Tag Archives: Carolyn Roth Ministry

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

St. Mary’s Thistle

Thorns and thistles were an original consequence of Adam and Eve’s sin. The Bible used thorns and thistles as symbols of desolation and a description of a wilderness environment. In almost every Bible instance when thistles were identified, the desolation and wilderness were the result of mankind’s continued sin. Frequently, mankind turned from God and worshiped foreign (man-made) idols.

Some thistle seeds have feathery growths. When blown by the wind, feathery seeds float over a wide region. For the most part seeds remain dormant; however, after rain, they germinate and grow rapidly. Although many thistles produce beautiful flowers, farmers and gardeners rarely want them in a field or a garden. Thistles are an invasive species.

Bible  Reference: Genesis chapter 3

Which thistle grew first after God cursed the ground? It’s impossible to know. Today, Holy Lands are largely arid, with many thistle species. Sun and burning heat dominate landscapes. Once-cultivated areas are an ideal growth environment for thistles.

Assuming that the Garden of Eden was located east of Israel where the Tigris and Euphrates joined, the first thistle grew in that area where Adam and his offspring lived after being expelled from Eden. One thistle present in this region and in Israel for thousands of years is the Silybum marianum, also named the blessed milk thistle and St.  Mary’s thistle. Once established, milk thistles form two-to-six feet dense clumps. On the milk thistle, flowers are red-purple and have spiny sharp leaves (bracts) directly under the flower base.  Milk thistle leaves are attractive. They are large, with white veins. When leaves are cut or torn, a milky substance is released.7,10

For thousands of years, the milk thistle has been used in folk medicine to treat liver, cancerous, and psychiatric disorders; however, there’s no reliable science validating the efficacy of milk thistle to treat these conditions. Milk thistle plants displace desirable forage plants, such as grasses. Because milk thistle accumulates nitrogen, it  can be lethal if eaten by livestock.

Fully mature milk thistle seeds are glossy, brown-to-black,  with an umbrella-like appendage. When released, seeds blow over a wide region.  A single flower head can produce 100–200 seeds.  Seeds can lay dormant on/in soil up to nine years, then germinate after a rainfall. Milk thistle is an annual or biennial plant. When I planted seeds in the church Bible garden, milk thistle grew two years then died. In the subsequent years, milk thistle didn’t regrow.

Sometimes I create an environment for thistles, rather than for flowers, to grow in my life. In the past, I have taken on major projects at home, church, or job. Like Adam and Eve, I’ve sweated over these projects, expending tremendous energy and time. Despite my efforts, some projects failed completely or partially—thistles resulted rather than beautiful flowers.

Looking back on these projects, I know that, more often than not, thistles were a consequence of my disobedience. I let pride combined with my desire to “do it my way” block listening to God, whether he was instructing me through another individual, his word (Bible), or my conscience.  I grope, sometimes even groan, trying to find my way toward God. I want to obey his word and submit fully to him.

Reflection: Think of times in your life that you  tried to reach God, but you couldn’t get to him. You felt like your life was filled with thistles; everything growing in your life was wrong. What did you do? Did it work? If not, propose to yourself other options to try when you find yourself in similar circum- stances in the future.

Copyright April 4, 2019; All rights reserved.

The Desert Bloomed

From my sister (Julie Roth) back yard in Arizona.

Miracle with Barley

Bible Reference: John 6.1-15

My favorite miracle was Jesus feeding the 5000 plus individuals with a child’s offering of five barley loaves and two fishes. This miracle was the only one described in all four gospels; however, John’s gospel has the most detail (John 6.1-15). Another miracle in which Jesus fed 4000 plus individuals with bread and fish shouldn’t be confused with this one. That miracle didn’t name the type of bread. This miracle identified that loaves of bread were made from barley.

Right before this Bible story, Jesus learned that King Herod murdered his cousin, John the Baptist.  In response Jesus attempted to get away from the crowds and go into an isolated area. Perhaps, Jesus wanted to mourn his cousin or just reflect on how the devil attempts to thwart God’s purpose. In a boat, Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to a remote area.

Jesus’s plan to get away didn’t work. Crowds followed him to this isolated area. I would have responded, “Go away! Go away! I need a break! Can’t you see that I’m sad?” Instead of being annoyed by the people’s persistence, Jesus felt compassion for them. He healed the sick among them and continued to teach them by word and deed.

Near day’s end, Jesus’s disciples suggested that he send the crowd into surrounding villages, so they could purchase food (John 6.1-15). I imagine the disciples were hungry after all day in the open country. Perhaps, they projected their hunger onto the crowd. Jesus told his disciples to feed the crowd. The disciples looking at each other, thinking “How?” Courageously, Philip responded that it would take more than half a year’s wages to buy sufficient bread for each person to have one bite. Essentially, Philip said that disciples didn’t have funds to buy bread to feed the crowd. Andrew added that there was a boy who had fivebarley loaves and two fishes, and asked, “What are they for so many? (John 6.9 ESV).

Jesus directed the crowd to sit down on the grass and thanked God for the five barley loaves and two fishes. His disciples distributed the food. When all finished eating, bits and pieces of food not eaten were collected. The leftovers filled 12 baskets. The total number of people who miraculously ate could have been up to about 20,000 people. John counted only men, not women or children

Was Jesus God?

Because this blog is about Jesus’s interactions with plants, I am going to focus on barley rather than fish. Before the Israelites entered the promised land, Moses told them that they were entering a land where barley grew (Deuteronomy 8.8). Primarily, ancient barley was made into bread. So close was the association between Israelites and barley, that Midianites referred to Israelites as “cakes of barley” (Judges 7.13-14). Barley was a dependable, disease-resistant crop,  less expensive to grow than wheat. Barley could be grown in less fertile soil than wheat, i.e. on hillsides. Further, barley had a shorter sow-to-harvest cycle than wheat.

Israelites planted barley (and wheat) in autumn, about the time of first rains. Barley seeds were planted by one of two methods. Sometimes, farmers broadcast (strewed, threw) seeds onto unplowed ground and allowed them to germinate where they landed. A more reliable way to get a good barley crop was for the farmer to plow the top 3-4 inches of soil with an ox-drawn plow. Then, broadcast barley seeds by hand. Finally, the farmer plowed a second time, forcing seeds under the soil. Seeds stayed in the soil over winter, sprouted in the spring, and barley was harvested in April.

A  boy offered Jesus the meal his mother packed for him. The boy, perhaps 8-11 years-of-age, could have taken his food, slipped over a hill, and eaten it.  The boy and his family were poor; barley was the bread of the poor in 1st century Palestine. Instead, this boy embraced Jesus’s message to the point that he was willing to give all he had to Jesus.

Reflection: Are you embracing Jesus’s message? How is it changing your behavior?

Copyright 8/17/2018; Carolyn Adams Roth

Grapes from Thornbushes

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus averred that a man can’t gather grapes from thorn bushes. The second time that Jesus spoke of thorns in gospels was in the familiar parable of the sower and the seed. Most of us can recite this parable:

A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them.  Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.  Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty (Matthew 13.3-8 ESV).

In the first century, many farmers scattered (broadcast) seed on top of the soil rather than plow soil, scattered seeds, then re-plowed soil to cover seeds.  The challenge with broadcasting seed is that seed falls various places, i.e., on a pathway, in thin soil, among thorns. Seeds sprouted and grew; but, thorns can surround good seedlings and choke their growth. Jesus’s interpretation of seed which fell among thorns is: “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13.22 ESV).  

Thornbush

First century Palestine contained several types of thorns and thorn bushes. The Bible names several to them, i.e., Jotham’s thorn tree in Judges, crackling thorn bushes in Ecclesiastes, and Isaiah’s buckthorn (Rhamnus lycioides, R. palaestinus). In Israel, buckthorns grow in wood, shrub-lands, and the mountain vegetation of Mount Hermon.  The buckthorn is a slow-growing shrub, rarely reaching a height of six feet.

The Palestine buckthorn is evergreen.  It grows with a many-branched, tangled form, and velvety thorns.  Young stems are green; with maturity, bark turns gray. The buckthorn fruit is a small (1/4 inch), oval berry. Initially, the berry is green, but, turns black when ripe. Berries are poisonous to humans, but a good source of food for birds.

Symbolism: Trash

A Hebrew word for thorn is shayith1 which translates as trash, scrub, and thorn.  Trash is debris from plant materials, something worth little or nothing, and something thrown away. Trash is an excellent symbol for individuals who make a commitment to Jesus; then, quit living a Christian life because worldly cares choke their commitment. God’s judgment will fall on people who treat God and his laws as worthless, i.e., as if they are trash.  If individuals want to be something thrown away like trash, God will allow them to be this way (Romans 1.28).  God will give them over to a reprobate mind.

Reflection: How do you behave in a “trashy” manner?

Copyright: 10/2/2018; Carolyn Adams Roth

Persian (Iran) Shield

The prophet Isaiah lived around 735-681 BC. He foresaw the sacking of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the Jews taken into captivity into Babylon. The Persians defeated the Babylonians. As predicted by Isaiah, Cyrus, a Persian king,  allowed the Jewish exiles throughout the Persian Empire to return to Jerusalem and rebuild God temple there. Judah became Judea, a province of the Persian Empire which was the height of its power 550-330 BC.

The Persia Empire acted as a shield for small Judea, even allowing Judea to have its own governor. Persia protected Judea from other countries, i.e., Egypt.  Persians (present day Iran) continued to protect the Jews. For example, Esther became Queen in Persia and shielded the Jews in the Persian Empire from being massacred.  Astrologers followed a star from Persia to Jerusalem to find and worship Jesus. They shielded Jesus by withholding information from King Herod about the specific location of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus’s home. Thus, Joseph had time to escape King Herod by taking his family to Egypt.

Persian Shield Plant

This plant was developed in Myanmar, a country in Southeast Asia south of China and east of India. Myanmar has a tropical climate. The plant is most success in USDA plant zone 10 but can (sometimes) grow in zones 8 -11 outdoors. Most gardeners  grow this beautiful plant indoors to regulate its environment and keep it flourishing. When growing the plant indoors, the plant must be in heat of over 60 degrees. Space Persian shield plants about 36 – 48 inches apart. On the back deck (Plant Zone 7), my plant grew as tall as three feet in one season.

One of the appeals of a Persian shield plant is its natural bushiness. However, you can make it even more bushy in appearance by pinching the stems back every now and then. Persian shield plants require constant moisture. Water them thoroughly and evenly twice a week. The top six inches of soil should be constantly moist.

Symbolism: Shield

Because the Persian shield plant was only recently developed, it is not a Bible plant. However, the symbolism of Persia acting as a shield for Judea and even Jesus is seen in the Bible.  Persia is present-day Iran. The name Persian shield most likely came from the motif on the shield of Persia soldiers during Persia’s years of conquest and rule.

A shield is a protective device. It prevents arrows, javelins, and other projectile devices from killing or wounding a soldier. St. Paul wrote that with the shield of faith, Christians can withstand the fiery darts of Satan (Ephesians 6.16).

Reflection: How’s your shielding? Wouldn’t it be great if Persia (Iran) acted as Israel’s shield in the 21st century?

Copyright September 12, 2018; Carolyn Adams Roth

Swaddling Cloths

When Mary returned to Nazareth from visiting her cousin Elizabeth, her betrothed, Joseph, decided that the couple should leave for Bethlehem. Emperor Caesar Augustus ordered that all men must go to their home town to register for tax purposes. Joseph was of the lineage of David and his home town was Bethlehem.

When Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, Joseph’s family’s homes were packed. Inns were filled with other returned Bethlehemites. Joseph’s kin told him that he and Mary were welcome to sleep in the barn. Mary gave birth to her first-born son, Jesus in this barn environment. As was the custom in the Ancient Near East culture, Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling cloths (Luke 2:7), Swaddling cloths were narrow band of cloths wrapped around newborn children to restrain and quiet them. A mother’s womb was snug and warm; these cloths mimicked the womb. Newborns have fingernails, so the cloths would have prevented the newborn Jesus from scratching himself has he wiggled around.

The swaddling cloths Mary wrapped Jesus in were probably made from cotton. Because of their poverty, Joseph and Mary likely were unable to afford linen cloths. Often pictures of Jesus wrapped in cloths at his birth depict the cloths as white; however, likely the cloths were gray or brown as the cotton was unbleached. Perhaps, swaddling cloths that Mary used were several colors because they were cast off rags. Have you ever cared for a newborn? They both urinate and have small bowel movements. Likely, Mary knew this newborn characteristic and used cloths that could be changed separately on Jesus’s lower body.

The cotton cloths were probably from the Gossypium herbaceum plant, also known as Levant cotton and Arabian cotton. Cotton plants were domesticated in India about 3000 B.C. and grew in Mesopotamia at least from 1000 B.C. In the 7th century B.C. cotton was present in the Arad Valley in Palestine. Possibly, returned Jewish exiles brought cotton cloth and cotton plants back with them from Persia.  G. herbaceum isn’t the same species of cotton grown in present-day Israel, nor the species grown in the United States. When cotton plants are irrigated, most flower mid-to-late summer. Large, showy, solitary blooms have five petals (1-2 inches long). Flowers are yellow (occasionally white) at first, then fade to a soft red or pink. The cotton plant fruit is called a boll. When ripe, the boll splits and a mass of fine white filaments or fibers exude.  The white fibers are the cotton of commerce. Seeds are present in the white fibers. In ancient times seeds were separated from fibers by hand, then the fibers woven into cloth.

Luke recorded that Mary wrapped Jesus in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger. Most photographs showed this manger made from wood, filled with straw, and elevated off the barn floor. The Nazareth Exhibit in the Museum of the Bible showed a contrasting scenario. There, the manger was hewed out of an approximately two by one-foot stone. The interior of the manger was rough. The Bible never recorded that the manger was filled with straw before the newborn Jesus was laid in it. Swaddling cloths could have been the cushion for the newborn Jesus.

Luke’s story of Jesus being wrapped in swaddling cloths symbolizes Jesus as the lamb of God.  It was in the Bethlehem area that newborn lambs were birthed for Temple sacrifice. Because the lambs had to be unblemished, often shepherds wrapped them lambs in swaddling cloths. As these lambs were fed by their mothers, they were kept unblemished.

Please visit my website to learn more about Bible plants and my ministry: http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

Copyright May 28, 2018; Carolyn Roth