Tag Archives: Jerusalem

Consecrated for God

Acorus calamus King Hezekiah directed the priests and Levites to re-consecrate themselves and reopen God’s Temple.  This story is told in 2 Kings 18:1-2 and 2 Chronicles chapter 29.

King Hezekiah was 25 years of age when became king of Judah.  He reigned 29 years (715-686 B.C.).  He father was Ahaz but unlike Ahaz, Hezekiah did what was right in God’s eyes.  Isaiah was at his most influential during Hezekiah’s reign.  During Hezekiah’s reign, the Northern Kingdom fell and its inhabitants were dispersed through Assyria.

Hezekiah was distinguished by his absolute confidence in God even under duress.  Immediately after being crowned, King Hezekiah began religious reform.  His purpose was to make a covenant with God so that God’s fierce anger would be turned away from the kingdom of Judah (2 Chronicles 29:10).  In the first month of his kingship, Hezekiah reopened and repaired the Temple doors.  He gathered the priests and Levites and instructed them to purify and consecrate themselves.  After the priest and Levites were consecrated, they clean out the Temple.  Unclean furnishing and idolatrous items found in the temple were dumped into the Kidron Valley.  Over a 16-day period, the priests purified the Temple and consecrated its altars and furnishings.  The sacred anointing oil was used in the consecrations.

After the purification and consecrations, King Hezekiah provided bulls, rams, lambs, and goats as a sin offering for the people of Judah.  While the offerings were made, Levites played music on cymbals, harps, and lyres and sang in the manner prescribed by King David.  King Hezekiah, city officials, priest, Levites, and the entire assembly knelt down and worshipped God.  After the sin offerings, the assembly brought sacrifices and thanks offerings to God.  So many offerings were presented that the priest could not skin all of the animals.  They had to enlist the Levites to assist them until more priests could be re-consecrated.  Thus, Temple worship was reestablished under King Hezekiah.

When the Tabernacle was built, God prescribed ingredients to be used in the anointing (purifying and consecrating) oil.  Five ingredients were named:  myrrh, cinnamon, fragrant cane, cassia, and olive oil.  The anointing oil was sacred and used only for anointing the priest and the Temple furnishing and accessories.  In Chapter 4, cassia was described as an ingredient for the anointing oil in the Tabernacle.  In this chapter, fragrant cane will be described as an ingredient in the Temple anointing oil. Isaiah (43:24) mentioned fragrant cane (calamus) declaring that the people of Judah no longer brought cane to God, probably meaning in the incense of sacrifice.

Fragrant Cane Plant

Most botanists and religious scholars associate the Biblical fragrant cane with the Acorus calamus variety calamus., called  sweet cane and calamus. Although fragrant cane is a Bible plant, in 2012 it was not found in two popular Israeli plant databases:  Online Flora of Israel and Wild Flowers of Israel.  Probably most fragrant cane used in the Temple anointing oil came from India. It is found in moist soils and shallow water in ditches, marshes, river edges and ponds, marshes and ditches.    Viewed from the top of water or moist soil, fragrant cane that looks like numerous plants may be a single interconnected rhizome (root). Although leaves and stems can be harvested, the rhizome is used to make perfumes and sacred oils (Motley, 1995).  Fragrant cane is very expensive.  During the reign of Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey was accused of extravagance because he importing fragrant cane reeds at extravagant expense.

Symbolism: Clarity

The fragrant cane plant is associated with many different concepts to include vigor, purification, wisdom, and clarity.  The symbolism that reflects this Bible episode is clarity which includes focused perception, to free of confusion, and to make understandable.  Under Ahaz’s reign, some of the priests of God’s temple likely remained at home and only practiced their faith with family and close friends.  Others, like the priest Uriah (2 Kings 15:10-15), obeyed Ahaz and installed idol worship in the Temple.  Probably both groups felt some degree of confusion, guilt, resentment, and shame (Psalm 97:7).  These emotions would have clouded their thinking.

When Hezekiah became king, he required the priests to consecrate themselves in preparation for re-instituting worship of God in the Temple.  For the priests consecration meant that the sacred anointing oil was applied to themselves and possibly their clothes.  Then, the priests anointed each item in the Temple.  Being anointed to God’s service would have focused the priest’s thoughts on God.  Anointing the Temple furnishing and accessories over a 16-day period would have clarified the purpose and meaning of each item in the temple.  Finally, performing the sacrifices reinforced the priests’ understanding of their role in Temple worship. Use of the anointing oil promoted clarity in the priests’ perceptions.

Today, people are prone to lose clarity of thought.  We become anxious and distressed by what is occurring around us.  As I write this chapter, the United States is in the process of presidential elections.  Perhaps more than any other election, United States citizens are paying attention to what candidates say and do.  This attention can be good if it clarifies our thoughts on candidates’ stands on issues important to us.  At the same time, we need not get anxious about who to vote for or the decision-making process.  God’s desire is to have us free from all anxiety and distressing care (1 Corinthians 7:32)

When we accept Christ we are anointed with the Holy Spirit.  Christ’s anointing teaches us the truth on everything we need to know about ourselves and Christ, uncontaminated by a single lie (I John 2:26-27)  Now, Christ is our safe place – the place where perceptions, understanding, and clarity abide.  As we listen to candidates and persuasive leaders in any field, we need to remember and believe that Christ knows his sheep and they know him (John 10:1-6).  Christ’s sheep will not follow a stranger’s voice.  Christ sheep not only hear his voice but listen or obey his voice and words.  St. John recorded that when Jesus used this figure of speech, his listeners did not understand what he was talking about.

 Reflection.  How is your clarity?  Do you understand what Jesus was talking about in John 10:1-6?

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 September 9, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Sacred Incense

Styrax officinalis, JBGThe story of King Uzziah and his prideful attempt to burn incense in the Temple is described in 2 Kings 15:1-7 and 2 Chronicles Chapter 26.

Uzziah inherited the crown of Judah when his father Amaziah was murdered.  He reigned for 52 years.  At the beginning of his reign, Uzziah did what was right in the eyes of God and God gave him many successes.  He won decisive battles over the Philistines, the Ammonites paid him tribute, and he added to the fortifications of Jerusalem.  Uzziah had a well-trained, well- equipped army of over 300,000 men.

With success, Uzziah became proud and unfaithful to God.  On one occasion, Uzziah entered the Temple and began to burn incense on the Altar of Incense.  According to Mosaic Law, only consecrated priests who were the descendants of Aaron could burn incense in the Temple.  Uzziah was holding the censer for burning incense when the chief priest Azariah and 80 courageous priests confronted him.  Azariah reminded Uzziah that even though he was king, he could not burn the incense.  Azariah demand that Uzziah leave the sanctuary.  As Uzziah began to rage against the priests, leprosy broke out on his body.

Azariah saw the leprosy and hurried Uzziah from the temple. When Uzziah saw his leprosy and was eager to leave the Temple.  From that time until his death about 10 years later, Uzziah lived in a house separated from the palace.  His son, Jotham, governed Judah.  Uzziah was buried near his ancestors in a field; however, he was not buried in the royal tombs because of the leprosy.

The composition of Tabernacle incense was fragrant spices – stacte, onycha, and galbanum – and pure frankincense all in equal amounts (Exodus 30:34, KJV, Scofield, 1945).  Very likely the same ingredients were used to make Temple incense during the first and the second Temple (Sirach 24:15, Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha, 1965; Rabinowitz, 1977).  The plant galbanum was described as an ingredient of the Tabernacle incense in Chapter 4.  In this section, stacte will be used in as the ingredient in the Temple incense.

Stacte, Styrax officinalis

Temple incense stacte comes from the plant Styrax officinalis.   In Israel, S. officinalis has several names to include stacte tree, Official Storax, and styrax.  Stacte is translated as gum resin (Exodus 30:34) in the New International Version Study Bible (2002).

The origin of styrax is Eastern Mediterranean countries, from Italy through Turkey to include Israel.  Styrax is classified as a tree (52 feet in height); but often looks more like a good size shrub. The habitat is dry rocky slopes, in woods and thickets, and besides streams.  In Israel, the styrax tree is seen in the Judean and Samarian mountains and on Mounts Carmel and Herman as well as in the Upper Jordan and Northern valleys.  Because the styrax tree is deciduous, in autumn leaves turn yellow and drop and in spring new leaves sprout.  The styrax tree blooms April through June in Israel.  The entire tree is covered with flowers which look like snowdrops.  Styrax is an important honey plant.  Frequently, pollination occurs via insects, e.g., bees.  When the styrax tree stems and branches are wounded, a highly perfumed balsamic resin (gum) is exuded. The resin has been both described as smelling similar to a hyacinth.

Symbolism: Inspiration

The Hebrew word for stacte is nâtâph derived from the primary root nâtaph which means to ooze in the sense of to distill gradually or to fall in drops (Strong, 2010).  The figurative meaning of nâtaph is to speak by inspiration, e.g., prophesy.  As a nurse and as Master Gardener when I think of inspiration I think of breathing or oxygen taken into a human or a plant; but, the Bible has a different perspective on inspiration.  Inspiration is “God’s breathed out” word into the Holy Scriptures and into the words of the prophets (Renn, 2005).  Similar to the S. officinalis exuding gum resin (stacte), God exuded and exudes his message to the world.

As we talk about passages from the Bible, we often say as “David said in Psalm 51” or “as Paul wrote.”  We need to remember that the authors of the Bible wrote by the Holy Spirit.  The words of the Bible are not words of the author, e.g., David, Jonah, Paul; rather the words of the Bible are God’s words to the human race.  The Bible is God breathed and as such it is both divine authority and without error (Douglas & Tenney, 2011).

God inspired the words of the Bible.  “All scriptures is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” so that God’s people can be thoroughly equipped for all good works (2 Timothy 3:16, NIV Study Bible, 2002).  The Bible is a model for how we should live in this world. We can learn a new way of thinking and behaving from the Bible.

When we read the Bible, we take God’s inspired words into us — or not.  Christmas morning I sat in church listening to the epistle being read and thought how lovely the reader looked.  In retrospect, I asked myself “where was my head?”  Have you ever read the Bible while thinking of something else entirely?  I have. On those occasions, I doubt if I changed any part of myself as a result of my reading.

Reflection.  Allowing God to inspire us from his holy Word is an intentional process on our part.  How intentional are you being when you read The Holy Bible?

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 August 17, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Parable of Famine Bread

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Bible Reference: Ezekiel chapter 45

Heart of the Story: Ezekiel offered a parable of the famine that would come on Jerusalem

Back Story: Ezekiel was both a prophet and priest. He was taken to Babylon when King Nebuchadnezzar took Judah’s King, Jehoiachin, and 10,000 captive from Jerusalem to Babylon (597 BC). At that time, Nebuchadnezzar established Zedekiah as puppet king over Judah. After ruling for about five of six years, King Zedekiah rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. He ceased paying tribute and turned to Egypt for military assistance to throw off Babylonian rule. Subsequently, Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem. After about 18 months, the wall around Jerusalem was breached.

When Nebuchadnezzar and his army started for Judah, Jerusalem was flooded with refugees fleeing the countryside. The influx was so great that private homes, inns, and the temple courtyard were crammed with people. The poor set up tents in the streets or lay down wherever they found an empty space at night. People and noise were everywhere; smoke billowed from cooking fires. Although the situation was dire, it got worse after the Babylonians arrived. No additional food supplies entered Jerusalem. Human and animal refuse couldn’t be removed. Filth and stench were everywhere.

In Babylon beside Chebar River, God instructed Ezekiel to act out the siege of Jerusalem. The first action parable used a clay tablet to depict the Babylonians besieging Jerusalem. The second had Ezekiel lying on his left followed by lying on his right side. The third parable encompassed grains and legumes to make bread and to bake the bread.

Parable of Famine Bread: Some scholars advocated that Ezekiel 4:9-16 were two separate parables rather than one. I am describing them as one parable because they encompassed preparing and eating bread.

Here’s is God’s direction to Ezekiel: “Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side.”

Verse 9 describes substances that Jerusalemites will use to make bread during the siege of Jerusalem. Normally, bread was made from one type of flour, i.e., wheat, barley, millet or spelt. Legume flour was not common made into bread, however, when individuals lived in extreme poverty, beans in particular and occasionally lentils could be made into flour and used to prepare bread. Mixing flour from several sources demonstrated the extreme scarcity of flour that would occur during the siege. Scholars disagree whether the mixing of different flour sources in one vessel was a defilement (Deuteronomy 22:9), but all agree that dietary laws were compromised for the Jerusalemites.

“Weigh out twenty shekels of food to eat each day and eat it at set times. Also measure out a sixth of a hin of water and drink it at set times. Eat the food as you would a barley cake; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel.” The LORD said, “In this way the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will drive them.”

Then Ezekiel responded to God: “Not so, Sovereign LORD! I have never defiled myself. From my youth until now I have never eaten anything found dead or torn by wild animals. No unclean meat has ever entered my mouth.”

“Very well,” God said, “I will let you bake your bread over cow manure instead of human excrement.” 

These three verses identified how Ezekiel was to bake the multi-flour bread. During the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, inhabitants would have to bake their bread over human excrement; therefore, God told Ezekiel to do the same. When Ezekiel objected God allowed him to bake his bread over cow manure. Jerusalemites didn’t have the luxury of using animal dung for baking. Near the end Jerusalem siege, no animals were alive in the city. All had been slaughtered and eaten. Human excrement was the primary source of cooking fuel.

Then, God  said to Ezekiel “Son of man, I will cut off the supply of food in Jerusalem. The people will eat rationed food in anxiety and drink rationed water in despair,”    Ezekiel 4:9-16, NIV Online

Interpretation of Parable of Famine Bread: God interpreted the action parable for Ezekiel and for us. The interpretation was that God would cut off the food supply for Jerusalem. Once the Babylonians arrived no food or refuse passed in and out of the city walls. Many people inside Jerusalem starved to death or died from disease. Often the dead could not be buried and remained where they died. Mothers killed and ate their children. Ezekiel’s action shouldn’t be interpreted as sympathetic magic where something done to a model or person has a similar act in reality. True, Ezekiel’s famine bread foreshadowed the starvation behavior of the Jerusalemites; but God, not Ezekiel, caused both the prophet’s actions and of people living in Jerusalem during the siege.

In a larger context, the siege of Jerusalem was a prophecy about judgment. The people of Judah sinned so long and to such a degree that God removed his protect around Jerusalem. When Ezekiel acted out the parables of the siege of Jerusalem, God still dwelled in Jerusalem temple. Before the Babylonian siege, Ezekiel recorded that God’s presence left both the temple and Jerusalem (Ezekiel chapters 10 and 11 NIV).

The Broad Bean

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The Book of Ezekiel is one of the most detailed and well-known references to grains in the Bible; but, we also learn, or relearn, that Israelites dried and crushed legumes (bean and lentils) into bread flour. For a plant in the parable of the famine bread, I have chosen to describe the bean. The bean was the Vicia faba, also known Vicia vulgaris, the broad bean, and the faba bean.  Beans were one of the oldest cultivated plants, at least 6000 years. Their origin is North Africa or the Middle East.  The bean grows in all types of soil as long as the soil is well-drained. Although not drought-resistant, beans are hearty enough to live through mild frosts. In the Middle East, beans remain one of the most important winter crops. Broad beans can grow in semi-shade as well as strong sunlight, but they do not tolerate maritime exposure.

Looking Outward and Deeper

The Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem in 588 BC. About 18 months later the Jerusalem walls were breached. Nebuchadnezzar had no more patience with the rebellious Jews or his puppet king, Zedekiah. He had Zedekiah killed and the Jerusalem temple and major buildings destroyed. The wall around Jerusalem walls razed. Jews not killed by famine and plague were killed by the Babylonian soldiers. Only the poorest Jews were allowed to remain in Judah.

Reflection:  God said “The day is coming, when I will send a famine throughout the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11, NIV).  Do you believe this promise from God will occur in the USA?

I love studying about Bible plants. Do you? If so, please check my website for more information: http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com

Copyright August 23, 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?

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: March 20, 2016; Carolyn A. Roth

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Firmness of a Cedar

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This tiny deodor cedar grows in St. John Lutheran Bible Garden

Reference: Descriptions of cedar wood in the Temple are found in 1 Kings Chapter 5-7 and 2 Chronicles chapter 2-4.

In the fourth year (960 B.C.) of Solomon’s reign as king over a combined Israel and Judah, he started to build a Temple to God. Solomon’s father David averred that God gave him specific plans for construction of the temple (1 Chronicles 28:11-19). David relayed the construction plans to Solomon.

Several types of wood were used in the temple construction, e.g., cedar, pine, algum, and olive. The temple was decorated with plant motifs, e.g., pomegranates, lilies, palm trees, and gourds. The cedar tree and cedar will be described in this section. The temple was for worshiping God and to house the Ark of the Covenant (Testimony) and other holy furnishings. It was built in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, the site of the threshing floor that David bought from Ornan the Jebusite. The basic structure of the temple was approximately two times the size of the Tabernacle, 90 feet long, 30 feet wide and 45 feet high. A 30 feet wide and 15 feet long vestibule or porch was attached to the front of the temple. As with the Tabernacle, the entrance faced east.  The outside of the Temple was made of stone; however, the interior walls were made of cedar board covered with gold. The Temple was completed in 7 years.

Solomon contracted with King Hiram of Tyre to supply the cedar and pine logs from the forests of Lebanon. In exchange for the wood, Solomon provided Hiram’s court and servants with food during while the timber was cut and transported. In addition to the food and wine Solomon gave King Hiram for the wood, Solomon conscripted 30,000 laborers to cut and transport the wood from Lebanon (I Kings 5:13-14). These men were Israelites who were forced into labor. Every month a cadre of 10,000 men was sent to Lebanon; thus, each man was away from home one month out of three. The timber was transported by rafts from Lebanon at Joppa, the port for Jerusalem. Solomon conveyed the wood from Joppa to Jerusalem.

Cedar wood was and is used in edifices constructed to last centuries, even millennia. Cedar is durable, free from knots, and easy to work. The heart wood is a warm red and beautifully grained. Cedars exude a gum or balsam which gives the tree an aromatic scent in which people take delight. In contrast, most insects dislike the smell and taste; consequently, they do not attack the tree (Shewell-Cooper, 1988). Fungus is the most common cause of disease in plants. The cedar is resistant to fungal disease so dry and wet rot rarely occur. An expert botanist, Solomon knew the cedar’s characteristics and preferred them to trees more available to him in Israel, e.g., sycamore and box trees.

DSC00004 This cedar is growing in Israel.

The Cedar Tree

The scientific name for the Lebanon cedar is the Cedrus libani.  Cedars are an evergreen tree with trunk and older branches silvery and cracked. Leaves present as silvery-blue needles arranged in clumps on short spur-like projects from branches. The flower is a cone. Seeds germinate best in the cool temperatures of high hills and mountains. Cedars grow slowly and it takes centuries to produce a majestic cedar.

Symbolism: Firm

The Hebrew word for a cedar tree is ʾerez a word derived from the primitive root ʾâraz, meaning to be firm as in the case of a cedar tree (Strong, 2010). The cedar tree was firm because of its tenacious root structure, its long life in nature, its resistance to insect infestation, and its endurance as a building material. The adjective firm, means securely or solidly fixed in place; having a structure that resists pressure; and well-founded. The opposite of firm is weak or uncertain.

Fifty verses in the Bible address firm or firmness, 29 in the Old Testament and 21 in the New Testament. In the Old Testament two themes emerged in relation to firm. The first theme was that God is firm in his purpose (Job 36:5), plans (Psalm 33:11), love (Psalm 89:2), and statutes (Psalm 93:5). The second theme was that if God’s people stood firm, God would deliver them from their enemies, e.g., Pharaoh and the Egyptians (Exodus 14:13), Moab and Ammon (2 Chronicles 20:17), and from wicked men (Proverbs 12:7). At the same time, God warned Old Testament Israel, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all” (Isaiah 7:9). If Israel succumbed to the life style and pressure of surrounding nations and their faith became weak, then they would not stand as individuals or as a nation.

In four places in the New Testament, Christ said that if followers stood firm to the end, they would be “saved” or have “life eternal” (Matthew 10:22, 24:12-13; Mark 13:12-13; Luke 21:19). But, in the same verses Christ warned his followers that wicked/worldly men would hate them because these wicked men hated Christ. Christ described ways hate would become visible, e.g., brothers would betray brother and fathers their children, and children would rebel against parents. Until recently, when I read the descriptions of brother betraying brother or parents betraying their children, I always thought of Nazi Germany, Communist countries during the cold war, or Christians in China. More and more, I acknowledge hate and betrayal of Christians occurs daily in the United States. The result may not be that the life of a family member or dear friend is forfeited; but mental or spiritual death and physical illness can occur through betrayal and neglect after family members or friends embrace Jesus Christ.

Several Sundays ago, our Godly minister distributed a handout that said we live in a “post-Christian” society. A post Christian society is one in which the majority of individuals are not Christians. They do not follow the moral-ethical statutes and laws of God. We see evidence of this post-Christian modernism in efforts to remove the 10 Commandments from public buildings, eliminate prayer and after school Bible study from public schools, turn college religion courses into philosophy courses, and forbid Christian prayer before public meetings. I am very uncomfortable with the disconnection between our government and God’s gracious loving principles for our lives. Moving God from in our nation’s public life and symbols, means the United States no long affirms God and Christ. That leads us back to Isaiah’s warning to the nation of Israel, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand firm at all” (Isaiah, 7:9).

Prayer and Reflection: Help us to believe and act like we live in a Christian nation. Help us to stop being afraid to speak and write about Christ. Amen.  Ultimately, how we are forced to act can become what we believe.

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 December 12, 2015: Carolyn A. Roth

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Zechariah and the Myrtle Tree

Myrtle for book (2)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

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.

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 December 16, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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King Josiah and Prickly Lettuce

Lactuca serriola, prickly lettuce (394x800)The story of Josiah and the Passover is in 2 Kings 22:1-23:30 and 2 Chronicles 34:1-35:25.

Josiah was one of the best kings of Judah.  He was the great grandson of good king Hezekiah, however, Josiah was also the grandson of Manasseh, without argument the foulest king in Judah’s history.  Josiah (640-609 B.C.) was crowned king when he was eight.  When Josiah was 16 he began to seek God, and at 20 initiated the purification of Judah.  The purification processed extended into the tribal towns of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin where small pockets of Israelites lived after the deportation of most Northern Kingdom citizens.  Josiah had all false gods, carved images, and idols removed.  Housetop altars erected by Ahaz and Manasseh were destroyed.  The high places that Solomon erected for his wives to worship their gods were removed.  Rather than sit in Jerusalem and order the reforms, Josiah traveled throughout Judah and the southern towns of Northern Kingdom to ensure that his reforms were implemented.

As part of purifying the land, Josiah had the Temple cleansed and repaired the Temple.   In the process of renovating the Temple, the Book of Law was found.  In Old Testament times, the Book of Law was the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament.  When the Book of Law was read to Josiah, he tore his clothes in anguish over how God’s laws were neglected in Judea.  He sent emissaries to Huldah, a prophetess who lived in Jerusalem, and asked Huldah to consult the Lord on the people’s behalf.  Huldah responded that God was going to bring disaster on Judea and its people because they turned from God and burned incense to other gods.   Although God’s decision on the coming disaster was irrefutable, because Josiah humbled himself, Josiah would be buried in peace.

Josiah gathered the people in the Temple and had the Book of Law read to them.  After the Law was read, they pledged to live according to the covenant of the God of their fathers.  To rededicate himself and the people, Josiah ordered a Passover celebration and provided the ritual lambs and goats for slaughter.  For seven days the people celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover).  The Bible recorded that the Passover had not been observed like this in Israel (and Judea) since the days of the prophet Samuel.  The Feast included the people eating bitter herbs in the same manner as they ate bitter herbs when the Death Angel passed over their homes in Egypt.  In the chapter on Plants in the Life of Moses, the bitter herb endive was associated with the Passover.  Here the bitter herb will be wild lettuce.

Wild Lettuce

In Israel, a common bitter herb used to commemorate Passover was the wild lettuce.  Jewish experts believe the ancient Israel wild lettuce was Lactuca serriola, frequently called prickly lettuce.  Prickly lettuce is native to the Middle East, Europe, and possibly North Africa.  It is found throughout the entire country of Israel from the  vegetation of Mount Hermon to the extreme deserts of the Negev.  As you read through this description and look at the picture(s), remember the L. serriola has different characteristics than the common garden lettuce (L. sativa) eaten in the United States. When rain is sufficient, prickly lettuce grows 5–7 feet tall.  In the United States animals (cattle and deer) eat the L. serriola  only when preferred plants are not available. Often flower heads dry to a purple or blue color. Prickly lettuce can germinate in near freezing winter temperatures, then grow and flower in the spring and summer. Prickly lettuce is easily differentiated from other plants by its production of a white milky latex substance with a rank odor.  When stems and leaves are opened or torn, the milky substance leaks from the plant.

 Symbolism:  Passover

The prickly lettuce was a bitter herb available in the early 7th century B.C. for the people of Judea to use to celebrate the Passover.  The symbolism of this lettuce is “pass over.”  In this symbolism pass over is not one word, nor is it spelled with a capital with a “p” to depict the Jewish Passover celebration.  To express its association with the prickly lettuce plant, pass over is two words and uses a small p.   The dictionary has a definition for pass over separate and distinct from the Passover celebration.  Pass over means to ignore in passing and to pay no attention to the claims of.

Pass over reflected the amount of consideration given the prickly lettuce plant and God’s laws in Judea.  People largely ignored the prickly lettuce when they went out to the fields to glean wild plants for food.  Animals ate the plant only when there was nothing better available.  Unlike other lettuces, prickly lettuce was and is not now touted as a source of vitamins or minerals.  Pass over described the way Judah treated its prophets’ warnings in the 70 plus year period between King Hezekiah’s death and King Josiah hearing the Book of Law.

Often we ignore God’s laws as we live out our busy lives; we pay no attention to God’s claims or directions.   Despite our behavior God does not ignore us.  From heaven God sees all mankind; he watches all who live on earth (Psalm 33:13-14).  The inheritance of the blameless (righteous) will endure forever; but God’s enemies will vanish like the beauty of the fields (Psalm 37:18-20).  Individuals who ignore God and his laws are God’s enemies (Philippians 3:18-19).

At some point in our education, most of us memorized the following verse and thought it was cute:

My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light (Millay, 1920).

We act like the only outcome of our “pass over living” is that we make a lovely light.  In reality, those who live paying no attention to God can look forward to one outcome and it is not light.  The outcome for ignoring God and paying no attention to his claims is eternity without God, not just the four score and ten years that we may have on earth (Piper, 2004).  We will all have eternal life; the question is where will be spend it.

Reflection.  “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

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 10, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Zephaniah’s Prophecy Using Nettles

Urtica urens RignaneseZephaniah prophecy that Moab and Ammon would be like a place of nettles is in Zephaniah 2:8-11.

Zephaniah was a minor prophet and a fourth generation descendent of King Hezekiah.  Most likely he lived in Jerusalem and ministered between 640-630 B.C. during the early years of King Josiah’s reign.  His words reflected a familiarity with court circles and political issues.  He seemed to know firsthand Judah’s rejection of God and the idol worship which occurred under Kings Manasseh and Amon.

The book of Zephaniah is three spell-binding chapters that not only announce God’s pending judgment on Israel but God’s judgment on many nations living in the region, e.g., Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Cush, and Assyria.  Zephaniah’s prophecy which included the nettle plant was against Moab and Ammon.  Both the Moabites and Ammonites were offspring of Lot and his incestuous union with his two daughters (Genesis 19:30-38).  From the time Israel attempted to pass through Moab on their way to the Promised Land, there was enmity between Moab and Israel (Numbers chapter 21-26).  Ammon initiated war on Israel in the time of Israel’s judges (Judges 3:12-13).

Zephaniah began his prophecy against Moab and Ammon by writing that God heard their insults, taunts, and threats against Israel.  God was aware of the pride of the Moabites and Ammonites.   In retaliation for their behavior, Moab would become like Sodom and Ammon like Gomorrah.   Both would become places of nettles and salt pits, a wasteland forever.

God’s declaration that Moab and Ammon would become like Sodom and Gomorrah should have disturbed the Moabites and Ammonites.  Their ancestors (Lot and his daughters) once lived in Sodom.  Ancestral history would have included tales of God reigning burning sulfur on the two cities (Genesis 19:23-29).   The outcome was fiery destruction of the cities, people, and vegetation on the plain where the cities were located.

Nettle Plants

Many botanists agree that the nettle of Zephaniah was the Urtica urens L, also known as the burning nettle, dwarf nettle, and small nettle.  The burning nettle grows best in temperate regions and is thought to be indigenous to Europe.  In Israel, nettles grow in disturbed sites such as ditch banks, road sides and fence rows; however, it does well in vegetable gardens and orchards.  Urtica urens does not tolerate shade. Both the leaf blade and slender stalks grow stinging and non-stinging hairs. Stinging hairs are long, sometimes bristly.   Prickly hairs contain two parts 1) a softer vessel at the base and 2) a minute tube-like structure tipped by a round bulb.  When a hair contacts the skin, the bulb breaks off, exposing a needle-like point.  The point penetrates the skin and injects an irritating substance.  The outcome is a burning dermatitis which can last more than 12 hours.  Burning can occur even after visible symptoms (redness, swelling) fade.  Unlike poison oak which affects only a portion of the population, nettles burns the skin of everyone who comes into contact with it.  Gloves should always be worn to protect the skin from the hairs.

Symbolism: Burn, Fire 

In the prophecy of Zephaniah against Moab and Ammon, the burning nettle symbolized burning and fire.   Burning means to destroy by fire.  Fire occurs from combustion of a fuel and results in light, flame, and heat.  In the Bible, sometimes fire and burning had a positive meaning, e.g., the burning bush, the cloud of fire above the Tabernacle.   Equally, burning and fire had negative connotations, often describing destruction.   For example, Isaiah (5:24) prophesied that Judah who rejected God was to be destroyed as fire licks up straw and as dry grass sinks down in flames.

We know that the reason Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire and burning was the extreme evil and perversions that occurred in these cities reached to the heavens (Genesis 18:20).   In comparison to Sodom and Gomorrah the behavior of Moab and Ammon didn’t seem too bad; their sin was taunting and insulting the Israelites and threatening to occupy Israelite territories.  To understand the extent of Moab’s and Ammon’s taunts, read Ezekiel’s prophecy.  Ammon rejoiced maliciously when God’s sanctuary (Temple) was desecrated (Ezekiel 25:1-7).  When Moab saw Judah vulnerable and fall, they discounted Judah’s God (Ezekiel 25”8-11).  They did not recognize that Judah and the God of the universe were separate entities.

Sometimes I feel frightened when I hear or read of clergy, politicians, and ordinary citizens mocking God and discounting God.  Equally, when the United States waffles in its support of Israel, I feel disquiet.  Do these individuals know Bible and secular history?  Do they know that Israel holds a special place in God’s eyes and heart?  God may punish the Israelites with burning fire; but, he will never destroy them or reject them totally.  God’s plans are to redeem a remnant of the Israelites (Zephaniah 3:8-20).   God said, “at that time I will deal with all (nations) who oppress you (Israel” (Zephaniah 3:19, NIV-SB, 2003).

Prayer.  God, help me to never discount what you do in our national life as well as in my individual life.   Help the United States to never oppress the people of Israel.

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 September 30, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Isaiah, Ahaz & the Buckthorn

Buckthorn fruitAn interaction between Isaiah’s and King Ahaz is described in Isaiah chapter 7 with other parts of Ahaz life described in 2 Kings chapter 16 and in 2 Chronicles chapter 28.

Isaiah (740-681 B.C.), son of Amoz, is listed as the first of the three Major Prophets; he wrote the book that bears his name.  Isaiah began his ministry the year that king Uzziah died and ministered during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, and early in the reign of Manasseh.  The Bible identified Jotham and Hezekiah as kings who walked with God.  In contrast Kings Ahaz and Manasseh were two of the wickedest kings who reigned over Judah.

From the beginning of his 16 year reign, Ahaz rejected God and burnt incense and offered sacrifices on hill tops and under spreading trees.  Ahaz even sacrificed his son to a false god.  When the Arameans and Israelites (Northern Tribes) banded together to attack Jerusalem, Ahab and the citizens of Jerusalem were shaken “as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind” (Isaiah 7:2).  Instead of turning to God for rescue, Ahaz turned to the king of Assyria.  Ahaz plundered the Temple silver and gold and sent it to Assyria to buy help.

When the Arameans and Israelites joined to attach Jerusalem, God sent Isaiah to reassure Ahaz that Jerusalem would not be overrun by this coalition of armies (Isaiah chapter 7).  At the meeting, God directed Ahaz to ask for a sign of God’s intention to protect Jerusalem.  Ahaz refused saying that he would not put the Lord to the test.  Isaiah’s responded that Ahaz was trying the patience of God. Then, Isaiah prophesied that in the next 12–13 years both the lands of Aram and Israel would be laid waste and the Lord would bring on Judah devastation from Egypt and Assyria.  Where there were a thousand vines worth a thousand silver shekels, the land would be covered with briers and thorns.  Men would need to carry bows and arrows for protection when they went among the briers and thorns.  Where there was once cultivated land, cattle and sheep would run loose in a brier and thorn infested land.

The Buckthorn Shrub

This shrub associated with Isaiah is the Rhamnus lycioides, also known as the Rhamnus palaestinus and Palestine buckthorn. This buckthorn is native to countries that border the Mediterranean Sea and is well adapted to dry climate of Mediterranean Basin.  In Israel buckthorns grows primarily in woodlands, shrub-lands, and the mountain vegetation of Mount Hermon.  It occupies some of the same sites as the Kermes oak, Aleppo pine, and juniper. In Israel, the buckthorn is a slow growing shrub that reaches a height of 3-6 feet; however, in the more temperate climate of central Europe, it can grow to a height of 39 feet.  The Palestine buckthorn is evergreen in Israel and grows with a many branched, tangled form, and velvety thorns.  Young stems are green but as the bark matures they become gray. The buckthorn fruit is a small (1/4 inch), oval, berry which is initially green but turns black with maturity.  Berries are poisonous to humans, but a good source of food for birds. Bbuckthorn plants  can be propagated from cuttings.

Symbolism: Trash

Isaiah used the thorn to describe once fertile agricultural lands destroyed as a result of God’s judgment.  Instead of vines and grains, the land would produce thorns and briers (7:19, 23-25).  The Hebrew word for the thorn in Isaiah 7:23-25 is shayith which is translated as scrub, trash, and thorn.  Trash is defined as debris from plant materials, something worth little or nothing, and something thrown away.  Trashed is an excellent symbol for what was going to happen in Judea as a result of Ahaz leading the Judeans to reject God.

Essentially, King Ahaz treated God’s Temple like trash.  When the Arameans and Israelites attacked, Ahaz plundered the Temple of its gold and silver and sent it to the Assyrian king.  Later, Ahaz removed the furnishing from the Temple, e.g., the basins from the moveable stands, the Sea from the bronze bulls, the Sabbath canopy, and the royal entryway from the Temple (2 Kings 16:17-18; 2 Chronicles 28:24).  Ahaz shut the doors to God’s Temple.  He set up worthless idols at every street corner in Jerusalem.  In every town in Judah, Ahaz build high places to burn sacrifices to man-created gods (2 Chronicles 28:25).

Isaiah prophesied that God would allow the land of Judah to become the trash Judah claimed for itself.  Formerly fertile fields would become brier and thorn (trash) infested as the result of God’s punishment of Judah’s sin.

People that treat God and his laws as trash were not confined to the Old Testament.  Paul identified that some people in New Testament times were senseless, faithless, heartless, and ruthless (Romans 1:31).  “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things, but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1:32).  We need only spend an hour watching television to know that many people act similar to people in the first century; and like in the first century, onlookers applaud their degenerate behaviors.

God’s judgment is not confined to the Old Testament.  Today God’s judgment will fall on people who treat God and his laws as worthless.  If individuals want to be something that is thrown away like trash, God will allow them to be this way (Romans 1:28).  God will give them over to a reprobate mind as he did the Judeans.

Reflection.  When I started to write about God and trash, I felt anxious.  The anxiety caused me to wonder if I love God, but treat his laws as something I can accept or throw away. What about you – do you pick and choose which of God’s laws to obey?

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 August 27, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Joel & the Apricot Tree

Prunus armeniaca, RignaneseThe story of the locust plague on Judea is in Joel chapter 1.

Joel was a prophet in the Southern Kingdom (Judea).  Joel was categorized as a Minor Prophet and his book is placed second (between Hosea and Amos) among the 12 Minor Prophets.  Joel is a short three chapters.  Controversy surrounds when Joel was written.  Probably the controversy resulted because the book is divided into two distinct parts.  In the first part (Joel 1:2-2:17), Joel described Judea being invaded by locust.  From this perspective Joel was written during the locust plague early in the divided kingdom period.  In the latter portion of his book, Joel (Joel 2:18-3:21) delivered a prophecy about the restoration of Judah and God’s coming judgment on all nations.  Because of the language in this prophecy, some scholars believe Joel lived concurrent with Jeremiah or even after the restoration of Judah.  My perspective was that Joel was written during the reign of King Joash (835-796 B.C.) or early in the reign Uzziah (792-740 B.C).

Most scholars agree that Joel wrote about an actual scourge of locust into Judea. Joel’s descriptions of locust movements are graphic and accurate.  The locust devastated the harvest and ruined the land.  Field crops were destroyed with grains and vines eaten; plants that remained dried up.  New seeds did not germinate; they shriveled beneath clods of dry soil.  Because there was no fodder or pastures, cattle milled about and moaned in discomfort.  Even the sheep suffered from lack of food.  Fig trees were stripped of their bark as well as fruit, leaves, and stems.  All the trees of the fields – the pomegranate, palm, and apple tree – were dried up.

The year the locust invaded Judea was a horrible year for most Judeans.  Many suffered from inadequate food and nutrients because Judean agriculture was destroyed.  Likely imported foods were scarce and/or costly.  Even in subsequent years, the nation’s food supply was reduced.  Seeds did not germinate during the locust year; consequently, no seeds were available to plant the next growing season.  Farmers and families would have to buy seeds from other nations.  Trees and vines were damaged or destroyed.  Heavily damaged trees take years to recover; e.g., to grow new branches and produce fruit.

Despite the dire problems of food security that came about because of Judah’s sins, God loved his people and reassured them.  God promised “I will repay you for the years the locust have eaten – my great army that I sent among you” (Joel 2:28).  This verse tells each Judean and each of us that God will restore the times/years that we wasted living far from him.  The children of Judah and we have a part in this restoration.  Our part is to turn to God with our whole heart; to rend (tear or break) our hearts because of our sins (Joel 2:12-13).Apricots from Roanoke

The Apricot Tree

Joel identified one tree of the field as an apple tree.  The preponderance of scholarly and botanical evidence points to the apple tree as being an apricot tree.   Refer to the discussion in Chapter 1 on the Tree of Knowledge for growth requirements of apple trees.  The Apricot tree of the Bible is the Prunus armeniaca L. The apricot tree is native to northern China.  Probably the apricot tree was introduced into Mesopotamia and Israel about 2500 B.C.  Normally, P. armeniaca grows about 30 feet tall; however, wild trees have grown to 45 feet.  When cultivated, apricot trees reach full production in five years and have an economic life of about 30 years. The fruit of the tree is the apricot. In ancient Israel, apricots were handpicked from trees or trees were shaken so that apricots were dislodged and dropped to the ground.  Shaking trees has two problems.  First, when mature fruits hit the ground, they easily bruise, which promotes rot (Rhizopus fruit rot).  Second, apricot trees are more susceptible to trunk damage from shaking than many other fruit trees.  Often an apricot tree can be picked over 2–3 times each harvest.  Apricots were eaten fresh, cooked, or dried.  Fresh apricots taste best when eaten in 1-2 weeks. Ancient Judeans laid the apricots out in the sun, usually in a single layer, to dry.

Symbolism: Encouragement

In his book on correspondences of Bible plants, Worcester (2009) suggested that sweet fruit trees such as the apricot symbolized pleasant encouragement for good.  Providing encouragement is a key component of our role as Christians.  In the Bible over 60 references address encouragement.   When used in the Bible, “encouragement” meant to inspire with courage or hope, to give help, to lift a person’s confidence, or to strengthen their purpose.  In the Old Testament, several people or groups were identified as needing encouragement.  Moses was told to encourage or inspire Joshua because Joshua would lead the Israelites into the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 1:38, 3:28).   Israel’s soldiers strengthened comrades with words of encouragement during battles (Judges 20:22).  Joab warned David that if David did not go to his soldiers and encourage (lift their confidence) them after Absalom’s death, that the soldiers would desert (2 Samuel 19:7).  The righteous were entreated to encourage or give aide to the afflicted oppressed, fatherless, and widows (Psalm 10:17; Isaiah 1:17).

New Testament church stories include stories about encouragers and encouragement.  In fact, encouragement is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:6).  In Acts, we read that the Holy Spirit encouraged the churches throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria (Acts 9:13).  When we lived in Charleston, we had the privilege of attending a charismatic Lutheran church.  Walking into the church, we felt the Holy Spirit.  His presence permeated the songs/hymns, liturgy, and communion.  We came from a church that had severe financial challenges and were amazed one Sunday to hear that the church had so much money that they were having a large free shrimp picnic for the congregation and friends.  If you have lived in the South, you are probably smiling about now remembering that shrimp picnic had every side dish imaginable.  Each Sunday this Lutheran church operated a bus that went to the Rescue Mission area.  The Mission did not offer meals on Sundays.  The bus brought homeless individuals to the church, fed them a hearty breakfast, and invited them to church.  These folks were also invited to the shrimp picnic.  What an absolute blessing when the Holy Spirit intervenes in churches to inspire members and to strengthen their purpose.

Paul wrote that everything written in the past was written to teach … and encourage us so that we can have hope (Romans 15:4).  Repeatedly Paul wrote how he was encouraged (heartened) when he learned that Church plants were thriving; e.g., Corinthians   Paul even rejoiced that his imprisonment encouraged (inspired) his brothers in the Lord to speak the word of God courageously and fearlessly (Colossians 2:2).

Tychicus was an early church encourager.  Writing from a Roman prison in about 60 A.D., Paul described Tychicus as a dear brother, a faithful minister, and a fellow servant in Christ (Ephesians 6:21-22; Colossians 4:7-8).  Tychicus knew Paul’s circumstances, e.g., how and what Paul was doing.  He delivered Paul’s letters to the churches as Ephesus and Colosse.  Paul sent Tychicus to these churches with the expressed purpose that Tychicus would encourage – lift, inspire, strengthen – them.

Prayer.  God, thank you for letting us see the importance of the gift of encouragement and it purpose in the life of the Church.  Help us to be intentional encouragers.

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 August 3, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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