‘Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters, that send forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass.’ – Isaiah 32:20
Note: all Biblical passages are taken from the Authorized King James Version.
Sustenance in the post-industrial, urbanized, secularized West is a condition that is almost exclusively taken for granted.
Gone are the days when forty acres and a mule were the primary means of providing for your wife and children. We have advanced far beyond that. Today, we are presented with a veritable Cornucopian Horn of plentiful, brightly colored (albeit plastic) food product! Jimmy Dean sausages for breakfast! A Big Mac and fries for lunch! A pre-cooked rotisserie chicken for dinner! Chips, cookies, and energy drinks as the need arises! Want the occasional bit of rabbit food? Head on down to Wal-Mart’s produce section and pick up a tomato or carrot or something! And with the advancement of GMO technologies, pretty soon we’ll be able to grow all of our calories in a Petri dish! Wow!!!
Yes, being part of the ‘consumer society’ seems to be working pretty well for us. As Christians, we might even remember to bless God for such abundance on occasion. But when we ceased to be producers, what exactly did we give up? Why did our ancestors who worked the land have an innate sense of Godly purpose and satisfaction that many of their descendants seem to lack? Could there be spiritual connotations in the natural growing cycle that serve a deeper purpose than to provide us with the means of maintaining these perishable bodies of clay?
To answer these questions, it is necessary to begin at the beginning.
If, as Isaiah 45:18 tells us, God created this world to be inhabited, clearly agrarianism represented God’s ideal for our people’s well-being. Genesis 2:5 states:
‘And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.’
Had hunting, fishing, and herb-gathering been sufficient for our welfare, working the soil would have been redundant. However, while these practices may sustain the life of an individual, they also necessitate nomadism and cannot lead to the creation of sustainable communities. Hence, it was only AFTER the implementation of tillage (and animal husbandry in Gen. 2:19-20) that a ‘help meet’ was created for Adam and the institution of marriage was sanctified in verse 24. Stability was established…though, by man’s debased nature, it would not last for long.
Prior to his expulsion from Eden, the new reality was explained by God to the tiller of the soil:
‘…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.’ (Gen. 3:17-19)
The key phrase here is ‘for thy sake’. By heeding the serpent rather than God, Adam and Eve had both merited death. However, rather than carrying out such a sentence, God chose instead to send them forth into the elements to tend an earth that did not yield her bounty as readily as Eden. This was not done to doom Adam and his descendants to a life of wearisome toil and drudgery! Rather, it was done so that we could learn spiritual truth from our relationship with the land that we could not glean from the natural opulence of Eden – fleshly man then, as now, has a difficult time grasping the ways of God without real world examples to guide us.
Henceforth, punitive measures against sinners would often take the form of banishment from the security of agrarianism. After wannabe-farmer Cain murdered his brother Abel, God’s sentence was brought forth:
‘When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength: a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth.’ (Gen. 4:12)
Perhaps not coincidentally, verse 17 of the same chapter informs us that Cain was also the world’s first builder of a city.
Following the exodus out of Egypt, God had two specific reasons for codifying the Law that was to act as the standard for Israel. First, and foremost, to proclaim His dominion over all the earth, and second, to establish the civil laws that would keep Israel prosperous, just, and out of harm’s way.
In keeping with the path that God wished Israel to follow, a goodly portion of the law deals specifically with agrarian practice and justice. Exodus 21:28-36 deals with the treatment of wayward oxen. Chapter 22, verses 1 through 15, deals with restitution for stolen livestock, purloined vineyards, and crop arson. Leviticus 11, listing the clean and unclean animals, blesses the consumption of ruminants while prohibiting the consumption of scavengers and rodents. Deuteronomy 24:6 forbids the taking of a man’s millstone as a pledge, while verses 20 and 21 forbid the gleaning of the remnants of the harvest for the benefit of widows and orphans. And so on and so forth.
We also see within the law examples of more sophisticated farming practices that have deeper connotations. One key example is to be found in Leviticus 25:3-6:
‘Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof; But in the seventh year shall be a Sabbath of rest unto the land, a Sabbath for the LORD; thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard. That which groweth of its own accord of thy harvest thou shalt not reap, neither gather the grapes of thy vine undressed: for it is a year of rest unto the land. And the Sabbath of the land shall be meat for you; for thee, and for thy servant, and for thy maid, and for thy hired servant, and for thy stranger that sojourneth with thee, And for thy cattle, and for the beast that are in thy land, shall all the increase thereof be meat.’
In the days before chemical fertilizers, allowing land to lay fallow for one season was an integral part in maintaining the fertility of the soil. But by declaring the seventh year a ‘Sabbath’ God is clearly bringing forth an allegory towards our own spiritual well-being as well. What better way to showcase our need for Christ, our Sabbath, than by seeing a plot of land ravaged by too many years of ill-use and gross exploitation?
Another such example can be found in Deuteronomy 22:9-10:
‘Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with divers seeds; lest the fruit of thy seed which thou hast sown, and the fruit of thy vineyard, be defiled. Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together.’
Throw a hodgepodge of seed into a garden and expect a weed patch. Yoke two animals of different sizes, strengths, temperaments, and staminas together, and expect an awesomely haphazard furrow. Mixing two perfectly natural elements together without due thought produces chaos, not order.
On a sidenote, I ask you: why should it be any different with our families?
And thus, having been reinstated in their land, Israel’s agrarian culture was well-established. The bounty of a man’s crops and livestock were considered a key ingredient of God’s blessings, inasmuch as it enabled a man to provide for the greatest blessing of all, his own family. Even the sacrificial ordinances reflected this culture. The underlying assumption was, if Israel continued to do things God’s way, there would be ample supplies of beasts and meal to provide for the daily burnt offerings, as well as individual sin offerings, heave offerings, freewill offerings, etc.
However, just as the Old Testament would have been meaningless had Christ not fulfilled it, so too would the natural cycle have remained an incomprehensible phenomenon without His triumph over death through His sacrifice.
The Gospels and the Epistles
During His earthly ministry, Christ spake in parables of a largely agricultural nature in order to explain His purpose to the disciples. These parables resonated as much with the tribute collector Matthew and the physician Luke as they did with the fishermen Peter and Andrew.
Hence, we have the parable of the sower of Matthew 13, which teaches us that despite our best endeavors in taking God’s Word forth, we cannot expect every seed to land in fertile ground and produce fruit. The degree to which a seed becomes productive is largely dependent on the quality and depth of the soil upon which it lands. A diligent sower may be able to use discernment in where best to broadcast his seed, but the end results are largely out of his hands. Man is reminded again that he does not have as much control over his environment as he would like to possess.
Later on in that same chapter, we are presented with the parable of the tares amongst the good seed. The lesson to be learned is that despite our best efforts, our enemies, as weeds, will infiltrate our ranks and attempt to sow discord. God, as the True and Infallible Reaper, will see to it that such will be bundled together and burned so that they may not be allowed to taint the good seed for Eternity.
The harvest of the end times also provides the rationale for Matt. 24:20, which speaks of those days:
‘But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter…’
No grain is harvested in the winter. If you are too eager to follow the first entity claiming to be Christ, expect to be bundled up and burned alongside the tares.
In His dealings with the Pharisees, Christ was no less likely to speak in such parables. Witness Luke 14:3-6:
‘And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day? And they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go; And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the Sabbath day? And they could not answer him again to these things.’
Common sense not being a trait to be found in large quantities amongst the ‘religious’, it’s no wonder they were at a loss for words!
Upon His resurrection, the writers of the epistles would continue in this vein. For example, Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:35-38 describes our resurrection in this way:
‘But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come? Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die: And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain: But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to every seed his own body.’
For a seed to take root and prosper, the outer layers must first die to provide the initial nutrient value for the embryo to feed off of and become a fruit-bearing plant. Such is the purpose of our lives. For us to partake of God’s presence in Eternity, it is necessary to shed these coverings of dust and acquire our far more durable spiritual bodies. To live forever in the flesh would be akin to a seed sitting dormant in bare ground forever – not much good for anything!
Continuing on that theme, James 5:7 tells us:
‘Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.’
The early rain acts as the catalyst for the embryo to sprout, while the latter rain nourishes the embryo and allows it to flourish. Both are required in their due season if the plant is to prosper. Likewise, after the fundamentals of God’s word are implanted within us, we require deeper and deeper truths in order for us to fully develop and go forth unto the world as bearers of good fruit.
Finally, what is the end result of all our endeavors? According to Revelation 22:2:
‘In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.’
Adam was separated from the tree of life, but through Christ we are allowed to return and partake of its never-ending succulence. And thus the circle is complete.
The word ‘supernatural’ can be described as ‘beyond natural’. If a Christian truly believes that God is supernatural, it only stands to reason that He would use the natural things of this world as the best possible examples of how His plan for one and all times will operate.
Yet, with our people long used to indolence and ease, how can we hope to grasp this?
How can we have dominion over the earth if we have no idea how the growing cycle works?
How can we fill the spiritual void in our lives by filling up on processed crap ‘fude’ that came out of a factory and not the soil?
How could we have thrown away such a rich heritage?
The ‘urban peasant’ who yearns to start a little herb garden is not merely looking for a secure food supply. He is also searching for a sense of purpose and mission that cannot be obtained in a cubicle. Even if he does not realize it consciously, he yearns to return to God’s ways.
Remember that the next time you see some 400-pound blob scarfing down nachos and beer at the Cowboys game and wonder why he looks so miserable.