Reading: Gen.8:20 -
I was asked recently why we were organising our Harvest Thanksgiving in the middle of October when the harvests have largely been gathered in some considerable time ago. I didn’t really have an answer ready at hand to give and that fact alone is instructive. I don’t live in a society that is primarily agrarian. The food on my table doesn’t closely reflect the seasons – after all I like frozen peas and I’ve been known to eat and enjoy instant mashed potatoes and tinned carrots and sweet corn.
I suspect that most of you are not living significantly closer to the soil than I am – most of us will buy our food at the local supermarket and there it really doesn’t seem to matter much what season we’re in.
As a consequence we’re somewhat more distanced from festivals of harvest thanksgiving than perhaps we once were and harvest yields affect us far less directly than they do those living in agrarian societies. I wonder how many of you are actually aware of the actual yields this year. According to a recent article in Farmer’s Weekly the average harvest in 2016 is the worst for thirty years!
The fact that I am somewhat removed from all of this means that it is not that important to me when I actually give thanks to God for his annual provision but it remains important that I should give him thanks for so generously meeting my needs and so should you.
Harvest Thanksgiving – a Religious Duty
Men and women have long celebrated the bringing in of a successful harvest and indeed God required such thankfulness to be expressed annually by his people. This was the instruction he gave them as they stood on the borders about to enter the Promised Land:
Ex.23:16 "You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labour, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labour."
It is appropriate to praise and thank God for successful harvest being safely gathered in because it is he who has promised that:
"While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease." (Gen.8:22)
Such occasions were joyous and indeed such was the joyfulness of harvest celebrations that it became something of a bench-
Even today there are plenty of countries that are still very closely tied to the land though we only tend to hear about them when the crops fail and the prospect of famine becomes a pressing reality.
The Bible doesn’t only speak about celebrating and rejoicing at harvest time but it also speaks of the need to show generosity and compassion towards the poor and needy. Farmers were not to harvest every last bit of produce but they were to leave the "gleanings" so that the poor and vulnerable could help themselves and had the provisions they needed. In harmony with this Biblical principle we in Sunnyhill use the harvest offering not for meeting our own regular expenses but to help others in need. To that end our harvest giving is being sent to help alleviate some of the immense suffering being experienced in Haiti following the catastrophic Hurricane William when hundreds died and thousands were made homeless.
The promise to which we have just referred in Gen.8 describes the general pattern that God has established but the fact that harvests are ultimately dependent upon his gracious provision does not mean that man has no role to play. The Book of Proverbs draws a direct line between a man’s efforts and the results to be expected come harvest-
Prov.20:4 "The sluggard does not plough in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing."
And of course that is something we can all readily appreciate.
God’s promise concerning the continuation of harvests was never meant to imply that individual harvests would never fail – his promise concerned the general pattern which might nevertheless be interrupted from time to time. In the Book of Genesis at the time of Joseph 7 years of plenteous abundant crops were followed by 7 years of famine, a famine that affected the whole of theregion. And there are of course detailed reference elsewhere in Scripture to harvests failing from time to time whether that failure be actual – when there were no crops to enjoy, or practical when there was no possibility of enjoying the harvest.
Let me explain what I mean. Harvests could fail entirely due to:
Adverse weather conditions – crops were destroyed in Egypt by hail
Drought too could destroy a potential crop
On the other hand a crop could provide no benefit to the farmer if:
It was consumed by a swarm of locusts
It was stolen or confiscated by an enemy army
A harvest was far from being an automatic thing and when we realise just how precarious it might be we understand how appropriate thanksgiving is when the harvest has been safely and successfully gathered in.
However the people of God were given yet more information concerning how their own behaviour could affect harvests.
As God’s people stood on the borders of the Promised Land God spoke to them through Moses explaining to them how their behaviour in the land would bring either a series of blessings upon them or a series of curses.
Concerning the curses we read:
Deut.28:15 "But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you."
Amongst the list of curses that follows we find:
Nevertheless the general tendency is that year after year harvests which are sufficient to maintain life are gathered in. After all our Heavenly Father continues to make "his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and (he) sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Mt.5:45). Some years the harvests are larger and some years they are smaller but year after year they continue. How good our God is!
Thankfulness and Genuine Trust in the LORD
Now if it is easy enough to believe in God when all seems to be going well – though many people don’t bother to think about God even then – it is another matter when everything goes wrong. It is remarkable how many people suddenly strike a new pose and energetically blame the very God they had hitherto ignored when things don’t go the way they want them to. Men and women, boys and girls, can very quickly declare that "it’s not fair", "it’s unjust". Some will rail that God can’t exist or else he would have intervened – as if they knew all there was to know and as if their understanding of what ought to be done was flawless.
How quick men and women are to pass judgment upon God and how slow they are to take a careful look at themselves, their attitudes and their deeds!
What sort of person are you?
I want to suggest to you that you might fall into one of three categories – and I want you to know that only one of them is a good place for you to be.
You are godless.
You are a fair-
You are a genuine believer
Let me say a few words about each.
Yes, you might be very civil, you might be very pleasant, you might be very (dare I say it?) British but you are godless in every practical sense.
You don’t pray, you don’t read the Bible, you don’t have the slightest concern for the glory and honour of God’s name and so you don’t worship him with heart-
I’ve said you don’t pray – maybe that’s an exaggeration but when you do pray (if you do) it is all about "me, me, me" "Lord, help me." "Lord bless me." "Lord, heal me". Lord do this or do that but make sure you do it for ME".
You’re godless. You’re ungodly. Happy and content maybe when all goes well but when things don’t your true colours shine forth in your animosity and defiance of God.
My friends this is not a safe place to be. But the good news for you is that you don’t have to stay that way:
Rom.5:6 "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly."
Jesus when he died on the cross was laying down his life to pay the debt that sinners like you and me could never ever pay. If you realise that you have been living a life without God – that is what godless means – then go to God asking for his forgiveness and for his mercy and grace. He will accept you and give you a new life and start to transform you by his Spirit. Come to Jesus Christ and live!
If you’re in this category you are more like the ungodly than you are like the genuine believer. You might go through the motions of recognising God in your life but in reality your faith and trust is centred not in God but in your own circumstances or current state of well-
Do you know the story of Job? He was a great man of faith but sadly the same thing can’t be said of his wife. When she saw the troubles Job was going through she showed herself to be a fair-
"Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" Job 2:10
At that particular moment in time Job didn’t understand what was going on but he maintained his trust in God. He refused to curse God and although his struggles were not quickly brought to an end he went on trusting God rather than reject him.
Will you maintain your faith come what may? You can if it is faith in God but faith in mere circumstances will always prove unreliable. In the words of a hymn we sometimes sing:
WILL your anchor hold in the storms of life?
I hope you can truthfully join in singing the answer that is given in the chorus:
We have an anchor that keeps the soul
steadfast and sure while the billows roll;
fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
grounded firm and deep in the Saviour's love!
I’ve already begun to start talking about the nature of the genuine believer in introducing Job into the picture. Now I want to introduce another character, the prophet Habakkuk.
Let me tell you something about the life and times of this man and how he maintained and declared his faith in the One True Living God.
The spiritual revival that had taken place under King Josiah had come to an end and upon Josiah’s death the people quickly returned to their evil ways. Habakkuk the prophet lived in these days and was deeply troubled Judah’s slide into moral and spiritual corruption.
The times in which Habakkuk lived were also politically turbulent times. The Assyrian empire, which had ruled Judah with a heavy hand for well over a hundred years, was beginning to weaken, and would soon lose its position as the dominant regional superpower to the rising Babylonian empire. Even though Babylon was not an immediate threat to Judah in Habakkuk’s day Habakkuk nevertheless prophesied that the Babylonians would invade Judah and this invasion was completed in 586BC.
Habakkuk understood the coming Babylonian invasion to be an instance of divine judgement but this raised big questions for him: How could God possibly use such a wicked power to further his purposes? How could a good and just God use a more wicked nation to punish a less wicked one?
God’s reply made it clear that both nations were to be judged and appropriately punished for their evil acts. Although Habakkuk did not fully understand, he learned to rely totally on the wisdom and justice of God to do the right thing even if that involved means that Habakkuk could never have imagined. This God is certainly worthy of Habakkuk’s praise and worship and this is how the book ends.
Even if everything else seems to fail and let him down Habakkuk declared that he would go on trusting the Lord God and rejoicing in him. Habakkuk looked to the LORD as the God of his salvation, the source of his strength, safety and security.
Habakkuk expressed his faith in terms of "failed harvests." Could anything be more serious than that especially when the failure could be traced back to the sin of an unrepentant people? Yet it was in precisely such unpromising circumstances that a genuine believer’s faith shines forth most brightly and God is certainly worthy of such trust.
Let me ask you as I close are you trusting in the way a genuine believer trusts? Are you trusting in God? Don’t be content until you are sure that your trust is in him and in the Crucified Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t let yourself by fooled into thinking that a few god-
Jn.14:1 "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me."