptist wasn’t a “shrinking violet.”

Reflection: What about you? Do you bend and sway with all types of adversity?

Copyright: 7/26/18; Carolyn A. Roth

Visit my website: CarolynRothMinistry.com

Separating Wheat and Chaff

Bible Reference: Matthew 3:12

In John the Baptist teaching, wheat referred to the kingdom of heaven. John the Baptist discussed separating wheat from chaff. According to John wheat will be taken into God’s storehouse while weeds and chaff are destroyed.

Wheat was the first grain identified in the Old Testament (Genesis 30.14); and one of seven species that Moses told Israelites that they would find growing in the promised land (Deuteronomy 8.8). Wheat was valued because of its high nutrition content. Although an important food source, growing, threshing, winnowing, and grinding wheat required effort.

John referred to Jesus when he said: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather and store his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3.12 ESV).  In ancient Judea, wheat was emmer or einkorn; not the wheat grown in Israel today, nor the wheat grown in the United States.

At harvest,  men cut wheat stalks with a sickle. Farmers with livestock cut stalks close to the ground to use stalks as animal fodder. Farmers without livestock cut stalks close to the seed head to minimize amount of threshing. Children gathered stalks into bundles and took  bundles to the threshing floor, a cleared and compacted parcel of ground up to 40 feet in diameter. Sometimes, one threshing floor served an entire village.

On threshing floors, farmers used an ox-drawn disc or threshing sledge to cut wheat stalks, but not crush grain (Isaiah 28.27-28). Threshing sledges were made of wooden boards with iron or stone projections on the bottom. The projections cut the stalks and allowed grain to separate and fall to the floor. Horses or oxen pulled sledges over grain stalks spread on the threshing floor.

The farmer separated wheat kernels from chaff (dirt, grain hulls) using winnowing. Winnowing consisted of throwing the threshed materials (chaff and grain) into the air with a fork or a basket. Wind separated valuable wheat grains from chaff. Because wheat kernels were heavier than chaff, they fell to the ground or back into the basket. The lighter chaff, dirt, etc., were blown away by wind. At times, farmers used fans to create air currents to separate chaff and other impurities away from valuable wheat kernels. Often, threshing floors were located on a hill top or side to take advantage of wind currents. Finally, the grain was gathered into jars or bins for storage; chaff was burned (Matthew 3.12).

John preached personal acknowledgement and repentance of sins followed by baptism—full body emersion—in water as an outward sign of repentance. Mostly, John baptized individuals in the Jordan River.  Figuratively, the water of baptism washed sins away. John didn’t stop with a message of repentance and physical act of baptism. John exhorted those baptized to change their behavior and bear fruit consistent with repentance (Luke 3.8-14).

Reflection: God doesn’t want any individual to perish. He gives each person time to repent.  Regretfully, individuals who don’t repent and trust in Jesus as their Savior are going to be pulled up, bundled, and destroyed.

Copyright: July 24, 2018; Carolyn A. Roth

Website: CarolynRothMinistry.com

Focusing Message on Audience

Dill for Blog Jesus named three herbs while teaching in the Temple Court during Holy Week; read Matthew 23:1-32. This dill plant is from St. John Church Bible Garden.

Matthew is the only gospel writer who recorded seven “Woes” as part of Jesus’s teaching in the Temple Courtyard during what Christians call Holy Week. The first day of the week, Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem, the second day he cleared the Temple of money changers, and the third day was a day of controversy and parables. This day must have been challenging and exhausting for Jesus.  Group after group, e.g., Pharisees, teachers of the Law, Sadducees and Herodians, came forward to challenge Jesus. They attempted to trip him up so that they could condemn both Jesus and his answers. At one point during their challenges, Jesus spoke seven “Woes” in which he condemned both the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. As we read these 32 verses, we hear the agony that Jesus feels at the blindness of these spiritual leaders of Israel.  Jesus is so frustrated that he names them “hypocrites.” 

In the fourth “Woe,” Jesus told the Pharisees that they give 1/10 of spices – mint, dill and cummin; but neglect the more important parts of the Law that have to do with justice, mercy, and faithfulness. He advised them to practice justice, mercy, and faithfulness while tithing on the herbs. Then, Jesus gave a concluding denouncement to the Pharisees and teachers by saying that “you strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24).

Jesus’s teaching that justice, mercy and faithfulness are more important than tithing on herbs was similar to one he gave while eating a meal in a Pharisee’s home (Luke 11:37-44). The differences were that Jesus used a different list of herbs than in Luke’s gospel, and in Luke he only he directed the Pharisees to practice justice and to love God. Despite these dissimilarities, the point of both teachings was the same. Jesus wanted the Pharisees to get their priorities in line with God’s priorities. God’s priorities are summed up in a simple Bible verse (Micah 6:8),  “What does the Lord of require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Dill

Photo taken at Kibbutz Ketura in southern Israel.

The species name of New Testament dill is Anethum graveolens.  Early Israelite settlers cultivated dill on the coastal Sharon Plain, possibly in sheltered area because strong winds can destroy or damage tall dill stocks. Dill is an erect annual herb that grows about 3 but sometime 5 feet tall. All parts of the dill plant are edible except the roots.  Young foliage is used to flavor meat and fish sauces. Dill weed can be frozen with foliage on the stems.  Dry or green seeds give the spicy tang to pickles, relishes and vinegar and add zest to potato and egg salads. Dried crushed seeds are used in soups.

Symbolism: Offering

Because dill is common in Western cooking, we do not fully comprehend how valuable it was to ancient peoples.  In ancient times, the dill plant was a luxury item often used as an offering.  Today we think of an offering as money or something valuable given to support the church.  The ancients had a similar view of an offering.  In ancient Egypt, dill was placed in the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs (god-kings) as an offering for the Pharaoh’s afterlife.  Israel’s Talmud required that a tithe be paid on dill stems, leaves, and seeds; therefore, dill was used as an offering to the Temple.  Shortly after this teaching in the Temple Courtyard, Jesus offered his body as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.  His bodily sacrifice was an offering for the sins of these Pharisees and teachers of the Law who attempted to trip him up so they could justify condemning him.

It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around Jesus offering his body — even dying — for men he knew were hypocrites and who had the goal of condemning him. My first reaction to hypocritical behavior is anger, even contempt.Perhaps I need to step back from these emotions and consider what my teacher did.

Reflection. How do you react to hypocritical behavior in your spouse, neighbors, or church family members? Think about what you can offer them besides judgment and anger.

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, 12/13

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Flowering Rush and Legacy

“Can reed flourish where there is no water? While yet in flower and not cut down they wither before any other plant” (Job 8.11-12, ESV).

In this verse Bildad, one of Job’s friends recommends to Job that he repent of his sin. Then, God will forgive Job and restore his losses. Typical of wisdom literature, Bildad uses an analogy from nature to illustrate the vulnerability of the wicked. Bildad is sure that Job did something wicked for God to give Job all the disasters that occurred in his live. The flowering rush is primarily a Mediterranean plant. Its presence in Job suggested that his home country possibly had rivers or lakes.

Flowering Rush

The flowering reed in Job 8.12 is the flowering rush (Butomus umbellatus). The word butomus comes from the root words bous (ox) and temmo (cut). The temmo portion of Butomus is an allusion to the sharp leaf margins of the flowering rush. Some writers put this rush in the sedge family known for its cutting leaves. The flowering reed produces flowers April to August. Inflorescence contain 20-25 flowers. The flower itself has three large pink petals.

Flowering reeds grow rapidly in wet lands. They can reach a height of 15 feet. At the same time, the flowering rush is vulnerable, dependent on a constant supply of water. The merest drought results in death. Like most reeds, Butomus umbellatus produces rhizomes. Rhizomes break from the parent plant and migrate to new sites where they take root and grow.

Symbolism

In Bildad speech to Job, he makes use of a characteristic of flowering rush which suggests that he had studied the plant. Flowering rush rhizomes can move from their original site leaving no trace of their presence. Bildad cautions Job that if he does not repent despite his previous wealth and influence, Job will pass from existence leaving no trace of his presence.

Reflection

Most of us want to be remembered. We want to leave something that makes an impact on the earth when we are gone. Some individuals have children. Others write books, design buildings, or determine to be great politicians. What do you want to leave as your legacy?

Copyright July 22, 2018; Carolyn A. Roth

Visit my website to purchase books on Bible plants: http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

Too Late for Healing Aloe

Joseph of Arimathea was a prominent member of the Jewish council who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Boldly, Joseph went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’s body. After confirming with a Roman officer, that Jesus was dead, Pilate released Jesus’s body to Joseph. Along with Nicodemus, Joseph took Jesus’s body from the cross. They wrapped the body in linen stripes and 75 pounds of mixed aloe and myrrh. The Jewish burial custom of using spices in burial linens was associated with covering the smell of the decaying body.  Scholars suggested that because aloe had little odor, aloes were used to “fix,” or hold the scent of the myrrh. Based on my knowledge of aloe plants, I have another proposed reason for  aloes in the linen grave cloths. Aloe gel is moist and slightly sticky. Perhaps, aloe gel didn’t so much “fix” the myrrh aroma in the linen cloths as hold them together and onto the body of the deceased.

The aloe of the New Testament is the Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis, Aloe vulgaris medicinal aloe). Some sources identified aloe as the oldest medicinal plant. Certainly, it figures prominently in ancient Egyptian medicine. In Israel, aloe grows as far south as Kibbutzim Lotan and Ketura in the Arava Desert near the Gulf of Aqaba. Old and New Testament aloe are from different species of plants. In contrast to New Testament aloe which is an herbaceous plant, Old Testament aloe comes from a tree. The Old Testament aloe tree was the eaglewood tree (Aquilaria malaccensis, A. agallocha). Likely, Old Testament traders brought aloe wood from India.

Currently, aloe is used to reduce the pain of burns and scrapes. When aloe is harvested for its medicinal gel, older leaves are harvested because they contain more gel. I keep an aloe plant in my home. When I get a burn, I slice off a piece of aloe and rub the fluid on the burn, which takes the pain away.

Isaiah wrote these prophetic words about Jesus, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace” (Isaiah 53.5 ESV) Jesus’s body was dead; therefore, aloes couldn’t heal him; aloes couldn’t take away the sting of his death. Aloe couldn’t heal Jesus’s wounds. The healing aloes in Jesus’s burial cloth exemplified Jesus’s healing of mankind, not himself.

After Jesus’s resurrection some individuals in Judea and the Roman Empire accepted healing from him. They accepted Jesus as Messiah, as the promised Savior of the world. Other individuals weren’t willing to be healed. Some couldn’t comprehend that a man would die for their sins. Others simply didn’t believe that they were all that bad; why would someone need to die for their few sins? For still others it was easier to continue their same religious observances, i.e., make an animal sacrifice or give a little money into a treasury, than to accept a new way of thinking. These individuals often want to cover over the smell of their sin rather than be healed of that sin. The rationale and rationalizations that individuals used 2,000 years ago for not accepting healing from Jesus are the same ones that individuals use today.

In church on Sunday morning, we pray the “Prayers of the People.” Frequently, there are prayer requests for healing – surgery, diagnostic tests, cancer – from members of the congregation. I’m always surprised that congregates don’t offer more prayers for loved ones’ spiritual healing. My dear friend isn’t a Christian; I love him so much. From time to time, I ask congregates to pray that he comes to a saving knowledge of Jesus. I really should ask them to pray for him every Sunday. My friend needs the healing that only Jesus can give.

Reflection: Like the reason for aloe in Jesus’s burial cloths, do you attempt to stick close to Jesus? What excuse do you give for not accepting Jesus as your Savior now?

Copyright July 8, 2018; Carolyn A. Roth

Rock rose source of onycha

Onycha is the most controversial ingredient used in incense when it was prepared for use in the tabernacle on the Sinai Peninsula. Originally, Bible scholars believed that onycha came from a shell fish that was common to the Red Sea area. The problem with this hypothesis was that Mosaic Law identified that all non-finned and non-scaled fish were unclean and should be considered detestable (Leviticus 11.10-11).

The Talmud stated that onycha (shecheleth) grew from a plant, most likely an exudate from a bush or small tree. According to Winifred Walker’s All the Plants of the Bible (1979), shecheleth is a form of rock rose (Cistus ladaniferus var.  creticus), which produces a resin called labdanum. The flowers of the rockrose bush are described as having petals with scarlet and black fingernail-shaped markings. Usually, rock rose produces labdanum annually, during the summer, to protect itself from the heat. When aged labdanum becomes more fragrant.   The fresh resin is a soft, sticky, and tar-like substance that is sweet, flowery, musky, and reminiscent of honey or ambergris with a hint of sweet leather. As labdanum ages it becomes hard and brittle.

I planted Cistus in the church Bible garden. The plant lived two winters but did not make it through the third winter (Plant Zone 7). When I checked for more plants at my neighborhood nursery, the manager told me that they no longer sold Cistus because it did not overwinter in the Roanoke climate.

Labdanum, the product of onycha, is produced to protect the flower from heat. My thought is that I can produce nothing to protect my body and mind from heat. Jesus give me protection from heat, from all stress, worry, tension, strain.

Reflection: “Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger?” Thanks be to God that Christians will never have to endure God’s indigation and anger. We got Jesus!!!

Copyright June 21, 2018; Carolyn A. Roth

Please check out my website: http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

Galbanum, Ingredient in Incense

The story of the Tabernacle incense is in Exodus 30:1–10, 34-38; Exodus 37:25-29; and Exodus 40:26-28.

When God listed offerings for the Tabernacle, he included spices for fragrant incense (Exodus 25:6).  Specifically, a perfumer was to blend the holy incense out of equal proportions of gum resin (stacte), onycha, galbanum, and pure frankincense.  The incense was to be salted and pure and sacred (30:35).  Several scholars have commented on what “salted” meant.  One idea was that salt was a preservative in the incense.  A second idea was related to the ancient’s belief that sharing salt between two people was considered to bind them in a covenant.  In the incense, the Israelites offered salt to God, which set Israel’s seal on the covenantal relationship that God offered.  Finally, directing the incense to be salted could have meant it was to be well prepared.The Tabernacle incense was to be “most holy” to the Israelites, and the Israelites were to consider the Tabernacle incense “holy to the Lord” (Exodus 30:36, 37).  Israelites then and in generations to come were to burn incense before the Lord (Exodus 30: 7-9).  The incense on the Altar of Incense was to thanks and praise God for his care and protection to a redeemed people. The Israelites were cautioned to not use the incense formula to make incense for personal use. If they did, they would be cut off from the Israelite people.

The question of the origin of the ingredients for the incense is an important one. The Israelites were in the Sinai Peninsula where these spices did not occur in nature. Most likely, the spices were brought with the Israelites out of Egypt; they were tributes from the Egyptians.  In particular, women would have fragrant, sweet-smelling spices and perfumes. The Bible noted that the Israelites gave an overabundance of materials for the Tabernacle construction.  That overabundance would have included incense spices as well as other construction materials.

Once blended, the incense was ground and used on the Altar of Incense (Golden Altar) and on the Table of the Presence Bread. Both of these structures were located in the Holy of Holies, Tent of Meeting. The Altar of Incense was located immediately in front of the veil separating the Holy of Holies from the Most Holy of Holies (Exodus 30:6). The Altar of Incense was so closely connected to the Most Holy Place that the writer of Hebrews mentioned that it was placed behind the veil separating the two rooms (Hebrews 9:4). No other incense was burnt on the Altar of Incense; nor were other types of offerings made on it, e.g., animal, grain, or drink. On the Altar, incense was burnt twice a day: in the evening when the chief priest lit the lamps (on the Lampstand) to burn throughout the night, and in the morning when the lamps were prepared (dressed) for the day.  Incense was also burnt on the Table of the Presence Bread.  On the Table, incense was place along each stack of Bread (Leviticus 24:5–9).  The incense was burnt as a memorial representing the 12 loaves of bread.  It was an offering made to the Lord by fire.

The Galbanum Plant

The plant described with the Tabernacle incense is galbanum which produces a resinous gum, also called galbanum.  The botanical name of galbanum is  also Ferula gummosa. Galbanum is a member of the same family of plants as carrots and parsley; it is native to central Asia particularly Iran. Galbanum was not known to grow in Israel; and in 2012 Israeli plant data bases do not list it. The Hebrew word for galbanum is chelbᵉnâh. The only place that chelbᵉnâh appears in the Bible is with spices used to make the Tabernacle incense. In England and the United States, the flowers were described as greenish white or yellow;  however, in Central Asia, flowers are a brilliant orange-yellow (Aitchison, 1887).  There are differing opinions about the gum odor and taste from pleasant odor and an acrid taste to strongly balsamic, pungent, and disagreeable or musky.  Whatever the odor of galbanum gum alone, when it was blended with the other three spices, the resulting Tabernacle incense was fragrant.

Symbolism: Fragrance

The symbolism of Tabernacle incense is three-fold.  In the Tabernacle, the incense symbolized a fragrance, or beautiful aroma, lifted to God in thanksgiving.  In the New Testament, the symbolism of fragrance is repeated in Christ’s redemptive work on the cross and in the work of the Church.  In contrast to Tabernacle incense that was burnt and rose up to God morning and evening, the sweet fragrance of the Church should rise continually to the Lord.  In his writings to a number of young Church congregations, Paul pointed out how Christ was and we are to be fragrant offerings and aromas to God.  For example, Paul told the Church at Ephesus to be imitators of Christ and to live a life of love in the same way that Christ loved us and gave himself as fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:1-2).

To God, Christians are the aroma of Christ among “those who are being saved and those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:15)  To the saved, Christians are the fragrance of life.  To those who reject Christ, Christians and the gospel message are the smell of death (2 Corinthians 2:16, note, New International Version Study Bible, 2002).  Christians and the gospel message themselves are not evil-smelling or death dealing; but when nonbelievers reject the life-giving message of Christ, they smell death, not fragrant life.

When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he acknowledged their gifts saying he was not amply supplied (Philippians 4:14-19).  Probably, the gifts include money as well as material goods such as food and clothing.  Paul identified the gifts were “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18).  The gifts from the Philippians to Paul were not in atonement for sin.  Rather, they were gifts of thanksgiving and praise for Paul’s ministry and Christ’s gift of salvation.  The church members at Philippi set an example that church members today can follow in giving to the support of missionaries.

Reflection. When we apply the Bible to our lives, we are like sweet-smelling incense lifted up by a gentle breeze to God. What kind of fragrance are you giving off?

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

Copyright July 1, 2018; carolyn a. roth

Frustrating Pharisees and Herbs

Reference: Matthew 23.1-32

Matthew is the only gospel writer who recorded the seven “Woes” which was part of Jesus’s teaching in the Temple Courtyard during Holy Week (Matthew 23.1-32). The first day of Holy Week, Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem and the second day he cleared the Temple of money changers. The third day was a day of controversy and parables.

This day must have been challenging and exhausting for Jesus.  Group after group, i.e., Sadducees, Pharisees, lawyers, teachers, and Herodians, came forward to challenge Jesus. They attempted to trip him up so that they could condemn both him and his answers. At one point during their challenges, Jesus spoke seven “Woes” in which he condemned both the Pharisees and scribes. As we read these 32 verses, we hear the agony that Jesus felt at the blindness of the spiritual leaders of Israel.  Jesus was so frustrated that he named them “hypocrites.”

In the fourth “Woe,” Christ told the Pharisees and scribes that they tithe on the herbs mint, dill, and cumin; but, neglect the more important parts of the Law that have to do with justice, mercy, and faithfulness. He advised them to practice justice, mercy, and faithfulness while tithing on the herbs.

Tithing with herbs dates back to Mosiac Law. When herbs produced to sell; Mosaic Law required Jews to tithe on them. “You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field” (Deuteronomy 14.22 ESV). Tithing meant that the grower gave 10% of their money and/or crops to the Lord, which usually went to the Temple (Leviticus 27.30). Importantly, when Jesus spoke to the Pharisee, he didn’t tell Pharisees that tithing on growing herbs was wrong. Just the opposite, Jesus reinforced the need for God’s people to tithe. At the same time, Jesus instructed listeners that loving God and seeking justice were the greater good.

Cumin

When Jesus identified tithing herbs to the Pharisees in Jerusalem, he named cumin; however, Jesus didn’t list cumin in an early message when he used herbs in his reprimand to the Pharisees.  That Jesus used cumin in an exhortation to urban dwellers suggests that urban dwellers use different herbs than rural ones. Further, cumin was closely aligned with Persian and Indian cuisine. Conceivably, Jerusalemites many who had ancestors who were returnees from the Babylonian captivity were more familiar with the herb cumin.

Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) is an annual flowering plant from the parsley family. Seeds are used Asia, Mediterranean, Middle East, and Mexican dishes. Ground cumin is an essential spice in curry powder. Ancient Greeks used cumin as a table-side condiment, similar to the way we use a salt shaker. Several different varieties of cumin exist with the most common being black and green cumin used in Persian cuisine.

Cumin is sown in the spring from seed in rows two feet apart in fertile, well-draining soil. Cumin plant care requires a long, hot summer (three to four months) with temperatures around 85 degrees Fahrenheit (F) during the day. United States plant zones are 5-10. Sow shallowly, about ¼-inch below the soil surface. Keep the seeds moist during germination. In cooler climates, start seed indoors four weeks prior to the last spring frost.  Transplant outdoors when temperatures routinely exceed 60 degrees F. or higher. Cumin has small white or pink flowers.

Harvesting cumin is time consuming because it is largely done by hand. Cumin seed is harvested by hand. Seeds are harvested when they brown — about 120 days – and are then dried and ground. Ideally, cumin seeds are harvested in the morning when the herb is most pungent.

Symbolism

It takes a lot of time (120 days or 4 months) to grow cumin plants and many plants to get ground cumin to garnish food. If you want the delicious taste of cumin in food, the wait and  effort is worth while. Growing as a Christian – growing in Jesus – is also time consuming; however, the growth is worthwhile as we become progressively more like him. Also, it is worthwhile to see our loved-ones grow in knowledge and love of Jesus.

Reflection:  Are you ever impatient with your growth or the growth of those you love? If you are, think of the alternative.

Copyright: June 19, 2018; Carolyn A. Roth

Visit my blog at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com.

Swaddling Cloths

When Mary returned to Nazareth from visiting her cousin Elizabeth, her betrothed, Joseph, decided that the couple should leave for Bethlehem. Emperor Caesar Augustus ordered that all men must go to their home town to register for tax purposes. Joseph was of the lineage of David and his home town was Bethlehem.

When Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, Joseph’s family’s homes were packed. Inns were filled with other returned Bethlehemites. Joseph’s kin told him that he and Mary were welcome to sleep in the barn. Mary gave birth to her first-born son, Jesus in this barn environment. As was the custom in the Ancient Near East culture, Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling cloths (Luke 2:7), Swaddling cloths were narrow band of cloths wrapped around newborn children to restrain and quiet them. A mother’s womb was snug and warm; these cloths mimicked the womb. Newborns have fingernails, so the cloths would have prevented the newborn Jesus from scratching himself has he wiggled around.

The swaddling cloths Mary wrapped Jesus in were probably made from cotton. Because of their poverty, Joseph and Mary likely were unable to afford linen cloths. Often pictures of Jesus wrapped in cloths at his birth depict the cloths as white; however, likely the cloths were gray or brown as the cotton was unbleached. Perhaps, swaddling cloths that Mary used were several colors because they were cast off rags. Have you ever cared for a newborn? They both urinate and have small bowel movements. Likely, Mary knew this newborn characteristic and used cloths that could be changed separately on Jesus’s lower body.

The cotton cloths were probably from the Gossypium herbaceum plant, also known as Levant cotton and Arabian cotton. Cotton plants were domesticated in India about 3000 B.C. and grew in Mesopotamia at least from 1000 B.C. In the 7th century B.C. cotton was present in the Arad Valley in Palestine. Possibly, returned Jewish exiles brought cotton cloth and cotton plants back with them from Persia.  G. herbaceum isn’t the same species of cotton grown in present-day Israel, nor the species 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 present in the white fibers. In ancient times seeds were separated from fibers by hand, then the fibers woven into cloth.

Luke recorded that Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. Most photographs showed this manger made from wood, filled with straw, and elevated off the barn floor. The Nazareth Exhibit in the Museum of the Bible showed a contrasting scenario. There, the manger was hewed out of an approximately two by one-foot stone. The interior of the manger was rough. The Bible never recorded that the manger was filled with straw before the newborn Jesus was laid in it. Swaddling cloths could have been the cushion for the newborn Jesus.

Luke’s story of Jesus being wrapped in swaddling cloths symbolizes Jesus as the lamb of God.  It was in the Bethlehem area that newborn lambs were birthed for Temple sacrifice. Because the lambs had to be unblemished, often shepherds wrapped them lambs in swaddling cloths. As these lambs were fed by their mothers, they were kept unblemished.

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

Copyright May 28, 2018; Carolyn Roth