Tag Archives: Jeremiah

Cleansed with Soap Plant

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Bible References:

“Although you wash yourself with soap and use an abundance of cleansing powder, the stain of your guilt is still before me,” declares the Sovereign LORD (Jeremiah 2:22, NIV).

“But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap” (Malachi 3:2, NIV).

The context for Malachi’s words on a launderer’s soap was prophecy about the coming Messiah begins with the coming of his messenger (John the Baptist) who would appear before Christ. Messiah’s coming was not warm, gushy and love, love, love. Malachi wrote that Messiah would put individuals on trial (3:5). He would sit as a refiner who removes impurities from precious metals. Messiah would remove impurities from his people’s thoughts and behavior. No longer would people be dirty. Messiah would be like a launder who washed clothes to remove all dirt.

Probably soap was used in some form as far back as prehistoric times. When used with water, soap, reduces the water’s surface tension to attract dirt and oil away from skin or other materials such as clothing.  How?  Soap acts as a “surfactant” which means it helps water to soak in, rather than remain in tight droplets.  Soap works by attaching itself to dirt and suspends the dirt molecule until water rinses it off, carrying away both dirt and soap away from the fabric.salsola-kali-fr-sweeds

Bible women and launders washed clothes with a strong soap, then place the clothing upon a rock and beat them with a stick to remove dirt. Intuitively, it seems to me that launders and house wives would destroy the fibers in clothes if they used strong soap, followed by a rock and a stick; however, in Bible times often cloth was coarser and perhaps more sturdy than the fine fabrics we have today.

The Hebrew word for soap was most often borith, properly a vegetable alkali, obtained from the ashes of certain plants, particularly the Salsola kali (saltwort), which abounds on the shores of the Dead Sea and of the Mediterranean. In early times soap-like substances were extracted from plants such as soapwort, soap root, soap bark, yucca, horsetail, fuschia leaves, and agave. These plants often found flourishing on riverbanks or near lakes.

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Russian Thistle

Russian Thistle (Salsola kali) is an annual plant that can grow to two feet tall. It is in flower from July to   September. Flowers are primarily pollinated by the wind. Salsola kali grows best in sandy soil and medium loam as long as soil is well drained. It grows in very alkaline and saline soils. In the United States it grows in states that abut oceans and the Gulf of Mexico. It cannot grow in the shade. The ashes of the burnt plant are used for making glass and soap. The ashes can also be used as a cleaner for fabrics. Synonyms are prickly saltwort, windwitch.

Symbolism

Logic suggests that the symbolism of Salsola kali (Russian thistle, prickly saltwort) should be clean or cleansing. When I think of cleansing my first thought goes to when I confessed my need for a Savior and was cleansed from my sins. Wow, doing that made me feel good. I was “saved” from my sins. In my childish world view, I believed that I would not sin any more. When I did sin by disobeying my parents, thinking “bad” words, or saying mean things about people, I concluded that in reality I was not “saved.”  Being saved didn’t take with me. Perhaps I needed to do it again. Maybe I was just too awful to be saved once for all times and I needed to be saved every year or even every couple of months.

Thank God, little girls read their Bible, mature, learn.  Now, I know that I am once and for all “saved.” But this side of heaven, I am going to continue to sin. I am made up of a spiritual self that I received in the form of the Holy Spirit when I was saved. I also still have my physical or old self so I continue to sin.

God gave me a way to get rid of my continued sins. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, NIV). Look! Look! God is going to wash and purify us from our sins.

Reflection: Do you feel clean after a shower or bath? Do you feel clean after confessing your sins to Christ?

Copyright January 20, 2017; Carolyn A. Roth

If you want to learn more about plants in the Bible, visit www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

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Good and Bad Figs

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Bible Reference: Jeremiah 24:1-7

In the years prior to Jeremiah’s parable of the two baskets of figs, Judah’s King Jehoiakim was murdered. His son, Jehoiachin, succeeded his father to the throne. After ruling three months and ten days, the eighteen year-old king surrendered when Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem. This grandson of godly King Josiah, his mother and wives, capable fighting men, and the most skilled artisans and craftsmen were taken captive (597 BC) to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar made Jehoiachin’s uncle, Zedekiah, the vassal king in Judah. In earlier prophecies, Jeremiah foretold both Jehoiakim’s murder and Jehoiachin being taken captive to Babylon.

In the parable of the two baskets of figs, God gave Jeremiah a vision that included a parable and its interpretation:

Then the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?”“Figs,” I answered. “The good ones are very good, but the bad ones are so bad they cannot be eaten.” Jeremiah 24: 3-4 NIV

In contrast to the good figs, the outcome for the bad figs was dire. The bad figs were King Zedekiah, his officials, and other survivors in Jerusalem. God was going to send sword, famine, and plague on the people who remained in Judah. Indeed, during the siege of Jerusalem, residents suffered famine and pestilence. When they Babylonians broke through the Jerusalem walls thousands of Jerusalemites were murdered. Even though God banish the survivors to foreign kingdoms, God’s planned to make them abhorrent to people of every kingdom on earth.

fig leaf & fruit

How Figs Grow

Figs were identified in written records as early as 9000 B.C. in the area of Jordan. The average fig tree grows about twenty feet tall and develops a spreading canopy. Tree roots spread far beyond the tree canopy searching for water. Some fig trees are damaged by temperatures that drop to 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Perhaps, the bad figs in Jeremiah’s parable were damaged by a late frost.

Interpretation

Jeremiah’s prophecy of the good and bad figs came true. When Jehoiachin arrived in Babylon, he was placed in prison. There, he remained 37 years. When Nebuchadnezzar died, his son Evil-Murdock became king over Babylon. King Evil- Murdock released Jehoiachin from prison, gave him an allowance, and a favored place at the king’s high table for meals. Seventy years later after Jehoiachin’s captivity, his grandson, Zerubbabel, led the first 50,000 Jews who left Babylon and returned to Jerusalem. God considered the exiled Jews as good figs.

Meanwhile in Jerusalem, King Zedekiah rebelled. Nebuchadnezzar returned to Jerusalem, laid siege to the city, killed King Zedekiah, and conquered Jerusalem and the surrounding towns. Nebuchadnezzar assigned Gedaliah, a politically-moderate Jew, as governor of Judea. Gedaliah established his capital at Mizpah. Ishmael, a member of Judah’s former royal family, killed Gedaliah and the Babylonian soldiers garrisoned at Mizpah. Jews not killed feared that Nebuchadnezzar would be furious at governor Gedaliah’s murder. They fled to Egypt for safety. Not too many years later, Nebuchadnezzar invaded Egypt; in the invasion his army killed most of the Jews who fled there. Thus, the bad figs were destroyed.

Reflection

Most Americans resonate to New Hampshire’s state motto: “Live Free or Die.” Yet, God told the Jewish exiles to submit to their Babylonian captors. When they did so, they were good figs. What was God’s rationale for declaring the captives “good?”

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: November 21, 2015; Carolyn A. Roth

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Jeremiah Longs for Balm of Gilead

Jeremiah’s cry for balm of Gilead to soothe Judah and other nations is found in the book of Jeremiah in chapters 8, 46, and 51(New International Version (NIV) Study Bible, 2002).

Jeremiah’s ministry was from 626-586 B.C.  He was described several ways to include the Prophet of Doom, and the Weeping Prophet.  He ministered during the last half of Josiah’s reign, and during the reigns of Jehoahaz (3 months), Jehoiakim (9 years), Jehoiachin (3 months), and Zedekiah (9 years).  Jerusalem was conquered by Babylon 586 B.C.; at that time elders and leaders of Judah and their families were killed or deported to Babylon.

Jeremiah was a Levite who was possibly from the priestly family of Abiather (David’s reign) and Eli.  His home town, Anata, was a short three miles northeast of Jerusalem.  Anata was located in a broad range of hills that overlook the Jordan valley to the East and the Dead Sea to the South.  From a young age Jeremiah may have herded goats and/or spent time farming; his writings were filled with examples from nature and agriculture (Hareuveni & Frenkley, 1988).

God called Jeremiah to be a prophet when Jeremiah was 18 years old.  At first Jeremiah demurred saying that he was a youth and inadequate to speak God’s word.  Jeremiah agreed when God reached out and touched his mouth and told Jeremiah, “I have put my words in your mouth” (Jeremiah 1:9).  God commanded Jeremiah to not marry and raise children because the forthcoming divine judgment on Judah would sweep away the next generation.  During the invasion by Babylon, Anata was used as a staging area for Babylon’s siege against Jerusalem.  Much of Anata was destroyed and many citizens killed

Jeremiah used the plant “balm of Gilead” to describe healing in three of his prophecies.  The first time Jeremiah foretold the destruction and exile of Judah.  Jeremiah asked, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?” (Jeremiah 8:22).

The second time Jeremiah prophesied against Egypt.  Jeremiah advised Egypt to go to Gilead and get balm, yet there would be no healing for them (Jeremiah 46:11).  The third time, Jeremiah used the exemplar of balm for healing was to predict Babylon’s fall.  Jeremiah suggested obtaining balm to heal Babylon; yet, Babylon could not be healed because her sins reached to the skies (Jeremiah 51:8-9).  Even though God used Babylon to exact judgment against Judah, in God’s time Babylon would be destroyed.

The land of Gilead was on the east side of the Jordan River.  Early in the history of Israel, the mountains (up to 4,090 feet) and hills were heavily forested (Bible Places, 2012).  The land was ideal for large herds and flocks of livestock.  In the division of land among the 12 tribes Gilead was assigned to Gad and Rueben (Numbers 32:1-5).  With terracing, the Gilead hills were farmed, e.g., olive trees and vineyards.  On lower foot hills, wheat was planted.   When the Ishmaelite traders (1898 B.C.) purchased Joseph from his brothers, they carried balm from Gilead to Egypt (Genesis 37:25-28).  Balm of Gilead was prized by the Egyptians who used it to prepare the bodies of their dead for burial.  Pilgrims to present day Jericho can purchase balm of Gilead in small tin boxes.  The extract is from the B. aegyptiaca plant that grows in Jordan in the region called Ghor el Safi.

Balm of Gilead

Jeremiah’s balm of Gilead was probably the Balanites aegyptiaca, a small multi-branched spiny tree  The plant is also called the Ximenia aegyptiaca L, Jericho balsam, and desert date.  Although widely distributed around the globe, B. aegyptiaca is thought to be native to Africa, India, and parts of the Middle East to include Israel.   In Israel, it grows in  in valleys, on river banks, and in depressions. Hasselquist who completed pioneering work on Holy Land plants described the gum of the B. aegyptiaca as yellow and light reflecting.  Leaf stems and possibly roots produce a  glutinous and tenacious resin.  Sticking to the fingers, it can be drawn into long threads.  Turkish surgeons used the gum to treat wounds.  Supposedly, a few drops are applied to a fresh wound will cure it.  Possibly wound edges could be connected by the glue-like property of the gum. Using Balm of Gilead to treat wounds is consistent with Jeremiah question of where was the balm of Gilead to heal the wounds of his people Judah (Jeremiah 8:22).

Symbolism: Balm

Medically, balms are healing or soothing substance, e.g., ointment, salve or cream.  Balms can be analgesic and give pain relief.   Figuratively, balms have the effects of calming, soothing and comforting, and providing solace and consolation.  Jeremiah asked for pain relief for Judah which involved comfort and solace for their spirits as well as analgesia for their physical bodies.

In today’s society many individuals hurt spiritually.  Much of the spiritual pain is the result of personal choices.  When I left home as a young woman, I was determined to live life my way.  I made a conscious decision not to follow God.  One of my rationalizations was that I would consign God to Sunday at church, e. g., departmentalize him.   The remainder of the week, I could live an egocentric and indulgent life.  At one point, I even thought, “When I am older, I will turn back to God.”  In retrospect, I am stunned at my thoughts and actions.  As a teen in Youth for Christ and church fellowship, I did not anticipate that my outlook would change so radically.

The Israelites did not start out to reject God’s laws and turn to idols.  They promised both Moses and Joshua to worship only God and to follow his covenants (Joshua 24:24-27).   For many of them, the change occurred over years, over generations, or even as a result following the leadership of a godless king.  Whatever the mechanism of each individual’s disregard, the outcome was that as a nation Judah rejected God.

Because God is just, Judah had to pay for his sins.  Jeremiah’s book is a description of a prophet whose heart broke for his countryman even though they deserved their punishment.  When Jeremiah’s predictions of calamity came true, Jeremiah never gloated; rather he wept for individuals and the nation.  He longed to provide pain relief for their bodies, minds, and spirits; to soothe them with the Balm of Gilead.

God was not surprised by my rebellion or the apostasy of Judah.  Both our rebellions caused great spiritual, mental, and physical pain to ourselves.  At the time, it felt like nothing would calm, comfort, and console; however, God was there waiting for me and for Judah to turn from our individual idols to him.  Do you remember the African-American spiritual “There is a Balm in Gilead?” The refrain goes something like this:

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin sick soul.

Reflection.  Have you ever experienced a sin-sick soul?  The solution is God, our balm of Gilead.

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 October 24, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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