Tag Archives: Jews

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.

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: Carolyn A. Roth 3/14

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Judas Hung Himself on a Redbud Tree

Redbud tree flowerThe story of Judas’ betrayal of Christ and suicide is told in Matthew chapter 26 and Matthew 27:1-5.

Judas was one of the original 12 disciples. He is called Judas son of Simon and Judas Iscariot.  Iscariot means “man from Kerioth.” Kerioth, known both as Kerioth Hezron and Hazor, was a town located in the northern Negev that belonged Judah (Joshua 15:25). Probably, Judas Iscariot was the only non-Galilean apostle. He kept the community money bag for Jesus and his followers. Judas objected to Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with nard. His objection was that the costly perfume was worth a year’s wages. The nard could have been sold and the money given to the poor. According to John’s gospel, Judas wasn’t concerned about the poor; rather, Judas was a thief and wanted access to this large sum of money. 

After Mary anointed Christ, Judas went to the chief priests to negotiate money to betray Jesus. The chief priests were delighted with this turn of events and offered Judas 30 silver coins, the equivalent to about 4 month’s salary for a Jewish laborer. Judas agreed on the amount and the chief priests gave the money to Judas immediately.  From that time onward, Judas looked for an opportunity to betray Christ that would not cause a riot among the Jews who believed in him.  

Jesus knew that Judas was going to betray him. During the Passover meal, Jesus said that one of the 12 would betray him. Saddened, each apostle asked Christ if he would be the betrayer. Audaciously, Judas said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” (Matthew 26:25). Jesus answered, “Yes, it is you.”

After supper, Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. Knowing Jesus spent his nights in Gethsemane, Judas guided an attachment of soldiers, officials, and Pharisees to Jesus. Judas told them that the man he kissed would be Jesus. Walking up to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi” and kissed him. Immediately, Christ was arrested and taken to the chief priest Caiaphas. By early morning (Friday morning), the Jewish hierarchy determined to put Jesus to death. They bound Jesus and handed him over to Pilate, the governor. 

When Judas saw that Jesus was condemned, he was filled with remorse. He tried to return the 30 silver coins to the chief priests and elders saying, “I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood” (Matthew 27:4.). Callously, they responded, “What is that to us? That’s your responsibility.”  Judas threw the money into the temple and went out and hung himself.

The Redbud Tree     

By tradition, Judas hung himself on a redbud tree. For centuries the Cercis siliquastrum has been called the “Judas tree.” As Judas hung on the tree, the tree’s white flowers turned red because the tree was ashamed that the betrayer of Christ died on it. The origin of this legend is unknown; however, many Israeli gardens, e.g., Neot Kedumim and Jerusalem Botanical Garden, associate the Cercis siliquastrum with Judas Iscariot.

Cercis siliquastrum is called the Mediterranean Redbud. It is native to the eastern Mediterranean basin and is widely distributed in the Middle East. The redbud tree grows in the northern and central regions of Israel. Often it can be seen along banks of streams and as understory in tall forests. Cercis siliquatrum can be badly damaged by frost and is less hardy than its American counterpart Cercis canadensis.

Symbolism: Ashamed, shame

By tradition the redbud tree felt shame because Judas used it to commit suicide. Ashamed means feeling disgraced, guilty, or inferior. The redbud tree’s shame wasn’t because Judas hung himself; but because Judas used it as the vehicle of his death. Matthew wrote that Judas was seized with remorse after betraying Christ’s innocent blood (Matthew 27:3-4). Remorse includes a gnawing distress arising from a sense of guilt for past wrongs or feeling self-reproach.

Possibly, Judas felt both ashamed and guilt. The difference between the redbud tree and Judas was that the redbud tree changed its flowers from a pristine, beautiful white to crimson to atone for its disgrace. Judas’ sin was much greater than that of the redbud tree, yet, Judas made no effort to atone for what he did. Instead, Judas committed suicide to escape his feelings.

Reflection: Like the legend of the redbud tree, legends teach us truths. I’m ashamed and guilty that my sin nailed Christ to the cross; but, I am so grateful to have a Savior!

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 23, 2013; Carolyn A. Roth

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Rue, the Protective Herb

Jesus’ regretRue chalepensis (2) over the priorities of the Pharisees is described in Luke 11:37-44.

This entry is part of the previous one where Jesus was invited to eat in a Pharisee’s home.  Mentally, the Pharisee host criticized Jesus because Jesus did not wash his hands before eating. To the Pharisee hand washing was important not because he was concerned about hygiene, but because he care about ceremonial purity. 

Knowing what the Pharisee was thinking, Jesus attempted to show him that preoccupation with externals had little to do with real religion. Christ declared, “Woe to you Pharisees because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue, and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God” (Luke 11:42). When Christ used the word “woe,” he was not calling down a curse on the Pharisees, being sly, or amusing. Christ’s “woe” was an expression of deep regret, an expression of the anguish he felt for these men. The Pharisees missed the point of God’s law. They had their priorities and their interpretation of God’s laws upside down and inside out. By this time in Jewish history, the Pharisees had the teachings of the Torah and the Old Testament prophets. They were aware that God did not require 1,000 rams, or 10,000 rivers of oil, or their first born child as a sacrifice (Micah 6:7-8). God wanted men and women to act justly, to extend mercy toward their brothers and sisters, and to love God.

Rue

The rue of the Bible is the Ruta chalepenis called African rue, common rue, and fringed rue.  Rue is native to the Middle East. In ancient Israel, rue grew wild; therefore, a tithe was not paid when the herb was used. In New Testament times, rue was grown in gardens, necessitating growers to pay a tithe on its sell. Rue can grow in almost any type of soil, but grows best in sand or clay loam. Young plants require average to moist soil; however, after plants are established they are drought tolerant.  Rue enjoys full sun. In Israel, rue grows in the northern and central parts of the country, but not in the Negev region. It can tolerate only low levels of salt; consequently, rue is not grown along the Mediterranean coastline of Israel. In ancient Egypt and Greece, it was used as to stimulate menstruation and to induce abortion. Currently, rue is used both as a condiment.  In natural medicine, rue is use as an anti-spasmodic and to strengthen eye sight. 

Symbolism: Regret, Regret

In English, its common name — rue – means regret. Historically, rue was regarded as a protective substance. It was one of the ingredients in mithridate, a substance used in ancient medicine and folklore as an antidote for every poison and a cure for every disease. Possibly the genus name Ruta is derived from “rhutos,” a Greek word meaning “shield” in view of its history as an antidote. Ostensibly, the Pharisees teachings were to act as a shield for the common citizen of Judea to protect them from any blasphemy against God and his commandments.  Instead, their man-made laws often made the Jews rue or regret their presence.

Repeatedly, the Bible – particularly Psalms – identified that God is our shield. A shield is defensive armor or someone who protects and defends. Paul instructed Christians to take up the shield of faith, a deep abiding confidence in God (Ephesians 6:16). He said that with the shield of faith, we can extinguish all of the flaming arrows of the devil. 

Reflection. Possibly Jewish citizens expected too much of the Pharisees. It is never good to rely on men or governments to shield or protect us. Who is your shield and protector?

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 July 20, 2013; Carolyn A. Roth

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Tithing on Mint, A Teachabe Moment

The experience of Jesus eating a meal with a Pharisee is described in Luke 11:37-44. 

At the end of a day of teaching, a Pharisee invited Jesus to his house to eat. Christ entered the house and reclined at the table. The Pharisee was surprised that Jesus did not wash his hands before the meal for two reasons. First, most foods were eaten with the hands. Second, although not a Mosaic Law, Jewish hierarchy advocated a procedure for hand washing before meals. Knowing what his host was thinking, Jesus admonished him, saying that Pharisees clean the outsides of dishware while they disregard the insides which are full of greed and wickedness. Pharisees, tithe on mint, rue, and garden herbs, but neglect justice and the love of God. Christ admonished the Pharisees to practice justice and love as well as tithing.

The Pharisees were a sect of the Jews that began in response to two events in Israel’s history.  First, when the Jews returned to Jerusalem from the Babylonian captivity, some of the laws outlined in the Pentateuch (Torah) seemed out-dated. The Jewish society had changed from the time Moses and the Children of Israel journeyed in the Wilderness. The Pharisees attempted to translate the original intent of the Mosaic laws into religious rules for Judean society in the centuries before Christ. The second event that gave rise to the Pharisees was the Jewish Hasmonean dynasty of the second century B.C. The Hasmoneans declared themselves both king and high priest, a decree and action that contradicted the Laws of Moses. Many Pharisees responded by becoming overzealous for the Law of Moses; they wanted a strict interpretation of the Laws. 

The Book of Law required that Jews tithe. Tithing meant that they gave 10% of their money and/or crops to the Lord which usually went to the Temple (Leviticus 27:30). Mint and rue were herbs produced by farmers and other agriculturists for commerce; therefore, Mosaic Law required Jews to tithe on them. Importantly, when Christ spoke to the Pharisee, he did not tell the Pharisee that tithing on mint production was wrong. Just the opposite, Christ reinforced the need for God’s people to tithe. At the same time, Christ instructed the Pharisees that loving God and seeking justice were the greater good.

Mint, the Plant

The mint that grew in the Holy Land was Mentha longifolia, sometimes known as Mentha spicata L., wild mint, and horsemint. The large mint family, Lamiaceae, has 250 genera and 6,700 species; species names are often confused and confusing. Probably, M. longifolia originated in the countries of the Mediterranean Basin; however, South Africa claims it as indigenous. Mint thrives in most soils as long as soils are moist. If mint plants are propagated to secure a specific aroma, it is best to cut a piece of the original root (rhizome) and plant it. Virtually any part of a root will grow into a new plant.   When mint is planted for its essential oils, full sun is optimal; however, it will grow in partial shade. Wild mint tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure; it is not frost tender. In Israel, wild mint is found in Galilee, the central mountains and valleys, and south into the Northern Negev Desert and Aravah Valley. 

 Symbolism: Happiness, Joyful

The Greek word for mint is hēduŏsmŏn which is derived from hēdista meaning very gladly and kauchaŏmai, which means joy and rejoice. These two Greek words denote happiness and joy. Both words are appropriate for mint which medicinally relieves headaches, aids digestion, and is used to cover unsavory tastes and smells (Plants for a Future, 2012).

Seemingly everyone wants to be happy. The writer of Ecclesiastes penned that he knew of nothing better for a man than to be happy and do good (Ecclesiastes 3:12). In the Old Testament, happiness resulted from many scenarios. Barren women were happy and rejoiced over the birth of healthy children, e.g., Sarah, Rebecca, Hannah. After hearing the wisdom of Solomon, the Queen of Sheba exclaimed that happy were the men and officials of Solomon who heard his wisdom (I Kings 10:8). The wicked Haman was happy that Queen Esther invited him to a banquet with King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) (Esther 5:9). Jonah was happy because a vine grew over his head screening him from the hot sun (Jonah 4:6). 

King David associated righteous behavior with gladness, happiness, and joy (Psalm 68:3). When Pharisees tithed on their income to include the relatively unimportant herb mint, they acted rightly. If they lived in strict adherence to the Mosaic laws, the Pharisees could have been happy, joyful people; yet, I could find no place in the Bible where the Pharisees were described as happy or joyful. Is it possible that righteous behavior does not lead to happiness? Was David wrong to associate righteousness with joy? Or was there something wrong about the righteousness of the Pharisees?

William MacDonald (1995) succinctly summarized why Pharisees were not happy and joyful.  They were externalists; which means the Pharisees were punctilious about small details of the ceremonial law, e.g., handwashing. At the same time, they neglected the greater commandments to love God and their neighbors (Matthew 22:37-40). They emphasized the subordinate and overlooked the primary laws of God. Happiness and joy cannot come when God or his primary commandments are ignored. Happiness comes from loving God and striving to please him in all things. Joy comes from doing good to others. 

Reflection. Christ said, whatever you do to the least man, woman or child, you do to me; and whatever you do not do to the least man, woman, or child you do not do to me (Matthew 25:40, 45). Christ is the “least” man, woman, or child.   

Identifying False Prophets

Centaurea iberica, butterflyJesus’ identified that we can recognize good and bad prophets by their fruits; see Matthew 7:15-20.

This teaching is labeled “A Tree and Its Fruit” (NIV-SB). Jesus began with “watch out for false prophets” (Matthew 7:15). Then, he told the crowds the reason for his warning: false prophets were ferocious wolfs that acted like gentle sheep. The good news was that people could recognize false prophets by their fruit – by looking at both their words and their actions. Just as a woman cannot pick grapes from thorn bushes or a man pick figs from a thistle, neither can a false prophet produce good fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Although false prophets could appear humble and mild like Christ or even blunt and rough like John the Baptist, their words are full of lies.

When Christ compared the words of false prophets to thorn bushes and thistles he was still teaching in Galilee. Primarily his listeners were from rural areas and small towns who had experience growing and picking grapes and figs. They knew about good and bad vines and productive and non-productive trees. These listeners weren’t surprised when Jesus said that trees that do not bear good fruit are cut down and thrown into the fire. The sooner bad trees were uprooted and destroyed the better. Although newly planted trees take 3-4 years to grow, they have the potential to produce good fruit; with bad trees there was no hope for a good crop. When Christ noted that bad trees were cut down, he was not implying that the people should kill false prophets. Rather, he was saying that the correct response to a false prophet is to stop listening to them.

Spanish Thistle

The plant associated with the thistle in Matthew 7:15-20 is the Centaurea iberica, known as the Spanish thistle or Iberian star thistle. The Spanish thistle is native to India, the Middle East, and southeastern Europe. Often the thistle is found in disturbed areas including over-grazed lands and construction sites. Seeds are spread by livestock, vehicles, equipment, and contaminated hay and seed crop. Seeds can be transported on clothing. The Spanish thistle grows throughout Israel from the northern Golan and Hermon areas, through the central mountains and plains including the Mediterranean coast to the Northern Negev Desert area. Spanish star thistle is an invasive plant that displaces valuable forage species and space in pasture lands. The plants sharp spines deter grazing animals, impede recreational use, and restrict access for wildlife.

Symbolism: Recognize, Recognition           

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

First, a true prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ is the son of God in the flesh (1 John 4:3).  In contrast, a false prophet does not acknowledge Jesus as God. When prophets, pastors, or theologians say that it is not important whether Christ was truly God or in some way deny the deity of Christ, they are false prophets.  

Second, false prophets can be recognized by how they respond to and preach the word of God.  True prophets read and obey God’s word (1 John 4:6). They preach the Bible, because it contains God’s truths for personal salvation and for successful everyday life.  In today’s society, the norm is to “spin” information. “Spin” is a form of propaganda that provides an interpretation of an event in order to persuade opinion for or against it. Often spin is disingenuous, deceptive, or manipulative. False prophets spin God’s truths. Believers need to discerningly read the scriptures so they do not get taken in by the words of false prophets.

Third, false prophets can be recognized by sin in their lives. One way to recognize sin is to compare a prophet’s life with The Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments identify sins, e.g., coveting, lying, and putting career achievement before God. A prophet who breaks God’s Commandments consistently and without repentance is a false prophet.  

Finally, in the Sermon on the Mountain, Jesus outlined expectations for followers. False prophets have said that these standards are unrealistic, e.g., so high that people cannot meet them. False prophets argued that the moral-ethical standards that Christ described in the Sermon on the Mount will only be achieved when Christ returns to earth the second time. Prophets or pastors who advocate this view are denying Christ’s words. In the Sermon on the Mountain, Christ outlined how individuals should live now, not in the new heaven and the new earth. False prophets sin when they distort God’s word and they provide an instantaneous way for Christians to recognize them.

Reflection. Do you know the Bible well enough to recognize when it is being preached truthfully? If you answered “No,” what are some options?

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

Copyright May 27, 2013; Carolyn A. Roth

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John the Baptist: No Weak Reed

????????????Christ description of John the Baptist as no feeble reed is in Luke 7:18-35.

About to begin his public ministry, Jesus went John to be baptized.  John preached a baptism for the repentance of sin. At first John declined to baptize Jesus recognizing that Christ was the sinless son of God. John persuaded John to baptize him by saying that the baptism was necessary to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:13). To fulfill all righteousness indicated that Jesus was consecrated to God and officially approved by him. 

Soon after the baptism of Christ, King Herod Antipas imprisoned John. John openly disapproved of Herod’s marriage to Herodias, Herod’s brother’s wife (Matthew 14:3-5).  Herod divorced his first wife to marry Herodias. John’s prison was Machaerus, Herod’s fortress-palace on the east side of the Dead Sea. 

While imprisoned, John sent two of his disciples to Galilee to ask Christ, “are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else” (Luke 7:19). Christ did not give John’s disciples a direct “Yes” or “No” answer. Instead he told them to go back to John and report what they saw and heard, e.g., the blind received their sight, the lame walked, and lepers were cured.

After John’s messenger left, Christ asked the crowd what they expected when they went to the desert to see John: a reed swaying in the wind, a man dressed in fine clothes, or a prophet?  When Christ asked the crowd if they expected to see a swaying reed, he was referring to the firmness of John’s conviction and message. John’s message did not depend on his audience. He had the same message for tax collectors, religious leaders, and rulers:  repent, for the kingdom of heaven is a hand. John was not politically correct.  He never altered his message to accommodate an audience. He was a straight reed that did not sway from of his convictions; thus, his imprisonment and death.

The Reed

The reed that Christ alluded to was the Arundo donax, known as the giant reed or the Cypress cane. The giant reed was introduced into the Middle East and Europe from the sub-continent of Asia. The largest colonies are located on the banks of natural water courses, in floodplains of medium or large sized streams, and in dry river banks far from permanent water sources. Often the reed is found where water sources have been physically disturbed or dammed.  In Israel A. donax grows throughout the country from Mount Hermon to the Negev Desert. At one time, botanist thought the giant reed could not tolerate salt and maritime exposure; however, giant reeds have grown on sand dunes near seashores, e.g. the Sharon Plain. It tolerates strong winds and just about any type of soil. The giant reed will not grow in the shade.

Symbolism: Conviction, Convict

In the vignette of John the Baptist and the swaying reed, the symbolism is conviction. A conviction is a firmly held belief that something is true, real, and certain. John lived his convictions; he stayed on message (repentance) and on task (baptizing). My husband calls John “a straight arrow” because John did not deviate from his convictions. John was like the long straight culms of the giant reed which grew along the Jordan River where John baptized repentant sinners. 

Today the world has an even stronger voice than that of John to convict us of sin. The Holy Spirit is in the world to convict individuals of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8). The Holy Spirits convicts individuals of original sin and their need to repent, accept Christ as Savior, and be baptized. At the same time Holy Spirit has a convicting role in the lives of Christians as well. If we listen, the Holy Spirit tells us which parts of their lives are righteous and which are sinful. Then we can make sound judgments about aspects of our lives to change.   

Jude wrote that God and his holy ones will convict sinners about the harsh words that they have spoken against him (Jude 1:15). Sometimes Christians speak harshly about God when they do not get their own way, or do not understand reasons for circumstances in their lives.  At times, we laugh at jokes about God. Years ago I heard a joke about the Holy Spirit. I am still stunned that anyone had the temerity to joke about God’s spirit (Mark 3:29). Rarely do we speak up when an individual disrespects God by cursing or discounts the Holy Scriptures. Both laughter and silence imply agreement and can be as harsh as outspoken words against God.      

John could have been silent when Herod divorced his first wife so he could marry his brother’s wife. He wasn’t silent and he paid for his out-spoken convictions with his life. I wonder if we as Christians should speak out more often on the rampant immorality in our world. Yes, we will get push-back and that push-back may label us as intolerant, bigots, etc. Our reputations may be shredded as a result of speaking our convictions. John the Baptist cared more about his convictions than his reputation in the world.

Prayer: God, please give us men and women today who have convictions and beliefs and are not buffeted by winds of change and political correctness. Lord, give our churches and society men and women who will speak up for you.

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

Copyright May 13, 2013; Carolyn A. Roht

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Thanksgiving Prayer

Oh Lord our God, maker of all things including the beautiful plant creation that you gave to mankind. In return, we offer our gift of service to you and our promise to be good stewards of your creation. We dedicate ourselves to the care and redemption of all that you have made.

Thank you today God for poppies, petunias, primrose and pink passion flowers that will beautify our garden and our world. Image

Photography taken at Jerusalem Botanical Garden, Israel, 2012.

Worry and the Lily of the Fields

?????????????????Jesus talked about lilies as part of the Sermon on the Mountain; see Matthew 6:25-34.

This excerpt is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus was teaching in the synagogues in Galilee, healing disease and sickness in people. News of his teaching spread throughout Syria and large crowds from Galilee, Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the trans-Jordan followed him.   When Jesus saw the large crowds, he went to the mountain side and sat down. Matthew wrote that Jesus’ disciples came to him and he began to teach them (Matthew 5:1-2). Most likely the “them” that Matthew identified in this passage referred to both Jesus’ disciples and the crowds present at that time (Matthew 7:28).

The Sermon on the Mount was Christ’s inaugural address. Christ explained what he expected of members of his kingdom. This address is the standard for Christian life. At the same time, Christians cannot expect to meet these standards in their own power. Christians need a regenerated heart and the Holy Spirit inside them in order to meet Christ’s requirement for kingdom living.

Christ’s example which used lilies of the field was part of the “Do Not Worry” section of the Sermon on the Mount (NIV-SB). Christ began this section by asking his hearers why they worried about clothes.  More than likely Christ was asking why they worried if they would have clothes to wearer rather than which outfit they were going to wear that day. Then, Christ gave the example of the field lilies, saying that King Solomon in his splendor – in all his beautifully-colored, rich garb — was not dressed like one of the lilies.  Christ ended the “Do Not Worry” portion of the Sermon on the Mountain by saying that God knows our need for clothes, food, and drink. If we first seek God’s kingdom and righteousness, then God will give to us everything else we need including clothes.     

When Christ used the example of lilies, he was not referring to the true lily (Lilium candidum) described with Hosea. He was referring to a flower that grew wild and abundant in the fields, was colorful, and known to most people in the crowd. 

The Anemone

The lily of the field that Christ described in the Sermon on the Mount was possibly Anemone coronaria, also known as the crown anemone, Palestine anemone, and windflower. The anemone is indigenous to southern European countries. It grows in every part of Israel from the northern Golan and Hermon area south through central valleys and hills to the far south at Eilat. Anemones are found along the Israel’s Mediterranean coastline. Anemone grows well in full sun to partial shade and average, well-drained soil. The more sun, the more water required for anemone to thrive; however, anemone do not respond well to constantly soggy soil.  Although anemones grow from seeds, they also propagate by forming bulbets or corms.

Symbolism:  Worry   

The Anemone coronaria has been associated with the Trinity, sorrow, and death; however, in the context of the Sermon on the Mountain, Christ is talking about worry.  Three times in the Matthew 6:25-34 passage, Christ told the people not to worry. He identified four things they should not worry about — their life, what they would eat and drink, and what they wear. Christ promised that God knows his children require these basic necessities and will see that they are met.

Later in Matthew, Christ gave his apostles instructions prior to sending them out in pairs to preach and to heal (Matthew 10:5-20). One directive was for the apostles not to worry about what they would say or how to say it when they were arrested and even flogged in the synagogues. In those times God would give the disciples the right words. The Spirit of the Father would speak through them.

Recently, Bruce and I were working in our garden transplanting flowers. After working about 1.5 hours, Bruce walked up a hill carrying a pan of chrysanthemums. I was walking behind him.  Suddenly, he dropped the pan, flailed his arms, and somersaulted backward down the hill dropping off of a rock wall. Immediately, I ran to him and found him unconscious. Our neighbor called 911. In a short time, Bruce was in the Emergency Department of our local hospital.  Initially, I was beyond worried, almost to panic. Then, my spirit became very calm. The calmness was the result of our very Christian neighbors praying for both of us. Later our church family joined these prayers. 

This incident made me realize that I do not have control of my life or my husband’s life. Health alterations can happen in a second. Worrying about basic needs such as food, clothing, and health does not change the need for them.  Worry does nothing but disturb an individual’s peace of mind as the same thoughts and concerns intrude into the mind, hour after hour and day after day. What changes life is taking our worries and anxieties to God in prayer and letting him give us back peace.

Reflection. In the sermon on the Mountain, Christ reassured the people that they were more valuable than birds, flowers, clothes, food, and water. Do you worry incessantly or do you live like you believe Christ’s words?

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

Copyright April 17, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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Does Old Age Diminish Desire?

Capparis spinosa BushThe Teacher’s description of old age and diminishing desire is in Ecclesiastes 12:1-5.

The Teacher gave advice at the beginning of this teaching, then provided examples to support the advice. The advice is “remember your Creator in the days of your youth before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’” (Ecclesiastes 12:1, NIV-SB, 2002). In poetic and allegorical form the Teacher elaborated how age takes its toll on a man, reducing him to feebleness. Read through the Table for an explanation of various diminished senses and abilities of old age and their accompanying fears.

Description and Interpretation of Old Age

Description Interpretation Verse
Keepers of the house tremble Arms and hands tremble perhaps with a neurological disease, e.g., Parkinsonism 12:3
Strong men stoop Back is bent, shoulders concave possibly from osteoporosis or arthritis 12:3
Grinders cease and are few Teeth cannot chew food because some teeth are lost and others possibly decayed 12:3
Those looking through the windows are dim Eyes are dimmed by cataracts, or near or far sightedness 12:3
Doors to street are closed Hard of hearing; cannot hear street noise or sounds of women grinding meal in the home 12:4
Men rise up at sound of birds No longer able to sleep; arises with first birds of morning 12:4
Songs grow faint Vocal cords no longer allow him to reach notes of favorite songs.  Voice is raspy 12:4
Fear of heights Afraid he will fall because he is unsteady 12:5
Fear of street dangers No longer able to defend his home from intruders 12:5
Almond tree blossoms Hair is white 12:5
Grasshopper drags himself along Unsteady gait and moves slowly perhaps holds onto furniture for support 12:5
Desire no longer is stirred Could be sexual desire, but more likely desire for food, entertainment, or company because his sensations are diminished, e.g. sight, taste, hearing, etc. 12:5

One characteristic of old age is reduced desire or appetite for sex, food, or other types of stimulation. In Ecclesiastes 12:5, the Hebrew word for desire is ʼabîyôwnâh which is translated as caper berry.

The Caperberry

The caperberry is the Capparis spinosa L., also known as the common caper. Probably it originated in dry regions of western or central Asia; but for millennia was present in the Mediterranean basin including Israel. The plant will grow in sand, loam, or clay soils as long as the soil is well-drained. The caperberry tolerates drought.  A rule of thumb is that the caperberry will grow wherever the olive tree grows. In Israel, the  caperberry clings to cracks and crevices of rock piles and abandoned walls. It can be seen between the rocks of the Western (wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

The commercial caper is an immature flower bud that is pickled in vinegar or preserved in granulated salt. Caper taste has been described both as sharply piquant and peppery mustard. Capers are used to flavor pasta sauces, pizza, fish, meats and salads.  Caperberries (cornichon de câpres) are the semi-mature caper fruit. Along with young shoots and small leaves, caperberries are used as condiments. Young caper shoots can be eaten as a vegetable.

Symbolism:  Desire

The symbolism of the caperberry is desire. A desire is a wish, craving, or longing for something or someone. Other words for desire are want, yearn, and need. The Teacher made the point that with old age desires were blunted or reduced. Reflecting on this passage, leads me to believe that some desires may be reduced so that we have time to concentrate on other desires.  It’s possible that the intensity or urgency of sexual desires are muted, we may become less adventurous (I no longer want to paraglide), and we may even hear less well. That does not mean that desire is lost as much as re-focused. Decades of living allows us to acquire experiences and knowledge. An Israelite proverb is “desire without knowledge is not good (Proverbs 19:2, ESV, 2008). God does not view age as a deterrent to usefulness. Not until Abraham was 75 did he leave Haran in response to God’s call.  Moses was 80 when God appeared to him in the Sinai.

Our own desires can cause problems for us. Cain’s offering of fruit was unacceptable to God (Genesis 4:2-7). Cain became angry and his face downcast. God loved Cain, so he explained that a suitable sacrifice would be accepted. Then, God warned Cain that sin was crouching at Cain’s door and “desired” to have Cain. Cain’s fruit, grains, or vegetables were not what God wanted in a sacrifice. Perhaps God wanted the best or first fruits from Cain’s harvest, perhaps he wanted an animal sacrifice similar to Abel’s offering, or perhaps God just wanted Cain to acknowledged that all he reaped was from God. God told the Israelites, “I desire acknowledgement rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6, ESV-SB, 2002).

Saint John counseled Christians that the things of the world – the desires of the flesh and of the eyes and the pride of life – are not from God (I John 2:15-17). The world is passing away along with all of its desires; but whoever does the Lord’s will abides forever. In the poem on old age, the Teacher described the elder as being afraid of street dangers (Ecclesiastes 12:5). Many of us are afraid of things of the world, e.g., muggings, burglary, taxes. Yet the world is temporal and is guaranteed to pass away.

Reflection.  God fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cries and saves them (Psalm 145:19). List your top five desires. Was fear of God one of them?

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 23, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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Meaningless Crackling Thorns

Thorny burnetThe Teacher compares the meaning of life to a burning thorn under a pot in Ecclesiastes 7:6.

Bible scholars are not sure who wrote Ecclesiastes. Possibly it was written by Solomon, one of his offspring who reigned later in Israel’s history, or a learned teacher in the Israelite assembly.  Within Ecclesiastes, the writer refers to himself as Teacher. One proverb that the Teacher wrote was, “Like the crackling of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of fools. This too is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 7:6, NIV-SB, 2002).

In ancient Israel, cooking fires were located in outer courtyards or inside homes. The time of year influenced where the fire was located.  In hot weather it could be found in the courtyard.  While in cooler or cold weather, the fire was probably located inside the home to add warmth.   Many poorer Israelites cooked over a simple hole in the ground (a fire pit) with rocks around it.  Others had ovens, either inside the home or in the courtyard. When King Jehoiakim sat in his winter house with a fire burning in the firepot (Jeremiah 36:22), the firepot was probably a three-legged hearth of copper or bronze.

Wood was the primary fuel used for cooking in ancient Israel; however, in Ecclesiastes 7:6 thorns fueled the fire. Thorn bushes burn faster than dense wood. Many times when thorns were collected and burned, green branches were present at the base of the thorn plant even when the bush appeared dry. Burning green branches contributed to the crackling sound when thorns were burnt. Thorns as the fuel made the point of the Teacher’s proverb. The laughter of fools is like a short-lived fire fueled by thorns not wood. A fool’s laughter, although perhaps loud, does not last very long. It is valueless or meaningless.

The Thorny Burnet

The thorn plant of Ecclesiastes is the Sarcopoterium spinosum. Other names are the thorny burnet and prickly burnet. The thorny burnet’s origins are prehistoric, but it may be native to the Middle East. In present-day Israel, the plant is wide spread in Israel from Mount Hermon and Galilee in the north to the Negev hills and Eilat in the South including the Mediterranean coast. The thorn burnet is a dwarf, perennial shrub that resembles a ball or pillow.  In the female flower, two or three ovaries are set in 4-5 joined sepals. The top of the corolla is covered by the tips of the sepals which make the female flower resemble a covered pot. These flower pots are numerous on stems. When the female flower is young, it is green, but turns reddish at maturity and rusty brown as it dries.  In the heat of fire, the flower “pots” pop and produce a small explosive sound which sounds like crackling. The thorny burnet is used to make brooms, to stuff mattresses, and to form low-growing hedges.

Symbolism: Futility

In the Bible, thorny plants were often associated with desolation and ruin. In the Teacher’s parable in Ecclesiastes 7:6, the meaning was futility. Although a thorny burnet fire may snap, crackle and pop, and be pleasing to the ears, the sound adds nothing to the heat. Futility implies an action that has no use or purpose. Synonyms are ineffective, pointless, and vainness and the antonym is useful.

Malachi is one of the few, if only, prophet in the Old Testament who wrote about futility. He related a hypothetical conversation between God and men of Israel (Malachi 3:13-18). One group identified that it was futile to serve God and carry out his requirements. Arrogant, evildoers prospered. The redemption (Messiah) that good men looked for had not appeared even after many centuries.  Another group of men feared and followed God. God wrote this group’s names in a scroll of remembrance, similar to a record of notable deeds kept by earthly kings (Esther 6:1-6; Isaiah 4:3). God promised that in the day he makes up his treasured possessions, the men’s names in the scroll would be spared. Malachi’s point is that fearing and serving God are not futile but have long-term rewards.

Paul identified several ways and situations where man’s thoughts were futile, e.g., useless and ineffective (Romans 1:18-23, 8:20; 1 Corinthians 3:20-21, 15:17; Ephesians 4:17). Two points seem particularly important today.  First, God is revealed though his creation, yet unrighteous men neither glorify God nor give him thanks (Romans 1:18-23). Instead their thinking becomes futile and their foolish hearts are darkened. They exchanged worship of the immortal God for worship of man-made images, e.g., birds, animals and reptiles. Today, most men and women do not worship animals, but, sometimes, they let their admiration for another man or women approach worship of them. They hang onto the words of these men/women rather than focusing on God’s instruction for life.  Reading commentaries of the Bible should never take the place of reading God’s word.

Writing to the Corinthian church, Paul stated that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sin” (1 Corinthians 15:17, NIV-SB, 2002). Redemption of our bodies, eternal life in Christ, depends on a risen Christ. When I was in college, The Passover Plot (Schoenfield, 1995) was required reading for anyone trying to be intellectual.  The book argued that Christ implemented an elaborate plan to have himself declared the Messiah. He never died on the cross but was hidden away by his closest associates. He appeared three days later to fulfill the Jew’s expectations for the Messiah.

The problem with The Passover Plot’s argument is the lived experiences of individuals who saw Christ’s death and his resurrected body. Evidence of Christ’s death comes from eye-witness accounts of non-believers as well as believers (Mark 15:39; Luke 23:46-49). In his resurrected body, Christ appeared at least 11 times to over 500 people. The phenomena of Christ’s death and resurrection may confound the wise; but do not make the phenomena any less real.

Reflection. The Lord knows that the thoughts of the (supposed) wise are futile (1 Corinthians 3:20). We cannot believe everything we read in books. Truth is not a prerequisite for publication.

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 14, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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