The Autumn of Covenant

Thus the Lord GOD showed me: and, behold, a basket of summer fruit.
And he said, “Amos, what seest thou?”
And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.”
Then said the LORD unto me, “The end is come upon my people Israel; I will not again pass by them any more” (Amos 8:1-2).

“Woe is me! For I am as when they have gathered the summer fruits, as the grape gleanings of the vintage: there is no cluster to eat; my soul desireth the first-ripe fig” (Micah 7:1).

Autumn is a season of transition. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, days grow shorter, nights grow longer, and the temperature gets cooler. The days of heat and growth are declining, and the last crops must be harvested. Everywhere around us, life is preparing for the cold, dark winter that will soon come.

The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah were also in the “autumn” of their existence in the late ninth and eighth centuries BCE. Unbeknownst to them, their days of glory were behind them. The kingdoms were experiencing a momentary period of great prosperity and wealth, not unlike a short warm spell during the autumn. Yet the cold, dark days of “winter”– collapse and exile– were approaching, and the prophets were busy warning the people.

God shows Amos a basket of summer fruit, representing the imminent end of Israel. They had enjoyed their days of prosperity and wealth– they always were more prosperous than the Judeans to their south– but had squandered it all on idols and political alliances. The people of Israel acted shamefully and sinfully, committing all kinds of injustice and sin, and God sent Amos to pronounce judgment. The people refused to hear, and within forty years of Amos’ predictions, Israel was overwhelmed by Assyria and would soon be exiled, never to return (cf. 2 Kings 17).

Not long after Amos goes to Israel, Micah prophesies against Judah. The prophet acutely feels the vast sinfulness and injustice swirling around him. He feels as if he is part of the grape gleanings on the vine after the harvests of the summer fruits– the very few who still stand for righteousness and justice. Everyone around him, it seems, is out for their own advantage, full of iniquity and blood. Yet Micah trusts in the LORD, knowing that destruction and judgment will come soon (cf. Micah 7:7). Likewise, within forty years, the Assyrians came to Judah, destroying everything but Jerusalem, leaving but a remnant of Judah to remain (cf. 2 Kings 18-19, Isaiah 1).

Both Israel and Judah, therefore, were in the “autumn” of their covenants with God. Destruction would come upon them soon, and yet they willfully turned a deaf ear to the warnings of the prophets. They trusted that since the LORD was the One True God, and that Israel was His chosen people, that no harm would befall them (cf. Micah 2:6). Yet God would not tolerate their sin forever, and Israel and Judah paid a heavy price!

What about us? Are we in the “autumn” of our lives, or in the “autumn” of our relationship with God? While the actual season of autumn is easily delineated and clearly a time of preparation, our “spiritual” season of autumn may not be as easily apparent. We may feel as if we are in the “spring” or “summer” of our lives or in our relationship with God, when, in fact, the end is near.

Let none be deceived: God will not tolerate sin forever. If we are living in sin and turning a deaf ear to the Word of God who convicts us regarding sin (cf. John 16:8), we may suffer the same fate as Israel and Judah, and have destruction fall upon us unawares (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3). Since we can never be entirely sure when the “autumn” of our lives has begun, we must live in a constant state of preparedness, as our Lord Jesus affirms for us in Matthew 24:42-25:30, and Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10.

We may be living in a debauched and sinful society, and its “autumn” may be present. Nevertheless, let us live our lives as the prophet Micah, constantly trusting in the LORD no matter what our fellow man may say and do, and show constant vigilance, ever prepared for the return of Jesus Christ and the end of time!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Forecasts

And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and trying him asked him to show them a sign from heaven.
But Jesus answered and said unto them, “When it is evening, ye say, ‘It will be fair weather: for the heaven is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather to-day: for the heaven is red and lowering.’ Ye know how to discern the face of the heaven; but ye cannot discern the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of Jonah.”
And he left them, and departed (Matthew 16:1-4).

We easily can get obsessed with forecasts. We turn on the television to obtain weather forecasts to see what the weather will be like. If we are interested in business matters, we may read the paper or listen to news about stock market forecasts. There are political forecasts, sporting event forecasts, and a host of other predictions for other situations in life.

While these forecasts are not always entirely accurate, we use them to try to get a sense of what will take place during the day. We like having some idea of what is coming at us. We do not want to be caught off guard, and it is always good to have that “edge” in any situation.

We put our time and at least some of our trust into forecasts involving worldly matters. But do we consider the spiritual forecast?

During the days of Jesus, many sought to see signs done by Him. Yet the signs were everywhere. Jesus was the right person at the right place at the right time doing the right things (cf. Matthew 11:4-6). The signs were everywhere– they refused to accept them or see them! Furthermore, no “sign” would have been sufficient for such persons, for they did not want to understand. They would understand and trust the signs that humans could understand relative to the weather, but refused to trust the signs that pointed to Jesus as the Christ.

People have sought signs to this day, and the reality remains the same. The creation attests to the hand of God (Romans 1:18-20), and the message of Scripture provides complete confidence in the revelation of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God (John 20:30-31). If we are willing to trust in various forecasts of men, we ought to be able to trust the forecast of God as revealed in Scripture!

If we believe in God and trust in His Word, do we take stock of our spiritual forecast? Granted, we may not get a specific message about precisely what will take place on any given day, but we are guaranteed that we will suffer difficulties because of our belief in God (Acts 14:22, Romans 8:17), have opportunities that we ought to use for God’s glory (Ephesians 5:16), and constantly suffer the barrage of temptations for sin (1 Peter 5:8). We also have the “forecasted” return of our Lord which could happen at any time, and for which we must always be prepared (1 Thessalonians 5:1-10)!

If the weatherman predicts rain, we grab the jacket or the umbrella. If the economic forecaster sees a downturn in a stock, we may feel compelled to sell. When God forecasts difficulties and temptations to sin, do we likewise prepare ourselves so that we may stand firm and do what is right when the situation comes about? Or, despite trusting in the forecasts of men, do we not discern the signs of our times? Let us take advantage of God’s forecasts, resolve to advance His Kingdom and His purposes, and go out and do so!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Ultimate Pop Quiz

Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath set over his household, to give them their food in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, that he will set him over all that he hath. But if that evil servant shall say in his heart, ‘My lord tarrieth’; and shall begin to beat his fellow-servants, and shall eat and drink with the drunken; the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he expecteth not, and in an hour when he knoweth not, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:45-51).

Those who have experienced high school remember the “pop quiz.” Many times a teacher would announce to the class that a pop quiz might be given at some point during the class over a week or so.

Some students would pay little to no concern and expect to fail anyway. Other students would be more forgetful or concerned with other matters, be it other subjects or various extracurricular activities. Such students would either cram at the last minute or hope that the pop quiz would come on another day. And then there were the students who studied the material and were ready. It would not matter whether the pop quiz were today, tomorrow, or merely an idle threat. All would be well.

Jesus has made it clear that one day we will all experience the ultimate pop quiz: a judgment on our lives, based on our deeds (John 12:48, Romans 2:6-11). The “pop quiz” may come because Jesus has returned and the Judgment is taking place (cf. Matthew 25). The “pop quiz” may instead come because your life on earth has ended, whether expected or not (James 4:14). Regardless, this is no idle threat– each and every one of us will stand before God one day (Acts 17:30-31, Romans 14:12)!

What students will we be like? Will be like the students who have no concern, and be people so active in sin that we pay no regard to righteousness, and expect to be condemned at the Judgment (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9)?

Or will we be like the students who were forgetful or concerned about other matters? Will we get so busy in life’s various activities, whether profitable or not, and either forget about or not have time for service to God? Do we put obeying God out in the future, expecting the opportunity to “cram” our time of service when we get just a little older, get a bit more settled, gain some maturity, wait until the children are grown, and so on and so forth? Do we secretly hope that Jesus will put off His coming for just a little while longer?

Or are we as the prepared students, serving God and striving to do the best we can to please Him at all times?

When that day comes, there will only be two types of people: those who are ready, and those who are not (1 Thessalonians 5:1-10). All the excuses and justifications in the world will not be sufficient to release us from condemnation if we die or the Lord returns and we are like the wicked servant or the foolish virgins (cf. Matthew 24:48-25:13). Failing a pop quiz– or even a class– was not the end of our world. But failing this ultimate Judgment means condemnation– weeping and gnashing of teeth (cf. Matthew 24:51)!

We do not need to live in perpetual fear of the Lord’s return. We need to be His obedient servants, doing the best we can with the gifts we have been given to glorify God (Matthew 25:14-30). If we are in that condition, we can be ready for Jesus to return today, tomorrow, or in a thousand years. It will not matter if we leave this earth today, tomorrow, or many years from now. Let us be continually prepared for the ultimate pop quiz and serve God daily!

Ethan R. Longhenry