September 29, 2013

Trees and Flora In The Bible

I have always had a fondness for wooded areas. I believe this is because of the way God has wired me (Proverbs 22:5). appreciate the serene environment and diversity of nature in all its subtitles. I realize man has been given dominion over it and this thought is not lost on me. I suppose it is the same reason I love the Bible and all its solace and diversity also. The Bible shows God's dominion and sovereignty over man. Nature is an example of the truth of God revealed in natural or general revelation or what Romans 1:19-20 says that. "God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse" The Bible on the other hand is an example of special revelation or the inspired word of God. Both of these things reveal not only the need for God but also the proof of God.

As with anything else in the creation, there is a high probability that it is either mentioned directly or indirectly in Scripture. Due to their utilitarian nature and use as resources for man this would be true of trees and plants. Right from the get-go we see the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the clear prohibition to not eat from it. In the case of this tree it is used by God not man.

Genesis 2:9 ~ “Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Moving forward slightly we see that Noah is commanded to build the ark out of gopher wood. It is not clear exactly what type of tree this wood comes from as it can be surmised that it comes from a tree. Although I know of no tree named a Gopher Tree. It had to have had buoyant properties and would have needed to be resilient to water and abuse of torrential downpour. It is speculated that it was a form of Cypress but no one knows for sure.

Genesis 6:13-14 ~ Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth. Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with rooms, and shall cover it inside and out with pitch. 

We see in the story of Jacob that Leah bought a night in bed with Jacob from Rachel for some mandrakes. Mandrakes or דודאים /dûdã'im literally meant “love plant” in the Jewish folklore. The Greek Septuagint translates דודאים as μανδραγορῶν /mandragoron. It was believed that the mandrake help fertility issues in women. It is interesting to note that modern research has revealed that the mandrake contains alkaloid chemicals in the that are known hallucinogens and hypnotics. As such they would’ve been used to lower inhibitions.

Genesis 30:14-16 ~ “Now in the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” But she said to her, “Is it a small matter for you to take my husband? And would you take my son’s mandrakes also?” So Rachel said, “Therefore he may lie with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.” When Jacob came in from the field in the evening, then Leah went out to meet him and said, “You must come in to me, for I have surely hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he lay with her that night.

We also see that Jacob used rods of green poplar, hazel, and chestnut trees to make his cattle bring forth offspring that were marked with circular stripes, speckled, and spotted.

Genesis 30:37-39 ~ Then Jacob took fresh rods of poplar and almond and plane trees, and peeled white stripes in them, exposing the white which was in the rods. He set the rods which he had peeled in front of the flocks in the gutters, even in the watering troughs, where the flocks came to drink; and they mated when they came to drink. So the flocks mated by the rods, and the flocks brought forth striped, speckled, and spotted.

Jacob told his sons to take some almonds which are essentially seeds of a tree, myrrh which comes from a thorny tree and pistachio nuts which are in actuality the tree’s seed also.

Genesis 43:11 ~ “Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: take some of the best products of the land in your bags, and carry down to the man as a present, a little balm and a little honey, aromatic gum and myrrh, pistachio nuts and almonds.

Infant Moses is found among the reeds and bulrushes in a basket made of bulrushes

Exodus 2:3-6 ~ When she could hide him no longer, she took for him a basket made of bulrushes and daubed it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child in it and placed it among the reeds by the river bank. And his sister stood at a distance to know what would be done to him. Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her young women walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her servant woman, and she took it. When she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby was crying. She took pity on him and said, “This is one of the Hebrews' children.” 

We see that the wheat and the spelt (an ancient form of wheat now extinct) had not been ruined by hail (from the plagues of Egypt) for they ripen late in the season.

Exodus 9:32 ~ …But the wheat and the spelt were not ruined, for they ripen late.

There were bitter herbs that were to be eaten with the Passover and they were said to consist of lettuce, watercress, endive, chicory, sorrel, and dandelion greens.

Exodus 12:8 ~ “They shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.

When we reach Exodus 16 was run into Manna looked like coriander seed.

Exodus 16:31 ~ The house of Israel named it manna, and it was like coriander seed, white, and its taste was like wafers with honey. 

It is mentioned that the Hebrews ate cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic when they were in Egypt and they complained about the fact that they could not eat these things in their desert wanderings but were instead forced to eat Manna. The clear use of the word rabble denotes their rebellious attitude and disorganized nature.

Numbers 11:5 ~ The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.”

In Deuteronomy 32:32 we see the vine of Sodom is mentioned in an unfavorable manner. It supposedly had fruits called the "apples of Sodom", which, though beautiful to the eye, are bitter to the taste that could be found near Ein Gedi. In this example we see the people of Israel are being referred to here by Moses as being utterly corrupt, bringing forth only bitter fruit. There is a non-canonical secondary reference from Josephus who states that he, “saw the fruit growing near well as the ashes growing in their fruits; which fruits have a color as if they were fit to be eaten, but when they were plucked with your hands, they would dissolve into smoke and ashes (powder and dust).” 

We saw Rahab hide the Hebrew spies on her roof under stalks of flax or linseed in Joshua 2:6

The brambles mentioned in Judges are thought to be wild blackberry bushes in Judges 9:14-15

Solomon spoke of the cedar trees of Lebanon and of hyssop in 1 Kings 4:33

Elijah sat under a juniper tree in 1 Kings 19:4

Job speaks of mallows and nettles in Job 30:4, 7 and he spoke of thistles, wheat, cockle, and barley in Job 31:40

The Lord, speaking to Job, said that behemoth eats grass, lies in the covert of the reed, and that the willows of the brook compass him about in Job 40:15-22

We see I [the bride] am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys in Song of Solomon 2:1

Also mentioned in the Song of Solomon are pomegranate trees, camphire trees, spikenard plants, saffron plants, calamus plants, cinnamon trees, frankincense trees, myrrh trees, and aloe trees

Song of Solomon 4:13-14 ~ “Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates with choice fruits, henna with nard plants, nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all the trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, along with all the finest spices.

In the Parable of the Vineyard wild grapes as a comparison to God’s people are mentioned in Isaiah

Isaiah 5:1-2 ~ “Let me sing now for my well-beloved a song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. He dug it all around, removed its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it and also hewed out a wine vat in it; then He expected it to produce good grapes, but it produced only worthless ones.

When God speaks to Isaiah He says that He will be with His people when they are in need and He will plant in the wilderness the cedar, the shittah tree, the myrtle, and the oil [olive] tree. He also states that He will set in the desert the fir tree, and the pine, and the box tree together. He will do these things to show them that it is He that does these things (planting these things in the wild).

Isaiah 41:19 ~ “…will put in the wilderness the cedar, the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive. I will set in the desert the cypress, the plane and the pine together, that they may see and know, may consider and understand together, that the hand of the Lord has done this, the Holy One of Israel has created it.

In Jeremiah we see the Lord lament over Zion and say that he will feed wormwood to an apostatizing and backsliding Israel.

Jeremiah 9:15 ~ therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “behold, I will feed them, this people, with wormwood and give them poisoned water to drink. 

The significance of the wormwood is that it is a form of Middle-eastern sagebrush or tumbleweed. I believe this is a possible allusion to the fact that there is an element of being transient and wandering astray. They are being given something that is very much like their apostatizing nature. In addition, it is medicinal as in the fact it can affect a cure for an ill but it is exceptionally bitter in taste.

Ezekiel is instructed by God to make a defiled bread of wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and fitches (sprouted grain or greens). The interesting thing about this mixture is that it would’ve made the bread nutritionally complete.

Ezekiel 4:9 ~ “But as for you, take wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet and spelt, put them in one vessel and make them into bread for yourself; you shall eat it according to the number of the days that you lie on your side, three hundred and ninety days.

What is also peculiar about this bread is he is supposed to cook this bread over human detritus (burning crap), to defile it.  Ezekiel asks God to reconsider cooking his over cow manure.  This whole scene is to represent the hardship of the people under siege in Jerusalem.  A day will come when they will be rationing the food.  Things will get so bad they will have no wood to heat their food. The truth is, things will get so bad women will eat their own children as we will later read in the book of Lamentations.

Jonah 4:6-7 ~ So the Lord God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant. But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered. 

God prepared a gourd vine that grew up overnight and shaded Jonah. This is to ease his discomfort in the desert heat. Jonah delights in its shade. Here we see what appears to be a symbolic parallel: Jonah is saved from distress, Nineveh was saved from punishment. Jonah’s attitude is that God should’ve destroyed Nineveh; instead God sends a weevil and destroys the vine. A little weevil causes the vine to wilt and exposes Jonah to the elements again. God sends a scorching wind and blazing sun that makes Jonah faint. He wants to die. God visits on Jonah the actions he wished on others in Nineveh most likely as a chastisement.

The remaining mentions of trees and plants I will take from the Gospels and Jesus interaction with His own creation. I guess there is nothing more apropos than the dynamic between the Creator and His creation.

In Matthew we see Jesus mentioned a mustard seed in a parable about faith.

Matthew 13:31 ~ “He presented another parable to them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field…

Jesus said that the scribes and Pharisees paid tithes on their mint, anise, and cumin. In the Pharisees horrible adherence to legalism they forsook their proper duties that included things as simple as mercy and faith.

Matthew 23:23 ~ “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.

In Luke 17:6 we see the mention of a mustard seed again in conjunction with a mulberry tree in a lesson in faith

And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.

In Luke we also see a short man named Zacchaeus climbed up a sycamore tree so that he could see Jesus (and/or be seen by Jesus).

There is also the cursing of the Fig Tree, the use of palms in Jesus’ final entrance into Jerusalem. There are the quotes from Jesus that every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. Finally there are the repeated references to the tree of life at the end of Revelation. This list could obviously be much more extensive but I have hit on quite a few here. The best thing people could do if they did not see a reference they wanted to here is to break out their Bible concordance. I merely wished to show the pervasive use of horticulture in the Bible whether it his human horticulture or divine. Anything that is not from man is from God.

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