Tag Archives: God as a Gardener; Bible Study

What an Awful Name: Dove’s Dung

Bible Reference: 2 Kings 6.24-7.20.

The king of Aram, Ben-Hadad, mobilized his entire army and attacked Israel (Northern Kingdom) besieging its capital, Samaria. Probably, the attack occurred around 850 BC when Joram was king of the northern tribes.  Elisha was still the main prophet in the Northern Kingdom and remained in Samaria during the siege. The siege lasted so long that a famine occurred throughout the city. People were starving. Cannibalism occurred.  A donkey’s head sold for eighty silver shekels and a pint of seed pods for five shekels.

In the siege of Samaria, the writer used a pint of flower bulbs to demonstrate food scarcity.  A comparison is that in ancient Israel, the value of a male child, one month through five years-of-age, was five silver shekels, while the value of a female child was three silver shekels.

Many botanists and Bible scholars agreed that the cab was from the Ornithogalum umbellatum.  The popular name of this plant is the star of Bethlehem because the flower’s six petals are reminiscent of the star over Bethlehem at Jesus’s birth. Another name for this plant is “dove’s dung,” a distasteful name for a beautiful plant.  Most likely the name came from Hebrews viewing large fields containing the white star of Bethlehem flower in the spring.  From a distance, the small white flowers appeared like dove’s droppings.

Whether or not the star of Bethlehem plant was edible generated much discussion. Reading the arguments,  the noted plant scholar, Dr. James Duke, harvested a few bulbs from his lawn.14 After boiling them vigorously, he ate one.  To Duke, the bulbs tasted similar to soap and had a bitter aftertaste.  He added salt and found that the taste improved. Because Duke experienced some shortness of breath following the ingestion of only two bulbs, he concluded he would need to be near starvation to eat star of Bethlehem bulbs.

Figure 7.1, Ornithogalum umbellatum (Star of Bethlehem).

In the United States, the star of Bethlehem is sometimes considered an invasive weed, but, other individuals value the flower for its delicate beauty. Beauty and value depends on an individual’s perspective. I planted both white and pink star of Bethlehem bulbs in the church Bible garden. Plants multiplied through corm (small bulb) division; each year I have more star of Bethlehem flowers that grow in the garden.

Value is something intrinsically desirable.3  In several places, Bible writers presented perspectives on what was valued and valuable:

1. Moses regarded disgrace for the sake of God as more valuable than treasures of Egypt.

2. Israelite proverbs averred that kings value a man who speaks the truth.

3. A husband of a wife of noble character lacked nothing of value.

4. In Paul’s first letter to his beloved disciple Timothy, Paul reminded Timothy that “Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things” (1Timothy 4.8 NIV).

God considers his people, both Israelites and Christians, valuable.  Jesus told disciples to stop worrying about what they would eat or drink by using ravens as an example.  Ravens are a fairly large, black bird with a shrill voice and aggressive manner. Normally, ravens aren’t considered attractive birds.  Ravens don’t sow or reap, nor do they have storerooms or barns; yet, God feeds them. Jesus reminded and reassured disciples that they were more valuable to God than birds, and that God would meet their needs.

Jesus attempted to teach individuals to think about and even change what they valued. He told a parable of a man who searched for just the right pearl.  When the man found the pearl of great value, he sold all his belongings and bought it. This parable can be compared to a person seeking truth and meaning in life.  Once they find God, all possessions become secondary in comparison to following God.

On another occasion, Jesus’s teaching on what was valued and valuable didn’t reassure listeners, i.e., Jesus taught about trust using a parable of a shrewd manager. The Pharisees who loved money were listening and sneering at Jesus.  Aware of their actions and hearts, Jesus said to them, “What is highly valued (i.e., money) among men is detestable in God’s sight” (Luke 16.15 NIV). Jesus likened the love of money to a master or a god.  He told his disciples that they can’t serve both God and money.

Reflection: I value my relationship with Jesus, my husband, my church, and my family. Who or what do you value? Who are you giving your allegiance to? God? The world? Money? What would increase service to God, and less service to worldly causes, look like in your life?

Copyright: 12/18/2019; Carolyn Adams Roth

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

Burning Bush Plant

Bible Reference: Exodus chapter 3.

Under a death sentence in Egypt, Moses fled to Midian. There, he married and became a shepherd for his father-in-law’s flocks. After about forty years in Midian, Moses led a flock to the west side of the Midian desert, arriving at Mount Horab in the Sinai Peninsula.

Moses noticed that a bush was on fire, but the bush wasn’t consumed by the fire. Moses walked toward the burning bush. From the bush, God called and told Moses to come no closer. God instructed Moses to take off his sandals because Moses was standing on holy ground. Then, God introduced himself to Moses, naming himself the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Speaking from the burning bush, God told Moses that Israelites were suffering severely under slave masters in Egypt. Then, God stunned Moses by saying, “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt” (Exodus 3.10 NIV).

The Plant

The burning bush is a source of debate among botanists and Biblical scholars. Some believe that it wasn’t an actual bush, but a figurative representation of a supernatural phenomenon. Others contend that God spoke through a natural bush. The opinion of some Jewish scholars and botanists is that the burning bush was the blackberry bush, Rubus sanctus (R. sanguineus), named the holy blackberry.

The blackberry bush is a bramble. The plant produces long, thin branches which can reach five-to-six feet in length. Branches have spiked thorns that bend downward. When individuals reach into the bramble to pick fruit, they don’t feel thorns; however, when they withdraw hands, thorns fasten into flesh. Initially, black berries are green. As fruits ripen, they turn red, then black. Fully-ripened blackberries are plump, firm, and black.

The Meaning, Symbolism

Sanctus is a symbol of God revealing himself to mankind. “Reveal” means to make known something that was secret or hidden, and to open up to view.3 Synonyms of reveal are disclose and tell. In the entire Old Testament, nowhere does God reveal more about himself to one man than in the burning bush passage. In fact, this passage is sometimes called the “Mosaic revelation of God about himself.”

Some of the truths that God revealed about himself were:

1. God was the God of Moses’s ancestors, i.e., Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God remembered Moses’s ancestors and promises he made to them more than 400 years earlier. God doesn’t forget.

2. God heard cries and saw the agony of Israelites slaves in Egypt. God isn’t limited to one land area, such as, Haran or Canaan, where God appeared to Moses’s ancestors. God hears the cries of his people wherever they were. The Bible didn’t identify that Israelite cries were prayers, but, God heard them.

3. God was going to act on behalf of Israelites. God cared about his chosen people so much that he was willing to intervene in history to help them.

4.God had a plan to see that his promises to Moses’s ancestors were kept. God is a God of specifics and details. Part of that plan was for Moses to be the Israelite leader.

5. God knew the opposition that Moses would face from Pharaoh. God knew Pharaoh’s pride and stubbornness. God knows the hearts of each individual man and woman.

6. God takes other forms. In this instance he talked to Moses from a burning bush. God revealed his power by telling Moses that the “supposed” power of the gods of the greatest nation on earth, Egypt, would be no obstacle to God’s will and plan. Appearing in a burning bush demonstrated God’s power to Moses.

Reflection: Pondering attributes that God revealed about himself, makes me glad that God is on my side. At the same time, I feel overwhelmed that God who is all powerful (omnipotent), all knowledge (omniscient), and always present (omnipresent) claimed me for his child. I understand why Moses hid his face in God’s presence. He didn’t want God to see him and he was afraid to look on God. What are you going to do when God reveals himself totally to you?

Copyright: July 1, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Good News in Nature

Published book on plants Jesus encountered and used in his ministry on earth.

Purchase at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com or on Amazon.

Reputation of Fruit

Bible Reference:  Matthew 7.15-20.

This teaching is labeled “A Tree and Its Fruit” (NIV). Jesus began with “Watch out for false prophets” (Matthew 7.15 NIV). Then, he told hearers the reason for his warning: false prophets were ferocious wolves that acted like gentle sheep. The good news was that people could recognize false prophets by their fruit—by looking at both their words and  actions. Just as a man can’t pick figs from a thistle, neither can a false prophet produce good fruit. False prophets could appear humble and mild like Jesus, or even blunt and rough like John the Baptist; yet, their words are filled with lies.

When Jesus compared words of false prophets to thistles, he was teaching in Galilee. Primarily, his listeners were from rural areas and small towns. They had experience growing and picking figs and grapes. They knew about productive and non-productive trees and plants, including thistles. They were well aware that thistles could be attractive to the eye, but had little value.

The plant associated with the thistle in Matthew 7.15-20 is the Centaurea iberica, known as the Spanish thistle or Iberian star thistle. The Spanish thistle grows in Israel from the northern Golan and Hermon areas, through the central mountains and plains including the Mediterranean coast, to the northern Negev Desert area. Spanish star thistle is an invasive plant that replaces pasture lands and displaces forage for livestock. The plant’s sharp spines impede recreational use and restrict access by wildlife. Seeds are spread by livestock, vehicles, equipment, and contaminated hay and seed crop. Seeds can be transported on clothes.

Jesus told followers that both plants and prophets could be recognized by what they produce. When we recognize someone, we are familiar with them, distinguish them from others, and comprehend what they do and say. God gave some guiding principles to differentiate between a true versus a false prophet.

1. A true prophet acknowledges that the historic Jesus is the son of God.  When prophets, pastors, or theologians say that it isn’t important whether Jesus was truly God or in some way deny the deity of Jesus, they are false prophets.

2. True prophets read and obey God’s word. They preach the Bible because it contains God’s truths for personal salvation and for successful everyday life. Believers need to discerningly read the scriptures so they don’t get taken in by words of false prophets.

3. False prophets are recognized by sin in their lives. A prophet who breaks God’s commandments consistently and without repentance is a false prophet.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus outlined expectations for followers. Today’s false prophets contend that these standards are unrealistic; they are so high that people can’t meet them. False prophets argue these moral-ethical standards that Jesus described will only be achieved when Jesus returns to earth the second time. Prophets or pastors who advocate this view are denying Jesus’s teachings. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus outlined how individuals should live now, not in the new heaven and the new earth. False prophets commit sin, then and now, when they deny God’s word.

Reflection: List at least four activities/behaviors in your life that you could or will change so others more consistently recognize Jesus’s teachings in your life.

http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

Mustard Trees and Seeds

Jesus seemed to like the tiny mustard seed; he used it to illustrate faith in several settings. One teaching found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, illustrated how the Christian Church would grow. Here’s how Mark recorded Jesus’s words about growth of the Church:

What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade (Mark 4.30-32 NIV).

This illustration described the growth and expansion of God’s kingdom on earth, i.e., growth of the Christian Church. Although the Church began in a small province of the Roman Empire, it grew larger than the mightiest empire on earth.

Another time Jesus used the mustard seed in an illustration, he was in Caesarea Philippi. Jesus wasn’t with disciples when a man asked them to heal his son, possessed by a demon. Disciples were unable to heal the son. Jesus arrived and ordered the demon to leave the boy (Matthew 17.14-21).  After Jesus expelled the demon, disciples asked him why they couldn’t heal the man’s son.  Jesus responded that they had too little faith.  He told them that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed, they could say to a mountain, “Move from here to there” and the mountain would move (Matthew 17.21 ESV).  Jesus’s point was that nothing is impossible with sufficient faith, even when that amount of faith is as small as a tiny mustard seed.

Mustard Tree

In scientific communities, the mustard tree is the Salvadora perisica, commonly called the toothbrush tree.6 Indigenous to Persia (Iran), the mustard tree could have been brought into Palestine by traders. Alternatively, returned Jewish exiles may have brought  mustard tree seeds from Persia and planted them in gardens and fields. The mustard seed grows best in hot, arid climates; high humidity stunts tree growth. The mustard tree is an evergreen that can grow to twenty feet. Often, mustard trees have many branches that start to grow from the tree trunk low to the ground. The mustard tree can grow as wide as tall. Mustard trees reach full size in a few years.

Spread of Christianity

Like branches of a mustard tree, Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire and into India and Ethiopia. In a few centuries, Christianity went from unheard of, to being outlawed, to the official religion of an empire. Mustard trees were used for shade because of their low-growing branches. Similarly, people from all nations took refuge under the canopy of Christianity. Unlike thorn trees (Ziziphus spina-christi), mustard trees have no thorns to  deter individuals from resting beneath them. Although wild animals sometimes fed on tree shoots, many branches grew high enough that predators couldn’t reach birds that nested in them.

Warning?????

In Jesus’s teaching about the mustard tree, birds settled in its branches. Some Bible commentators interpreted this clause as a warning to keep the early Christian church pure. In Old Testament scriptures, the phrase “birds of the air” was sometimes used to symbolize demonic forces. From this perspective, Jesus warned disciples to beware that Satan would attempt to encroach on the kingdom of God.

Certainly, Jesus warning became reality. In the first few centuries of the Christian church, Jews (Judaizers) advocated that newly converted Christian could be justified only by observing Jewish laws, i.e., circumcision, adherence to Jewish dietary laws. The Gnostics claimed they possessed elevated knowledge, a “higher truth.” The higher knowledge was acquired, not from the Bible or apostles’ teachings, but, from a higher mystical plain of existence. Individual with this special knowledge, for example, Jezebel in the Thyatiran church, believed they were elevated above other Christians because of their deeper knowledge (Revelation 2.18-25).

Not Really

At times, Bible scholars concluded that the black mustard (Brassica nigra) plant was the source of the mustard seed that Jesus referred to in teachings that used the mustard seed. Very likely, the true mustard tree was the Salvadora perisica.

Many powerful men attempted to stop the spread of “The Way,” the early name for the Christian church. The Jerusalem Jewish leadership tried to stop it when they arrested Jesus and turned him over to Pilate for crucifixion. King Herod attempted to stifle apostle’s teachings when he killed the apostle James and had Peter arrested. Paul was beaten, confined to house arrest, jailed, and finally murdered; however, Paul’s letters, many written while he was confined or jailed, were important to the spread of  the good news of Jesus in the Gentile world.

Despite many deterrents, the fledgling Christian church grew in numbers. Through Paul, Peter, and John’s letters, converts deepened their understanding of Jesus as Son of God. They came to understand the role of the Holy Spirit in individual lives and in the church. Jesus’s  mustard seed illustration came true in early centuries after his death and remains true today. Even with  anti-Christian rhetoric and entire denominations turning from God’s commands, continuance—even extension—of the church Jesus founded is inevitable.

Important for westernized societies is the answer to the question, “Where will Christianity spread next and/or grow even deeper roots?” Will it be in Greece, Rome, or Asia Minor where Christianity was first embraced? Perhaps, Germany and Great Britain, homes to great reformation thought? What about the United States, founded on principles of religious liberty? We need to pray that individuals in all nations experience Christian revival, so they can rest in the shade of God’s love.

Reflection: Will Christianity grow in your sphere of influence?

Copyright 10/03/2018; Carolyn A. Roth

Separating Wheat and Chaff

Bible Reference: Matthew 3:12

In John the Baptist teaching, wheat referred to the kingdom of heaven. John the Baptist discussed separating wheat from chaff. According to John wheat will be taken into God’s storehouse while weeds and chaff are destroyed.

Wheat was the first grain identified in the Old Testament (Genesis 30.14); and one of seven species that Moses told Israelites that they would find growing in the promised land (Deuteronomy 8.8). Wheat was valued because of its high nutrition content. Although an important food source, growing, threshing, winnowing, and grinding wheat required effort.

John referred to Jesus when he said: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather and store his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3.12 ESV).  In ancient Judea, wheat was emmer or einkorn; not the wheat grown in Israel today, nor the wheat grown in the United States.

At harvest,  men cut wheat stalks with a sickle. Farmers with livestock cut stalks close to the ground to use stalks as animal fodder. Farmers without livestock cut stalks close to the seed head to minimize amount of threshing. Children gathered stalks into bundles and took  bundles to the threshing floor, a cleared and compacted parcel of ground up to 40 feet in diameter. Sometimes, one threshing floor served an entire village.

On threshing floors, farmers used an ox-drawn disc or threshing sledge to cut wheat stalks, but not crush grain (Isaiah 28.27-28). Threshing sledges were made of wooden boards with iron or stone projections on the bottom. The projections cut the stalks and allowed grain to separate and fall to the floor. Horses or oxen pulled sledges over grain stalks spread on the threshing floor.

The farmer separated wheat kernels from chaff (dirt, grain hulls) using winnowing. Winnowing consisted of throwing the threshed materials (chaff and grain) into the air with a fork or a basket. Wind separated valuable wheat grains from chaff. Because wheat kernels were heavier than chaff, they fell to the ground or back into the basket. The lighter chaff, dirt, etc., were blown away by wind. At times, farmers used fans to create air currents to separate chaff and other impurities away from valuable wheat kernels. Often, threshing floors were located on a hill top or side to take advantage of wind currents. Finally, the grain was gathered into jars or bins for storage; chaff was burned (Matthew 3.12).

John preached personal acknowledgement and repentance of sins followed by baptism—full body emersion—in water as an outward sign of repentance. Mostly, John baptized individuals in the Jordan River.  Figuratively, the water of baptism washed sins away. John didn’t stop with a message of repentance and physical act of baptism. John exhorted those baptized to change their behavior and bear fruit consistent with repentance (Luke 3.8-14).

Reflection: God doesn’t want any individual to perish. He gives each person time to repent.  Regretfully, individuals who don’t repent and trust in Jesus as their Savior are going to be pulled up, bundled, and destroyed.

Copyright: July 24, 2018; Carolyn A. Roth

Website: CarolynRothMinistry.com

The Last Supper

Bible Reference: Luke 22:7-23.

For Christians, the Passover meal Christ celebrated with his apostles is called the Last Supper and the Guest Room known as the Upper Room. Area maps showed that the Upper Room was south of the Temple near the Gihon Spring. A path led from the Upper Room through the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Gethsemane. The date for the Passover meal in 33 A.D. was Thursday, April 22 (Wallace, 2012).

The central food in the Passover meal was a one-year-old unblemished male lamb. This lamb symbolized Christ, the unblemished lamb who was sacrificed for sins. Another food in the Passover Meal was bitter herbs which were associated with the bitterness of Israelite life in Egypt. The type of bitter herb used for the Passover meal was not specified in the Bible; it could have been endive, lettuce, dandelion, etc, or another herb that grew around Jerusalem.

When Christ offered the Passover bread and the third cup of Passover wine to his apostles at the Last Supper, he initiated a Christian ritual — Holy Eucharist. The bread and wine symbolized Christ’s body which would be broken and his blood which would be shed for mankind.  In many Christian churches, the Eucharist is offered every week to congregates as a memorial of Christ’s sacrifice and to give them strength in their Christian walk.

Dandelion

Known since the time of Moses, the dandelion is used to illustrate bitter herbs in the Last Supper.  The species name of dandelion is Taraxacom officinale.  It has numerous common names to include puff ball, Irish daisy, and wine’s snout. In Israel, dandelions grow from the extreme north at Mount Hermon south to the Negev Dessert.

Dandelion is a perennial herb. Leaves grow directly from the root in a rosette pattern; often leaves grow more horizontal than upright. Flower stems are erect, smooth, and hollow.  Normally flower stems grow about 6-8 inches in length; however, a dandelion plant left un-accosted in my flower bed had a 12-inch flower stem. The flower has a golden yellow head that is 1.5-2 inches in diameter. Did you know that dandelion flowers close at night and open at daylight?

Although dandelion leaves have a bitter flavor, the plant is cultivated as a salad crop. My mother served yard (not garden) dandelion greens with hard boiled eggs, bacon, and a tangy warm dressing.  A cousin used young dandelion flowers to make wine.

Symbolism: Lion’s tooth

The word dandelion comes from the French phrase “dent de lion” which means “lion’s tooth” because of the jagged shape of leaves. The dandelion, the bane of home-owners and farmers, hardly seems to warrant a French name as grand as lion’s tooth.  “Lion’s tooth” reminds us of Christ. When Christ came to earth two millennia ago, he came as a humble suffering servant.  When he returns to earth the second time, Christ will return as a lion. He will be a military leader who will rend and tear those individuals who set themselves against him.

Reflection: Have you encountered Christ in his role of suffering servant or will you encounter him the first time as a military leader?

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

Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth, 3/18