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Reference: Jonah 2:5
The story of Jonah is about disobedience and redemption. Most children know that Jonah disobeyed God when God told him to go to Nineveh and preach repentance to the city. Jonah didn’t want to go there, so he got on a ship bound for Tarshish in the opposite direction from Nineveh. Jonah believed that if he left the land of the Israelites, he could escape God.
A huge storm occurred in the Mediterranean Sea. Even the experienced sailors were frightened. They decided to cast lots to see who had disobeyed their god and brought the storm on them. The lot fell to Jonah. He admitted that he was disobeying God and recommended that the sailors throw him overboard. Reluctantly, the ship’s sailors threw Jonah overboard. Once Jonah was off the ship, the storm abated, and the ship proceeded on its way.
A large fish swallowed Jonah. Jonah’s prayed and called out to God while he was in the belly of the giant fish. Later Jonah wrote about the experience (Jonah chapter 2) so we read what happened to him and what he thought. Jonah described how the sea waters closed over him and sea weeds wrapped around his head. Jonah noted that he was at the roots of the mountains in the ocean suggesting that he fell to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. Jonah remained in the belly of the fish three days. Then, the fish vomited up Jonah onto dry land. (Ugh, I bet he was slimy). The land was on the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea, not all that far from Nineveh. When Jonah went to Nineveh and preached repentance, the Ninevehites repented.
The Bible referenced seaweed only once (Jonah 2:5, NIV). Although the New International Version translated the plant that wrapped around Jonah’s head as seaweed, other sources translated it as “weed” (ESV) or as “eelgrass” (Douglas & Tenney, 2011). I have a problem with the translation of eelgrass because eelgrass is generally confined to tidal water and grows out to a water depth of 35 feet. A close reading of Jonah chapter 1 suggested that the ship Jonah was on was away from land and out into the Mediterranean Sea when the storm hit.
My research indicates that the seaweed referred to by Jonah may have been the Macrocystis pyrifera also known as brown seaweed. It is a marine alga and known as the Sequoia of the sea because it can grow 45 meters (about 147 foot) in length. It grows in the Mediterranean Sea. The stalks are thin and readily float through the waters. It could have easily wrapped around Jonah’s neck. Currently, it is eaten as a good source of minerals.
Perhaps the type of plant is not as important as what it symbolized. The sea weed captured Jonah. Capture means catching, winning, or gaining control by force. Capture is exactly what the seaweed did to Jonah. He was captured so that the giant fish could swallow him.
I have been captured, or caught, by Christ and I am so glad. Now, I have to stop struggling and let God control my life. The problem, or perhaps not so much a problem, is that God won’t control me by force. Bummer, I wish God would just “make” me do the right things. But, He doesn’t operate that way. I have to willingly give my life to Him. That is really difficult for me to do because I have been used to controlling my own life and future. You know: “I am a self- made woman.” “I can do it myself.”
Reflection: What about you? Are you willing to let God capture you? Will you willing and totally yield to God?
Copyright: January 5, 2017; Carolyn A. Roth
Please visit my website for other information: www.CarolynRothMinistry.com
Adapted from Mortal Tree
Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus), we call them Sunchokes, are not so much a stable ground cover as masterful bed builders. They don’t just block, but obliterate grass lawn, taking the place of bed building mulch if handled correctly.
Its home is the American prairie, where it stretches for sun among massive grasses and other very competitive plants. Placing it in the standard lawn, full of short European grass species, or even an overgrown field is like releasing a saber tooth tiger into a playpen with modern house cats. It’s a brute.
It begins by pumping nutrients from deep in the soil to power billowing clouds of leaves rambling up sometimes 15ft tall stems. Every year it sends out runners. To unleash the beast, get a bucket of the tubers in fall, and with a shovel, make little slits in the ground about one foot apart, inserting the tubers deep enough they aren’t exposed, and walk away. The days of the nearby plant residents are now numbered.
Jerusalem Artichoke sprouts
Don’t worry next spring when the tubers don’t sprout early. Jerusalem artichokes don’t like frost, and wait until late in the spring to pop up their furry little heads. I have planted these into completely unamended yards where lawn grass wasn’t even happy, but the ‘chokes still grew well. Later, in a very dry year, Jerusalem artichokes were the lushest plant in my food forest to feed my rabbit. She liked them, so I would snap off the growing tips, let the plants branch off to the side, and snap of the side branches to make rabbit happy. I started this when the plants were about 5ft tall, leaving about 4ft stems that in turn could return their nutrients to the tubers. Nevertheless the plants that normally topped ten foot came up the next year anemic, and dwarfed, barely reaching three feet.
As I read my friends description of Jerusalem artichokes, my reaction is that they were hearty – lived over the winter, produced when it was hot and dry. I stay alive in cold, blustery times by hunkering down; it is like I go into hibernation. But in my hibernation, I don’t read my Bible, meditate, or pray. Usually, I watch television or read novels – not really the way to get through a rough patch is it? To paraphrase St. Paul, I do things that I don’t want to do and neglect those I should be doing. Oh wretched me, who will save me from myself? The answer is Christ, Christ will save us from our self.
Reflection: When life is cold, tough, overwhelming and miserable, spend only 5 minutes a day not just emoting to God, but praying for His intervention in your life.
After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, – Matthew 14:23 (NIV)
Jesus was always connecting to his heavenly Father in prayer. The gospel accounts record that he would often be found in a lonely place praying. The pattern is pretty clear—Jesus found renewal in prayer. As Christians, why would we think any differently? We are quick to do bible studies—even studies on prayer—but do we pray? To walk in the ways of Jesus is to seek God in prayer (David Whitehead).
Reflection: If Christ needed time alone with his father, surely we do also.
Another photograph by Jim Forney.
January 5, 2016
This particular specimen of cedar tree is in the Biblical Landscape Preserve in Israel.
When I think of Christmas, I imagine a cedar tree. In the Bible, the cedar had nothing to do with Christmas. Rather, its wood was used by King in the Temple (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. 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 outside of the Temple was made of stone; however, the interior walls were made of cedar board covered with gold.
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. The timber was transported by rafts from Lebanon at Joppa, the port for Jerusalem. Solomon conveyed the wood from Joppa to Jerusalem.
The Cedar Tree
The scientific name for the Lebanon cedar is the Cedrus libani. It is a protected species in Lebanon. The most venerable representatives are 1,200–2,000 years old and grow in the Besharre region of northern Lebanon. 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. It takes centuries to produce a majestic cedar.
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. The cedar is resistant to fungal disease so dry and wet rot rarely occur.
This little deodor cedar is growing in SJLC Bible garden.
Symbolism: Firm, Firmness
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.
Old Testament Perspective on Firm
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.
Christ’s Perspective on Firmness
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.
My Pastor’s Perspective on Firmness
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.
Until recently, when I read Christ’s 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 that 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.
I am very uncomfortable with the disconnection between our government and God’s gracious loving principles for our lives. Removing 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.
Copyright 12/15/16; Carolyn A. Roth
Please visit my website to learn about other Bible plants: http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com
Bible Reference: 1 Peter 1:23-26
In Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, he included the parable of lilies adorning grass. In contrast to Jesus’s emphasis on flowers, Peter’s parable mentioned flowers, but focused on field grass. Peter encourages Christians to live a holy life because their physical life on earth is short and then comes a great reward. Belief and hope in Jesus means eternal spiritual life with him. Peter reminded Christians that they were born again through belief in the enduring Word of God. The enduring Word of God is Jesus (John 1:1-5). In his letter, Peter quoted almost verbatim from a parable given initially by the prophet Isaiah. Here is what Peter wrote:
All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever. — 1 Peter 1:24 NIV
Most scholars agree that Silas acted as Peter’s secretary and carried this letter to Christians in what is now inland Turkey. In his first letter, Peter draws comparisons between the transience of field grass and the brevity of mankind’s life. The transiency of life is a common theme in the Bible. Both King David and Isaiah compared man to grass which soon withers and dies away (Psalm 37:2; Psalm 103:15; Isaiah 40:6). This year, the Roanoke Valley received an overabundance of rain; it is December and grass is still green. Yet, I remember when I lived in San Francisco. Sometimes, I drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and traveled up Highway 80 into the Sacramento Valley. June through August, and even into September and October, the grass along the highway was brown and appeared dead.
In Israel there were scores of grasses in the local flora. One of the most valuable native grass species was known as orchard grass. Orchard grass grew wild on hill sides and in shallow areas, in both sun and shade. Most likely orchard grass covered the large slopes where crowds set to listen to Jesus’s sermons and smaller areas where Jesus took Peter and other disciples for private talks. In Israel rains came October through March. In those months, grass was green and carpeted the hills. As spring progressed into summer, grass turned brown from the scorching heat of the sun and lack of rain. Grass and wild flowers dried and turned into brown straw.
Orchard grass is a perennial plant. That means that even through it dies in the summer, grass regrows the following year. Orchard grass produces a flower head called a panicle. Seeds are produced in the flower heads. Initially, seeds are green but turn brown as they mature; then, seeds drop to the ground. Although some seeds are carried away by the wind and others eaten by birds, most remain where they drop. Seeds enter the soil, germinate when it rains, and regrow the following year.
Peter told the Christians that they were born again with imperishable seed—the word of God (1 Peter 1:23). In the Bible, the Word of God is the living Christ. St. John wrote that in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God (John 1:1). Christians are born again by believing that Jesus is God’s son and savior of the world. In his physical body, Jesus died on the cross. Most living men and women will die unless Jesus returns to earth first. After physical death, Jesus rose from the dead. Individuals who believe in Jesus and who die physically will rise again. Why—because they are born again with the imperishable seed of belief in the Word of God (1 Peter 1:23).
King David, Isaiah, Peter, and Jesus made the point that life is transient by comparing man’s life with field grass. They were all correct that grass withers and dies and that physical life is transient; it withers and dies. At the same time, most field grass is a perennial. It withers and dies with the heat of the sun and lack of rain. Most field grass has a deep root structure and it produces seeds which germinate and grow.
Individuals who don’t believe that Jesus is the son of God die like field grass at the end of a season. In contrast, we, who are born by the Word of God, have physical lives that wither and die; but, we are perennials. Our root structure is firmly embedded in Jesus. We produce seeds of righteousness. We are going to live with Jesus even after our physical bodies wither and die. As Peter wrote, we are born again not of perishable seed but of imperishable seed (1 Peter 1:23).
Reflection: How do we get to be born again so that we never perish? If you aren’t sure, read, ponder and explain: Romans 3:22-23, John 3:16, and 1 John 5:11-12. Do you need or want to take any action, or are you where you want to be?
To learn more about Bible plants and their application, go to my website: www. CarolynRothMinistry.com/
Copyright September 27, 2016. Carolyn A. Roth
Bible Reference: Ezekiel chapter 45
Heart of the Story: Ezekiel offered a parable of the famine that would come on Jerusalem
Back Story: Ezekiel was both a prophet and priest. He was taken to Babylon when King Nebuchadnezzar took Judah’s King, Jehoiachin, and 10,000 captive from Jerusalem to Babylon (597 BC). At that time, Nebuchadnezzar established Zedekiah as puppet king over Judah. After ruling for about five of six years, King Zedekiah rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. He ceased paying tribute and turned to Egypt for military assistance to throw off Babylonian rule. Subsequently, Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem. After about 18 months, the wall around Jerusalem was breached.
When Nebuchadnezzar and his army started for Judah, Jerusalem was flooded with refugees fleeing the countryside. The influx was so great that private homes, inns, and the temple courtyard were crammed with people. The poor set up tents in the streets or lay down wherever they found an empty space at night. People and noise were everywhere; smoke billowed from cooking fires. Although the situation was dire, it got worse after the Babylonians arrived. No additional food supplies entered Jerusalem. Human and animal refuse couldn’t be removed. Filth and stench were everywhere.
In Babylon beside Chebar River, God instructed Ezekiel to act out the siege of Jerusalem. The first action parable used a clay tablet to depict the Babylonians besieging Jerusalem. The second had Ezekiel lying on his left followed by lying on his right side. The third parable encompassed grains and legumes to make bread and to bake the bread.
Parable of Famine Bread: Some scholars advocated that Ezekiel 4:9-16 were two separate parables rather than one. I am describing them as one parable because they encompassed preparing and eating bread.
Here’s is God’s direction to Ezekiel: “Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side.”
Verse 9 describes substances that Jerusalemites will use to make bread during the siege of Jerusalem. Normally, bread was made from one type of flour, i.e., wheat, barley, millet or spelt. Legume flour was not common made into bread, however, when individuals lived in extreme poverty, beans in particular and occasionally lentils could be made into flour and used to prepare bread. Mixing flour from several sources demonstrated the extreme scarcity of flour that would occur during the siege. Scholars disagree whether the mixing of different flour sources in one vessel was a defilement (Deuteronomy 22:9), but all agree that dietary laws were compromised for the Jerusalemites.
“Weigh out twenty shekels of food to eat each day and eat it at set times. Also measure out a sixth of a hin of water and drink it at set times. Eat the food as you would a barley cake; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel.” The LORD said, “In this way the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will drive them.”
Then Ezekiel responded to God: “Not so, Sovereign LORD! I have never defiled myself. From my youth until now I have never eaten anything found dead or torn by wild animals. No unclean meat has ever entered my mouth.”
“Very well,” God said, “I will let you bake your bread over cow manure instead of human excrement.”
These three verses identified how Ezekiel was to bake the multi-flour bread. During the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem, inhabitants would have to bake their bread over human excrement; therefore, God told Ezekiel to do the same. When Ezekiel objected God allowed him to bake his bread over cow manure. Jerusalemites didn’t have the luxury of using animal dung for baking. Near the end Jerusalem siege, no animals were alive in the city. All had been slaughtered and eaten. Human excrement was the primary source of cooking fuel.
Then, God said to Ezekiel “Son of man, I will cut off the supply of food in Jerusalem. The people will eat rationed food in anxiety and drink rationed water in despair,” Ezekiel 4:9-16, NIV Online
Interpretation of Parable of Famine Bread: God interpreted the action parable for Ezekiel and for us. The interpretation was that God would cut off the food supply for Jerusalem. Once the Babylonians arrived no food or refuse passed in and out of the city walls. Many people inside Jerusalem starved to death or died from disease. Often the dead could not be buried and remained where they died. Mothers killed and ate their children. Ezekiel’s action shouldn’t be interpreted as sympathetic magic where something done to a model or person has a similar act in reality. True, Ezekiel’s famine bread foreshadowed the starvation behavior of the Jerusalemites; but God, not Ezekiel, caused both the prophet’s actions and of people living in Jerusalem during the siege.
In a larger context, the siege of Jerusalem was a prophecy about judgment. The people of Judah sinned so long and to such a degree that God removed his protect around Jerusalem. When Ezekiel acted out the parables of the siege of Jerusalem, God still dwelled in Jerusalem temple. Before the Babylonian siege, Ezekiel recorded that God’s presence left both the temple and Jerusalem (Ezekiel chapters 10 and 11 NIV).
The Broad Bean
The Book of Ezekiel is one of the most detailed and well-known references to grains in the Bible; but, we also learn, or relearn, that Israelites dried and crushed legumes (bean and lentils) into bread flour. For a plant in the parable of the famine bread, I have chosen to describe the bean. The bean was the Vicia faba, also known Vicia vulgaris, the broad bean, and the faba bean. Beans were one of the oldest cultivated plants, at least 6000 years. Their origin is North Africa or the Middle East. The bean grows in all types of soil as long as the soil is well-drained. Although not drought-resistant, beans are hearty enough to live through mild frosts. In the Middle East, beans remain one of the most important winter crops. Broad beans can grow in semi-shade as well as strong sunlight, but they do not tolerate maritime exposure.
Looking Outward and Deeper
The Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem in 588 BC. About 18 months later the Jerusalem walls were breached. Nebuchadnezzar had no more patience with the rebellious Jews or his puppet king, Zedekiah. He had Zedekiah killed and the Jerusalem temple and major buildings destroyed. The wall around Jerusalem walls razed. Jews not killed by famine and plague were killed by the Babylonian soldiers. Only the poorest Jews were allowed to remain in Judah.
Reflection: God said “The day is coming, when I will send a famine throughout the land—not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord” (Amos 8:11, NIV). Do you believe this promise from God will occur in the USA?
I love studying about Bible plants. Do you? If so, please check my website for more information: http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com
Copyright August 23, 2016; Carolyn A. Roth