Tag Archives: Carolyn Roth Ministry

Beauty with an Ugly Name

Bible Reference: Matthew 7.16.

The Plant

One of the beautiful spiny plants in nature (in my opinion) is the bear’s breech (Acanthus syriacus). My view is based on a combination of the plant’s large leaves and stunning flowers. The name bear’s breech came from the large size and distinctive hairy leaf. Supposedly, Acanthus syriacus leaves were the inspiration for the Corinthian column capitals in Greek architecture.

The bear’s breech flower is even more attractive than leaves. Bear breech produces white and purple flowers on spikes up to about seven-feet tall. The flower spike is so gorgeous, that I wanted to touch what I thought were soft flowers. Wrong! When I wrapped my hand around a flower spike, I discovered that flower tips were sharp and pointed. I planted bear’s breech in the church Bible garden and never had to worry about children trying to pick flowers despite their beautiful appearance. Bear’s breech is a perennial and drought-tolerant. Gardeners don’t have to water it unless the climate is very dry. Over winter plant buds are located just below soil surface.

The Message

The origin of the name akanthos is Greek. The Greek word akantha comes from ake which mean a sharp point. Most Gospel references to thorns or thorn bushes use the word akanthos, i.e.:

By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grape from thornbushes, or figs from thistles” (Matthew 7.16 NIV)?

“Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants” (Matthew 13.7 NIV).

“The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful” (Matthew 13.22 NIV).

“Then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” (Matthew 27.29 NIV).

Although I love this plant, I really dislike the name “bear’s breech.” When I explored possible origins of the name, I learned that at one time breeches were short pants that covered hips and thighs and fitted snuggly at lower edges just below knees.3  Perhaps, the parallel is the tight fit of flowers to the plant stem soon after flowers bloom. As summer progresses; however, flowers loosening from the stem (leg) and fall away (laterally) from the stem.

The lesson from bear’s breech goes back to Jesus’s parable of the sower and the seed. Although some individuals enthusiastically embraced Jesus’s message, worldly cares and troubles (exemplified by spines) sprouted and spread in their lives. Also, these individuals fell away from God the same way that individual flower blossoms on bear’s breech stems fell away from the stem as summer progresses and temperatures rise (in adversity).

I entered a personal relationship with Jesus Christ when I was about eleven-year-old. My relationship was fairly steady and grew in my high-school years. Everything changed during college. For about two decades, I lived far away from God. Worldly cares/spines weren’t the cause of my falling away. Rather, I wanted to participate in the seeming “fun, excitement” that the world offered.

Reflection: In retrospect, I own my decision. The decision to abandon God and subsequent actions were mine. The Devil didn’t make me do it. Similar to an individual flower on a bear’s breech stem, I loosened my grip on the stem, which in my case was God.  Have you even loosened your grip on God or stopped holding onto him altogether? How did that work out?  Will you repeat that behavior?

Copyright July 2, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Can’t Escape Destruction: Cocklebush

Bible Reference: Hosea 9.6-7.

“Even if they escape from destruction, Egypt will gather them, and Memphis will bury them. Their treasures of silver will be taken over by briers” (Hosea 9.6 NIV). Most of Hosea’s book focused on what would happen to the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) if they didn’t repent. In the New International Version Bible, chapter nine is titled “Punishment for Israel.” Hosea wrote: “The days of punishment are coming, the days of reckoning are at hand…. because your sins are so many” (Hosea 9.7 NIV).

When Hosea identified, “even if they escape from destruction,” he referred to the destruction of Assyrians. “Their treasurers of silver will be taken over by briers” most likely referred to Israel’s silver-plated idols worshiped in homes, but, particularly, those set up in high places (tree-covered hills) as worship sites.

The Cocklebush

Hosea’s briers were the cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium).7 Arguably, the cocklebur is the most annoying and prickly of all briers. Over two-hundred names and species have been identified in the Xanthium genus throughout the world. The X. strumarium grows in Israel.

Cocklebur is an invasive plant worldwide. It can be poisonous to livestock, i.e., horses, cattle, and sheep. If other forage is available most domestic animals avoid eating cocklebur. Young plants (seedlings) and seeds are the most toxic parts of cocklebur. In mankind, symptoms occur within a few hours after consuming parts of the plant, producing  weakness, nausea and vomiting, rapid and weak pulse, difficulty breathing, and eventually death.

Cocklebur is an annual plant; it germinates, grows, blooms, and produces the next generation in one year. Male and female flowers grow separately on the same plant. Male flowers cluster at the top of the flowering stem. Female flowers cluster lower on the stem situated atop spiny bracts. When wind blows, top male flowers dump pollen into the air and onto female flowers. After fertilization, spiny bracts swell to form the burrs that so many of us dug out of pet fur. Seeds are inside the burr.

The Message

Over lunch I described cocklebur to my husband who was born and reared in northern Idaho. He rode horses along back trails. He said that horses got the American cocklebur in their manes and tails. Often, dogs get cocklebur in hair. In both cases, removing the spiny cocklebur is difficult and sure to damage fingers.

When I read Hosea and most of the Bible prophets, I feel apprehensive. My country is steeped in sin, including idolatry. The primary idolatry isn’t worship of man-made idols; but, worship of self. Americans place confidence in themselves, declaring “I can do it myself” or “I did it (or want to do it) my way.”  Our idolatry isn’t less than what  occurred in Israel when Hosea gave his prophecy.

Reflection: Are you old enough to remember Helen Reddy’s song, “I did it my way”? Does it resonate with you? Alternatively, do you want to say, “I did it God’s way”?

Copyright: July 2, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Old Age Plant

Bible References: Ecclesiastes chapter 12.

The caper plant is a relatively obscure Bible plant, identified only in Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes was written by a Jewish sage who named himself, “Teacher.” In poetic and allegorical form, the Teacher elaborated how age takes its toll on a man, reducing him to feebleness. One piece of advice was “remember your Creator in the days of your youth before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’” (Ecclesiastes 12.1 NIV).

A characteristic of old age is reduced desire or appetite for sex, food, and other stimulation. In Hebrew the word for desire is ҆ abȋyôwnâh, which translates as caper berry.6 The caper berry is an   appetite stimulant and aphrodisiac; yet, desire (caper) fails to have an effect on a man whose powers are exhausted or worn out.

The caper berry is the Capparis spinosa, known as the common caper. Caper bushes are evergreen and tolerate drought.  A rule of thumb is that the caper plant grows wherever the olive tree grows. In Israel, the  caper berry clings to cracks and crevices of rock piles and abandoned walls. It grows between rocks of the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

The caper bush is a sprawling, spiny, evergreen shrub that typically grows three-feet tall, and spreads (horizontally) by semi-prostrate branching as much as six-to-ten feet. The caper bush develops a pair of sharp hooked spines at the base of each leaf stem. When capers and caperberries are harvested, hands are easily scratched and clothing can catch on hooked spines.

The caper plant produces several edible products. Both the  caper and the caperberry are used in cooking. Capers are unopen buds of the caper bush. The commercial caper is an immature flower bud that is pickled in vinegar or preserved in granulated salt. The taste of capers  has been described both as sharply piquant and peppery mustard. Caper buds are used to garnish food (pizza, fish), and are added to pizza sauce.

While capers are immature flower buds of the bush, caperberries are fruits the bush produces once buds have flowered and fertilized. Caperberries are about the size of a grape or olive and often harvested with stems attached. They are cured in vinegar just like capers. Caperberries (cornichon de câpres) are the semi-mature caper fruit and are used as a condiment. I’ve read that young caper shoots can be eaten as a vegetable; however, I don’t remember ever eating one.

The symbolism of the caperberry is desire. A desire is a wish, craving, or longing for something or someone. Synonyms are yearning, wanting, and needing.3 The Teacher made the point that with old age desires were blunted or reduced. Contemplating this passage, leads me to believe that some desires may be reduced so that we have an opportunity to concentrate on other desires.  It’s possible that the intensity or urgency of sexual desires are muted. We become less adventurous (I no longer desire to paraglide). That doesn’t mean that overall desire is lost as much as desires change or are re-focused. Decades of living allows us to acquire experiences and knowledge. An Israelite proverb is “desire without knowledge is not good” (Proverbs 19.2 NIV).

God doesn’t view age as a deterrent to usefulness. Not until Abraham was seventy-five years-of-age did he leave Haran in response to God’s call.  Moses was eighty-years-old when God appeared to him at Mount Horab.

Desires can cause problems for individuals. Cain’s offering of fruit was unacceptable to God. Cain became angry and his face downcast. God loved Cain, so he explained that a suitable sacrifice would be accepted. Then, God warned Cain that sin was crouching at Cain’s door and “desired” to have Cain. Cain’s fruit, grains, or vegetables weren’t what God wanted in a sacrifice. Perhaps, God wanted the best or first fruits from Cain’s harvest and the best wasn’t what Cain offered to God. Perhaps, God wanted an animal sacrifice, similar to Abel’s offering. More probably, God just wanted Cain to acknowledged that all he reaped was from God. God told the Israelites, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6.6 NIV).

Saint John counseled Christians that things of the world – the desires of the flesh and of the eyes and the pride of life – aren’t from God  The world is passing away along with all desires; but, whoever does the Lord’s will abides forever.

Reflection: In this poem on old age, the Teacher described the elder as being afraid of many things. Many of us are afraid of things in the world, i.e., muggings, burglary, taxes. I’m afraid of the toxic political climate. Yet, the world is temporal and guaranteed to pass away. Further, God promised to fulfill desires of those who fear him.

Copyright: July 2, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Red Geraniums

The mention of geraniums typically conjures up images of bright red blooms against rich green foliage adorning window boxes and porch railings. You may be surprised to learn that there are hundreds of species of geraniums that range in size, shape and color. The common geranium comes in shades of white, red and pink with many striking bi-colors, too.

What Does the Geranium Flower Mean?

The geranium flower appears to have some conflicting meanings, which means you must rely on both the circumstances and their color to refine their meaning. Some of the most common meanings are:

  • Folly or Stupidity
  • Gentility
  • Ingenuity
  • Melancholy
  • Bridal Favor
  • Unexpected Meeting
  • Expected Meeting
  • Preference
  • True Friendship

Land Overgrown with Thistles

Bible Reference: Isaiah 32.13-14.

The globe thistle is frequently planted for its beauty. When we visited Greenbrier Resort in the West Virginia Appalachian Mountains, globe thistles were carefully cultivated in gardens.  Blossoms can be white, blue, or purple and looks like a three-dimensional globe.

In contrast to gardener’s deliberate planting of globe thistles is the way the globe thistle was used by Bible prophets in Judah and Israel. Isaiah prophesied that the land would be overgrown with thistles as fortresses were abandoned and citadels and watchtowers turned into wastelands.

A contemporary of Isaiah who lived in Israel (Northern Kingdom), the prophet Hosea predicted that  high places of idol worship would be destroyed. These altars will be abandoned and thistles will grow up and cover the altars. God planned to destroy the kingdom of Israel (Northern Kingdom) because of its idol worship and failure to obey God’s commandments. Hosea said that the Northern kingdom planted wickedness and reaped evil. They depended on their own strength, rather than God’s protection.

Globe Thistle

The genus of  Israelite globe thistles is Echinops. In Israel, the globe thistle is Echinops viscosus, commonly called viscous globe-thistle. Traditional Jewish texts claim that the E. viscosus was native to Palestine and Babylon. Several flower heads grow on each stem. In Israel, the color of most globe thistle flowers is metallic blue.  Heads are two-to-three inches in diameter. Globe thistle grows best in humid habitats such as treed hills, i.e., Mount Hermon, and Golan Heights. In present-day Israel, globe thistle blooms in June and July. As summer progresses, flowers turn tan/brown.

Application

As I studied “bad plants” in the Bible, I became fearful. Behaviors of both Northern and Southern Kingdom Israelites—idol worship, not caring for the poor, lack of justice in society and courts—have parallels in United States’ society in the twenty-first century. The difference is  names of these behaviors. We attempt to sanitize current behaviors by giving them politically correct names. We worship the idols of money which provide a big house, nice car, and a comfortable life style. We love the prestige of belonging to a country club, having a series of letters after our name, and working in academe or a well-known corporation. Those who have less money are “unfortunate,” sometimes even “unmotivated” because they didn’t work hard enough, plan, save, etc. White collar crime (embezzlement, lying to stock holders, misrepresenting on tax forms) often goes unpunished, or is under-punished, in comparison to outright burglary.

Reflection: Contemporary United States society isn’t all that different from the first millennium before Jesus in Israel. Ponder how God punished Judah/Jerusalem for discounting, even killing, his Son. Don’t you become concerned that God may punish the United States for discounting his Son? What can you do to stop this downward spiral from God in current society?

Copyright May 18, 2019; Carolyn Roth Ministry.

http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

Thistle Riddle

Bible References:  2 Kings 14; 2 Chronicles chapter 25.

The spotted golden thistle is part of a riddle that King Jehoash (Northern Kingdom, Israel, 798-782 BC) sent to King  Amaziah (Southern Kingdom, Judah, 796-767 BC). The background to this Bible narrative has two distinct parts. First, when King Amaziah planned a military campaign against Edom, he recruited 100,000 mercenaries from Israel. Warned by a prophet to not allow Northern Kingdom mercenaries to march with him, King Amaziah dismissed them. Despite being paid, soldiers were furious. Northern Kingdom soldiers knew that they lost out on plunder of Edom. In response they plundered and murdered in Judah while King Amaziah battled in Edom. Second, when King Amaziah returned to Jerusalem after a successful campaign against Edom, he brought back Edomite idols. Instead of destroying these false gods as Mosaic law required, King Amaziah bowed down and worshiped them.

King Amaziah knew he had to respond to Northern Kingdom soldiers’ killing and plundering Judah while he battled Edom. King Amaziah sent a challenge to King Jehoash to meet him in battle. King Jehoash sent a riddle and a warning back to King Amaziah. The riddle was:

A thistle in Lebanon sent a message to a cedar in Lebanon, ‘Give your daughter to my son in marriage.’ Then, a wild beast in Lebanon came along and trampled the thistle underfoot (2 Chronicles 25.18 NIV).

Then, Jehoash warn Amaziah that because he defeated Edom, he was haughty and proud. King Amaziah was asking for trouble if he persisted in challenging King Jehoash.

The interpretation of Jehoash’s riddle was that he and the Northern Kingdom was a majestic cedar of Lebanon, while King Amaziah and Judah was an insignificant thistle. The demand, give to me your daughter in marriage, could have meant that  Israelite soldiers return plunder taken from Judah’s lands. Alternatively, this part of King Jehoash’s riddle was a further insult. In Old Testament times, a king  gave his daughter to another kingdom for marriage only if the two countries were equal in power. King Jehoash insulted King Amaziah by saying Israel was much more powerful than Judah, i.e., the Northern Kingdom was a cedar and the Southern Kingdom a thistle. King Jehoash would trample King Amaziah and Judah underfoot.

Despite King Jehoash’s warning, King Amaziah moved his army against Israel. A battle ensued where King Jehoash defeated King Amaziah. With King Amaziah of Judah a prisoner, King Jehoash proceeded to Jerusalem. There, Jehoash seized Temple gold, silver, and other valuables, the palace treasury, and hostages. King Jehoash had 600 feet of the Jerusalem wall destroyed. Despite King Jehoash’s victory, he allowed King Amaziah to live.

King Jehoash wasn’t a king who obeyed God;  he did evil in God’s eyes. Jehoash continued the idol worship started by the first king of Israel, Jeroboam I. King Jehoash wouldn’t have won the battle over King Amaziah, but for Amaziah’s sin of rejecting God and worshiping Edomite idols.

In Jehoash’s riddle, the Hebrew word for thistle is choâch or hoah and is associated with the Scolymus genus of plants.7 When Jehoash named Amaziah a thistle, possibly he was thinking of the spotted golden thistle, Scolymus maculatus. The spotted golden thistle was a common plant throughout Israel, growing everywhere except along the extreme Mediterranean seashore. Although occasionally cultivated, more often the spotted golden thistle is found in uncultivated lands and along paths and trails. In very hot temperatures, these thistles grow rapidly. Leaves (or bract) have tooth shaped margins tipped with spines and a white vein all around their outline

In this incident, the spotted golden thistle can be associated with several

concepts, i.e., pride, insult, and insignificance; however, in this story reject or rejection are the best symbols. Examples of rejection include Amaziah’s rejection of the 100,000 Israelite Kingdom mercenaries; Amaziah rejecting God in favor of Edomite idols; Jehoash’s willingness to excuse (or reject) Amaziah’s challenge; and Jehoash’s rejecting the sanctity of God’s Temple.

This Bible episode typifies the Northern Kingdom’s rejection of God. They rejected God’s decrees, the covenant he made with their fathers, and warnings he gave them through prophets. The Northern Kingdom rejected God by plundering his home, the Jerusalem Temple. Eventually, God rejected Northern Kingdom tribes as they first rejected him. God allowed Assyria to destroy the Northern Kingdom.

How do we, living in the twenty-first century, reject God? We do it by not setting aside time to spend with God every day, i.e., failing to have daily Bible study and prayer time. We make the decision to skip Sunday church services, identifying that we are just too tired after a busy work-week. We reject God when we reject other persons for whatever reason, i.e., they are just not our type, we have nothing in common with them, they are poor, they look disheveled.

Reflection: A couple of months ago I determined to start my day with God, reading the Bible and praying. I even identified which book of the Bible to read and contemplate one chapter a day. My good intention lasted about twenty-five days. Then, I defaulted to first making a cup of coffee and second checking what was new on my computer. I rejected God by not putting him first. How about you? Do you ever reject God? How do you start your day?

Copyright May, 6, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Punishment with Thistles

Bible  Reference: Judges 8.1-21.

God called Gideon to lead Israelites when Midianites and allies invaded the Promised Land. The Midianites were marauders who swarmed across Israel stripping bare farm lands. Gideon was from the Israelite tribe of Manasseh and lived west of the Jordan River.  Gideon and 300 men routed a massive force (over 100,000 swordsmen) of Midianites near Morah.

Midianites fled south along the Jordan River. Some crossed the Jordan River near the Jabbok River. Gideon and his 300 men pursued them and came to the town of Succoth, in the tribal lands of Gad. Gideon told Succoth elders he was pursuing two Midian kings, Zebah and Zalmunna. Gideon asked the town for  food for his worn-out men. Gideon had every expectation of receiving help from this Israelite town. All twelve Israelite tribes had pledged to assist each other in the face of foreign threats.

Not only did the elders of Succoth refuse Gideon food, they were  insolent in their refusal. Elders told Gideon that he assumed a victory over Midianite kings which may not occur. Succoth wasn’t about to assist Gideon and his small army. Apparently, Succoth elders feared reprisal from Midianites. Stop reading and think a minute. Would you have been angry with the Succoth officials? Would you have been able to restrain yourself from attacking them verbally or physically? Would you have wanted to strike out at these elders? I am offended on Gideon’s behalf.

Hearing Succoth elders’ refusal, Gideon promised that he would return and punish them. Gideon proceeded with his main goal. Gideon and men routed 15,000 Midianites at Karkor and later captured both kings. Returning from battle, Gideon learned names of the seventy-seven Succoth elders, who had refused bread to his army. Then, Gideon went to Succoth, captured town elders, and punished them with desert thorns and briers.

Historical writers claimed that when thorns and briers were used as punishment, men were stripped of clothes. Thorns and briers were placed on both sides of their bared bodies. Then, heavy sledges (sleighs) were pressed on thorns and pulled across bodies so the skin was severely torn. Considering that Succoth elders refused food to the pursuing Israelite soldiers, they vigorously applied punishment to Succoth elders. Every time I read this story, I want to say, “You go, Gideon.”

In the episode of Gideon and Succoth elders, most likely thistles were the Syrian thistle (Notobasis syriaca or Cirsium syriacum). The Syrian thistle is native to Middle Eastern countries. It is an annual plant that grows in semi-desert areas. In Israel, it grows throughout the entire country including the desert south. Often, Syrian thistles are found in disturbed lands, i.e., sides of roads and construction sites. Leaves are deeply lobed and gray-green in color with white veins. Leaves have sharp spines on both leaf margins and apices (apexes). At times, leaves look more like spines than leaf blades. Flowers are purple and attractive.

At Succoth, the Syrian thistle symbolized retribution. Retribution is dispensing or receiving reward or punishment. Retribution is given or exacted in recompense for words or actions.3 Retribution is often confused with revenge, which means to avenge oneself usually by retaliating in kind.3 Although retribution and revenge are sometime confused, retribution includes justice.

In the United States, we have a judicial system where individuals stand trial for offenses against civil laws. The judicial system doesn’t exact revenge for persons who were harmed. Rather, the judicial system punishes individuals who break the law. Judicial punishment isn’t revenge, but, retribution because it includes justice.

I am fairly sure that if Gideon didn’t take retribution on Sukkoth elders, God would have repaid them for their fear and selfishness. Jeremiah wrote that God is a God of retribution and that God will repay in full.

The Old Testament stated that the Israelites weren’t to seek revenge or bear a grudge. They were to love their neighbors as they loved themselves. Neighbors included not only Israelites who lived near-by, but those who lived far distances, i.e.,  Succoth in the territory of Gad east of the Jordan River. Saint Paul directed New Testament Christians to not take revenge on those who persecuted them; rather, Christians are to leave room for God’s wrath. So much for my “You go, Gideon.”

Reflection: We don’t know what Gideon felt and thought when he punished the Succoth elders with thistles. Hopefully, he was exacting retribution, not revenge,  from them. There is no record that God was displeased with Gideon’s actions. What do you think—retribution or revenge?

Copyright May 2019; Carolyn Adams Roth