Tag Archives: prophecy

Isaiah’s Palestinian buckthorn

Bible Reference: Isaiah chapter 7.

Isaiah (740-681 BC) began his ministry the year that King Uzziah died. Isaiah ministered during the reigns of Kings Jotham, Ahaz, Hezekiah, and early in Manasseh’s reign. The Bible identified Jotham and Hezekiah as kings who walked with God. In contrast, Kings Ahaz and Manasseh were two wicked kings.

From the beginning of his sixteen-year reign, King Ahaz rejected God and worshiped foreign gods. Ahaz sacrificed his son to a false god.  When Arameans and Israelites (ten northern tribes) banded together to attack Jerusalem, Ahaz was shaken “as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind” (Isaiah 7.2 NIV).  Instead of turning to God for rescue, Ahaz turned to the king of Assyria.

When Arameans and the Northern Kingdom joined and attacked Jerusalem, God sent Isaiah to reassure King Ahaz that Jerusalem wouldn’t be overrun by this coalition. At the meeting, God directed Ahaz to ask for a sign of God’s intention to protect Jerusalem.  Ahaz refused saying that he wouldn’t put God to the test.  The first time I read Ahaz’s response, I thought it was a good answer; however, Isaiah had a different opinion.

Isaiah told King Ahaz that the king was trying God’s patience. Then, Isaiah prophesied that in the next twelve-to-thirteen years both Aram and Israel would be laid waste. The Lord would bring 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 carry bows and arrows for protection when they went among briers and thorns. Where there was once cultivated land, cattle and sheep would run loose in a brier- and thorn-infested land.

Most likely the shrub in Isaiah’s prophecy to King Ahaz was the Rhamnus lycioides (R. palaestinus), commonly known as the Palestine buckthorn. In Israel, the buckthorn is a slow-growing shrub that reaches a height of three-to-six feet; however, in the United States they grow to twenty-feet tall. The Palestine buckthorn is an evergreen shrub in Israel and grows with a many-branched, tangled form, and velvety thin thorns. Young stems and thorns are green. As bark matures it become gray.

Most gardeners don’t plant buckthorn. It’s an unattractive shrub that normally doesn’t grow in cultivated gardens or fields. Buckthorn grows well in poor soil that is gritty and highly eroded. Along with the thistle, the buckthorn is the last species to disappear when livestock over-graze an area. Overall the Mediterranean buckthorn has no value for mankind or livestock. An ancient strategy to eradicate buckthorn is to burn the land.

Isaiah used buckthorn to describe once-fertile agricultural lands in Judah that would be destroyed as a result of God’s judgment.  This particular judgement was an assault from Assyria. Instead of vines and grains, the land would produce thorns and briers. Shayith is a Hebrew word for the thorn.6 A translation of shayith is “trash.”  Trash is debris from plant materials, something worth little or nothing, and something thrown away.3  Trashed is an excellent symbol for what was going to happen in Judah as a result of King Ahaz leading Judahites to reject God.

King Ahaz treated God’s Temple like trash.  When the Arameans and Israelites attacked Judah, Ahaz plundered the Temple for its gold and silver and sent it to the Assyrian king to purchase the king’s military assistance.  Later, Ahaz barred doors to God’s Temple so no one could enter and worship God.  King Ahaz set up worthless idols at street corners in Jerusalem.  In every town in Judah, Ahaz built high places to burn sacrifices to man-created gods.

People that treat God and his laws as trash weren’t confined to the Old Testament.  Paul identified that some people in New Testament times were senseless, faithless, heartless, and ruthless. “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 NIV). We need only spend an hour watching television to know that many people today act similar to people in first-century Palestine; and, similar to first century Palestinian onlookers, we applaud these degenerate behaviors.

Reflection: Name aspects of God’s laws you treat as trash? Do you ever watch television or read books that God would name degenerate and say, “right on?” When you treat God’s laws as trash, are you helping your country?

Copyright April 4, 2019; All rights reserved.

Zestful Life in God

cinnamomum_verum_spices

Bible Reference: In Revelation chapter 18, cinnamon is mentioned as a valuable spice.

The Story:  When John wrote Revelation, he prophesied the end of Rome and the Roman Empire. At the same time, John was writing under the direction of the Holy Spirit; therefore, his writings could refer to world systems which operate today or in the future. From this perspective Revelations 18 could predict a future collapse of the commercial-economic systems of the world from the perspective of world leaders, merchants, and individual involved in commerce on the seas.

These verses demonstrated the inter-connections of politics and trade, with an immediate application to shipping. All countries are connected by shipping, e.g., the United States gets oil from the Middle East, clothing from China, and ships food to African countries and coal to Asia. The fall of naval commerce will have national and worldwide effects. Within each country, individual jobs and buying power will be cut. Taxable income will be reduced, national debt will increase, and banks will fail. Private industries, e.g., the health care industry which consumes about 15 percent of the U.S. gross national product, will be curtailed severely. Eventually, governments will collapse.

John prophesied that when commerce failed, there would be no cargoes of cinnamon and spice. Most of us could get along without spices; it is difficult to imagine why cinnamon was mentioned in a list of valuable cargo items. Yet, in the Biblical world, the cinnamon trade was huge. Tons of cinnamon used for rituals, medicine, and everyday purposes. Egyptians used cinnamon in embalming potions. Cinnamon was a key ingredient in the Tabernacle anointing oil (Exodus 30:23-25). Medically, cinnamon was used to reduce inflammation, promote menstruation, and stimulate the urinary tract. Along with other perfumes, cinnamon was used to perfume bed linens and clothing (Proverbs 7:17). Cinnamon was used to mask smells. In the first century Pliny wrote that the market price for an Egyptian pound (350 grams) of cinnamon was over 1000 denarius or about 2.5 years wage for a typical Hebrew worker.

Cinnamon 

Bark, Cheekwood Garden

The Bible cinnamon was Cinnamomum zeylanicum, also known as Cinnamomum verem. Cinnamon is an aromatic tree bark used as a spice. The cinnamon tree was native to Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) and the southeast coast of India. Today, all commercial cinnamon grows in plantations. The cinnamon tree does not grow naturally in Israel; however, in 2012 the Jerusalem Botanical Garden we saw small specimens in the Conservatory.

The cinnamon tree is a small, bushy, and evergreen. It grows 30-40 feet tall, often with wide spreading branches. Young branches, or shoots, are crimson often with dark green and orange spots. As bark matures, it turns pale brown (ash). Mature bark is rough to the touch because it is covered with raised dots, scales, and points. Cinnamon trees are harvested in their third year of growth. After two years, the tops of trees are pruned. The third year, small shoots appear. These shoots are stripped and the thin inner bark is peeled from the tree. During the peeling process, the inner bark curls into the “stick” shape associated with cinnamon.

Symbolism: Spice, Zest

Arguably, cinnamon is synonymous with spice; certainly cinnamon is the definitive spice. The archaic meaning of spice is a small portion or quantity, a dash; or something that gives zest, i.e., to food or life. In the end times, commerce will cease. An imported product, cinnamon will be unavailable for cookery and for perfumes that scent candles, potpourri, and individuals. This dash or bit of zest will be absent from our individual lives. Christians may or may not be in the world when the commerce-economic systems fails; however, to Christians having or not having cinnamon, luxury items, or even the basic necessities of life is not as important as having Christ. Christ is not just a small portion, or dash, of spice in Christian lives. Christ is omnipresent. For Christians, Christ is their world view.

Reflection: Is your life zestful?

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 8, 2014, Carolyn A. Roth.

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Prosperity and Myrtle Tree

myrtle-tree-at-dan-israel-01

The story of Zechariah’s vision of horses among myrtle trees is in Zechariah 1:1-17.

The first year the Jewish exiles returned to Jerusalem they rebuilt the Temple Altar. The second year (536 B.C.), they laid the Temple foundation. Non-Jewish people who lived in the area, largely Samaritans, offered to help rebuild the Temple. When the Jews refused their assistance, these enemies initiated a systematic program to discourage the Jews from rebuilding the Temple. Temple construction stopped for about 10 years through the end (530 B.C.) of Cyrus reign down into the reign of Darius I (522-486 B.C.).

In the 2nd year of Darius reign, God spoke through the prophet Haggai (August, 520 B.C.).  God’s message was for the Jews to complete the Temple. Haggai attributed the drought in Judah to the Temple being in ruins. Almost immediately the Jews initiated Temple construction. Two months after Haggai message from God, Zechariah received a message. Zechariah’s prophecy mirrored that of Haggai, e.g., rebuild the Temple; but included that the Jews repent and serve the Lord.

Several months later Zechariah received eight visions in one night. In the first vision, Zechariah saw a man riding a red horse. Then, the man stood among myrtle trees in a ravine. Behind the man were other horses. The man explained to Zechariah that these were the riders that God sent throughout the earth. The riders came back and reported that the world was at peace. Hearing the riders’ reports, the angel of the Lord asked God how long he was going to withhold mercy from Jerusalem. God responded with kind and comforting words to the concerned angel: God was jealous for Jerusalem and Zion. He was angry with the nations who punished the Jews because they went too far in brutality against Judah. God’s plan was to punish the offending nations and return to Jerusalem with comfort and mercy. He promised that Judah’s towns would again overflow with prosperity.

The setting for Zechariah’s first vision is defined in detail. The man who rode the red horse stood among myrtle trees in a small, narrow, steep-sided valley. MacDonald (1995) said that the myrtle trees in the ravine represented Israel under Gentile subjection. In the Bible, the angel of the Lord is often identified as the second person of the Trinity (Christ); consequently, it was Christ expressing his concern for the well-being of the Jews and Jerusalem (Adeyemo, 2006).

Myrtle  Myrtle for book (2)

The myrtle of the Bible is the Myrtus communis. Its origins are the Middle East and the Mediterranean region. At one time wild myrtle was common throughout Palestine and Lebanon. Today in Israel, most myrtle bushes are grown intentionally and used for ornamental purposes; however, some wild plants remain in the Upper Galilee and Golan areas. Although myrtle is hardy to temperatures as low as 5 degrees Fahrenheit, it is damaged by cold drying wind. Myrtle is classified as an evergreen shrub or small tree that will grow to 24 feet tall. The myrtle fruit is a purplish-black berry known in the Middle East as mursins. Mursins can be dried then ground add flavor to stews or boiled to yield a jelly or a beverage.

The myrtle is one of the four blessed plants used in the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles (Sukkoth). To fill the requirement for Sukkoth, three leaves must grow from one point on the myrtle stem.  Jewish sages compared the myrtle, which has a good smell but no taste, to Israelites those who do good deeds, but do not study the Torah (first five books of the Old Testament).

Symbolism: Prosper, Prosperity

Many world cultures assigned meaning to the myrtle blossom to include beauty, love, paradise, and immortality.  For the Jews, myrtle can symbolize sweetness, justice, divine generosity, peace, God’s promise, and recovery. Zechariah’s vision of horsemen, angels and God among the myrtle trees reinforced God’s promise that the returned exiles would be prosperous.  Prosperity means a person or group thrived or flourished and was successful, especially in financial or economic terms.

For the Jews of Zechariah’s time to prosper, God required that they repent, serve the Lord, and rebuild the temple  Other Bible verses identified additional requirements for prosperity.  See Table 4 for a summary of some of these requirements for prosperity. They apply equally to Christians today.

Table 4:  Some Biblical Requirements for Prosperity

God’s Requirements for the Jews to Prosper Source: Bible Verses
Repentance Deuteronomy 30: 1-5
Obedience to the will and laws (commandments)  of God Deuteronomy 28:9-11, 30:8-9;  I Kings 2:3; Ezra 6:6; Proverbs 3:1-2
Fear the Lord (and walk in his ways) Psalm 128:1-2
Do right in God’s eyes, pursuing and living righteously 2 Chronicles 14:2-7, 31:20-21;

When we consider God’s requirements for prosperity, they do not seem particularly onerous, e.g., repent, obey God’s laws, trust God, do what is right in God’s eyes, and be generous.  Prosperity not only benefits people who receive God’s abundance; it also benefits and causes joy in the entire city and region (Proverbs 11:10).

The Bible revealed reasons that people do not prosper. The chief reasons were the opposite of behaviors that cause prosperity.  Disobeying God (Deuteronomy 28:62), having a perverse heart (Proverbs 17:20), and concealing sin (Proverbs 28:13) lead to lack of prosperity  The problem is that we all see and know people who have no regard for God or his laws but they seem to get ahead (prosper) in the workplace and in society. How can we meld our personal experiences with what the Bible says, yes, even promises, about prosperity being related to a godly life?

The great prophet Jeremiah asked God the same question. Jeremiah’s explicit words were “why do the ways of the wicked prosper” Why do the faithless live at ease?” (Jeremiah 12:1, NIV-SB, 2002). God response was to Jeremiah but also to all of us who ask him the same question. God assure Jeremiah that evil individuals will sow wheat but reap thorns; they will wear themselves out but gain nothing (Jeremiah 12:13).

Over breakfast Bruce and I talk about how difficult it is to deal with friends and relatives who do not embrace the ways of Christ. Some are prosperous and seem to live charmed lives. At times their actions are deliberately or indifferently cruel. We know that as Christians, we can not to be offended by what they do, nor can we respond in kind. Instead, our prayers must be that we do not hurt them inadvertently. We need to pray for their redemption and their prosperity.

Reflection. Because we are Christians does not mean we will be prosperous. Because a person is not a Christian does not mean he will not be prosperous.

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 4, 2016, Carolyn A. Roth; all rights reserved.

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