Tag Archives: God as a Gardener

An Empty Tomb

American hymn writer Robert Lowry (1826-1899) wanted to be recognized first as a preacher and second as a hymn composer. Despite his preference, this Baptist minister is remembered first for his beautiful hymns such as “Marching to Zion” and “Up from the Grave He Rose.”

Low in the grave He lay,
Jesus, my Savior,
Waiting the coming day,
Jesus, my Lord! Refrain:

Refrain: Up from the grave He arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er His foes,
He arose a Victor from the dark domain,
And He lives forever, with His saints to reign.
He arose! He arose!
Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Vainly they watch His bed,
Jesus, my Savior;
Vainly they seal the dead,
Jesus, my Lord!

Refrain:

Death cannot keep his Prey,
Jesus, my Savior;
He tore the bars away,
Jesus, my Lord!

Refrain.

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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Prosperity and Myrtle Tree

myrtle-tree-at-dan-israel-01

The story of Zechariah’s vision of horses among myrtle trees is in Zechariah 1:1-17.

The first year the Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem they rebuilt the Temple Altar. The second year (536 B.C.), they laid the Temple foundation. Non-Jewish people who lived in the area, largely Samaritans, offered to help rebuild the Temple. When the Jews refused their assistance, these enemies initiated a systematic program to discourage the Jews from rebuilding the Temple. Temple construction stopped for about 10 years through the end (530 B.C.) of Cyrus reign down into the reign of Darius I (522-486 B.C.).

In the 2nd year of Darius reign, God spoke through the prophet Haggai (August, 520 B.C.).  God’s message was for the Jews to complete the Temple. Haggai attributed the drought in Judah to the Temple being in ruins. Almost immediately the Jews initiated Temple construction. Two months after Haggai message from God, Zechariah received a message. Zechariah’s prophecy mirrored that of Haggai, e.g., rebuild the Temple; but included that the Jews repent and serve the Lord.

Several months later Zechariah received eight visions in one night. In the first vision, Zechariah saw a man riding a red horse. Then, the man stood among myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind the man were other horses. The man explained to Zechariah that these were the riders that God sent throughout the earth. The riders came back and reported that the world was at peace. Hearing the riders’ reports, the angel of the Lord asked God how long he was going to withhold mercy from Jerusalem. God responded with kind and comforting words to the concerned angel: God was jealous for Jerusalem and Zion. He was angry with the nations who punished the Jews because they went too far in brutality against Judah. God’s plan was to punish the offending nations and return to Jerusalem with comfort and mercy. He promised that Judah’s towns would again overflow with prosperity.

The setting for Zechariah’s first vision is defined in detail. The man who rode the red horse stood among myrtle trees in a small, narrow, steep-sided valley. MacDonald (1995) said that the myrtle trees in the ravine represented Israel under Gentile subjection. In the Bible, the angel of the Lord is often identified as the second person of the Trinity (Christ); consequently, it was Christ expressing his concern for the well-being of the Jews and Jerusalem (Adeyemo, 2006).

 Myrtle for book (2)

Myrtle

The myrtle of the Bible is the Myrtus communis. Its origins are the Middle East and the Mediterranean region. At one time wild myrtle was common throughout Palestine and Lebanon. Today in Israel, most myrtle bushes are grown intentionally and used for ornamental purposes; however, some wild plants remain in the Upper Galilee and Golan areas. Although myrtle is hardy to temperatures as low as 5 degrees Fahrenheit, it is damaged by cold drying wind. Myrtle is classified as an evergreen shrub or small tree that will grow to 24 feet tall. The myrtle fruit is a purplish-black berry known in the Middle East as mursins. Mursins can be dried then ground add flavor to stews or boiled to yield a jelly or a beverage.

The myrtle is one of the four blessed plants used in the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles (Sukkoth). To fill the requirement for Sukkoth, three leaves must grow from one point on the myrtle stem.  Jewish sages compared the myrtle, which has a good smell but no taste, to Israelites those who do good deeds, but do not study the Torah (first five books of the Old Testament).

Symbolism: Prosper, Prosperity

Many world cultures assigned meaning to the myrtle blossom to include beauty, love, paradise, and immortality.  For the Jews, myrtle can symbolize sweetness, justice, divine generosity, peace, God’s promise, and recovery. Zechariah’s vision of horsemen, angels and God among the myrtle trees reinforced God’s promise that the returned exiles would be prosperous.  Prosperity means a person or group thrived or flourished and was successful, especially in financial or economic terms.

For the Jews of Zechariah’s time to prosper, God required that they repent, serve the Lord, and rebuild the temple  Other Bible verses identified additional requirements for prosperity.  See Table 4 for a summary of some of these requirements for prosperity. They apply equally to Christians today.

Table 4:  Some Biblical Requirements for Prosperity

God’s Requirements for the Jews to Prosper Source: Bible Verses
Repentance Deuteronomy 30: 1-5
Obedience to the will and laws (commandments)  of God Deuteronomy 28:9-11, 30:8-9;  I Kings 2:3; Ezra 6:6; Proverbs 3:1-2
Fear the Lord (and walk in his ways) Psalm 128:1-2
Do right in God’s eyes, pursuing and living righteously 2 Chronicles 14:2-7, 31:20-21;

When we consider God’s requirements for prosperity, they do not seem particularly onerous, e.g., repent, obey God’s laws, trust God, do what is right in God’s eyes, and be generous.  Prosperity not only benefits people who receive God’s abundance; it also benefits and causes joy in the entire city and region (Proverbs 11:10).

The Bible revealed reasons that people do not prosper. The chief reasons were the opposite of behaviors that cause prosperity.  Disobeying God (Deuteronomy 28:62), having a perverse heart (Proverbs 17:20), and concealing sin (Proverbs 28:13) lead to lack of prosperity  The problem is that we all see and know people who have no regard for God or his laws but they seem to get ahead (prosper) in the workplace and in society. How can we meld our personal experiences with what the Bible says, yes, even promises, about prosperity being related to a godly life?

The great prophet Jeremiah asked God the same question. Jeremiah’s explicit words were “why do the ways of the wicked prosper” Why do the faithless live at ease?” (Jeremiah 12:1, NIV-SB, 2002). God response was to Jeremiah but also to all of us who ask him the same question. God assure Jeremiah that evil individuals will sow wheat but reap thorns; they will wear themselves out but gain nothing (Jeremiah 12:13).

Over breakfast Bruce and I talk about how difficult it is to deal with friends and relatives who do not embrace the ways of Christ. Some are prosperous and seem to live charmed lives. At times their actions are deliberately or indifferently cruel. We know that as Christians, we can not to be offended by what they do, nor can we respond in kind. Instead, our prayers must be that we do not hurt them inadvertently. We need to pray for their redemption and their prosperity.

Reflection. Because we are Christians does not mean we will be prosperous. Because a person is not a Christian does not mean he will not be prosperous.

Copyright April 4, 2016, Carolyn A. Roth; all rights reserved.

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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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Palms in Triumphal Entry

Triumphal entry

Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem took place on the first day of the week by the Jewish week. Christian’s call this day “Palm Sunday” or “Passion Sunday.” Jesus went from Bethany, through the Mount of Olives, to Jerusalem. At Bethphage disciples brought to him a colt to ride on. Crowds along the way, placed their cloaks on the road for his colt to step on, people waved palm leaves, and shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord, hosanna in the highest.”

The crowds expect Jesus to throw off the oppression of the Roman, to implement fair and equitable taxation, to initiate fair wages, provide food for them in abundance, heal their bodies and relationships, and repudiate the oppressive requirements of the Pharisees.

Most of the people in the crowd were rustic, many had followed Jesus from Galilee. They remembered that 200 years previously, Jerusalemites welcomed Judas Maccabaeus when he entered Jerusalem after he defeated the pagan Syrian king and freed the Jews. At that time, the people met Judas Maccabaeus with waving palm branches. They really wanted Jesus to do what Judas Maccabaeus did.

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Palm Leaves

Palm trees often grow 100 feet tall.  Palm trees grow only at the top of the tree and are 6-8 feet long. Flowers bloom in April – May. The fruit of Israeli palm tree is a date which typically ripens August-December. Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Moses told them it would be a  land of milk and honey. He was not referring to honey made by bees but honey from the date palm tree.

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Jesus’s Action

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, people were expecting a king. Instead Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the Temple courts (Mark 11:11). He looked around at everything in the Temple; but since it was already late, we went back to Bethany with the 12 disciples. When Jesus looked around, he was not being casual; he looked to see if the Temple was a place to worship God where all were welcome. Was the Temple functioning in the way God planned for it to function?

Clearly, it was not because at another time, he chided the Temple leaders by saying that they made the Temple a den of thieves and robbers. Jesus was unhappy about what he saw and the people were unhappy at what he did. They wanted a war lord and got a suffering servant. Probably, some of the crowd that greeted Jesus with palm leaves and hosannas, were the same people that called for his crucifixion.

The two photos above are palm leaves that we received in church this morning, Palm Sunday. Notice the dried cross. We save crosses made from palm leaves an entire year. They are burned to create ashes for Ash Wednesday which starts Lent in orthodox churches.

Reflection: What do you think people want from Jesus today? Are you a suffering servant for God?

Copyright: March 20, 2016; Carolyn A. Roth

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First Passover

Bible Reference:  Exodus chapters 11:1 – 12:36.

Moses followed God’s direction and asked to allow the Israelites to go into the desert and worship God. Pharaoh’s answer was an emphatic “no”; he was not going to allow the valuable Israelite slaves leave Egypt. As a result of Pharaoh’s pride, stubbornness, and manipulative behavior, God visited 10 plagues on Egypt.  Two plagues – the 7th and 10th plague — have direct relevance to plants. The seventh plague was a severe rain storm that involved thunder, lightning, and hail. The hail caused the barley and flax to be destroyed. The wheat and spelt were not destroyed because they ripened later. These plants – barley, flax, wheat, and spelt – will be described in later chapters of God as a Gardener.

The NIV Study Bible (2002) labeled the 10th, and final plague sent on Egypt as “The Plague of the Firstborn.”  The 10th plague was the death of the firstborn of every man and animal in Egypt with the exception of those of the Israelites. To keep the death angel from entering Israelite homes, God required the Israelites to slaughter a lamb or goat and place the animal’s blood on the sides and top of their door frames. That same night, the meat of the slaughtered animal was roasted.  Then, the meat, bitter herbs, and unleavened bread were eaten.

God told the Israelites to eat bitter herbs with their meal to remind them of the bitterness they experienced in Egypt.  Common practice was for Egyptian taskmasters to whip Israelite slaves. The Israelites must have experienced terrible bitterness when their newborn sons were taken from them and thrown into the Nile River to die. They were powerless to stop these murders. The final way bitter herbs symbolized bitterness was related directly to the death of Egyptian first born sons. The death of Egyptians’ first-born sons was the price of Israelite freedom.  Pharaoh’s resolve to keep the Israelites was not shattered until his son was killed. Individual, family, and national freedom through death of children – even children not their own — would have been a source of bitterness for the Israelites.

In Egypt bitter herbs included endive, chicory, dandelion, and wild lettuce. The type of bitter herb used in the first Passover meal may have varied among families.  Exodus 10:15 recorded that “nothing green remained on tree or plant in all of Egypt” after the eighth plague, the plague of the locust. Possible some families stored one type of bitter herb, while other families had another bitter herb available to them.

The Endive Plant

 In this chapter, endive, Cichorium endivia, is used as an example of a bitter herb. In early Greek translations of the Bible, the word “endive” was used in place of “bitter herbs.”  Although the origin of endive is lost from history, the first wild species may have grown in Turkey and Syria.  Probably, endive  was native to India, China or Egypt.  Endive produces attractive light blue flowers which grow on stems that stand above the leafy foliage. Endive is used almost exclusively in raw salads. Its slightly bitter flavor is often more appreciated by Europeans than Americans. Adding a sweet or oily salad dressing can balance the bitter taste.

Symbolism: Bitterness

The symbolism of bitter herbs including endive is clear from the name – they refer to bitterness. Bitterness is something intensely distressing or disturbing to the mind (Merriam-Webster Incorporated , 2005). Bitterness is an expression of severe pain, grief, or regret.

Writing to the Ephesians (4:31), Paul told them to get rid of all bitterness.  Yet, God wanted the Israelites to eat bitter herbs at the annual Seder meal during Passover to remind the Israelites of their bitterness in Egypt.  How are we to reconcile putting off all bitterness with God’s direction to the Israelites to remember their bitterness annually?

I think there is a difference between remembering a bitter occasion as a precursor to celebration of a better life, versus remembering bitterness to the point that it leads to resentment of God, situations, and people. Certainly, God did not tell the Israelites to hate or resent the Egyptians. Rather, the Seder meal which included bitter herbs was a meal celebrated the Israelite exodus from Egypt.

Remembering bitterness (of pain, grief, and regret) disturbs our minds. Bitterness supplants the peace Christ designed to rule our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:7).  Our bitterness grieves the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30-31).  Can we remember bitterness as an object lesson, but not allow it to control our lives? In his book Total Forgiveness, R.T. Kendell (2007) suggested that forgiveness was the answer to bitterness. He identified four parts to this forgiveness:

Step 1, we need to forgive whomever and whatever situation caused the bitterness in us. The Israelites needed to forgive the Egyptians for enslaving them.

Step 2, we need to forgive ourselves for contributing to the situation that caused bitterness. The Israelites needed to forgive themselves for remaining in Egypt for 400 years, well after the famine in Canaan was over.

Step 3, we need to forgive God.  Saying we must forgive God seems odd and almost improper. Does the created forgive the creator?  In this situation forgiveness means we need to acknowledge our bitterness toward God for letting us get in a devastatingly painful situation.

I think that some Israelites blamed their bitterness on God. After God led them out of Egypt, probably some cried “Where were you when my son was murdered? If you would have freed us sooner, my son would be alive.”  The reality is that we do blame God for some, or even much, of our bitterness. If we want to get rid of bitterness toward God, we need to tell God our feelings, tell God we forgive him, and really mean it.

Step 4, we need to ask God’s forgiveness. Without bitterness in our hearts, we can confess our sinful feelings of bitterness toward God and ask his forgiveness.

From time to time, we may still remember the bitter situation; however, the pain of it will be gone or go away over time. For years I had bitterness in my heart over a situation. I tried a number of ways to get rid of it, to no avail. Then, I read Total Forgiveness and implemented the four steps of confession and forgiveness that Kendall recommended. Now, I am free of the bitterness of this situation. Thank you, God.

Reflection: The past cannot be changed, but the future is whatever you want it to be. Is there bitterness in your life that needs attention?

Copyright August 26, 2011; carolyn a. roth

Adultress’ Bed Proverb

Agar tree, aloeSolomon’s proverb warning his son about an adulteress is found in Proverbs chapter 7.

The proverb of the adulteress showed an older and perhaps wiser Solomon than the exuberant Lover in Song of Songs.  In this proverb, Solomon addressed his son.  He described looking through the lattice of a window and seeing a young man who lacked judgment.  In the twilight of the day, the youth walked in the direction of the adulteress’ house.  The woman came out to meet the youth.  She was dressed like a prostitute; e.g., provocative, revealing.  In the street, the woman took hold of the young man and kissed him on the face.

Unashamedly, the adulteress invited the young man to her home for a sumptuous meal and to spend the night making love with her.  Enticingly, she described her bed as covered with linens from Egypt and perfumed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.   Possibly to reassure the youth that they will not be disturbed, she declared that her husband was not at home.  He was on a long journey with a purse full of money.  With persuasive and seductive words, the adulteress led the young man astray.  He followed her like an ox going to the slaughter.

Solomon concluded this proverb to his son by telling him not to let his heart turn toward an adulteress or stray into her paths.  The adulteress has brought many victims down and killed a mighty throng.  Solomon’s final warning was “her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death” (Proverbs 7:27).

Solomon’s proverb identified three plants: myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.  Aloes is described here.  The aloe of the New Testament and today is an herbaceous plant; however, the aloe of the Old Testament was from a tree.  The Hebrew word for aloe used in Proverbs was ʼǎhâlôwth.  This same word was used for aloe in Numbers 24:6 when Balaam blessed rather than cursed the Israelites, in the wedding song of Psalm 45:8, and when Solomon described his Beloved bride as an orchard of the finest trees, e.g., pomegranates, cinnamon, aloes (Song of Songs 4:12-14).

The Aloe Tree

Agarwood seed aloeswood (2)The Old Testament aloe tree was the Aquilaria malaccensis, also known as A. agallocha and the eaglewood tree.  Aquilaria malaccensis is on the world list of threatened trees.The eaglewood tree is native to India. Aloe is made from the agarwood of the eaglewood tree.  Only about 10% of mature Aquilaria trees produce agarwood.  Research suggested that the fragrant oleoresin that permeates the heartwood of some eaglewood trees is produced in response to a fungal infection.  Once the fungus establishes itself on the tree, it turns the woody trunk into a deep brown color.  The darker the heart wood, the more valuable the wood.  Trees over 50 years old produce the best agarwood.  Agarwood is harvested, cut into small pieces, and burned.  The result is a distinct aroma.  Linens packed with pieces of agarwood take on the smell of the agar in the same manner as linens packed in a cedar chest. There is a popular belief in Middle East that the aloe tree was descended from the Garden of Eden even though all other trees were lost (Walker, 1979).  According to legend, Adam brought shoots from the aloe tree from Eden and planted them in the land where he and Eve settled.  Today, this tree is called Shoot of Paradise and Paradise Wood.

Symbolism: Aphrodisiac

Aloes are associated with both beauty and with aphrodisiacs.  In the parable of the adulteress, aloes symbolizes an aphrodisiac.  An aphrodisiac is a substance, e.g., drink, smell, or food, which is believed to arouse sexual desire or pleasure.  As a young woman, I imagined creating a home for my husband that invited love and sexual desire.  Our home would be filled with pleasant aromas from fragrant candles and simmering potpourri.  Bed linens would be kept in a closet with pleasant perfumed sachets that would imbue the linens with their fragrance.  Hmmm, I learned quickly that my husband became “stuffed up” by the perfumed air in the house and on the bed linens.  Those fragrances did not arouse him to love and sexual desire, but to sneezing and coughing.

To my husband an aphrodisiac was something different than my perspective.   His point of view can best be described by a story.  We were newly engaged and my birthday arrived.   I was excited to see what Bruce would get me.  Would it be flowers or a floral perfume which I loved?   He came into the house with a beautifully wrapped box that was about 5 inches by 18 inches.  What could it be?  As quickly as possible while still trying to be graceful, I removed the ribbon and paper and opened the box.  It was… it was…. it was a fishing rod and reel!  Bruce was so excited.  Immediately, he showed me how to put the rod together, admiring it tensile strength.  He talked about the fishing trips we could take.  But, I did not fish!

Over the years, I have learned to love fishing and I still have that fishing rod.  To Bruce seeing me wading streams, casting a line, and occasionally pulling in a fish is an aphrodisiac.  He gets so excited by taking me fishing that sometime he doesn’t even fish.  He stays available in the event I lose my fly or get my line tangled.   Sexual arousal, excitement, and stimulation come in many ways.  Hopefully starry-eyed young women grow into mature, loving wives.

Reflection:    David wrote that God satisfies our desires with good things (Psalm 103:5).  God knows our need for sexual pleasure and love; his plan is that they occur together.

Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth, 12/12

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Crucifixion Thirst

Sorgham from Kibbutz LotanBible References: Mark 15:33-37 and John 19:28-30.

Jesus was crucified at about 9:00 a.m. on Friday morning. At 12 noon, darkness came over the land and remained until about 3:00 p.m. By 3:00 p.m. Jesus was in extreme agony, both physically and mentally. His physical agony was from the effects of the Roman soldiers’ torture, the crown of thorns, and the nails that pierced his hands and feet so that he would hang on the cross. Christ’s mental anguish came from two sources. First, Jesus, who never sinned, had the weight of the world’s sin on his mind; he felt all of mankind’s perversions and violence. Second, the perfect, righteous God could not look at Jesus while Jesus was saturated with the sins of mankind. During the 6 hours Jesus was on the cross, God turned his face away from Jesus.  Jesus was horribly alone for the first time in his life in heaven and in his 33 years on earth.  It is no wonder Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Mark 15:33).

Hearing Jesus’ words, some individuals standing near the cross concluded that Jesus called for Elijah. One man ran and filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put the sponge on the stalk of a hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.  Jesus drank the wine vinegar.  Because the man had the authority to give Jesus wine, he was a Roman soldier or official.  Not uncommonly, Roman soldiers gave water or wine to men being crucified in order to revive them and to prolong the dying process. Attempting to revive Jesus was the man’s motivation for giving Jesus wine vinegar, because he said, “Now, leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down” (Mark 15:36). Neither God nor Elijah came to rescue Jesus.  Instead, soon thereafter Jesus gave his last breath and died.

The Hyssop Reed

Controversy surrounds the type of the hyssop stalk, or reed, used to offer Jesus wine vinegar while he was on the cross. Very likely this hyssop reed, wasn’t the hyssop of the Old Testament (see the story of David killing Uriah in Chapter 6). This hyssop doesn’t have a long (perhaps up to 6 feet) sturdy stalk that could have reached Jesus’ lips when he was on the cross.  Several writers proposed that the hyssop reed was from the genus Sorghum. The primary sorghum in Israel is Sorghum halepense. In Israel, another name for S. halepense is Aleppo Millet Grass while in the United States it is called Johnson grass. 

Sorghum is suited to the climate and agricultural conditions of Israel. It can thrive in the lowlands and mountains as a non-irrigated summer crop. We saw healthy sorghum growing in the southern Negev Desert in Kibbutz Lotan; however, crops were irrigated on the kibbutz with non-potable water. Often sorghum grows wild in disturbed areas such as ditch banks, and along roadsides. It is partial to heavy soils. 

Symbolism: End or Finish

In this passage, the hyssop reed symbolized the end point or finish. After Jesus received the wine vinegar on the hyssop reed, his final words were, “It is finished” (John 19:30). He finished all the tasks set before him to include enduring the cross. Genesis records another example of finished work; by the 7th day, God finished the work of creating the earth so he rested (Genesis 2:2). For mankind Christ’s finished work on the cross, symbolized by a final sip of water from a reed, was as important an ending as creation of the world.

Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth 3/14

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