Tag Archives: Religious

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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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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