When I read much of the Old Testament prophecies concerning judgment and desolation, I usually think how grateful I am not to be living in Israel during that time. I look forward to the recorded blessings after they come back from exile, but the foretelling of punishment and destruction are not my favorite reading material in the Bible. Much of this is because I know these do not pertain to me in my current situation. They are not relevant. Or are they?
You might scatter a lot of seed on the field, but you will gather almost nothing because the locusts will eat it all. You might plant lots of vineyards and work hard in them, but you won’t drink any wine or harvest the grapes because worms will devour them. You might have many olive trees throughout your territories, but you won’t cover yourself with their oil because your olive trees will fail. You might have sons and daughters, but they won’t be yours for long because they will be taken away as prisoners.
This comes in a large section of curses and judgment on Israel for falling away from the covenant and worshiping false gods. Usually I gloss over these sections, but the imagery in these four verses struck me as very relevant for the Church, especially the Church in the West (the First World nations). Jesus uses the metaphor of scattering seed (Mark 4:1-20). The vineyard is a typical image of the covenant people in God (Isaiah 5:1-7; Luke 20:9-19; John 15:1-8, 16). Olive trees symbolize leaders in the fellowship (Zechariah 4:11-12; Revelation 11:3-4).
In other words, every part of this warning could be applied to the Church today. If we fall away from the Lord, ignore his call to the holy life, and worship false gods: our evangelism will fail, our discipleship efforts will not produce disciples, our leaders will be ineffective, and as a result we will lose our children to those outside the Church.
Is this not the state of Christianity in the West? Yes, I know there are many individual congregations to which one can point in order to say God is at work. Thank God for them! But the history of the Church and the example in the Bible is one of much more power and success in spreading the Good News. These faithful congregations ought not be the exception, but the norm. In America the Church is losing her children and it is shrinking.
Yet this curse and prophecy of desolation is not without hope. There is always a message of redemption and restoration–if we repent and turn to the Lord with our whole being in love. Perhaps the time has come to ask ourselves seriously how we have corrupted the message of Christ or abandoned it all together, to ask God honestly what false gods we have gone after in our worship and devotion, and to cry out for his forgiveness and mercy.
The Church in many parts of the world, often the parts that are the most hostile to the faith, is growing and thriving. Their scattered seed produces thirty, sixty, and one hundred fold harvest. Their vineyards produce fruit that lasts. Their oil from their olive trees anoint followers and bring healing and health to the community. Their children and grandchildren grow in the faith. May they pray for us in the West, that we would have the same singular devotion to the Lord that we had long ago and they have now.