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THE GARNERING OF THE LEAST GRAIN
‘I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth.’
There is double comfort here, as to others and as to ourselves.
I. As to others.—Have not some of us had a scarcely detected notion as if to some extent the salvation of others depended upon our efforts? Of course, we never put it in so many words; but has there not been something of a feeling that if we tried very hard to win a soul we should succeed, and if we did not try quite enough it would get lost? And this has made our service anxious and burdensome. Cannot we trust Him Whom the Father trusted with the tremendous work of redemption? Shall He not do right? Cannot we trust the Good Shepherd about His own sheep? Why should it actually seem harder to trust Him about His own affairs than about our own? ‘Trust in Him at all times,’ includes the time when we almost fancy the salvation of a dear one depends on our little bits of prayers and efforts. Not that this trust will tend to easy-going idleness. It never does this when it is real. The deepest trust leads to the most powerful action. It is the silencing oil that makes the machine obey the motive power with greatest readiness and result.
II. Then the comfort for ourselves.—Satan has desired to have us, that he may sift us as wheat; but the Lord Himself keeps the sieve in His own hand, and pledges His word that not the least grain shall fall on the earth.
I am so glad of that word, ‘not the least’ ; not even me, though less than the least of all saints, though having only the claim of being a sinner.
(1) ‘This prophecy about the sifting of Israel among the nations is the story of eighteen centuries of the Christian era. God seems to have cast away His people whom He foreknew. As the farmer throws up the grain against the wind, so has God sifted them, yet the nation has remained intact. Not the least grain has been unnoticed or forgotten. Surely God will yet sow the unmowed grain in the soil of all the earth, and harvests of souls shall result.’
(2) ‘A marvellous chapter. It begins with an announcement of the certainty of the punishment of the guilty. Let them climb never so high, or burrow never so deep; let them scale the loftiest hills, or plumb the deepest seas, yet would vengeance follow and overtake them. What hope is there for the sinner to contend successfully against Him, Who builds His chambers in the heavens, and founds His vaults upon the earth, and at Whose bidding the waves roll in upon the land? The great desolations which have befallen the mighty nations and cities of former days, prove how strict God is to mark iniquity.’
THE CONTINUITY OF HARVEST
‘The plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed.’
God does not merely allow man to live. Besides life, He bestows blessings. He gives man all that is needful—food, clothing, and enjoyment. By an annual miracle He sends the products which provide sustenance and clothing, and contribute to man’s pleasure. And yet, with all this, to hear a disobedient man whom God permits to live in the face of his disobedience—yea, to whom He gives the necessaries and comforts of life, to hear such an one complain, must fill us with wonder how God can strive with him and still bestow on him many mercies. Many, did I say? God does not merely give man many mercies, but He lavishes upon him abundant blessings. He gives not, as man gives, sparingly. God gives abundantly. Not merely what we ask or what we want, but more, far more than we need, and infinitely more than we deserve. This was the promise of old that there should be ‘showers of blessing’—that ‘seedtime and harvest should not cease’—that the ‘old store’ should not be consumed before the new had come—that the supply of our wants should be so rich and so abundant, that the ploughman should overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed. Taking into account all this—that man is permitted to live on earth—that God supplies all his needs, yea, gives generously and abundantly, and that all the time man is an undeserving and disobedient sinner—we ask, Can the language of complaint ever come from his lips? Complaint! nay, must it not be the language of the warmest gratitude, faith, and submission, and ought not the earth that has yielded up her harvest to be one great altar upon which this day the sacrifice of thanksgiving and the song of praise should ascend to Jehovah’s throne? For has not God bestowed on us in unbroken succession the gifts of the earth, and have we not an earnest that as His blessings have been, so they will be, ‘the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed.’ For what is this but to say that the harvest shall be more than our wants—that one supply shall come in before another is exhausted, that that which was first sown shall be ready to reap before the ploughman has finished his task, and that the vintage shall extend up to seedtime again; in short, that there shall be no gap in the abundance of the gifts God may bestow?
I. In material things this is so.—The new always comes in before the old is eaten up. The ground was once cursed for the disobedience of the chosen parent of our race. It was once again blessed when God said He would no more curse it for man’s sake, but would draw man by the bands of love and by the gracious influences of fruitful seasons; that while the earth remained, seedtime and harvest should not cease; that His sun should rise even upon the evil, and His rain fall on the just and unjust. Hence it has ever been that the product of one harvest has not been consumed until another has been reaped, that from the time of Noah until this time, the earth has yielded its increase in unbroken succession, and though one harvest may be scanty and another abundant, still, the ploughman has overtaken the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed. There has been enough and more than enough, and ere the last year’s produce is consumed the present harvest yields its increase. How merciful and loving is our Heavenly Father then that without fail His good things flow to us in unbroken order,—that year by year, day by day, comes to us our bread, that it may supply us with the refreshment nature requires, that so through God’s grace we may have strength to glorify Him by our resistance of sin, and our cleaving unto holiness. And what is this but to say that the continuity of harvest here is intended to be a means of preparing us for an eternal state hereafter, when earthly harvests will be unnecessary, and when body and soul will be continually strengthened and refreshed through Him Who loved us—even Christ our life?
II. And what is true of the material harvest is no less true of the spiritual one.—One supply comes in before another is exhausted. The treasures of heaven which He bestows upon earth are far more than our needs. Do we seek for pardon of sin? He not only bestows pardon, but the fatted calf is killed, the robe is put on us, and the ring is given. Do we long after a better knowledge of Him? He reveals Himself to us in various mercies and blessings, in ways and at times we thought not of. Do we pray for His Holy Spirit? He gives it to those who ask it, and whenever they ask it. Do we yearn for His love? He tells us He loves us with an everlasting love. There may be but a handful of meal and a little oil in the cruse, but before even that is consumed, the true Elijah whispers, the barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail. Whenever has God failed to supply us with the strength and courage of grace needful to our walk in life, and though the sky look dark and lowering, when has God failed to send the ray of sunshine to cheer our almost drooping spirits? All God’s spiritual gifts are abundant. Before one blessing is exhausted another is given.
If, then, God’s promise was that ‘the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed’—that His gifts and blessings shall come in unbroken order—that before one is exhausted another shall be supplied; and the harvests of earthly and heavenly things shall be given to us in need, and without ever failing, shall not the language of complaint give place to that of heartfelt praise?
III. With God’s promise thus before us— with a tangible proof of it in the fruits of this harvest— our duty becomes threefold, and at this season are we summoned to—
(1) Gratitude. Our sinfulness and disobedience render us undeserving of the least of God’s mercies—we have no claim or right to the fruits of God’s earth, and whether the harvest be scanty or abundant it matters not as regards our duty. Sufficient it is that the new has come in before the old has been exhausted, and it is our work to accept the change with thankfulness. We are apt to complain if the harvest is not up to our standard. Unconsciously we find ourselves dictating what God ought to have done. It seems hard to see our corn or hay or crops destroyed, or their abundance checked, and we forget we deserve nothing but punishment for our worldliness and sin, and are not satisfied with sufficient for our wants. Can we return any of God’s benefits? Can we pay back in kind? Surely not. Then let us pay in the coin most easily rendered, let us praise Him in thought and word,—let us hold Him in honour and reverence—let us acknowledge and receive His benefits with good feeling in all our poor earthly ways, and strive to show Him heartfelt gratitude. God looks for such—God expects it. Refuse it!—hear His Word: ‘What could have been done more to My vineyard, that I have not done in it? I will take away the hedge thereof, and break down the wall thereof, and I will lay it waste’ ( Isaiah 5:4-6).
(2) Confidence. That if His gifts have hitherto come in regular order we may sit down and rest in God’s loving guardianship of, and thought for, us. If the old is nearly exhausted, His promise remains true that ‘the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed’; and God, humanly speaking, does all He can to engender this confidence, and we must fulfil our own tasks faithfully and industriously. What was the tabernacle in the wilderness but for the presence of God, that by being in Israel’s midst He might make them feel confident. What God has bestowed, let us have a sure confidence He still will continue to send us. Let us trust Him, that for His own glory and for our good, He will consummate many things that man does not deserve, until we arrive at fruition.
(3) Submission. Be satisfied with what you have, and be ready to give it up whenever newer harvests ripen. Conformity to the will of God is the first law of life. We cannot change that will, we cannot escape it; let us submit to it. However limited some products of this harvest may be, however abundant others, accept its fruits with resignation and cheerfulness, and freely permit God to keep back what He might have given. Newer harvests will yet ripen, newer and greater gifts will God yet bestow—the old shall pass away; new shall take its place—‘The plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him that soweth seed.’ Corn of that harvest shall, in the true Bread of Life, satisfy us for ever—wine of that vintage shall, in the true Vine, be to us an everlasting fountain when earthly harvests shall be no more.
Rev. W. Fraser.
(1) ‘The mountains and hills of Judæa, with their terraced sides clad with the vine, were a natural symbol of fruitfulness to the Jews; but they themselves could not think that natural fruitfulness was meant under this imagery. It would have been a hyperbole as to things of nature, but what in natural things is a hyperbole, is but a faint shadow of the joys and delights and glad fruitfulness of grace.’
(2) ‘To the future prosperity of Israel belongs not only national power and greatness, but also a rich blessing upon the land and thus upon the people ( Isaiah 5:13), in fulfilment of the promise in Leviticus 26:5. What is there said of the action—the threshing shall reach unto the vintage—is here transferred to the person who performs it. “The ploughman reaches to the reaper,” i.e. the ploughing will still continue in one place, although the reaping has begun in another, which however does not mean that the crop will grow and mature so quickly, but that so much is there to plough that it lasts to the harvest. This, at all events, is the meaning of the next clause, “The treader of grapes [will reach] to the sower of seed”=the vintage will last to the sowing time, so abundant is it.’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Amos 9". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent