Tag Archives: Old Testament History

Job and Salt Herbs

Atriplex halimus fruitJob’s lament about being disdain by men who gather salt herbs is in Job 30:1-15.

Job was a non-Jewish man who worshiped God and was upright in his conduct and dealings with others (Job 1: 1-5). Job lived during the second millennium B.C. in the land of Uz, probably located in present day Jordan. When the book of Job begins, we see God giving Satan permission to test Job’s righteousness and loyalty to God. God allows Satan to do anything to Job except kill him (Job 1:6–2:10). The result is that Satan kills Job’s children, destroys Job’s home, deprives Job of his wealth, and afflicts him with painful boils from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Shortly after these calamities, three of Job’s friends visit him to extend comfort. Most of the Book of Job consists of discourses between Job and the three friends (Job chapters 3–37).  We read Job’s struggle to understand his losses while still retaining faith in God.

In Job 29, Job described how he longs for months gone by when God watched over him. He would walk to the city gate and take his seat in the public square. Young men saw him and stepped aside, old men rose to their feet at his presence. Chief men and nobles listened to his words and all spoke well of him. Now (chapter 30) Job’s life is totally different. He is mocked by younger men whose fathers were dregs of society, e.g., men who Job would not have hired to put with his sheep dogs. In Job’s days, dogs were not pets; they were filthy and viscous. When Job said that men were not fit to keep company with his dogs, it was a grave insult.

Job continued describing the fathers of the mockers. They were haggard from deprivation and hunger. The men roamed desolate places to gather food such as salt herbs and the roots of broom trees. Herb salt leaves were food of the very poor and eaten in times of famine. That the sons of such men now mocked, spit on, and used Job’s name as an epithet was terrifying to Job.

Salt Herb

The salt herb in Job was most likely the Atriplex halimus known as the salt plant, and shrubby orache.  It was native to Northern and tropical Africa, the Middle East including Israel, and southern Europe.  Salt plants grow well in nutritionally poor soils to include sand as long as the soil is well drained. In Israel the salt herb is distributed in deserts, the Dead Sea Valley, and Sharon Plain. It grows best in full sun. If planted in shade, stems become weak and spindly with sparse foliage. The salt plant is damaged by frosts. Leaves and stem are nutritious and have been described as a pot-like spinach; however, American’s will find the salt herb tastes salty and unlike the popular spinach leaf used in salads. In addition to humans eating stems and leaves, animals consume the plant as fodder. Ash from burning the A. helimus is used as the alkali in soap making.

Symbolism: Salt, Seasoning

The symbolism of the salt herb is salt and season. In Hebrew, mallûwach is the word for the salt herb.  Mallûwach is derived from the primary root word mâlach which means to salt or season. Salt can be used to preserve food. A seasoning is a substance that adds flavoring, interest, or excitement.  Salt was a familiar seasoning to the Israelites.  In Leviticus God told the Israelites to use salt to season all grain offerings.  The salt that was to accompany grain offerings was called the “salt of the covenant” (Leviticus 2:13).  Salt symbolized and sealed the promises made between the Israelites and God when a grain offering was made.

In the New Testament Christ identified that salt was good; however, if salt lost its taste or flavor, it might as well be thrown out and trampled by men (Matthew 5:13).  He told his disciples to “have salt in themselves and be at peace with each other” (Mark 9:50).  When Christians have salt, they are anything but blah. Christianity does not depersonalize an individual.  Christianity allows us to be zestful, flavorful, excited, interesting/interested, and tasty.

Generally, the basis for living at peace with others is what and how we talk to them. Christian’s conversation should be full of grace and seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6). At no time should unwholesome talk come from our months (Ephesians 4:29). Instead we should learn what others need and talk about things that will build them up. If our words have these qualities, those who listen can benefit.

At times Christian salt and seasoning will have no effect or even a negative effect on individuals.  What do we do then?  Do we become angry, cynical, indifferent, or uninvolved with the world?  In Life as a Vapor, John Piper (2004) wrote “the salt of the earth does not mock rotten meat.”  Piper contended that where possible we season others with our salt and lead them to Christ.  Where we cannot, we weep and pray. We never shrug our shoulders and say “it’s your choice” to people living in darkness. We labor to give them a taste of Christ.

Reflection. Christ said, “everyone will be salted with fire” (Mark 9:49). What do you think he meant by that statement?   Everyone includes Christians.

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 January 18, 2013; carolyn a. roth


The Hemlock in Amos’ Prophecy

Conium maculatum flowerAmos’ comparison of the Northern Kingdom to a poisonous hemlock plant is found in Amos 6:12.

Amos is the third book of the Minor Prophets.  The minor prophets were considered minor in the sense that their books were much smaller than those of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, not because their messages were less important.  Amos prophesied over a 10 year period, 760-750 B.C.

Amos’ home was Tekoa, a town about 12 miles south of Jerusalem.  When God called him to be a prophet, Amos was a herdsman and tender of sycamore trees.  Amos completed most of his ministry in the area of Bethel, the Northern Kingdom’s main sanctuary.  At Bethel, Jeroboam I set up one of the golden calves soon after the 10 Northern tribes formed an independent kingdom.  All manner of pagan worship practices occurred at Bethel.  At the time of Amos’ prophecy the Northern Kingdom was politically secure and prosperous under the rule of Jeroboam II (sole reign 782-753 B.C.).

Amos was a vehement spokesman for God’s justice.  He argued that true righteousness and piety were displayed through social justice for all citizens.  Although Amos did not identify Assyria as the means of God’s judgment on the Northern Kingdom, he warned them that God’s judgment was fast approaching.  The judgment would be more than military conquest and tribute to a foreign conqueror.  It would involve total destruction of the Northern Kingdom as a nation and dispersion of its citizens to foreign lands.  Amos accused leaders and ordinary citizens of turning justice into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into hemlock (Amos 6:12, TEB).  Hemlock was a poisonous plant.

The Hemlock Plant

The botanical name for the hemlock plant is Conium maculatum, also known as the poisonous hemlock. It is indigenous to Eastern Mediterranean countries where it is classified as a toxic weed.  In about 399 B.C., the Greek philosopher Socrates was condemned to drink hemlock poison as a means of committing suicide.  Poisonous hemlock is found on banks of streams and rivers, along roadsides and hedgerows, in wasteland, pastures, and meadow lands.  The poisonous hemlock should not be confused with the Canadian hemlock tree  or the American water hemlock tree.  A single plant can produce 35,000-40,000 seeds.  Leaves and seeds are harvested for medicinal purposes are the leaves and seeds; however, medicinal uses of hemlock are limited because of the closeness of therapeutic and poisonous levels.  Sometimes childrenay see the plant top, mistake it for carrots or parsley, and eat it.  Because hemlocks are rare in North America and initially hemlock signs and symptoms mimic other acute conditions, physicians may not immediately diagnose hemlock poisoning when children present in emergency departments.

Symbolism: Poison

At times the hemlock plant has been associated with bitterness, calamity, and sorrow.  In Amos, the Hebrew word laʽǎnâh was used as the word for hemlock; the word laʽǎnâh comes from an unused root meaning “to curse.”  All these words are good candidates for the symbolism of poisonous hemlock; however, I am going to associate the hemlock plant with poison or poisonous.  A poison is a substance that kills, injures or impairs; it is destructive, harmful, and corrupt. Poisonous described the hemlock plant and best depicted the words and behaviors of the Northern Kingdom leaders and citizens in the book of Amos.

When I looked at the behavior of the Northern Kingdom people, I thought, “I’m never going to act like they did; nor say and do the things they did.”  Then, I recalled some Bible teachings on poison and the tongue.  In Psalms (140:3), we read that evil men make their tongues as sharp as the poison of snakes.  Similarly, James pointed out that man has tamed all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea, but man cannot take the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of poison (James 3:7-8).  James said that the tongue is set on fire by hell which is a figuratively way of saying by the devil (James 3:6).

Reflection:  Some days my tongue is so sharp that I am embarrassed by what comes out of my mouth.  On those days, my words are not from God; but, from the Devil. Have you ever wished words unsaid? How can we prevent poison from coming out of our mouths?

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 7, 2012; carolyn a. roth


Pine in Solomon’s Temple

P halepensis, female coneThe role of pine wood in the First Temple is described in 1 Kings Chapters 5 and 6.

Construction of the Temple and royal palace complex was a huge undertaking.  In addition to the 30,000 Israelite men that Solomon forced to cut trees in Lebanon, Solomon conscripted 153,600 aliens living in Israel.  Seventy thousand men functioned as carriers, 80,000 men as stone cutters, and 3,600 men as foreman (2 Chronicles 2:17-18).

Solomon obtained the pine for the Temple from Lebanon.  Similar to the cedar trees used in the Temple, pine trees were made into boards or planks.  The Temple floor was covered with planks of pine (1 Kings 6:15).  The entrance to the Temple’s main hall was two pine doors (1 Kings 6:33-35).  Each pine door had two leaves that turned in sockets.  On the doors were carved cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers. The carvings were overlaid with hammered gold.  The Bible does not specify whether or not pine wood was used for the floors in Solomon’s palace, throne room, and Hall of Justice.  Because the building walls were made from cedar, most likely their floors were pine planks continuing the parallel construction of the Temple.

Initially, using pine for Temple floors seems odd.  Pine is designated as a soft wood in comparison to oak, a hard wood which was plentiful in Israel.  Lebanon pine trees were most likely from old growth forests.  The wood would have been heart wood taken from the center of the pine tree versus sapwood at the outside of the tree.  Heart wood has “died,” hardened, and ceased to pass nutrients up the tree.  It is the hardest and darkest section of the pine tree.  Currently, heart wood is used in pine flooring where the wood is cut with the vertical grain.   Pine wood can be without knots (clear) or have tight knots or large knots.  Tight knots add character and beauty to pine floors without appreciably weakening them.  Heart pine ages beautifully; it darkens slightly and takes on a soft glow.  In the United States, there are pine floors 300+ years of age.  The floors have some gouges which add to the character of the floors.Pinus halepensis, Aleppo pine

This strange looking pine tree is from the Armenian Seminary Garden in Jerusalem. It is reputed to be the oldest pine tree in Israel.

The Pine Tree

The most likely candidate for the Temple pine is Pinus halepensis, known commonly as the Jerusalem pine and the Aleppo (Syria) pine.  Despite these geographical names, P. halepensis has a typical western Mediterranean distribution. Ecologically, Aleppo pines are specialized for low to moderate fertile habitats and thrive in desert heat, drought, and wind.  Although the Aleppo pine is tender when young; once established it can take near-zero temperatures. The Aleppo pine is an evergreen conifer that is relatively short lived at 70-100 years; however, with arbori-cultural care, specimens can live over 200 years. The oldest living Aleppo pine, 215 years old, is in the Armenian Gardens in Jerusalem. The Aleppo pine needle is light green to olive-green. The flower is a cone. Male cone are cylindrical and occur in tight clusters at the tip of branches.  Female cones are oval to oblong, 3–4.5 inches long, reddish to reddish purple, and grow on short stocks.

Symbolism: Nobility

Pines are an emblem of nobility.  In a person, noble means the person possesses excellent qualities of the mind, character, ideals and morals. In the Old Testament, certain women were described as noble.  Boaz told Ruth he wanted to be her kinsman-redeemer because she was a noble woman (Ruth 3:11).   A woman of noble character is described as her husband’s crown (Proverbs 12:4).  Proverbs chapter 31 lauded a wife of noble character and concluded that she was worth more than rubies.  Some of her characteristics included working with eager hands to meet the food and clothing needs of the household, adding to the financial security of the family by using judgment to purchase a field and making linen garments to sell to the merchants,  giving freely to the poor and needy, speaking with wisdom, and acting with dignity.

In a brief exposition on The Kingdom of Righteousness, Isaiah ended with a description of a noble man.  He wrote, “But the noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands” (Isaiah 32:8).  From God’s perspective having a noble mind, character, ideals, and morals is not sufficient to be credited as noble.  Nobility displays itself in deeds. We look at what a man or woman does to evaluate their nobility

Over two decades ago, I was a manager in a corporation.  In a managers’ meeting, a psychiatric nurse gave an education program on team building.  One of his remarks was, “always look more at what a team member does than what she says.”  Probably what Isaiah and the psychiatric nurse were saying was, “noble is as noble does.” Noble people are more than noble ideals and plans. Noble people produce excellent actions and deeds.  Christ said “by their fruits you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:16).

Reflection.  Would people looking at your life conclude your deeds as noble?

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 2, 2012; carolyn a. roth


Saul Camped under a Pomegranate Tree

Pomegranate flower, leafThe battle waged against the Philistines from Saul’s base under a pomegranate tree at Gibeah is described in 1 Samuel 13:16–14:23.

Following God’s instructions, Samuel anointed Saul king over Israel privately (1 Samuel 10:1).  Sometime later, Saul was selected to be king by lot from all eligible Israelite men (1 Samuel 10:20-21).  Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin, the smallest of all Israelite tribes.  In Saul’s reign, the Philistines were a persistent enemy of the Israelites.  The Philistines were well armed with weapons made of iron, e.g., swords, spears, iron-tipped arrows.  With the exception of King Saul and his son Jonathan, the Israelites did not have iron weapons because there were no blacksmiths in Israel at that time.

Early in his kingship, Saul began a military campaign against the Philistines.    The Philistines were camped north of the Micmash pass while the Israelite forces were south of the pass.  Saul and 600 men were staying on the outskirts of Gibeah (in Benjamin) under a pomegranate tree in Migron.   Unbeknown to Saul, Jonathan and his armor-bearer went to a Philistine outpost and allowed the Philistines to see them.  The Philistines called insults and dared Jonathan to come up to the outpost.   Jonathan took the dare; he and his armor bearer climbed to the outpost.  In their first attack, Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed 20 Philistine soldiers.  Then, God caused the ground to shake and a panic to strike the entire Philistine army (1 Samuel 14:15).

When Saul’s lookouts in Gibeah reported that the Philistine army was scattering, Saul mustered his forces to attack the Philistines.  Before he went into battle, Saul decided to seek God’s will.  He ordered the Ark of the Testimony brought forward and the priest, Ahijah, to asked God if the Israelites should attack the Philistines.  While Ahijah and Saul were talking, the uproar in the Philistine camp increased.  Just as Ahijah began to ask God if Saul should attack, Saul ordered him to stop.  Then, Saul and his men went to the battle area.  They found the Philistines in total confusion and in flight.  Saul and his men pursued the Philistines.  Hearing that the Philistines were retreating, Israelites hidden in the Ephraim hill country joined the battle and pursued the Philistines.  This battle ended with the conclusion, “So the Lord rescued Israel that day” (1 Samuel 14:23).

Pomegranate Tree

The pomegranate tree’s botanical name is Punica granatum which means a many-seeded apple.  Wild pomegranates predate modern human history and were possibly indigenous to the mountains of present day Iran and south central Asia. Pomegranates were cultivated over 4000 years ago in the ancient Sumer civilization, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.  The pomegranate was listed as one of the seven plant species that the Israelites would find in Canaan (Deuteronomy 8:8).  It tolerates drought and can be grown in dry areas with either winter or summer rainfall.  In comparison to other trees, pomegranate trees need little care to produce fruit.  The pomegranate is classified as a small tree, but it is similar to a shrub, normally reaching a height of only 20 feet.  King Saul camped under the pomegranate tree so possibly in ancient Israel pomegranate tree were larger than they are today.  Alternatively, this particular pomegranate tree could have been taller than normal; thus it was a well-known location.  Apparently, it was customary for early Israelite leaders to camp and/or hold court under well-known trees (Judges 4:5). Classified as a berry, the pomegranate fruit (2–5 inches in diameter) is between a lemon and orange in size.  Over 600 seeds can be held in each fruit.  Seeds are spongy, tart, and located in the center of the pulp.

Symbolism: Exalt

In many cultures, e.g., Greek, Egyptian, Hindu, the pomegranate symbolizes human fertility, procreation, and life.  The pomegranate was mentioned several times in Song of Songs where it symbolized fertility.  Saul choosing to camp under a pomegranate tree likely had a different meaning.  The Hebrew word for pomegranate tree and fruit is rimmôwn or rimmôn derived from the primitive root râman which means “to exalt, or lift or get (oneself) up or to mount up.”  Probably this meaning was in Saul’s mind when he camped under a pomegranate tree in the campaign against the Philistines.  Saul knew that as the first king over Israel his behavior and choices were dissected by supporters and detractors alike (1 Samuel 10:27; 1 Samuel 11:12-15).  By camping under a pomegranate tree, he reminded the people that God exalted or lifted him to the position of king.

God’s people have the privilege and duty to exalt him.  The Bible demonstrated the central role exulting God played in the lives of the Israelites.  Immediately after safe passage through the Red Sea, the Israelites sang a song to God which began with, “I will sing to the Lord for He is highly exalted” (Exodus 15:1).  The Israelites glorified God because he demonstrated power over the mighty Egyptians and their gods.  On a more personal and intimate level, David exalted God when he said, “I will exalt you, O Lord, for you have lifted me out of the depths” (Psalm 30:1).  The depths that David referred to were the human experiences of sin and despair.

As people of God, we exalt God with songs and prayers during corporate worship.  During songs and prayers is not the time for minds to wonder, e.g., to count the number church attendee, or (as one of my friends described) the number of wooden beams in the sanctuary ceiling.  Singing is a time to concentrate on the words of the song and lift our voices in praise to God.  Active listening during prayers allows us to agree that God is a creator, sustainer, and provider. Yes, we go to church to learn; but, the primary purpose of corporate worship is to exalt and praise God.

As individuals, every day we can exalt God by praising him for what He does in our lives.  God has lifted, or wants to lift, each of us out of despair or the draining numbness of our daily lives.  God’s plan is for each of his children to experience life – vital, creative life – in Him.  God wants us to live exposed to Him, and his purpose and will for our lives.  Sometimes it is difficult to think of the right words to use to exalt God particularly if we are not in the habit of making exaltation a part of our prayers.  Praying the Psalms may be an answer to how to exalt God.  Most Psalms have six sections: praise, protest, plea, trust, thanksgiving, and obedience.  When we pray the Psalms, we can hone in on exultation of God.  In addition, the following Psalms have exaltation and praise of God as their main focus:  Psalms 9, 30-32, 46, 131, 145-150.

Reflection.  How can we live so that we continually exalt God with our lives?  Equally important, how can we lift ourselves up, or prepare ourselves, for God’s purpose in our lives?

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/

Copy right November 18, 2011; carolyn a. roth


Galbanum, an Ingredient in Incense

Ferula galbanifluaThe story of the Tabernacle incense is in Exodus 30:1–10, 34-38; Exodus 37:25-29; and Exodus 40:26-28.

When God listed offerings for the Tabernacle, he included spices for fragrant incense (Exodus 25:6).  Specifically, a perfumer was to blend the holy incense out of equal proportions of gum resin (stacte), onycha, galbanum, and pure frankincense.  The incense was to be salted and pure and sacred (30:35).  Several scholars have commented on what “salted” meant.  One idea was that salt was a preservative in the incense.  A second idea was related to the ancient’s belief that sharing salt between two people was considered to bind them in a covenant.  In the incense, the Israelites offered salt to God, which set Israel’s seal on the covenantal relationship that God offered.  Finally, directing the incense to be salted could have meant it was to be well prepared.The Tabernacle incense was to be “most holy” to the Israelites, and the Israelites were to consider the Tabernacle incense “holy to the Lord” (Exodus 30:36, 37).  Israelites then and in generations to come were to burn incense before the Lord (Exodus 30: 7-9).  The incense on the Altar of Incense was to thanks and praise God for his care and protection to a redeemed people. The Israelites were cautioned to not use the incense formula to make incense for personal use. If they did, they would be cut off from the Israelite people.

The question of the origin of the ingredients for the incense is an important one. The Israelites were in the Sinai Peninsula where these spices did not occur in nature. Most likely, the spices were brought with the Israelites out of Egypt; they were tributes from the Egyptians.  In particular, women would have fragrant, sweet-smelling spices and perfumes. The Bible noted that the Israelites gave an overabundance of materials for the Tabernacle construction.  That overabundance would have included incense spices as well as other construction materials.

Once blended, the incense was ground and used on the Altar of Incense (Golden Altar) and on the Table of the Presence Bread. Both of these structures were located in the Holy of Holies, Tent of Meeting. The Altar of Incense was located immediately in front of the veil separating the Holy of Holies from the Most Holy of Holies (Exodus 30:6). The Altar of Incense was so closely connected to the Most Holy Place that the writer of Hebrews mentioned that it was placed behind the veil separating the two rooms (Hebrews 9:4). No other incense was burnt on the Altar of Incense; nor were other types of offerings made on it, e.g., animal, grain, or drink. On the Altar, incense was burnt twice a day: in the evening when the chief priest lit the lamps (on the Lampstand) to burn throughout the night, and in the morning when the lamps were prepared (dressed) for the day.  Incense was also burnt on the Table of the Presence Bread.  On the Table, incense was place along each stack of Bread (Leviticus 24:5–9).  The incense was burnt as a memorial representing the 12 loaves of bread.  It was an offering made to the Lord by fire.

The Galbanum Plant

The plant described with the Tabernacle incense is galbanum which produces a resinous gum, also called galbanum.  The botanical name of galbanum is  also F. gummosa. Galbanum is a member of the same family of plants as carrots and parsley; it is native to central Asia particularly Iran. Galbanum was not known to grow in Israel; and in 2012 Israeli plant data bases do not list it. The Hebrew word for galbanum is chelbᵉnâh. The only place that chelbᵉnâh appears in the Bible is with spices used to make the Tabernacle incense. In England and the United States, the flowers were described as greenish white or yellow;  however, in Central Asia, flowers are a brilliant orange-yellow (Aitchison, 1887).  There are differing opinions about the gum odor and taste from pleasant odor and an acrid taste to strongly balsamic, pungent, and disagreeable or musky.  Whatever the odor of galbanum gum alone, when it was blended with the other three spices, the resulting Tabernacle incense was fragrant.

Symbolism: Fragrance

The symbolism of Tabernacle incense is three-fold.  In the Tabernacle, the incense symbolized a fragrance, or beautiful aroma, lifted to God in thanksgiving.  In the New Testament, the symbolism of fragrance is repeated in Christ’s redemptive work on the cross and in the work of the Church.  In contrast to Tabernacle incense that was burnt and rose up to God morning and evening, the sweet fragrance of the Church should rise continually to the Lord.  In his writings to a number of young Church congregations, Paul pointed out how Christ was and we are to be fragrant offerings and aromas to God.  For example, Paul told the Church at Ephesus to be imitators of Christ and to live a life of love in the same way that Christ loved us and gave himself as fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:1-2).

To God, Christians are the aroma of Christ among “those who are being saved and those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:15)  To the saved, Christians are the fragrance of life.  To those who reject Christ, Christians and the gospel message are the smell of death (2 Corinthians 2:16, note, New International Version Study Bible, 2002).  Christians and the gospel message themselves are not evil-smelling or death dealing; but when nonbelievers reject the life-giving message of Christ, they smell death, not fragrant life.

When Paul wrote to the Philippians, he acknowledged their gifts saying he was amply supplied (Philippians 4:14-19).  Probably, the gifts include money as well as material goods such as food and clothing.  Paul identified the gifts were “a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God” (Philippians 4:18).  The gifts from the Philippians to Paul were not in atonement for sin.  Rather, they were gifts of thanksgiving and praise for Paul’s ministry and Christ’s gift of salvation.  The church members at Philippi set an example that church members today can follow in giving to the support of missionaries.

Reflection. When we apply the Bible to our lives, we are like sweet-smelling incense lifted up by a gentle breeze to God. What kind of fragrance are you giving off?

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 5, 2011; carolyn a. roth


Onions Depict the Universe

???????????The Israelites’ complaints that there were no vegetables in the Sinai Desert are recorded in Numbers chapter 11:4-34 and Psalm 78:17-33.

After the Israelites built and dedicated the tabernacle, they left Mount Sinai and restarted their journey to the Promised Land.  After about three days travel, the community started complaining. The complaints began with people the Bible called, “the rabble”.  The rabble was non-Israelites who joined the Israelite exodus so they could escape Egypt.  Hearing the rabble complain, some Israelites began to complain.  The substance of the complaints was:   1) if only we had meat to eat; 2) we remember the fish, cucumbers, melons, leaks, onions, and garlic we ate in Egypt at no cost; 3) we have lost our appetites; and 4) we never have anything to eat but manna.

When Moses heard people of every family wailing, he was troubled.  When God heard the complaints and wailing, he became exceedingly angry.  God was angry because he graciously provided the community –both Israelites and non-Israelites — with bread from heaven (manna).  Rather than thanking God, the peoples spurned the manna; thus they spurned God.  Moses was so amazed and troubled by the people’s complaints that he asked God, “why me?”  Essentially, Moses wanted to know what he did to warrant carrying the burden of these people.  Ironically or completely frustrated, Moses noted that he did not conceive or birth the Israelites.  He asked God, how was he to “nurse” them along to the Promised Land? Where was he going to get meat to feed them and stop their wailing?  Moses admitted to God that the people (all 2 million of them) were too heavy a burden for him.

God heard both the people’s complaints and Moses’ distress and responded to each; however, God chose to respond to one person’s (Moses’) genuine distress before responding to complaints from the two million member community.  God worked with Moses to appoint 70 Israelite elders to share the burden of leading the people.  Then, God rained down enough quails on the camp to last the Israelites for 30 days.  Avidly, the Israelites collected the quails and prepared them.  As they began to eat the meat, God’s anger burned against the people for spurning him.  He sent a severe plague and killed the people who craved food other than manna.

The Egyptian Onion Plant

The vegetables identified in Numbers 11:5 were the most extensive list of vegetables given anywhere in the Bible.  The listed vegetables were eaten in Egypt, not Canaan or Israel.  Vegetables available in Egypt and Israel were not always the same genus and species.  The Bible onion is the Allium cepa, also called Egyptian onion; it is the common garden onion found in the United States.  Onions were eaten in Egypt over 4000 years ago.  For the slaves and workers who built the pyramids, onions were everyday food.  Reportedly, nine tons of gold was paid for onions and garlic to feed these pyramid builders. Onions are one of the hardiest of all garden vegetables and are cultivated for their bulbs and leaves.  Most home gardeners replant onions started in greenhouses; but on a large scale, cultivated onions grow from the onion plant’s small black seed.  Onions are a biennial plant; often they die in the second year after flowering. Bulbs can be eaten fresh, e.g. in salads, and used for cooking, e.g., stews.  Cutting the bulb horizontal at the diameter reveals that onions grow in concentric layers; the larger the onion, the more layers

Symbolism: Universe

Ancient Egyptians regarded the spherical bulb of the onion as a symbol of the universe. Egyptians believed that the spheres of heaven, earth, and hell were concentric, like layers of the onion.  Western society believes the universe is both the world of human experience and the cosmos.  It includes phenomena both observed and postulated.  When something is universal, it exists or operates everywhere and under all conditions. The Book of Hebrews declares that the universe was formed through Christ at God’s command (Hebrews 1:2; 1:3).

God tried to help the Israelites comprehend that he was the God of the universe. He demonstrated power over the physical world by bring 10 plagues on Egypt so the Israelites could have their freedom.  God provided water from rocks and bread from heaven. He assured the Israelites that he would make them whole, e.g., physically and mentally (Exodus 15:26). Spiritually, God gave the Israelites his holy law to live by. He directed them to build a tabernacle where he would dwell among them.

Despite these demonstrations of God’s control over all things, many Israelites did not accept him as their God and the God of the universe.  Instead, the Israelites spurned what God offered them, wailing and complaining about his offering of food from heaven.  Every time I read, think, and write about the Israelite’s behavior, my first reaction is to shake my head.  I wonder how they could spur the God of the universe.  How could they complain so much?  Yet, complaining was not a behavior unique to Old Testament Israelites.  Writing from prison to the church at Philippi, Paul caution: “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so you may become blameless andpure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in whichyou shine like stars in the universe” (Philippians 2:14-15).

My default behavior used to be complaining in many situations. Then, I asked myself what kind of a representative am I for Christ when I complain so much?  Complaining and shining like a star for Christ are incompatible.  Christ created my situations so that I could mature in my Christian walk.  Complaining did not add value to my life; in fact complaining devalued me and most assuredly devalued God.  When I complained, I spurn the God of the universe in the same way that the Israelites spurned him.

Reflection.  Changing our default behavior from complaining to praising takes time and effort; but it pleases the God of the universe.

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

copyright September 27, 2011; carolyn a. roth


Manna Resembled Coriander Seed

Coriander ground and seedsThe story of manna which was white like coriander seed is in Exodus chapter 16 and Numbers chapter 11.

When the Israelites were first feed with manna they were in the Desert of Sin, located on the western side of the Sinai Peninsula.  The Israelites left Egypt about one month earlier and were traveling 10 – 15 miles per day.   In the desert of Sin the “whole community” grumbled against Moses and Aaron because there was not enough food to eat. The grumbling included (Exodus 16:3): 1) If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt; 2) In Egypt we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted; and 3) You have brought us out into this desert to starve the entire assembly to death.

Clearly, the Israelites were romanticizing their time as slave laborers in Egypt. The primary foods for slaves were grain, beer, and vegetables such as onions, leeks, cucumbers, and melons.  The poor and slaves were permitted to eat fish caught from the Nile River. Rarely, if ever, did Egyptians give meat, e.g., beef or lamb, to slaves.  Meat was reserved for very wealthy Egyptians.

The Lord heard the grumbling and told Moses that he would provide bread from heaven (manna) for the Israelites so they could see God’s glory. Characteristics of manna along with specific instructions for gathering it are outlined in Sidebar 3. When God provided the manna to the Israelites, he planned to test them to determine if they followed his instructions for gathering the bread.  Moses told the Israelites that when they grumbled, they were grumbling against God not against him for it was God who brought them out of Egypt.

When the Israelites first saw the bread on the desert floor, the wondered what it was.  The word manna is derived from Hebrew words, mân hû’ meaning “what is it.” The bread or manna that God provided was white like coriander seed and looked like bdellium.  The bdellium plant was described in Chapter 1, Creation and Plants. The coriander plant and seed will be described as part of the discussion on manna.

Before moving to a description of the coriander plant, the question needs to be answered on whether or not manna was provided directly from heaven or was it derived from an earthly plant or substance.  Some scholars suggested that the Biblical manna was exuded from a tamarisk tree (Tamarix gallica or Tamarix mannifera) after it was pricked by an insect (Coccus manniparus). Others have identified the manna of Exodus 16 as an alga called Nostoc and the manna of Numbers 11 as lichen from the Lecanora genus. The challenge is that these options do not meet the criteria associated with God’s provision of manna to Israel. Manna fell 40 years wherever the Israelites traveled, e.g., on the Sinai Peninsula and for a short time on the Jordan plain in Canaan.  Manna never fell on the Sabbath, the day God set aside for Israel’s rest.  Nomads who lived on the Sinai or traders who crossed the Peninsula in the same 40 year period never reported seeing manna.  None of these arguments adequately override the Biblical account that manna was bread from heaven provided by God.

The Coriander Plant

 The botanical name of the plant that produces the coriander seed is the Coriandrum sativum; it is a member of the parsley family of plants and sometimes called Chinese parsley.   Its origins is most likely the Eastern Mediterranean or Asia Minor.  In ancient times coriander plants grew wild in Egypt and Israel. Coriander has been used to enhance the taste of food for more than 5000 years ago. Today, in the Middle East coriander seeds are used to flavor bread as apparently God used it to flavor the desert manna.  Plants are annuals and should be planted each year.  They prefer all day sun; but will grow in partial shade.  Coriander grows best in dry climates and suffers during humid, rainy weather.  The coriander is delicately branched and can reach a height of 2 – 3 feet with a 1 – 2 foot spread.  Over time stems fall to the ground and send up new shoots.  Today’s coriander plant produces brown seeds; however, in Numbers11:7 manna was described as white like bdellium.  Perhaps in ancient times, coriander seeds were white.  Coriander seeds grow in round, yellowish-brown pods. Seeds can be ground into a powder using a pepper mill, or home electric or hand grinder.  Ground coriander has a pleasant, aromatic smell.

Symbolism: Sufficiency

A number of authors have proposed the symbolism of manna. Suggestions included a) revealing Israel’s need for healing; b) foreshadowing the coming Messiah and Christ, the bread of heaven. and c) the institution of the Lord’s Supper and a type of Eucharistic bread. All of these suggestions are excellent; however, MacDonald’s (1995) proposal that manna symbolized sufficiency seemed particularly appropriate in the Israelite situation.  God supplied hungry Israelites with coriander-like manna.  This unique substance was sufficient – necessary, desirable, and enough – to take care of their hunger.  God wanted to demonstrate to the Israelites that he was capable of meeting their need for food and by extension all of their needs. Essentially, God was saying to them – my food is sufficient for you and I am sufficient for you.  At the same time, God tested the Israelites to see if they would follow his instructions for gathering the manna he provided.  Some Israelites followed God’s instructions while others did not. Those who disobeyed God suffered the consequences, e.g., food with maggots and no manna to eat on the Sabbath.

The manna symbolized Christ’s sufficiency to meet every need of his people. St. Paul would agree that Christ is able to meet all our needs. Paul had a thorn in his flesh that tormented him (2 Corinthians 12:7-8). Three times Paul asked Christ to take away the cause of his torment.  Christ answered Paul saying, “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9.  Christ gave Paul grace to deal with his torment, a better solution than removing its cause. Human weakness provides an opportunity for God to display his divine power.

Having never lived in servitude, most of us have difficulty understanding the behavior of the Israelites in the manna story. Possibly they felt a sense of entitlement because God brought them out of Egypt into the desert. Perhaps they were weary being a dependent people and did not want to rely on anyone even God. Maybe they grabbed the manna when it appeared each morning not trusting that it would be there the next day.  Whatever their thoughts, we can contrast them with Paul’s response in accepting God’s grace to deal with his torment. Paul accepted his situation and trusted that God’s grace was sufficient for him (2 Corinthians 12:9–10).

Reflection.  Have you ever thought about God’s sufficiency? Do you live as if you believe God is sufficient (ample, plenty) to meet your needs in any and all situations?

Sidebar 3 Characteristics of Manna

Characteristic Description and Reference
Where did it come from? When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down (Numbers 11:9). When dew was gone, manna was there (Exodus16:14).As sun grew hot, manna melted away (Exodus16:21).
What did Israelites say when flakes appeared on ground? When Israelites saw substance on ground, they said, “What is it?” (Exodus16:15).
Appearance of manna Thin flakes like frost on the desert floor (Exodus16:14).  It was white like coriander seed (Exodus16:31, Numbers11:7). Looked like resin (bdellium) (Numbers11:7).
How was it gathered? Gathered by hand in the morning (Exodus16:21).  Day 1 – 5, gather 1 omer*/person (Exodus16:16, 21). If retained overnight on Days 1 – 5, became full of maggots and began to smell (Exodus16:20). Day 6 gathered 2 omer/person; 1 omer for day 6 and 1 omer for day 7 (Exodus 16:22-23, 29).  Manna could be retained overnight on Day 6 (Exodus16:17). No manna provided on Sabbath (day 7) (Exodus16:25-26).
Preparation for cooking Ground in a hand mill; or crushed in a mortar with pestle (Numbers11:8).
Preparation for eating Cooked in a pot –possibly gruel (Numbers11:8).  Made into cakes – probably baked or even fried in olive oil.
Taste of manna Tasted like wafers made with honey (Exodus16:31). Tasted like something made with olive oil (Numbers11:8).
Aroma or odor No information provided.
How long was manna provided to Israelites? Manna stared: 16th day of 2nd month after Israelites came out of Egypt.  Israelites were camped in Desert of Sinai, Sinai Peninsula (Exodus16:1, 13). Manna ended: 16th day of the 14th month after leaving Egypt. Israelites were camped at Israelites were camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, Canaan (Exodus16:35; Joshua 5:10-12). How long was manna provided:  40 years (Exodus16:35).

*An omer is equivalent to about two quarts, dry measure.

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

Copyright September 16, 2011; carolyn a. roth