Tag Archives: Bible Study

Narcissus — Connect with Memory

Bible Reference: Isaiah 35.1-2.

Multiple types of narcissus (daffodils) are present in the twenty-first century because horticulturists developed many cultivars. The narcissus that grows in Israel is the Narcissus tazetta, commonly referred to as a daffodil. Neither words, narcissus nor daffodil, are present in the Bible; however, botanists and Bible scholars proposed that the narcissus was referenced twice:

  1. The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. “Like the crocus it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy” (Isaiah 35.1-2 NIV). Although the NIV Bible translates the flower in this reference as crocus, other Bible translations referred to the plant as narcissus.
  2. Solomon’s bride said that she is the Rose of Sharon (Song of Songs 2.1). In Hebrew, she named herself ha’bazlith or bazlith (bazluth), meaning “she is pealing,” or she has many layers, literally layers of an onion-like flower bulb which would be the narcissus.

Most of us know what a daffodil looks like. They grow in USA gardens and are for sale in stores in late winter and early spring. The Bible daffodil was a different variety than the beautiful yellow blooms that we plant or purchase. The Narcissus tazetta has white or cream-colored petals (usually six) surrounding a central orange-yellow cup. Often, bulbs are planted in the fall before the first frost.

Bulbs grow underground and while they may appear similar to an onion bulb they lack the classic onion odor. The bulb is the deadliest portion of the narcissus plant because it can be confused with the wild onion and because the bulb contains the highest concentrations of a toxic chemical, lycorine. Eating any part of narcissus can cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Although never reported in humans, more severe problems, such as low blood pressure, drowsiness, and liver damage were reported in animals that ate large amounts of narcissus, particularly bulbs. The narcissus bulb contains a second poisonous chemical, oxalates, which are microscopic and needle-like. When ingested, oxalates cause severe burning and irritation of the lips, tongue, and throat.

Before I started to research the Bible narcissus, I was unaware of the relationship of the narcissus/daffodil flower to the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto Uprising in 1943. Uprising-commander, Marek Edelman placed daffodils at the foot of the Warsaw Ghetto Fighters Monument each year until his death. The monument was created in 1948 to remember the brave people (Jews and Poles) who fought and mostly perished in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Narcissus paper pins and fresh flowers are part of a campaign to “Connect through Memory.”

Today, the symbolism of narcissus is “new birth.” The great Christian theologian and author of over fifty books, John Piper23 averred that “new birth” has three parts. What happens in new birth isn’t:

  1. About getting new religion, but, getting new life. Obtaining new birth is acknowledging your inability to live without a Savior.
  2. Merely affirming the supernatural Jesus, but, experiencing the supernatural in Jesus yourself. I think of the supernatural within as the Holy Spirit that begins with new birth.
  3. Improvement of the old human nature; but, creation of a new nature (the nature we were meant to be) in each of us. We are forgiven and cleansed by the indwelling Spirit of God.

Reflection: Clearly, having a rebirth through Jesus Christ should move self-worship to God-worship. That movement is a process. It doesn’t happen all at once and it doesn’t happen if we aren’t intentional about making it happen. If you want to be more intentional about putting God front-and-center in your life, what could you do? Is attending church necessary? Is attending church all you need to do? Ponder what would happen if each resident of the USA made an intentional effort to worship God rather than himself/herself.

Copyright December 19, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Please visit my website for more information on Bible plants: www. Carolyn Roth Ministry.com.

Crocus in the Desert

White and purple crocus flower | GardenersPath.com

Bible Reference: Isaiah 35.1.

The Bible named both crocus and saffron, an edible spice of crocus. Currently, true crocus doesn’t grow in Israel. The flower named “crocus” that grows there has harmful effects. Here’s what the Bible says about crocus and saffron:

“Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates with choice fruits, with henna and nard, nard and saffron” (Song of Songs 4.13-14 NIV).

“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice and shout for joy” (Isaiah 35.1 NIV).

In this Song of Songs’ passage the Groom lauded his Bride by comparing her to sweet-smelling flowers and fruits. Despite the Groom’s charming description, I resonate more to Isaiah’s description of the desert blooming with crocus (plural croci). In my Bible (NIV), the title of this Isaiah chapter is “Joy of the Redeemed.” That’s me—I have been redeemed from my previous sinful, self-centered life by God. Instead of thorns, thistles, and weeds, I burst forth as a crocus blooming in the desert.

The name “crocus” is often used to describe two unrelated plants. The true crocus belongs to the iris family of plants. In Israel, another plant, colchicum (Colchicum troodi, C. tunicatum), is a crocus relative. The confusion between the true crocus and colchicum is fostered by laypersons naming colchicum as “autumn crocus.” Appendix A, Table 3 contains the differentiating characteristics of crocus and colchicum.

The true crocus includes popular spring-blooming varieties that mark winter’s end, fall-blooming species, and saffron crocus (Crocus sativum) used in cooking. The saffron crocus blooms in autumn. Saffron is an expensive spice; over 90% of saffron is produced in Iran.

Early spring saffron crocus

Several varieties of colchicum grow in Israel. The colchicum (autumn crocus) bulb contains a poison (colchicine).22 Colchicine poison symptoms include burning in the mouth and throat, fever, abdominal pain and vomiting, and ultimately kidney failure. These symptoms can progress to multiple organ failure. There isn’t a specific antidote for colchicine poison; rather, symptoms are treated, i.e., anti-emetics for nausea and vomiting and intra-venous fluids for kidney failure. If patients don’t die, recovery starts in six-to-eight days.

Reflection: Prevention of colchicine poison is better than treatment. What in your life is poisonous? More importantly, how can you not plant or nourish poison in your own life? Would increasing your service to God be valued in your community? In the USA?

Copyright 12/18/2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Please visit my website for more information on Bible plants: http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

Sowing Weeds

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Christ’s Parable of  Weeds in a Wheat Field is in Matthew 13:24-30.

Christ was seated by the Lake of Galilee when he told The Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:1).  The parable is one of six parables that Christ used to demonstrate the nature of the kingdom of heaven. Here is the parable: A farmer planted good wheat seeds in his field. “Good” wheat seeds meant that contaminants, e.g. weeds, wild oats, and chaff, are absent from the wheat seeds. At night the farmer’s enemy sowed weeds or tares among the wheat. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, so did the weeds. The weeds were intermingled with the wheat.

A servant told the owner about the weeds. He asked the owner if he and the other servants should pull out the weeds. The owner said “No” and explained that when the servants pull out the weeds, they could inadvertently pull up the wheat. The farmer understood that weed and wheat roots planted near each other intertwined. If weeds are removed, wheat roots and stems would be pulled up or damaged. The farmer directed the servant to let both wheat and weeds grow together until the harvest. Then, the servants could go through the fields, pull and bundle the weeds, and burn them. Wheat would be harvested and taken into the owner’s barn.

The parable demonstrated the growth of the kingdom of heaven from its original planting, through growth, to harvest. The field is the world. God, the owner, sowed good seed; individuals who were destined to follow him. The devil, the enemy, sowed weeds into the field; individuals who were against or indifferent to God’s teachings. The servants are God’s angels.  God refused to allow the angels to remove the weeds from the world because the lives (roots) of rejecters and followers are intertwined, just like the roots of weeds and wheat. 

Harvest represented the second coming of Christ. At that time, the angels are free to remove the weeds.  God rejecters will be collected like the weeds they are. They will be bundled and burned.  Then, the angels will gather God’s followers. These good plants will be brought into the storehouse of God.

Weeds, Darnel

The weed referred to in the Parable of the Weed was most likely the Lolium temulentum. This weed is also known as darnel and poison ryegrass. The darnel is indigenous to the Mediterranean region including the Middle East. Darnel infests wheat fields and other cultivated land and spreads as a contaminant of wheat. It is widely distributed in Israel to include Mediterranean woodlands and shrublands, shrub-steppes and deserts to include extreme deserts. Even a few darnel grains can adversely affect crop Lolium temulentum var. arvensequality. Darnel seeds are poisonous to people and livestock.

Symbolism: Malice, Malicious

The enemy who sowed the weeds among the good wheat was malicious. His behavior was spiteful, mean, and malevolent.  He wanted to destroy the good wheat that the farmer was growing. An Old Testament proverb focused on maliciousness:  “A malicious man disguised himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit. Though his speech is charming do not believe him ….. His malice may be concealed by deception, but his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly” (Proverbs 26:24-27). The proverb also teaches us how to respond to a malicious man and his ultimate outcome.   

The New Testament is contains instruction to avoid malicious behavior (Table 12.1). Christ told his disciples that what goes into a man does not make him unclean (Mark 7:17-23). Rather, what is inside and comes out determines whether a man is clean or unclean. If a person’s heart is clean, good things will come out of them. Unfortunately, if a person’s heart is unclean, he will think and spew forth all kinds of unclean words, such as evil thoughts, malice, and deceit.  Similarly, an unclean heart produces unclean living, e.g., sexual immorality, adultery, theft, murder.   

St. Paul addressed malice and malicious talk repeatedly in letters to early churches and in letters to his young protégé Timothy. Notably, Paul and Peter were both writing to believers. These two saints were exhorting believers to set aside spiteful, mean, and malevolent words. Malice can be harmful to a church; e.g., Paul wrote that a potential deacon’s wife must “not be a malicious talker” (I Timothy 3:11). Despite man’s excellent traits, e.g., sincere, temperate, honest, if his wife is a malicious talker, then the man is disqualified to be a deacon. Believers – men, women, and children – must all be attuned to what comes out of their mouths.

Table 12.1, Directions to refute maliciousness

Speaker

Direction

Scripture

Christ to his disciples

These thoughts/behaviors make a person unclean: evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly

Mark 7:20-23

Paul to the Ephesus church

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

Ephesians 4:31

Paul to the Colosse church

Rid yourself of these things: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

Colossians 3: 8

Paul to Timothy about deacon’s wives

Wives of church deacons should be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers, but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

I Timothy 3:11

Paul to Timothy

Paul warns that a man who teaches false doctrines and does not accept sound instruction is conceited and understands nothing.  He has an unhealthy interest in controversies, quarrels about words that end in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of corrupt minds.

I Timothy 6:3-5

Peter to Christians in Asia Minor

Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of any kind.

I Peter 2:1

Reflection. In a way, it is good that the heart and our words are so closely aligned. Hearing our own malicious words can be a clue that there is something wrong with our hearts. Do you take the time to reflect on what you say?

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 June 6, 2013; Carolyn A. Roth

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Captured by Seaweed

macrocystis-pyrifera-1

Reference: Jonah 2:5

The story of Jonah is about disobedience and redemption. Most children know that Jonah disobeyed God when God told him to go to Nineveh and preach repentance to the city. Jonah didn’t want to go there, so he got on a ship bound for Tarshish in the opposite direction from Nineveh. Jonah believed that if he left the land of the Israelites, he could escape God.

A huge storm occurred in the Mediterranean Sea. Even the experienced sailors were frightened. They decided to cast lots to see who had disobeyed their god and brought the storm on them. The lot fell to Jonah. He admitted that he was disobeying God and recommended that the sailors throw him overboard. Reluctantly, the ship’s sailors threw Jonah overboard. Once Jonah was off the ship, the storm abated, and the ship proceeded on its way.

A large fish swallowed Jonah. Jonah’s prayed and called out to God while he was in the belly of the giant fish. Later Jonah wrote about the experience (Jonah chapter 2) so we read what happened to him and what he thought. Jonah described how the sea waters closed over him and sea weeds wrapped around his head.  Jonah noted that he was at the roots of the mountains in the ocean suggesting that he fell to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.  Jonah remained in the belly of the fish three days. Then, the fish vomited up Jonah onto dry land. (Ugh, I bet he was slimy). The land was on the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea, not all that far from Nineveh. When Jonah went to Nineveh and preached repentance, the Ninevehites repented.

Sea Weed

The Bible referenced seaweed only once (Jonah 2:5, NIV). Although the New International Version translated the plant that wrapped around Jonah’s head as seaweed, other sources translated it as “weed” (ESV) or as “eelgrass” (Douglas & Tenney, 2011). I have a problem with the translation of eelgrass because eelgrass is generally confined to tidal water and grows out to a water depth of 35 feet.  A close reading of Jonah chapter 1 suggested that the ship Jonah was on was away from land and out into the Mediterranean Sea when the storm hit.

My research indicates that the seaweed referred to by Jonah may have been the Macrocystis pyrifera also known as brown seaweed. It is a marine alga and known as the Sequoia of the sea because it can grow 45 meters (about 147 foot) in length.  It grows in the Mediterranean Sea. The stalks are thin and readily float through the waters. It could have easily wrapped around Jonah’s neck. Currently, it is eaten as a good source of minerals.

brown-kelp

Symbolism:  Captured

Perhaps the type of plant is not as important as what it symbolized. The sea weed captured Jonah. Capture means catching, winning, or gaining control by force. Capture is exactly what the seaweed did to Jonah. He was captured so that the giant fish could swallow him.

I have been captured, or caught, by Christ and I am so glad. Now, I have to stop struggling and let God control my life.  The problem, or perhaps not so much a problem, is that God won’t control me by force. Bummer, I wish God would just “make” me do the right things. But, He doesn’t operate that way. I have to willingly give my life to Him.  That is really difficult for me to do because I have been used to controlling my own life and future.  You know:  “I am a self- made woman.” “I can do it myself.”

Reflection: What about you? Are you willing to let God capture you? Will you willing and totally yield to God?

Copyright: January 5, 2017; Carolyn A. Roth

Please visit my website for other information: www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

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Tumbleweed Action

Bible References: Psalm 83.13; Isaiah 17.13.

Two Bible citations named the tumbleweed. One was in Isaiah. There, Isaiah gave a prophecy (oracle) against Damascus. Damascus was the capital city in the kingdom of Aram. Isaiah noted that although the Arameans roared like surging water, when God rebukes them they are driven like a tumbleweed before the wind. Isaiah’s prophecy came true: Assyria defeated Arameans and overran their capital in 732 BC. Often, God used other kingdoms and nations as instruments of retribution.

Despite Isaiah being the most read and often most quoted Old Testament prophet, the tumbleweed description in Psalm 83 resonates with many Christians. This Psalm is a prayer attributed to Asaph; however, possibly he was the ancestor of the actual writer. The content of Psalm 83 indicates it may have been written in the years immediately before the Babylonian Exile. Psalm 83 is more an urgent prayer than a song. Asaph pleaded with God to treat Israel’s foes like tumbleweeds, a very unimportant landscape plant.

Psalm 83 takes the same form as several other psalms. First, the present situation is defined (verses 1-4). Second, the Lord is reminded how he gave victory to Israelites in similar situations in the past (verses 5-12). Finally, a specific request for help is outlined (verses 13-18).

Situation defined: God’s people (Israelites) were threatened by enemies. If God doesn’t defend them, they will be destroyed completely. The psalmist named ten nations who allied themselves against God’s chosen: Edom, Ishmaelites, Moab, Hagrites, Byblos, Ammon, Amalek, Philistia, Tyreans and Assyrians. Asaph pleaded for Israel’s safety in a way that made Israel’s circumstances God’s challenge. Asaph referred to Israel’s foes as God’s enemies, those who hated God and God’s people. According to Asaph, these ten nations formed an alliance against God.

Past victories from God: Asaph reminded God that he gave Israel victory over Canaanites (Jabin and Sisera) at the Kishon River. When the Midianites attempted to co-opt Israelites pastures, God gave Israel the ability to drive them out and kill their kings, Zebah and Zalmunna.

Request for help: Asaph pleads with God to destroy—blow away—enemy kingdoms who want to destroy God’s chosen people. Specifically, Asaph wrote, “make them like tumbleweed, O my God, like chaff before the wind” (Psalm 83.13 NIV).

The Plant

The Bible tumbleweed is identified as the Gundelia tournefortii, sometimes called a tumble thistle. Israeli botanists use the Hebrew name, galgal, while Arabs call it the a’kub.7 Although technically a thistle, the rolling nature of this moveable plant is key to both the Isaiah and Psalm reference. Tumbleweeds grow in wastelands and along roadsides from Mount Hermon and Golan in the north to the Negev hills and Eilat in the south. Tumbleweeds don’t grow well in the shade.

The tumbleweed fruit is a seed. After the fruit forms, thistle stems separate from roots. Because the tumbleweed is round, it rolls like a ball when driven by the wind. Seeds of dead fruits are dispersed by the rolling motion. Currently, young flower heads are removed and sold in Palestinian Authority markets where they supplement food of local people. Mature plants are used as camel fodder.

Symbolism of Tumbleweed

Action is the process of doing something in order to achieve a purpose.3 Synonyms are battle, and prosecute. God’s action was central in both places that tumbleweeds were named in the Bible. In Psalm 83.13 the psalmist pleaded for God to act, i.e., make Israel’s enemies like tumbleweeds in the wind. Isaiah (17.13) prophesied God’s action on behalf of Judah.

Asaph’s motivation for asking God to act on behalf of Israelites wasn’t only for the security of Israel, but for worldwide acknowledgement of God as the true God. Acknowledgment of God includes seeking God to learn about him, his teachings, and his commands.

Christians shouldn’t pray Psalm 83 against national enemies because Christianity is broader than national boundaries. Christians are the world-wide fellowship of believers. A Christian shouldn’t pray for the downfall of another. Christians can pray Psalm 83 against foes who act to destroy them and all traces of their faith.17 They can ask God to defeat these enemies’ plans in a way that persecutors seek and know God and accept Jesus as Savior.

A number of years ago, I was part of a large congregation attempting to buy our church property from the diocese. The diocese kept pushing the time back for final notification and sale closing. Church members became more anxious every day, then every hour. Quietly, our minister reminded us, “God is rarely early, but he is never late.”

Reflection: When we accept Jesus as our Savior, God accepts us as his children. That promise requires God to act on our behalf. Sometimes we want God, “to do something NOW!”  God’s action isn’t always according to our timetable.

Copyright July 13, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Stinkweed in the Bible! Really??

Bible Reference: Job 31.38-40.

Stinkweed was identified by Job. From what twenty-first century Christians can discern, Job was a contemporary of Abraham. Job lived in Uz. Uz was east of the Jordan River. Because Job was familiar with large sea creatures, he may have lived in the region of the present-day Gulf of Aqaba.

When introduced, Job is healthy, wealthy, and otherwise blessed with beautiful daughters and handsome sons. He worships God; all is right in his world. Then, in a short time, his children are killed and flocks destroyed. Later, his health deteriorates. Apparently, Job’s wife wasn’t harmed. We learn that these calamities were brought about by Satan. God allowed them in order to show Job’s dedication to him.

When friends visited Job, they contended that Job’s losses were from God in payment for Job’s sins. Job defended himself against their accusations. In Job’s final defense, Job concurred that calamities were from God; yet, Job  attempted to vindicate himself. Some of Job’s words focused on stewardship of his land:

If my land cries out against me, and all its furrows   are wet with tears,  if I have   devoured its yield without payment or broken the spirit of its tenants, then let briars grow instead of wheat, and stink weed instead of barley” (Job 31.38-40 NIV).

Some readers have questioned whether or not stinkweed is a specific plant. Both the New International Version Bible translation and the New American Bible19 used the word “stinkweed. Apparently, stinkweed was an identifiable weed that grew in grain fields. Alternatively, the English Standard Version Study Bible17 offered the translation as “foul weeds.” I contacted well-regarded botanists in Israel and questioned if Job chapter forty named a specific weed (stinkweed) or used the word “stink” as an adjective, i.e., foul, noxious, stinking. Those Israeli colleagues responded that in their opinions “stink” was a descriptor, more than a specific type of weed.

The Plant

In the King James Bible, stinkweed is translated as “cockle.” Cockle is the plant associated with stinkweed in the  Zondervan Illustrated Bible Dictionary. This dictionary averred that cockles grow in Palestinian grain fields.

The cockle is the  Agrostemma githago, Present day farmers and gardeners call the plant “corn cockle,” possibly, because it grows in corn and grain fields. The corn cockle is a weed which grew among grain crops for millennia. As you see in the image of the corn cockle, the flower is a beautiful pink and leaves a pleasant green. Possibly, cockles grew in Uz.

The entire cockle plant, especially seeds, contain poisonous compounds which spoil flour if they aren’t removed. When cockle-contaminated flour is eaten, flour products  taste bad and cause nausea, even death if eaten in large quantities. Corn cockle grows in dry fields and waste ground as well as in cultivated soil. Clearly, Job’s plowed furrows were a good place for corn cockle to grow. Whether translated as stinkweed or a stinking weed, corn cockle is an appropriate weed for identification with Job’s comments.

Reflection: The choices we make in our lives—to remove weeds or not—have long-term effects. Sometimes those effects are life-and-death ones. At other times, they are less dire. St. Paul offered a rule of thumb for early Christian decision making. He wrote, “let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves” (Philippians 2.3).

Copyright July 13, 2019; Carolyn Adams Roth

Christmas Holly = Holy

 

weary-world-rejoices

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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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

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