Tag Archives: Bible Plants

Matrimony Vine

Bible References: Joshua 10.10-11; 1 Samuel 17.1-2;  Chronicles 11.9; Nehemiah 11.30; Jeremiah 34.7.

Azekah was a notable Israelite town located at the foot of the western mountains in tribal lands of Judah. When Joshua routed Canaanites at Gibeon, Israelites pursued and killed Canaanites all the way to Azekah. In the war between Israelites and Philistines in which David killed Goliath, Philistines camped near Azekah. King Rehoboam built up Azehak as part of fortifying Judah. Azekah was a city which held out against the Babylonian king’s army when Judah was attacked and Jerusalem under siege. After the Jews were restored to Jerusalem and Judah, Jews lived in Azekah.

The Plant

In the Bible it was common to name a town for an abundant plant in an area. Azekah means Lycium, which Israeli botanists and Bible scholars identify as box thorn.7,16 Israeli botanists identified the box thorn of Israel as the Lycium mediterraneum (L. eupoeaeum), commonly called the European matrimony vine, Chinese matrimony vine, and desert thorn. The box thorn is a member of the largely-poisonous nightshade family, Solanaceae; but the killing alkaloid found in most nightshades isn’t  detectable in matrimony vine.

Box thorns are thorny shrubs that grow between four-inches and two-feet tall. Stems, light brown and hairless, branch profusely. Older vines contain spines which can be up to five-inches long. Most stems end in a pointed spine. Green leaves, small and narrow, grow on alternative sides of stems. Leaves shed with the onset of summer.

Flowers are attractive. They grow solitary or in clusters and are funnel-shaped with white, green, or purple corolla. I can imagine a bride carrying down the church aisle a bouquet that includes these white flowers. Lycium produces complete flowers with functional male and female parts, but on occasion a flower is only female.

Most Lycium fruit is two-chambered, fleshy, and a juicy berry. Israeli box thorn berries are red and eaten by birds. Berries are seed-filled. There are as many as seventy-to-eighty species of Lycium. The L. barbarum grows in China where roots and leaves are used in traditional medicine to treat skin rashes and promote hair growth. The fruit of L. barbarum is the goji berry, commonly consumed as a dried fruit.

Often a plant genus spreads and grows in contiguous countries. In contrast, the Lycium genus has a non-contiguous distribution around the globe. South America has the most species, followed by North America and southern Africa. Most Lycium species occur in arid and semi-arid climates.

One of the most abundant plants in the Middle Atlantic states where I live is the boxwood shrub. Buxus is a genus of about seventy species in the Family Buxaceae. Although box thorn (matrimony vine) and boxwood shrubs have similar names, they are two  distinct plants. I am not sure I’ve ever seen a box thorn growing in southwestern Virginia.

Reflection: The matrimony vine is a thorny bush. That seems strange at first thought, considering its common name is matrimony vine. On deeper reflection, I concluded any couple who has been married for any length of time knows that marriage has thorns as well as beautiful flowers.

Copyright July 6, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

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

Madder Vine, Blowing in the Wind

Bible Reference: Exodus 1.15-20; Judges 10.1.

Some Bible persons were named after plants. Puah means madder in Hebrew. One of the Israelite midwives in Egypt was named Puah. We have little information about her, other than that she willfully disobeyed the pharaoh of Egypt to save Israelite newborn sons. In response to her brave actions, God gave Puah a family of her own. Tola’s father was named Puah. Tola was a judge for twenty-three years in early years after Israelites entered the Promised Land. Tola and his father, Puah, were from the tribe of Issachar.

The Plant

In Israel, madder is an evergreen perennial vine (Rubia tinctorial, R. tinctorium). Madder vines can reach a length of six feet; each vine is only about one-fourth inch in diameter. I planted madder seeds where they received afternoon sun. They grew vigorously. Roots ran under the ground to spring up as much as six-feet from the original planting site. Roots contain a compound, alizarin, that is brilliant red. At one time this compound was used to dye military jackets (red coats) of British soldiers. When animals eat roots, milk, urine and bones can turn red.

Supposedly, the madder plant climbs on trees and posts; however, I couldn’t train vines to climb a trellis. They just sprawled on soil, going in multiple directions. The vine wanted to take over the entire section of the garden. The madder vine feels rough. The feel comes from leaves which are prickly on the top. On the underside, leaves are covered with tiny spines which adds to their rough texture. Flowers aren’t distinctive, appearing yellow-green with five petals. Madder vine grows from seeds, produced in the fruit. Seeds are initially red, but turn black when mature.

The Message

The Hebrew word for Puah is puvvâh, from the primary root word, pâ’âh which means “to blow away” in the sense of scatter into corners. The symbolism of madder comes from its Hebrew root. In ancient Israel, the cycle of apostasy, repentance, and redemption presented in Judges was repeated for centuries. Finally, God scattered Israelites throughout Assyrian and Babylonian Empires.

Jesus gave listeners a powerful word on scattering. He said, “He who doesn’t gather with me scatters” (Matthew 12.30 NIV). If Christians don’t gather individuals into the kingdom of heaven, they are in effect allowing them to be scattered.

Reflection: At the end of each day, ask yourself if you gathered or scattered for God that day. When you stand before God’s judgement seat, how will you feel when you realize that some individuals aren’t there because of your lack of effort? You left them scattered in the world without Jesus.

Copyright: July 2, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Beauty with an Ugly Name

Bible Reference: Matthew 7.16.

The Plant

One of the beautiful spiny plants in nature (in my opinion) is the bear’s breech (Acanthus syriacus). My view is based on a combination of the plant’s large leaves and stunning flowers. The name bear’s breech came from the large size and distinctive hairy leaf. Supposedly, Acanthus syriacus leaves were the inspiration for the Corinthian column capitals in Greek architecture.

The bear’s breech flower is even more attractive than leaves. Bear breech produces white and purple flowers on spikes up to about seven-feet tall. The flower spike is so gorgeous, that I wanted to touch what I thought were soft flowers. Wrong! When I wrapped my hand around a flower spike, I discovered that flower tips were sharp and pointed. I planted bear’s breech in the church Bible garden and never had to worry about children trying to pick flowers despite their beautiful appearance. Bear’s breech is a perennial and drought-tolerant. Gardeners don’t have to water it unless the climate is very dry. Over winter plant buds are located just below soil surface.

The Message

The origin of the name akanthos is Greek. The Greek word akantha comes from ake which mean a sharp point. Most Gospel references to thorns or thorn bushes use the word akanthos, i.e.:

By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grape from thornbushes, or figs from thistles” (Matthew 7.16 NIV)?

“Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants” (Matthew 13.7 NIV).

“The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Matthew 13.22 NIV).

“Then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” (Matthew 27.29 NIV).

Although I love this plant, I really dislike the name “bear’s breech.” When I explored possible origins of the name, I learned that at one time breeches were short pants that covered hips and thighs and fitted snuggly at lower edges just below knees.3  Perhaps, the parallel is the tight fit of flowers to the plant stem soon after flowers bloom. As summer progresses; however, flowers loosening from the stem (leg) and fall away (laterally) from the stem.

The lesson from bear’s breech goes back to Jesus’s parable of the sower and the seed. Although some individuals enthusiastically embraced Jesus’s message, worldly cares and troubles (exemplified by spines) sprouted and spread in their lives. Also, these individuals fell away from God the same way that individual flower blossoms on bear’s breech stems fell away from the stem as summer progresses and temperatures rise (in adversity).

I entered a personal relationship with Jesus Christ when I was about eleven-year-old. My relationship was fairly steady and grew in my high-school years. Everything changed during college. For about two decades, I lived far away from God. Worldly cares/spines weren’t the cause of my falling away. Rather, I wanted to participate in the seeming “fun, excitement” that the world offered.

Reflection: In retrospect, I own my decision. The decision to abandon God and subsequent actions were mine. The Devil didn’t make me do it. Similar to an individual flower on a bear’s breech stem, I loosened my grip on the stem, which in my case was God.  Have you even loosened your grip on God or stopped holding onto him altogether? How did that work out?  Will you repeat that behavior?

Copyright July 2, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Can’t Escape Destruction: Cocklebush

Bible Reference: Hosea 9.6-7.

“Even if they escape from destruction, Egypt will gather them, and Memphis will bury them. Their treasures of silver will be taken over by briers” (Hosea 9.6 NIV). Most of Hosea’s book focused on what would happen to the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) if they didn’t repent. In the New International Version Bible, chapter nine is titled “Punishment for Israel.” Hosea wrote: “The days of punishment are coming, the days of reckoning are at hand…. because your sins are so many” (Hosea 9.7 NIV).

When Hosea identified, “even if they escape from destruction,” he referred to the destruction of Assyrians. “Their treasurers of silver will be taken over by briers” most likely referred to Israel’s silver-plated idols worshiped in homes, but, particularly, those set up in high places (tree-covered hills) as worship sites.

The Cocklebush

Hosea’s briers were the cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium).7 Arguably, the cocklebur is the most annoying and prickly of all briers. Over two-hundred names and species have been identified in the Xanthium genus throughout the world. The X. strumarium grows in Israel.

Cocklebur is an invasive plant worldwide. It can be poisonous to livestock, i.e., horses, cattle, and sheep. If other forage is available most domestic animals avoid eating cocklebur. Young plants (seedlings) and seeds are the most toxic parts of cocklebur. In mankind, symptoms occur within a few hours after consuming parts of the plant, producing  weakness, nausea and vomiting, rapid and weak pulse, difficulty breathing, and eventually death.

Cocklebur is an annual plant; it germinates, grows, blooms, and produces the next generation in one year. Male and female flowers grow separately on the same plant. Male flowers cluster at the top of the flowering stem. Female flowers cluster lower on the stem situated atop spiny bracts. When wind blows, top male flowers dump pollen into the air and onto female flowers. After fertilization, spiny bracts swell to form the burrs that so many of us dug out of pet fur. Seeds are inside the burr.

The Message

Over lunch I described cocklebur to my husband who was born and reared in northern Idaho. He rode horses along back trails. He said that horses got the American cocklebur in their manes and tails. Often, dogs get cocklebur in hair. In both cases, removing the spiny cocklebur is difficult and sure to damage fingers.

When I read Hosea and most of the Bible prophets, I feel apprehensive. My country is steeped in sin, including idolatry. The primary idolatry isn’t worship of man-made idols; but, worship of self. Americans place confidence in themselves, declaring “I can do it myself” or “I did it (or want to do it) my way.”  Our idolatry isn’t less than what  occurred in Israel when Hosea gave his prophecy.

Reflection: Are you old enough to remember Helen Reddy’s song, “I did it my way”? Does it resonate with you? Alternatively, do you want to say, “I did it God’s way”?

Copyright: July 2, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Myrrh Tree and Resin

Bible References: Genesis 37.25; Esther 2.12; Psalm 48.8; Proverbs 7.17; Matthew 2.11; Revelation 18.13.

Myrrh use was recorded throughout the Bible. In Genesis, Joseph was sold to Ishmaelites, who included myrrh in their caravan traveling to Egypt. Esther completed a twelve-month beauty treatment with myrrh before she was taken to King Xerxes. Myrrh perfumed robes of a king  and the bed of an adulteress. Myrrh was catalogued seven times in Song of Songs to describe the Lover, the Maid (Bride), and Solomon’s gardens. In Revelation, John listed myrrh as a commodity no one would buy after Rome fell.

Despite the various times myrrh was identified in the Bible, three times stand out: The earliest is in Exodus. Myrrh was a component of anointing oil used in the tabernacle. This same anointing oil was used in the Temple in first-century Jerusalem when Jesus taught there. Second, myrrh was a gift that wise men brought Jesus at his birth. There, myrrh symbolized the deity of Jesus; he was the Son of God. Also, myrrh represented “gifts.” God gave his son as a gift to mankind. Thirty-three years after Jesus’s birth, Jesus gave his life as a gift for mankind. In turn, the gift that Jesus wants from each of us is that we belief in him as risen Savior. When we belief in Jesus as Savior, we accept God’s gift of his son and Jesus’s gift of his life. Third and finally, myrrh was used in Jesus’s burial. Following Jesus’s death, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus wrapped Jesus’s body in linen saturated with myrrh and aloes. Then, they laid Jesus’s body in a tomb carved in rock.

The Myrrh Tree

New Testament myrrh was from a different plant than in the Old Testament. Most myrrh in the Roman Empire came from the Commiphora myrrha plant; however, in Israel the plant used to make myrrh was the C. abyssinica (C. habessinica, myrrh tree, Arabian myrrh, Yemen myrrh). Probably, the myrrh used by Nicodemus and Joseph was from the C. abyssinica plant, because it was readily available in Judah. The Hebrew word for myrrh is môr or môwr which means bitter because myrrh had a bitter taste.

Myrrh is a dried resin from myrrh trees. The myrrh tree is small, growing only up to twenty feet. The trunk (bole) can be as tall as thirteen feet. Myrrh trees have spiny branches and stems that grow at right-angles from stems. Stems end in sharp spines. Flowers are tiny and inconspicuous. One-or-two round fruits grow each stem; fruit are three-fourth to one-and-one-half inches long.

When myrrh resin is harvested, lateral cuts are made on tree trunks and larger branches. Aromatic gum resin seeps from cuts. When exposed to air, gum hardens forming irregular-shaped yellow or brown globules. Most sold myrrh has sharp-edges and is marble-sized.

Reflection: Because I am interested in Bible plants, I bought a few jars of myrrh resin. The myrrh smelled pleasant; however, I never tasted it. The myrrh just stays in the jar in my closet. I don’t use it to perfume my home. I guess, we could compare my myrrh to a Bible that just lies on a desk or even beside a chair. The Bible never gets opened.

Copyright July 1, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Old Age Plant

Bible References: Ecclesiastes chapter 12.

The caper plant is a relatively obscure Bible plant, identified only in Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes was written by a Jewish sage who named himself, “Teacher.” In poetic and allegorical form, the Teacher elaborated how age takes its toll on a man, reducing him to feebleness. One piece of advice was “remember your Creator in the days of your youth before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’” (Ecclesiastes 12.1 NIV).

A characteristic of old age is reduced desire or appetite for sex, food, and other stimulation. In Hebrew the word for desire is ҆ abȋyôwnâh, which translates as caper berry.6 The caper berry is an   appetite stimulant and aphrodisiac; yet, desire (caper) fails to have an effect on a man whose powers are exhausted or worn out.

The caper berry is the Capparis spinosa, known as the common caper. Caper bushes are evergreen and tolerate drought.  A rule of thumb is that the caper plant grows wherever the olive tree grows. In Israel, the  caper berry clings to cracks and crevices of rock piles and abandoned walls. It grows between rocks of the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

The caper bush is a sprawling, spiny, evergreen shrub that typically grows three-feet tall, and spreads (horizontally) by semi-prostrate branching as much as six-to-ten feet. The caper bush develops a pair of sharp hooked spines at the base of each leaf stem. When capers and caperberries are harvested, hands are easily scratched and clothing can catch on hooked spines.

The caper plant produces several edible products. Both the  caper and the caperberry are used in cooking. Capers are unopen buds of the caper bush. The commercial caper is an immature flower bud that is pickled in vinegar or preserved in granulated salt. The taste of capers  has been described both as sharply piquant and peppery mustard. Caper buds are used to garnish food (pizza, fish), and are added to pizza sauce.

While capers are immature flower buds of the bush, caperberries are fruits the bush produces once buds have flowered and fertilized. Caperberries are about the size of a grape or olive and often harvested with stems attached. They are cured in vinegar just like capers. Caperberries (cornichon de câpres) are the semi-mature caper fruit and are used as a condiment. I’ve read that young caper shoots can be eaten as a vegetable; however, I don’t remember ever eating one.

The symbolism of the caperberry is desire. A desire is a wish, craving, or longing for something or someone. Synonyms are yearning, wanting, and needing.3 The Teacher made the point that with old age desires were blunted or reduced. Contemplating this passage, leads me to believe that some desires may be reduced so that we have an opportunity to concentrate on other desires.  It’s possible that the intensity or urgency of sexual desires are muted. We become less adventurous (I no longer desire to paraglide). That doesn’t mean that overall desire is lost as much as desires change or are re-focused. Decades of living allows us to acquire experiences and knowledge. An Israelite proverb is “desire without knowledge is not good” (Proverbs 19.2 NIV).

God doesn’t view age as a deterrent to usefulness. Not until Abraham was seventy-five years-of-age did he leave Haran in response to God’s call.  Moses was eighty-years-old when God appeared to him at Mount Horab.

Desires can cause problems for individuals. Cain’s offering of fruit was unacceptable to God. Cain became angry and his face downcast. God loved Cain, so he explained that a suitable sacrifice would be accepted. Then, God warned Cain that sin was crouching at Cain’s door and “desired” to have Cain. Cain’s fruit, grains, or vegetables weren’t what God wanted in a sacrifice. Perhaps, God wanted the best or first fruits from Cain’s harvest and the best wasn’t what Cain offered to God. Perhaps, God wanted an animal sacrifice, similar to Abel’s offering. More probably, God just wanted Cain to acknowledged that all he reaped was from God. God told the Israelites, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6.6 NIV).

Saint John counseled Christians that things of the world – the desires of the flesh and of the eyes and the pride of life – aren’t from God  The world is passing away along with all desires; but, whoever does the Lord’s will abides forever.

Reflection: In this poem on old age, the Teacher described the elder as being afraid of many things. Many of us are afraid of things in the world, i.e., muggings, burglary, taxes. I’m afraid of the toxic political climate. Yet, the world is temporal and guaranteed to pass away. Further, God promised to fulfill desires of those who fear him.

Copyright: July 2, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Burning Bush Plant

Bible Reference: Exodus chapter 3.

Under a death sentence in Egypt, Moses fled to Midian. There, he married and became a shepherd for his father-in-law’s flocks. After about forty years in Midian, Moses led a flock to the west side of the Midian desert, arriving at Mount Horab in the Sinai Peninsula.

Moses noticed that a bush was on fire, but the bush wasn’t consumed by the fire. Moses walked toward the burning bush. From the bush, God called and told Moses to come no closer. God instructed Moses to take off his sandals because Moses was standing on holy ground. Then, God introduced himself to Moses, naming himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Speaking from the burning bush, God told Moses that Israelites were suffering severely under slave masters in Egypt. Then, God stunned Moses by saying, “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt” (Exodus 3.10 NIV).

The Plant

The burning bush is a source of debate among botanists and Biblical scholars. Some believe that it wasn’t an actual bush, but a figurative representation of a supernatural phenomenon. Others contend that God spoke through a natural bush. The opinion of some Jewish scholars and botanists is that the burning bush was the blackberry bush, Rubus sanctus (R. sanguineus), named the holy blackberry.

The blackberry bush is a bramble. The plant produces long, thin branches which can reach five-to-six feet in length. Branches have spiked thorns that bend downward. When individuals reach into the bramble to pick fruit, they don’t feel thorns; however, when they withdraw hands, thorns fasten into flesh. Initially, black berries are green. As fruits ripen, they turn red, then black. Fully-ripened blackberries are plump, firm, and black.

The Meaning, Symbolism

Sanctus is a symbol of God revealing himself to mankind. “Reveal” means to make known something that was secret or hidden, and to open up to view.3 Synonyms of reveal are disclose and tell. In the entire Old Testament, nowhere does God reveal more about himself to one man than in the burning bush passage. In fact, this passage is sometimes called the “Mosaic revelation of God about himself.”

Some of the truths that God revealed about himself were:

1. God was the God of Moses’s ancestors, i.e., Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God remembered Moses’s ancestors and promises he made to them more than 400 years earlier. God doesn’t forget.

2. God heard cries and saw the agony of Israelites slaves in Egypt. God isn’t limited to one land area, such as, Haran or Canaan, where God appeared to Moses’s ancestors. God hears the cries of his people wherever they were. The Bible didn’t identify that Israelite cries were prayers, but, God heard them.

3. God was going to act on behalf of Israelites. God cared about his chosen people so much that he was willing to intervene in history to help them.

4.God had a plan to see that his promises to Moses’s ancestors were kept. God is a God of specifics and details. Part of that plan was for Moses to be the Israelite leader.

5. God knew the opposition that Moses would face from Pharaoh. God knew Pharaoh’s pride and stubbornness. God knows the hearts of each individual man and woman.

6. God takes other forms. In this instance he talked to Moses from a burning bush. God revealed his power by telling Moses that the “supposed” power of the gods of the greatest nation on earth, Egypt, would be no obstacle to God’s will and plan. Appearing in a burning bush demonstrated God’s power to Moses.

Reflection: Pondering attributes that God revealed about himself, makes me glad that God is on my side. At the same time, I feel overwhelmed that God who is all powerful (omnipotent), all knowledge (omniscient), and always present (omnipresent) claimed me for his child. I understand why Moses hid his face in God’s presence. He didn’t want God to see him and he was afraid to look on God. What are you going to do when God reveals himself totally to you?

Copyright: July 1, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth