There is something incredible about holding a piece of freshly picked fruit in your hand. Here in Southern California, fresh fruit is a constant companion. Out my back door, we grow apple, orange, tangerine and grapefruit trees.
It is one of life’s simple pleasures to go out and allow the ripened product to literally drop in your hand at the slightest touch and pull. It is the natural completion of the yearly cycle of dormant winters, springtime blossom aromas and sun-kissed summer days that all lead to the moment of triumphal harvest.
Such sweet and fond thoughts were recently dampened by tidings out of the Middle East. There from this original fruitful land that God described as “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8 Exodus 3:8And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good land and a large, to a land flowing with milk and honey; to the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
American King James Version×) comes news of agricultural ruin. It comes as a result of the conflict between the nation of Israel and the terrorist entity known as Hezbollah.
Wars can be complex, so much so that we talk about “the fog of war,” because the picture of what’s really happening can at best be shrouded in layers of intrigue and misperceptions. That’s why often a picture is worth a thousand words. Such a picture can tell what went wrong, as well as what needs to be made right.
A different harvest
Such a simple picture of this complex Middle East tragedy from the Los Angeles Times jolted me into reality. It portrayed the utter contrast between the sweet tastiness of fruit and the distasteful nature of war. This picture allowed me to wander right behind the photographer into a small clearing in an orchard. There standing in an attentive and cautious pose was a fully uniformed and armed Israeli soldier with his finger on the trigger of his machine gun.
This photographic glimpse of man and war was carefully framed by the abundant bounty of fruit-laden branches, squeezing the conflicting notions of war and peace into one surreal form. The contrast could not have been more vivid.
Underneath the arresting picture was a title that said it all—”A Different Harvest.” This teaser picture did its work in getting me to turn to an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Aug. 4, 2006, p. A-12, titled “At Harvest Time in Israel, There’s No One to Pick the Fruit” by Ken Ellingwood, Times staff writer. What greeted me on page 12 was not another picture of fruit, but real, everyday people whose plight and challenge opens up a whole world of understanding for us to consider.
Mr. Ellingwood opens his article by describing the human and economic woes facing the Northern Galilee area of Israel as “mounting by the bushel.” He introduces us to Haim Bierenboim whose orchards lie next to the border of Lebanon. Rather than the common sounds of birds and the buzzing of bees associated with orchard life, there was only the whizzing whirl of Katyusha rockets and the dull thunder of mortar rounds that were coming routinely.
The hired hands simply would not go out into the field to pick the crops. Thus the fruit was just rotting on the trees. Mr. Ellingwood captured the frustration of Mr. Bierenboim’s dilemma when he quotes him saying, “It’s very difficult. I have a lot of problems with the workers. They don’t want to work. They only want to stay in the shelters.”
These workers come from as far as Thailand to be used in the fields of Israel. When Israel controlled the southern part of Lebanon, a steady supply of labor would come over the nearby border. But when the Israeli army moved out of Lebanon in 2000, the border was sealed from any foot traffic. Thus, foreign workers such as the Thais have been used, as well as Israeli Arabs. But naturally, due to circumstances, many foreign workers were warned by their embassies in Israel to get out of the range of the Hezbollah missiles.
“You sit there and cry”
Ken Ellingwood, the reporter, estimated that just in the first three weeks of the conflict, $20 million in earnings had gone to rot in the orchards. Desperate owners, frustrated by the lack of field hands, had striven to do it all themselves, from the picking of ripened fruit to packaging it while still fresh.
Yossi Levit, whose family has worked this land for nearly a century, gives voice to this frustration: “You work for these days to pick the apples and peaches, and you can’t do it.”
As the Israeli army widened its offensive, it closed the areas nearest the border and began to maneuver tanks and vehicles in through the narrow rows of orchards, only to decimate the fragile trees, even as farmers pleaded with them not to use their orchards for maneuvers. Once the military is in an orchard, the area becomes off limits. “Today, you go and look—it’s like war. You sit there and cry.”
Out of desperation to harvest, the farmers have tried every means at their disposal. Mr. Bierenboim tried to keep his crew by bumping their daily wages from $23 to $34. Even so, he was only able to convince six of his 15 workers.
During the interview, another farmer called on Mr. Bierenboim’s cell phone desperately seeking any packers for his picked crop. He simply replied that he had six and none to spare. Yossi Levit was fairing no better! Only five of his 31 Thai workers had not evacuated the area, and those who stayed remained in the shelters afraid of the bombings.
Beyond that comes the sobering news that Ken Ellingwood gleans from Giora Sela, chief executive of Israel’s fruit growers’ association, who said that the full extent of the losses might not be known for months. At the time of the interview, the military engagement was in full swing, and no one had an idea of when it would end. Also, much of the Israeli population had been displaced, and their shopping patterns had been dramatically altered. And finally, a consideration beyond the immediate season is the thought of long-term infestation, as the farmers were unable to spray insecticide on their groves for such pests as the Mediterranean fruit fly.
Another stand of trees, another time
It has been said that war never leaves a nation where it found it, and that certainly applies to the orchards of northern Israel . But it wasn’t meant to be this way. Long ago, probably not too far from this area, God planted two other trees. These special trees had a purpose beyond simply quenching our natural thirst and hunger. These trees would determine how we would choose to satisfy the spiritual hunger that lies deep down inside of each of us.
They were known as the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9 Genesis 2:9And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the middle of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
American King James Version×). And while they were in the same garden, and while they both produced fruit that looked suitable for human consumption, the fruit of each led the consumer down two different paths. God had placed no bounds on the tree of life, whose fruit would have directed humans to positive and constructive relationships with their Maker and their fellow humans.
There were no moats or barbed wire around this tree of life. Adam and Eve could have safely enjoyed its benefits of shade and fruit. It was there for the picking! But God told the first man and woman not to go near the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, whose fruit would direct man toward making his own decisions apart from God (Genesis 2:15-17 Genesis 2:15-17 15 And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat:
17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it: for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.
American King James Version×).
We know from the facts shared in Genesis 3 that Adam and Eve decided to take matters into their own hands (verses 1-6). It is from this initial act of rejecting God’s instructions that the “fruits of war” find their origin. Taking of this fruit told God that man had set a course for himself because he thought God’s ways were too restrictive. Man determined that he would write his own rules and use his own reasoning. Perhaps it is best encapsulated in the words of Solomon: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12 Proverbs 14:12There is a way which seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
American King James Version×).
It’s interesting that, at the start of human history, those who walked among the trees thought somehow God’s ways were too binding and He wasn’t giving them the complete picture. Long ago, the prophet Isaiah spoke of societies that would separate from their Creator and seek to plant their own form of civilization. God’s indictment of them is rendered as follows:
“Because you have forgotten the God of your salvation, and have not been mindful of the Rock of your stronghold, therefore you will plant pleasant plants and set out foreign seedlings; in the day you will make your plant to grow, and in the morning you will make your seed to flourish; but the harvest will be a heap of ruins in the day of grief and desperate sorrow” (Isaiah 17:10-11 Isaiah 17:10-11 10 Because you have forgotten the God of your salvation, and have not been mindful of the rock of your strength, therefore shall you plant pleasant plants, and shall set it with strange slips:
11 In the day shall you make your plant to grow, and in the morning shall you make your seed to flourish: but the harvest shall be a heap in the day of grief and of desperate sorrow.
American King James Version×).
How did Yossi Levit put it? “You sit there and cry”!
A future joy of harvest
But this will not always be the case. Human history is going to be interrupted by none other than Jesus Christ. The scriptures of your Bible clearly declare He is coming back to establish the Kingdom of God on this earth (Revelation 19:11-16 Revelation 19:11-16 11 And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he does judge and make war.
12 His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.
13 And he was clothed with a clothing dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God.
14 And the armies which were in heaven followed him on white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.
15 And out of his mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treads the wine press of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
16 And he has on his clothing and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.
American King James Version×; Zechariah 14:4 Zechariah 14:4And his feet shall stand in that day on the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall split in the middle thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south.
American King James Version×; Isaiah 2:1-4 Isaiah 2:1-4 1 The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2 And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. 3 And many people shall go and say, Come you, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4 And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
American King James Version×).
What an incredible reversal of news will greet the blessed recipients who will have access to the tree of life rejected by their ancestors. Let’s consider the biblical words of this event. Notice Isaiah 27:1-3 Isaiah 27:1-3 1 In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea.
2 In that day sing you to her, A vineyard of red wine.
3 I the LORD do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.
American King James Version×: “In that day the LORD with His severe sword, great and strong, will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent…In that day sing to her, ‘A vineyard of red wine! I, the LORD, keep it, I water it every moment; lest any hurt it, I keep it night and day.’”
God is going to partner with the subjects of His future Kingdom and guarantee the work of their hard labors in the field. The seed will be planted, the bloom of spring will bud, and the fruit of harvest will be picked. Isaiah 9 speaks in part to the first coming of Christ, but gains greater stature when one contemplates the fulfillment of these verses at His second coming.
“Nevertheless the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed…By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, in Galilee of the Gentiles. [Where were the rockets hitting? Northern Israel.] The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined. You have multiplied the nation and increased its joy; they rejoice before You according to the joy of harvest” (Isaiah 9:1-3 Isaiah 9:1-3 1 Nevertheless the dimness shall not be such as was in her vexation, when at the first he lightly afflicted the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, and afterward did more grievously afflict her by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations.
2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, on them has the light shined.
3 You have multiplied the nation, and not increased the joy: they joy before you according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
American King James Version×).
Oh yes, the Bible clearly points to a different world from the current existence of the Bierenboims and Levits and, for that matter, all the Lebanese farmers on the other side of the border. Micah 4:3-4 Micah 4:3-4 3 And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
4 But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken it.
American King James Version×speaks of a time when “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.”
Why? “The mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken.” Again, why? Because His Kingdom will be set up on this earth! Folks, I have read this last verse literally scores of times over the years, but had never realized the full dimensions of its meaning until reading Mr. Ellingwood’s article and coming to understand the plight of the Bierenboims and Levits.
I think far too often my focus in reading this verse has been on the benefits of a rural setting or the aspect of ownership. But the clear intent is that of peace and safety. Yes, of being able to sit in your garden or orchard in peace without missiles or mortars screaming overhead.
Amazingly Zechariah 3:10 Zechariah 3:10In that day, said the LORD of hosts, shall you call every man his neighbor under the vine and under the fig tree.
American King James Version×builds upon the foundation set in Micah and mentions, “ ‘In that day,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘Everyone will invite his neighbor under his vine and under his fig tree.’” Imagine if that were today and Mr. Bierenboim invited Mr. Levit over to his place under the shade of the ol’ apple tree? But there is such a world ahead for each of us.
“Pass it on”
When that time of ultimate peace comes is God’s business. But as “Christian farmers,” we need to continue to plant and sow the good news of this coming Kingdom of peace. Planting the seeds of awareness, understanding and hope will always bring a harvest to be tasted by some even in troubled times such as now.
I’m reminded of a story I heard long ago of an aged man who was digging a hole in his front yard. A little boy came up to the tired and sweaty old man and asked, “Pops, what are you doing?” And the old man looked down and said, “Son, I’m planting an apple tree.” The little boy looked at the size of the tree and then looked up and saw the age of his elderly friend and said, “But, Pops, you won’t be around to taste the apples when they do come.”
The old man looked down with a generous smile at the face of his young friend, and said, “Long ago, someone I never met planted that old apple tree right over there just for me so that I could take a bite today. So, Sonny, just pass it on and learn the lesson.”
It is in the words of this story that we keep on digging into the Scriptures and planting seeds of hope for those who will learn and pass it on. A new and better world is coming. It is in the words of “Pops” when he says, “pass it on” that we hear the reverberations of “This is the way, walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21 Isaiah 30:21And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, This is the way, walk you in it, when you turn to the right hand, and when you turn to the left.
American King James Version×).
And so I do, as I plant a seed in your mind and heart of a different picture than the one that confronted me in the Los Angeles Times. Yes, it’s a hope-filled picture of the descendants of the Bierenboims and Levits and Lebanese and, yes, yours too, leaning back on a tree in an orchard munching on the fruit of their labor and inviting us over to sit and enjoy. Oh, yes, there will be trees waiting to be picked, and they will be in due time—for the loudest sound overhead will be the buzzing of the bees. Now, “pass it on.” WNP