When the plowman overtakes the reaper

At first reading, this verse is hard to comprehend and even a bit confusing. It is like a brain teaser. It compares two different metaphors for fruitfulness, growing grain and growing grapes, while at the same time intermixing references to all four of the agricultural seasons: plowing, planting, reaping and treading/threshing.

Right away it is puzzling to consider the picture of a plowman overtaking a reaper. One tends to think it would be the other way around since the normal sequence of events has the reaper following the plowman.

The second analogy of the grape treader overtaking the planter seems more sequentially reasonable but one cannot help but wonder how that can be and what it could mean? Pause and think about it. And then to add even more confusion, the prophet Amos throws in one last sentence that seems to bypass the agricultural seasons altogether by stating simply that wine is going to flow directly from the hills. Are you confused yet? Good, now let’s look at this promise more carefully.

To begin with it needs to be said that this is one of the most remarkable promises ever given regarding God’s ability to release blessing and abundance. It forecasts an era of fruitfulness that can only be explained as miraculous because it overrides the natural law. If there is one promise to claim in the Bible and pray that it will come to pass in your lifetime this is it.

This amazing promise of fruitfulness has two aspects.

Sow a seed to meet your need

“What can I do to help you?” Elisha asked. “Tell me, what do you have in the house?” “Nothing at all, except a flask of olive oil,” she replied. 2 Kings 4:1 (NLT)

The woman in this story is in desperate need. In the midst of grieving the loss of her husband who has just died, she is confronted by a creditor who is now threatening to take her two sons away from her as well and turn them into slaves as payment for a debt she cannot pay. Her husband had been a God fearing man and member of Elisha’s company of the prophets and so she comes crying to Elisha for help.

Note Elisha’s response to her. He begins by asking her to take stock of what she has rather than bemoan what she doesn’t have. “Tell me, what do you have in the house?” There is a very important principle of faith that Elisha is tapping into here and we see it at work throughout both the Old and the New Testament. The principle is this: before God meets a need, He always requires someone to sow a seed. Desperate needs are seedbeds for miracles and Elisha knows that the place this woman must begin is by looking for a seed that she can sow.

She admits that she does have a flask of oil, but in her estimation it is “nothing at all.” But to Elisha, and most importantly to God it is that requisite seed, no matter how small, that can be used to prime the pump for her miracle. Sowing a seed in faith is like priming an old hand water pump. A little bit of water is needed to pour into the pump to create the suction necessary to begin drawing out an endless stream of water. In God’s hands, a little bit can produce a lot.

Elisha instructs her and her sons to go to all her neighbors and gather as many empty containers as they can. Then she is told to begin pouring the oil from that little flask into the containers. One by one, her sons set a filled container aside and slip another empty one in as the oil continues to flow. Miraculously the oil does not stop until every single container is full. Then Elisha tells her “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.” (vs. 7)

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