Tag Archives: Wisdom Literature

Does Old Age Diminish Desire?

Capparis spinosa BushThe Teacher’s description of old age and diminishing desire is in Ecclesiastes 12:1-5.

The Teacher gave advice at the beginning of this teaching, then provided examples to support the advice. The advice is “remember your Creator in the days of your youth before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’” (Ecclesiastes 12:1, NIV-SB, 2002). In poetic and allegorical form the Teacher elaborated how age takes its toll on a man, reducing him to feebleness. Read through the Table for an explanation of various diminished senses and abilities of old age and their accompanying fears.

Description and Interpretation of Old Age

Description Interpretation Verse
Keepers of the house tremble Arms and hands tremble perhaps with a neurological disease, e.g., Parkinsonism 12:3
Strong men stoop Back is bent, shoulders concave possibly from osteoporosis or arthritis 12:3
Grinders cease and are few Teeth cannot chew food because some teeth are lost and others possibly decayed 12:3
Those looking through the windows are dim Eyes are dimmed by cataracts, or near or far sightedness 12:3
Doors to street are closed Hard of hearing; cannot hear street noise or sounds of women grinding meal in the home 12:4
Men rise up at sound of birds No longer able to sleep; arises with first birds of morning 12:4
Songs grow faint Vocal cords no longer allow him to reach notes of favorite songs.  Voice is raspy 12:4
Fear of heights Afraid he will fall because he is unsteady 12:5
Fear of street dangers No longer able to defend his home from intruders 12:5
Almond tree blossoms Hair is white 12:5
Grasshopper drags himself along Unsteady gait and moves slowly perhaps holds onto furniture for support 12:5
Desire no longer is stirred Could be sexual desire, but more likely desire for food, entertainment, or company because his sensations are diminished, e.g. sight, taste, hearing, etc. 12:5

One characteristic of old age is reduced desire or appetite for sex, food, or other types of stimulation. In Ecclesiastes 12:5, the Hebrew word for desire is ʼabîyôwnâh which is translated as caper berry.

The Caperberry

The caperberry is the Capparis spinosa L., also known as the common caper. Probably it originated in dry regions of western or central Asia; but for millennia was present in the Mediterranean basin including Israel. The plant will grow in sand, loam, or clay soils as long as the soil is well-drained. The caperberry tolerates drought.  A rule of thumb is that the caperberry will grow wherever the olive tree grows. In Israel, the  caperberry clings to cracks and crevices of rock piles and abandoned walls. It can be seen between the rocks of the Western (wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

The commercial caper is an immature flower bud that is pickled in vinegar or preserved in granulated salt. Caper taste has been described both as sharply piquant and peppery mustard. Capers are used to flavor pasta sauces, pizza, fish, meats and salads.  Caperberries (cornichon de câpres) are the semi-mature caper fruit. Along with young shoots and small leaves, caperberries are used as condiments. Young caper shoots can be eaten as a vegetable.

Symbolism:  Desire

The symbolism of the caperberry is desire. A desire is a wish, craving, or longing for something or someone. Other words for desire are want, yearn, and need. The Teacher made the point that with old age desires were blunted or reduced. Reflecting on this passage, leads me to believe that some desires may be reduced so that we have time to concentrate on other desires.  It’s possible that the intensity or urgency of sexual desires are muted, we may become less adventurous (I no longer want to paraglide), and we may even hear less well. That does not mean that desire is lost as much as re-focused. Decades of living allows us to acquire experiences and knowledge. An Israelite proverb is “desire without knowledge is not good (Proverbs 19:2, ESV, 2008). God does not view age as a deterrent to usefulness. Not until Abraham was 75 did he leave Haran in response to God’s call.  Moses was 80 when God appeared to him in the Sinai.

Our own desires can cause problems for us. Cain’s offering of fruit was unacceptable to God (Genesis 4:2-7). Cain became angry and his face downcast. God loved Cain, so he explained that a suitable sacrifice would be accepted. Then, God warned Cain that sin was crouching at Cain’s door and “desired” to have Cain. Cain’s fruit, grains, or vegetables were not what God wanted in a sacrifice. Perhaps God wanted the best or first fruits from Cain’s harvest, perhaps he wanted an animal sacrifice similar to Abel’s offering, or perhaps God just wanted Cain to acknowledged that all he reaped was from God. God told the Israelites, “I desire acknowledgement rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6, ESV-SB, 2002).

Saint John counseled Christians that the things of the world – the desires of the flesh and of the eyes and the pride of life – are not from God (I John 2:15-17). The world is passing away along with all of its desires; but whoever does the Lord’s will abides forever. In the poem on old age, the Teacher described the elder as being afraid of street dangers (Ecclesiastes 12:5). Many of us are afraid of things of the world, e.g., muggings, burglary, taxes. Yet the world is temporal and is guaranteed to pass away.

Reflection.  God fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cries and saves them (Psalm 145:19). List your top five desires. Was fear of God one of them?

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

Copyright March 23, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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David Learns from the Laurel Tree

Leaves on Laurus nobilisThe green laurel tree symbolizing the accomplishment of wicked men is found in Psalm 37.

Psalm 37 was written by King David probably in his later years. Each stanza depicts a complete thought; yet, taken together, all stanzas develop a common theme. In Psalm 37, the common theme is how the wicked flourish. The wicked man’s brief accomplishments are contrasted with God’s continued and sustaining help to the righteous. Several stanzas in Psalm 37 refer to plants.

Christians should not be envious of those who do wrong even when the wicked seem to have everything going for them. The wicked are like the grass, like green plants they die away (Psalm 37:1-2). The wicked are the Lord’s enemies and like the beauty of the fields, they will vanish (Psalm 37:20). Think about wild flowers that grow in the green areas between divided interstate roadways. One week these wild flowers are green, lush, and abundant. A few weeks later they are withered. Road crews mow them down as if they were weeds. Their transient beauty vanishes like smoke; so will wicked men.

Verses 35 and 36 compared wicked men to the green laurel tree.  David wrote that he saw a wicked and ruthless man who flourished like a green tree in its native soil. David’s laurel tree never suffered the setback that comes from transplanting. The tree was in its native soil, thus grew large and vigorous. The wicked man was correspondingly prosperous and powerful. A short time later, however, David looked for the wicked man. He was gone; David could not find him. David’s wisdom was that the wicked do not endure; they have no staying power.

David cautioned his listeners not to fret when they saw wicked, ruthless men prospering.  Fretting leads to evil (Psalm 37:8-9). Instead David implored the righteous to refrain from anger and to hope in the Lord. In a later Psalm, David averred that the righteous will flourish like a palm tree (Psalm 92:12-14); the righteous will grow like a cedar of Lebanon planted in the house of the Lord. They will still bear fruit in old age and stay fresh and green.

Bay LeavesThe Laurel Tree

The laurel tree is the Laurus nobilis. The laurel tree is called the true laurel and the sweet bay laurel because the culinary seasoning bay leaves come from the tree. Bay laurel is native to the southern Mediterranean Sea region. In Israel, laurel trees grow in most areas except the desert. The laurel tree will grow in a wide variety of soils, e.g., sand, loam and clay, but does best in moisture-retentive soils. Leaves are elliptic to ovate in shape and  2-4 inches long and .75-1.75 inches wide. Leaf margins tend to undulate softly; leaves feel leathery.  The leaf surface is a lustrous dark green. One way to identify a laurel tree is to bruise or cut the leaves and smell the sweet aromatic leaves.

Symbolism:  Flourish

A number of writers have proposed symbolism for the Laurus nobilis to include notable, victory, merit, accomplishments, honor, praise, martyrdom, and old age. Psalm 37 seems to fit most of these concepts; however, I believe the best description is flourish. Flourish means to grow luxuriantly, to achieve success or prosper, and to reach a height of development or influence.

King David compared the wicked to a luxuriant laurel tree, perhaps the one about 60 feet tall with a broad canopy and numerous branches growing up from the ground. These wicked, ruthless men flourished like the laurel. They achieved wealth and influence, caring little who they stepped on to achieve. Righteous men see these same ruthless men and women today and ask, how can God let them get ahead when I’m stuck in this job year after year? I’m a Christian, isn’t God supposed to help and bless me? What about God’s promise that “in his days the righteous will flourish; prosperity will abound until the moon is no more” (Psalm 72:7). I’m not flourishing at work or __________(you fill in the blank)!

When believers encounter situations where the wicked seem to achieve everything their heart’s desire, it is time to remember that God cannot lie and his word tells us two important facts. First, the righteous will flourish (Psalm 92:12) and God will not forsake his faithful ones (Psalm 37:28). Second, evildoers will be forever destroyed (Psalm 37:20; Psalm 92:7). Our reaction to evil-doers should not be envy but sadness and prayer for their redemption. The only heaven, or nearest heaven, that wicked, ruthless men and women will experience is on earth.

Seeing ruthless men and women achieve is not easy for a believer. At times I’ve asked God, “how can you let this happen?”  In those times, God did not give me an answer; probably because I was not in a mind frame to receive it. In retrospect, I can see that instead of anger and resentment, my response to workplace wickedness should have been compassion and prayer. I cannot be responsible for evil, ruthless men and women flourishing. I am only responsible for my thoughts and behavior. At all times, I must be right with God, trusting that his ways are not my ways and his thoughts are not my thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). They are much, better and wiser than mine. When I concentrate on flourishing in the garden where God planted me, I don’t obsess about whether or not ruthless individuals are getting ahead.

Reflection.  Father knows best.

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

Copyright February 8, 2013; carolyn a. roth

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