Tag Archives: Meaning of Bible Plants

Vine of Depravity

Bible Reference: Deuteronomy 32.32.

Most Jews and Christians know about Sodom and Gomorrah and other cities and towns of the plain. God destroyed these cities by fire because of the abject evil of their inhabitants. Over 500 years after the death of the cities, Israelites still remembered that God destroyed them. In his last message to Israelites before he went to Mount Nebo to die, Moses mentioned the vine of Sodom, thus, naming the city of Sodom.

So much controversy about a one-verse vine named in the Bible – the vine of Sodom.  Some sources identified the vine of Sodom as a shrub or small tree rather than a vine. Other sources said that the vine of Sodom mentioned by Moses wasn’t a real plant. Rather, it was a symbol (metaphor) for individuals/nations who had no belief in the God of Israel.  Here’s what Moses offered about the vine of Sodom:

They are a nation without sense, there is no discernment in them. For their Rock is not like our        Rock even as our enemies concede Their vine             comes from the vine of Sodom and from the field of             Gomorrah. Their grapes are filled with poison and   their clusters with bitterness (Deuteronomy 32.28,         31-32  NIV).

I understand why Bible scholars contended that the vine of Sodom wasn’t an actual plant. In Moses’s message, verse thirty-two reads like Moses is comparing Israelites to nations and individuals who didn’t believe in—some actually rejected—the Israelite God. Moses identified believers in God (Israelites) and contrasting them with the depraved city of Sodom.

For many years, when I read Moses’s song and verse thirty-two, I didn’t believe the vine of Sodom as an actual plant. Then,  my husband and I  went to Israel to study Bible plants. We visited Kibbutz Ketura in the desert area of southern Israel. The renowned plant botanist, Dr. Elaine Solowey, is a member of Kibbutz Ketura. She and her  husband shared information on plants named in the Bible.  One of those plants was the vine of Sodom. Mr. Solowey took us out in the desert and showed us a plant named “the vine of Sodom.” There, my mind changed.

The Plant

A great Israeli botanist, Michael Zohary14 is a biblical scholar who suggested that Moses’s vine of Sodom was an actual plant. Often, it is identified by its Arabic name osher. In Seeds of Transcendence, Jo Ann Gardener15 named three possible plants for the vine of Sodom: the wild gourd (Citrullus colocynthis), the squirting cucumber (Ecballium elaterium), and the apple of Sodom (Calotropis procera). Israeli folklore identifies Calotropis procera as the vine of Sodom.

Sodom Apple Flower

The apple of Sodom/Sodom vine (Calotropis procera) is a small tree that grows on the Sodom and Gomorrah plain and in deserts and oases in the Dead Sea area. Despite being a tree, stems run in all directions. Often, the plant is wider than tall. Three-to-four fruits hang from stems in clusters. Initially, fruit is white with a pink-purple tinge on ends. Later, fruits turn cream-colored or yellow. Fruit is attractive; however, when  pressed (or pinched), as when individuals attempt to pick them, fruit explodes in a puff. All that remains are shreds of the thin rind and a few fibers. The fruit is filled with air rather than pulp. The juice of the Sodom apple is poisonous. A mere touch of the fruit can cause severe skin irritation.

The Message

Characteristics of Sodom vine are apt descriptors for punishments that Israel’s enemies will suffer. At the same time, the vine of Sodom is a warning for Israelites who reject God. God chose  Israelites and loves them; but God is just. If any Israelite (present day Jews), any individual, or any nation rejects God, they will be as passing and empty as the fruit of Sodom vine.

When I tried to pick a vine of Sodom fruit and saw it disintegrate in my hand, I thought about God and Jews. I believe that God can and will continue to protect the traditional homeland of the Jewish people. In the twenty-first century, most Jews (Israelites) don’t recognize that Jesus is the Messiah and Savior. There are multiple nations and other religions that wage ongoing war against Israel, the homeland of current Israelites. Other nations’ efforts to destroy the Israelite peoples won’t succeed any more than my attempt to pick an apple from the vine of Sodom succeeded.

I’m not a Jew (Israelite). I am a Christian who lives in the United States (US). Yes, I am very blessed and as such  I have a responsibility to support Jews, who live in the US and Israel. My primary support takes the form of praying that Jews in my community, nation, and world will come to know Jesus, the Christ, as their Savior. As God directed me, I  pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

Reflection: Saturday, eleven Jews were murdered by a deranged killer in Pittsburgh. Apparently, he had negative beliefs about Jews and wanted to protect himself and his community from Jewish influence. As I pondered this event (and too many like them), my thought was that these murdered Jews will never have the opportunity to accept Christ as their Savior. The good news is that the murderer still has time to repent. We need to pray for his conversion and the conversion of Jews in Pittsburgh and throughout the world.

Copyright July 2, 2019; Carolyn A. Roth

Too Late for Healing Aloe

Joseph of Arimathea was a prominent member of the Jewish council who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Boldly, Joseph went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’s body. After confirming with a Roman officer, that Jesus was dead, Pilate released Jesus’s body to Joseph. Along with Nicodemus, Joseph took Jesus’s body from the cross. They wrapped the body in linen stripes and 75 pounds of mixed aloe and myrrh. The Jewish burial custom of using spices in burial linens was associated with covering the smell of the decaying body.  Scholars suggested that because aloe had little odor, aloes were used to “fix,” or hold the scent of the myrrh. Based on my knowledge of aloe plants, I have another proposed reason for  aloes in the linen grave cloths. Aloe gel is moist and slightly sticky. Perhaps, aloe gel didn’t so much “fix” the myrrh aroma in the linen cloths as hold them together and onto the body of the deceased.

The aloe of the New Testament is the Aloe vera (Aloe barbadensis, Aloe vulgaris medicinal aloe). Some sources identified aloe as the oldest medicinal plant. Certainly, it figures prominently in ancient Egyptian medicine. In Israel, aloe grows as far south as Kibbutzim Lotan and Ketura in the Arava Desert near the Gulf of Aqaba. Old and New Testament aloe are from different species of plants. In contrast to New Testament aloe which is an herbaceous plant, Old Testament aloe comes from a tree. The Old Testament aloe tree was the eaglewood tree (Aquilaria malaccensis, A. agallocha). Likely, Old Testament traders brought aloe wood from India.

Currently, aloe is used to reduce the pain of burns and scrapes. When aloe is harvested for its medicinal gel, older leaves are harvested because they contain more gel. I keep an aloe plant in my home. When I get a burn, I slice off a piece of aloe and rub the fluid on the burn, which takes the pain away.

Isaiah wrote these prophetic words about Jesus, “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace” (Isaiah 53.5 ESV) Jesus’s body was dead; therefore, aloes couldn’t heal him; aloes couldn’t take away the sting of his death. Aloe couldn’t heal Jesus’s wounds. The healing aloes in Jesus’s burial cloth exemplified Jesus’s healing of mankind, not himself.

After Jesus’s resurrection some individuals in Judea and the Roman Empire accepted healing from him. They accepted Jesus as Messiah, as the promised Savior of the world. Other individuals weren’t willing to be healed. Some couldn’t comprehend that a man would die for their sins. Others simply didn’t believe that they were all that bad; why would someone need to die for their few sins? For still others it was easier to continue their same religious observances, i.e., make an animal sacrifice or give a little money into a treasury, than to accept a new way of thinking. These individuals often want to cover over the smell of their sin rather than be healed of that sin. The rationale and rationalizations that individuals used 2,000 years ago for not accepting healing from Jesus are the same ones that individuals use today.

In church on Sunday morning, we pray the “Prayers of the People.” Frequently, there are prayer requests for healing – surgery, diagnostic tests, cancer – from members of the congregation. I’m always surprised that congregates don’t offer more prayers for loved ones’ spiritual healing. My dear friend isn’t a Christian; I love him so much. From time to time, I ask congregates to pray that he comes to a saving knowledge of Jesus. I really should ask them to pray for him every Sunday. My friend needs the healing that only Jesus can give.

Reflection: Like the reason for aloe in Jesus’s burial cloths, do you attempt to stick close to Jesus? What excuse do you give for not accepting Jesus as your Savior now?

Copyright July 8, 2018; Carolyn A. Roth