Rev. Langerak is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
At this same time each year, it seems that the world is morbidly preoccupied with death. A favorite name for the season is fall, something leaves do after they shrivel up and die. A celebrated holiday, Halloween, is merely a weak attempt to mock death and hell—and by implication Jesus who has the keys of both. Even Thanksgiving Day seems to be, for many, little more than a day to “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Let it not be so for the believer.
The season we know as fall, Scripture calls harvest. It does so in God’s promise to Noah, “While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest … summer and winter … shall not cease” (Gen. 8:22). Harvest is a time of celebration for the church. The greatest joy is harvest time (Is. 9:3). During harvest, Israel had its great holiday Feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and Weeks (Pentecost). Then they enjoyed a Sabbath’s rest and fruit of their labor (Ex. 34:12; Ex. 23:16). The laws governing harvest ensured everyone could partake of the bounties. The Israelite landowner could not harvest the corners of his field, remove every scrap of food, or return to fetch any sheaf he had forgotten; this harvest food was for the poor, orphans, widows, and Gentiles (Lev. 23:22; Deut. 24:19). Jesus even benefited from this harvest generosity, for His great ancestor Ruth the Moabitess, survived by gleaning the crops Boaz obediently had left (Ruth 1:22).
By His providence God made sure joyful events of covenant salvation occurred at harvest. It was during harvest that Israel both escaped the bondage of Egypt and also crossed the Jordan into the land flowing with milk and honey (Josh. 3:15). At harvest time Samson was provoked to war against the Philistines, and reduced their crops to a smoking wasteland (Jud. 15:1). Gideon’s timely victory at harvest kept Israel from starving (Jud. 6:11). The ark was returned to Israel at harvest (I Sam. 6:13). When God brought His people from captivity, it was called a harvest (Ps. 126:5-6). And even the great temple would be built on an old harvest threshing-floor (II Chr. 3:1).
Harvest joy is God’s gracious blessing. Since He is pleased to give it in the way of wise toil, Scripture gives much admonishment regarding harvest. The ants are examples of diligent labor to harvest while there is time (Prov. 6:8). A wise son gathers during harvest, but the fool sleeps (Prov. 10:5). If the sluggard will not sow if it is cold, he begs during the harvest (Prov. 20:4). They that sow iniquity and wickedness, harvest the same (Job. 4:8). And so when His people do not live thankfully in obedience, God takes away harvest joy and replaces it with desperate sorrow (Is. 17:11). When they eat like piggish sots, He sends the beast, fire, insect, and worm to destroy the harvest, saying, “Be ye ashamed … because the harvest of the field is perished” (Joel 1:11). When they oppress the poor, He withholds rain so the harvest is withered (Amos 4:7). If they trust in their own strength, He sends enemies to take their food so they cry, “The harvest is past … and we are not saved” (Jer. 8:19). But with repentance and thanksgiving, He sends harvest blessings again. For they that sow in tears, harvest in joy (Ps. 126:5).
Perhaps the world’s preoccupation with this time of year is because they sense that harvest marks their own death, it is the season of their fall from glory. To the wicked, God cries, “The harvest is ripe … for their wickedness is great” (Joel 3:13). Concerning Babylon, He shouts, “It is time to thresh her, yet a little while and the time of her harvest shall come” (Jer. 51:33). Even the hypocrite shall not escape this apocalyptic harvest, for Jesus will tell the reapers, “Gather ye first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn” (Matt. 13:30, 39). But make no mistake, harvest is a thankful time of celebration for the church. Its beginning was Pentecost, the original Thanksgiving Day. Then the Spirit of harvest was poured out and the Lord sent corn, wine, and oil to be satisfied therewith (Joel 2:19-28). This great harvest of God’s first fruits is on-going in fields white for harvest (John 4:35). Pray “the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth laborers in his harvest” (Luke 10:2), a harvest completed in the great day of our Lord with the cry of the angel, “Thrust in thy sickle and reap: for the time is come … for the harvest of the earth is ripe” (Rev. 14:15).