Tag Archives: Festival of Tabernacles

Living in a Wild Olive Tree Booth

Wild olive

Wild olive

Nehemiah chapter 8 tells the story of the Jews cutting wild olive boughs to make booths for the Festival of Tabernacles (Sukkoth).

After Aharuerus’ death, Artaxerxes I (465-425 B.C.) ruled the Persian Empire.  His support for the Jews may have been related to a positive relationship with the Jew Mordecai, the chief official during Aharuerus reign.  In his 7th year as king, Artaxerxes aided the priest-scribe Ezra to return to Jerusalem (458 B.C.).  Ezra’s main contribution to restored Zion was interpreting and exhorting the Jews to keep the Mosaic laws.

Nehemiah was cup-bearer and personal confident of King Artaxerxes I.  When Nehemiah heard (circa 445 B.C.) that Jerusalem’s walls were not yet rebuilt, he grieved.  The first Jews had returned to Jerusalem over 90 years earlier.   Nehemiah secured support from Artaxerxes I to go  to Jerusalem and rebuild the city walls. Working almost day and night, the Jews rebuilt Jerusalem’s walls in 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15.).  Excavations showed the Jerusalem city wall built in Nehemiah’s time was about 9 feet thick.

After the city walls were rebuilt, the Jews assembled in Jerusalem.  At this time Nehemiah was governor and Ezra was chief priest.  Ezra read from the Book of Law.  Hearing God’s laws and statutes, the listeners became aware of their transgressions and began to weep.   Nehemiah told them to stop weeping and to celebrate the restoration of Jerusalem by feasting.  The following day, family heads met with Ezra to discuss the Law they heard read.  Part of the Law required that the people live in booths during the feast of the 7th month, the feast of Tabernacles or booths.  Ezra directed the people to go into the hill country and bring back branches to build the booths.  The types of branches were from olive and wild olive trees and from myrtle, palm, and shade trees.

The people built the booths on their roofs, in their courtyards, and in the square by the Water Gate; one booth was built by the Gate of Ephraim.  The entire nation became involved in building booths and living in them to commemorate their forefather’s 40 year wandering in the desert after leaving Egypt.  Nehemiah recorded that the Festival of Tabernacles was never before celebrated like it was at that time in Jerusalem

The Wild Olive Tree

In the past various Bible scholars translated the Hebrew êtz shamen as oil tree or pine tree; however, today most Bible scholars and botanists agree that êtz shamen is the wild olive tree. The wild olive tree is the Elaeagnus angustifolia, also known as the oleaster and Russian olive.  The oleaster was native to southern Europe and western Asia.  Dense stands are present in river bottoms where the water table is seldom more than two feet below the ground surface.  At the same time, oleaster is drought tolerant and indifferent to wind and heat. In Israel, oleaster is found in woodlands (e.g., around Mount Tabor), shrub-lands, and on Mount Hermon. In some parts of the United States, oleaster has naturalized and is considered an invasive weed. Oleaster is a thorny shrub or small tree. The oleaster tree has several uses.  It can be used to make booths for Jewish festivals.  The flower produces oil used to make perfume.  A gum from the plant is used in calico printing.  The hard, fine-grained wood of the trunk and branches is used for posts and beams and for wood carving.  The wood makes excellent fuel.  In some countries, to include Palestine, oleaster trees are pruned into hedges.

Symbolism: Security

Despite  building a secure wall around Jerusalem in a short 52 days, the Jews were aware that their security did not come from rocks and mortar.  Their security came from God.  As early as the days of King Solomon, the Jews had a proverb that described the source of their security: “He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge” (Proverbs 14:26, NIV-SB, 2002).  Just as Old Testament Jews relied on God for their security, so do New Testament Christians.  Christians have a secure position based on Christ as savior and redeemer.  Still, St. Peter cautioned new Christians to be on guard so that they did not get carried away by lawless men (and women) and fall from their secure position (2 Peter 3:17-18).  In addition to guarding against erroneous teaching, Christians are to grow in the knowledge of Christ.

Over the past year, I spent time writing this blog, e.g., reading the Bible story where the plant is located along with its historical setting, researching the plant origins and characteristics, and prayerfully considering the plant’s symbolism.  Recently, I’ve become convicted about the time consumed by these activities – albeit Bible-centered activities.   They have taken from and taken over my God-focused time and my prayer time.  I think Peter would have included my deviation from God-focused devotions as a way to fall from a secure position in Christ.

Reflection:  Think over your activities, e.g., church related and possibly even Bible-study related.  Are any of them interfering with God-focused time?

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright June 2, 2016; Carolyn A. Roth

Save

Home in Jerusalem, A New Hope

Citrus medica, NK

The story of the return of the first exiles is told in 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 and Ezra chapter 1-3:6.

King Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. One of his first acts was to decree that the Jewish people could go to Jerusalem and re-build the temple to their God. Cyrus returned to Sheshbazzar, a prince of Judah, articles from the first temple that Nebuchadnezzar brought from Jerusalem. In 537 B.C. a company of close to 50,000 individuals along with horses, mules, camels and donkeys arrived in Jerusalem.

Several months later, the Jews assembled in Jerusalem. The priests Zerubabbel and Jeshua built the Altar of the God of Israel. Despite the Jew’s fear of surrounding peoples, they sacrificed burnt offerings on the Altar according to the Law of Moses. Both morning and evening sacrifices were made. Then, following the Law of Moses they celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33-43).

The Feast of Tabernacles also called the Festival of Sukkoth (booths) was a festival of joy, referred to in Jewish prayer and literature as the Season of Rejoicing (Rich, 2011). The significance of Sukkoth is two-fold:  a) reminder of the 40 years the Children of Israel wandered in the wilderness living in temporary shelters and 2) a celebration of the fall harvest. Sukkoth lasted seven days. During the seven days, or some part of the seven days, Jews built and lived in temporary shelters as their ancestors did in the wilderness.

Observance of Sukkoth involves Four Species of plants:

1)     citron, citrus fruit similar to a lemon, in Hebrew called etrog;

2)     a palm branch, in Hebrew called lulav;

3)     two willow branches, in Hebrew called aravot;

4)     three myrtle branches, in Hebrew called hadassim.

The palm, two willow, and three myrtle branches were bound together and collectively known as the lulav because the palm branch was the largest plant. The lulav was placed in the right hand and the etrog in the left. Jews recited a blessing and waved the species in six directions (east, south, west, north, up, and down), symbolizing that God is everywhere. In ancient Jerusalem the four species were held while Jews processed around the Altar of the Temple.

The Citron

The citron of Sukkoth is the Citrus medica, also known as goodly fruit. The origin of the citron is not known; possibly it came from India. Seeds were found in Mesopotamia excavations dating back to 4000 B.C.  The original goodly fruit of Leviticus may have been a cone from the cedar tree; however, by the Restoration, the citron was the accepted goodly fruit.  Citron is acclimated to a wide variety of soils as long as soil is aerated. Citron is a small evergreen shrub or tree growing to a height of 15 feet. The economic life of the tree is 25-30 years. Larger fruit grow from branch cuttings than from seeds, therefore most propagation is done through cuttings. The fruit is about the size and shape of a lemon. The outer rind or peel can be smooth or rough with many ridges and indentations. When young, the fruit is dark green, but turns yellow with maturity (in about 3 months).  When fruit ripens on trees, citrons are aromatic and the inner peel is very tender. In comparison to other citrus fruits, citron pulp is drier, sourer, and less tasty. The main use of citron is in religious celebrations, e.g., The Festival of Tabernacles. Also, fruit peel is candied and used as a flavoring in cakes, pastries, and jams. Citron peel is used to produce citron water and may be used to flavor wine and vermouth.

Symbolism: Hope

In the past, citron had been associated with perfection and hope for fertility and abundance in the new agriculture year. When the returned exiles celebrated Sukkoth with the citron, they were hopeful. Once again, they were in the Promised Land; they hoped for a new future in Jerusalem.  The archaic or ancient definition of hope is desire accompanied by expectation that the desire would be fulfilled. Another word for hope is trust.

Prophets predicted the exile of the Jews because of their apostasy. These same prophets promised that God, not an earthly king, would restore the Jews to their home land. After 70 years of captivity, they were home and remembered God’s promises (Jeremiah 29:10-14). God said he would give them hope and a future. He was going to send rain; streams would run again on the dry land (Isaiah 44:3). God knew that newly returned exiles feared their neighbors, so he reassured them that all who raged against them would be put to shame and disgraced (Isaiah 41:11). The Festival of Tabernacles was a wonderful time to come together as a community,  praise God for his care, celebrate the abundance of the fall harvest, and hope – expectantly believe – in a prosperous future.

The returned Jews planned to rebuild the Temple. Having a new Temple would mean God dwelt in their midst. In contrast, New Testament Christians know that Christ lives in them; he is always in their midst. At the same time, they live in hope. Their hope is for eternal life, the redemption of their bodies when Christ comes the second time (Romans 8:23-25, Titus 1:2).

Paul wrote to the young churches about hope. He told the Romans that hope that is seen is not hope at all because no one hopes for what they already have (Romans 8:24-25). Rather we hope for what we do not have and have not seen. While we are hoping for eternal life with Christ, our attitude should be joyful (Romans 12:12). Many times people who are hopeful and yearn for something do not feel joy; they are anxious, restless, and cannot sleep at night. Yet, Christians do not have to experience any anxiety about life after death and redemption of our bodies. Our belief and trust —  our hope — for eternal life comes from God, who cannot lie (Titus, 1:2).

Christians live in hope, but still experience trials, temptations, and persecution. Paul wrote to the  Thessalonians, that he constantly prayed for their endurance inspired by hope in Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:3). St. Peter advised us to not be surprised by the painful trials we suffer as if something strange was happening to us (1 Peter 4:12). Rather hope in eternity with Christ helps us endure the present on earth, where we live as strangers.

Reflection.  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

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 May 18, 2016

Save

Becoming Fruitful

1-DSC06965

Last summer I searched for the “goodly fruit” mentioned in the Bible because I wanted to plant it in our Church Bible Garden. The goodly fruit was used in the Festival of Tabernacles (booths) which commemorated the Israelites traveling and living in the wilderness for 40 years. Most scholars agree that the original goodly fruit was a pine cone; but by the time of the Restoration, it was the Citrus media. This fruit grows on trees in tropical areas and is wide spread in Israel. Ripe fruit is yellow and resembles a lemon.

This Meyer lemon is the nearest plant I was able to find to plant in our garden. Last summer, it was about 15 inches tall. Leaves grew from each stem. Over winter I had it inside my home in front of a sunny window. Most leaves dropped; then, a few flower buds formed. Below are pictures of  buds, blooming flowers, dying flowers, and finally the fruit.

t1-DSC06971 1-DSC069741-DSC07002

Often flowers buds are beautiful. As the bud transits to a flower, then to a fruit, it goes through stages. Not all stages are attractive; but at least for plants, transition is needed to get fruit.

As we are progressively made holy — sanctified — we go through stages to become fruitful Christians. Not all stages are beautiful, but maybe they are needed so we bear fruit.

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: April 26, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth

Save

Save