When we purchased our brand new car in September last year, we immediately got a comprehensive insurance policy on it. When the provider was running through the benefits of the policy she said that if the car was in a major crash in the first 12 months, the company would provide a brand new 2019 model.
This was part of the ‘new for old’ insurance benefit. We don’t often put these words together.
When the New Year rolls around, we say – ‘Out with the old’ and ‘In with the new. In the bible we read about the dangers of putting new win in old win skins (Matthew 9:17). We talk about the old covenant and the new Covenant and the Old Testament and the New Testament sometimes as if they are two totally different things – not linked at all.
But we understand we are a product of what has preceded us (the old), in a new form, but laced with the DNA, the culture, the religion, the beliefs, the society, the heritage into which we were born.
From there we adopt, modify, change, replicate, renew or deny the past – but it stands as our foundation point.
I take great pleasure in studying the Bible and the intricacies and patterns that are often found when we dare to go deeper into the histories, the songs, the parables, the chronologies, the laws, etc.
When I discover new things that deepen my faith and understanding – it is like – what was old is new again.
I pray that in 2019 you will get into a group Bible study that will help you see the magnificence of God and God’s creativity to open up our mind, heart and Spirit in continually new ways from old writings.
Five years ago Thea and I went on a study tour to Israel. New insights were opened up to us in many ways.
Today we will look at what was made new through three plants mentioned in the Old and New Testaments.
The first is the Sycamore fig tree.
Read NIV Luke 19:1-10.
Zacchaeus the Tax Collector
19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
The story of Zacchaeus – the corrupt tax collector – sitting in a sycamore fig tree in order to get a better view of Jesus as he passed by the crowd, in a well-known New Testament reading.
We saw a sycamore tree at Niet Kedum – outside Tel Aviv – and one of our travelling companions climbed it (show photo).
Because its main branches grow sideways and are straight – it is an ideal middle sized tree to sit in. Its timber is used for building but it was not native to Israel, but originally imported from Egypt.
Egypt, as we know, was not highly regarded by the Israelites from the Exodus times.
Neither was a tax collector highly regarded. The tree was an outsider, so was Zacchaeus. The original audience would have understood these metaphors – to emphasise the ‘small in stature’ (verse 3) status of Zacchaeus. Today it reminds me of the signs God puts in our way to get us on board with the story.
Next we hear about the thorn bush or bramble – also known as the Crown of Thorns tree.
This is what we read in Judges 9:5-15
5 He went to his father’s home in Ophrah and on one stone murdered his seventy brothers, the sons of Jerub-Baal. But Jotham, the youngest son of Jerub-Baal, escaped by hiding.
6 Then all the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo gathered beside the great tree at the pillar in Shechem to crown Abimelek king.
7 When Jotham was told about this, he climbed up on the top of Mount Gerizim and shouted to them, “Listen to me, citizens of Shechem, so that God may listen to you.
8 One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, ‘Be our king.’
9 “But the olive tree answered, ‘Should I give up my oil, by which both gods and humans are honoured, to hold sway over the trees?’
10 “Next, the trees said to the fig tree, ‘Come and be our king.’
11 “But the fig tree replied, ‘Should I give up my fruit, so good and sweet, to hold sway over the trees?’
12 “Then the trees said to the vine, ‘Come and be our king.’
13 “But the vine answered, ‘Should I give up my wine, which cheers both gods and humans, to hold sway over the trees?’
14 “Finally all the trees said to the thornbush, ‘Come and be our king.’
15 “The thornbush said to the trees, ‘If you really want to anoint me king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, then let fire come out of the thornbush and consume the cedars of Lebanon!’
This is a story of intrigue, murder and prophesy with the Thorn tree as the instrument of meaning.
Jotham – the surviving son of the family massacred by political leaders who wished to place the eldest son Abimelech on the throne. Jotham prophesised and cursed the songs of Baal – again in a metaphor understood by the people then and helpful for us now.
Of all the noble and tall trees, or productive vines, it is the stunted and thorny bush that Abimelech and his cronies represent. The bush does not provide refuge or shade (nor will Abimelech for his people). The thorns form backward or inward along the branches – meaning the inside of the bush is more deadly than the outside.
It has a massive root system, which means nothing can grow under it or around it. It creates a barren space and thus like Abimelech’s reign – it will produce no offspring known as the Crown of Thorns bush for it one and only appearance in the New Testament – it easily translates to the image of Jesus being the one and only – without successors after him.
Finally today we come to the humble and aromatic plant from the mint family – the hyssop
We hear of hyssop used over and over again – and the images are rich when we connect the dots to see the new big picture.
We remember in John 19:28 that a hyssop stick is lifted up to the dying Jesus with a sponge of sour wine. Is it more than random to record the stick being a ‘hyssop stick’?
Let’s consider this. It is a common plant that grows anywhere. It needs little water or soil. It is used as an herbal medicine, a spice and even a poultice that lepers applied to their sores.
In Numbers 19 and Leviticus 14 the twigs are used for sprinkling water in ancient Jewish religious rites. King David refers to it as a humble plant that really is a kingly plant compared to the Cedars of Lebanon that he brought for buildings. In Psalm 51 David refers to hyssop – which like a king must bring humility, healing and purity. The very aspect of our Lord dying upon the cross.
Of course, the greatest ‘hyssop’ reference that spans the Old and New Testament is found in Exodus 12:21-25 when hyssop bunches – dipped in Lamb’s blood – were used by the Israelites to paint their door posts and lintels, so they would be spared from the Angel of death.
Just as the Old Covenant was signed with lamb’s blood and sacrifice upon the cross – humble, healing, purifying hyssop enriches the image of God’s covenant and persistence with and for us.
If God can show us how such a humble plant as hyssop can be used to extend the kingdom of God, imagine what he can do with humble servants such as you and me.
More on – new for old – in the scriptures next week.