THIS SERIES: BRINGING HOME THE FEAST
We need rain. Chatting to our farmer-neighbour this week, he commented that the urgency was growing; rain is needed to swell the grain, otherwise there would be nothing to harvest next month.
And while at the moment, the countryside is showing the lush green and burgeoning growth which marks early summer in the UK, and fruit blossom has been prolific, a prolonged dry spell is causing the ground to become hard, river levels low, and affect fruit-growth—with consequences for both humans and wildlife. We will be glad when it finally pours, the hills shroud in mist, and the water courses become alive with rushing water. Then when the sun shines again, everything will be gloriously fresh and sparkling, and the sound of the vegetation drinking in moisture will be almost audible.
The rains of spring were of huge importance to Israel. The 'former' or autumn rains softened the ground ready for planting, while the 'latter', or spring rains swelled the crops, ready for harvest. The consequences of either of these rains failing were serious.
Rejoice, you people of Jerusalem! Rejoice in the LORD your God!
For the rain He sends demonstrates His faithfulness.
Once more the autumn rains will come,
as well as the rains of spring.
The threshing floors will again be piled high with grain,
and the presses will overflow with new wine and olive oil.
[Joel 2:23 NLT]
In Egypt, the land had been irrigated by slave labour, pumping the water from the Nile, a picture of supply through man’s effort. In contrast, Israel was watered from 'heaven', a prophetic statement of Israel’s relationship to, and dependence on God.
And with this background, it wasn't surprising that water and rain were also used as prophetic pictures of the Holy Spirit:
For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.
The word for the early autumn rains, yoreh, comes from the same root as 'to shoot or cast, or teach'; these rains softened the ground, so that the later rains didn't flood and devastate. The Hebrew for the spring rains, malkosh, have as their root, a word which means 'to glean, gather or take everything'. Both rains were vital in preparing the produce for the year’s harvest, the first fruits of which were celebrated at three great annual festivals.
The festival of Pentecost was known in Israel as the Feast of Weeks (Leviticus 23:16) and celebrated the first fruits of the wheat harvest.
We can see a spiritual application here: hearts may be softened and prepared through learning about Jesus, whether through conversation, reading material or a sermon. But they still need the powerful action of the Holy Spirit, as demonstrated on the Day of Pentecost, to give the all-important revelation and encounter with the King of Kings.
I wonder how many in our sphere of influence are ready for the 'latter rain', the work of the Spirit in readiness for harvest? How many have softened and responsive hearts, have heard the good news about Jesus, but are still needing that revelation and encounter to enable them to step into the light?
Zechariah encourages us:
Ask the LORD for rain in the springtime;
it is the LORD who sends the thunderstorms.
He gives showers of rain to all people, and plants of the field to everyone.
As we conclude these reflections on Pentecost, let's pray for the rain!
NEXT WEEK: NEW SERIES
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[Photo credits: Thomas Couillard (rain); Andreas Schantl (barley); Brooke Cagle (laptop) @ Unsplash, with thanks]
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