Tag Archives: Pharisees

Focusing Message on Audience

Dill for Blog Jesus named three herbs while teaching in the Temple Court during Holy Week; read Matthew 23:1-32. This dill plant is from St. John Church Bible Garden.

Matthew is the only gospel writer who recorded seven “Woes” as part of Jesus’s teaching in the Temple Courtyard during what Christians call Holy Week. The first day of the week, Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem, the second day he cleared the Temple of money changers, and the third day was a day of controversy and parables. This day must have been challenging and exhausting for Jesus.  Group after group, e.g., Pharisees, teachers of the Law, Sadducees and Herodians, came forward to challenge Jesus. They attempted to trip him up so that they could condemn both Jesus and his answers. At one point during their challenges, Jesus spoke seven “Woes” in which he condemned both the Pharisees and teachers of the Law. As we read these 32 verses, we hear the agony that Jesus feels at the blindness of these spiritual leaders of Israel.  Jesus is so frustrated that he names them “hypocrites.” 

In the fourth “Woe,” Jesus told the Pharisees that they give 1/10 of spices – mint, dill and cummin; but neglect the more important parts of the Law that have to do with justice, mercy, and faithfulness. He advised them to practice justice, mercy, and faithfulness while tithing on the herbs. Then, Jesus gave a concluding denouncement to the Pharisees and teachers by saying that “you strain out a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24).

Jesus’s teaching that justice, mercy and faithfulness are more important than tithing on herbs was similar to one he gave while eating a meal in a Pharisee’s home (Luke 11:37-44). The differences were that Jesus used a different list of herbs than in Luke’s gospel, and in Luke he only he directed the Pharisees to practice justice and to love God. Despite these dissimilarities, the point of both teachings was the same. Jesus wanted the Pharisees to get their priorities in line with God’s priorities. God’s priorities are summed up in a simple Bible verse (Micah 6:8),  “What does the Lord of require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Dill

Photo taken at Kibbutz Ketura in southern Israel.

The species name of New Testament dill is Anethum graveolens.  Early Israelite settlers cultivated dill on the coastal Sharon Plain, possibly in sheltered area because strong winds can destroy or damage tall dill stocks. Dill is an erect annual herb that grows about 3 but sometime 5 feet tall. All parts of the dill plant are edible except the roots.  Young foliage is used to flavor meat and fish sauces. Dill weed can be frozen with foliage on the stems.  Dry or green seeds give the spicy tang to pickles, relishes and vinegar and add zest to potato and egg salads. Dried crushed seeds are used in soups.

Symbolism: Offering

Because dill is common in Western cooking, we do not fully comprehend how valuable it was to ancient peoples.  In ancient times, the dill plant was a luxury item often used as an offering.  Today we think of an offering as money or something valuable given to support the church.  The ancients had a similar view of an offering.  In ancient Egypt, dill was placed in the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs (god-kings) as an offering for the Pharaoh’s afterlife.  Israel’s Talmud required that a tithe be paid on dill stems, leaves, and seeds; therefore, dill was used as an offering to the Temple.  Shortly after this teaching in the Temple Courtyard, Jesus offered his body as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.  His bodily sacrifice was an offering for the sins of these Pharisees and teachers of the Law who attempted to trip him up so they could justify condemning him.

It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around Jesus offering his body — even dying — for men he knew were hypocrites and who had the goal of condemning him. My first reaction to hypocritical behavior is anger, even contempt.Perhaps I need to step back from these emotions and consider what my teacher did.

Reflection. How do you react to hypocritical behavior in your spouse, neighbors, or church family members? Think about what you can offer them besides judgment and anger.

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

Copyright: Carolyn A. Roth, 12/13

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Frustrating Pharisees and Herbs

Reference: Matthew 23.1-32

Matthew is the only gospel writer who recorded the seven “Woes” which was part of Jesus’s teaching in the Temple Courtyard during Holy Week (Matthew 23.1-32). The first day of Holy Week, Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem and the second day he cleared the Temple of money changers. The third day was a day of controversy and parables.

This day must have been challenging and exhausting for Jesus.  Group after group, i.e., Sadducees, Pharisees, lawyers, teachers, and Herodians, came forward to challenge Jesus. They attempted to trip him up so that they could condemn both him and his answers. At one point during their challenges, Jesus spoke seven “Woes” in which he condemned both the Pharisees and scribes. As we read these 32 verses, we hear the agony that Jesus felt at the blindness of the spiritual leaders of Israel.  Jesus was so frustrated that he named them “hypocrites.”

In the fourth “Woe,” Christ told the Pharisees and scribes that they tithe on the herbs mint, dill, and cumin; but, neglect the more important parts of the Law that have to do with justice, mercy, and faithfulness. He advised them to practice justice, mercy, and faithfulness while tithing on the herbs.

Tithing with herbs dates back to Mosiac Law. When herbs produced to sell; Mosaic Law required Jews to tithe on them. “You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field” (Deuteronomy 14.22 ESV). Tithing meant that the grower gave 10% of their money and/or crops to the Lord, which usually went to the Temple (Leviticus 27.30). Importantly, when Jesus spoke to the Pharisee, he didn’t tell Pharisees that tithing on growing herbs was wrong. Just the opposite, Jesus reinforced the need for God’s people to tithe. At the same time, Jesus instructed listeners that loving God and seeking justice were the greater good.

Cumin

When Jesus identified tithing herbs to the Pharisees in Jerusalem, he named cumin; however, Jesus didn’t list cumin in an early message when he used herbs in his reprimand to the Pharisees.  That Jesus used cumin in an exhortation to urban dwellers suggests that urban dwellers use different herbs than rural ones. Further, cumin was closely aligned with Persian and Indian cuisine. Conceivably, Jerusalemites many who had ancestors who were returnees from the Babylonian captivity were more familiar with the herb cumin.

Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) is an annual flowering plant from the parsley family. Seeds are used Asia, Mediterranean, Middle East, and Mexican dishes. Ground cumin is an essential spice in curry powder. Ancient Greeks used cumin as a table-side condiment, similar to the way we use a salt shaker. Several different varieties of cumin exist with the most common being black and green cumin used in Persian cuisine.

Cumin is sown in the spring from seed in rows two feet apart in fertile, well-draining soil. Cumin plant care requires a long, hot summer (three to four months) with temperatures around 85 degrees Fahrenheit (F) during the day. United States plant zones are 5-10. Sow shallowly, about ¼-inch below the soil surface. Keep the seeds moist during germination. In cooler climates, start seed indoors four weeks prior to the last spring frost.  Transplant outdoors when temperatures routinely exceed 60 degrees F. or higher. Cumin has small white or pink flowers.

Harvesting cumin is time consuming because it is largely done by hand. Cumin seed is harvested by hand. Seeds are harvested when they brown — about 120 days – and are then dried and ground. Ideally, cumin seeds are harvested in the morning when the herb is most pungent.

Symbolism

It takes a lot of time (120 days or 4 months) to grow cumin plants and many plants to get ground cumin to garnish food. If you want the delicious taste of cumin in food, the wait and  effort is worth while. Growing as a Christian – growing in Jesus – is also time consuming; however, the growth is worthwhile as we become progressively more like him. Also, it is worthwhile to see our loved-ones grow in knowledge and love of Jesus.

Reflection:  Are you ever impatient with your growth or the growth of those you love? If you are, think of the alternative.

Copyright: June 19, 2018; Carolyn A. Roth

Visit my blog at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com.

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

Rue, the Protective Herb

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

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

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

Rue

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

Symbolism: Regret, Regret

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

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

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

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

Copyright July 20, 2013; Carolyn A. Roth

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