Listen and hear my voice; pay attention and hear what I say.
When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually?
Does he keep on breaking up and harrowing the soil?
When he has leveled the surface, does he not sow caraway and scatter cumin?
Does he not plant wheat in its place, barley in its plot, and spelt in its field?
His God instructs him and teaches him the right way.
Caraway is not threshed with a sledge, nor is a cartwheel rolled over cumin; caraway is beaten out with a rod, and cumin with a stick.
Grain must be ground to make bread; so one does not go on threshing it forever.
Though he drives the wheels of his threshing cart over it, his horses do not grind it.
All this also comes from the Lord Almighty, wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom.
The point of this passage is not indoctrination in proper agricultural methods. Isaiah is commenting that there are distinct phases to the work of God among a people. There is a time for breaking up the soil, but that time must come to an end when the soil is ready for planting. There is a time for threshing the grain, but that time must come to an end so that the work of grinding can begin.
Imagine the farmer with a shiny, sharp new plow and a brand-new tractor, heading outside on the first warm day of spring. The tractor starts right up. The plow digs cleanly. After a few days, all of his usable fields have been broken up, lying in long brown hillocks. It is time to start planting. But the farmer is fascinated with his work. He loves plowing. After doing it continuously for all these days, he feels he is good at it, or perhaps that he could improve the fields further by plowing through them again in a different direction. So he sets out again. He does such a thorough job, and enjoys it so immensely, that he plows again, a third time. Into the summer this process continues. While other farms are well into the growing season, this farmer’s seed lies unused in the barn.
Or perhaps, at the end of the growing season, the farmer begins the threshing process. Threshing is great fun, lots of movement and interest, much more than the dull monotony of grinding. But the grinding must be done is the family is to have bread for the winter. At some point the threshing must cease, the grain winnowed and then ground into flour.
In my life God wants to create nutrition. My heart is hard. It needs to be broken up from time to time. This is the plow of God, preparing me for something new. The threshing process is difficult; it tears me out of the familiar, the ground in which I’ve been growing all this time, and throws me into a new experience against my will.
I must learn to accept these seasons. Seasons change. I cannot always have harvest season. I cannot always have the lazy, quiet summers of gradual growth. There are painful processes that I must undergo. Jesus also utilized an analogy from the world of agriculture:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
The pruning process is painful. It cuts off parts of me, parts that I might personally like. How can I submit to this process? I must learn to trust Him, the Gardener, who is preparing a better future for me than the one I have planned for myself. In fact, my own future (speaking as a lazy person) generally involves minimizing 1) pain and 2) effort. But God’s plan for me is better. His thoughts are higher than my thoughts.