Tag Archives: Bible

Rose of Sharon, Not a Rose

Tulipa sharonensisSong of Songs describes the love between a man and a woman; the reference to Rose of Sharon is in chapter 2.

The book Song of Songs is also called Song of Solomon and the Canticles. The title, Song of Songs, is a Hebrew idiom meaning “the most exquisite song” (MacDonald, 1995).  The Song is a dialogue between the Beloved (a maid) and her Lover (Solomon), with minor input from Friends.  An advantage of reading Song of Songs in the New International Version Study Bible (2002) is that each speaker is clearly marked.  Song of Songs includes erotic analogies that can be uncomfortable if considered outside the belief that sexual desire is God-given, beautiful, and to be celebrated in the context of a heterosexual, committed and loving relationship.  According to Jewish tradition, Solomon wrote the Song in his youth prior to becoming entangled in polygamy and concubinage.  This traditional view is consistent with Song of Solomon chapter 2:3 in which the Beloved compares Solomon to other young men.

The name of the Beloved is not given and her lineage is unclear.  In one place Solomon refers to her as “O, prince’s daughter!” (Song of Songs, 7:1); however, this reference could allude to the nobility of her beauty and character rather than her birth.  In another place, Friends call the Beloved a Shulammite (Song of Songs 6:13).   Shulammite could indicate that the Beloved was from Shunen, a territory allocated to Issachar in the division of tribal lands (Joshua 19:18).  Alternatively, Shulammite could be a feminine form of Solomon in which case the Friends named her “Solomon’s girl” (Song of Solomon 6:13).  Finally, possibly Shulammite does not refer directly to the Beloved; but to a type of dance in which two groups of dancers weave in and out with one another.

The Beloved called herself a rose of Sharon.  The Sharon Plain was located along the Mediterranean Sea south of Mount Carmel.  Sixty miles long and 10 miles wide, the Sharon Plain was one of the largest valley-plains in ancient Israel. In the time of Solomon, the Sharon plain was well-known for its fertility, beauty, and majesty, having many flowers and trees.  Clearly, the Beloved adored her Lover (Song of Songs 1:4).  At the same time, she did not underrate herself.  In giving herself, she offered her Lover the most perfect flower known — a rose of Sharon.

Rose of Sharon

          In the United States scholars have debated the exact Rose of Sharon flower.  The popular Rose of Sharon bush (see above)  is the Hibiscus syriacus; however, the hibiscus is not the ancient Israel Rose of Sharon.  Past professor of Biblical Botany at the Hebrew University, Dr. Ephraim HaReubeni claimed that the Rose of Sharon was a tulip. Most likely the tulip species is the Tulipa agenensis subspecies sharonensis, also known as the Sharon tulip and sun’s-eye tulip.

In Israel the Tulipa agenensis is considered a wildflower and at one time grew abundantly across Israel. Now, because of real estate develop, the Sharon tulip is harder to find in the wild. The Sharon tulip is salt resistant and prefers a neutral to acid soil and full sun.  It thrives where summers are dry and winters are cold. It grows 8-12 inches tall. The  Sharon tulips color and shape make it unique and add to its seeming perfection. Outer petals are longer (up to 2 inches long and 1 inch wide) and more pointed than inner petals.  The outer surfaces of tulip petals are uniformly red.  Inside, the tulip petal has a distinct black area at the base that extends about the half way up the sides of each petal.  A yellow halo surrounds the black on most petals.  In most cases tulips spread through asexual reproduction with bulbs producing small bulbs or bulblets.

Symbolism:  Perfection

The rose of Sharon refers to perfection.  For the ancients a rose – in this case a tulip – was the most perfect of all flowers.  Perhaps not inconsequential, the tulip is a perfect or complete flower having stamens and pistils on the same flower.  When flowers or persons are perfect, they lack no essential detail and are without fault or defect. Although the Beloved identifies that she is dark skinned from working outside in the sun, nonetheless, she is perfect for her mate.

My husband is the perfect husband for me and I am the perfect wife for him.  After 20 years of marriage and continued reinforcement from Bruce, finally I believe he sees me as perfect.  In the 20 years, I have acquired wrinkles and sags, but to him I am still perfect. His unswerving love and belief in my perfection gives me security even with characteristics the world identifies as defects.  Because Bruce views me as perfect does not mean that he doesn’t gently coach me when I am moody, or whiny, or my thinking is off track.

God is perfect and his ways are perfect (2 Samuel 22:31; Psalm 18:32; Matthew 5:48).  When Christ lived on earth, he was without fault or defect and lacked no detail in his personality to be the perfect human (Hebrews 4:15).  Because I have been redeemed by Christ, when God looks at me, he sees Christ’s perfection, not my defects.  Even more than Bruce seeing me as the perfect wife, God sees me as his perfect child.

Saint Paul talked about perfection in his letter to the Philippians (Philippians 3:10-14).  He wrote how much he wanted to know Christ and become like the perfect Christ.  Paul admitted that he was not yet perfect, but he was going to keep trying to be like Christ.  Paul believed it was important to forget what he was like and did in the past and strain forward to what was ahead.

Paul seemed to have a keen understanding of perfection in the Christian life.  It means being committed fully to Christ and modeling our lives after Christ’s life.  Perfection is about forgetting past inadequacies that the devil gleefully uses to keep us feeling insecure in our relationship with Christ.  Perfection focuses on the present and future.  For Christians the future is home with Christ in heaven.

Reflection:   Reflect on your perfection in God’s sight.  Doesn’t is allow you to take a deep breath and relax securely in His care?

Copyright: January 17, 2012; carolyn a. roth; Update March 26, 2017

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Elijah under the Broom Tree

Retama raetam, NKThe story of Elijah is told in 1 Kings with the specific story of Elijah and the broom tree in 1 Kings Chapter’s 18 and 19.

The Northern Kingdom had eight kings in its first 58 years as a nation.  This story about the great prophet Elijah occurred during the reign (874-853 B.C.) of King Ahab.  Ahab married Jezebel, daughter of the king of Sidon, who worshiped Baal.  Ahab built a temple to Baal and consecrated priests to serve Baal.

In an encounter between Elijah and King Ahab, Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal.  The challenge was to see which god — Baal or God — would answer his prophet(s).  Ahab took the challenge, gathered 450 Baal prophets, and met Elijah on Mount Carmel.  Many Israelites were present to watch the outcome.  Baal’s prophets placed a cut up bull on an altar of wood dedicated to Baal; the prophets called to Baal to ignite the sacrifice.  Despite entreating Baal from morning until evening and slashing themselves, the sacrifice to Baal did not catch on fire.

Elijah repaired God’s altar on Mount Carmel which had fall apart from disuse and neglect.  He arranged wood on the altar, cut a bull in pieces, and placed the pieces on the altar.  Massive amounts of water were poured over the bull and altar.  Elijah prayed naming God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel.  He asked God to light the fire so a) the people would know that he did these things at God’s direction and b) to let the people know that the Lord was God.  Immediately, fire consumed Elijah’s sacrifice.  The people fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord – he is God!  The Lord – he is God!” (1 Kings 18:39).  Elijah commanded the people to seize the Baal’s prophets; they were taken to the Kishon Valley and slaughtered.

When King Ahab reported what happened to Queen Jezebel, she sent a messenger to Elijah that she would have him killed by that time tomorrow.  Instead of a day of triumph for Elijah, it became a day of terror.  He fled Samaria and ran over 100 miles to an area south of Beersheba in Judah.  Elijah came to a broom tree, sat down under it, and prayed that he would die.  Elijah was completely disheartened; finally he fell asleep.

While he was sleeping, an angel touched Elijah, and directed him to get up and eat.  Looking around, Elijah saw a cake of bread baked over embers and a jar of water.  Elijah ate and drank, then lay down again.  The angel came back a second time, touched Elijah and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you” (1 King 19:7).  Elijah rose, ate, and drank.  Strengthened by the food, Elijah traveled 40 days and nights until he reached Mount Horab, where God gave Moses the 10 Commandments.

In Biblical Israel, the white broom tree was used for kindling in cooking stoves and coals were made from its roots, trunks, and branches (Job 30:4).  Broom embers retain their heat for long periods after they appear to be dead ashes.  An ancient Israelite reading that on awakening Elijah saw bread baked on embers would have assumed the embers retained fire from an earlier traveler and were blown into heat to bake the bread.  Desert travelers have reported forming a layer of broom embers to suit their size. They covered the embers with a 2–4 inch layer of sand or fine soil.  The sand-cover embers provided a warm mattress during the cold desert night.  Perhaps Elijah had such a mattress as he slept under the broom tree.

The Broom Tree

The broom tree that Elijah rested under in the Negev was the Retama raetam, also known as the white broom and the white weeping broom tree).  The broom tree is thought to be indigenous to the Middle East, North Africa, and possibly Sicily.  In Israel, it is widespread in deserts including extreme deserts, shrub steppes, and Mediterranean woodlands.  Although called a tree, it is a shrub with a broad canopy. In Israel, the white broom tree is most beautiful between January and April when it is covered with a myriad of white flowers.  Flowers  emit a honey fragrance. At times seeds remain viable in the soil for several years until the seed coat wears down.  Mass germination can occur after a fire that destroys seed coats.  In Israel rabbits consume pods and have been known to disperse seeds up to 6.2 miles from parent plants.  Seeds can survive soil being mulched or composted.

Symbolism: Renewal

The symbolism of the broom tree is renewal.  With renewal comes a restoration of vigor and a new freshness; what is faded or disintegrated is made  whole. When Elijah arrived at the bloom tree, he was exhausted, depressed, and ready to die.  What was to be a victory for God and Elijah over Baal and his prophets turned into Elijah fleeing for his life from Jezebel and her henchmen.  If anyone needed to be renewed, it was Elijah.  The broom tree provided this renewal for Elijah.  If the shrub was blooming, Elijah would have seen thousands of tiny white blooms and smelled their soothing scent.  Sinking below the tree’s canopy, Elijah fell asleep on a soft bed of broom leaves. Warm embers under the sand may have helped maintain his warmth in the cool desert night.  The broom tree’s embers were used to bake a cake of bread for Elijah; and God provided Elijah water in the desert.

Just as God renewed Elijah using attributes of the broom tree, God’s renews us.  We are made new when we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior; however, God knew that after our new birth, we would need to be refreshed and restored to vigor from time-to-time.  For just these times, God had Isaiah write, “those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. (Isaiah 40:31 2002).  When we hope in the Lord, we have confidence in him.  Having confidence in God can renew us so we can walk, run, and soar without collapsing from the weight of the world’s challenges.

Paul told Christians another way they could be renewed was to stop conforming to the patterns of this world (Roman 12:2).  Patterns of this world include being politically correct and not talking about God and religion, using Sunday morning to play golf or grocery shop without crowds rather than attending worship service, or believing that marriage is not a sacrament from God and divorce is a viable alternative to working through tough times.  In The Message, Peterson (2003, p. 343) puts renewal this way, “don’t become so well adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking”  instead fix your eyes on God and he will change you from the inside out.

Reflection:  God, I want so badly to be renewed, to be changed from the inside out.  I want to be different from this culture I live in.  Why should I feel comfortable in this society when my true home is heaven?

Copyright April 15, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Pine in Solomon’s Temple

P halepensis, female coneThe role of pine wood in the First Temple is described in 1 Kings Chapters 5 and 6.

Construction of the Temple and royal palace complex was a huge undertaking.  In addition to the 30,000 Israelite men that Solomon forced to cut trees in Lebanon, Solomon conscripted 153,600 aliens living in Israel.  Seventy thousand men functioned as carriers, 80,000 men as stone cutters, and 3,600 men as foreman (2 Chronicles 2:17-18).

Solomon obtained the pine for the Temple from Lebanon.  Similar to the cedar trees used in the Temple, pine trees were made into boards or planks.  The Temple floor was covered with planks of pine (1 Kings 6:15).  The entrance to the Temple’s main hall was two pine doors (1 Kings 6:33-35).  Each pine door had two leaves that turned in sockets.  On the doors were carved cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers. The carvings were overlaid with hammered gold.  The Bible does not specify whether or not pine wood was used for the floors in Solomon’s palace, throne room, and Hall of Justice.  Because the building walls were made from cedar, most likely their floors were pine planks continuing the parallel construction of the Temple.

Initially, using pine for Temple floors seems odd.  Pine is designated as a soft wood in comparison to oak, a hard wood which was plentiful in Israel.  Lebanon pine trees were most likely from old growth forests.  The wood would have been heart wood taken from the center of the pine tree versus sapwood at the outside of the tree.  Heart wood has “died,” hardened, and ceased to pass nutrients up the tree.  It is the hardest and darkest section of the pine tree.  Currently, heart wood is used in pine flooring where the wood is cut with the vertical grain.   Pine wood can be without knots (clear) or have tight knots or large knots.  Tight knots add character and beauty to pine floors without appreciably weakening them.  Heart pine ages beautifully; it darkens slightly and takes on a soft glow.  In the United States, there are pine floors 300+ years of age.  The floors have some gouges which add to the character of the floors.Pinus halepensis, Aleppo pine

This strange looking pine tree is from the Armenian Seminary Garden in Jerusalem. It is reputed to be the oldest pine tree in Israel.

The Pine Tree

The most likely candidate for the Temple pine is Pinus halepensis, known commonly as the Jerusalem pine and the Aleppo (Syria) pine.  Despite these geographical names, P. halepensis has a typical western Mediterranean distribution. Ecologically, Aleppo pines are specialized for low to moderate fertile habitats and thrive in desert heat, drought, and wind.  Although the Aleppo pine is tender when young; once established it can take near-zero temperatures. The Aleppo pine is an evergreen conifer that is relatively short lived at 70-100 years; however, with arbori-cultural care, specimens can live over 200 years. The oldest living Aleppo pine, 215 years old, is in the Armenian Gardens in Jerusalem. The Aleppo pine needle is light green to olive-green. The flower is a cone. Male cone are cylindrical and occur in tight clusters at the tip of branches.  Female cones are oval to oblong, 3–4.5 inches long, reddish to reddish purple, and grow on short stocks.

Symbolism: Nobility

Pines are an emblem of nobility.  In a person, noble means the person possesses excellent qualities of the mind, character, ideals and morals. In the Old Testament, certain women were described as noble.  Boaz told Ruth he wanted to be her kinsman-redeemer because she was a noble woman (Ruth 3:11).   A woman of noble character is described as her husband’s crown (Proverbs 12:4).  Proverbs chapter 31 lauded a wife of noble character and concluded that she was worth more than rubies.  Some of her characteristics included working with eager hands to meet the food and clothing needs of the household, adding to the financial security of the family by using judgment to purchase a field and making linen garments to sell to the merchants,  giving freely to the poor and needy, speaking with wisdom, and acting with dignity.

In a brief exposition on The Kingdom of Righteousness, Isaiah ended with a description of a noble man.  He wrote, “But the noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands” (Isaiah 32:8).  From God’s perspective having a noble mind, character, ideals, and morals is not sufficient to be credited as noble.  Nobility displays itself in deeds. We look at what a man or woman does to evaluate their nobility

Over two decades ago, I was a manager in a corporation.  In a managers’ meeting, a psychiatric nurse gave an education program on team building.  One of his remarks was, “always look more at what a team member does than what she says.”  Probably what Isaiah and the psychiatric nurse were saying was, “noble is as noble does.” Noble people are more than noble ideals and plans. Noble people produce excellent actions and deeds.  Christ said “by their fruits you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16).

Reflection.  Would people looking at your life conclude your deeds as noble?

Copyright April 2, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Aloe and Myrrh Wrapped Body

Good Friday is the most solemn day in the Christian calendar.  By 9:00 a.m., Christ was crucified.

Jewish law and custom required immediate burial of Jesus’ dead body. Mosaic Law required that Jews bury the body of a man put to death by hanging on a tree the same day he died (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). The reason for this Mosaic requirement was so that the land not be desecrated by a dead body remaining un-buried. The book of Tobit (Apocrypha, 2009) described the value Jews placed on seeing that all slain Jews had a proper burial even when the Jews were in exile.

Jesus’ crucified body died about 3:00 p.m. on Friday. By Jewish custom, Friday was the Day of Preparation for the Saturday Sabbath. Preparation Day ended at about 6:00 p.m. on Friday when the Sabbath began. No work was allowed on the Sabbath to include burying a dead body. Jesus followers had about three hours between the time he died and the start of the Sabbath celebration.

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’ body. After confirming with the centurion that Jesus was dead, Pilate released Jesus’ body to Joseph.

Along with Nicodemus, Joseph took Jesus’ 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.  Because aloe had little odor, possibly the aloes were used to “fix” or hold the scent of the myrrh.

Aloe vera

Aloe

The aloe of the New Testament is the Aloe vera also known as the Aloe barbadensis, Aloe vulgaris (common aloe) and the medicinal aloe. Some sources identified the aloe as the oldest medicinal plant. The aloe is distributed in Mediterranean woodlands and shrub-lands in hard rock outcrops including maritime sands. When aloe is harvested for its medicinal gel, older leaves are harvested as they are larger and contain more gel.

Myrrh

The Israelite myrrh plant is the Commiphora abyssinic. The Hebrew word for myrrh is môr or môwr which means bitter, possibly because myrrh has a bitter taste (Strong, 2010). Around 1876-1880 B.C., Jacob described myrrh as one of the best products of Canaan and directed his sons to take myrrh to Egypt to trade for grain (Genesis 43:11-14). In present day Israel, the myrrh tree grows in the Biblical Landscape Reserve (Neot Kedumim). Although often referred to as a spice, myrrh is the dried resin from the myrrh tree. When the resin is harvested, lateral cuts are made on the trunk or branches. An aromatic gum resin exudes from the wounds. When the resin is exposed to the air, the gum hardens forming irregular shaped yellow or brown globules. The globules smell pleasant but have a bitter taste. We saw myrrh in the bazaar in the old city of Jerusalem. The myrrh was in sharp-edged, marble-size pieces. Myrrh continues to be used today as sweet smelling incense for religious celebrations.

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Symbolism: Healing

Traditionally, aloe has been associated with healing.  In the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 53:5, NIV, 2002) we read these prophetic words about Christ, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Jesus body was dead; therefore, aloes weren’t used to heal him. The healing aloes in Jesus’ burial cloth exemplified Jesus’ continued healing of us even after his physical death.

After Jesus’ resurrection some individuals in Judea and the Roman Empire accepted healing from Jesus. 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, e.g., make an animal sacrifice or give a little money into a treasury, than to accept a new way of thinking.

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. On Sunday morning in church, 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 Christ. I really should ask them to pray for him every Sunday.

Copyright March 25, 2016; Carolyn A. Roth

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Pride before Destruction

Styrax officinalis, JBGThe story of King Uzziah and his prideful attempt to burn incense in the Temple is described in 2 Kings 15:1-7 and 2 Chronicles Chapter 26.

Uzziah inherited the crown of Judah when his father Amaziah was murdered.  He reigned for 52 years.  At the beginning of his reign, Uzziah did what was right in the eyes of God and God gave him many successes.  He won decisive battles over the Philistines, the Ammonites paid him tribute, and he added to the fortifications of Jerusalem.  Uzziah had a well-trained, well- equipped army of over 300,000 men.

With success, Uzziah became proud and unfaithful to God.  On one occasion, Uzziah entered the Temple and began to burn incense on the Altar of Incense.  According to Mosaic Law, only consecrated priests who were the descendants of Aaron could burn incense in the Temple.  Uzziah was holding the censer for burning incense when the chief priest Azariah and 80 courageous priests confronted him.  Azariah reminded Uzziah that even though he was king, he could not burn the incense.  Azariah demand that Uzziah leave the sanctuary.  As Uzziah began to rage against the priests, leprosy broke out on his body.

Azariah saw the leprosy and hurried Uzziah from the temple. When Uzziah saw his leprosy and was eager to leave the Temple.  From that time until his death about 10 years later, Uzziah lived in a house separated from the palace.  His son, Jotham, governed Judah.  Uzziah was buried near his ancestors in a field; however, he was not buried in the royal tombs because of the leprosy.

The composition of Tabernacle incense was fragrant spices – stacte, onycha, and galbanum – and pure frankincense all in equal amounts (Exodus 30:34, KJV, Scofield, 1945).  Very likely the same ingredients were used to make Temple incense during the first and the second Temple (Sirach 24:15, Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, 1965; Rabinowitz, 1977).  The plant galbanum was described as an ingredient of the Tabernacle incense in Chapter 4.  In this section, stacte will be used in as the ingredient in the Temple incense.

Stacte, Styrax officinalis

Temple incense stacte comes from the plant Styrax officinalis.   In Israel, S. officinalis has several names to include stacte tree, Official Storax, and styrax.  Stacte is translated as gum resin (Exodus 30:34) in the New International Version Study Bible (2002).

The origin of styrax is Eastern Mediterranean countries, from Italy through Turkey to include Israel.  Styrax is classified as a tree (52 feet in height); but often looks more like a good size shrub. The habitat is dry rocky slopes, in woods and thickets, and besides streams.  In Israel, the styrax tree is seen in the Judean and Samarian mountains and on Mounts Carmel and Herman as well as in the Upper Jordan and Northern valleys.  Because the styrax tree is deciduous, in autumn leaves turn yellow and drop and in spring new leaves sprout.  The styrax tree blooms April through June in Israel.  The entire tree is covered with flowers which look like snowdrops.  Styrax is an important honey plant.  Frequently, pollination occurs via insects, e.g., bees.  When the styrax tree stems and branches are wounded, a highly perfumed balsamic resin (gum) is exuded. The resin has been both described as smelling similar to a hyacinth.

Symbolism: Inspiration

The Hebrew word for stacte is nâtâph derived from the primary root nâtaph which means to ooze in the sense of to distill gradually or to fall in drops (Strong, 2010).  The figurative meaning of nâtaph is to speak by inspiration, e.g., prophesy.  As a nurse and as Master Gardener when I think of inspiration I think of breathing or oxygen taken into a human or a plant; but, the Bible has a different perspective on inspiration.  Inspiration is “God’s breathed out” word into the Holy Scriptures and into the words of the prophets (Renn, 2005).  Similar to the S. officinalis exuding gum resin (stacte), God exuded and exudes his message to the world.

As we talk about passages from the Bible, we often say as “David said in Psalm 51” or “as Paul wrote.”  We need to remember that the authors of the Bible wrote by the Holy Spirit.  The words of the Bible are not words of the author, e.g., David, Jonah, Paul; rather the words of the Bible are God’s words to the human race.  The Bible is God breathed and as such it is both divine authority and without error (Douglas & Tenney, 2011).

God inspired the words of the Bible.  “All scriptures is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” so that God’s people can be thoroughly equipped for all good works (2 Timothy 3:16, NIV Study Bible, 2002).  The Bible is a model for how we should live in this world. We can learn a new way of thinking and behaving from the Bible.

When we read the Bible, we take God’s inspired words into us — or not.  Christmas morning I sat in church listening to the epistle being read and thought how lovely the reader looked.  In retrospect, I asked myself “where was my head?”  Have you ever read the Bible while thinking of something else entirely?  I have. On those occasions, I doubt if I changed any part of myself as a result of my reading.

Reflection.  Allowing God to inspire us from his holy Word is an intentional process on our part.  How intentional are you being when you read The Holy Bible?

Copyright August 17, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Better than Filet Mignon

cucumbersSolomon used vegetables as an example in Proverbs 15: 17

Solomon’s proverb was “Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred” (Proverbs 15: 17, NIV-SB, 2002).  In today’s language, the proverb would be something like “better a meal of vegetables with love than filet mignon with hatred or resentment.”  In Bible times killing and serving a fatted calf was a luxury reserved for special occasions (Matthew 22:5; Luke 15:23). Unlike today where a plate of vegetables makes an excellent meal, ancient people were not serve vegetable as the main course of the meal unless they were very poor. Vegetables were held in low esteem. When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they ate vegetable, i.e., cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic (Numbers 4:5).

In Solomon’s proverb love and hate are contrasted. Where love is present, it matters little what is served at the dinner table. The warmth, caring, and affection around the table makes meager fare seem like a banquet. For the poor of Egypt and Palestine, cucumbers and barley bread were often a meal. In contrast, the most delicious meal is as dust when those eating it have hard hearts and there is hatred around the table. At times eaters are so resentful that it is difficult to swallow. The most luxurious food tastes like saw dust.  If present, conversation is coldly polite or bursts forth from angry lips.

Cucumber Plant

The vegetable that will be described is the Cucumis sativus L, the common cucumber. The cucumber has been cultivated in warm countries of the world from pre-historic times. Its country of origin could have been India or Thailand. Wandering in the desert (circa 1400 B.C.), the Israelites longed for Egypt where they had cucumbers to eat. Isaiah (circa 740 B.C.) wrote that fields of cucumbers grew in Israel, but possibly he was referring to muskmelons.  No remains of cucumbers plants, fruit, or seeds remain from ancient Israel. Flowers are yellow and are shaped like a bell. The fruit is a cucumber. Cucumbers hang freely from stems and the green skin is hair free. The cylindrical cucumber can grow over 1 foot long. It is often slightly curved and beset with small knobby prominences when young. Inside the skin is pale green flesh with many seeds in the inner 2/3 of the cucumber.

Symbolism: Hard, hardened

The Hebrew word for cucumber is qishshû which comes from an unused root word meaning to be hard, possibly because the cucumber is often considered hard to digest (Strong, 2007).  Solomon’s proverb was “better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred” (Proverb 15:17, NIV-SB, 2002). In the first clause the hard to digest cucumber was softened by love. In contrast, hatred toughened or hardened the succulent flesh of the fatted calf.

The Bible tells us that nothing is too hard for God (Genesis 18:14; Jeremiah 32:17). Although it is not always easy for us to understand, the Bible also tells us that God has mercy on those he wants to have mercy and hardens those he wants hardened (Romans 9:18). For example, God hardened the heart of Pharaoh so that both the Egyptians and the Israelites would realize that it was God not Pharaoh that saved them from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 10:20). Although God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, there is no Biblical evidence that he hardened the hearts of the Israelites the many times they turned against their leaders and against him (Psalm 95:8; Zechariah 7:12; Mark 10:5). The Israelites’ hard hearts were their own doing.

When Christ was teaching in the Synagogue in Capernaum, he told the Jewish leaders and his disciples that he was the bread of life which came down from heaven (John 6:43-65). If individuals wanted eternal life, they must eat his flesh and drink his blood. Only those who ate his flesh and drank his blood could be raised up on the last day. Jesus’ disciples told him that his words were a “hard teaching.” They asked Christ, “How can we accept it?”  Jesus did not back down but tried to explain his teaching. He told the questioning disciples that his words were about spiritual aspects of life. Still, many disciples could not grasp Christ’s words and turned back and stopped following Christ.

Jesus loved the disciples who turned away from him and his teachings as much as he loved those disciples who remained. Christ grieved over the hard hearts that produced lack of insight into his teachings.  We see how much the departed disciples hurt Christ by the way he questioned those who remained, “You do not want to leave too, do you” (John 6:67, NIV-SB, 2003).  Imagine how much you would have to hurt to ask your spouse, children, or best friend the same question in the same way.

Reflection. “He who hardens his heart falls into trouble” (Proverbs 28:14, NIV-SB, 2002). She who hardens her heart falls into trouble.  Pray for a soft heart.

Copyright March 2, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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An Urgent Prayer

Grundelia tournefortiiAsaph’s prayer for God to make Israel’s foes like tumbleweeds is in Psalm 83.

Although Asaph is credited with writing Psalms 50 and 73-83, possibly he was the ancestor of the actual writer of Psalm 83. The content of Psalm 83 indicates it may have been written in the years immediately before the Exile. Psalm 83 is more an urgent prayer than a song.

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 the Israelites in the past (verses 5-12). Finally, a specific request for help is outlined (verses 13-18).

Situation defined: God’s people are threatened by enemies. If God does not defend them, they will be destroyed completely (Psalm 83:1-4). The psalmist named 10 nations who allied themselves against God’s chosen. Asaph pleaded for Israel’s safety in a way that made Israel’s circumstances God’s challenge; he referred to Israel’s foes as your (God’s) enemies, those who hate you (God), your (God’s) people, they form an alliance against you (God).

Past victories from God: Asaph reminded God he gave Israel victory over the 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, e.g., Zebah and Zalmunna.

Request for help: Asaph pleads with God to destroy – blow away — the 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-SB, 2002).

The Tumbleweed

Most often 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.  The tumbleweed is native to the Middle East including semi-desert areas of Israel and the Palestinian Authority where it has been documented as an edible plant for the last 2000 years. In Israel, 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 do not grow well in the shade. The fruit is a seed. After the fruit is formed, 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 plant. Young flower heads are removed and sold in Palestinian Authority markets where they supplement the foods of local people. Mature plants are sometimes used as camel fodder.

Symbolism: Action, Act 

Action is the process of doing something in order to achieve a purpose. Synonyms of action are accomplishing, battle, and prosecute. God’s action was central in the two places tumbleweeds were named in the Bible. In Psalm 83:13 the psalmist pleading for God to take action and make Israel’s enemies like tumbleweed before the wind. While Isaiah (17:13) recounted God’s action on behalf of Israel. God rebuked the nations and they were driven before the wind like tumbleweed before a gale.

Asaph’s motivation for asking God to act on behalf of the Israelites was not only for the security of Israel, but for worldwide acknowledgement of God as the true God (Psalm 83:18, study note).  Acknowledgment of God includes seeking God as his people seek him, e.g., to learn about God, his teachings, and his commands.

Christians cannot use Psalm 83 against national enemies because Christianity is broader than national boundaries. Christians are the world-wide fellowship of believers and one Christian should not pray for the downfall of another. Christians can pray Psalm 83 against foes who act to destroy them and all traces of their faith (Psalm 83 text note, ESV-SB, 2008). They can ask God to defeat these plans in a way that persecutors seek and know God and accept Christ as Savior.

When we accept Christ as our Savior, God promises to accept us as his children. That promise requires God to act on our behalves; however, God’s action is not always according to our timetable.  Sometimes we want God, “to do something NOW!”  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.”

ReflectionChrist said that wisdom is proven right by her actions (Matthew 11:19). What do you think Christ meant?  How does Christ’s statement apply to your life?

Copyright February 6, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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Joyful Peppermint

Bible Reference: Luke 11:37-44. 

At the end of a day of teaching, a Pharisee invited Jesus to his house to eat. Christ entered the house and reclined at the table. The Pharisee was surprised that Jesus did not wash his hands before the meal for two reasons. First, most foods were eaten with the hands. Second, although not a Mosaic Law, Jewish hierarchy advocated a procedure for hand washing before meals. Knowing what his host was thinking, Jesus admonished him, saying that Pharisees clean the outsides of dishware while they disregard the insides which are full of greed and wickedness. Pharisees’ tithe on mint, rue, and garden herbs, but neglect justice and the love of God. Christ admonished the Pharisees to practice justice and love as well as tithing.

The Book of Law required that Jews tithe. Tithing meant that they gave 10% of their money and/or crops to the Lord which usually went to the Temple (Leviticus 27:30). Mint and rue were herbs produced by farmers and other agriculturists for commerce; therefore, Mosaic Law required Jews to tithe on them. Importantly, when Christ spoke to the Pharisee, he did not tell the Pharisee that tithing on mint production was wrong. Just the opposite, Christ reinforced the need for God’s people to tithe. At the same time, Christ instructed the Pharisees that loving God and seeking justice were the greater good.

Mint, the Plant

The mint that grew in the Holy Land was Mentha longifolia, sometimes known as Mentha spicata L., wild mint, and horsemint. The large mint family, Lamiaceae, has 250 genera and 6,700 species; species names are often confused and confusing. Probably, M. longifolia originated in the countries of the Mediterranean Basin; however, South Africa claims it as indigenous. Mint thrives in most soils as long as soils are moist. If mint plants are propagated to secure a specific aroma, it is best to cut a piece of the original root (rhizome) and plant it. Virtually any part of a root will grow into a new plant.   When mint is planted for its essential oils, full sun is optimal; however, it will grow in partial shade. Wild mint tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure; it is not frost tender. In Israel, wild mint is found in Galilee, the central mountains and valleys, and south into the Northern Negev Desert and Aravah Valley. 

 Symbolism: Happiness, Joyful

The Greek word for mint is hēduŏsmŏn which is derived from hēdista meaning very gladly and kauchaŏmai, which means joy and rejoice. These two Greek words denote happiness and joy. Both words are appropriate for mint which medicinally relieves headaches, aids digestion, and is used to cover unsavory tastes and smells (Plants for a Future, 2012).

King David associated righteous behavior with gladness, happiness, and joy (Psalm 68:3). When Pharisees tithed on their income to include the relatively unimportant herb mint, they acted rightly. If they lived in strict adherence to the Mosaic laws, the Pharisees could have been happy, joyful people; yet, I could find no place in the Bible where the Pharisees were described as happy or joyful. Is it possible that righteous behavior does not lead to happiness? Was David wrong to associate righteousness with joy? Or was there something wrong about the righteousness of the Pharisees?

William MacDonald (1995) succinctly summarized why Pharisees were not happy and joyful.  They were externalists; which means the Pharisees were punctilious about small details of the ceremonial law, i.e., hand washing. At the same time, they neglected the greater commandments to love God and their neighbors (Matthew 22:37-40). They emphasized the subordinate and overlooked the primary laws of God. Happiness and joy cannot come when God or his primary commandments are ignored. Happiness comes from loving God and striving to please him in all things. Joy comes from doing good to others. 

Reflection. Christ said, whatever you do to the least man, woman or child, you do to me; and whatever you do not do to the least man, woman, or child you do not do to me (Matthew 25:40, 45). Christ is the “least” man, woman, or child.  

Copyright January 31, 2018; Carolyn A. Roth

David Learns from the Laurel Tree

Leaves on Laurus nobilisThe green laurel tree symbolizing the accomplishment of wicked men is found in Psalm 37.

Psalm 37 was written by King David probably in his later years. Each stanza depicts a complete thought; yet, taken together, all stanzas develop a common theme. In Psalm 37, the common theme is how the wicked flourish. The wicked man’s brief accomplishments are contrasted with God’s continued and sustaining help to the righteous. Several stanzas in Psalm 37 refer to plants.

Christians should not be envious of those who do wrong even when the wicked seem to have everything going for them. The wicked are like the grass, like green plants they die away (Psalm 37:1-2). The wicked are the Lord’s enemies and like the beauty of the fields, they will vanish (Psalm 37:20). Think about wild flowers that grow in the green areas between divided interstate roadways. One week these wild flowers are green, lush, and abundant. A few weeks later they are withered. Road crews mow them down as if they were weeds. Their transient beauty vanishes like smoke; so will wicked men.

Verses 35 and 36 compared wicked men to the green laurel tree.  David wrote that he saw a wicked and ruthless man who flourished like a green tree in its native soil. David’s laurel tree never suffered the setback that comes from transplanting. The tree was in its native soil, thus grew large and vigorous. The wicked man was correspondingly prosperous and powerful. A short time later, however, David looked for the wicked man. He was gone; David could not find him. David’s wisdom was that the wicked do not endure; they have no staying power.

David cautioned his listeners not to fret when they saw wicked, ruthless men prospering.  Fretting leads to evil (Psalm 37:8-9). Instead David implored the righteous to refrain from anger and to hope in the Lord. In a later Psalm, David averred that the righteous will flourish like a palm tree (Psalm 92:12-14); the righteous will grow like a cedar of Lebanon planted in the house of the Lord. They will still bear fruit in old age and stay fresh and green.

Bay LeavesThe Laurel Tree

The laurel tree is the Laurus nobilis. The laurel tree is called the true laurel and the sweet bay laurel because the culinary seasoning bay leaves come from the tree. Bay laurel is native to the southern Mediterranean Sea region. In Israel, laurel trees grow in most areas except the desert. The laurel tree will grow in a wide variety of soils, e.g., sand, loam and clay, but does best in moisture-retentive soils. Leaves are elliptic to ovate in shape and  2-4 inches long and .75-1.75 inches wide. Leaf margins tend to undulate softly; leaves feel leathery.  The leaf surface is a lustrous dark green. One way to identify a laurel tree is to bruise or cut the leaves and smell the sweet aromatic leaves.

Symbolism:  Flourish

A number of writers have proposed symbolism for the Laurus nobilis to include notable, victory, merit, accomplishments, honor, praise, martyrdom, and old age. Psalm 37 seems to fit most of these concepts; however, I believe the best description is flourish. Flourish means to grow luxuriantly, to achieve success or prosper, and to reach a height of development or influence.

King David compared the wicked to a luxuriant laurel tree, perhaps the one about 60 feet tall with a broad canopy and numerous branches growing up from the ground. These wicked, ruthless men flourished like the laurel. They achieved wealth and influence, caring little who they stepped on to achieve. Righteous men see these same ruthless men and women today and ask, how can God let them get ahead when I’m stuck in this job year after year? I’m a Christian, isn’t God supposed to help and bless me? What about God’s promise that “in his days the righteous will flourish; prosperity will abound until the moon is no more” (Psalm 72:7). I’m not flourishing at work or __________(you fill in the blank)!

When believers encounter situations where the wicked seem to achieve everything their heart’s desire, it is time to remember that God cannot lie and his word tells us two important facts. First, the righteous will flourish (Psalm 92:12) and God will not forsake his faithful ones (Psalm 37:28). Second, evildoers will be forever destroyed (Psalm 37:20; Psalm 92:7). Our reaction to evil-doers should not be envy but sadness and prayer for their redemption. The only heaven, or nearest heaven, that wicked, ruthless men and women will experience is on earth.

Seeing ruthless men and women achieve is not easy for a believer. At times I’ve asked God, “how can you let this happen?”  In those times, God did not give me an answer; probably because I was not in a mind frame to receive it. In retrospect, I can see that instead of anger and resentment, my response to workplace wickedness should have been compassion and prayer. I cannot be responsible for evil, ruthless men and women flourishing. I am only responsible for my thoughts and behavior. At all times, I must be right with God, trusting that his ways are not my ways and his thoughts are not my thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). They are much, better and wiser than mine. When I concentrate on flourishing in the garden where God planted me, I don’t obsess about whether or not ruthless individuals are getting ahead.

Reflection.  Father knows best.

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 February 8, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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Spiritual Adultery

An Old Testament parable of a green tree is one of the Bible’s miniature parables (Hoses 14:8). It is brief, and some would say obscure. Hosea spoke the parable of the evergreen tree to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Today, we read the parable and visualize the majesty of a green tree, similar to the beloved Christmas tree in our churches and homes.

The prophet Hosea implored the Northern Kingdom to repent so that God could heal their waywardness. Hosea averred that Israel’s disloyalty to God and idol worship was spiritual adultery. Because Hosea came from the Northern Kingdom, he knew every pride and perversion of royalty and common citizen alike. Yet, Hosea spoke of God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness. On Jesus’ birth-day, he came with love, mercy, and forgiveness.

Hosea assured Israel that foreign countries, despite their earthy powers, couldn’t save them. God alone can save Israel. After assuring the Israelites that God can and will heal Israel, Hosea offered a parable:

Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols?
I have answered (him) and will regard and watch over him; I am like a green fir (cypress tree); with Me is the fruit found (which is to nourish you) (Hosea 14:8 AMP)

Symbolism

The spiritual interpretation of God as an evergreen cypress tree is that man-made idols aren’t immortal; they aren’t even alive. They are statues, man’s creations. Some have ears; but, they can’t hear. Some have mouths; but, they can’t speak. Having a head isn’t the same as having a brain or a mind. Worshiping idols is spiritual adultery against God.

Immortality, including long life for an individual or a nation, comes only from God. Perhaps, nowhere in the Old Testament is God’s caring so forthrightly and succinctly presented as here in Hosea. God told Israel that he, not an idol, answers them and looks after them. He is like a green cypress tree. From God comes Israel’s fruit, i.e., both their food and their righteousness.

Hosea 14:8 is the only place (that I know of) where God compared himself to a living organism. At times, the Bible writers recorded that God is enduring like the mountains, the soil, and the ocean. In Hosea, God liken himself to something alive, as he is alive. That living organism was a tree with a lovely smell and which was disease-resistant. Although ancient people used the cypress tree to symbolize immortality, God doesn’t just symbolize immortality; he is immortal. This immortal God chose to come to earth, born in a baby and live as a man, so mankind could have immortal life with him in heaven.

Reflection: An immortal life isn’t up to you or me. We are guaranteed immortality. The question is where will each of us spend our never-ending life.

Cypress Essential Oil

The crisp, fresh aroma of Cypress essential oil promotes vitality and energy, while topical application helps to invigorate the senses and ground the soul. Cypress works on the heart and mind, creating flexibility. These attributes make Cypress the oil of Motion & Flow. Its powerful properties include antibacterial, antiseptic, making it effective for topical application as well.

When used aromatically, Cypress livens up the spirit and mind. The aroma of this essential oil is clean, woody and herbaceous and is commonly combined with citrus oils. For example, when combined with lime the invigorating scent helps to boost the mood.  Aromatic use helps to transform feelings of being stalled into feeling of progression. Cypress is also used to reduce the appearance of oily skin and is great to incorporate into a massage.

Copyright November 11, 2017; Carolyn Adams Roth

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