Tag Archives: Plant symbolism

Ezekiel’s Bread

Millet berries, flourThe story of Ezekiel making bread from legumes and grains is told in Ezekiel chapter 4.

Ezekiel was a prophet and priest. About five years after he was deported from Jerusalem, God called Ezekiel to proclaim a message of judgment against the Jewish nation.  Much of the judgment focused on Jerusalem as the political, religious, and social hub of the nation. Ezekiel acted out the siege of Jerusalem in a series of symbolic acts. In the first, Ezekiel drew besieged Jerusalem on a clay tablet. In the second symbolic act, Ezekiel laid bound on his sides for 430 days representing the years of Israel’s and Judah’s sin.

Ezekiel’s third symbolic act about God’s judgment on Jerusalem represented famine. God told Ezekiel to bake a single cake of bread to eat every day. The bread was to be made from wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt. Taken together the grains and legumes were to weigh 20 shekels, equivalent to about 8 ounces. With the bread Ezekiel should drink about 22 ounces (1.4 pints) of water.

While some of these legumes and grains were mixed together to make bread, it was unusual to make bread from all six of them. Several Old Testament scholars reported that the poorest people of the land combined the grains and beans with camel’s milk and oil to make bread; but poverty was not the issue in besieged Jerusalem  (Ezekiel 7:18-21). The problem was that basic foods were so scarce in Jerusalem that people did not have enough of one type of grain, e.g. barley, to make bread. People scoured for any grain or legumes available to make a loaf of bread.

God ended his instructions to Ezekiel on how to prepare the bread by explaining the symbolic meaning of Ezekiel’s activity.  God would break the supply of bread and water to Jerusalem. He would do this so that the Jewish people in Jerusalem would “waste away because of their sin” (Ezekiel 4:17, NIV-SB, 2002). The famine stricken Jerusalemites would be appalled at the sight of each other.

Millet

Most likely the Biblical millet was Panicum miliaceum. Supposedly a head of millet produces about 1000 seeds, thus the name miliaceum. Other names include the common millet and in the United States, the broom corn millet. Millet was one of the earliest cereal grains domesticated.  In Mesopotamia, millet dated back to 3000 B.C. No early traces of millet were found in Israel; millet was listed in only one of three Israeli plant databases studied.  Millet is the 6th most important gain in the world and helps feed 1/3 of the world’s population. The fruit is the millet seed. Each ripe cluster contains a multitude of seeds enclosed in a round, hard hull. Hulls are various colors from white through black and are removed via threshing.  The bran or seed coat is always creamy white. Millet is a gluten-free seed that has been described as tasting mildly sweet with a nut-like flavor.  Besides being cultivated for human food, millet is also used for bird and poultry seed.

Symbolism: Famine

Millet occurs once in the Bible, as one grain that Ezekiel used to make bread (Ezekiel 4:9).  P. miliaceum, the smallest of all cereal grains, symbolizes famine which kills millions of people.  Almost every time famine was seen in the Promised Land, it was God’s punishment for Israel’s sins. Often famine resulted from God withholding rains; but sometimes there were other causes of famine. For example, during the time of the prophet Joel, God used locust to create famine in Judah.The famine that God showed to Ezekiel occurred when the Babylonian army encircled Jerusalem, destroyed the produce of the land, and ensured that no one could get in or out of the city.

Although the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem, the famine was God’s punishment on the Jews because they rejected him and worshipped idols. God told Ezekiel that 1/3 third of Jerusalem’s population would die of pestilence or famine, 1/3 would be killed by the sword, and 1/3 would be scattered to the winds with the sword pursuing them (Ezekiel 5:12). God foretold cannibalism in Jerusalem saying that fathers would eat their sons and sons eat their fathers (Ezekiel, 5:10).

Most of us don’t have experience with famine to the point of cannibalism. In fact, most of us have never been seriously hungry. Looking ahead, however, this scenario may be different.   Christ warned his disciple that near the end of the ages, famines and earthquakes would occur in various places (Matthew 24:7, Mark 13:8). Even though we live in the United States with an abundance of food, we should not assume that our country will be exempt from the famine that Christ foretold. At the end of the ages, famine will not be restricted to sub-Saharan Africa or parts of southwest Asia.

In Revelations chapter 7, John recorded that the Lamb opened seven seals. Many scholars interpret the opening of seals as prophecy of what will occur on earth during the Great Tribulation. Opening the fourth seal set free a pale horse (Revelations 6:7-8) with a rider named Death. Hades followed Death. Death and Hades were given authority over ¼ of the earth. They were allowed to kill with the sword, famine, pestilence (epidemic disease), and wild beasts.  These disasters echo the punishment that God inflicted on Judah, whom he selected from all the races, nations, and tribes of the earth as his Chosen People.

Reflection. God punished Jerusalem and the Jews with famine. What does the future hold for you, our nation, and our world?

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 November 14, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Balsam Tree, Shaking in Fear

God using the balsam tree to give David victory over the Philistines is described in 2 Samuel 5:17-25 and 1 Chronicles 14:8-18.

When the Philistines discovered that DaPopulus euphraticavid was anointed king over Israel as well as over Judah, they went out in force to search for him.  During the seven years David was king over Judah at Hebron, the Philistines were not too concerned about his kingship.  For them the problem occurred when Israel (northern tribes) asked David to be their king.  The Philistines cities were in the lands of the northern tribes; they feared David would wage war against their cities.  The Philistines entered the Valley of the Rephaim, located on the border between Judah and Benjamin on the west and southwest sides of Jerusalem.  There they raided and plundered the inhabitants who were mainly Israelites.  David responded to the Philistine’s raids and at Baal Parazim David and the Israelites fought a battle with the Philistines.  The Philistines were routed.  When they fled, the Philistines abandoned their idols.  Following Mosaic law, David burnt the idols (Deuteronomy 7:5, 25).

Perhaps outraged by the previous defeat and David’s destruction of their idols, the Philistines raided the Rephiam Valley a second time.  David asked God if he should attack the Philistines.  God’s answer was “yes;” but David’s army should not go straight at the Philistines. Instead, the Israelite army should circle around the Philistines and attack them in front of the balsam trees.  The signal for the Israelite army to attack was the sound of God marching in the tops of the balsam trees.  The marching sound meant that the Lord went in front of the Israelites to strike the Philistines.

In the Rephiam Valley balsam trees grew in groves.  God made the wind blow through the tops of the balsam tree so that leaves rustling and branches rubbing against each other and created a sound like men marching.  The sound was so loud that the Philistine army thought that a huge Israelite army was advancing toward them.  Terrified they fled the valley.  David’ army pursued and struck down the Philistines from Gibeon to Gezar, a range of about 15 miles.  At the time of this battle, Gezar was not a Philistine city; it was held by the Egyptians (Joshua 10:33).  Apparently, the Philistine soldiers were so frightened that they fled to the powerful Egyptians for safety.  The episode concludes with, “so David’s fame spread throughout every land, and the Lord made all the nations fear him” (1 Chronicles 14:17).

Populus euphratica leavesThe Balsam Tree

The balsam tree is a species of aspen, most likely the Populus euphratica, which is believed to be native to Israel and Middle Eastern countries. The balsaam is also called the  Euphrates popular and salt poplar.  In Israel the tree grows throughout the country; it grows well in rocky and hilly soils and in brackish water. The balsaam tree grows as tall as 45 feet and has spreading branches.  On older branches bark is thick, olive green to gray-brown, and roughly striated.  Branches are bent and almost always forked.  The balsaam’s flower is called a catkin because it resembles a cat’s tail and droops from the stem.  In mid-summer, the P. euphratica produces a green to reddish brown fruit which is a 2-4 valve capsule.  Seeds are minute and enveloped in silky hairs which aid wind dispersal.

Symbolism: God’s people

Balsam trees are associated with the word “people.”  The word Populus in the name Populus euphratica is derived from the trees ancient Latin name arbor populi which means “the people’s tree.”  When God identified the Israelites as his chosen people, God told them that he would dwell with them, walk with them, and protect them (Leviticus 26:12; Deuteronomy 11:22-25).  In the Valley of Rephiam, God gave his chosen people victory through the sound of an army (people) marching in the tops of balsam trees.  Israel’s victory was so decisive that David’s fame spread to people of every land; the Lord made people of every nation fear David.

In the Old Testament, God took a people for himself who were of one race.  In the New Testament, Christ directed his disciples to take the good news of the gospel to all his creation (Mark 16:15).  Over 2000 years later, people of all races believe in him.  Despite Christ’s welcome and guaranteed love of all people, the Bible cautions, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).  What does such an ominous verse mean to people?

The writer of Hebrew’s elaborated by saying if people keep on sinning after they receive the knowledge of truth, no sacrifice for sin is left;  only a fearful expectation of judgment (Hebrews 10: 26-30).  The writer compared the Old Testament Jews rejection of the Law of Moses to an individual who rejects the truth of Christ after they know it.  His argument was if Old Testament Jews who rejected the Law of Moses died, then how much more will individuals who trample the Son of God deserve punishment?   The latter individuals insult the Spirit of grace because they show contempt for the blood of Christ who sanctifies them.  The Lord lives with his people, protects them, and loves them.  In addition, the Lord judges his people.

Reflection.  In the battle where God marched in the tops of the balsam trees, David counted on God rather than his army to protect the people of the Rephiam Valley and Israel.  In a later story, we learn that David took a census of eligible fighting men in Israel rather than trust God to protect the people (2 Samuel 24:10).  Do David’s actions have any parallels to our own life?  Do we believe that God will protect his people?

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 7, 2016, Carolyn A. Roth

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Esther’s Palace with Cotton Curtains

Cotton Flower, leavesThe description of the king’s palace at Susa is in Esther chapter 1.

Esther is the last of the historical books of the Old Testament. It is the story of a beautiful Jewish girl who became wife to Ahasuerus (Xerxes), king of Persia (486-465 B.C.). Esther’s Jewish name was Hadassah which translates as myrtle; she was from the tribe of Benjamin.

The story begins with Ahasuerus giving an elaborate banquet for his nobles and officials. The banquet was held in the palace’s enclosed garden. The garden had white cotton curtains and violet hangings fastened with cords of fine linen and purple to silver rings on marble pillars (ESV). Queen Vashti gave a banquet for the women in another part of the palace.  Feeling merry, Ahasuerus commanded that Vashti come before him to display her beauty to his guest. Vashti refused. Because of her disobedience, Ahasuerus divorced Vashti. Subsequently, Esther became queen.

Then, the plot of the book unfolds. Haman, an enemy of the Jews and chief advisor to Ahasuerus, determined to murder all the Jews throughout Persia. Ahasuerus consented to Haman’s plans not knowing that Queen Esther was a Jew. Esther’s uncle Mordecai sent word to Esther that she must plead to Ahasuerus for the lives of the Jews. Although frightened, Esther agreed to make the plea on behalf of her people. Esther planned two private banquets for Ahasuerus and Haman. At the second banquet Esther humbly admitted she was a Jewess.  She disclosed Haman’s scheme to destroy her people. Both Ahasuerus and Haman were stunned.  They were unaware that in ordering the murder of all Jews, they ordered the Queen’s death.

Angrily Ahasuerus ordered Haman to be hung. Because Ahasuerus could not undo his previous decree, he sent out another decree enabling the Jews to destroy any armed force that might attack them and to plunder the property of their enemies. On the 13th day of the Jewish month of Adar, the Jews destroyed all of their enemies; however, they did not plunder their property. From that time onward, Purim was a festival of celebration for the Jews.  Purim is the Hebrew word for “lots” and refers to the lottery that Haman used to choose the date for the massacre of Jews in Persia. Purim is celebrated on the 14 day of Adar which is usually in March. In March 2012 at the time of the Festival of Purim, the Prime Minister of Israel visited the United States President and presented him with a scroll of the book of Esther.

Cotton

The white cotton curtains (Hebrew karpas) of Esther were probably Gossypium herbaceum also known as Levant cotton and Arabian cotton. G. herbaceum was domesticated in India about 3000 B.C. and present in Mesopotamia about 1000 B.C.  Ahasuerus ruled lands from India to Ethiopia; consequently, finding cotton curtains in his palace is reasonable. In the 7th century B.C. cotton was present in Horvat ʽUza located in the Arad Valley in Palestine. Certainly, the exiles would have brought cotton fabric, if not plants, back with them from exile in Persia. G. herbaceum is not the same species of cotton grown in present-day Israel, nor is it grown in the United States. When cotton plants are irrigated, most flower mid to late summer. Large, showy, solitary blooms have five petals (1-2 inches long). Flowers are yellow (occasionally white) at first, then fade to a soft red or pink. The cotton plant fruit is called a boll. When ripe, the boll splits and a mass of fine white filaments or fibers exude.  The white fibers are the cotton of commerce. Seeds are contained in the white fibers. In ancient times seeds were separated from fibers by hand.  With the invention of the cotton gin in the 18th century, seeds and fibers are separated mechanically.

Symbolism: Curtain, Conceal

In Ahasuerus’ palace, curtains were made from cotton. Curtain has several meanings to include a hanging screen that can be drawn back, a device that conceals or acts as a barrier, or the time that a theatrical performance begins. In the first chapter of Esther, the cotton curtains were associated with all three meanings. Technically, the white cotton curtains were tied back by cords of fine linen and purple to silver rods. In inclement weather or to obscure the sun’s rays, the cotton curtains could be let down. Figuratively, the curtains symbolized Esther concealing her nationality. They symbolized Haman’s concealed desire to murder Mordecai; yet convincing Ahasuerus that all Jews should die because they disobeyed the king’s laws. Finally, the cotton-curtained plaza was the stage where the first act of the drama of Esther began.

Earlier in this book, we studied the importance of the veil or curtain in the Tent of Meeting. That curtain was made of linen not cotton but it also concealed, e.g., the Most Holy of Holies room from the Holy of Holies room. On a daily basis, priest entered the Holy of Holies and attended to the lamps and incense. The same was not true for the Most Holy of Holies where God dwelled.  The chief priest entered the Most Holy of Holies one time per year and then only after making blood sacrifice for his own sins and the inadvertent sins of the Israelites.

Christ death changed the curtain separating the two rooms of the Temple. When Christ died, the curtain separating the Most Holy of Holies from the Holies of Holy rooms tore from top to bottom. Similarly, Christ’s death tore the curtain separating us from God. God became open and available to us; no longer concealed by a curtain. Now through the blood of Jesus Christ we have confidence to stand before God (Hebrews 10:19). In a way I empathize with the ancient Israelites who requested that God speaking Moses instead of speaking directly to them (Exodus 20:18-19).  The thought of standing before the God of the universe can be somewhat intimidating. Then, I remember that the God of the universe is my loving Father; no one loves me more than God loves me.

Reflection:  We have ready access to God through Christ.  No more curtain between us and Abba, our Father.  Now the only one who can keep God concealed from us is us.

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

Copyright December 29, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Digging Willow Lined Canels in Babylon

S. babylonica (2)The story of the fall of Jerusalem is in 2 Kings 25:1-12 and Psalm 137 is a lament of the exiles in Babylon.

After King Zedekiah of Judah rebelled, Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem (January 15, 588 B.C.). About 2 ½ years later, King Zedekiah and his army broke through the Jerusalem wall near the king’s garden and fled the city. Nebuchadnezzar pursued and captured Zedekiah at Riblah. Zedekiah was taken to Babylon and killed. On August 14, 586 B.C., the Babylonians set fire to the temple, royal palace, and every important building in Jerusalem. The walls of Jerusalem were broken down. Israelites that remained in Jerusalem were taken as captives into Babylon with the exception of the poorest people who were left to tend the vineyards and fields.  In Babylon, Jewish captives were treated as slaves or servants (2 Chronicles 36:20).

Psalm 137 remembers the Babylonian captivity and provides insight into the life of the Jerusalem captives in Babylon. The first stanza (first 3 verses) possibly indicates that the captives lived near and/or worked building canals that connected rivers around Babylon and provided irrigation for crops. The captives were so wretched that at times they could do nothing but sit and weep for their lost freedom and land. Verse 2 recorded that they hung harps, used to accompany songs to God, on willow trees. Probably the men did not technically hang their valued musical instruments on willow tree branches. More likely, they set them aside or as we say today, “put them on a back shelf,” having no heart to play or sing. To further add to the captive’s agony, their Babylonian captors demanded the Jewish play harps and sing songs of joy about Zion. The Babylonians want the captives to entertain them!

Stanza 2 (verses 4-6) is about repentance. It begins by the captives asking how they can sing God’s songs in a foreign land. In the captives’ minds, songs should praise God and reverberate through the Temple and Jerusalem, not be sung for the entertainment of a heathen people. The two verses of the stanza are pledges and curses on themselves if they forget Jerusalem. Verse 5 says: may their right hand – the hand used to play the harp – lose its skill (become numb) if they forget Jerusalem. Verse 6 avers:  may their tongues cling to the roof of their mouth – never sing – if they do not remember and consider Jerusalem their highest joy.

Stanza 3 (verses 7-9) is a petition for God to punish the Edomites and the Babylonians. The Edomonites were off-spring of Esau who was Jacob’s (Israel) twin brother. Yet, the Edomites encouraged the Babylonians when they destroy Jerusalem. Although the Babylonians were the vehicle of God’s punishment of the Jewish people, they embraced their conquest with gleeful brutality. The brutality included taking Jewish babies from the arms of Jewish mothers and beating their heads against walls and trees.

Babylon Willow Tree

The Babylonian willow is the Salix babylonica  known as the weeping willow. The tree is native to central Asia, probably China. From China it was transported along the silk route to the Middle East. The willow was planted and grew around ancient Babylon which gave its name to the species.  Weeping willows favors bright sunlight.  Under too much shade, the tree grows unevenly. In Israel, S. babylonica grows in Mediterranean woodlands and shrub-lands and is found in the Sharon Plain. Typically, Babylonian weeping willows grow between 30-50 feet tall. Flexible stems move gracefully in the wind. The weeping willow is deciduous and loses its leaves in the late fall and early winter months. The upper leaf surface looks olive-green while the underside appears silver. Like branches and stems, leaves hang down, or droop, as they grow. Weeping will trees produce leaves and flowers simultaneously.

Symbolism:  Repentance

Depression and weeping are concepts that could be associated with the Salix babylonica because they described the behavior of the Jewish captives in Psalm 137:1-3; however, “repentance” is the better symbolism. Repentance means turning from sin and amending one’s life.  Repentance implies sorrow, regret, and contrition for previous sinful behavior.  The captive Jewish men repented. The result was that they could not sing God’s songs in a land of heathen idolaters.  They saw moral impropriety in mixing the songs of the Lord with the things of the world.

The Bible did not describe how the captivities came to repentance. They may have remembered and talked among themselves about the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah. Both warned of the coming judgment on Israel, but also talked about Israel’s deliverance and restoration. Perhaps they heard directly or indirectly the consoling words of Ezekiel, who like they lived in Babylon.  Ezekiel’s assured the captives that Israel would return home to Jerusalem and inhabit the towns of Judah (Ezekiel 36:8-12).  Ezekiel even promised that a new Temple would be built.

However repentance came about, the Jewish captives pledged their loyalty to Jerusalem, home of God. The Good News Bible (1976) provides a succinct translation of their oath:

May I never be able to play the harp again if I forget you Jerusalem!  May I never be able to sing again if I do not remember you, if I do not think of you as my greatest joy (Psalm 137:5-6).

In April 1948 immediately before Israel declared itself an independent nation, the Jewish sector of Jerusalem was practically in a state of siege (MacDonald, 1995). Food supplies were almost exhausted. Weekly rations for each person was 2 ounces of margarine, 4 ounces of potatoes, and 4 ounces of dried meat. Then, news came that a convoy of food and supplies was coming from Tel Aviv. Hundreds of people ran out to welcome the trucks. Jews in Jerusalem reported that they will never forget the sight of the first truck in the convoy.  Written on the front bumper of the blue Ford were the words “If I ever forget you, O Jerusalem….”

Reflection. The Jews learned the value of repentance in Babylon.Have you learned the value of repentance?

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 November 27, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Nebuchadnezzar ate Grass

Cicer arietinum, chickpea The story of Daniel interpreting King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and the outcome of the dream is in Daniel chapter 4.

Along with other members of the Israelite royal family and nobility, Daniel was deported (605 B.C.) to Babylon during the reign of the Chaldean king Nebuchadnezzar. He was given a Babylonian name and was educated for service in the Babylonian court. God gave Daniel ability to understand and interpret dreams. His abilities so impressed Nebuchadnezzar that the king made Daniel ruler over the entire province of Babylon and chief officer over the wise men.

Nebuchadnezzar had a dream about a mighty tree that reached the heavens and was visible to the ends of the earth. The tree provided shade and food for all manner of animals and birds.  Heavenly beings decreed that the tree be chopped down, its branches and leaves stripped, and its fruit scattered. The tree’s stump remained with the beast of the grass.  Nebuchadnezzar asked Daniel to interpret the dream.

Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar that he was the tree that would be chopped down.  Nebuchadezzar would lose his sanity and kingdom. He would dwell with beasts in the field and eat grass like oxen. Only when Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged that God gave him the Chaldean kingdom, would Nebuchadnezzar recover his mind.  Daniel implored the king to break off his sins and show mercy to the oppressed.

Despite Daniel’s warning, King Nebuchadnezzar did not change his behavior. After 12 months, the king walked on the palace roof admiring his power and majesty. While he was speaking words of self-praise, a voice from heaven told Nebuchadnezzar that God’s time of judgment was now. Nebuchadnezzar lost his sanity. He went to the fields and ate grass. His body became wet from the dew of heaven. Nebuchadnezzar’s hair grew long as eagle’s feathers and his nails were like bird’s claws.

At the end of seven years, Nebuchadnezzar lifted up his eyes and acknowledged the God of heaven.  His reason returned to him and his kinship was restored.  Nebuchadnezzar blessed the Most High and credited God with returning his kingdom to him. The Bible story ends by Nebuchadnezzar saying, “those who walk in pride he (God) is able to humble” (Daniel 4:37, NIV-SB, 2002).

Chick-peas

In the story of Nebuchadnezzar, grass referred to a grazing or forage crop for oxen.  Probably Nebuchadnezzar ate more than one type of grass because animal forage is seasonal.  Ancient Babylon produced barley, chick peas, the sesame, and a marshland edible root (gongai). In ancient Babylon and in modern day Iraq where Babylon was located, chickpeas are consumed by both humans and animals. The Iraq chickpea is the Cicer arietinum L. Chickpea plants were cultivated as early as 5000 years B.C. in Syria and Turkey.   In 2012, chickpeas were not listed as a plant that currently grows in Israel. Chick peas have a high biological value. Starch, amino acids (building blocks of proteins), and minerals are present in seeds.  Humans eat seeds raw, cooked, fresh, or dried.  Often seeds are described as tasting like a sweet chestnut.  Livestock (particularly cows and pigs) eat broken seeds and seed pods; plant straw is used as animal fodder.  In developing countries, dried stems and roots are used as a cooking fuel.

Symbolism:  Forage, Grazing

In the story of Nebuchadnezzar eating grass like an animal, the chickpea symbolized forage and grazing.  As a noun forage means food for animals to eat; sometimes animal forage is called hay, feed, or silage.  As an action (verb), forage means that the animal is searching, hunting, or rummaging for food. Grazing includes the process of foraging, but also means that the grazer eats small portions of food throughout the day. Some days, e.g., after church or on Saturday afternoon during football season, my husband and I do not cook meals; rather we forage or graze on food all afternoon and evening.  He’s a chips, cashews, and chicken wings guy, while I am happy with my biscotti, chocolate, and peanut butter. Like Nebuchadnezzar grazing for fodder eating a little bite here and there, Bruce and I make multiple trips to the refrigerator and pantry.

Many people are foraging or hunting for answers to today’s problems and challenges.  In the process they take a small bite of this or that philosophy or religion. They may watch an evangelist for a short time, or pick up a Bible for a brief read. When they do not get immediate answers or the answers they want, they turn to another book, person, or ism. Their actions are like my eating biscotti, chocolate, and peanut butter – maybe at times tasty, but not nutritionally adequate or fulfilling.

We are not going to know God by grazing lightly through the Bible, or attending church on a hit or miss basis.  People who take this approach will need to hear the elementary truths of God’s word over and over again. They will drink milk rather than eat the solid foods of teachings on righteousness (Hebrews 5:11-14). God wants methodical people who will search the scriptures daily, learn from them, and apply them to their lives.  He wants followers who attend church and Bible study with a teachable heart.

Nebuchadnezzar got God’s message.  After returning to his senses, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged that God is supreme and does according to his will in heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth (Daniel 4:38, NIV-SB, 2002).  Likely Nebuchadnezzar would tell men and women who graze or nibble in the Christian faith that God’s signs are great and his wonders mighty (Daniel 4:3, NIV-SB, 2002).  God’s kingdom is everlasting and endures from generation to generation.

Reflection.  Are you a grazer – taking small bites of Christianity here and there – or are you a disciple, a convicted adherent to Christianity.  Have you taken a big bit of God or are you still nibbling around?

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 November 4, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Jeremiah Longs for Balm of Gilead

Jeremiah’s cry for balm of Gilead to soothe Judah and other nations is found in the book of Jeremiah in chapters 8, 46, and 51(New International Version (NIV) Study Bible, 2002).

Jeremiah’s ministry was from 626-586 B.C.  He was described several ways to include the Prophet of Doom, and the Weeping Prophet.  He ministered during the last half of Josiah’s reign, and during the reigns of Jehoahaz (3 months), Jehoiakim (9 years), Jehoiachin (3 months), and Zedekiah (9 years).  Jerusalem was conquered by Babylon 586 B.C.; at that time elders and leaders of Judah and their families were killed or deported to Babylon.

Jeremiah was a Levite who was possibly from the priestly family of Abiather (David’s reign) and Eli.  His home town, Anata, was a short three miles northeast of Jerusalem.  Anata was located in a broad range of hills that overlook the Jordan valley to the East and the Dead Sea to the South.  From a young age Jeremiah may have herded goats and/or spent time farming; his writings were filled with examples from nature and agriculture (Hareuveni & Frenkley, 1988).

God called Jeremiah to be a prophet when Jeremiah was 18 years old.  At first Jeremiah demurred saying that he was a youth and inadequate to speak God’s word.  Jeremiah agreed when God reached out and touched his mouth and told Jeremiah, “I have put my words in your mouth” (Jeremiah 1:9).  God commanded Jeremiah to not marry and raise children because the forthcoming divine judgment on Judah would sweep away the next generation.  During the invasion by Babylon, Anata was used as a staging area for Babylon’s siege against Jerusalem.  Much of Anata was destroyed and many citizens killed

Jeremiah used the plant “balm of Gilead” to describe healing in three of his prophecies.  The first time Jeremiah foretold the destruction and exile of Judah.  Jeremiah asked, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people?” (Jeremiah 8:22).

The second time Jeremiah prophesied against Egypt.  Jeremiah advised Egypt to go to Gilead and get balm, yet there would be no healing for them (Jeremiah 46:11).  The third time, Jeremiah used the exemplar of balm for healing was to predict Babylon’s fall.  Jeremiah suggested obtaining balm to heal Babylon; yet, Babylon could not be healed because her sins reached to the skies (Jeremiah 51:8-9).  Even though God used Babylon to exact judgment against Judah, in God’s time Babylon would be destroyed.

The land of Gilead was on the east side of the Jordan River.  Early in the history of Israel, the mountains (up to 4,090 feet) and hills were heavily forested (Bible Places, 2012).  The land was ideal for large herds and flocks of livestock.  In the division of land among the 12 tribes Gilead was assigned to Gad and Rueben (Numbers 32:1-5).  With terracing, the Gilead hills were farmed, e.g., olive trees and vineyards.  On lower foot hills, wheat was planted.   When the Ishmaelite traders (1898 B.C.) purchased Joseph from his brothers, they carried balm from Gilead to Egypt (Genesis 37:25-28).  Balm of Gilead was prized by the Egyptians who used it to prepare the bodies of their dead for burial.  Pilgrims to present day Jericho can purchase balm of Gilead in small tin boxes.  The extract is from the B. aegyptiaca plant that grows in Jordan in the region called Ghor el Safi.

Balm of Gilead

Jeremiah’s balm of Gilead was probably the Balanites aegyptiaca, a small multi-branched spiny tree  The plant is also called the Ximenia aegyptiaca L, Jericho balsam, and desert date.  Although widely distributed around the globe, B. aegyptiaca is thought to be native to Africa, India, and parts of the Middle East to include Israel.   In Israel, it grows in  in valleys, on river banks, and in depressions. Hasselquist who completed pioneering work on Holy Land plants described the gum of the B. aegyptiaca as yellow and light reflecting.  Leaf stems and possibly roots produce a  glutinous and tenacious resin.  Sticking to the fingers, it can be drawn into long threads.  Turkish surgeons used the gum to treat wounds.  Supposedly, a few drops are applied to a fresh wound will cure it.  Possibly wound edges could be connected by the glue-like property of the gum. Using Balm of Gilead to treat wounds is consistent with Jeremiah question of where was the balm of Gilead to heal the wounds of his people Judah (Jeremiah 8:22).

Symbolism: Balm

Medically, balms are healing or soothing substance, e.g., ointment, salve or cream.  Balms can be analgesic and give pain relief.   Figuratively, balms have the effects of calming, soothing and comforting, and providing solace and consolation.  Jeremiah asked for pain relief for Judah which involved comfort and solace for their spirits as well as analgesia for their physical bodies.

In today’s society many individuals hurt spiritually.  Much of the spiritual pain is the result of personal choices.  When I left home as a young woman, I was determined to live life my way.  I made a conscious decision not to follow God.  One of my rationalizations was that I would consign God to Sunday at church, e. g., departmentalize him.   The remainder of the week, I could live an egocentric and indulgent life.  At one point, I even thought, “When I am older, I will turn back to God.”  In retrospect, I am stunned at my thoughts and actions.  As a teen in Youth for Christ and church fellowship, I did not anticipate that my outlook would change so radically.

The Israelites did not start out to reject God’s laws and turn to idols.  They promised both Moses and Joshua to worship only God and to follow his covenants (Joshua 24:24-27).   For many of them, the change occurred over years, over generations, or even as a result following the leadership of a godless king.  Whatever the mechanism of each individual’s disregard, the outcome was that as a nation Judah rejected God.

Because God is just, Judah had to pay for his sins.  Jeremiah’s book is a description of a prophet whose heart broke for his countryman even though they deserved their punishment.  When Jeremiah’s predictions of calamity came true, Jeremiah never gloated; rather he wept for individuals and the nation.  He longed to provide pain relief for their bodies, minds, and spirits; to soothe them with the Balm of Gilead.

God was not surprised by my rebellion or the apostasy of Judah.  Both our rebellions caused great spiritual, mental, and physical pain to ourselves.  At the time, it felt like nothing would calm, comfort, and console; however, God was there waiting for me and for Judah to turn from our individual idols to him.  Do you remember the African-American spiritual “There is a Balm in Gilead?” The refrain goes something like this:

There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin sick soul.

Reflection.  Have you ever experienced a sin-sick soul?  The solution is God, our balm of Gilead.

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 24, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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King Josiah and Prickly Lettuce

Lactuca serriola, prickly lettuce (394x800)The story of Josiah and the Passover is in 2 Kings 22:1-23:30 and 2 Chronicles 34:1-35:25.

Josiah was one of the best kings of Judah.  He was the great grandson of good king Hezekiah, however, Josiah was also the grandson of Manasseh, without argument the foulest king in Judah’s history.  Josiah (640-609 B.C.) was crowned king when he was eight.  When Josiah was 16 he began to seek God, and at 20 initiated the purification of Judah.  The purification processed extended into the tribal towns of Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin where small pockets of Israelites lived after the deportation of most Northern Kingdom citizens.  Josiah had all false gods, carved images, and idols removed.  Housetop altars erected by Ahaz and Manasseh were destroyed.  The high places that Solomon erected for his wives to worship their gods were removed.  Rather than sit in Jerusalem and order the reforms, Josiah traveled throughout Judah and the southern towns of Northern Kingdom to ensure that his reforms were implemented.

As part of purifying the land, Josiah had the Temple cleansed and repaired the Temple.   In the process of renovating the Temple, the Book of Law was found.  In Old Testament times, the Book of Law was the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament.  When the Book of Law was read to Josiah, he tore his clothes in anguish over how God’s laws were neglected in Judea.  He sent emissaries to Huldah, a prophetess who lived in Jerusalem, and asked Huldah to consult the Lord on the people’s behalf.  Huldah responded that God was going to bring disaster on Judea and its people because they turned from God and burned incense to other gods.   Although God’s decision on the coming disaster was irrefutable, because Josiah humbled himself, Josiah would be buried in peace.

Josiah gathered the people in the Temple and had the Book of Law read to them.  After the Law was read, they pledged to live according to the covenant of the God of their fathers.  To rededicate himself and the people, Josiah ordered a Passover celebration and provided the ritual lambs and goats for slaughter.  For seven days the people celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Passover).  The Bible recorded that the Passover had not been observed like this in Israel (and Judea) since the days of the prophet Samuel.  The Feast included the people eating bitter herbs in the same manner as they ate bitter herbs when the Death Angel passed over their homes in Egypt.  In the chapter on Plants in the Life of Moses, the bitter herb endive was associated with the Passover.  Here the bitter herb will be wild lettuce.

Wild Lettuce

In Israel, a common bitter herb used to commemorate Passover was the wild lettuce.  Jewish experts believe the ancient Israel wild lettuce was Lactuca serriola, frequently called prickly lettuce.  Prickly lettuce is native to the Middle East, Europe, and possibly North Africa.  It is found throughout the entire country of Israel from the  vegetation of Mount Hermon to the extreme deserts of the Negev.  As you read through this description and look at the picture(s), remember the L. serriola has different characteristics than the common garden lettuce (L. sativa) eaten in the United States. When rain is sufficient, prickly lettuce grows 5–7 feet tall.  In the United States animals (cattle and deer) eat the L. serriola  only when preferred plants are not available. Often flower heads dry to a purple or blue color. Prickly lettuce can germinate in near freezing winter temperatures, then grow and flower in the spring and summer. Prickly lettuce is easily differentiated from other plants by its production of a white milky latex substance with a rank odor.  When stems and leaves are opened or torn, the milky substance leaks from the plant.

 Symbolism:  Passover

The prickly lettuce was a bitter herb available in the early 7th century B.C. for the people of Judea to use to celebrate the Passover.  The symbolism of this lettuce is “pass over.”  In this symbolism pass over is not one word, nor is it spelled with a capital with a “p” to depict the Jewish Passover celebration.  To express its association with the prickly lettuce plant, pass over is two words and uses a small p.   The dictionary has a definition for pass over separate and distinct from the Passover celebration.  Pass over means to ignore in passing and to pay no attention to the claims of.

Pass over reflected the amount of consideration given the prickly lettuce plant and God’s laws in Judea.  People largely ignored the prickly lettuce when they went out to the fields to glean wild plants for food.  Animals ate the plant only when there was nothing better available.  Unlike other lettuces, prickly lettuce was and is not now touted as a source of vitamins or minerals.  Pass over described the way Judah treated its prophets’ warnings in the 70 plus year period between King Hezekiah’s death and King Josiah hearing the Book of Law.

Often we ignore God’s laws as we live out our busy lives; we pay no attention to God’s claims or directions.   Despite our behavior God does not ignore us.  From heaven God sees all mankind; he watches all who live on earth (Psalm 33:13-14).  The inheritance of the blameless (righteous) will endure forever; but God’s enemies will vanish like the beauty of the fields (Psalm 37:18-20).  Individuals who ignore God and his laws are God’s enemies (Philippians 3:18-19).

At some point in our education, most of us memorized the following verse and thought it was cute:

My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light (Millay, 1920).

We act like the only outcome of our “pass over living” is that we make a lovely light.  In reality, those who live paying no attention to God can look forward to one outcome and it is not light.  The outcome for ignoring God and paying no attention to his claims is eternity without God, not just the four score and ten years that we may have on earth (Piper, 2004).  We will all have eternal life; the question is where will be spend it.

Reflection.  “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

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

copyright: October 10, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Zephaniah’s Prophecy Using Nettles

Urtica urens RignaneseZephaniah prophecy that Moab and Ammon would be like a place of nettles is in Zephaniah 2:8-11.

Zephaniah was a minor prophet and a fourth generation descendent of King Hezekiah.  Most likely he lived in Jerusalem and ministered between 640-630 B.C. during the early years of King Josiah’s reign.  His words reflected a familiarity with court circles and political issues.  He seemed to know firsthand Judah’s rejection of God and the idol worship which occurred under Kings Manasseh and Amon.

The book of Zephaniah is three spell-binding chapters that not only announce God’s pending judgment on Israel but God’s judgment on many nations living in the region, e.g., Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Cush, and Assyria.  Zephaniah’s prophecy which included the nettle plant was against Moab and Ammon.  Both the Moabites and Ammonites were offspring of Lot and his incestuous union with his two daughters (Genesis 19:30-38).  From the time Israel attempted to pass through Moab on their way to the Promised Land, there was enmity between Moab and Israel (Numbers chapter 21-26).  Ammon initiated war on Israel in the time of Israel’s judges (Judges 3:12-13).

Zephaniah began his prophecy against Moab and Ammon by writing that God heard their insults, taunts, and threats against Israel.  God was aware of the pride of the Moabites and Ammonites.   In retaliation for their behavior, Moab would become like Sodom and Ammon like Gomorrah.   Both would become places of nettles and salt pits, a wasteland forever.

God’s declaration that Moab and Ammon would become like Sodom and Gomorrah should have disturbed the Moabites and Ammonites.  Their ancestors (Lot and his daughters) once lived in Sodom.  Ancestral history would have included tales of God reigning burning sulfur on the two cities (Genesis 19:23-29).   The outcome was fiery destruction of the cities, people, and vegetation on the plain where the cities were located.

Nettle Plants

Many botanists agree that the nettle of Zephaniah was the Urtica urens L, also known as the burning nettle, dwarf nettle, and small nettle.  The burning nettle grows best in temperate regions and is thought to be indigenous to Europe.  In Israel, nettles grow in disturbed sites such as ditch banks, road sides and fence rows; however, it does well in vegetable gardens and orchards.  Urtica urens does not tolerate shade. Both the leaf blade and slender stalks grow stinging and non-stinging hairs. Stinging hairs are long, sometimes bristly.   Prickly hairs contain two parts 1) a softer vessel at the base and 2) a minute tube-like structure tipped by a round bulb.  When a hair contacts the skin, the bulb breaks off, exposing a needle-like point.  The point penetrates the skin and injects an irritating substance.  The outcome is a burning dermatitis which can last more than 12 hours.  Burning can occur even after visible symptoms (redness, swelling) fade.  Unlike poison oak which affects only a portion of the population, nettles burns the skin of everyone who comes into contact with it.  Gloves should always be worn to protect the skin from the hairs.

Symbolism: Burn, Fire 

In the prophecy of Zephaniah against Moab and Ammon, the burning nettle symbolized burning and fire.   Burning means to destroy by fire.  Fire occurs from combustion of a fuel and results in light, flame, and heat.  In the Bible, sometimes fire and burning had a positive meaning, e.g., the burning bush, the cloud of fire above the Tabernacle.   Equally, burning and fire had negative connotations, often describing destruction.   For example, Isaiah (5:24) prophesied that Judah who rejected God was to be destroyed as fire licks up straw and as dry grass sinks down in flames.

We know that the reason Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by fire and burning was the extreme evil and perversions that occurred in these cities reached to the heavens (Genesis 18:20).   In comparison to Sodom and Gomorrah the behavior of Moab and Ammon didn’t seem too bad; their sin was taunting and insulting the Israelites and threatening to occupy Israelite territories.  To understand the extent of Moab’s and Ammon’s taunts, read Ezekiel’s prophecy.  Ammon rejoiced maliciously when God’s sanctuary (Temple) was desecrated (Ezekiel 25:1-7).  When Moab saw Judah vulnerable and fall, they discounted Judah’s God (Ezekiel 25”8-11).  They did not recognize that Judah and the God of the universe were separate entities.

Sometimes I feel frightened when I hear or read of clergy, politicians, and ordinary citizens mocking God and discounting God.  Equally, when the United States waffles in its support of Israel, I feel disquiet.  Do these individuals know Bible and secular history?  Do they know that Israel holds a special place in God’s eyes and heart?  God may punish the Israelites with burning fire; but, he will never destroy them or reject them totally.  God’s plans are to redeem a remnant of the Israelites (Zephaniah 3:8-20).   God said, “at that time I will deal with all (nations) who oppress you (Israel” (Zephaniah 3:19, NIV-SB, 2003).

Prayer.  God, help me to never discount what you do in our national life as well as in my individual life.   Help the United States to never oppress the people of Israel.

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 30, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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King Hezekiah & Fragrant Cane

Acorus calamus King Hezekiah directed the priests and Levites to re-consecrate themselves and reopen God’s Temple.  This story is told in 2 Kings 18:1-2 and 2 Chronicles chapter 29.

King Hezekiah was 25 years of age when became king of Judah.  He reigned 29 years (715-686 B.C.).  He father was Ahaz but unlike Ahaz, Hezekiah did what was right in God’s eyes.  Isaiah was at his most influential during Hezekiah’s reign.  During Hezekiah’s reign, the Northern Kingdom fell and its inhabitants were dispersed through Assyria.

Hezekiah was distinguished by his absolute confidence in God even under duress.  Immediately after being crowned, King Hezekiah began religious reform.  His purpose was to make a covenant with God so that God’s fierce anger would be turned away from the kingdom of Judah (2 Chronicles 29:10).  In the first month of his kingship, Hezekiah reopened and repaired the Temple doors.  He gathered the priests and Levites and instructed them to purify and consecrate themselves.  After the priest and Levites were consecrated, they clean out the Temple.  Unclean furnishing and idolatrous items found in the temple were dumped into the Kidron Valley.  Over a 16-day period, the priests purified the Temple and consecrated its altars and furnishings.  The sacred anointing oil was used in the consecrations.

After the purification and consecrations, King Hezekiah provided bulls, rams, lambs, and goats as a sin offering for the people of Judah.  While the offerings were made, Levites played music on cymbals, harps, and lyres and sang in the manner prescribed by King David.  King Hezekiah, city officials, priest, Levites, and the entire assembly knelt down and worshipped God.  After the sin offerings, the assembly brought sacrifices and thanks offerings to God.  So many offerings were presented that the priest could not skin all of the animals.  They had to enlist the Levites to assist them until more priests could be re-consecrated.  Thus, Temple worship was reestablished under King Hezekiah.

When the Tabernacle was built, God prescribed ingredients to be used in the anointing (purifying and consecrating) oil.  Five ingredients were named:  myrrh, cinnamon, fragrant cane, cassia, and olive oil.  The anointing oil was sacred and used only for anointing the priest and the Temple furnishing and accessories.  In Chapter 4, cassia was described as an ingredient for the anointing oil in the Tabernacle.  In this chapter, fragrant cane will be described as an ingredient in the Temple anointing oil. Isaiah (43:24) mentioned fragrant cane (calamus) declaring that the people of Judah no longer brought cane to God, probably meaning in the incense of sacrifice.

Fragrant Cane Plant

Most botanists and religious scholars associate the Biblical fragrant cane with the Acorus calamus variety calamus., called  sweet cane and calamus. Although fragrant cane is a Bible plant, in 2012 it was not found in two popular Israeli plant databases:  Online Flora of Israel and Wild Flowers of Israel.  Probably most fragrant cane used in the Temple anointing oil came from India. It is found in moist soils and shallow water in ditches, marshes, river edges and ponds, marshes and ditches.    Viewed from the top of water or moist soil, fragrant cane that looks like numerous plants may be a single interconnected rhizome (root). Although leaves and stems can be harvested, the rhizome is used to make perfumes and sacred oils (Motley, 1995).  Fragrant cane is very expensive.  During the reign of Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey was accused of extravagance because he importing fragrant cane reeds at extravagant expense.

Symbolism: Clarity

The fragrant cane plant is associated with many different concepts to include vigor, purification, wisdom, and clarity.  The symbolism that reflects this Bible episode is clarity which includes focused perception, to free of confusion, and to make understandable.  Under Ahaz’s reign, some of the priests of God’s temple likely remained at home and only practiced their faith with family and close friends.  Others, like the priest Uriah (2 Kings 15:10-15), obeyed Ahaz and installed idol worship in the Temple.  Probably both groups felt some degree of confusion, guilt, resentment, and shame (Psalm 97:7).  These emotions would have clouded their thinking.

When Hezekiah became king, he required the priests to consecrate themselves in preparation for re-instituting worship of God in the Temple.  For the priests consecration meant that the sacred anointing oil was applied to themselves and possibly their clothes.  Then, the priests anointed each item in the Temple.  Being anointed to God’s service would have focused the priest’s thoughts on God.  Anointing the Temple furnishing and accessories over a 16-day period would have clarified the purpose and meaning of each item in the temple.  Finally, performing the sacrifices reinforced the priests’ understanding of their role in Temple worship. Use of the anointing oil promoted clarity in the priests’ perceptions.

Today, people are prone to lose clarity of thought.  We become anxious and distressed by what is occurring around us.  As I write this chapter, the United States is in the process of presidential elections.  Perhaps more than any other election, United States citizens are paying attention to what candidates say and do.  This attention can be good if it clarifies our thoughts on candidates’ stands on issues important to us.  At the same time, we need not get anxious about who to vote for or the decision-making process.  God’s desire is to have us free from all anxiety and distressing care (1 Corinthians 7:32)

When we accept Christ we are anointed with the Holy Spirit.  Christ’s anointing teaches us the truth on everything we need to know about ourselves and Christ, uncontaminated by a single lie (I John 2:26-27)  Now, Christ is our safe place – the place where perceptions, understanding, and clarity abide.  As we listen to candidates and persuasive leaders in any field, we need to remember and believe that Christ knows his sheep and they know him (John 10:1-6).  Christ’s sheep will not follow a stranger’s voice.  Christ sheep not only hear his voice but listen or obey his voice and words.  St. John recorded that when Jesus used this figure of speech, his listeners did not understand what he was talking about.

 Reflection.  How is your clarity?  Do you understand what Jesus was talking about in John 10:1-6?

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 9, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Isaiah, Ahaz & the Buckthorn

Buckthorn fruitAn interaction between Isaiah’s and King Ahaz is described in Isaiah chapter 7 with other parts of Ahaz life described in 2 Kings chapter 16 and in 2 Chronicles chapter 28.

Isaiah (740-681 B.C.), son of Amoz, is listed as the first of the three Major Prophets; he wrote the book that bears his name.  Isaiah began his ministry the year that king Uzziah died and ministered during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, and early in the reign of Manasseh.  The Bible identified Jotham and Hezekiah as kings who walked with God.  In contrast Kings Ahaz and Manasseh were two of the wickedest kings who reigned over Judah.

From the beginning of his 16 year reign, Ahaz rejected God and burnt incense and offered sacrifices on hill tops and under spreading trees.  Ahaz even sacrificed his son to a false god.  When the Arameans and Israelites (Northern Tribes) banded together to attack Jerusalem, Ahab and the citizens of Jerusalem were shaken “as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind” (Isaiah 7:2).  Instead of turning to God for rescue, Ahaz turned to the king of Assyria.  Ahaz plundered the Temple silver and gold and sent it to Assyria to buy help.

When the Arameans and Israelites joined to attach Jerusalem, God sent Isaiah to reassure Ahaz that Jerusalem would not be overrun by this coalition of armies (Isaiah chapter 7).  At the meeting, God directed Ahaz to ask for a sign of God’s intention to protect Jerusalem.  Ahaz refused saying that he would not put the Lord to the test.  Isaiah’s responded that Ahaz was trying the patience of God. Then, Isaiah prophesied that in the next 12–13 years both the lands of Aram and Israel would be laid waste and the Lord would bring on Judah devastation from Egypt and Assyria.  Where there were a thousand vines worth a thousand silver shekels, the land would be covered with briers and thorns.  Men would need to carry bows and arrows for protection when they went among the briers and thorns.  Where there was once cultivated land, cattle and sheep would run loose in a brier and thorn infested land.

The Buckthorn Shrub

This shrub associated with Isaiah is the Rhamnus lycioides, also known as the Rhamnus palaestinus and Palestine buckthorn. This buckthorn is native to countries that border the Mediterranean Sea and is well adapted to dry climate of Mediterranean Basin.  In Israel buckthorns grows primarily in woodlands, shrub-lands, and the mountain vegetation of Mount Hermon.  It occupies some of the same sites as the Kermes oak, Aleppo pine, and juniper. In Israel, the buckthorn is a slow growing shrub that reaches a height of 3-6 feet; however, in the more temperate climate of central Europe, it can grow to a height of 39 feet.  The Palestine buckthorn is evergreen in Israel and grows with a many branched, tangled form, and velvety thorns.  Young stems are green but as the bark matures they become gray. The buckthorn fruit is a small (1/4 inch), oval, berry which is initially green but turns black with maturity.  Berries are poisonous to humans, but a good source of food for birds. Bbuckthorn plants  can be propagated from cuttings.

Symbolism: Trash

Isaiah used the thorn to describe once fertile agricultural lands destroyed as a result of God’s judgment.  Instead of vines and grains, the land would produce thorns and briers (7:19, 23-25).  The Hebrew word for the thorn in Isaiah 7:23-25 is shayith which is translated as scrub, trash, and thorn.  Trash is defined as debris from plant materials, something worth little or nothing, and something thrown away.  Trashed is an excellent symbol for what was going to happen in Judea as a result of Ahaz leading the Judeans to reject God.

Essentially, King Ahaz treated God’s Temple like trash.  When the Arameans and Israelites attacked, Ahaz plundered the Temple of its gold and silver and sent it to the Assyrian king.  Later, Ahaz removed the furnishing from the Temple, e.g., the basins from the moveable stands, the Sea from the bronze bulls, the Sabbath canopy, and the royal entryway from the Temple (2 Kings 16:17-18; 2 Chronicles 28:24).  Ahaz shut the doors to God’s Temple.  He set up worthless idols at every street corner in Jerusalem.  In every town in Judah, Ahaz build high places to burn sacrifices to man-created gods (2 Chronicles 28:25).

Isaiah prophesied that God would allow the land of Judah to become the trash Judah claimed for itself.  Formerly fertile fields would become brier and thorn (trash) infested as the result of God’s punishment of Judah’s sin.

People that treat God and his laws as trash were not confined to the Old Testament.  Paul identified that some people in New Testament times were senseless, faithless, heartless, and ruthless (Romans 1:31).  “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things, but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1:32).  We need only spend an hour watching television to know that many people act similar to people in the first century; and like in the first century, onlookers applaud their degenerate behaviors.

God’s judgment is not confined to the Old Testament.  Today God’s judgment will fall on people who treat God and his laws as worthless.  If individuals want to be something that is thrown away like trash, God will allow them to be this way (Romans 1:28).  God will give them over to a reprobate mind as he did the Judeans.

Reflection.  When I started to write about God and trash, I felt anxious.  The anxiety caused me to wonder if I love God, but treat his laws as something I can accept or throw away. What about you – do you pick and choose which of God’s laws to obey?

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 August 27, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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