Updated: Sep 4, 2019
Break Up Your Fallow Ground
Our intention in looking at the writings in the book of Jeremiah is to not only gain insight into its meaning for its original recipients, but hopefully to come away with a message for ourselves as spiritual Israel. As discussed previously in our feature series, the primary message that the prophet was to deliver from Yahweh was of Jerusalem’s coming destruction through an invasion from the north. Then the Lord said unto me, Out of the north an evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land (Jeremiah 1:14).And in chapter 5, we read, Lo, I will bring a nation upon you from far, O house of Israel, saith the LORD: it is a mighty nation, it is an ancient nation, a nation whose language thou knowest not, neither understandest what they say (vs. 15).And why was this to happen? Because the children of Israel had been unfaithful to the laws of God’s covenant: they had forsaken Yahweh and were worshiping the gods of the Canaanites.
In Jeremiah 4:1, we are told the purpose behind the message of impending disaster, If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith the LORD, return unto me: and if thou wilt put away thine abominations out of my sight, then shalt thou not remove.The word “if” implies a hope of a return (what marvelous things could have happened if only Israel had repented and returned to faithfully serving the one true God). Of course, it proved a vain hope, because there is no evidence whatsoever of even the slightest intention on their part of returning unto God. In fact, the very opposite is what happened.
They worshipped Ba’al instead, who among other things was believed to be a weather god having power over lightning, wind, rain, and fertility. The dry summers of the area were explained as Ba’al’s time in the underworld, and his return in autumn was said to cause the storms which revived the land. So, we see that the worship of Ba’al in Canaan was thought to be connected to the land’s dependence on rainfall for agriculture. Anxiety about the availability of water for crops and trees increased the importance of this cult worship, which focused considerable attention on Ba’al’s role as a rain god.
This brings us to our next sign and symbolas another warning for repentance that is very much related to their idolatry and false dependence upon Ba’al for rain and productive crops. For thus saith the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns(Jeremiah 4:3). The prophet Hosea gave a similar warning, Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you. Ye have plowed wickedness, ye have reaped iniquity; ye have eaten the fruit of lies: because thou didst trust in thy way, in the multitude of thy mighty men (Hosea 10:12-13).
Jeremiah exhorted all that would hear him to put away their idolatry, to follow after the ways of Yahweh, and prepare within themselves a place for the good seed of the Word of Truth to take root and produce fruit.The concept of breaking up your fallow groundshould have been familiar to the remaining faithful Jews of the time, since they were living in a predominantly agricultural society and were familiar with the festivals of YAHWEH that were based on the seasons and harvest times.
During the month of Tishri (also known as the month of plowing), we find there are three important feasts that were to be observed under the Law (see Hebrew calendar below):
The Feast of Trumpets – celebrated on the 1st day of the seventh month, Tishri (Numbers 29:1-6).
The Day of Atonement– celebrated on the 10th day of Tishri (Leviticus 16:29-34; 23:27-32).
The Feast of Tabernacles or Ingathering– celebrated on the 15th through the 21st day of Tishri (Leviticus 23:34-43).
The most significant of the three Memorial Feasts for our consideration in this month of plowing, in relation to our subject sign, is the final one – the Feast of Tabernacles. Of significance to us as Gentiles is the fact that this festival was the only one at which “the stranger within their gates,” along with women and children, were required to attend, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law (Deuteronomy 31:12).
For the understanding Jew, the breaking up of the fallow ground would call so many things to mind in addition to the Feast of Tabernacles or Ingathering, such as the Sabbath year’s rest which began at the start of every 7th year. When ye come into the land which I give you, then shall the land keep a sabbath unto the LORD. Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof; But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the LORD: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard(Leviticus 25:2-4).
And it was to be the same in the Jubilee year, for at the beginning of every 50th year the holy rest of the Jubilee would begin: A jubile shall that fiftieth year be unto you: ye shall not sow, neither reap that which groweth of itself in it, nor gather the grapes in it of thy vine undressed. For it is the jubile; it shall be holy unto you: ye shall eat the increase thereof out of the field (Leviticus 25:11-12).
So, in the 7th year of Sabbath rest and in the 50th year of Jubilee, there was to be no agricultural activity on the land. The fields were to remain unplowed and unplanted, the vines left untrimmed, and whatever grew of its own accord was not to be harvested. The only problem was that the nation, and much of the Priesthood, had turned from serving the one true God to such an extent that these words of Yahweh were left unread and unheard by those who needed to hear them the most. Those who had ears to hear would have connected the field preparation with the Law and the feasts of Yahweh; but just how far had Judah fallen away? The men Jeremiah spoke to were sowing, but they were sowing among thorns.
They were planted in righteousness by the Most High, but they had become unfruitful and even uncultivated, Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?...Saying to a stock (tree),Thou art my father; and to a stone, Thou hast brought me forth: for they have turned their back unto me, and not their face: but in the time of their trouble they will say, Arise, and save us (Jeremiah 2:21, 27).
And so, when we review the prophet’s words from our subject verse (4:3), we see Jeremiah reminding them that:
They have fallow ground to break up,
They were sowing, but not reaping anything worthwhile; and
They were laboring in vain; there was nothing to show for it, for no spiritual fruit was being produced.
The Hebrew for “break up” in this verse gives the idea of a fresh furrow, as it simply means to till the soil. We know that soil preparation is one of the routine activities in agriculture. Land preparation often starts with removal of the fallow vegetation in order to clear the land. It is usually followed by soil tillage, depending on the crop to be planted.
So, why do farmers plow?It is to prepare an adequate seedbed which permits good germination of the seed. Farmers find that a soil well-tilled, loose, levelled and broken up will produce a proper environment for the plant to grow and produce its best results. Thus the prophet entreats them: Break off your evil ways, repent of your sins, and then the good seed of the Word will have room to grow and ultimately bear fruit to GOD.
Jeremiah is speaking here of the proper spiritual seedbed preparation for the foundation root that the word of YAHWEH requires to take hold. How reminiscent of Jesus’ parable of the sower! After presenting the parable itself, Christ explains its meaning for the Apostles’ understanding in Matthew 13:22-23, which is most applicable to the sign of Jeremiah that we are considering: He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.
Certainly Matthew 13:22 has application to our days, but as we can see, it is applicable to all times including that of Jeremiah. To bring fruit to perfection means “to be a bearer to completion, to maturity,” that is, to produce ripened fruit (figuratively). This is what Jesus was attempting to get across to those whose seed was being sown among the thorns: they would not be able to bring any fruit to perfection.
What about us in our times, how can we better produce spiritual fruit?
We must shift our focus from the things of this world to a more productive living of the Word of God.
We must through prayer ask God to help us cultivate our fallow ground, and to help us get rid of the thorns that surround us.
We must study the Word and practice holy living, that we may ultimately produce fruit acceptable to Him.
We must learn to nurture the seed of the Truth in a manner that the thorns of this world cannot destroy it, both for ourselves and our ecclesias, for our young people, and especially for those in whom the seed of the Truth has just been planted.
Brethren, during the time of Jeremiah, we see both Israel and Judah before us in Scripture as Biblical examples of a chosen people who had such a wonderful opportunity to serve the one true GOD. Yet due to their lack of dedication, true knowledge and understanding, and the desire to know and hold fast to His word, they chose instead to serve and hold precious the things which are temporal. We too have been called out to break up our fallow ground and serve Yahweh. We too make our choices daily.
In conclusion: reflecting on this most significant sign in Jeremiah 4:3, we are reminded of Paul’s exhortation to the Galatians, Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not (6:7-9).
Ed Davis, Geneva, FL