Plums And Roses

I’m thinking about going all-medieval on my plum trees when winter finally rolls around this year, cutting branches and trunks like Sherman marching through Georgia. If memory serves me correctly, my two trees are almost fifteen years old at this point, and have yet to bear anything even remotely resembling what others would call substantial fruit. I’ll confess most of the blame can be laid at my feet—I do not tend to them in the manner I should. Especially if I really expect plum jelly or pies during tepid, early summer months when the trees were designed by their creator to provide said fruit. I’m supposed to spray the early spring buds with some sort of concoction the old-timers around here swear by. I’m supposed to prune them back in the fall, and mulch their bases with composted manure. Too much trouble, I say. Besides, other than grabbing and eating a plum off a tree while mowing or idly walking through the yard, I’m not much of a plum-eater when it comes right down to it.

Yet by the same token, I tend my roses in a manner that borders on the fanatical and all to no avail. If you want to see prize-winning tea-roses or beautiful floribundas; you need to look elsewhere and not on my corner of Johnson Hill. The green-thumb does not reside in my genes, although it is not due to a portent lack of effort on my part.

I’ve witnessed those poor shrubs physically cringe when they see me coming, pruning shears and spray bottle in hand. Oh no! He’s back again, duck and cover! OK, maybe not that bad, but you get my drift. I dead-head my roses, I mulch and water them, I spray their leaves with expensive Neem oil in a thankless effort to fend off black spot and rust. In return, I’m rewarded with an occasional bloom from time to time, but nothing like the label advertised when I originally planted them. (I've kept the labels to identify them, and those faded, yellow pictures taunt my gardening-ego mercilessly when I garner the courage to view them!)

The other night I sat on the porch and listened to my roses taunting the plum trees, chiding them on how the gardner was going to chop them down for not producing. (I don’t know how they got wind of the plan I expressed here earlier, but they did…) The plum trees dripped moisture from their fruit-barren limbs in response; their silvery leaves shining sadly in the moonlight. The roses explained how the gardener tended them, pruning and painstakingly caring for them, all the while ignoring those nearby fruit trees due to their apparent lack of worth. The roses seethed in their arrogance, knowing how patiently the gardener sacrificed time and energy for their benefit, but not so much on the plum trees.

Those silly roses will neither understand nor comprehend it when the day comes (and it will) where I will grow weary of tending their unrepentant tendrils, and get out my shovel (or tractor) and destroy them all. Maybe I’ll plant lilies in their place—they seem to like our humid, blast-furnace-akin summers enough to thrive in those conditions, and certainly with a lot less hassle to boot.

But the plum trees really have to go, too. It’s in the cards. And it’s not without precedent:

There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Luke 13:1-5

Jesus begins a parable by reminding his listeners of two recent tragedies listed among the current events of the time. One event happened when Pilate sent in the troops and wiped out a host of Galilean worshipers that were in the process of making their sacrifices in the Temple. Those supposedly-righteous Jews had been exterminated during the middle of a worship service! Meanwhile, in another part of the city, a tower fell and killed eighteen people near the Pool of Siloam, where the crippled outcasts gathered waiting for a miracle—the only possibility that could save them from their destitute lives. Jesus reminds his listeners that unless they repented, they were also going to perish despite their prominent standing in the community. At that point Jesus launches into the Parable of the Fig Tree, where a gardener pleads with the master for one more year to work with a barren fig tree before chopping it down.

It’s a reminder to me that due to the spiritual blessings that have been bestowed upon me as a Christian, I must be careful. Walking with G_d on a daily basis leaves no room for perceived self-righteousness on my part: I must bear fruit. Except for His grace, I am no better than the addict down the road crippled by chemical dependency, or the vilest sinner that avoids church services at any cost. Unless we all repent, a harsh judgment awaits each of us in like manner.

Meanwhile, the Master Gardener continues to prune and mulch me. He dead-heads my blooms in order to make me flower even more so. He anoints my heart with expensive oil. In return, He expects good works, not to save me, but as a noticeable result of my being saved by His matchless grace in the first place. He expects me to bear fruit, and if not, then he will trim me, cutting deeper into my soul with his Word, while chastening me with His Spirit. But in the end I must bear fruit. (Galatians 5:22-23) You see, it’s required of me to do so.

It’s a sobering thought to know that when I smugly point my self-righteous fingers at others, I better be very aware of what I am doing in my own life.

Plum pudding, anyone?

A Righteous Babe

Young Adult Sunday School Lesson – July 17, 2001

It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.” Proverbs 25:2

I’ve found myself fascinated this week while studying the story of Abigail as it’s recorded in chapter 25 of the book of First Samuel in the Bible. The story has it all—a beautiful, righteous woman, a future king that is coming in judgment, and the demise of a so-called ‘son of Belial’ named Nabal. It’s a good read and takes only a few minutes to do so, although on the surface it may appear to be merely one more story among many chronicling the exploits of David while on the run from King Saul. This story begins immediately following the death of David's mentor, the prophet Samuel.

While in hiding near Mount Carmel with his motley band of 600 followers, David forms a protective alliance with the shepherds that are in charge of Nabal’s sheep. One of the shepherds refers to David and his men as a ‘wall’ to them, guarding them against trouble in a time much different than our day—a time when emergency help was not available via a three-digit phone call.

The story takes place during the season of the year when sheep were to be sheared; a time of feasting and celebration. At this time, Nabal had a lot to celebrate—he was rich and the year’s profits were truly laid out on the table for his own personal satisfaction. He also had a wife that, according to the Talmud, was one of the four most beautiful women in all of Jewish history. (The other three were Sarah, Rahab, and Esther) Let’s just say that it was good to be Nabal and he had a lot to be thankful for, but giving thanks was the farthest thing from his mind during the annual celebration. You see, in Hebrew, the name ‘Nabal’ means ‘a fool’, and he made it a point to live up to his name in the story that has been recorded for us here. One other factor worth mentioning here, in addition to being noted by name as a fool, Nabal is referred to as a ‘son of Belial’. Israelites that were Hebrew in name-only were commonly referred to in these terms. What this means is that Nabal, although a descendent of righteous Caleb, refused to obey the G_d of his people and most likely was not even circumcised. Because Caleb’s wayward children had intermarried against the Lord’s warning with the Kennites, this was altogether possible as a contributing factor as to why Nabal lived his life this way. (II Corinthians 6:14)

David sends messengers to ask Nabal for any provisions he could spare to feed and sustain his men in the wilderness, not a magnanimous request once you consider David had protected the very shepherds and sheep Nabal now found himself profiting from. Nabal saw it otherwise, asking ‘who is David’ and inferring that he was simply a runaway king-wannabe, probably thinking David would not dare rock the boat because King Saul was on his tail and a simple message from Nabal could expose David’s secret hiding place near Mount Carmel.

When his messengers returned and informed David of Nabal’s response, he became livid with rage. He orders his men to ‘get their swords’ and sets out to destroy Nabal, specifically all of the male members of his family. Oddly enough, at this time Nabal has no idea of the response of David because he has a drunken feast to attend.

One of his shepherds mentions the unfolding scenario of impending doom to Abigail, Nabal’s beautiful wife. The shepherd advises her that Nabal is unreachable, and that she needs to do something to avert the disaster that he knows is coming. She responds by loading up donkeys with two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, five seahs of roasted grain, a hundred cakes of raisins and two hundred cakes of pressed figs—the best she has to offer. Then she tells her servants, "Go on ahead; I'll follow you." But she does not tell her foolish husband what she is doing.

She meets David and his men in a ravine, and quickly gets off her donkey and bows before the future King of Israel. Immediately she takes all of the blame upon herself, and requests permission to speak, and moreover, she asks David to hear what she has to say. She reminds David that G_d has been with him throughout his life and fights his battles for him—evidently she was aware of current events and how the saga of David and Saul had been playing out. She also calls to remembrance in a subtle way David’s famous confrontation with Goliath, by stating that G_d will hurl David’s enemies away from him as if from the middle of a sling. She tells David that one day she knows he will be king, and that surely he does not want to have on his conscious the staggering burden of bloodshed that results from avenging himself needlessly. When you read this speech by Abigail, it appears to be a foretelling of Nathan’s prophecy in chapter 7 of Second Samuel. I think the correct term is an ‘adumbration’. (Passed spell-check, gotta be right!)

His mood now softened, David praises Abigail for her righteousness in the matter, and blesses her for keeping him from committing bloodshed and mayhem as a result of his anger. He tells her to go home in peace, because he has heard her words and granted her request. It’s a turning point in David’s life: he learns that in order to rule over a kingdom he will need to depend on G_d and be much less brash in his actions.

When Abigail arrives back home, Nabal is drunk and sloppy from the feast he has thrown, so she does not tell him what has transpired until the next morning. When she finally informs him of his ‘near miss’, he has a heart attack and dies ten days later. Meanwhile, David hears of Nabal’s death, and sends for Abigail, asking her to become his wife. She quickly accepts! I found this odd as there does not appear to very much grief or a prescribed period of mourning on the part of Abigail—but then again, Nabal was a fool. The suddenness of the bridegroom calling for his bride reminds me of something else in the Bible, though, a future event that is very shortly going to happen. Think about it before class, yet there is a whole lot more hidden here for us to search out!

PAT Attempt: What was the name of Abigail and David’s son?