dweller by the river

sojourner of earth attempting to understand the journey home

Tag: Greek/Hebrew studies

The Planting of the Lord

Many years ago, I wrote a paper on the garden as one of the most important tropes in scripture. The project traced its evolution from Eden to the New Jerusalem, and swept broadly through related tropes like the city, the woman and the bride, giving a brief overview of the overlapping roles and epochs of humanity, Israel, and the Church (in this blog I use “church” to refer to human institutions, and “Church” to refer to the universal body of Christ).

The story of the Bible can be analysed from many angles and interpreted in many ways, one of which is linked to the parallel that God draws between man and plant life. Allegorical and metaphorical uses of plants abound in scripture, and as someone who’s always been fascinated with plants and who only recently found success in cultivating them, I find the lure of this relatively uncharted research terrain is growing again.

I find it good to keep in mind while studying the Word that the English translations we hold in our hands are not the original text. Unless you take time and make the effort to look a little deeper by studying a little bit of Hebrew and Greek (the languages of the original texts), I don’t think you will get a truly accurate picture of what we’re supposed to be receiving from it.

Personally, I believe that just as marriage is God’s way of helping finite and limited humans approach an understanding of the mysteries of the soul’s true relationship with God in its final perfection, so too do many of humanity’s interactive relationships with creation and one another point us to other important lessons about the spirit realm.

So what does it mean to be “the planting of the Lord” (Isaiah 61:3), and what can we learn about our role in relation to Him as the planter/gardener by studying and practising the Word and botany?

We start with the plant. What is a plant? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “A living organism of the kind exemplified by trees, shrubs, herbs, grasses, ferns, and mosses, typically growing in a permanent site, absorbing water and inorganic substances through its roots, and synthesizing nutrients in its leaves by photosynthesis using the green pigment chlorophyll.”

Basically, it’s a living thing that is unable to decide its own location and surroundings, and which needs an anchorage site, sunlight, water and air. None of these necessary things can be affected by the plant in any way – it’s dependent. The only thing the plant does is take in what it needs, and if it doesn’t get what it needs or what it gets is sub-par or contaminated, it will simply suffer. Its only job or reason for existing is to grow and reproduce.

I’m reminded of the title of a friend’s blog, Bloom Where You’re Planted. It’s practically a duty, when you realise that you’re just, well, a cultivar. See? A search through the full text of the New King James Version brings up six different Hebrew words and one Greek word for “plant” (the noun):

chatsiyr – grass, leek, green grass, herbage; of the quickly perishing
yowneq – sucker, suckling, sapling, young plant
neta – plantation, plant, planting
tsemach – sprout, growth, branch, shoot, growth (of process)
shelach – weapon, missile, sprout, shoot
saruwq – vine tendrils or clusters
phyteia
– a planting, a thing planted, a plant

Way to go. Exciting definitions. We aren’t often referred to as trees, either. I do find it interesting, though, that shelach also means “weapon” and “missile”. Although I haven’t yet tried to discover when those meanings are used (if at all), it hints of a sort of latent potential: We can be dangerous if we’re properly grown.

Anyway, as cultivated plants, we’re planted somewhere, somewhen (yes I know that’s not really a word, but you get the point). And four Hebrew words and one Greek word that have been translated as “plant” (the verb) or “the planting of” (the noun resulting directly from the verb):

matta – place or act of planting; planting; plantation
nata
– to plant, fasten, fix, establish
nathan
– to give, bestow, grant, permit, ascribe, employ, devote, consecrate, dedicate, pay wages, sell, exchange, lend, commit, entrust, give over, deliver up, yield produce, requite to, report, mention, utter, stretch out, extend
shathal
– to plant, transplant; a poetic word

phyteuo
– to plant

It’s interesting how we (the plant/planted) have no active part to play and that even when we’ve been planted, the sense is that even that is undeserved and unearned and only because the gardener has given us permission to live and grow. And with the use of shathal, well – some of us might get moved around. I get the sense that those who refuse to acknowledge Him are living on sufferance.

Like I mentioned in an Aside recently, it’s not a stretch to pick up on the fact that in scripture, Jesus is often referred to as a rock and the Sun of Righteousness, the Holy Spirit is likened to wind or air, God is called the Father of Lights, and Jesus speaks of creating springs of living water in believers – the gift of the Holy Spirit. And the Word itself is often referred to as water. These are all freely available to us – our job is to take them in.

Wherever we are at any particular point in time, there will be available to us what we need to live. “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). And that really makes me think of a passage I’d forgotten about till now:

1 Corinthians 7:17–24, NKJV
17But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches. 18Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. 19Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. 20Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called. 21Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it. 22For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave. 23You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. 24Brethren, let each one remain with God in that state in which he was called.

As someone who’s recently started caring for plants, a few things have become quite obvious to me. I really do want to give them what they need to thrive. I do my best to do so. I watch them carefully. I get upset if something harms them (bugs, etc.) and go on a rampage getting rid of the source of the trouble. And I am inordinately pleased when they grow and flower and reproduce.

If I feel this way about the plantings of my hands, how much more does God feel about me, the planting of His hands?

The Fall of Man and The Curse—Part 1

Okay, I’m supposed to be writing one post every week but clearly I have problems with both discipline and clarity of thought when it comes to writing, these days. It’s been way too long since I took time out specifically to research and write, so I supposed it will take a while for me to get into a good rhythm.

A question that has been flitting in and out of my mind for the past few weeks has been the actual consequence of Adam’s (and Eve’s) first sin—what, really, were the contents of that terrible first curse?

Death, some say. God told Adam and Eve that they could eat of every tree in Eden except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, adding that in the day they ate of it they would surely die. And they died a spiritual death as a result of their disobedience, resulting in the need for Jesus’ eventual redemptive sacrifice. And as a result of their sin, too, women are cursed to be in subordination to men, and to suffer in childbearing, and men are cursed with hard labour when before, work was not work as we know it but a joyful and relaxing activity… and all the earth was also cursed, and all life has been degenerating through the ages to this day, groaning for the Day of the Lord.

Sound familiar?

But… really? I don’t want to appear heretical and I’m not saying this just to be controversial, but when I sit down and read the passages slowly and carefully, in not just one but a few translations of the text, that doesn’t quite seem the case. My favourite study version is the Amplified Version, but here I’m referencing the old King James Version and the New American Standard Bible.

 Genesis 2: 16–17 (KJV)
And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

 Genesis 3: 14, 16–19 (KJV)
And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:
Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

Genesis 2: 16–17 (NASB)
The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely;
but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

Genesis 3: 14, 16–19 (NASB)
The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you will go, and dust you will eat all the days of your life;
To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children; yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.
“Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field;
By the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

For those who need a reminder of what humanity was given food-wise from the beginning, or who are just interested and want to know:

Genesis 1:29 (NKJV)
And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food.

A curse is defined in the Oxford dictionary as “a solemn utterance intended to invoke a supernatural power to inflict harm or punishment on someone or something”. There are two Hebrew words for “curse”—arar and qalal—and it is arar that is used in the passage above. Some scholars say arar is the more formal and more serious term.

General reading on the Hebrew concept of “curse” reveals that it’s usually used to indicate one’s position in relation to a lack or absence of God’s favour, and more rarely the presence of His disfavour. Qalal apparently also carries the idea of being made light and contemptible, or to be dishonoured and lightly esteemed.

Clearly the original Hebrew meaning and the modern English meaning don’t quite match. Our English understanding involves the addition of a negative; in the original Hebrew, it actually involves the removal of a positive. There’s a big difference!

So what I now understand from the passages is this (and I’m not saying that anyone should agree; just that this is what I get):

One: Death takes a few forms and occurs at different levels as Adam and Eve clearly lost (gained?) something when they ate the fruit, but they obviously didn’t fall down dead. Physical death is arguably part of it, but in what way and to what extent? What I do think, however, is that mankind wasn’t created immortal—why else would God put the Tree of Life in Eden and later remove Adam and Eve from its presence, citing immortality as the reason? My guess is that we had a lifespan to begin with, but maybe ageing and decay wasn’t a part of the original deal…

Two: It seems like death wasn’t a pronounced curse per se, but a natural result/consequence of eating from that particular tree. God never said “If you eat it I will curse you”; He just said hey, if you eat from that tree, you’ll die. And He didn’t say, “Because of this sin you will return to the dust.” He said, in effect, “You’ll continue to suffer the effects of the curse I’ve spoken over the ground, until the time comes when you return to the dust.” And returning to the English/Hebrew translation issue, I get the feeling that it’s about the disobedience (and what was behind it) and not the eating-from-the-tree per se that resulted in God’s blessing/favour being removed.

 Three: Women are more prone to emotional lows and depression than men, fertility is increased, and childbirth has become laborious and painful, as a result of the curse — there’s no question that this was a pronouncement over Eve because of the part she played in the Fall. So womankind is cursed. “Properly” so.

 Four: Adam/Mankind was not directly cursed. It was the ground that was cursed for Adam’s sin — not him. For all that we have been taught about the man’s sin being greater than the woman’s because he was the one to receive that one rule directly from God and he was there when she received and gave in to temptation, we’re faced here with the fact that based on a simple literal reading of the text, God held Adam less culpable than woman… or at least, it seems so.

 Five: The ground — the earth — is cursed. And man’s “curse” is really much more of a consequence than an actual curse… at least it looks that way right now, I freely admit that my research is only just starting on this topic.

So… what significance does this ultimately have? Well, I don’t know yet. But I’m going to be continuing this study because I feel that to truly understand what Christ’s sacrifice at Calvary meant, and what we are saved from, we need to know what we fell from.