We had a Sunday School lesson based on teacher and historian Ray Vander Laan’s series, ‘That the World May Know.’ I highly recommend looking into this series / these teachings. A YouTube search will offer up several videos to get you started.
This particular study was called, ‘A Well-Watered Garden.’ Mr. Vander Laan took the group in Israel to a portion of a hillside vineyard or garden (Hebrew, gan; plural, ganim).
Imagine, if you will, the land that God created for these farms. It was perfect. Did it look perfect? Not likely. The early Israelites’ ancestors had come from bondage in Egypt. They must have heard the stories of the rich farmland of the Nile River basin. They were promised a land flowing with milk and honey.
But they had spent 40 years wandering in the desert. Those desert years had taught them some things:
- Dependence on God
- How to listen to their leader (Moses, then Joshua)
- The dangers of not listening to God / their leaders
- A sense of community
- In all that moving around, they had each other to depend upon: it was them against the world
- Who their enemies were, and how to do battle
The desert was a wasteland. When they thought of a land flowing with milk and honey, what did they picture? Whatever met their eyes, it was better than the desert. God had promised that (Deut 6.10, 11) “it shall be, when the LORD thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not.”
When that rocky soil and those terraces met their eyes, did they have to shift their paradigms? Were they willing to put aside whatever they had imagined, and accept what God gave them? Did they see this new land as the amazing gift that it was?
The hillsides had been transformed into terraces so the crops of figs, olives, and grapes could be grown.
I found it interesting that each family’s portion was not a vertical strip of several layers, going up the hillside, but the land they took care of and farmed was one terraced layer.
You can imagine, as folks were tending their gardens, that they would often run into each other, looking up at cousin Ashan and waving, or down at Uncle Bozkath to ask about his new grandchild.
The farmers tending their gardens had much work to do in order to reap a good harvest. And most of the work was communal work: digging cisterns and irrigation, using rainfall to best advantage, grafting plants from each other, prevention of disease and rot, harvesting and using the fruit, and maintaining the walls.
The walls had to be kept strong and firm. If the garden walls above your own crumbled, that soil and water would come pouring down to make a mess of your own garden. And a fellow couldn’t necessarily see his own wall: he would have to walk in his neighbor’s garden, below, to inspect his own walls. Most often, each gardener would keep an eye on his neighbor’s wall, and shore it up when needed. They depended on each other to maintain their walls: Uncle Bozkath kept an eye on Zanoah’s wall; Zanoah kept an eye on Ashan’s wall.
The ground these farmers used for their crops was not the rich loam we are used to seeing in modern gardens. No, these olive and fig trees, and grape vines, grow in rocky soil. When building their terraces, they were able to access a rich store of supplies in the rocky ground.
Once in a while, the soil would shift, a rock in the wall would loosen, a hole would work its way there. Accordingly, as each farmer worked his plot, he might find a rock in his soil. Those of you who garden or farm might look upon those rocks in your soil and groan. Not those Israelites. They knew they were a gift, and they knew just what to do with them: Look at your neighbor’s wall, and see where that rock fits in to shore it up and make it stronger.
I love how God is Lord of Relationships. He created us to have relationship with Him, and with each other. He creates opportunity for relationships. Make Him Lord of your relationships.
I love how God gives us gifts. He gives us work to do, and the resources to use.
Some people see a rock, an obstacle, a nuisance.
Other people see a useful gift.
Who are your neighbors? What are the rocks in your life? Ask God what He would have you do.