We won't wait for the Plowman

In one image — the plowman overtaking all the other tasks — we are told that our new life will be very different. The arduous, servile and stressful labors will be gone. We will not be bothered by weather issues, insects, varmints, and catastrophes from fires and floods. Other kinds of days are coming, Amos tells his audience.

Yes, days are coming,
says the LORD ...

Image by Pavlofox

Plowing will be different in Heaven

By John Pearring

Amos 9:11-15
Matthew 9:14-17

There’s gotta be a good reason for the repetitive images of Heaven and restoration in the scriptures. Something given so much emphasis in the Old Testament books and the New Testament’s letters must be very important.

Today’s OT scripture selection repeats the Bible’s mantra of an abundant and lavish afterlife.

Yes, days are coming,
says the LORD,
When the plowman shall overtake the reaper,
and the vintager, him who sows the seed;
The juice of grapes shall drip down the mountains,
and all the hills shall run with it.
(Amos 9:13)

I love Amos’ agricultural imagery, listing the necessary steps in the production of wine. The author combines tasks and craftsmanship together. He crisscrosses the jobs required — the plowman, the reaper, the vintager, and the sower of seed. 

We know once grape vines are planted, the ground won’t need to be plowed for decades. Fruit trees also last generations without plowing up the orchard. His audience knows about farming and craftsmanship. Fishing, raising animals, and every skill includes step-by-step processes. What’s Amos saying here?

Harvesters vary in their approach to each crop, picking produce off branches, gathering berries and nuts, cutting stalks, and digging out of the ground. By citing a vintager, the author includes even the off-field laborer. No matter what is grown — wheat, fruit, or yams — a long string of detailed work must be accomplished before we can drink wine, eat bread, wear clothing, or chow down on a meaty stew peppered with potatoes and vegetables. 

The hierarchy of tasks in ancient farming and production matches that of today. Amos’ point is that a timely process moves slowly as one step must be completed before the next can begin. No one can even start their work until the plowman is done. Next comes the sower of the seed. The rest of those who work the land must wait until the sown seed grows. Only when the reaper declares the harvest ripe and ready and does his work, can the vintner begin. Time continues to postpone wine consumption, though. Grapes ferment in casks, and months pass before it is mature. 

Lots of folks are involved when the harvesters bundle and box their produce, including the distribution to the shopkeepers. The process moves along with precision as the vintager makes wine, the baker their bread, and the butchers slice their fine cuts. 

Back on the field, the plowman begins the process again, but only when the land is ready. 

In the coming days, God tells Amos, the days of unimaginable goodness, the plowman’s task is no longer a holding-off process. He doesn’t have to wait. He “overtakes” the reaper. 

There is no current farming scenario where a plowman churns up the earth while a reaper gathers up produce. You can combine all the reaping tasks — reap, thresh, collect, and winnow. But how do vintners and sowers of seed get combined? How do casks magically mature wine as the juices flow down the mountains and hills?

In the “coming days” God provides everything ready without anyone having to wait, worry, work themselves to the bone, and then stand aside for another to reap the fruits of someone else’s hard work. All produce, all that we need is readily available.

In one image — the plowman overtaking all the other tasks — we are told that our new life will be very different. The arduous, servile and stressful labors will be gone. We will not be bothered by weather issues, insects, varmints, and catastrophes from fires and floods. Other kinds of days are coming, Amos tells his audience.

Imagining our environs as Amos and virtually every other prophet describes Heaven has our heads spinning. The settings of our afterlife, however, are not the whole story.

In the New Testament reading, harkening back to Amos and Hosea in his previous chapters, Matthew puts a finer point on the future, where the “juice of grapes drip down the mountains.” Yes, the harvests will be different, but a more significant change will also occur. The people will be different.

Jesus explains that while he is with his disciples, their lives are similar to guests enjoying the good life of a bridegroom’s celebration. A bridegroom party is a once-in-a-lifetime event. Here and now. Jesus will leave his disciples upon his ascension. His followers will mourn. When he returns, Jesus restores the universe, and all will celebrate forever.

Jesus needed to explain to the Pharisees that fasting is the act of mourning. We yearn for a free, sinless, joyful, and immortal life with God. The purpose of fasting is a reminder of our waiting upon the good times, the coming joys of heaven.

Again, the image of Heaven is foretold. Not only by the prophets of old. Jesus expands our vision of the life to come.

Jesus sharpens our glimpse of Heaven with a spiritual change right now. He telegraphs our restoration with a cosmic upheaval. His sacrifice forgives all sins, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit prepares us for our coming immortal life. With Jesus present, his followers do not need to mourn. Presence with the Son will be like a love feast. Until then, we live in a world of waiting. 

We still must plow before we reap. Our minds and world cannot withstand God’s incomprehensible goodness. We can’t grasp the concept of wine flowing freely without anyone having to sacrifice their time and skills to provide it. Both the universe and its populations will be renewed.

“People do not put new wine into old wineskins,” Matthew quotes Jesus. “Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.”

We know Heaven is coming, and the Kingdom is at hand. Our skins  are not yet prepared for the new wine. We’re not yet ready as people to live in the place where the wine flows freely. However, we have both ancient and present testimonies and God’s living presence within us that confirm all this will take place.

While the Old Testament prophecies both Heaven and the coming of Jesus — envisioning a realm where joys are complete — the New Testament writers capture the restoration of our bodies as well as our world. 

We’re spiritually renewed, but not physically. We are still sinners, tempted and abused. We live limited lives with frail and knocked up physical resources. This creates our yearning for what we know is coming. If we expect that everything should be given to us now, that God must provide us with Heaven on earth, we misunderstand the meaning of the future yet to come. 

There is much that we enjoy, certainly, but everything in this life is tied to conditions. We are hampered by decay, time’s unrelenting passing, and desires for a perfect world.

How much more proof do we need? Do we grasp that the coming Heaven is so far beyond our imaginations? Amos says God told him about this. All food will be readily available without the tedious processes of a hard life. The same will be true of everything joyful.

We force ourselves to work and learn to be grateful for skills, accomplishments, and success. We save money to enjoy the moments of a rare wedding feast. What kind of future demands nothing of us other than to love God and each other? 

The final verses of Hosea challenge us, as sinners who will stumble, to pick ourselves up and return to the path offered to us by God.

“Who is wise enough to understand these things?
Who is intelligent enough to know them?
Straight are the paths of the LORD,
the just walk in them,
but sinners stumble in them.”

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