Tag Archives: Plant symbolism

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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Joel & the Apricot Tree

Prunus armeniaca, RignaneseThe story of the locust plague on Judea is in Joel chapter 1.

Joel was a prophet in the Southern Kingdom (Judea).  Joel was categorized as a Minor Prophet and his book is placed second (between Hosea and Amos) among the 12 Minor Prophets.  Joel is a short three chapters.  Controversy surrounds when Joel was written.  Probably the controversy resulted because the book is divided into two distinct parts.  In the first part (Joel 1:2-2:17), Joel described Judea being invaded by locust.  From this perspective Joel was written during the locust plague early in the divided kingdom period.  In the latter portion of his book, Joel (Joel 2:18-3:21) delivered a prophecy about the restoration of Judah and God’s coming judgment on all nations.  Because of the language in this prophecy, some scholars believe Joel lived concurrent with Jeremiah or even after the restoration of Judah.  My perspective was that Joel was written during the reign of King Joash (835-796 B.C.) or early in the reign Uzziah (792-740 B.C).

Most scholars agree that Joel wrote about an actual scourge of locust into Judea. Joel’s descriptions of locust movements are graphic and accurate.  The locust devastated the harvest and ruined the land.  Field crops were destroyed with grains and vines eaten; plants that remained dried up.  New seeds did not germinate; they shriveled beneath clods of dry soil.  Because there was no fodder or pastures, cattle milled about and moaned in discomfort.  Even the sheep suffered from lack of food.  Fig trees were stripped of their bark as well as fruit, leaves, and stems.  All the trees of the fields – the pomegranate, palm, and apple tree – were dried up.

The year the locust invaded Judea was a horrible year for most Judeans.  Many suffered from inadequate food and nutrients because Judean agriculture was destroyed.  Likely imported foods were scarce and/or costly.  Even in subsequent years, the nation’s food supply was reduced.  Seeds did not germinate during the locust year; consequently, no seeds were available to plant the next growing season.  Farmers and families would have to buy seeds from other nations.  Trees and vines were damaged or destroyed.  Heavily damaged trees take years to recover; e.g., to grow new branches and produce fruit.

Despite the dire problems of food security that came about because of Judah’s sins, God loved his people and reassured them.  God promised “I will repay you for the years the locust have eaten – my great army that I sent among you” (Joel 2:28).  This verse tells each Judean and each of us that God will restore the times/years that we wasted living far from him.  The children of Judah and we have a part in this restoration.  Our part is to turn to God with our whole heart; to rend (tear or break) our hearts because of our sins (Joel 2:12-13).Apricots from Roanoke

The Apricot Tree

Joel identified one tree of the field as an apple tree.  The preponderance of scholarly and botanical evidence points to the apple tree as being an apricot tree.   Refer to the discussion in Chapter 1 on the Tree of Knowledge for growth requirements of apple trees.  The Apricot tree of the Bible is the Prunus armeniaca L. The apricot tree is native to northern China.  Probably the apricot tree was introduced into Mesopotamia and Israel about 2500 B.C.  Normally, P. armeniaca grows about 30 feet tall; however, wild trees have grown to 45 feet.  When cultivated, apricot trees reach full production in five years and have an economic life of about 30 years. The fruit of the tree is the apricot. In ancient Israel, apricots were handpicked from trees or trees were shaken so that apricots were dislodged and dropped to the ground.  Shaking trees has two problems.  First, when mature fruits hit the ground, they easily bruise, which promotes rot (Rhizopus fruit rot).  Second, apricot trees are more susceptible to trunk damage from shaking than many other fruit trees.  Often an apricot tree can be picked over 2–3 times each harvest.  Apricots were eaten fresh, cooked, or dried.  Fresh apricots taste best when eaten in 1-2 weeks. Ancient Judeans laid the apricots out in the sun, usually in a single layer, to dry.

Symbolism: Encouragement

In his book on correspondences of Bible plants, Worcester (2009) suggested that sweet fruit trees such as the apricot symbolized pleasant encouragement for good.  Providing encouragement is a key component of our role as Christians.  In the Bible over 60 references address encouragement.   When used in the Bible, “encouragement” meant to inspire with courage or hope, to give help, to lift a person’s confidence, or to strengthen their purpose.  In the Old Testament, several people or groups were identified as needing encouragement.  Moses was told to encourage or inspire Joshua because Joshua would lead the Israelites into the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 1:38, 3:28).   Israel’s soldiers strengthened comrades with words of encouragement during battles (Judges 20:22).  Joab warned David that if David did not go to his soldiers and encourage (lift their confidence) them after Absalom’s death, that the soldiers would desert (2 Samuel 19:7).  The righteous were entreated to encourage or give aide to the afflicted oppressed, fatherless, and widows (Psalm 10:17; Isaiah 1:17).

New Testament church stories include stories about encouragers and encouragement.  In fact, encouragement is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Romans 12:6).  In Acts, we read that the Holy Spirit encouraged the churches throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria (Acts 9:13).  When we lived in Charleston, we had the privilege of attending a charismatic Lutheran church.  Walking into the church, we felt the Holy Spirit.  His presence permeated the songs/hymns, liturgy, and communion.  We came from a church that had severe financial challenges and were amazed one Sunday to hear that the church had so much money that they were having a large free shrimp picnic for the congregation and friends.  If you have lived in the South, you are probably smiling about now remembering that shrimp picnic had every side dish imaginable.  Each Sunday this Lutheran church operated a bus that went to the Rescue Mission area.  The Mission did not offer meals on Sundays.  The bus brought homeless individuals to the church, fed them a hearty breakfast, and invited them to church.  These folks were also invited to the shrimp picnic.  What an absolute blessing when the Holy Spirit intervenes in churches to inspire members and to strengthen their purpose.

Paul wrote that everything written in the past was written to teach … and encourage us so that we can have hope (Romans 15:4).  Repeatedly Paul wrote how he was encouraged (heartened) when he learned that Church plants were thriving; e.g., Corinthians   Paul even rejoiced that his imprisonment encouraged (inspired) his brothers in the Lord to speak the word of God courageously and fearlessly (Colossians 2:2).

Tychicus was an early church encourager.  Writing from a Roman prison in about 60 A.D., Paul described Tychicus as a dear brother, a faithful minister, and a fellow servant in Christ (Ephesians 6:21-22; Colossians 4:7-8).  Tychicus knew Paul’s circumstances, e.g., how and what Paul was doing.  He delivered Paul’s letters to the churches as Ephesus and Colosse.  Paul sent Tychicus to these churches with the expressed purpose that Tychicus would encourage – lift, inspire, strengthen – them.

Prayer.  God, thank you for letting us see the importance of the gift of encouragement and it purpose in the life of the Church.  Help us to be intentional encouragers.

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 3, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Pine in Solomon’s Temple

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

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

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

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

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

The Pine Tree

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

Symbolism: Nobility

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright April 2, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Algum Wood for Temple Musical Instruments

???????????????????????????????The use of algum wood when Solomon built the Temple is recorded in two places:  1 Kings 10:11-12; and 2 Chronicles 9:10-11.

In the process of building the Temple, Solomon wanted algum wood, also known as almug wood (Mock, 2003).  Algum wood was not available in Israel and possibly King Hiram of Tyre did not have the quality of wood that Solomon had in mind.  Solomon determined to send ships to Ophir to obtain the algum wood.  Solomon had a fleet of ships built at Ezion Geber near Elath.   Elath was a harbor on the southern tip of Israel located on the northeastern Red Sea.  King David is believed to have established his southern most defensive line at Elath.  In modern Israel, Elath is at, or near, the city of Eilat, situated on the Gulf of Aqaba.  Evidently Israelites were not adept sailors because Solomon contracted with Hiram to use Tyre sailors to serve on Israelite ships (1 Kings 9:27).

Scholars are not sure where Ophir was located; however, the Bible recorded that only once every three years did ships return from Ophir (1 Kings 10:22).  The ships from Ophir carried gold, silver, ivory, apes, and baboons in addition to algum wood.  Most likely, Ophir was located in India or the far-east.  Some writers suggested that Ophir was located in Arabia or western Africa; however, these areas would not have taken three years for a round-trip from Elath.

During Solomon’s reign, more algum wood was imported than ever seen previously in Israel.  Algum wood was used to make stairs and banisters for the Temple and royal palace complex.  It was used extensively in the stringed instrument section of the Temple, e.g., in harps and lyres (Mock, 2003).  The musical instruments were so beautiful that they were a marvel in Judah.  The almug tree yields heavy, fine-grained wood that is notably black on the surfaces yet polishes to a rich ruby or garnet color.  In addition to being strong, it is antiseptic which makes it impervious to most insects, e.g., termites, as no insects will live inside the wood.

Algum Trees and Wood

The algum tree of the Bible was from the Pterocarpus santalinus known as red sandalwood, Red Saunders and Red Sanders.  Sandalwood is native to southern India and does not naturally grow in Israel.  The algum is a deciduous tree between 33-65 feet tall.  The red sandalwood is considered endangered because its natural habitat in India is subjected to human encroachment. The algum tree has a number of useful products.  The hard, heavy heart wood can be used for carpentry and for fence posts.  Bark and stems are made into a red dye which gives a deep ruby red color to silken and woolen clothes.  Currently, the dye is used as a brightening substance in tea mixtures and a coloring agent in toothpaste.

Symbolism:  Praise

The symbolism of the algum trees used in the Temple was praise.  The harp and lyre, made with algum wood, were used to praise God (Psalm 33:1-3).  After having a magnificent Temple built to worship God, it is natural that Solomon spared no effort or expense when it came to having musical instruments crafted to praise God.  In contrast to worship which is done with words and actions, praise is expressed with words.  Praise expresses approval, esteem, and perfection; praise is a commendation and a statement of value and merit (Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, 2002).  Everything that has breath should praise the Lord (Psalm 150:6).  The challenge for Christians is why, when, where, and how we should praise God.

For the Israelites 3000 years ago and for Christians today, the why of praise is clear.  First, we praise God because he tells us to do so; e.g., “let everything that has breathe praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6).  Second, we praise God because he deserves to be praised.  The Psalmist (48:1) wrote that the Lord is greatly to be praised, and that he is good and his mercy endures forever (136:1).  John averred that God was worthy to receive praise, e.g., glory, honor and power, because he created all things and all things exist through God’s will (Revelations 4:11).  Third, we praise God because it benefits us to do so.  Praising God gets our thoughts off of ourselves and our problems and sets them on God.  When we praise God, we are reminded of how powerful he is and that we are his special people whom he loves.  When the Temple was dedicated with prayers and praise, the entire assembly offered praises to God (2 Chronicles 5:13-14; 7:1-3).   God’s response was to send fire from heaven to consume the sacrifices.  His glory filled the temple in the form of a cloud that was so dense that the priest could not enter the temple and perform the services.

For answers to questions of when and where God wants his people to praise him, we can turn to the Bible.  The Bible tell us to praise God at all times (Psalm 34:1; Philippians 4:4), while we live (Psalm 63:3-4), and from the rising to the setting of the sun (Psalm 113:2-3).   Where should we praise God?  Should we praise God in church formal worship services or in prayer meetings?  What about when we have our devotions – is that the time to praise God?  Again, the Bible has the answer to “where should we praise God?  We should praise God in the house of the Lord and sanctuary (Psalm 134:1-2; Psalm 150:1).  Because Christian’s bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, we are a sanctuary (I Corinthians 6:19-20); therefore, Christians can and should praise God in our bodies and in our spirits wherever we are (I Corinthian 6:19-20).

The answer to how we should praise God is sometime difficult for Christians and has been a basis for divisions among believers.  God tells us we should praise him with our whole heart and we should be glad and rejoice (Psalm 9:1-2).  We can praise him with the sound of trumpet, with tambourine, dance, stringed instruments, flutes, and cymbals (Psalm 150:2-5).  It is okay if we make a joyful shout when we come into his courts with praise and if we lift up our hands (Psalm 100:1, 4; Psalm 134:2).  Probably, God does not care is we sing traditional hymns with an organ or use contemporary praise music with keyboard and drums.  I believe that God hears both of these praise styles with a joyous heart.

Reflection:  In preparation for writing this section on praise, I spent part of the morning (while I was cleaning house) praising and thanking God for all he does.  It felt good at the time and my body and spirit still feels uplifted.  Try it and see what effect praising God has on 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 March 15, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Ceder Wood in the Temple

Cedrus libani NK (2)The descriptions of cedar wood in the Temple are found in 1 Kings Chapter 5-7 and 2 Chronicles chapter 2-4.

In the fourth year (960 B.C.) of Solomon’s reign as king over a combined Israel and Judah, he started to build a Temple to God.  Solomon’s father David averred that God gave him specific plans for construction of the temple (1 Chronicles 28:11-19).  David relayed the construction plans to Solomon.  Several types of wood were used in the temple construction, e.g., cedar, pine, algum, and olive.  The temple was decorated with plant motifs, e.g., pomegranates, lilies, palm trees, and gourds.  The cedar tree and cedar will be described in this section.

The temple was for worshipping God and to house the Ark of the Covenant (Testimony) and other holy furnishings.  It was built in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, the site of the threshing floor that David bought from Ornan the Jebusite.  The basic structure of the temple was approximately two times the size of the Tabernacle, 90 feet long, 30 feet wide and 45 feet high. A 30 feet wide and 15 feet long vestibule or porch was attached to the front of the temple.   As with the Tabernacle, the entrance faced east.  On both sides of the entrance was a tall pillar of bronze.  The outside of the Temple was made of stone; however, the interior walls were made of cedar board covered with gold.  The Temple was completed in 7 years.

In addition to building God’s Temple, Solomon built a royal palace.  In the palace much of the wood was cedar, e.g., it was roofed with cedar and cedar columns and beams supported the roof.  Solomon’s Hall of Justice was paneled in cedar from floor to ceiling.  The palace complex took 13 years to build.

Solomon contracted with King Hiram of Tyre to supply the cedar and pine logs from the forests of Lebanon.  In exchange for the wood, Solomon provided Hiram’s court and servants with food during while the timber was cut and transported.   In addition to the food and wine Solomon gave King Hiram for the wood, Solomon conscripted 30,000 laborers to cut and transport the wood from Lebanon (I Kings 5:13-14).  These men were Israelites who were forced into labor.  Every month a cadre of 10,000 men was sent to Lebanon; thus, each man was away from home one month out of three. The timber was transported by rafts from Lebanon at Joppa, the port for Jerusalem.   Solomon conveyed the wood from Joppa to Jerusalem.

Cedar wood was and is used in edifices constructed to last centuries, even millennia. Cedar is durable, free from knots, and easy to work.  The heart wood is a warm red and beautifully grained.  Cedars exude a gum or balsam which gives the tree an aromatic scent in which people take delight.   In contrast, most insects dislike the smell and taste; consequently, they do not attack the tree (Shewell-Cooper, 1988).  Fungus is the most common cause of disease in plants.  The cedar is resistant to fungal disease so dry and wet rot rarely occur.  An expert botanist, Solomon knew the cedar’s characteristics and preferred them to trees more available to him in Israel, e.g., sycamore and box trees.

The Cedar Tree

The scientific name for the Lebanon cedar is the Cedrus libani.  The Lebanon cedar is native to the Middle East; it grows wild only in Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon.  Today in Lebanon large numbers of cedars no longer exist; therefore, it is a protected species in that country.   The most venerable representatives are 1,200–2,000 years old and grow in the Besharre region of northern Lebanon. The few cedars in Israel are on Mount Hermon and the Galilean and Judean mountains. Cedars are an evergreen tree with trunk and older branches silvery and cracked.  Leaves present as silvery-blue needles arranged in clumps on short spur-like projects from branches. The flower is a cone. Seeds germinate best in the cool temperatures of high hills and mountains.  Cedars grow slowly and it takes centuries to produce a majestic cedar.

Symbolism: Firm

The Hebrew word for a cedar tree is ʾerez a word derived from the primitive root ʾâraz, meaning to be firm as in the case of a cedar tree (Strong, 2010).  The cedar tree was firm because of its tenacious root structure, its long life in nature, its resistance to insect infestation, and its endurance as a building material.   The adjective firm, means securely or solidly fixed in place; having a structure that resists pressure; and well-founded.   The opposite of firm is weak or uncertain.

Fifty verses in the Bible address firm or firmness, 29 in the Old Testament and 21 in the New Testament.   In the Old Testament two themes emerged in relation to firm.  The first theme was that God is firm in his purpose (Job 36:5), plans (Psalm 33:11), love (Psalm 89:2), and statutes (Psalm 93:5).  The second theme was that if God’s people stood firm, God would deliver them from their enemies, e.g., Pharaoh and the Egyptians (Exodus 14:13), Moab and Ammon (2 Chronicles 20:17), and from wicked men (Proverbs 12:7).  At the same time, God warned Old Testament Israel, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all” (Isaiah 7:9).   If Israel succumbed to the life style and pressure of surrounding nations and their faith became weak, then they would not stand as individuals or as a nation.

In four places in the New Testament, Christ said that if followers stood firm to the end, they would be “saved” or have “life eternal” (Matthew 10:22, 24:12-13; Mark 13:12-13; Luke 21:19).   But, in the same verses Christ warned his followers that wicked/worldly men would hate them because these wicked men hated Christ.  Christ described ways hate would become visible, e.g., brothers would betray brother and fathers their children, and children would rebel against parents.  Until recently, when I read the descriptions of brother betraying brother or parents betraying their children, I always thought of Nazi Germany, Communist countries during the cold war, or Christians in China.  More and more, I acknowledge hate and betrayal of Christians occurs daily in the United States.   The result may not be that the life of a family member or dear friend is forfeited; but mental or spiritual death and physical illness can occur through betrayal and neglect after family members or friends embrace Jesus Christ.

Several Sundays ago, our Godly minister distributed a handout that said we live in a “post-Christian” society.   A post Christian society is one in which the majority of individuals are not Christians.  They do not follow the moral-ethical statutes and laws of God.  We see evidence of this post-Christian modernism in efforts to remove the 10 Commandments from public buildings, eliminate prayer and after school Bible study from public schools, turn college religion courses into philosophy courses, and forbid Christian prayer before public meetings.  I am very uncomfortable with the disconnection between our government and God’s gracious loving principles for our lives.  Moving God from in our nation’s public life and symbols, means the United States no long affirms God and Christ.   That leads us back to Isaiah’s warning to the nation of Israel, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand firm at all”  (Isaiah, 7:9).

Prayer.  Help us to believe and act like we live in a Christian nation.  Help us to stop being afraid to speak and write about Christ. Amen.

Reflection.  Ultimately, how we are forced to act can become what we believe.

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 5, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Proverb of the Adulteress

Agarwood seed aloeswood (1)Solomon’s proverb warning his son about an adulteress is found in Proverbs chapter 7.

The proverb of the adulteress showed an older and perhaps wiser Solomon than the exuberant Lover in Song of Songs.  In this proverb, Solomon addressed his son.  He described looking through the lattice of a window and seeing a young man who lacked judgment.  In the twilight of the day, the youth walked in the direction of the adulteress’ house.  The woman came out to meet the youth.  She was dressed like a prostitute; e.g., provocative, revealing.  In the street, the woman took hold of the young man and kissed him on the face.

Unashamedly, the adulteress invited the young man to her home for a sumptuous meal and to spend the night making love with her.  Enticingly, she described her bed as covered with linens from Egypt and perfumed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.   Possibly to reassure the youth that they will not be disturbed, she declared that her husband was not at home.  He was on a long journey with a purse full of money.  With persuasive and seductive words, the adulteress led the young man astray.  He followed her like an ox going to the slaughter.

Solomon concluded this proverb to his son by telling him not to let his heart turn toward an adulteress or stray into her paths.  The adulteress has brought many victims down and killed a mighty throng.  Solomon’s final warning was “her house is a highway to the grave, leading down to the chambers of death” (Proverbs 7:27).

Solomon’s proverb identified three plants: myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.  Aloes is described here.  The aloe of the New Testament and today is an herbaceous plant; however, the aloe of the Old Testament was from a tree.  The Hebrew word for aloe used in Proverbs was ʼǎhâlôwth.  This same word was used for aloe in Numbers 24:6 when Balaam blessed rather than cursed the Israelites, in the wedding song of Psalm 45:8, and when Solomon described his Beloved bride as an orchard of the finest trees, e.g., pomegranates, cinnamon, aloes (Song of Songs 4:12-14).

The Aloe Tree

Agarwood seed aloeswood (2)The Old Testament aloe tree was the Aquilaria malaccensis, also known as A. agallocha and the eaglewood tree.  Aquilaria malaccensis is on the world list of threatened trees.The eaglewood tree is native to India. Aloe is made from the agarwood of the eaglewood tree.  Only about 10% of mature Aquilaria trees produce agarwood.  Research suggested that the fragrant oleoresin that permeates the heartwood of some eaglewood trees is produced in response to a fungal infection.  Once the fungus establishes itself on the tree, it turns the woody trunk into a deep brown color.  The darker the heart wood, the more valuable the wood.  Trees over 50 years old produce the best agarwood.  Agarwood is harvested, cut into small pieces, and burned.  The result is a distinct aroma.  Linens packed with pieces of agarwood take on the smell of the agar in the same manner as linens packed in a cedar chest. There is a popular belief in Middle East that the aloe tree was descended from the Garden of Eden even though all other trees were lost (Walker, 1979).  According to legend, Adam brought shoots from the aloe tree from Eden and planted them in the land where he and Eve settled.  Today, this tree is called Shoot of Paradise and Paradise Wood.

Symbolism: Aphrodisiac

Aloes are associated with both beauty and with aphrodisiacs.  In the parable of the adulteress, aloes symbolizes an aphrodisiac.  An aphrodisiac is a substance, e.g., drink, smell, or food, which is believed to arouse sexual desire or pleasure.  As a young woman, I imagined creating a home for my husband that invited love and sexual desire.  Our home would be filled with pleasant aromas from fragrant candles and simmering potpourri.  Bed linens would be kept in a closet with pleasant perfumed sachets that would imbue the linens with their fragrance.  Hmmm, I learned quickly that my husband became “stuffed up” by the perfumed air in the house and on the bed linens.  Those fragrances did not arouse him to love and sexual desire, but to sneezing and coughing.

To my husband an aphrodisiac was something different than my perspective.   His point of view can best be described by a story.  We were newly engaged and my birthday arrived.   I was excited to see what Bruce would get me.  Would it be flowers or a floral perfume which I loved?   He came into the house with a beautifully wrapped box that was about 5 inches by 18 inches.  What could it be?  As quickly as possible while still trying to be graceful, I removed the ribbon and paper and opened the box.  It was… it was…. it was a fishing rod and reel!  Bruce was so excited.  Immediately, he showed me how to put the rod together, admiring it tensile strength.  He talked about the fishing trips we could take.  But, I did not fish!

Over the years, I have learned to love fishing and I still have that fishing rod.  To Bruce seeing me wading streams, casting a line, and occasionally pulling in a fish is an aphrodisiac.  He gets so excited by taking me fishing that sometime he doesn’t even fish.  He stays available in the event I lose my fly or get my line tangled.   Sexual arousal, excitement, and stimulation come in many ways.  Hopefully starry-eyed young women grow into mature, loving wives.

Reflection.    David wrote that God satisfies our desires with good things (Psalm 103:5).  God knows our need for sexual pleasure and love; his plan is that they occur together.

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 19, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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