While the Earth Remains

Philip Shee—Jakarta, Indonesia

“While the earth remains,
Seedtime and harvest,
Cold and heat,
Winter and summer,
And day and night
Shall not cease.” (Gen 8:22)

This was part of God’s promise after the flood, when Noah built an altar to the Lord and offered burnt offerings. Afterwards, God blessed Noah and his sons, and once again gave them this instruction: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen 9:1b). With this new blessing, Noah, his family, and all the animals that disembarked from the ark began a new life with the assurance that God would continue His providence and would sustain the earth.

As the Psalmist reflects, “[All creation waits] for You, that You may give them food in due season” (Ps 104:27). This testifies of God’s providence throughout history, how He appoints the seasons at their due time. These seasonal changes are significant as they govern the planting and harvest of crops. But more importantly, as Noah’s household marked the beginning of a new era of life on earth, God’s declaration that the seasons would run their course also carried a spiritual significance. It revealed that, in His time, God would unfold His plan for humankind.

God’s use of the seasons as milestones in His plan is echoed elsewhere in the Bible. As Solomon pondered about life, he wrote: “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” (Eccl 3:1). When the disciples asked if Jesus would restore the kingdom to Israel after His resurrection, He responded, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:7). When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians concerning the second coming of Christ, he also referred to “the times and seasons” (1 Thess 5:1–2). As we encounter each season unfolding, we will surely benefit if we reflect upon their spiritual significance and respond to the plan of God embedded within.

SUMMER

Thus the Lord GOD showed me: Behold, a basket of summer fruit…
Then the LORD said to me:
“The end has come upon My people Israel.” (Amos 8:1–2a)

This prophecy of impending judgment was God’s response to the declining faith and conduct of the Israelites. Despite God repeatedly withholding judgment, on account of Amos’ intercession (Amos 7:1–6), the Israelites did not repent. They continued to oppress and to cheat the poor, to worship insincerely, putting their trade before their religious obligations, and to even worship and rely on pagan gods (Amos 8:4–6, 14). God used the vision of a basket of summer fruit to signify that the kingdom would fall imminently, and their sins be judged. The time of grace, when He had overlooked their sins, was over, and He “[would] not pass by them anymore” (Amos 7:8, 8:2). This prophecy, highlighting a period of grace before the swift arrival of judgment, is in line with Peter’s prophecy of the end time:

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.

 (2 Pet 3:9–10)

When telling His disciples about the signs of the end time, the Lord Jesus Himself also used the onset of summer as an analogy to warn us:

“But take heed; see, I have told you all things beforehand… Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory… Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that it is near—at the doors!”

(Mk 13:23–29)

As summer draws near, with its scorching heat a taste of the tribulation and subsequent judgment that will occur in the end time, it is also a time to reflect on the grace and salvation of God. Such grace was displayed in the pillar of cloud, which shaded the Israelites from the heat of the sun while they journeyed in the wilderness (Num 14:14). Moreover, since we have been forewarned about the end of time, summer also serves to remind us to “[w]atch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Lk 21:36); to be people of “holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Pet 3:11b–12a). And having triumphed over sin and tribulation in the end time, we “shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike [us], nor any heat” (Rev 7:16).

AUTUMN

For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
And do not return there,
But water the earth,
And make it bring forth and bud,
That it may give seed to the sower
And bread to the eater. (Isa 55:10)

Autumn is the beginning of the rainy season in Israel, and is also known as the early or former rain. The early rain softens the parched ground after the dryness of summer. This is the time for sowing, which determines how much food will be produced for the rest of the year. God’s wrath is often manifested in the withholding of rain, just as Moses warned the people: “Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them, lest the LORD’s anger be aroused against you, and He shut up the heavens so that there be no rain, and the land yield no produce” (Deut 11:16–17a).

Conversely, God’s grace is manifested in the giving of rain in due season, which not only allows the crops to grow, but also the growth of vegetation on which cattle graze. This is as Isaiah proclaimed, “Then He will give the rain for your seed with which you sow the ground, and bread of the increase of the earth; it will be fat and plentiful. In that day your cattle will feed in large pastures” (Isa 30:23).

The spiritual significance of autumn lies in God sowing the seeds of His salvation plan, embedding the plan in His messages, starting in the Old Testament, with prophecies and prefigurations of Christ and the church. This was when God laid the foundations of the faith. These messages were then fulfilled as time unfolded into the era of the New Testament and even into this modern age. Just as prophet Hosea recorded: “Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the LORD. His going forth is established as the morning; He will come to us like the rain, like the latter and former rain to the earth” (Hos 6:3).

As autumn arrives, let us be reminded of God’s plan of salvation, which He conceived before the foundation of the world, and let us seek wisdom from Him to understand it, and have the conviction to embrace it (Eph 1:4–10).

Autumn should also remind us to discover and build our faith on the correct foundation, which is Christ, as He Himself said: “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (Jn 5:39). And Paul also wrote to the Corinthians: “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 3:11).

Faith built on blind zeal and passion, without a fundamental understanding of and alignment with God’s established truth, will not lead us to salvation. For this reason, Paul made the following prayer for his fellow Israelites:

Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

(Rom 10:1–4)

WINTER

You have set all the borders of the earth;
You have made summer and winter. (Ps 74:17)

Winter is the period of the heaviest rain in Israel, as described in Ezra, when the men of Judah and Benjamin gathered in the open square of the house of God on the twentieth of the ninth month (Ezra 10:9). Given that this is the wettest time of the year, it is for good reason that Jesus tells us to “pray that your flight may not be in winter” (Mt 24:20). The heavy rain in winter is needed for the crops to grow after the seedtime in autumn. This points to the faithfulness of God, as He keeps His promise to “open to you His good treasure, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season” (Deut 28:12a).

In the spiritual context, while the dry summer represents God’s judgment as a consequence of sin, a wet winter, in contrast, represents the faithfulness of God in executing His plan: “In that day [when the Messiah is pierced (Zech 12:10)] a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness” (Zech 13:1); and “in that day it shall be that living waters shall flow from Jerusalem … in both summer and winter it shall occur” (Zech 14:8). When the people humble themselves, pray, and turn from their wicked ways, God will hear from heaven, forgive their sins and heal their land (2 Chr 7:14).

With God’s faithfulness as a backdrop, winter is also the time of waiting patiently for the final chapter of His plan: for the coming of the Lord, the harvest of the fruits. Just as James exhorted:

Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. (Jas 5:7–8)

SPRING

Ask the LORD for rain
In the time of the latter rain… (Zech 10:1)

As winter transitions into spring in Israel, there are still occasional showers, known as spring or latter rain. This spring rain is critical for lentils and grain to ripen. The arrival of spring also ushers in the harvest of the firstfruits.

The advent of spring points again to the faithfulness of God, as He fulfills the Old Testament messianic prophecies concerning His coming, and His promise to pour His Spirit upon all flesh. The first downpour of the promised Holy Spirit happened during the spring festival of the Pentecost, just as Joel prophesied when he spoke of the last days (Joel 2:23, 28; Acts 2:1–4, 16–18). This, in turn, followed the coming of the Messiah, His death, resurrection, and ascension (Jn 7:37–39, 16:7).

While God was faithful in fulfilling His promise of pouring down the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, Zechariah’s call for us to ask for the latter rain indicates the possibility that the Holy Spirit could be withheld. This is supported by Jeremiah’s response to Israel’s unfaithfulness: “Therefore the showers have been withheld, and there has been no latter rain” (Jer 3:3). Likewise, when Moses exhorted the Israelites before they entered the promised land, he reminded them of God’s warning:

“And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the LORD your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain … Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them, lest the LORD’s anger be aroused against you, and He shut up the heavens so that there be no rain.”

 (Deut 11:13–17a)

If we keep the above verses in mind as we review church history—with the degeneration of the apostolic church towards the end of the first century (Acts 20:28–30; Rev 2–3) and the subsequent heresies and pagan practices that crept into the church—it should not surprise us that the Holy Spirit would have been withheld until now, the end time, when He returned to restore the church once again.

CONCLUSION

“[B]ut the land which you cross over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of heaven, a land for which the LORD your God cares; the eyes of the LORD your God are always on it, from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year.” (Deut 11:11–12)

This is the faithfulness of God. As He cares for the land and provides rain in due season, from the beginning of the year to the very end, He will also surely fulfill His plan of salvation according to His time. God has sown the seeds of His salvation plan in autumn, and the winter rains have watered them so that they will surely grow to fruition. The spring rain has arrived and the harvest of the firstfruits is imminent. The arrival of summer ushers in the time of judgment for sin. As the seasons unfold, so does God’s salvation plan. And if we reflect on the spiritual significance of each passing season, we would prepare ourselves for what is to come.

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