A Basket of Summer Fruit

“In the Good ‘ol Summertime,” the local oldie-but-goodie radio station broadcasts Nat King Cole’s song:

Give me those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer,
Those days of sodas and pretzels and beer.
Give me those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer;
You’ll wish that summer could always be here.

How well these words express the natural man’s response to summer! He feels release, even exuberance, as winter loosens its cold grip and the land again becomes fruitful. As the days grow longer and warmer, human nature cries, “Let’s make hay while the sun shines” and characteristically turns summer into a time of “give me,” as the song puts it: Give me those long days to “catch some rays,” to spend time at the beach, or to make money in my business. Give me those warm nights to “eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19).

God’s people are not immune from summer’s contagion of self. Each of us can all too easily misuse summer, devoting ourselves to “sodas and pretzels and beer.” If we dedicate summertime to our own pleasure or to our own business, we turn the blessing of summer into a marathon distraction. We have fallen into idolatry.

Summer can be a real blessing. It is a time of teeming fruitfulness, the land becoming alive with grain and vegetables and fruits. But in this abundance lies summer’s snare. Speaking in a more general context, Moses cites the problem:

    “Then it shall come about when the LORD your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers…to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied, then watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Deuteronomy 6:10-12).

The snare is forgetfulness. Depending on our nature, we can make summer either “crazy” or “lazy,” as we fill every waking hour with work, play or sloth. During everything that competes for the limited resources of our time and energy, how do we ensure that we remember God? The basket of summer fruit is a symbol, or emblem, God uses to help keep our focus on Him during summer. It teaches us two lessons: one of remembrance, the other of fear.

Exceedingly Abundantly

God connects the basket of summer fruit with its lesson of remembrance in Deuteronomy 26:1-10. We should note several factors.

    The Setting: The Israelites, having endured decades of Egyptian slavery and wilderness wanderings, are poised on the threshold of the Promised Land. Moses instructs them: “Then it shall be, when you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, and you possess it and live in it, that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground…and you shall put it in a basket…” (verses 1-2).

    The Symbol: a basket of the woven, wicker sort, filled with summer produce. We might visualize a cornucopia. God instructs the Israelite to take the basket “to the place where the LORD your God chooses to establish His name” (verse 2b), and there he is to make two declarations, the first to the priest, the second to God.

    The Ritual: To the priest, the offerer briefly declares, “I have entered the land which the LORD swore to our fathers to give us” (verse 3). The declaration succinctly affirms that God has honored His promise to the patriarchs. After handing the basket to the priest, who places it before the altar (verse 4), the offerer makes his second declaration, this one to God. This affirmation recognizes God’s faithfulness to carry out what He has promised: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; but there he became a great, mighty and populous nation” (verse 5).

The declaration also rehearses Israel’s “affliction and our toil and our oppression” (verse 7) in Egypt and mentions God’s deliverance “with great terror and with signs and wonders” (verse 8). Then comes that timeless characterization of the Promised Land:

    “He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. ‘Now behold, I have brought the first of the produce of the ground which You, O LORD have given me.’ And you shall set it down before the LORD your God, and worship before the LORD your God;” (verse 9-10).

The basket of summer fruit served as tangible evidence of God’s faithfulness to deliver them. Its existence stood firm proof that He was “able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). Remember, God promised the patriarchs land (Genesis 12:7; 13:14-15; 15:18-21; 17:8). But what He gave His people was so special, so grand, that only “a land flowing with milk and honey” could properly describe it.

The “worship” mentioned in Deuteronomy 26:10 was praise and thanksgiving to God for His works “far more abundantly beyond all that we

[in that case Israel]

ask or think.” Yesterday or today, the basket of summer fruit teaches the same lesson: Remember your God amid His blessings to you. Do not neglect Him.

Pretzels and Beer—or Milk and Honey?

Is not God’s “land of milk and honey” a whole lot better than that created by those who have forgotten Him, a land “of sodas and pretzels and beer”?

Perhaps Peter had Deuteronomy in mind when he penned his second letter. In 2 Peter 1:3-4, the apostle mentions God’s

    divine power…by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

Peter then urges us to add diligently to our faith moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness and love (verses 5-7). What is the result of this growth process? “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 8).

In verse 10, Peter cries for “more” diligence in fulfilling God’s calling of us out of this world and into His way of life. By doing so, “the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you” (verse 11).

Israel’s possession of the land serves as an emblem of our possession of God’s Kingdom. Indeed, the Israel of God has already entered that Kingdom in type. Notice the astounding truth God reveals in Ephesians 2:4-6:

    But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

Because Christ dwells in us, God sees His people already sitting with Him in heaven! No wonder Paul exults, “we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). But—it takes diligence. Forgetfulness will not do! This is the first lesson of the basket of summer fruit: Remember God’s blessings, especially His greatest gift, the promise of salvation. He is the God of our salvation, Christ having given Himself “for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age” (Galatians 1:4).

Fruitfulness to Famine

What of the basket’s second lesson? As if the other side of a coin, it is a lesson in fear. Notice Amos 8:1, 11:

    Thus the Lord GOD showed me, and behold, there was a basket of summer fruit…”Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “When I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, But rather for hearing the words of the LORD.”

Amos 8 opens with an image of fruitfulness but closes with a prophecy of famine. Here, the image of the basket is ironic: Seeing it, we are to fear. It is as though the basket is a harbinger of trouble. God makes that meaning clear in verse 2:

    He said, “What do you see, Amos?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the LORD said to me, “The end has come for My people Israel. I will spare them no longer.”

Isaiah 28 best illustrates the link between summer fruit and an impending end, that is, the time of God’s judgment for sin. The context is Isaiah’s prophecy that Ephraim (Israel) will fall (verse 3). Notice carefully verse 4:

    And the fading flower of its glorious beauty, Which is at the head of the fertile valley, Will be like the first-ripe fig prior to summer, Which one sees, And as soon as it is in his hand, He swallows it.

“First-ripe” (bikkoor, bikkoorah or bakkoorah) is a variant of the word firstfruits. A first-ripe fig is a delicacy begging for attention now. When one sees such a “fruit to maturity” (Luke 8:14), dripping white sweet through splitting skin, he should eat it promptly. It does not remain long in one’s hand because it is at its peak; it will never taste better. Thus, Ephraim’s fall will be at “noontime”; her enemies will pluck her at her zenith of power and glory and suddenly devour her.

English readers miss the Hebrew pun between the words “summer fruit” (kahyitz) and “end” (kehtz). But even modern-day Israelites understand that vine- or tree-ripened fruit, picked at its best, does not last long. It has come to the end of its course; the rotting process will soon begin. So, we feel a sense of urgency to act upon the fruit now—to eat it before it is too late. In fact, we use such idioms as, “The time is ripe for action” or “That person is ripe for a fall” to convey the idea that the end of the present circumstance is at hand—and deservedly so. Biblical examples of this metaphorical use of ripe occur in Joel 3:13 and Revelation 14:15, 18.

In Amos 8, God cites examples of the social injustice rife in Israel’s society (verses 4-6) and asserts that He is ready to bring the violent civilization to an end: “I will turn your festivals into mourning And all your songs into lamentation; And I will bring sackcloth on everyone’s loins And baldness on every head” (verse 10).

An End—The End

If that is not strong enough, what about God’s words through Ezekiel?

    An end! The end is coming on the four corners of the land.” (Ezekiel 7:2)

Not just any end! The end (kehtz)! To drive home the urgency of His message, God reiterates it in verses 6-7:

    An end is coming; the end has come! It has awakened against you; behold, it has come! Your doom has come to you, O inhabitant of the land. The time has come, the day is near–tumult rather than joyful shouting on the mountains.

God says, “Now I will shortly pour out My wrath on you” (verse 8; see verse 12). Israel, God says, is ripe for destruction (compare Lamentations 4:18).

The story Amos, Isaiah and Ezekiel tell—the story all the prophets tell—is the same. They speak of a rich, glorious people, blessed of God, caught up in everyday life, immersed in the around-and-the-about. Their self-absorption brings their downfall, for they forget God’s faithfulness to bless the obedient and to curse the disobedient. The greatest Prophet of all makes the same point in Matthew 24:37-39:

    For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be.

Noah’s pre-Flood contemporaries were ignorant of their spiritual wretchedness. Revelation 3 makes it plain that we can be in the same boat. Thinking we are “rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing” (verse 17), we are blind to our true spiritual state.

Putting God on the Back Burner

In Ezekiel 7:11 the prophet makes plain why the end he describes so vividly is near: “Violence has grown into a rod of wickedness

[lawlessness]

.” Because of rampant sin, “The time has come, the day has arrived” (verse 12). He pursues the same thought in chapter 12:

    Moreover, the word of the LORD came to me saying, “Son of man, eat your bread with trembling and drink your water with quivering and anxiety. 19 “Then say to the people of the land, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD…”They will eat their bread with anxiety and drink their water with horror, because their land will be stripped of its fullness on account of the violence of all who live in it”‘” (Ezekiel 12:17-19).

When will this time of trouble come? Years in the future? Read the answer in verses 22-28. The violent, hedonistic Israelites dismiss Ezekiel’s comments on two grounds:

    1. The gainsayers contend that “every vision fails” (verse 22). They call God a liar! To this claim, God asserts, “For I the LORD will speak, and whatever word I speak will be performed” (verse 25).

    2. The scoffers declare, even if the prophet’s words are true, “The vision that he sees is for many years from now, and he prophesies of times far off” (verse 27). To this God answers, “The days draw near;…None of My words will be delayed any longer” (verses 23, 28).

With this witness, do we dare put the things of God on a back burner between the Feast of Firstfruits and the Feast of Ingathering? Do we honestly think we can get away with playing spiritual catch-up in the fall, a week after Trumpets? Can we defer study and prayer until winter’s long nights and cold days keep us home? Not on our eternal life!

We dare not become distracted by the wealth of summer’s activities. Review these Old Testament witnesses against neglecting God—any time (Zephaniah 1:14-17; Joel 2:1; Habakkuk 2:3). For a New Testament witness, notice Matthew 24:32, where Christ echoes Ezekiel’s comments that, “in your days, O rebellious house, I will speak the word and perform it” (Ezekiel 12:25):

    Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.

His reference to the early fig is reminiscent of Isaiah 28:4.

Remembrance and Fear

So much happens during summertime that it is easy to place God second or third—or lower—in our lives. That is deadly. James, using an agricultural metaphor, exhorts that we counter this natural, downhill tendency by making a conscious decision to await patiently our soon-coming redemption:

    Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. 8 You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near (James 5:7-8).

Peter also recognizes the threat of spiritual entropy, the tendency to let the things of God slip away (1 Peter 4:7-8).

Peter’s solution—sobriety in the face of distractions—stands in stark contrast to the craziness and laziness of which Nat King Cole’s song speaks. We can express this spirit of serious expectation for God by dedicating our summer nights to prayer rather than to parties, and our summer days to looking after others’ needs rather than after our own pleasures. Peter describes how the truly God-fearing spend their summers—and their lives.

In his second epistle, Peter describes in more detail the attitude we should all steel ourselves to adopt in the face of summer’s activities. He begins chapter 3 by mentioning one of the reasons he wrote the letter: “I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder” (verse 1). Then, in verses 3 and 4, Peter foretells of

    mockers will come…saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”

Mockers indeed! These were the children of the “rebellious house” of whom Ezekiel wrote, those who called the prophet into account for prophesying “of times far off” (Ezekiel 12:25, 27)? “They maintain this (They willfully forget, NKJ)” charges Peter in verse 5, the great Flood of Noah’s day (verse 6). He sets them straight in verse 7:

    But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

In verse 11, Peter asks rhetorically,

    Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness…?

The answer is clear from verse 13; We need to live by faith in the promises of God: “[W]e are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” Peter ends his letter as he began it, calling for our intransigent diligence in the faith. His conclusion should set the tone for the way we spend this coming summer:

    Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless…You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness. (verses 14, 17-18)

Peter takes us back to the lessons of the basket of summer fruit: Remember that God keeps His promises and bestows blessings on us. Fear lest the end come suddenly, and we have been too busy or too lazy to see the ripening fruit—too caught up in the around-and-about to prepare.

This summer, amid all the things we do—and before all the things we do—let us call to mind the two lessons of the basket of summer fruit. Make this a summer of thanksgiving, praising God for the above-all-we-think-or-ask cornucopia of blessings He continues to bestow on us. At the same time, always recognize that today’s world is ripe for judgment, ready for picking. The end is near. Refusing even the most appealing distractions, let us diligently prepare for the fall harvest so soon to begin.

The Old Testament Is For New Testament Christians

Occasionally, someone will pose the question, “The Church of Christ doesn’t believe in the Old Testament, do they?” Often, this misunderstanding is the result of someone who has tried, with little success, to explain the difference between the Law of Christ and the Law of Moses. This could, unfortunately, also could be the result of the Christian’s misunderstanding based on those who have influenced them in the past.

The denominations are not the only ones who sometimes misunderstand the value and purpose of the Old Testament. Christians tend to fight the extreme positions that denominations often take with positions of equal, but opposite, extremes that also miss the truth of God’s Word. One example is the idea that we live under a New Covenant and therefore we don’t need to study the Old Testament. This idea is just as wrong as wrong can be. By studying the Old Testament, we can; (1) learn from the examples recorded (1 Cor. 10:11); (2) have true hope (Rom. 15:4), and (3) be wise unto salvation (2 Tim. 3:14-15).

As we read of the experiences of Israel, both during times of obedience and rebellion, we must remember we are serving the same God as they. A God who never changes (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8). It is through reading both the Old and New Testament that we may come to a full understanding of the God we serve. The Old Testament illustrates for us how “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8, 16) as we read of His willingness to forgive Manasseh (2 Chron. 33:10-13) and how He delivered Israel time after time after their repentance. We also can understand how “God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29) as we read of the judgments that came on Israel and other nations.

There are principles that were true before the Law, during the Law, and still true today. An example is the principle of the foundation of marriage, which rests, not on the New Testament, but the Old Testament. When questioned on this subject by the Jews, Jesus, instead of introducing a new law, asked them “have you not read?” (Matt. 19:4). He referred them back to the original creation account as the basis of marriage. Even the different roles of men and women today are founded on the account in Genesis (1 Tim. 2:11-14). It does not make any difference which covenant we may live under; the order of creation and the general roles of men and women will never change.

In His discourse on dealing with a sinning brother in Matt. 18:15-17, Jesus repeated a principle found in Deut. 17:2-6 when He said: “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Because of the evil influences exerted on man’s nature, there will always be the danger of someone wanting to accuse others falsely in this corrupt world. Therefore, this principle from God will always apply. In Rom. 2:5-6, Paul did not mind referring to Deut. 32:34, nor quoting Psalms 62:12 and Prov. 24:12 when he said: “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS.” Paul quoted the Old Testament with confidence and applied it to our time even though he clearly understood the covenants had changed. He knew there are principles in the Old Testament that will never change while this earth remains.

The Danger Of Silence

Paul called the Ephesian elders down to Miletus and gave them some sobering instructions. What were these instructions? “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also, from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:29,30) Where would the danger originate? From within the flock.

In Peter’s second epistle, he gave a similar warning. “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.” (2 Peter 2:1-3)

If we understand these two passages, it should cause us to see the danger of false teaching. Sadly, many congregations of the Lord’s church wait too long before taking action. Error takes hold. How could it be prevented? “These were more fair-minder than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11) Also read John 4:1.

Church members need to be concerned and to listen to what they are being taught! If more brethren were more serious about this, the church would be much sounder. Why aren’t we learning from the lessons of the past? Remember Pergamos. What did the Lord have against her? “But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus, you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.” (Revelation 2:14,15)

This church tolerated false teachers and the error they taught! Instead of opposing the false teaching, they allowed it to take root and spread throughout the church. Simply put, they compromised truth. Why did they remain silent? We do not know. What reason could any church have for allowing error to take root? Following are a few I’ve heard.

• “We don’t want to hurt feelings.” Should we have more concern for the souls of the listeners, and of the false teacher, or for their feelings.
• “We need to be longsuffering.” Certainly, no one denies the need to be longsuffering. But how longsuffering should we be when souls are at stake? Read Galatians 2:3.
• “We cannot all agree on any point of truth.” During the past few years, this has been the cry of some of our brethren. Can we no longe understand truth? ***

Bob Dodson

A Time to Reflect

Another Year is upon us. And, once again, we are faced with the idea of “What shall we do with this new year?” What will we do different in 2019 than we did in 2018, or the years before that? What will this year bring? Joy and happiness, or sadness and sorrow? Some of this will depend on us and our plans for the year!

We also know that there are some things that will happen that we have no control over. But, we also know that how we respond will make a difference. We can control our attitude and response to these things, or we can allow the problems to affect our attitudes. Which will it be?

One of the ideas we find in scripture is the that we have more control over our thoughts and emotions than perhaps we think. Consider again how Paul and Silas rejoiced in prison and sing psalms and hymns to God (Acts 16:23-26; esp. v. 25). Or how Job, with all of his problems, kept his faith in God, even though he would have liked an explanation as to WHY he had to suffer.

New Year’s gives us an opportunity to engage in introspection and reflection. Can we look honestly at this last year and say that we have improved spiritually? Have we learned some new things that will help us in our jobs or in our relationships in our family? What about our relationship with Jesus? What about our relationships with our brethren at South Cobb? Is the church better today because we are better and stronger Christians? Have we helped to build, or become a tool of Satan and tear down?

What did you do wrong this year? What did you do right?

Did you start off with good intentions – such as being a daily Bible reader? Did you allow the things of the world to cause you to lose focus on eternity? Did you accomplish anything this year that brought you closer to God and His Son? What would you have done differently? What will you DO differently this year that might cause you to become a better Christian?

Paul stressed constantly that Christians should live a certain way to exemplify Christ in them. One example is in Ephesians 4:1-3, where he emphasized that that we are to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” I’m not sure about what you think, but just these verses will keep me busy this year. How about you? What are your goals this year?

WILL YOU HELP ME BE A BETTER CHRISTIAN THIS YEAR? Will you ask me how I am doing spiritually? Will I offend you if I asked you the same thing?

We live life one day at a time – we need to break down what we plan to do for the year one day at a time. We need to make a list of what we will do and then go from there! So, what will you do TOMORROW (if God grants us tomorrow) to be a better Christian? And how will you build on that the day after, and the day after, and the day after . . .