Tag Archives: Bible Study

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

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

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.

June 2018, Newsletter

Here is the link for CarolynRothMinistry, June Newsletter — https://mailchi.mp/aa537940e0b6/check-out-new-june-special

Consecrated for God

Acorus calamus King Hezekiah directed the priests and Levites to re-consecrate themselves and reopen God’s Temple.  This story is told in 2 Kings 18:1-2 and 2 Chronicles chapter 29.

King Hezekiah was 25 years of age when became king of Judah.  He reigned 29 years (715-686 B.C.).  He father was Ahaz but unlike Ahaz, Hezekiah did what was right in God’s eyes.  Isaiah was at his most influential during Hezekiah’s reign.  During Hezekiah’s reign, the Northern Kingdom fell and its inhabitants were dispersed through Assyria.

Hezekiah was distinguished by his absolute confidence in God even under duress.  Immediately after being crowned, King Hezekiah began religious reform.  His purpose was to make a covenant with God so that God’s fierce anger would be turned away from the kingdom of Judah (2 Chronicles 29:10).  In the first month of his kingship, Hezekiah reopened and repaired the Temple doors.  He gathered the priests and Levites and instructed them to purify and consecrate themselves.  After the priest and Levites were consecrated, they clean out the Temple.  Unclean furnishing and idolatrous items found in the temple were dumped into the Kidron Valley.  Over a 16-day period, the priests purified the Temple and consecrated its altars and furnishings.  The sacred anointing oil was used in the consecrations.

After the purification and consecrations, King Hezekiah provided bulls, rams, lambs, and goats as a sin offering for the people of Judah.  While the offerings were made, Levites played music on cymbals, harps, and lyres and sang in the manner prescribed by King David.  King Hezekiah, city officials, priest, Levites, and the entire assembly knelt down and worshipped God.  After the sin offerings, the assembly brought sacrifices and thanks offerings to God.  So many offerings were presented that the priest could not skin all of the animals.  They had to enlist the Levites to assist them until more priests could be re-consecrated.  Thus, Temple worship was reestablished under King Hezekiah.

When the Tabernacle was built, God prescribed ingredients to be used in the anointing (purifying and consecrating) oil.  Five ingredients were named:  myrrh, cinnamon, fragrant cane, cassia, and olive oil.  The anointing oil was sacred and used only for anointing the priest and the Temple furnishing and accessories.  In Chapter 4, cassia was described as an ingredient for the anointing oil in the Tabernacle.  In this chapter, fragrant cane will be described as an ingredient in the Temple anointing oil. Isaiah (43:24) mentioned fragrant cane (calamus) declaring that the people of Judah no longer brought cane to God, probably meaning in the incense of sacrifice.

Fragrant Cane Plant

Most botanists and religious scholars associate the Biblical fragrant cane with the Acorus calamus variety calamus., called  sweet cane and calamus. Although fragrant cane is a Bible plant, in 2012 it was not found in two popular Israeli plant databases:  Online Flora of Israel and Wild Flowers of Israel.  Probably most fragrant cane used in the Temple anointing oil came from India. It is found in moist soils and shallow water in ditches, marshes, river edges and ponds, marshes and ditches.    Viewed from the top of water or moist soil, fragrant cane that looks like numerous plants may be a single interconnected rhizome (root). Although leaves and stems can be harvested, the rhizome is used to make perfumes and sacred oils (Motley, 1995).  Fragrant cane is very expensive.  During the reign of Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey was accused of extravagance because he importing fragrant cane reeds at extravagant expense.

Symbolism: Clarity

The fragrant cane plant is associated with many different concepts to include vigor, purification, wisdom, and clarity.  The symbolism that reflects this Bible episode is clarity which includes focused perception, to free of confusion, and to make understandable.  Under Ahaz’s reign, some of the priests of God’s temple likely remained at home and only practiced their faith with family and close friends.  Others, like the priest Uriah (2 Kings 15:10-15), obeyed Ahaz and installed idol worship in the Temple.  Probably both groups felt some degree of confusion, guilt, resentment, and shame (Psalm 97:7).  These emotions would have clouded their thinking.

When Hezekiah became king, he required the priests to consecrate themselves in preparation for re-instituting worship of God in the Temple.  For the priests consecration meant that the sacred anointing oil was applied to themselves and possibly their clothes.  Then, the priests anointed each item in the Temple.  Being anointed to God’s service would have focused the priest’s thoughts on God.  Anointing the Temple furnishing and accessories over a 16-day period would have clarified the purpose and meaning of each item in the temple.  Finally, performing the sacrifices reinforced the priests’ understanding of their role in Temple worship. Use of the anointing oil promoted clarity in the priests’ perceptions.

Today, people are prone to lose clarity of thought.  We become anxious and distressed by what is occurring around us.  As I write this chapter, the United States is in the process of presidential elections.  Perhaps more than any other election, United States citizens are paying attention to what candidates say and do.  This attention can be good if it clarifies our thoughts on candidates’ stands on issues important to us.  At the same time, we need not get anxious about who to vote for or the decision-making process.  God’s desire is to have us free from all anxiety and distressing care (1 Corinthians 7:32)

When we accept Christ we are anointed with the Holy Spirit.  Christ’s anointing teaches us the truth on everything we need to know about ourselves and Christ, uncontaminated by a single lie (I John 2:26-27)  Now, Christ is our safe place – the place where perceptions, understanding, and clarity abide.  As we listen to candidates and persuasive leaders in any field, we need to remember and believe that Christ knows his sheep and they know him (John 10:1-6).  Christ’s sheep will not follow a stranger’s voice.  Christ sheep not only hear his voice but listen or obey his voice and words.  St. John recorded that when Jesus used this figure of speech, his listeners did not understand what he was talking about.

 Reflection.  How is your clarity?  Do you understand what Jesus was talking about in John 10:1-6?

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 September 9, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Getting Anointed

Rolled CassiaThe anointing oil used in the Tabernacle is described in Exodus 25:6; 29:1-9; 30:22-33; 40:17; and Leviticus 8:1-13, 30.

When God instructed the Israelites to bring offerings for the Tabernacle, he included spices for the anointing oil.  Sacred anointing oil was a blend of four spices and olive oil. God was specific in the proportions of each: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, 500 shekels of cassia, 250 shekels of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant cane and one hin of olive oil.  The sanctuary shekel was equivalent to about 2/5th ounce.  Taken together the four spices weighed about 38 pounds.  A hin of olive oil was equivalent to about one gallon. The Tabernacle anointing oil was made by a perfumer and it was considered sacred.  If any person made perfume like it or put it on anyone other than a priest, they would be cut off from the Israelites.

The Tabernacle was set up on the first day of the first month in the second year after the Israelites left Egypt.  At that time the Tabernacle, its furnishings, the priests, and the priests clothing were anointed with the sacred oil and consecrated.  Anointing was done to set apart items and people to God’s service.  Consecration means “to make holy” for God’s service.  Leviticus chapter 8 called the process of anointing and consecrating Aaron and his sons “ordination.”  As it is used in Leviticus, ordination literally means “you shall fill his hands.”  Probably the meaning was that the priests will take into their hands the role/tasks of the priesthood given to them by God.

The Bible allocated many verses to Moses’ anointing and consecrating the Tabernacle and the priests.  The reason for these detailed descriptions is that God is holy and demands holiness from those who serve him.  The Bible detailed that Aaron and his sons were anointed and consecrated only after sacrifice and atonement were made for their own sins. They could not be anointed for God’s service until they were ritually clean. Outwardly Moses presided over the anointing of the Tabernacle; however, the Israelites understood that God, not Moses, made the Tabernacle and priests holy.

Cassia is used to represent the spices in the anointing oil.  It was probably brought with the Israelites out of Egypt.  Egyptians imported cassia from China and used cassia in the embalming process.  As the Israelites traveled throughout the Sinai Peninsula, they could have bought cassia from traders who crossed the Peninsula from Arabia to Egypt.  In the ancient Middle East, peoples so valued cassia that it was worth its weight in gold or ivory.

The Cassia Plant

The botanical name for the Tabernacle cassia is Cinnamomum cassia also known as C. aromaticum. Although cassia is in the same genus as the spice cinnamon, cassia is a different plant with a more pungent aroma.  Both fresh and fallen leaves emit the cassia aroma. Chinese cassia comes from the bark of the cassia plant. The tree is cut above the ground level 4 – 5 years after planting and every 3 – 4 years thereafter.  The bitter-tasting outer bark is removed leaving the inner cassia bark is dried in the sun. When the inner bark is dry it turns brown and curls into a hollow tube or quill. In the United States during the yuletide season, bunches (7 – 8) of cassia quills tied with a ribbon and sold in stores as cinnamon.  Cinnamaldehyde is the major (70 – 95%) component of cassia bark and responsible for the pungent odor of the bark and powdered cassia. Cassia powder is a reddish brown color in contrast to the tan color of cinnamon.

Symbolism: Anointing

Cassia and other substances of the anointing oil symbolize the work of the Holy Spirit, particularly the Spirit’s acts in the New Testament.  Christ told the people of Nazareth that he was anointed by the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, to give recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppresses and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18-19.).  To the Church at Jerusalem and to the Gentiles at Cornelius’ home, Peter reiterated that God anointed Christ with the Holy Spirit and empowered Christ (Acts 4:24-28; Acts 10:38). Christ’s work on earth was completed through the anointing power of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit anoints believers for God’s work on earth just as the Holy Spirit anointed Christ’s for God’s work on earth.  Saint John declared that Christians have an anointing from the Holy One (1 John 2:20). Scholars are not sure whether “Holy One” refers to God or Christ; however, there is wide-spread agreement that anointing means the Holy Spirit. We Christian’s are anointed with the Holy Spirit when we accept Christ as our Savior.  At that time, the Holy Spirit enters into our body and mind and becomes a part of us.

Christ told his disciples before he left them that the Holy Spirit would come to them (John 16:5-15).  The Holy Spirit would convict them of sin and righteousness, console and guide them, be their advocate with God, and the revealer of all truth. According to Paul, the Holy Spirit gives gifts to Christians so the work of the Church in the world can be accomplished, e.g., administration, teaching, healing and distinguishing of spirits (1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28).

Although God’s work here on earth is vitally important, the Holy Spirit anointed Christ and believers not just for work. In addition to anointing Christ with power for work, God anointed him with the oil of joy (Hebrews 1:9). The oil of joy was more valuable than the most important and valuable aromatic oils and cassia in the fragrant robes of the greatest king (Psalm 45:7–8). The reason God anointed Christ with the oil of joy was so Christ could give the joy to believers.  Isaiah wrote that Christ would bestow on believers a crown of beauty instead of ashes and the oil of gladness instead of mourning (Isaiah (61:10).  What a blessing to know that when we enter a personal relationship with Christ, we are anointed with the Holy Spirit and given the oil of joy and gladness.  Further, the Holy Spirit’s anointing presence allows us to bear fruit spiritual fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galations 5:22-23).

Reflection This morning, I heard a song that said, “You raise me up to more than I can be” (The Four Troops, 2010).  God does that through anointing Christians with the Holy Spirit.  What are you doing with your anointing?

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 October 16, 2011; carolyn a. roth

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Easter Symbols: Plant, Eggs

 

The Easter season last 50 days, from Easter morning through Pentecost eve. There are two preeminent symbols of Easter (besides the cross and empty grave): the lily and the colored egg. Here is the stories of both.

Easter Lily: On Easter morning at my church, the altar is surrounded by blooming Easter lilies. Even window sills in the sanctuary are filled with the white lilies. Many churches that decorate for the Easter service with Easter lilies allow members to buy (sponsor) the lilies as a memorial to friends and relatives or in honor of someone in the church or in their lives. After Resurrection Sunday, individuals can take the flowers home, or, as in our church, donate them to beautify the church grounds.

Although the Easter lily is the pre-eminent symbol of the resurrection of Jesus, most of us don’t know its origins and what we think we know is tradition or legend. For example, one legend is that lilies sprang up in the Garden of Gethsemane after Jesus prayed there during his final hours. Another is that after Mary died, white lilies were found at her empty tomb, despite lily flowers or bulbs not being placed there. The white petals represented Mary’s body and the golden anthers represented her soul.

Although Jesus named the lily of the field when he urged the crowd to not worry (Matthew 6:25-34), the lily of the field isn’t the resurrection lily found in our churches at Easter. A minor prophet, Hosea, identified the resurrection lily and associated it with chastity and innocence. Hosea lived in the final disastrous years of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Hosea averred that Israel’s idol worship was spiritual adultery (Hosea chapter 14).

Through Hosea, God said that if Israel repented, God would cause Israel to blossom like a lily (Lilium candidum). The formerly adulterous kingdom would once again become innocent. The lily is the most mentioned flower in the Bible. It signified hope, purity, and life everlasting. By his death and resurrection, Jesus assured believers that they can become innocent and pure and are guaranteed eternal life with him.

Easter Eggs: The custom of Easter eggs is thought to have originated in the Mesopotamia Christian community. At times, this community stained chicken eggs red in memory of Jesus’ blood. Also, the egg is an ancient symbol of the tomb where Jesus was buried. The shell of the egg is dead, as Jesus’ body was dead in the tomb. But in that tomb as inside the dead shell of an egg, there is the potential for new life to break out. On Easter morning Jesus walked out of the tomb and left it an empty shell. When Christians die, their body is an empty shell in the grave, but their spirit lives. The spirit goes to be with God forever.

Red eggs are given to Orthodox Christians after the Easter Liturgy. They crack their eggs against each other’s. I assume that these eggs are hard boiled otherwise the church could become a mess. The cracking of the eggs symbolizes a wish to break away from the bonds of sin and misery and enter the new life issuing from Christ’s resurrection. In some Christian churches, priests bless and sprinkle eggs with holy water.

In my family home, several days before Easter, mother boiled chicken eggs in their shells until the egg yolk was hard, removed the shells, and placed the eggs in red beet juice in a large jar. The juice permeated the white layer of eggs and turned them pink (red). As children, we had no idea of the significance of these “red beet hard-boiled eggs.” We just knew that they were always served with the Easter meal and tasted good.

April 10, 2018; Copyright Carolyn A. Roth. This post is from my new book: Connecting the Church Calendar, 101 Meditations for Church Season. Check it out at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/