Tag Archives: Bible Plants

Christmas Holly = Holy

 

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It’s Christmas, it’s Christmas. Time for holly. These pictures are of the beautiful American holly tree (Ilex opaca) that grows in the southeastern United States. This one is in the St. John Church Bible Garden. It is evergreen. These pictures were taken on December 12 when the temperature is freezing at night. My friend told me that he goes out in the church garden, cuts springs from the holly trees, and uses them for garland in his home. I think that the holly tree is happy to be used in this way.

Don’t confuse this tree with the holm tree in the Bible. That tree is an evergreen oak (Quercus ilex). Both species take their name from the pointed leaves.

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If you want to grow holly trees you need a male and a female. Only the female tree produces beautiful red berries.

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A Christmas carol is The Holly and The Ivy.

Reflection: When I see, or hear, the word holly, I always think of holy. God is holy–pure, just, kind, bright–and I am not. If I were holy, I would want to be like the colors of the holly tree, e.g., vibrant, pleasing to look at, even colorful. I would want people to look at me and smile, as I do when I look at a holly tree.

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

Copyright: December 13, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth

 

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Origin of Christmas Tree

St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Roanoke, VA; photograph by Jim Forney.

Contrary to popular belief, the Christmas tree was not adapted from ancient European pagan beliefs. The Christmas tree has a younger history than pagan practices of first through third century European tribes who Christian missionaries encountered. Pagan Germanic and Scandinavian tribes initially used the hawthorn or cherry trees or branches in their celebrations.

Most likely use of Christmas trees started with medieval plays popular in the early middle ages (476 AD) to the beginning of the Renaissance (c 1400 AD).  Initially called morality, miracle, and mystery plays, these plays began in churches and taught Bible lessons for everyday life; that is, the plays had a moral. Plays that celebrated Jesus’ birth were linked to the creation story, primarily because Christmas eve was the feast day of Adam and Eve (Tait and Tait, 2008). Over time, the plays became raucous and were moved out of churches into public squares or town centers.

In nativity plays, the Garden of Eden was symbolized by a Paradise tree. Paradise trees represented both the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life (Holy Trinity Church). Paradise trees that symbolized the Tree of Knowledge were decorated with apples to symbolize the forbidden fruit; while Paradise tree that symbolized the Tree of Life were decorated with sweets.  Round pastry wafers (cookies), that symbolized the bread of the Eucharist, were placed on the Tree of Life. When morality plays were suppressed in the 15th-16th century, Paradise trees were moved into homes. Over time red balls substituted for the apples, lights were added, and a Star of Bethlehem placed on the tree top.

Traditionally the Christmas tree was put up on Christmas Eve and taken down on Twelfth Night, the Vigil of the Epiphany. Part of the reason for the short span of time the Christmas tree was in place was to differentiate the Christmas tree from pagan trees which often times had trees planted in boxes inside the home the entire winter months.

Christian scholars and historians are not sure when evergreen trees were first used as Christmas trees. Evergreen means having foliage persists as opposed to dropping annually. Evergreen trees retain their green or blue-green color throughout the year, rather than changing color according to the seasons. In cold, snowy, dark winters in Europe, evergreen trees were a sign of everlasting life with God.  By the end of the Middle ages, a common legend some Christian’s believed was that when Christ was born, near the shortest day of the year (December 25), every tree on earth produced new green shoots despite their ice and snow coverings.

In 21st century United States, popular choices for Christmas trees are in the fir, pine, spruce, cypress, and cedar genus. Firs (Abies) include the balsam fir, Fraser fir, and noble fir. Pine (Pinus) used as Christmas trees are the Eastern white pine, Scot’s pine, and mountain pine. With its bluish-gold needles, spruce (Picea) are a favorite Christmas tree. Spruce varieties used as Christmas trees include the Norway spruce, Colorado blue spruce, and (in the Pacific northwest) the Klamath mountain spruce. At times, the Arizona cypress (Cupressus genus) the eastern red cedar (Juniperus genus) are used as Christmas trees.

Frequently, churches that understand that Christmas trees are distinct from pagan worship include a 15 – 20-foot tree in their sanctuary. Below the evergreen tree are placed red poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima). What we think of as flaming red petals are actually the leaves of the plant. Poinsettias are a recent addition to Christmas decorations but perhaps years from now will be part of Christmas traditions.

Copyright 10/09/18: Carolyn A. Roth

Nettles, Nuthin but a Weed

Bible References: Job 30.7; Proverbs 24.30-31; Isaiah 34.13; Hosea 9.6; Zephaniah 2.9.

Nettles are a weed. Together with various underbrush, they comprise the short, scrubby plants in Holy Lands. Often, when reading the Bible, I thought that nettles was merely a synonym for  thorn or brier; however, various translators and scholars offered five times when Bible writers specified “nettles.”6,17,18 In each instance, the writer asssociated nettles with wastelands.

The first Bible writer to use “nettles” was Job. Job lived east of the Jordan River in Uz. Job documented haggared, hungry men, banished from society, huddled among nettles. In one Proverb, the sayings of the wise, the writer described lands of a sluggard: Where once there was a vineyard, the land was covered with nettles. Prophets, Isaiah, Hosea, and Zephaniah, foretold destruction of Edom, Northern Kingdom, Moab, and Ammon. Specifically, Bible prophets described that these kingdoms would become wastelands, with nettles growing in once-cultivated places.

Of the five references to nettles, I was intrigued with the one by  Zephaniah who wrote that Moab and Ammon would be places of nettles, a wasteland forever. Zephaniah declared that God heard Moab and Ammon’s  insults, taunts, and threats against Judah.  In retaliation for that behavior, Moab would become like Sodom and Ammon like Gomorrah.   Both would become places of nettles and salt pits.

In comparison to Sodom and Gomorrah, Moab and Ammon’s behavior didn’t seem that bad. Their sins were taunting and insulting Israelites and threatening to occupy Israelite territories. To understand the extent of Moab and Ammon’s taunts, read Ezekiel’s prophecy (chapter 5). According to Ezekiel, Ammon rejoiced when God’s sanctuary (Temple) was desecrated. When Moab saw Judah vulnerable and fall, they discounted Judah’s God.  Neither Moab nor Ammon recognized that Judah and God  were separate entities.

God’s declaration that Moab and Ammon would become like Sodom and Gomorrah should have disturbed Moabites and Ammonites.  Their ancestors (Lot and his daughters) once lived in Sodom.  Ancestral history would have included tales of God raining burning sulfur on the two cities.  The outcome was fiery destruction of the cities, people, and vegetation on the plain where cities were located.

The Plant

In present day Israel, five different types of nettles grow. Bible scholars aren’t positive which nettle Bible writers had in mind when they used “nettles.” Many botanists agree that Zephaniah’s nettle was the Urtica urens, known as the burning nettle, dwarf nettle, and small nettle.  Both the leaf blade and slender stalks grow stinging and non-stinging hairs. Stinging hairs are long, sometimes bristly. Prickly hairs contain two parts a) a softer vessel at the base and b) a minute tube-like structure tipped by a round bulb. When a hair contacts skin, the bulb breaks off, exposing a needle-like point. The point penetrates  skin and injects an irritating substance. The outcome is a burning dermatitis which can last more than twelve hours.  Burning can occur even after visible symptoms (redness, swelling) fade.

Symbolism

In Zephaniah’s prophecy against Moab and Ammon, the burning nettle symbolized burning and fire. Burning means to destroy by fire.3  Fire occurs from combustion of a fuel and results in light, flame, and heat.  In the Bible, sometimes fire and burning had a positive meaning, i.e., burning bush, the cloud of fire above the Tabernacle. At other times, the Bible depicts burning and fire as negative, i.e., they cause destruction. For example, Isaiah  prophesied that Judah, who rejected God, was to be destroyed in the same way that fire licks up straw and as dry grass sinks down in flames.

Sometimes I’m frightened when I hear or read of clergy, politicians, and ordinary citizens mocking and discounting God.  Equally, when the United States waffles in its support of Israel, I feel disquiet.  Do these individuals read Bible and secular history?  Do they know that Israel holds a special place in God’s eyes and heart?  God may punish  Israelites with burning fire; but, God will never reject them totally.  God’s plan is to redeem a remnant of Israelites. “At that time I will deal with all (nations) who oppress you” (Zephaniah 3.19 NIV).

Reflection: Have you ever felt oppressed? When? What was the situation? By whom? Are you a child of the living God? Have you considered that God is going to deal with individuals who oppress you?

Copyright 7/13/2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Strange Vine: Devolvement

Bible Reference: Jeremiah 2.21.

Historically, the domesticated grape vine and vineyards were associated with Israelites. Israelites went from being a choice vine, planted with sound and reliable vine  stock, to a strange (corrupt, foreign) vine. The alteration between a choice versus strange vine occurred because Israelites turned from God.

In the Ancient Near East, the grape vine was the Vitis vinefera. Archeology records suggested that the V. vinefera was domesticated in the Late Stone Age, which in the Ancient Near East ended about 3000 BC. After the Flood (Deluge) and during the era of Israelite patriarchs, grapes, and grape vines were V. vinefera.

Vitis orientalis was the wild grape from which the Israelite grapevine was domesticated. A major difference between the wild and domesticated grape vine was what the two vines produced. The wild grape vine bears red fruit, like red currents. These small red, sometimes black, berries have an acid taste and are considered worthless by individuals living in the Middle East. In contrast, the domesticated grapevine produces succulent, large grapes which could be eaten fresh, dried into raisins for winter consumption, and made into wine.

Wild grapes (undomesticated) have male and female flowers on separate plants.  Unless different-sex vines are planted in proximity to each other and the wind or a pollinator (insect, such as a bee) carries pollen from the male to the female flower, the flower won’t develop into a fruit.

When mankind domesticated the grape, they developed a grape variety (V. vinefera) in which the vine produced both male and female flowers. Opportunity for the grape flower to remain unpollinated was reduced substantially. Plants that contain both male and female flowers are called “perfect” or “complete. ”

The Plant

In Jeremiah’s allegory, we read that Israelites, a complete grape vine (V. vinefera), became a wild vine (V. orientalis). The choicest vine went backward to an earlier version. This wild vine once again produced red, hard, acid-tasting fruit. No longer did it produce juicy grapes. A further explanation is found in the English Standard Version Bible which reads, “you turned degenerate and became a wild vine” (Jeremiah 2.21 ESV).

Interpretation

Degenerate means immoral, corrupt, perverted, wicked, or deteriorated.3 How did it happen that God’s chosen people, who were to be his light in the world, devolve to such an extent? Apparently, Israelites made a conscious decision to stop serving God. On high hills and under spreading trees, Israelites set up idols.

Jeremiah wrote that despite Israelites turning their backs on God. When trouble hit their country, Israelites entreated God to come and save them. Jeremiah recorded God’s response to the degenerate Israelites—get the gods you made yourself to come and save you in your trouble.

In the United States of America (USA), most twenty-first century Christians read Jeremiah chapter two and don’t relate to his message. They don’t set up idols under trees and worship them. They are (nominally) Christians. The USA, the richest and most powerful country in the world, was founded primarily by religious groups. Almost everyone knows about the Puritans and Quakers who believed in God and wanted freedom to live out those beliefs.

Reflection: USA citizens don’t worship idols—how absolutely obscene to even suggest that they do! There is no comparison between them and Israelites in the Promised Land. USA citizens would never act like Israelites acted! Most assuredly, USA citizens haven’t degenerated! The USA is a Christian nation. They remain complete and perfect. Or, maybe not. Think about both scenarios, i.e., degenerating into a strange vine and remaining as a strong, productive vine. The distance between the two isn’t all that far.

Copyright July 10, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

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