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"Leaping Like Calves From the Stall": An Analogy for Today

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"Leaping Like Calves From the Stall"

An Analogy for Today

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The Bible uses a variety of literary devices to communicate God's message for man. Among the most common of those devices is the analogy. A biblical analogy uses something from everyday life—an event, a process, a common experience—to provide a parallel for a spiritual lesson. When we construct analogies today, we generally draw upon familiar aspects of our own experience—technology, education, travel, etc.

You may remember how Satan's subtle influence upon our moods and attitudes has been likened to a radio broadcast. This modern analogy—easily understood by most of us—would have been totally incomprehensible to a citizen of ancient Israel or to our brethren in the first-century Church.

Since the people of biblical times were closely connected to the earth and its seasons, many of the Bible's analogies spring from agriculture. However, most of us no longer have a close connection with the land, and important aspects of the agricultural analogies found in Scripture may escape our understanding. Let's take a moment to look at one of those analogies that can give us a special perspective on the Feast of Tabernacles we are soon to observe.

Leaping Like Calves From the Stall

The prophecy given through Malachi is essentially a conversation between God and Israel, as God points out Israel's wrong attitudes and invites them to repent and turn to Him and receive His blessings.

In the final chapter of this short book, Malachi is shown what lies ahead for those who will repent and what will become of those who don't. In Malachi 4:2 Malachi 4:2But to you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and you shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall.
American King James Version×
, God makes this promise: "But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall" (New Revised Standard Version).

What does that tell you? What does a calf leaping from a stall have to do with your future? Undoubtedly, there are several lessons that could be gleaned from this analogy, and an experience from this writer's past can shed light on one of them.

It was that period between late winter and early spring in the Midwest, and we were keeping an eye on a Hereford cow that was due to drop her first calf any day. At this time of year, it can be warm and pleasant during the day, yet turn very cold during the night. We were concerned that she might give birth during the night when we couldn't watch her, and the calf would freeze before we discovered it in the morning. We brought her into the barn and put her in a stall where she would be protected from the elements.

When the veterinarian arrived to check on her, he discovered that the calf was in a breech position, and we would need to help her deliver it. After much effort, the new calf dropped to the floor of the stall, and the cow did instinctively what every cow has always done—she began to lick him to clean him up and get the blood circulating. After just a few minutes, the little fellow got up on shaky legs and wobbled instinctively to the same place every newborn calf has always gone—to get his first meal.

Mother and calf were doing fine, but because of the cold weather, we decided to leave them in the stall for a few more days.

Now, for those who are not familiar with farm animals, please don't be misled by the fact that cows are listed among the "clean" animals. That refers only to the fact that God permits us to eat the meat. It says nothing about the cow's habits of personal hygiene. Cows have no qualms about relieving themselves and then standing or lying down in the mess for days at a time. As the days passed, this stall became quite an unpleasant mess, but the cow and her calf didn't seem to notice.

Leaving the Stall

Finally the day came when it was warm enough to let the cow and calf out of the stall and put them back in the pasture. When the stall was opened, the cow ambled out of the stall and then out the barn door into the pasture, where she immediately began to feast on the fresh green grass.

But the calf didn't know what to do. The stall had been his whole world, and he was terrified at the prospects of having to leave it. Even after we put a halter on him, he planted all four feet and fought with all his might to keep from being pulled from the stall. It took two grown men to finally drag him out of the stall and into the pasture. When the rope was removed, he dashed immediately to his mother and stood underneath her, looking wide-eyed and frightened at all the strange things in the pasture.

As the moments passed and nothing bad happened to him, he grew more and more curious about all the new sights and sounds and smells of the pasture. He ventured a short distance from his mother and sniffed some of the grass and then dashed back under her for safety again. After a few more moments he ventured a bit further away, dashing back to safety each time.

Within a half hour, he was dashing and leaping from one end of the pasture to the other with an excitement and joy that is hard to describe. This new world was wonderful! It was filled with all sorts of interesting plants and animals—tastes and smells he had never imagined while living in his stall. For the first time in his short life, he was living instead of merely existing, and never again would he want the stench and dullness of the barn.

Why had he been so reluctant to leave his stall? Compared to the wonderful world outside, his stall was ugly and unpleasant. But to him, his stinking, fetid, waste-filled stall was "normal." It was his only idea of how life could be lived. It was all he had ever known, and as far as he knew, this is the way every calf lived.

To someone standing on the outside, someone who could see a different reality, the stall was a wretched place to be. But to that calf, it was "home," and he was comfortable there.

The power of what seems "normal" to a person is amazing. People who have grown up in abusive homes tend to view abuse as normal, and the cycle is repeated generation after generation. People who break free of abusive relationships often go into other abusive relationships because it seems "normal."

For most of us the examples may not be quite as extreme, but many of the things we do in our lives, our relationships, our actions, are the result of a negative, dysfunctional way of living that still seems "normal" to us.

In 1 Peter 1:18 1 Peter 1:18For as much as you know that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers;
American King James Version×
, Peter refers to the fact that "you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers" (New International Version). Most people don't consciously choose empty, worthless ways of living. They just live that way because it feels normal. Until people get a clear view of the way things should be—the way they can be—they will continue to feel most comfortable with this distorted view of "normal."

Window Into Another Reality

You and I still live in this world too. Too often the evil, the perverse and the vile seem normal to us. We can hear and see violence, perversion, squalor and hatred, and then go our way as if nothing unusual has happened.

How can we keep from wallowing in the filth of Satan's world as the rest of mankind does? Thankfully, God has given us a window into another reality, another world in which righteousness, goodness, kindness, justice and abundance are normal. That window is called the Feast of Tabernacles.

Each year we assemble at the Feast of Tabernacles and have our minds filled with God's vision of what life will be when Jesus Christ returns and God's Kingdom is established on earth. As we fully participate in the Feast—serving, learning, fellowshipping, participating in the activities—God shares with us a foretaste of a different reality—a world that doesn't exist yet, but is far more real than the one in which we now live.

Wouldn't it be a tragedy to attend the Feast and yet fail to capture the vision God sets before us? That stubborn and frightened calf could see a different world from the door of the barn, but he couldn't understand and appreciate it until he stepped into it. If a person goes to the Feast site, appears at services most of the time, and then spends the rest of the time doing things in this present world, how much will he or she really understand about the reality of God's new world?

In our world, it's "normal" for families to fragment, with each person doing "his own thing." It's "normal" for young people to go off into their own little world with headphones over their ears and their eyes glued to some mindless video game. It's "normal" to spend time with people and activities that make us comfortable and ignore those we don't already know or who might be less fortunate than we are. It's "normal" to seek the maximum in entertainment instead of the maximum in learning. It must be fine because it's "normal," isn't it?

Most of us are able to enjoy some measure of abundance at the Feast because God has instructed us to save and spend His Festival tithe in celebrating His Festival. Yet, in the midst of our feasting, we must remember Paul's words in Romans 14:17 Romans 14:17For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.
American King James Version×
: "For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (NRSV).

That new reality God wants to share with all mankind includes abundance, but at its core are values that cannot be measured in physical terms. At each Festival site the Church tries to provide a variety of activities for everyone. Often, we choose to participate in the ones that seem familiar, comfortable, "normal," and skip the rest. Could it be that our greatest opportunity for learning may be in those activities that challenge and move us out of our "comfort zone"?

Regardless of how much money we may have to spend at the Feast, we all arrive with the same amount of a far more precious commodity—time. We all have eight days and nights to invest in capturing God's vision of the future of mankind. Just like money, that time must be budgeted and invested, or it will be wasted. Those who invest their time wisely will emerge from the Feast with a deeper appreciation for the wonderful world God has in store for His children. And at the same time, there will be a new awareness of what passes for "normal" in this world.

That calf never had to return to his repulsive stall. He lived the rest of his days enjoying the abundance and variety of the pastures before him. When God's Kingdom is established, no one will have the slightest desire to return to the ways of this world—to "get back to normal."

Yet we know that the Feast is only a foretaste of that world. We aren't there yet. We must leave the Feast and return to a world that neither knows nor cares about God's promises or God's values. Through the Feast, God shares with us His vision for our future. Jeremiah preserves God's encouraging promise, "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11 Jeremiah 29:11For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, said the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
American King James Version×
).

The Feast assures us that the day will come when we, like that calf, will "go out leaping like calves from the stall." UN