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World’s Strongest Man

Thymelea hirsute, yitranBible Reference: Judges Chapters 13-16.

The well-known judge Samson was from the tribe of Dan; however, few Danites lived in the allocated tribal lands northwest of Judah. Most Danites had moved north to the base of Mount Hermon because they could not seize their allocated land from the Philistines.  God sent the angel of the Lord to announce Samson’s birth to his parents. The angel told them that Samson should be a Nazirite (Numbers 6: 1-21). Nazirite means “separated” or “dedicated” and included that Nazirites abstain from any product made from grapes, e.g. wine, raisins. Nazirites could not use a razor on their head or cut their hair; nor could they go near a dead body, animal or human.

When Samson was born, the Philistines had been oppressing Israel for 40 years (Judges 13:1).  From adulthood until his death, Samson achieved single-handed triumphs over the Philistines. Although Samson was a heroic figure, his personal life was a tragedy. Samson’s downfall was his preference for immoral women. First, Samson married a Philistine woman who betrayed him; this woman was killed by the Philistines. Second, he had a liaison with a prostitute. Finally, he fell in love with Delilah who betrayed him into the hands of the Philistines.

Delilah made an agreement with the Philistines that for a large sum of money she would disclose the source of Samson extraordinary strength. After much cajolery, Samson told Delilah that if he was tied with seven fresh, never dried, thongs (braided rope), he would become as weak as other men (Judges 16: 7–9).  Accessing seven fresh thongs was a significant challenge. The noted Israeli botanist, Hogah Hareuveni  (1989) proposed that the throngs or ropes that Samson identified were made from the Thymelaea hirsute plant, known in Hebrew as yitran. Yitran did not grow in the Valley of Sorek where Delilah lived. Yitran would have been available in local markets; however, it would have been dried not fresh. To make fresh yitran thongs, the Philistines had to cut and bring fresh yitran bark from the Mediterranean Sea coast.  Highest quality yitran bark was needed so the thongs would be strong.  The yitran had to be smooth, without twigs, so that it could be braided into rope.

The book of Judges tells the reader that the Philistines brought Delilah seven thongs and Delilah tied Samson with them. With Philistines hidden in an adjoining room, Delilah called to Samson, “Samson, the Philistines are upon you.” Samson snapped the yitran thongs and killed his attackers so the secret of Samson’s strength was not tied to yitran rope.

Eventually, Samson became weary of Delilah’s pleas to tell her the real source of his strength. Samson’s disclosed that his strength lay in his hair. Delilah cut Samson’s hair and the Philistines captured him. They gouged out Samson’s eyes, bound him in bronze shackles and set him to grinding grain in prison. Surprisingly the Philistines did not keep Samson’s head shaved. Over time his hair grew back.  When the Philistines assembled to celebrate the delivery of Samson into their hands, they brought Samson to exhibit to the crowds. Samson requested the servant who accompanied him to place him between two main temple pillars. There Samson prayed to God for return of his strength. God heard Samson prayer and gave him the strength to push the two pillars down. The result was that Samson razed the temple by knocking the pillars over. More than 3000 Philistines were killed that day as was Samson.

The Yitran Plant

The Thymelaea hirsute (also spelled hirsuta) is known as yitran to Hebrews and as mitran to Arabs.  Yitran is a perennial, evergreen shrub that grows profusely in the Mediterranean coastal plan and in the Sinai Peninsula. The yitran’s root penetrates deep into the soil allowing the plant to remain green throughout the year even in desert areas. Older and well watered yitran grows as tall as 6 feet.  Branches and stems can spread or trail and whip rapidly in the breeze. Branch configuration gives yitran a bow shape.  When yitran branches are rubbed or when the bark is peeled to make ropes, the yitran bush gives off a diffuse sulfurous odor. Stems are densely packed on branches. Yitran branches were and are today braided into a cable-type rope. Ropes are strong enough to haul a full-sized man out of a well, secure a tent during a sandstorm, and yoke camels.  When camel yokes are made row-upon-row of twisted inner bark of fresh yitran branches are braided. Philistines would have been aware of the strength of seven braided thongs of yitran; thus, they accepted that binding Samson with freshly braided yitran was a way of defeating his strength.

Symbolism of Yitran Rope

The yitran plant is associated with strength and no Bible character had more physical strength than Samson.  From his conception God sat Samson apart to act as a judge over Israel using his physical strength; however, Samson’s behavior suggested that he forgot the origin of his strength. In reality it was not from long hair – many individuals have long hair and they are not necessarily strong. Samson’s physical strength was from God.  When Samson placed his love for Delilah over his devotion to God, Samson lost God’s presence and strength. The Psalms recorded that God is the origin of individual strength, e.g., and no warrior escapes by his (own) great strength (Psalms 33:16), God is our strength and shield (Psalm 28:7); the Lord gives strength to his people (Psalm 29:11).

Sometimes I wonder if God gets tired of my asking him for strength to do or be something.  As I was preparing this entry, I turned to Isaiah 40 and found that I had underlined verse 27. The verse was dated about seven years ago and my note beside it was “I’ve felt that way.”  Verse 27 reads:  Why do you ….   complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God?” If Isaiah was writing today, he would identify the Israelites as asking “Do you see my life, God? Do you hear me?”

God answered Israel’s plea for his attention with this assurance: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired and weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak” (Isaiah 40:28–29).

When Samson was tired and weak, he asked God to give him strength so that he could destroy the Philistines even if it meant his own death (Judges 16:17-30). This was the first time Samson prayed before he judged the Philistines.  It took Samson many years and much heartache before he realized that he must rely not just on his own strength, but on God’s strength.

Thought: The Bible never recorded, “God helps those who help themselves.”   It’s okay if we rely on God’s strength.  In fact He prefers it that way.

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 July, 2014: Carolyn A. Roth

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Linen Curtains in the Tabernacle

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Read how Tabernacle Curtains were made and used in Exodus 26:1–6 and 31-37; Exodus 27:9–19; and Exodus chapter 28.

Flax was used extensively in the Tabernacle to make linen. Flax is native to the eastern Mediterranean region and was an important crop in Egypt since the 5th millennium B.C.  The linen curtains, the blue, purple and scarlet embroidery yarn, and the linen priest’s clothes came from the flax plant. The two craftsmen, Bezalel and Oholiab, God designated to oversee building of the Tabernacle were given skill as designers and embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and in fine linen (Exodus 35:35). 

In the Tent of Meeting, a curtain (veil) made of fine woven linen hung between the Holies of Holy and the Most Holy of Holies. Cherubim were embroidered on the veil with blue, purple and scarlet yarn.  The Tent of Meeting roof was made of linen curtains. The curtains draped over the outside of the gold-covered acacia wood panels.  Cherubim made of purple, blue and scarlet yarn were woven or worked into the linen curtains.  A fine linen curtain covered the entrance of the Tent of Meeting (east side).  The entrance curtain included colored yarn, however, there were no cherubim on the curtain.  The sides of the Tabernacle courtyard were plain linen curtains held in place by silver hooks that attached them to the wood posts.  The curtain at the courtyard entrance was the only courtyard curtain that included colored yarn.  An embroiderer was used to make the entrance curtain.  

Aaron was the first Israelite high priest. God gave very specific instructions for making his   clothes.   The clothes included the breastplate, ephod, robe, tunic, turban, sash, and undergarments.   All were made with fine linen.  With the exception of the tunic and undergarments, all linen clothes were embroidered with or used colored yarn.  No sandals or shoes were included as part of the high priest’s clothing.  The rationale for lack of sandals was that when Aaron ministered to the Lord he was on holy ground.  As priests, Aaron’s sons had special clothes.   Their clothes included tunics, sashes, headbands, and undergarments made of linen; no colored yarn or embroidery was used.

 In the Bible, the Hebrew word for the linen associated with the Tabernacle is shêsh. Shêsh means “fine linen” and denotes a type of Egyptian linen of peculiar whiteness and fineness. When Egyptians wove fine linen, they used as many as 140 strands of threads per inch lengthwise (warf) and 64 strands per inch horizontal (weft). Linen of this fine weave had the appearance of silk. In ancient times fine linen was a mark of quality and associated with wealth and rank. Fine linen was the usual dress of Egyptian priests and royalty.  Pharaoh dressed Joseph in fine linen when Joseph was promoted to second-in command over all Egypt (Genesis 41:41–43). Egyptian fine linen was exquisite – it was soft and flexible but strong, cool to wear, and had a luster or sheen to its whiteness.

As slaves in Egypt, the Israelites would not have possessed much, if any, fine linen; however, when they left Egypt, the Egyptians gave them tribute.  The tribute included clothes and more than likely included fine linen and yarn for spinning linen (Exodus 12:35-36). When Moses asked the Israelites for offerings to build the Tabernacle, he specified the need for blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine linen (Exodus 25:3).  Exodus recorded that skilled women spun fine linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn and brought these as offerings for the Tabernacle (Exodus 35:25-26).  There is no record that women wove the yarn into linen cloth for curtains or priest’s clothes.

 The Flax Plant

The Ancient Egyptian flax plant, Linum usitatissimum, was used to make linen.  In Biblical times flax was the most important fiber crop. Probably the L. usitatissimum originated in Mesopotamia; however, it was extensively cultivated in Egypt and less so in Palestine.  In Egypt flax grew along the sides the Nile River and particularly in the Nile Delta region. In Egypt and the Middle East, flax was planted in the early winter and flax harvested in the spring.

 The flax plant has a single stem that grows up to four feet tall.  The fiber is in the stem.  Initially, the stem is green, but turns yellow as the plant ripens and readies for harvest. When flax plants were harvested for fiber, mature plants were pulled up by their roots. Harvested plants were allowed to dry, then retted.  Retting is a process of soaking flax to separate the fiber from the woody tissue (straw).  Egyptians dyed some flax threads.  Blue and purple dyes were derived from shellfish (primarily the murex) which lived in the Mediterranean Sea. Scarlet dye came from the eggs and carcasses of a worm (Coccus ilicus) which lived on the leaves of holly plants.

 Symbolism: Purity 

 In ancient times, linen symbolized purity and in Revelation (15:5-6) St. John used “clean, shining linen” as a symbol for purity.  Purity means spotless, stainless, free from what pollutes; containing nothing that does not properly belong; free from moral fault or guilt. The Hebrew verb for purify, tāhēr, also means to cleanse or to be clean. The Tabernacle complex with its linen curtains was a symbol of the Israelite’s need to be clean or pure before God.  In the Tabernacle animals were sacrificed and animal blood shed to accomplish ritual purification.  Today when individuals accept Christ as their Savior, they are purified (cleansed) or made spotless in relation to former sins.  Then, the challenge of living a pure life begins.

 Of the 33 verses in the New International Version Study Bible (2002) which referred to purity, about 1/3 centered on the individual’s heart  In the Old Testament, King David implored God to “create in me a pure heart” (Psalm 51:10).  King David questioned who can approach God and stand before him? The answer was “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false” (Psalm 24:3–4).

 In the New Testament there is a similar focus on Christians keeping their heart pure. Christ taught, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8).  Paul told Timothy that love (the greatest of all virtues) comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith (1Timothy 1:5).  He instructed Timothy to “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).  Paul cautioned Timothy to have nothing to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because they produce quarrels (verse 23).

  Taken together, these verses from the Old and New Testament communicated that to please God, Christians must keep their hearts pure.  Keeping a pure hearts begins with a sincere faith in Christ as our Savior. Purity means that we love one another and are free from moral guilt about how we act toward and think about each other.   Purity is about actively pursuing faith, love, and peace.  In addition to positive actions that help us to grow toward purity, the Bible verses on a pure heart articulated certain behaviors to avoid.  These behaviors are worshipping idols, lying, becoming involved in nonproductive arguments and quarrels, and pursuing evil desires of youth, e.g., sexual debauchery.

 I want to keep my heart pure; however, sometime I do not restrain my impulses. At times I fill my life with irreverent thoughts and actions.  In the past I often made my career an idol rather than keeping God at the center of my life. Most certainly I have engaged in foolish and stupid arguments, rationalizing them in the name of “devil’s advocate” or “intellectual debate.”  How, then, can I keep a clean, pure heart so I can see God in my day-to-day life?  The answer for me is the same as it was for the Israelites. I must agree with God about my sins. When I do, I can be at-one with God. God has made it easy for me to reconcile myself to him and his purity. I John 1:9 says if we confess our sins, God will cleanse us from sin and purify us from our unrighteousness.  Having a pure, clean heart is as simple as going to God admitting my sin and asking His forgiveness.

Reflection. When did you last clean up or purify your life?  Would now be a good time to enact I John 1:9 in your relationship with Christ?

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 July 31, 2013; Carolyn A. Roth

Rue, the Protective Herb

Jesus’ regretRue chalepensis (2) over the priorities of the Pharisees is described in Luke 11:37-44.

This entry is part of the previous one where Jesus was invited to eat in a Pharisee’s home.  Mentally, the Pharisee host criticized Jesus because Jesus did not wash his hands before eating. To the Pharisee hand washing was important not because he was concerned about hygiene, but because he care about ceremonial purity. 

Knowing what the Pharisee was thinking, Jesus attempted to show him that preoccupation with externals had little to do with real religion. Christ declared, “Woe to you Pharisees because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue, and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God” (Luke 11:42). When Christ used the word “woe,” he was not calling down a curse on the Pharisees, being sly, or amusing. Christ’s “woe” was an expression of deep regret, an expression of the anguish he felt for these men. The Pharisees missed the point of God’s law. They had their priorities and their interpretation of God’s laws upside down and inside out. By this time in Jewish history, the Pharisees had the teachings of the Torah and the Old Testament prophets. They were aware that God did not require 1,000 rams, or 10,000 rivers of oil, or their first born child as a sacrifice (Micah 6:7-8). God wanted men and women to act justly, to extend mercy toward their brothers and sisters, and to love God.

Rue

The rue of the Bible is the Ruta chalepenis called African rue, common rue, and fringed rue.  Rue is native to the Middle East. In ancient Israel, rue grew wild; therefore, a tithe was not paid when the herb was used. In New Testament times, rue was grown in gardens, necessitating growers to pay a tithe on its sell. Rue can grow in almost any type of soil, but grows best in sand or clay loam. Young plants require average to moist soil; however, after plants are established they are drought tolerant.  Rue enjoys full sun. In Israel, rue grows in the northern and central parts of the country, but not in the Negev region. It can tolerate only low levels of salt; consequently, rue is not grown along the Mediterranean coastline of Israel. In ancient Egypt and Greece, it was used as to stimulate menstruation and to induce abortion. Currently, rue is used both as a condiment.  In natural medicine, rue is use as an anti-spasmodic and to strengthen eye sight. 

Symbolism: Regret, Regret

In English, its common name — rue – means regret. Historically, rue was regarded as a protective substance. It was one of the ingredients in mithridate, a substance used in ancient medicine and folklore as an antidote for every poison and a cure for every disease. Possibly the genus name Ruta is derived from “rhutos,” a Greek word meaning “shield” in view of its history as an antidote. Ostensibly, the Pharisees teachings were to act as a shield for the common citizen of Judea to protect them from any blasphemy against God and his commandments.  Instead, their man-made laws often made the Jews rue or regret their presence.

Repeatedly, the Bible – particularly Psalms – identified that God is our shield. A shield is defensive armor or someone who protects and defends. Paul instructed Christians to take up the shield of faith, a deep abiding confidence in God (Ephesians 6:16). He said that with the shield of faith, we can extinguish all of the flaming arrows of the devil. 

Reflection. Possibly Jewish citizens expected too much of the Pharisees. It is never good to rely on men or governments to shield or protect us. Who is your shield and protector?

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 July 20, 2013; Carolyn A. Roth

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Tithing on Mint, A Teachabe Moment

The experience of Jesus eating a meal with a Pharisee is described in Luke 11:37-44. 

At the end of a day of teaching, a Pharisee invited Jesus to his house to eat. Christ entered the house and reclined at the table. The Pharisee was surprised that Jesus did not wash his hands before the meal for two reasons. First, most foods were eaten with the hands. Second, although not a Mosaic Law, Jewish hierarchy advocated a procedure for hand washing before meals. Knowing what his host was thinking, Jesus admonished him, saying that Pharisees clean the outsides of dishware while they disregard the insides which are full of greed and wickedness. Pharisees, tithe on mint, rue, and garden herbs, but neglect justice and the love of God. Christ admonished the Pharisees to practice justice and love as well as tithing.

The Pharisees were a sect of the Jews that began in response to two events in Israel’s history.  First, when the Jews returned to Jerusalem from the Babylonian captivity, some of the laws outlined in the Pentateuch (Torah) seemed out-dated. The Jewish society had changed from the time Moses and the Children of Israel journeyed in the Wilderness. The Pharisees attempted to translate the original intent of the Mosaic laws into religious rules for Judean society in the centuries before Christ. The second event that gave rise to the Pharisees was the Jewish Hasmonean dynasty of the second century B.C. The Hasmoneans declared themselves both king and high priest, a decree and action that contradicted the Laws of Moses. Many Pharisees responded by becoming overzealous for the Law of Moses; they wanted a strict interpretation of the Laws. 

The Book of Law required that Jews tithe. Tithing meant that they gave 10% of their money and/or crops to the Lord which usually went to the Temple (Leviticus 27:30). Mint and rue were herbs produced by farmers and other agriculturists for commerce; therefore, Mosaic Law required Jews to tithe on them. Importantly, when Christ spoke to the Pharisee, he did not tell the Pharisee that tithing on mint production was wrong. Just the opposite, Christ reinforced the need for God’s people to tithe. At the same time, Christ instructed the Pharisees that loving God and seeking justice were the greater good.

Mint, the Plant

The mint that grew in the Holy Land was Mentha longifolia, sometimes known as Mentha spicata L., wild mint, and horsemint. The large mint family, Lamiaceae, has 250 genera and 6,700 species; species names are often confused and confusing. Probably, M. longifolia originated in the countries of the Mediterranean Basin; however, South Africa claims it as indigenous. Mint thrives in most soils as long as soils are moist. If mint plants are propagated to secure a specific aroma, it is best to cut a piece of the original root (rhizome) and plant it. Virtually any part of a root will grow into a new plant.   When mint is planted for its essential oils, full sun is optimal; however, it will grow in partial shade. Wild mint tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure; it is not frost tender. In Israel, wild mint is found in Galilee, the central mountains and valleys, and south into the Northern Negev Desert and Aravah Valley. 

 Symbolism: Happiness, Joyful

The Greek word for mint is hēduŏsmŏn which is derived from hēdista meaning very gladly and kauchaŏmai, which means joy and rejoice. These two Greek words denote happiness and joy. Both words are appropriate for mint which medicinally relieves headaches, aids digestion, and is used to cover unsavory tastes and smells (Plants for a Future, 2012).

Seemingly everyone wants to be happy. The writer of Ecclesiastes penned that he knew of nothing better for a man than to be happy and do good (Ecclesiastes 3:12). In the Old Testament, happiness resulted from many scenarios. Barren women were happy and rejoiced over the birth of healthy children, e.g., Sarah, Rebecca, Hannah. After hearing the wisdom of Solomon, the Queen of Sheba exclaimed that happy were the men and officials of Solomon who heard his wisdom (I Kings 10:8). The wicked Haman was happy that Queen Esther invited him to a banquet with King Ahasuerus (Xerxes) (Esther 5:9). Jonah was happy because a vine grew over his head screening him from the hot sun (Jonah 4:6). 

King David associated righteous behavior with gladness, happiness, and joy (Psalm 68:3). When Pharisees tithed on their income to include the relatively unimportant herb mint, they acted rightly. If they lived in strict adherence to the Mosaic laws, the Pharisees could have been happy, joyful people; yet, I could find no place in the Bible where the Pharisees were described as happy or joyful. Is it possible that righteous behavior does not lead to happiness? Was David wrong to associate righteousness with joy? Or was there something wrong about the righteousness of the Pharisees?

William MacDonald (1995) succinctly summarized why Pharisees were not happy and joyful.  They were externalists; which means the Pharisees were punctilious about small details of the ceremonial law, e.g., handwashing. At the same time, they neglected the greater commandments to love God and their neighbors (Matthew 22:37-40). They emphasized the subordinate and overlooked the primary laws of God. Happiness and joy cannot come when God or his primary commandments are ignored. Happiness comes from loving God and striving to please him in all things. Joy comes from doing good to others. 

Reflection. Christ said, whatever you do to the least man, woman or child, you do to me; and whatever you do not do to the least man, woman, or child you do not do to me (Matthew 25:40, 45). Christ is the “least” man, woman, or child.   

Weeds in a Wheat Field

Lolium temulentum var. arvenseChrist’s Parable of  Weeds in a Wheat Field is in Matthew 13:24-30.

Christ was seated by the Lake of Galilee when he told The Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:1).  The parable is one of six parables that Christ used to demonstrate the nature of the kingdom of heaven. Here is the parable: A farmer planted good wheat seeds in his field. “Good” wheat seeds meant that contaminants, e.g. weeds, wild oats, and chaff, are absent from the wheat seeds. At night the farmer’s enemy sowed weeds or tares among the wheat. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, so did the weeds. The weeds were intermingled with the wheat.

A servant told the owner about the weeds. He asked the owner if he and the other servants should pull out the weeds. The owner said “No” and explained that when the servants pull out the weeds, they could inadvertently pull up the wheat. The farmer understood that weed and wheat roots planted near each other intertwined. If weeds are removed, wheat roots and stems would be pulled up or damaged. The farmer directed the servant to let both wheat and weeds grow together until the harvest. Then, the servants could go through the fields, pull and bundle the weeds, and burn them. Wheat would be harvested and taken into the owner’s barn.

The parable demonstrated the growth of the kingdom of heaven from its original planting, through growth, to harvest. The field is the world. God, the owner, sowed good seed; individuals who were destined to followed him. The devil, the enemy, sowed weeds into the field; individuals who were against or indifferent to God’s teachings. The servants are God’s angels.  God refused to allow the angels to remove the weeds from the world because the lives (roots) of rejecters and followers are intertwined, just like the roots of weeds and wheat. 

Harvest represented the second coming of Christ. At that time, the angels are free to remove the weeds.  God rejecters will be collected like the weeds they are. They will be bundled and burned.  Then, the angels will gather God’s followers. These good plants will be brought into the storehouse of God.

Weeds, Darnel

The weed referred to in the Parable of the Weed was most likely the Lolium temulentum. This weed is also known as darnel and poison ryegrass. The darnel is indigenous to the Mediterranean region including the Middle East. Darnel infests wheat fields and other cultivated land and spreads as a contaminant of wheat. It is widely distributed in Israel to include Mediterranean woodlands and shrub lands, shrub-steppes and deserts to include extreme deserts. Even a few darnel grains can adversely affect crop quality. Darnel seeds are poisonous to people and livestock.

Symbolism: Malice, Malicious

The enemy who sowed the weeds among the good wheat was malicious. His behavior was spiteful, mean, and malevolent.  He wanted to destroy the good wheat that the farmer was growing. An Old Testament proverb focused on maliciousness:  “A malicious man disguised himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit. Though his speech is charming do not believe him ….. His malice may be concealed by deception, but his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly” (Proverbs 26:24-27). The proverb also teaches us how to respond to a malicious man and his ultimate outcome.   

The New Testament is contains instruction to avoid malicious behavior (Table 12.1). Christ told his disciples that what goes into a man does not make him unclean (Mark 7:17-23). Rather, what is inside and comes out determines whether a man is clean or unclean. If a person’s heart is clean, good things will come out of them. Unfortunately, if a person’s heart is unclean, he will think and spew forth all kinds of unclean words, such as evil thoughts, malice, and deceit.  Similarly, an unclean heart produces unclean living, e.g., sexual immorality, adultery, theft, murder.   

St. Paul addressed malice and malicious talk repeatedly in letters to early churches and in letters to his young protégé Timothy. Notably, Paul and Peter were both writing to believers. These two saints were exhorting believers to set aside spiteful, mean, and malevolent words. Malice can be harmful to a church; e.g., Paul wrote that a potential deacon’s wife must “not be a malicious talker” (I Timothy 3:11). Despite man’s excellent traits, e.g., sincere, temperate, honest, if his wife is a malicious talker, then the man is disqualified to be a deacon. Believers – men, women, and children – must all be attuned to what comes out of their mouths.

Table 12.1, Directions to refute maliciousness

Speaker

Direction

Scripture

Christ to his disciples

These thoughts/behaviors make a person unclean: evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly

Mark 7:20-23

Paul to the Ephesus church

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

Ephesians 4:31

Paul to the Colosse church

Rid yourself of these things: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

Colossians 3: 8

Paul to Timothy about deacon’s wives

Wives of church deacons should be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers, but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

I Timothy 3:11

Paul to Timothy

Paul warns that a man who teaches false doctrines and does not accept sound instruction is conceited and understands nothing.  He has an unhealthy interest in controversies, quarrels about words that end in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of corrupt minds.

I Timothy 6:3-5

Peter to Christians in Asia Minor

Rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of any kind.

I Peter 2:1

Reflection. In a way it is good that the heart and our words are so closely aligned. Hearing our own malicious words can be a clue that there is something wrong with our hearts. Do you take the time to reflect on what you say?

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 June 6, 2013; Carolyn A. Roht

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Grass of the Field

Dactylis glomerata, RignaneseJesus teaching on the grass of the field is in Matthew 6:28-30.

In the “Do Not Worry” portion of the Sermon on the Mount, Christ spoke about grass of the field as well as the lilies considered in the last section. Although scholars do not sure where Christ preached the Sermon, on the    northwestern corner of the Sea of Galilee near Capernaum is a gently sloping hillside that is often considered the Sermon site. Possible Christ stood at the bottom of the hillside while his listeners sat in the grass at higher elevations similar to an amphitheater.

In this story Christ told his hearers to consider the lilies and the field grass. The lilies adorned the simple grass in much the same way that colorful robes adorned King Solomon. Solomon’s robes were not as beautiful as the lilies that grew among the grass; the same grass that was here today and tomorrow thrown into the fire. Then, Christ asked his listeners, if God cared enough about field grass to clothe it with beautiful lilies, would not God much more clothe his people? 

Orchard Grass

In Israel there are hundreds of grasses in the local flora. One of the most valuable native grass species is the Dactylis glomerata, also known as orchard grass and cocksfoot. In ancient Israel, this grass grew wild and was used for grazing animals and at times cut for fodder. D. glomerata is native to North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. It can grow on slopes, in shallow areas, and in very dry soils.  Orchard grass is frost and heat resistant and tolerates shade. The plant is found throughout Israel to include the Mediterranean coastline and extreme deserts. In the Mediterranean Basin, orchard grass has adapted to long, hot, dry summers.Seeds often germinate in three weeks.   

Symbolism: Pasture, Meadow

In the New Testament, the Greek word for grass is chŏrtŏs which comes from a primary word meaning a court, garden, or pasture. In the context of field grass, chŏrtŏs best symbolizes pasture land. Often pastures are called meadows. A meadow is land that is in grass or predominantly in grass. Pastures have important meaning to the ancient Israelites and by extension to Christians today. Jeremiah (50:7) wrote that the Lord was the true pasture of the Israelites; while psalmists sang that the Israelites were the sheep of God’s pasture (Psalm 100:3).  

King David declared that the Lord is our shepherd and makes us lie down in green pastures (Psalm 23:2). Interestingly, sheep only lie down when they feel contented and secure. When sheep feel threatened, they stand up and look around seeking the source of peril. David’s metaphor was that with the Lord as our shepherd, we, his flock, can rest contentedly in verdant meadows. Christ named himself the Good Shepherd and the gate for the sheep (John 10:9-14).  Whoever enters through him will be saved and find pastures. In these pastures, Christians will be safe and they will have a full life.

In the Roanoke Valley of Virginia, spring is here. Grasses have turned green, dogwood trees are blooming, and azalea bushes are laden with pink and white flowers. Looking at them calms my mind. I spend hours looking out my window at the beauty of the spring season. Often, my husband walks into the room, catches me standing in front of the window, and asks what I’m looking at. My answer is always the same – grasses, trees, and flowers. God made this beautiful section of creation just for me and just for anyone else who values it. God clothed these meadows with trees and flowers. 

In  2-3 weeks the dogwood trees will no longer bloom and azalea flowers will die. In several months, meadow grass will turn brown from the effects of reduced moisture and unrelenting sun.  If God is gracious, I will still look out my window; but the beauty of spring will be gone. When I consider spring’s beauty, it is hard to fathom that I am more important to God than spring grasses, blooming trees, and budding flowers. 

Reflection.  David wrote that we will enjoy safe pasture if we trust in the Lord and do good (Psalm 37:3). Do you want safe pastures enough to trust God and do good? Or, are safe pastures not a high priority for you right now?

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 30, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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Zechariah and the Myrtle Tree

Myrtle for book (2)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

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 December 16, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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King Josiah and Prickly Lettuce

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

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

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

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

Wild Lettuce

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

 Symbolism:  Passover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

copyright: October 10, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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Zephaniah’s Prophecy Using Nettles

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

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

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

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

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

Nettle Plants

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

Symbolism: Burn, Fire 

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

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

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

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

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

copyright September 30, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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King Hezekiah & Fragrant Cane

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

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

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

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

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

Fragrant Cane Plant

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

Symbolism: Clarity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright September 9, 2012; carolyn a. roth

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