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.

Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth 3/14

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Pride before Destruction

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?

Copyright August 17, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Better than Filet Mignon

cucumbersSolomon used vegetables as an example in Proverbs 15: 17

Solomon’s proverb was “Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred” (Proverbs 15: 17, NIV-SB, 2002).  In today’s language, the proverb would be something like “better a meal of vegetables with love than filet mignon with hatred or resentment.”  In Bible times killing and serving a fatted calf was a luxury reserved for special occasions (Matthew 22:5; Luke 15:23). Unlike today where a plate of vegetables makes an excellent meal, ancient people were not serve vegetable as the main course of the meal unless they were very poor. Vegetables were held in low esteem. When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they ate vegetable, i.e., cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic (Numbers 4:5).

In Solomon’s proverb love and hate are contrasted. Where love is present, it matters little what is served at the dinner table. The warmth, caring, and affection around the table makes meager fare seem like a banquet. For the poor of Egypt and Palestine, cucumbers and barley bread were often a meal. In contrast, the most delicious meal is as dust when those eating it have hard hearts and there is hatred around the table. At times eaters are so resentful that it is difficult to swallow. The most luxurious food tastes like saw dust.  If present, conversation is coldly polite or bursts forth from angry lips.

Cucumber Plant

The vegetable that will be described is the Cucumis sativus L, the common cucumber. The cucumber has been cultivated in warm countries of the world from pre-historic times. Its country of origin could have been India or Thailand. Wandering in the desert (circa 1400 B.C.), the Israelites longed for Egypt where they had cucumbers to eat. Isaiah (circa 740 B.C.) wrote that fields of cucumbers grew in Israel, but possibly he was referring to muskmelons.  No remains of cucumbers plants, fruit, or seeds remain from ancient Israel. Flowers are yellow and are shaped like a bell. The fruit is a cucumber. Cucumbers hang freely from stems and the green skin is hair free. The cylindrical cucumber can grow over 1 foot long. It is often slightly curved and beset with small knobby prominences when young. Inside the skin is pale green flesh with many seeds in the inner 2/3 of the cucumber.

Symbolism: Hard, hardened

The Hebrew word for cucumber is qishshû which comes from an unused root word meaning to be hard, possibly because the cucumber is often considered hard to digest (Strong, 2007).  Solomon’s proverb was “better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred” (Proverb 15:17, NIV-SB, 2002). In the first clause the hard to digest cucumber was softened by love. In contrast, hatred toughened or hardened the succulent flesh of the fatted calf.

The Bible tells us that nothing is too hard for God (Genesis 18:14; Jeremiah 32:17). Although it is not always easy for us to understand, the Bible also tells us that God has mercy on those he wants to have mercy and hardens those he wants hardened (Romans 9:18). For example, God hardened the heart of Pharaoh so that both the Egyptians and the Israelites would realize that it was God not Pharaoh that saved them from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 10:20). Although God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, there is no Biblical evidence that he hardened the hearts of the Israelites the many times they turned against their leaders and against him (Psalm 95:8; Zechariah 7:12; Mark 10:5). The Israelites’ hard hearts were their own doing.

When Christ was teaching in the Synagogue in Capernaum, he told the Jewish leaders and his disciples that he was the bread of life which came down from heaven (John 6:43-65). If individuals wanted eternal life, they must eat his flesh and drink his blood. Only those who ate his flesh and drank his blood could be raised up on the last day. Jesus’ disciples told him that his words were a “hard teaching.” They asked Christ, “How can we accept it?”  Jesus did not back down but tried to explain his teaching. He told the questioning disciples that his words were about spiritual aspects of life. Still, many disciples could not grasp Christ’s words and turned back and stopped following Christ.

Jesus loved the disciples who turned away from him and his teachings as much as he loved those disciples who remained. Christ grieved over the hard hearts that produced lack of insight into his teachings.  We see how much the departed disciples hurt Christ by the way he questioned those who remained, “You do not want to leave too, do you” (John 6:67, NIV-SB, 2003).  Imagine how much you would have to hurt to ask your spouse, children, or best friend the same question in the same way.

Reflection. “He who hardens his heart falls into trouble” (Proverbs 28:14, NIV-SB, 2002). She who hardens her heart falls into trouble.  Pray for a soft heart.

Copyright March 2, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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An Urgent Prayer

Grundelia tournefortiiAsaph’s prayer for God to make Israel’s foes like tumbleweeds is in Psalm 83.

Although Asaph is credited with writing Psalms 50 and 73-83, possibly he was the ancestor of the actual writer of Psalm 83. The content of Psalm 83 indicates it may have been written in the years immediately before the Exile. Psalm 83 is more an urgent prayer than a song.

Psalm 83 takes the same form as several other psalms. First the present situation is defined (verses 1-4). Second, the Lord is reminded how he gave victory to the Israelites in the past (verses 5-12). Finally, a specific request for help is outlined (verses 13-18).

Situation defined: God’s people are threatened by enemies. If God does not defend them, they will be destroyed completely (Psalm 83:1-4). The psalmist named 10 nations who allied themselves against God’s chosen. Asaph pleaded for Israel’s safety in a way that made Israel’s circumstances God’s challenge; he referred to Israel’s foes as your (God’s) enemies, those who hate you (God), your (God’s) people, they form an alliance against you (God).

Past victories from God: Asaph reminded God he gave Israel victory over the Canaanites (Jabin and Sisera) at the Kishon River. When the Midianites attempted to co-opt Israelites pastures, God gave Israel the ability to drive them out and kill their kings, e.g., Zebah and Zalmunna.

Request for help: Asaph pleads with God to destroy – blow away — the kingdoms who want to destroy God’s chosen people. Specifically Asaph wrote, “make them like tumbleweed, O my God, like chaff before the wind” (Psalm 83:13, NIV-SB, 2002).

The Tumbleweed

Most often the Bible tumbleweed is identified as the Gundelia tournefortii sometimes called a tumble thistle. Israeli botanists use the Hebrew name, galgal, while Arabs call it the A’Kub.  The tumbleweed is native to the Middle East including semi-desert areas of Israel and the Palestinian Authority where it has been documented as an edible plant for the last 2000 years. In Israel, tumbleweeds grow in wastelands and along roadsides from Mount Hermon and Golan in the north to the Negev hills and Eilat in the south. Tumbleweeds do not grow well in the shade. The fruit is a seed. After the fruit is formed, thistle stems separate from roots. Because the tumbleweed is round, it rolls like a ball when driven by the wind. Seeds of dead fruits are dispersed by the rolling plant. Young flower heads are removed and sold in Palestinian Authority markets where they supplement the foods of local people. Mature plants are sometimes used as camel fodder.

Symbolism: Action, Act 

Action is the process of doing something in order to achieve a purpose. Synonyms of action are accomplishing, battle, and prosecute. God’s action was central in the two places tumbleweeds were named in the Bible. In Psalm 83:13 the psalmist pleading for God to take action and make Israel’s enemies like tumbleweed before the wind. While Isaiah (17:13) recounted God’s action on behalf of Israel. God rebuked the nations and they were driven before the wind like tumbleweed before a gale.

Asaph’s motivation for asking God to act on behalf of the Israelites was not only for the security of Israel, but for worldwide acknowledgement of God as the true God (Psalm 83:18, study note).  Acknowledgment of God includes seeking God as his people seek him, e.g., to learn about God, his teachings, and his commands.

Christians cannot use Psalm 83 against national enemies because Christianity is broader than national boundaries. Christians are the world-wide fellowship of believers and one Christian should not pray for the downfall of another. Christians can pray Psalm 83 against foes who act to destroy them and all traces of their faith (Psalm 83 text note, ESV-SB, 2008). They can ask God to defeat these plans in a way that persecutors seek and know God and accept Christ as Savior.

When we accept Christ as our Savior, God promises to accept us as his children. That promise requires God to act on our behalves; however, God’s action is not always according to our timetable.  Sometimes we want God, “to do something NOW!”  A number of years ago, I was part of a large congregation attempting to buy our church property from the diocese.  The diocese kept pushing the time back for final notification and sale closing. Church members became more anxious every day, then every hour. Quietly, our minister reminded us, “God is rarely early, but He is never late.”

ReflectionChrist said that wisdom is proven right by her actions (Matthew 11:19). What do you think Christ meant?  How does Christ’s statement apply to your life?

Copyright February 6, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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Joyful Peppermint

Bible Reference: 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 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).

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, i.e., hand washing. 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.  

Copyright January 31, 2018; Carolyn A. Roth

David Learns from the Laurel Tree

Leaves on Laurus nobilisThe green laurel tree symbolizing the accomplishment of wicked men is found in Psalm 37.

Psalm 37 was written by King David probably in his later years. Each stanza depicts a complete thought; yet, taken together, all stanzas develop a common theme. In Psalm 37, the common theme is how the wicked flourish. The wicked man’s brief accomplishments are contrasted with God’s continued and sustaining help to the righteous. Several stanzas in Psalm 37 refer to plants.

Christians should not be envious of those who do wrong even when the wicked seem to have everything going for them. The wicked are like the grass, like green plants they die away (Psalm 37:1-2). The wicked are the Lord’s enemies and like the beauty of the fields, they will vanish (Psalm 37:20). Think about wild flowers that grow in the green areas between divided interstate roadways. One week these wild flowers are green, lush, and abundant. A few weeks later they are withered. Road crews mow them down as if they were weeds. Their transient beauty vanishes like smoke; so will wicked men.

Verses 35 and 36 compared wicked men to the green laurel tree.  David wrote that he saw a wicked and ruthless man who flourished like a green tree in its native soil. David’s laurel tree never suffered the setback that comes from transplanting. The tree was in its native soil, thus grew large and vigorous. The wicked man was correspondingly prosperous and powerful. A short time later, however, David looked for the wicked man. He was gone; David could not find him. David’s wisdom was that the wicked do not endure; they have no staying power.

David cautioned his listeners not to fret when they saw wicked, ruthless men prospering.  Fretting leads to evil (Psalm 37:8-9). Instead David implored the righteous to refrain from anger and to hope in the Lord. In a later Psalm, David averred that the righteous will flourish like a palm tree (Psalm 92:12-14); the righteous will grow like a cedar of Lebanon planted in the house of the Lord. They will still bear fruit in old age and stay fresh and green.

Bay LeavesThe Laurel Tree

The laurel tree is the Laurus nobilis. The laurel tree is called the true laurel and the sweet bay laurel because the culinary seasoning bay leaves come from the tree. Bay laurel is native to the southern Mediterranean Sea region. In Israel, laurel trees grow in most areas except the desert. The laurel tree will grow in a wide variety of soils, e.g., sand, loam and clay, but does best in moisture-retentive soils. Leaves are elliptic to ovate in shape and  2-4 inches long and .75-1.75 inches wide. Leaf margins tend to undulate softly; leaves feel leathery.  The leaf surface is a lustrous dark green. One way to identify a laurel tree is to bruise or cut the leaves and smell the sweet aromatic leaves.

Symbolism:  Flourish

A number of writers have proposed symbolism for the Laurus nobilis to include notable, victory, merit, accomplishments, honor, praise, martyrdom, and old age. Psalm 37 seems to fit most of these concepts; however, I believe the best description is flourish. Flourish means to grow luxuriantly, to achieve success or prosper, and to reach a height of development or influence.

King David compared the wicked to a luxuriant laurel tree, perhaps the one about 60 feet tall with a broad canopy and numerous branches growing up from the ground. These wicked, ruthless men flourished like the laurel. They achieved wealth and influence, caring little who they stepped on to achieve. Righteous men see these same ruthless men and women today and ask, how can God let them get ahead when I’m stuck in this job year after year? I’m a Christian, isn’t God supposed to help and bless me? What about God’s promise that “in his days the righteous will flourish; prosperity will abound until the moon is no more” (Psalm 72:7). I’m not flourishing at work or __________(you fill in the blank)!

When believers encounter situations where the wicked seem to achieve everything their heart’s desire, it is time to remember that God cannot lie and his word tells us two important facts. First, the righteous will flourish (Psalm 92:12) and God will not forsake his faithful ones (Psalm 37:28). Second, evildoers will be forever destroyed (Psalm 37:20; Psalm 92:7). Our reaction to evil-doers should not be envy but sadness and prayer for their redemption. The only heaven, or nearest heaven, that wicked, ruthless men and women will experience is on earth.

Seeing ruthless men and women achieve is not easy for a believer. At times I’ve asked God, “how can you let this happen?”  In those times, God did not give me an answer; probably because I was not in a mind frame to receive it. In retrospect, I can see that instead of anger and resentment, my response to workplace wickedness should have been compassion and prayer. I cannot be responsible for evil, ruthless men and women flourishing. I am only responsible for my thoughts and behavior. At all times, I must be right with God, trusting that his ways are not my ways and his thoughts are not my thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). They are much, better and wiser than mine. When I concentrate on flourishing in the garden where God planted me, I don’t obsess about whether or not ruthless individuals are getting ahead.

Reflection.  Father knows best.

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 February 8, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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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!

Copyright December 23, 2013; Carolyn A. Roth

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Eating Goodly Fruit

Citrus medica, NKThe story of the return of the first exiles is told in 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 and Ezra chapter 1-3:6.

King Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. One of his first acts was to decree that the Jewish people could go to Jerusalem and re-build the temple to their God. Cyrus returned to Sheshbazzar, a prince of Judah, articles from the first temple that Nebuchadnezzar brought from Jerusalem. In 537 B.C. a company of close to 50,000 individuals along with horses, mules, camels and donkeys arrived in Jerusalem.

Several months later, the Jews assembled in Jerusalem. The priests Zerubabbel and Jeshua built the Altar of the God of Israel. Despite the Jew’s fear of surrounding peoples, they sacrificed burnt offerings on the Altar according to the Law of Moses. Both morning and evening sacrifices were made. Then, following the Law of Moses they celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:33-43).

The Feast of Tabernacles also called the Festival of Sukkoth (booths) was a festival of joy, referred to in Jewish prayer and literature as the Season of Rejoicing (Rich, 2011). The significance of Sukkoth is two-fold:  a) reminder of the 40 years the Children of Israel wandered in the wilderness living in temporary shelters and 2) a celebration of the fall harvest. Sukkoth lasted seven days. During the seven days, or some part of the seven days, Jews built and lived in temporary shelters as their ancestors did in the wilderness.

Observance of Sukkoth involves Four Species of plants:

1)     citron, citrus fruit similar to a lemon, in Hebrew called etrog;

2)     a palm branch, in Hebrew called lulav;

3)     two willow branches, in Hebrew called aravot;

4)     three myrtle branches, in Hebrew called hadassim.

The palm, two willow, and three myrtle branches were bound together and collectively known as the lulav because the palm branch was the largest plant. The lulav was placed in the right hand and the etrog in the left. Jews recited a blessing and waved the species in six directions (east, south, west, north, up, and down), symbolizing that God is everywhere. In ancient Jerusalem the four species were held while Jews processed around the Altar of the Temple.

The Citron

The citron of Sukkoth is the Citrus medica, also known as goodly fruit. The origin of the citron is not known; possibly it came from India. Seeds were found in Mesopotamia excavations dating back to 4000 B.C.  The original goodly fruit of Leviticus may have been a cone from the cedar tree; however, by the Restoration, the citron was the accepted goodly fruit.  Citron is acclimated to a wide variety of soils as long as soil is aerated. Citron is a small evergreen shrub or tree growing to a height of 15 feet. The economic life of the tree is 25-30 years. Larger fruit grow from branch cuttings than from seeds, therefore most propagation is done through cuttings. The fruit is about the size and shape of a lemon. The outer rind or peel can be smooth or rough with many ridges and indentations. When young, the fruit is dark green, but turns yellow with maturity (in about 3 months).  When fruit ripens on trees, citrons are aromatic and the inner peel is very tender. In comparison to other citrus fruits, citron pulp is drier, sourer, and less tasty. The main use of citron is in religious celebrations, e.g., The Festival of Tabernacles. Also, fruit peel is candied and used as a flavoring in cakes, pastries, and jams. Citron peel is used to produce citron water and may be used to flavor wine and vermouth.

Symbolism: Hope

In the past, citron had been associated with perfection and hope for fertility and abundance in the new agriculture year. When the returned exiles celebrated Sukkoth with the citron, they were hopeful. Once again, they were in the Promised Land; they hoped for a new future in Jerusalem.  The archaic or ancient definition of hope is desire accompanied by expectation that the desire would be fulfilled. Another word for hope is trust.

Prophets predicted the exile of the Jews because of their apostasy. These same prophets promised that God, not an earthly king, would restore the Jews to their home land. After 70 years of captivity, they were home and remembered God’s promises (Jeremiah 29:10-14). God said he would give them hope and a future. He was going to send rain; streams would run again on the dry land (Isaiah 44:3). God knew that newly returned exiles feared their neighbors, so he reassured them that all who raged against them would be put to shame and disgraced (Isaiah 41:11). The Festival of Tabernacles was a wonderful time to come together as a community,  praise God for his care, celebrate the abundance of the fall harvest, and hope – expectantly believe – in a prosperous future.

The returned Jews planned to rebuild the Temple. Having a new Temple would mean God dwelt in their midst. In contrast, New Testament Christians know that Christ lives in them; he is always in their midst. At the same time, they live in hope. Their hope is for eternal life, the redemption of their bodies when Christ comes the second time (Romans 8:23-25, Titus 1:2).

Paul wrote to the young churches about hope. He told the Romans that hope that is seen is not hope at all because no one hopes for what they already have (Romans 8:24-25). Rather we hope for what we do not have and have not seen. While we are hoping for eternal life with Christ, our attitude should be joyful (Romans 12:12). Many times people who are hopeful and yearn for something do not feel joy; they are anxious, restless, and cannot sleep at night. Yet, Christians do not have to experience any anxiety about life after death and redemption of our bodies. Our belief and trust —  our hope — for eternal life comes from God, who cannot lie (Titus, 1:2).

Christians live in hope, but still experience trials, temptations, and persecution. Paul wrote to the  Thessalonians, that he constantly prayed for their endurance inspired by hope in Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:3). St. Peter advised us to not be surprised by the painful trials we suffer as if something strange was happening to us (1 Peter 4:12). Rather hope in eternity with Christ helps us endure the present on earth, where we live as strangers.

Reflection.  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

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 6, 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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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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