Tag Archives: Old Testament Wisdom

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

Identifying False Prophets

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

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

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

Spanish Thistle

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

Symbolism: Recognize, Recognition           

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright May 27, 2013; Carolyn A. Roth

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John the Baptist: No Weak Reed

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

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

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

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

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

The Reed

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

Symbolism: Conviction, Convict

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright May 13, 2013; Carolyn A. Roht

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Worry and the Lily of the Fields

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

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

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

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

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

The Anemone

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

Symbolism:  Worry   

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright April 17, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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Does Old Age Diminish Desire?

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

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

Description and Interpretation of Old Age

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

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

The Caperberry

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

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

Symbolism:  Desire

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright March 23, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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Meaningless Crackling Thorns

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

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

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

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

The Thorny Burnet

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

Symbolism: Futility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright March 14, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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Solomon’s Proverb on Vegetables

cucumbersSolomon used vegetables as an example in Psalm 15:17.

Solomon’s proverb was “Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred” (Psalm 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, e.g., 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.

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

Copyright March 2, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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Supping at God’s Table

Cypress, Jezreel ValleyThis topic was written by Israeli botanists Dr. Elaine Solowey at Kibbutz Ketura in the southern Negev Desert:

“Good food cannot be made like plastic sandals. The entire point of farming is to produce good food to support human life on earth, — a basic truth eclipsed by a skewed system of values that puts a great deal of value on what can be measured by the pound and sold, but little on less tangible things like community, happiness or health.

Good agriculture can only be done by tapping into the bounty of the natural world in an organized intelligent manner that does not destroy the resource base upon which we depend.

We must tap into the crop potential of the entire planet and do it in a way that recognizes the beauty, complexity and fragility of our world.”

The picture is a wheat field in the Jezreel Valley in central Israel.  Notice it contains beautiful cypress trees as well as wheat.

Asaph and the Tumbleweed

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?

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 6, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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