Posted in natural history, theology

How ’bout them donkeys?!

By Elizabeth Prata

There are a lot of animals, plants, and activities in the Bible that I have little knowledge about. It was fun learning the process for creating purple dye from murex shells. Or how to get from reeds growing along the Nile to linen garments. And what was it about the sweet onions that the Wandering Hebrews complained that they missed them so much?

I’ve been thinking about donkeys.

I don’t know why.

donkeys 2a

Once I started looking in the Bible at the topic of donkeys, there was a lot more there than I’d thought. This turns out to be the case with every topic I delve into inside the Bible. Continue reading “How ’bout them donkeys?!”

Posted in natural history, theology

Look at the birds of the air

By Elizabeth Prata

It’s fall here in north Georgia. Many of the migrating birds of the north are returning and the trees in my yard are more alive than ever with birdsong. And now that the temperatures don’t require air conditioning, my windows are open to hear them.

Birdsong is such a happy sound. I really enjoy hearing and seeing the various birds swooping, singing, nesting, and flying in the yard. I’m so glad the Lord made birds.

When we go outside and look at a majestic tree or see a flowering bush, a well manicured green lawn, a vivid sunset, the moon shining down,…it is a beautiful reminder to us that the LORD made it all. In my classroom reading group when I do a study on an animal or insect, as we did this week with bees, I’m always overcome with the thought that He made all the vegetation and all the beasts of the sea, land, and air in just 3 days; days 3, 5, and 6. (Genesis 1:11-13; 20-25).

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,g in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20).

Birds are a favorite creature of mine. I love when the Bible mentions them, though the verses themselves are not always happy. The Great Supper of the Dead will occur after Armageddon where an angel standing on the sun summons

all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, 18 to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” (Revelation 19:17)

As for you, son of man, thus says the Lord God: Speak to the birds of every sort and to all beasts of the field: ‘Assemble and come, gather from all around to the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you, a great sacrificial feast on the mountains of Israel, and you shall eat flesh and drink blood. (Ezekiel 39:17).

This future event is known as the Great Supper of God, not to be confused with the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, where His children sup with Jesus in heaven. One event is designed for the damned and the other is designed for the blessed.

On a happier note, the Bible compares Jesus to a hen gathering His chicks-

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. (Matthew 23:37)

In Job 39:27-29 God describes His creation of the eagle. The eagle IS a majestic bird, isn’t it. It’s amazing in its capabilities. It is such a majestic bird that several nations feature it on their coat of arms, like Germany, Mexico, Egypt, Poland and Austria. The US has made the eagle its national bird.

Does the eagle soar at your command and build its nest on high? It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night; a rocky crag is its stronghold. From there it looks for food; its eyes detect it from afar. (Job 39:27-29).

Yet the smaller birds are also lauded in the Bible.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. (Matthew 10:29)

In that verse we understand that the smallest of birds are taken care of by God and so if He knows every small, insignificant bird, He will surely take care of His children. Here is Barnes’ Notes on the verse and the bird itself,

Are not two sparrows … – He encourages them not to fear by two striking considerations: first, that God takes care of sparrows, the smallest and least valuable of birds; and, secondly, by the fact that God numbers even the hairs of the head. The argument is, that if He takes care of birds of the least value, if He regards so small a thing as the hair of the head, and numbers it, He will certainly protect and provide for you. You need not, therefore, fear what man can do to you.

Sparrows – The sparrows are well-known birds in Syria. They are small; they are found in great numbers; they are tame, intrusive, and nestle everywhere. “They are extremely pertinacious in asserting their right of possession, and have not the least reverence for any place or thing. David alludes to these characteristics of the sparrow in Psalm 84:1-12, when he complains that they had appropriated even the altars of God for their nests. Concerning himself, he says, I watch, and am as a sparrow upon the housetop, Psalm 102:7.

When one of them has lost its mate – a matter of everyday occurrence – he will sit on the housetop alone, and lament by the hour his sad bereavement. These birds are snared and caught in great numbers, but, as they are small, and not much relished for food, five sparrows may still be sold for two farthings; and when we see their countless numbers, and the eagerness with which they are destroyed as a worthless nuisance, we can better appreciate the assurance that our heavenly Father, who takes care of them, so that not one can fall to the ground without his notice, will surely take care of us, who are of more value than many sparrows.” – “The Land and the Book” (Thomson), vol. i. pp. 52, 53

Did you know that there are almost 300 verses in the Bible that mention birds? One third of these mentions are general, mentioning just birds or fowl. The species isn’t named. Of the species that are named, we read of doves, for example,  a favorite bird at that time in Palestine. It was a bird that mated for life, was gentle, abundant, and beautiful.

The rougher scavenger birds are frequently mentioned, such as vultures, eagles, kites, falcons, buzzards, ravens, rooks, owls, hawks, ospreys, storks, herons, and cormorants.

Of course we remember the quail that God caused to rain down on the wandering Hebrews in the Exodus. They tired of manna, complained and grumbled, so God sent so many quail He said they would have them coming out their nostrils till the ungrateful grumblers were well and truly sick of it. (Numbers 11:20).

From the great birds like the eagle to the smallest of birds seemingly worth nothing, God has created them and they exist for His purposes. They are useful vehicles to consume the dead, metaphors expressing His care, to be bought by the poorest of the people for offerings, or just to admire their glorious majesty. The more we understand about the natural word as it existed in Bible times the more we can understand these allusions and metaphors.

Do you have a favorite bird? A favorite bird Bible verse?

hawk on hay.jpg
Hawk on hay in rural county. Photo by EPrata
Posted in natural history, Uncategorized

Natural History moment: Palm branches

How wonderful it must have been to a caravan of spice traders to climb the latest hill and see green instead of brown. Swaying palm branches clustered at oasis signaled water, refreshment, and perhaps, an arrival to their destination and an end to their journey.

When I was a freshman attending college way up in freezing Bangor, Maine, and I traveled to Florida during March/Winter break, the sight of the palm trees gracefully swaying in the blue skies at Palm Beach were a most welcome sight. They signaled warmth, and a relaxing of the strain to constantly keep warm.

Palm trees and their branches figure frequently in the Bible. The first mention of palm trees in the Bible is in Exodus 15:27.

Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water.

Ahhh, rest. Refreshment, shade. In the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary we read about palm trees.

EPrata photo

PALMS: Date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) was among the earliest cultivated trees. Five thousand-year-old inscriptions from Mesopotamia give instruction for their cultivation. Palms are characteristic of oases and watered places (Exod. 15:27; Num. 33:9). The fruit of the date palm is highly valued by desert travelers since it may be consumed fresh or else dried or made into cakes for a portable and easily storable food.

Jericho was known as the city of palms (Deut. 34:3; Judg. 1:16; 3:13). The judge Deborah rendered her decisions under a palm bearing her name (Judg. 4:5). The palm was a symbol of both beauty (Song 7:7) and prosperity (Ps. 92:12). Thus, images of palms were used in the decoration of the temple (1 Kings 6:29, 35; 7:36) and were part of Ezekiel’s vision of the new temple (Ezek. 40:16, 22, 26). Palms were used in the construction of the booths for the festival of booths (Lev. 23:40; Neh. 8:15). In John 12:13 the crowd used palm branches to welcome Jesus to Jerusalem.

When the biblical palm is mentioned, it’s usually the date palm. The palm tree in Florida is usually the royal palm. Here is a page that has photos of all the types.  After a storm in Florida there would be huge palm fronds all over the road. They are huge. A lot bigger and sturdier than they look while the frond is on the tree. The Road Crews would have to come pick them up or they’d end up presenting a hazard to bikers, motorcyclists, and even some cars.

They have similar characteristics like long feathery leaves-although when you are looking up at them they don’t seem that large on the tree. Once pruned or have fallen you quickly realize they are huge. Some get to be 12-15 ft long. That’s a lot of green and also one reason they are often used in the thatch roofs. With leaves this size they provide some real strength once woven together, allowing the roofs to last upwards of 10 years. (Source)

In Leviticus we read,

And you shall take on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees and boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. (Leviticus 23:40).

Other translations call the palm tree (along with willow, olive, and pine) luxuriant, impressive, majestic, goodly, or magnificent. The context of the Leviticus verse is that God is instructing the people how to make booths for the Festival of Booths AKA the Feast of Tabernacles. The palm leaves were not only used in thatching their booth, but were representative of the joy the Israelites would feel in honoring their LORD.

Speaking of honoring the Lord with palms, we read this in two other verses. Palms were laid on the ground under Jesus feet and waved at Him as he entered Jerusalem. At that time, palm fronds were part of the Israelites’ rejoicing:

So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13).

Tribulation saints in heaven will use palms to wave and praise the Lord.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10).

Palm trees of any type are beautiful to me. They are made more beautiful knowing how the LORD uses palm trees to provide refreshment, shade, and sustenance.

The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. (Psalm 92:12).
Praise the Lord for His greenery.

Posted in bible, natural history, pomegranates

Four hundred pomegranates!

I am reading 1st Kings. I read 1 Kings 6, 7 and 8. Solomon built the Temple, his Palace, and in chapter 8, prayed blessings unto God.

I was entranced in chapter 7 by the description of the temple artifacts. Whoa, the cherubim wings! Fifteen feet wide?! They are very powerful angels in real life and if they look like they do as represented in bronze in the description of the temple that are awesome!

Le Moyne’s Botanical Watercolors, 1585

I also got stuck on the detail the LORD put in the chapter about the 400 pomegranates.

“Hiram also made the pots, the shovels, and the basins. So Hiram finished all the work that he did for King Solomon on the house of the Lord: the two pillars, the two bowls of the capitals that were on the tops of the pillars, and the two latticeworks to cover the two bowls of the capitals that were on the tops of the pillars; and the four hundred pomegranates for the two latticeworks, two rows of pomegranates for each latticework, to cover the two bowls of the capitals that were on the pillars; the ten stands, and the ten basins on the stands; and the one sea, and the twelve oxen underneath the sea.” (1 Kings 7:40-44)

I got to thinking,
“Why 400 pomegranates?”
“What was Hiram thinking when he made all those pomegranates?”
“Did Hiram get tired of making 400 pomegranates?”
“Why pomegranates?”

The other questions can’t be answered this side of the veil, but I can always ask Hiram when I get there.

As to the pomegranates, I did find out a lot of stuff from the bible. Thanks to Wayne Blank of Keyway Bible Study, here is the lowdown on pomegranates.

The LORD was bringing the people out of bondage and delivering them to a land rich with provision. One of those provisions was fruit of the land, and one of those fruits was pomegranates.

photo credit: chany14 via photopin cc

“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.” (Deuteronomy 8:7-10)

Joel spoke of the pomegranate’s absence being the opposite of provision. When disobedience comes in, everything dries up. In Joel 1:12 we read,

“The vine dries up; the fig tree languishes. Pomegranate, palm, and apple, all the trees of the field are dried up, and gladness dries up from the children of man.”

Wikimedia commons

Back to 1 Kings, in addition to the pomegranates being cast in bronze for the temple adornment, the LORD had ordered Moses to direct the priests to make specific garments in which they would carry out their duties. The hem of the robe must be adorned with pomegranates.

“He also made the robe of the ephod woven all of blue, and the opening of the robe in it was like the opening in a garment, with a binding around the opening, so that it might not tear. On the hem of the robe they made pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. They also made bells of pure gold, and put the bells between the pomegranates all around the hem of the robe, between the pomegranates— bell and a pomegranate, a bell and a pomegranate around the hem of the robe for ministering, as the Lord had commanded Moses.” (Exodus 39:22-26)

The pomegranate is a good candidate for the forbidden fruit that was eaten in the Garden, though we cannot be sure. As a personal anecdote, we used to eat them at Thanksgiving. Every family has their traditions, and in ours, my mother always used to buy lots of shelled nuts and put them in a bowl with nutcrackers. Filberts, walnuts, pecans, almonds, Brazil nuts…they were all there and I enjoyed them each year. They were the one-per-year friends. Me and my cousins would sit around and pick nuts and laugh and talk.

She also used to put out a bowl of pomegranates. I don’t know why that particular fruit, but there they were. I remember them as being delicious, juicy, and refreshing.

If you enjoy studying flora and fauna, try a study of the bible’s natural history. The birds, insects, animals, and plants in the bible is a wonderful study. I can’t wait to find out why the Lord prefers pomegranates, what their symbolism is and what they mean to Him.

Meanwhile, I wonder…was a pomegranate the fruit that Eve and Adam ate in the Garden? Will a pomegranate tree be one of the fruit trees lining the River of Life in the Millennium?

“And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.” (Ezekiel 47:12)

LOL, that is the original “Fruit of the Month Club”!