Lt. Colonel Dean Hinson commented that Thanksgiving is “the time of year to reap what has been sown and recognize that man plants, but God brings the harvest.”
Thanksgiving was originally a celebration of the harvest; a time for giving thanks to the Lord for caring for them that year and looking forward in faith to his continued care.
The symbol of harvest evokes many biblical scenes and themes: this article will unpack five of them. We will consider the patience of harvest; a spiritual harvest; the timing of harvest; the warning of harvest; and the joy of harvest as these ideas are expressed in God’s Word.
Those depictions of harvest in the Middle East can seem irrelevant to us. But we know that Scripture is as important and relevant today as it ever was. As you prepare to thank God for what is on your table this November and every day, consider “harvest” in your modern context.
1. Patience of Harvest
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains (James 5:7).
This is a reference to harvest and reminds us that plants take time to yield fruit. James was saying to the disciples not to be discouraged, and not to give up trying to share the good news or to help a new brother or sister in the faith to grow more and more fruitful.
What we see on the surface of a non-believing friend’s life can sometimes seem too little to regard. At the beginning of harvest season, the shoots of some plants are barely visible after a few weeks.
Then the sun becomes stronger, the farmer waters or rains come, and suddenly a few millimeters has become a foot’s worth of growth seemingly overnight.
This can be the case with potential believers also. You do so much work trying to share the Good News with co-workers, fellow students, and friends, but there appears to be no growth. For weeks, months, and years, nothing changes.
Yet, the patient Christian is encouraged when he imagines the literal harvest, which begins underground, at the roots. At the heart of every person is his or her identity in Christ — he alone has the power to save.
Whether you live in the city where you patiently water a window-ledge garden, or you live and work on a farm, the importance of patience is relatable.
As Paul wrote, “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).
2. A Spiritual Harvest
Matthew 9:36-37 records, “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is great, but the workers are few.’”
We must remember that “harvest” is a metaphor, a shadow of the real meaning Christ had in mind.
“Jesus sees a ripe harvest ready to believe in Him. It is curious that Jesus says, ‘The fields are already white for harvest.’ A ripe field is usually golden or brownish in color. A white wheat field would indicate that the wheat had gone bad, and the harvest was missed” (Ibid.).
But Hinson clarifies Jesus has a spiritual rather than a grain harvest in mind. Then again, crops were cut before they were entirely ripe in the days before modern agricultural machinery was invented.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh explained that “the cutting, no doubt, began when the crop was ‘white.’ This is the transition color between the green of immature grain and the golden brown of fully ripe grain. At this stage, when the grain is still white, a reaper, using a very sharp sickle, cuts down the standing grain.”
The harvest is ready before it is ripe — we are the harvest, and there is much “ripening” going on in our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit.
God has increased the harvest by his own hand through the work of his Son Jesus Christ. “He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Corinthians 9:10).
This verse alludes to an internal change whereby our hearts are aligned with the heart of our Savior to look after our persecuted and hungry brethren according to his power to provide.
“Paul is urging the Corinthians to be generous in their giving to suffering Christians in Jerusalem” because they want to, not out of a sense of duty.
The harvest is both an outward one — bringing the lost home to Christ — but also a personal one. In each individual Christian, harvest can refer to the fruitfulness of an obedient and loving heart.
3. The Continuity of Harvest
Certain Old Testament celebrations are specifically timed to correspond with the harvest. Subby Szterszky describes the Feast of First Fruits, which “marked the start of the spring harvest, celebrating the goodness of God in providing for Israel. To express their dependence on God, the Israelites would bring a sheaf of grain and wave it before the Lord.”
This feast corresponds with Christ’s resurrection. “Writing about the Resurrection, Paul referred to Jesus as the First Fruits from the dead. Like that symbolic sheaf of grain, Jesus was the beginning of a spiritual harvest. All of us who belong to him will rise with him into new resurrection life.”
The Feast of First Fruits also provides the waymarker for the end of the harvest 50 days later, known in the New Testament as Pentecost, “derived from the Greek word for 50. First Fruits looked forward to the promise of God’s provision while Pentecost looked back with thanksgiving at its fulfillment.”
The alignment between the Old and New Testaments reminds believers (and perhaps piques the curiosity of unbelieving readers) in the 21st century that the Lord is consistent.
His Word features many unifying threads, and the theme of harvest — both in the literal and spiritual senses — is just one such thread.
This theme demonstrates the continuity of Scripture and reminds us that God had laid out his plan for salvation from the very beginning.
4. The Warning of Harvest
“So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God” (Revelation 14:19). The angels of the Lord will reap the harvest of wickedness and destroy all those who have rejected his Son.
One writer draws from images of harvest as depicted in Revelation the assurance that “those who persist to the end in sin and in rejection of the Lord and His standards will certainly be repaid for their wickedness. This will be done at just the right time, for the harvest — the judgment — can occur only when the crop is fully ripe.”
This seems contradictory to a previous passage where it would seem that the unripened harvest is not a field of the lost, but a field of potential believers ready to hear the Good News.
Yet, with Revelation 14 in mind, we remember at least two things: firstly, those who die without confessing faith in Christ will be separated from God and live eternally with Satan; and secondly, the punishment for evil is near.
Judgment is coming but only when the crop is “fully ripe.” Why does this take so long? Christians become disheartened by the way evil people seem to find success and happiness without ever submitting to Christ, even as they harm God’s people.
“At such times, we must remember that the wicked endure no longer than God has ordained. He will harvest — judge them — once their evil has ripened. What might look like a delay of justice is, in fact, no delay at all. God will bring an end to wicked people at just the right time” (Ibid.).
5. The Joy of Harvest
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest” (Leviticus 19:9). The plenty of harvest belongs to everyone, both within the church and without.
We are reminded by this verse that God ensures there is enough for everyone. Those with food on the table do not deserve what they have, which belongs to God.
Not only that but so much of the spiritual fruit we enjoy today is made possible by the hard work of saints who went before us, many of them to their deaths.
They recorded and disseminated the word with a singular devotion to Jesus, some of them bringing Jesus to places where we would not have otherwise heard his name spoken or learned about his grace.
We certainly do enjoy the fruit of our labors, but all of it comes from the Father, and if you rely on the generosity of others to feed yourself and your children this year, this reality should bring you joy. God has not forgotten you. He does not scorn you for having to ask for help.
In particular, hunger and thirst will bring individuals closer to the foot of the cross when they discover a host of believers also sitting there, holding out bread and fish to anyone who needs it.
Moreover, the Lord reminds us of the joy we are able to share when we get out of our spiritual bubbles and bring the message of Christ’s peace to people outside of our churches — to the gleaners on the edges who are not quite ready to walk in those doors.
They skirt the edges carefully; yet the gospel is for everyone. There is so much joy to share, but are we hoarding that joy?
This fall, let the harvest remind you that Christ is enough. The food of Thanksgiving and coming Christmas feasts are wonderful treats to share and enjoy, but they are just a shadow of the celebratory feasting we will experience at the Harvest table with our Savior.
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Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/AlexRaths
Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.
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