Suffering and Brokenness
Lessons from the Threshing Floor
“O my threshed people and my afflicted (son) of the threshing floor! What I have heard from the LORD of hosts, The God of Israel, I make known to you” (Isaiah 21:10, NASB).
My intention in choosing the subject of this message was to provide from the Scriptures some understanding into the meaning and purpose of suffering in the Christian life.
Since my adolescence, I have reflected on the origin, the meaning and purpose of suffering in my life and that of my fellow men. Perhaps, each one of us has pondered the same thing in the midst of unexpected adverse circumstances. This search for answers is valid, but could lead to a state of frustration and discouragement if we do not find an answer that makes sense. As I believe that if we can find a biblical answer, we will be able to accept all circumstances in our lives with a new positive perspective, knowing that we can trust in our God who loves us, who has a plan for our life and who gives us everything we need to grow in Him.
King David, in Psalm 25:4-5, asked the LORD: “Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.”
Further on, the same Psalm declares in verse 14: “The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant.”
Through much study of the Word of God and personal experience, I have found satisfactory answers to my quest, and have concluded that suffering is a normal part of the Christian life and that it is essential for our growth and depth. This theme is highly present and visible throughout the Bible both in Old and New Testament.
In the Bible, one of the most important places is Mount Moriah. According to Genesis 22:1-2: “God did prove (or test) Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, and get thee into the land of Moriah. And offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.”
On the same Mount Moriah stood the city of Jebus, the Jebusite stronghold renamed Jerusalem by King David who conquered it. It is the same site on which King David offered a sacrifice to avert a plague that God sent upon the Israelites because of David’s disobedience when he ordered his captains to take a military census. The Bible relates the event in 2 Samuel 24:16-25.
“And David built there an altar unto Jehovah, and offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings. So Jehovah was entreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel” (verse 25).
Years later, according to 2 Chronicles 3:1-2: “Solomon began to build the house of Jehovah at Jerusalem on mount Moriah, where Jehovah appeared unto David his father, which he made ready in the place that David had appointed, in the threshing-floor of Ornan (or Araunah) the Jebusite. And he began to build in the second day of the second month, in the fourth year of his reign.”
Finally, we come to the supreme sacrifice which occurred in the very same place, in Jerusalem, where the unblemished lamb of God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ offered himself to be crucified on the cross as atonement to wash away our sins, obtain forgiveness, salvation and eternal life for those who repent and believe in Him.
“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2).
“Give ear and hear my voice, Listen and hear my words. 24Does the farmer plow continually to plant seed? Does he continually turn and harrow the ground? 25Does he not level its surface And sow dill and scatter cumin And plant wheat in rows, Barley in its place and rye within its area? 26For his God instructs and teaches him properly. 27For dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge, Nor is the cartwheel driven over cummin; But dill is beaten out with a rod, and cummin with a club. 28 Grain for bread is crushed, Indeed, he does not continue to thresh it forever. Because the wheel of his cart and his horses eventually damage it, He does not thresh it longer. 29 This also comes from the Lord of hosts, Who has made His counsel wonderful and His wisdom great” (Isaiah 28:23-29, NASB).
- PREPARING THE GROUND
It is important for a farmer to follow a series of successive steps in preparing the ground in order to ensure a plentiful harvest in the end. Likewise, in our efforts to evangelize, we sow the seed of the Word of God to all who will listen. If we expect to gather a harvest of lasting fruit as a reward of our labor, we have to follow the same plan of action written for us in our instruction manual, the Bible.
According to John 15:14-16, Jesus said to his disciples: “You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you (RSV).
- 1. Plowing with the Word, prayers and tears
First, the farmer must plow the land. His purpose in doing this is to plant, not to plow continually because his final goal is to harvest an abundant crop (v.23-24).
Can we recognize the infinite wisdom of God in this and learn from it? How many times do we have to plow the ground (the heart) with our prayers and come again and again when we see that the ground (the heart) is still hard and dry, until we get discouraged and confused because we think God is not answering our prayers?
Are we using the sharp edge of the plowshare (the Word of God) which can keep our line straight, which goes before us and shows us the way, which tells us when to start and stop, how far and how deep to plow? Are we so connected to the plow that we can feel when the sharp edge goes over a stone? Or has the Word of God in us lost its sharpness because of disuse, mishandling, or our lack of trust in what He declares, such as:
“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out of my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11, NIV).
It might be that we have not shed enough tears with our prayers to soften the ground. Remember the tears that our Lord shed over Jerusalem in looking at her during His triumphal entry as He said:
“If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes” (Luke 19:42), and the sorrow He felt when He declared later on, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! (Matthew 23:37).
May we understand the purpose of God in breaking us, and pray that the tears that come from the afflictions we suffer “That we may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Philippians 3:10) may be used to soften the hard ground to make it receptive to His Word (the good seed).
Are we crying for our family, our friends, our enemies, our city, our country and the world? If not, let us ask the Father to reveal to us the inclination of His heart toward His wayward children and the world that He created and that He loves.
- 2. Healing the bitter waters and the unproductive land
In 2 Kings 2:19-22, there is an interesting story about the way God chose to heal a town water supply and the surrounding unproductive land.
“And the men of the city said unto Elisha, Behold, I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth: but the water is naught, and the ground barren. And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And they brought it to him. And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus saith the LORD, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land. So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake.”
Without wrenching these words out of their context, may we find a parallel with our present situation and spiritual condition. Have we blocked the flow of the water of life in us which is supposed to overflow to others, by quenching the Holy Spirit, thus allowing our inner life to become stagnant and polluted while at the same time keeping the trappings and external appearances of religion?
Have we like the people at the time of the prophet Isaiah “stored up water in the Lower Pool, counted the buildings in Jerusalem (our city?) and torn down houses (households, families?), and built a reservoir (church buildings ?) between the two walls for the water of the Old Pool, not looking to the One who made it or have regard for the one who planned it long ago. The Lord, the Lord almighty called on that day to weep and to wail…” (Isaiah 22:9-12, NIV).
(Look up the whole chapter and compare verse 22 with Matthew 16:19, 18:18, John 20:23 and Revelation 3:7-13 for a better understanding of who has and delegates true spiritual authority, to whom and what happens when the leaders become corrupt).
To be continued in part two of this three-part series.