Jeremiah 5:24 - Remembering the Lord of the Harvest
Neither say they within their heart, Let us now fear Jehovah our God, that giveth rain both the former and the latter in its season.Jeremiah 5:24
Our special Thanksgiving services began with our pilgrim fathers in the fall of 1621. Governor Bradford arose early to prepare himself by prayer and meditation for a special service of the congregation. They met from 8:30 to 12 noon. On account of persecution and for freedom of religion these God-fearing fathers had left their comfortable homeland to face the perils of the barely charted ocean in small, frail ships, and to brave the dangers of an unexplored country to which they were going. Their way had been difficult, especially during that first winter. Many of them had passed away. Despite the hardships, they were thankful. When we read about this service we are struck by its fervent religious atmosphere and by their desire to thank the Lord together. Later President Lincoln made this day a national holiday.
The pilgrims were Christians. Only Christians can truly celebrate such a day. The thanksgiving of the world can only be a formal external thing. To whom are they thankful, not even believing in God? They are happy for themselves, having again received many bounties during the past season. Since only Christians can be truly thankful, we want to meditate on Thanksgiving from the viewpoint of Christians.
Thanksgiving Day is concerned with material things, physical gifts received from the Lord. Naturally, God's people, when they live in faith, are thankful for the spiritual gifts of salvation and all blessings connected with it. But true Christian living implies the fear of God in all things, also the material things received. We may distinguish spiritual from physical, but can't separate them. We are Christians with body and soul.
Jeremiah prophesied at the end of the existence of the kingdom of Judah, and when Judah was taken into captivity by the Babylonians. Israel as a nation had become apostate. They had become hardened in their unbelief. In the immediate context of the above quoted verse the prophet speaks of Israel's indifference to God's work in nature. He accuses them of having a revolting and rebellious heart, and he speaks of their ingratitude, saying that it doesn't even enter into their hearts to thank God for the early and the latter rain and the crops received.
In Israel the early and latter rain made possible a successful sowing and harvest. In Egypt, where the Israelites had lived for more than four hundred years, the land was watered by the annual overflow of the Nile river. But God wants Israel to realize that it is He who gives the necessary water for their crops. They must know that the Lord provides them with the needed rain from above. The early rain fell when the grain was sown in the fall of the year, so that the seed sown might become well-rooted before the winter season set in. Then in the spring the latter rain fell to mature the crop (Deuteronomy 11). Then it would quit raining for a period of time to allow the people to harvest their crops. A rainfall during harvest time was considered abnormal and disastrous, an intervention of the Lord expressing His displeasure with them.
Jeremiah mentions these early and latter rains. At that time God had given them these rains so that they were able to harvest their crops. Thus God had been good to them. He had made it obvious that it was He who had given the rain that came from above. The emphasis in the words of the prophet falls upon the goodness and faithfulness of God. This He had showed to them year after year. What was their response? Jeremiah says that it did not even enter their hearts to say, "Thank you, Lord." Jeremiah doesn't quite put it that way. He says that it didn't enter their hearts to fear the Lord their God. The response must not be a mere "thank you" of the lips, but of the fear of the Lord. To fear Him means to worship Him, to worship Him in the consciousness of His majesty and the good things He has done. To fear Him means that we love this great, adorable and good God. Although God had been faithful to Israel in giving the early and latter rains, it didn't enter their hearts to so respond. They were that ungrateful.
Thanksgiving Day recalls material things including the rain we have received during the past season, as well as many other material blessings. Even though only three percent of the people in North America are farmers, indirectly we are all dependent upon the rain and the sunshine given in the realm of nature. We who live in the city have to pay for our water, and each year it is costing more. But the Lord's prices don't increase. In fact He always gives it for nothing, and usually in abundance. Having been born and raised on a farm, I can still hear the Iowa farmers speaking of a million-dollar rain when it rains following a dry spell. This means that God gives millions of dollars' worth of water for nothing. And when it comes just in time for the thirsty crops, and the farmer sees that beautiful rain coming down he really can't help but look heavenward and say, "God is so good."
For most of the people in North America it has been another good year, even though we still speak of a recession. We are also aware that for some farmers it has been a hot and dry summer, so that they didn't get the needed "early and latter rains." How does the Lord want them to respond to these things? The words of Jeremiah imply that when conditions are adverse He wants us, as Christians, to accept them by faith. This is much easier said than done. The Scripture in Habakkuk 3:17-19 says,
For though the fig tree shall not flourish, neither shall the fruit be on the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no food; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls; yet I will rejoice in Jehovah, I will joy in the God of my salvation. Jehovah, the Lord, is my strength.
The Heidelberg Catechism speaks of being patient in adversity. Those who experience much adversity know that for such a response of faith we need God's grace.
Our blessings when compared with the prayer for daily bread, are much more than we need, even though the income was less than in previous years. Also, when compared with the many hungry people in the world, we still have much. The point of this passage of Jeremiah is that what we have received was a gift from the Lord, given for nothing.
One might say, "But I worked for my paycheck." True, but it was God who gave you the ability to work for it. We must realize that all that we have is a gift of the Lord. Every crop of the farmer, every financial return, every check, every paycheck, social security and pension check, every business profit, all are gifts of the Lord. Week after week and month after month, we see the goodness of our heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ.
How do we respond? Our response is often not different or better than that of the Israelites of Jeremiah's day. Perhaps reminded by the red number on the calendar, we celebrate Thanksgiving Day because it is a holiday. But is our celebration a hearty giving of thanks to God? Gratitude does not come naturally to us. A mother has to teach her child to say "Thank-you," when he received a cookie. Although the child may learn to say that, it may be mostly only a form. And adults are often no better.
What is the positive lesson taught us in Jeremiah 5? First, we must heartily confess our neglect of thankfulness, and pray that the Lord will forgive this sin. Psalm 51's reminder that a broken and contrite heart is pleasing to God is appropriate on Thanksgiving Day.
The Lord calls for more than confession of sin. He wants godly "fear." By the discipline of His Word and Spirit we must learn to gratefully acknowledge the gifts which we receive from Him. Moved by His gracious gifts, we must daily learn to love the Lord. And we must learn not to complain and murmur, as His Old Testament people did in their wilderness journeying. Think of their monotonous, although miraculous, daily diet, manna for breakfast, manna for the noon lunch, and the same for the evening meal, 365 days of the year, year after year. One can readily understand that they longed for a piece of meat and the other delicacies they had enjoyed in Egypt. But how severely the Lord condemned them for their murmurings! Considering that, we do not have to wonder how He regards the grumbling of people today, including those in the church, who have so much more than the Israelites even dreamed about. The Biblical example prompts us to receive all things in faith and respond with reverent thanks and love.
Going back to Genesis, we read the Lord's promise to Noah that as long as the earth remains, seed-time and harvest and the seasons will continue. The Lord has kept that promise for hundreds and thousands of years, and He will continue to do so, for He is faithful. Consider all of our present comforts in that light, and thank the Faithful Giver.
We also know that these seasons in this world prepare for the coming of the eternal kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. As Christians we know that the Son of God is gathering and preserving His Church for Himself. All things are working towards that goal. As His children we belong to Him with body and soul. Our bodies need those "early and latter rains," the season of seed-time and harvest. His judgements upon the world are already shaking its very foundations. But for the sake of the church, as He promised to Noah, the seasons will continue as long as necessary according to His plan. He is faithful and will be. And when the sinner, saved by grace, sees this goodness of God shown to him, physically as well as spiritually, and the promises for the future, he has to begin responding, "Thank-you, Lord," and also, "Lord you know all things, You know that I love You."