Tag Archives: Bible Study

Death in the Stew

Bible Reference: 2 Kings 4.38-41.

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

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

The Plant

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

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

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

Symbolism of Elish’s vine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright: July 6, 2019; Carolyn Adams Roth

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

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

Vine of Depravity

Bible Reference: Deuteronomy 32.32.

Most Jews and Christians know about Sodom and Gomorrah and other cities and towns of the plain. God destroyed these cities by fire because of the abject evil of their inhabitants. Over 500 years after the death of the cities, Israelites still remembered that God destroyed them. In his last message to Israelites before he went to Mount Nebo to die, Moses mentioned the vine of Sodom, thus, naming the city of Sodom.

So much controversy about a one-verse vine named in the Bible – the vine of Sodom.  Some sources identified the vine of Sodom as a shrub or small tree rather than a vine. Other sources said that the vine of Sodom mentioned by Moses wasn’t a real plant. Rather, it was a symbol (metaphor) for individuals/nations who had no belief in the God of Israel.  Here’s what Moses offered about the vine of Sodom:

They are a nation without sense, there is no discernment in them. For their Rock is not like our        Rock even as our enemies concede Their vine             comes from the vine of Sodom and from the field of             Gomorrah. Their grapes are filled with poison and   their clusters with bitterness (Deuteronomy 32.28,         31-32  NIV).

I understand why Bible scholars contended that the vine of Sodom wasn’t an actual plant. In Moses’s message, verse thirty-two reads like Moses is comparing Israelites to nations and individuals who didn’t believe in—some actually rejected—the Israelite God. Moses identified believers in God (Israelites) and contrasting them with the depraved city of Sodom.

For many years, when I read Moses’s song and verse thirty-two, I didn’t believe the vine of Sodom as an actual plant. Then,  my husband and I  went to Israel to study Bible plants. We visited Kibbutz Ketura in the desert area of southern Israel. The renowned plant botanist, Dr. Elaine Solowey, is a member of Kibbutz Ketura. She and her  husband shared information on plants named in the Bible.  One of those plants was the vine of Sodom. Mr. Solowey took us out in the desert and showed us a plant named “the vine of Sodom.” There, my mind changed.

The Plant

A great Israeli botanist, Michael Zohary14 is a biblical scholar who suggested that Moses’s vine of Sodom was an actual plant. Often, it is identified by its Arabic name osher. In Seeds of Transcendence, Jo Ann Gardener15 named three possible plants for the vine of Sodom: the wild gourd (Citrullus colocynthis), the squirting cucumber (Ecballium elaterium), and the apple of Sodom (Calotropis procera). Israeli folklore identifies Calotropis procera as the vine of Sodom.

Sodom Apple Flower

The apple of Sodom/Sodom vine (Calotropis procera) is a small tree that grows on the Sodom and Gomorrah plain and in deserts and oases in the Dead Sea area. Despite being a tree, stems run in all directions. Often, the plant is wider than tall. Three-to-four fruits hang from stems in clusters. Initially, fruit is white with a pink-purple tinge on ends. Later, fruits turn cream-colored or yellow. Fruit is attractive; however, when  pressed (or pinched), as when individuals attempt to pick them, fruit explodes in a puff. All that remains are shreds of the thin rind and a few fibers. The fruit is filled with air rather than pulp. The juice of the Sodom apple is poisonous. A mere touch of the fruit can cause severe skin irritation.

The Message

Characteristics of Sodom vine are apt descriptors for punishments that Israel’s enemies will suffer. At the same time, the vine of Sodom is a warning for Israelites who reject God. God chose  Israelites and loves them; but God is just. If any Israelite (present day Jews), any individual, or any nation rejects God, they will be as passing and empty as the fruit of Sodom vine.

When I tried to pick a vine of Sodom fruit and saw it disintegrate in my hand, I thought about God and Jews. I believe that God can and will continue to protect the traditional homeland of the Jewish people. In the twenty-first century, most Jews (Israelites) don’t recognize that Jesus is the Messiah and Savior. There are multiple nations and other religions that wage ongoing war against Israel, the homeland of current Israelites. Other nations’ efforts to destroy the Israelite peoples won’t succeed any more than my attempt to pick an apple from the vine of Sodom succeeded.

I’m not a Jew (Israelite). I am a Christian who lives in the United States (US). Yes, I am very blessed and as such  I have a responsibility to support Jews, who live in the US and Israel. My primary support takes the form of praying that Jews in my community, nation, and world will come to know Jesus, the Christ, as their Savior. As God directed me, I  pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Reflection: Saturday, eleven Jews were murdered by a deranged killer in Pittsburgh. Apparently, he had negative beliefs about Jews and wanted to protect himself and his community from Jewish influence. As I pondered this event (and too many like them), my thought was that these murdered Jews will never have the opportunity to accept Christ as their Savior. The good news is that the murderer still has time to repent. We need to pray for his conversion and the conversion of Jews in Pittsburgh and throughout the world.

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