Antiquity

The Sower

“….Behold, the sower went forth to sow . And as he sowed, some seed fell by the wayside; and the birds came and devoured them. Some fell on stony places, where they did not have much earth; and they immediately sprang up because they had no depth of earth. But when the sun was up they were scorched, and because they had no root they withered away. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. But others fell on good ground and yielded a crop: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty,” (Matthew 13:3-8).

This is a fascinating, multidimensional parable. Most of the time we interpret it by focusing only on the soil. Each one of us who has studied the parable has shuddered at the likelihood of being identified with wayside soil, rocky soil or thorny ground. Because we desire to be the good soil, we find ourselves almost always compelled to conduct a deep self-introspection, and an evaluation of our own spiritual standing. We make an effort to identify strongholds in our lives that defy spiritual regeneration; areas that need to be surrendered to God so that we can walk in victory and worthy of our calling, which is a commendable undertaking indeed. We do not want to be the type of soil that is not productive nor do we want to belong to churches that are inefficient or those that misuse or waste the resources dedicated to the Lord. This mindset has engrossed the church so much that it has become a guide in planning evangelistic efforts. When planning evangelistic meetings, budgets are carefully planned to avoid “wayside, stony, and thorny ground” wastage. The focus is usually on potentially “good soil” as the target population group for our efforts so that we can end up with a 30-fold, 60-fold or 100-fold harvest. The more, the better—it is a game of statistics!!! We send individuals ahead to till the ground to ensure that it is receptive to the seed because we must be smarter than that “reckless” sower of antiquity. Sometimes special marketing strategies are designed and implemented to maximize the harvest from the church’s financial investment. No wonder we end up with homogeneous churches-cocoons that shut-out “publicans.”

But what if we attempted to look at this parable from another dimension? What if we focused on the nature of the sower Himself? This seemingly wasteful sower seems to have no concept of the cost of His seed in the light of global economic down-turns. He insists on being appallingly extravagant! As a matter of fact, extravagance is His nature. He tends to always give exceedingly abundantly more than we can ask or think. Look at how lavishly He has arrayed the universe with billions of galaxies and astonishingly glorious nebulae. One only has to look into the telescope to behold astounding formations of constellations hanging against the vast darkness of space. Then there is that gem of our universe, the blue planet swarming with an unparalleled ecosystem. This is also home to creatures bearing His image, to whom He gave His Son. Talk about epic giving!
This is the Sower who goes out to sow His seed in myriad of soil types. Not skipping over the dry, unpromising soil, He casts His seed on the wayside and bicycle lanes, and asphalt pavement with a constant flow of incessant traffic. Pedestrians jostle for space, dodging each other in the hectic traffic, oblivious of the seed they are crushing underfoot. The traffic is so dense that the “senseless” efforts of the Sower become an irritating distraction and, consequently, a target of disparagement and crass jokes. But the Sower keeps on sowing His seed unmindful of the profanities directed at Him. Some seed falls on hungry winos sprawled in the gutters of the back alleys of the city center. Curiously, they pick up the seed, examine it, toss it in the mouth and down it with the dregs of their stale beer. Some of the seed falls on the soil littered with rotting trash on the edges of the gutters. It quickly germinates and blossoms into stunningly beautiful flowers. Enthusiastically, the Sower continues to sow His seed. Some of it falls in church parking lots and the deacons quickly sweep it away in an attempt to keep the grounds immaculate for parishioners. On and on the sower goes…to those steeped into superstition and witchcraft. Some of them pick the seed up. Supposing it to be a magical remedy for their ailments, they eat it up. The Sower proceeds to institutions of higher learning, scattering His seed in lecture halls amid scorn and hysterical ridicule. Tirelessly, he marches casting His seed in fields in the community valley where the seed sprouts and brings forth a rich harvest. He keeps on sowing joyfully and lavishly until the end of the planting season.

A God No One Can Capture

“They took two such cows and hitched them to the cart and penned up their calves. 11 They placed the ark of the Lord on the cart and along with it the chest containing the gold rats and the models of the tumors. 12 Then the cows went straight up toward Beth Shemesh, keeping on the road and lowing all the way; they did not turn to the right or to the left. The rulers of the Philistines followed them as far as the border of Beth Shemesh,” (1 Samuel 6:10-13).
Priests served as theocratic mediators between God and man in ancient Israel. They also performed sacerdotal functions according to divine laws and statutes. Any decadence in the priestly office portended individual and corporate retribution and punishment. An apostate and weak priesthood disrupted the relationship between God and the people, and caused the people to turn to idolatry and superstition. This was the case during the Priest Eli’s priestly tenure. Eli’s sons desecrated the people’s offering and their sacrifices, and Eli did practically nothing to stop them. They abused their authority in the sanctuary and committed abominations before the Lord with impunity, and they caused the people to transgress.
When war broke out between Philistia and Israel, God allowed Israel to be defeated by their enemies who also captured the Ark of the Covenant, which represented the immediate presence and glory of God. Eli died that same day and so did his two sons and daughter-in-law. Israel had attempted to confine God to a wooden box and treated the Ark superstitiously as an object to be used to their advantage during crises. It was a fatal mistake. The Philistines thought they could capture the God of Israel and exalt their idols over Him. Another fatal mistake. This God abounds in cosmic freedom: heaven is His throne and the earth His footstool. Nothing and nobody can harness His omnipotence. When placed face to face with the Ark, the Philistine idol fell face down before the Ark. They tried to re-set it in its place and the next morning the idol was flat on its face. This time with its head and hands severed from its torso on the threshold. “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me,” (Exodus 20:3) is the eternal commandment. The Lord God is incomparable. He has no competition.
In the 7 months the Ark was in Philistia, the men suffered inexplicable deaths and an epidemic of what the Bible terms ‘tumors’ broke out. The Philistines suspected that the capture of the Ark of the Covenant was a causative factor for all the deaths and illnesses. They decided to conduct what they thought was an impossible experiment to validate their suspicions and to test the power of God. They would return the Ark, unmanned. They yoked two milk cows. That is, cows with calves. They chose two milk cows, shup up the calves, yoked them, and hitched them to the cart to take the Ark and some gold offerings to Beth Shemesh in Israel. Cows, like any other animal are fiercely protective of their calves, particularly if one attempts to separate them from them. Cows are not as placid or docile as they are usually depicted in fairy tales. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims that 20 people are killed each year by cows in the United States alone. Meddling with their calves can be a disastrous endeavor. If not properly handled, milk cows can disrupt the entire milking process.
Milk cows were never yoked in antiquity, only oxen were yoked. These animals could not be yoked to perform a task unless they were first tamed otherwise they could react violently to being confined to a yoke, even to the extent of goring the person attempting to yoke them. They naturally resent such forced confinement. It takes months of hard work and patience to tame animals for the yoke, under normal circumstances. In this case, however, the cows willingly submitted to the yoke. These animals had never been to Beth Shemesh before. They were Philistine cows. None of the lords of the Philistines volunteered to guide them or to lead them toward Beth Shemesh. This was part of the test. However, the cows directed themselves into the road that led to Beth Shemesh. The Philistine lords followed them to the border. They did not go before them to lead them. The animals led the way. Even tame oxen plowing as a span in familiar fields need someone to go before them to guide them. But not these milk cows. They made their way to Israel. No one dared ambush them on the way, no predator attacked them for prey. They never veered off the road to graze or to look for water. They set out for Beth Shemesh, lowing as they went.
When the people of Beth Shemesh lifted up their eyes, a spectacular sight met their gaze. Two cows steadily drew toward them, unguided, pulling their sacred cargo, the Emblem of God’s presence. The cows headed straight for the field of someone called Joshua and stopped there, and waited for the Levites to take down the Ark of the Lord. They had completed their task. Our sovereign God does not need to be defended by human beings nor can He be captured by them. He defends Himself and His own. Natural laws bow down in obeisance before Him. A God who can direct animals through old, bumpy roads, meandering through dense forests of antiquity, can easily find the way for you and I through the detours and maze of 21st century life on earth. How great is our God!