Breaking New Ground
For thus says the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: “Break up your fallow ground, And do not sow among thorns (Jeremiah 4:3).
The Covenant people of God, called by His name Jehovah (YHWH), had reached the point where their only hope was to “plow new ground” and start fresh (so to speak). The soil and seed motif is used several times in the Old and New Testament to illustrate God’s word at the mercy of the conditions into which it is sown. The word itself will not return unto God void but will accomplish the thing it is sent to do. So we know the trouble is never with the word. Moreover, God is faithful to send the rain (Holy Spirit) often upon the earth (Hebrews 6:7). However, the seed was still subject to the soil and the immediate environment.
God tells the Jews, in effect, to “break new ground.” The Hebrew verb and its cognate noun refer to virgin soil (Heb. nîrû lāḵem nîr). Sowing preceded plowing. The farmer scattered his seed over the unploughed stubble, on the path, among the thorns, on rocky ground, etc. (Mar 4:3-8). The whole was then plowed in. This may seem bad farming to the Western mind but it was the custom of centuries in Palestine. [See Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus (31972), pp. 11f (NICNT).]
“Breaking up the ground” is a picture of deep repentance. Not the superficial repentance conveyed by formulas and liturgical utterances mouthed during a reform movement, but repentance of the kind outlined in Jeremiah 4:1-2, a deep and radical repentance which was not a working over of old ground but was demonstrated in the opening up of new ground—new wine in new bottles (cf. Matthew 9:17; Mark 2:22 NICNT). These are areas of our lives that we have neglected in times past and have become hardened to change.
“It is a terrible thing to be deceived but the worst thing is to be self-deceived” (GW North). It’s not unusual for a person to have one or more areas of their lives where God’s word has yet to make an impact. Ungodly or unbiblical behaviors and outlooks demonstrate this. God expected the people to come before Him and allow the Holy Spirit to do a deep work. In modern times, this might require opening the word of God, giving Him our undivided attention, and allowing the word to challenge our thinking and convict us of bad behaviors and attitudes.
Too many times we make excuses for bad behavior rather than allowing God to change us. This attitude can only ever lead to a showdown between God and He has a track record of winning. He’s undefeated for thousands of years. He is never at a loss for a means of dealing with sin and rebellion. As the late non-conformist minister Matthew Henry once said, “His quiver is always full.” So we are best to “agree with our adversary while we are in the way with Him” (Matthew 5:25) lest we end up punished for our sin rather than forgiven of it.
In his classic book, “The Screwtape Letters,” C.S Lewis reveals the enemies strategy when the experienced demon in his analogy counsels his young apprentice that “You must bring her/him (the person the demon is trying to deceive) to a condition in which he can practice self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself, which are perfectly clear to anyone who has over lived in the same house with him or worked the same office.”
We are no less at risk of being blind to our own shortcomings than the Jews were. It’s easy to spot quirks, bad thinking, bad behavior, strongholds, or compromise in others, but what about when we look in the mirror? When we look into the “perfect law of liberty” (the Bible) do we immediately forget what kind of person we are (James 1:25). Are we even conscious of repulsive behavior or excuses we are making for our own bad behavior or that of a loved one?
Solomon once said that dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off a stench; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor (Ecclesiastes 10:1). People who are in reputation for wisdom can have blind spots in their life that put their reputation for wisdom at risk. People wonder, “how can they possibly think that that behavior is okay?” Or, why are they defending some certain sin? Maybe it’s a mean spirit that comes out at times or pride. Whatever it is it goes undiscovered and unrepented of.
God’s solution is simple, “Break up your fallow ground, And do not sow among thorns.” We must get on our knees if necessary, with a Bible in hand, and allow God to tear down the strongholds in our lives. If we won’t take the initiative it means we are content with where our walk with God is taking us. But understand that God will never be content until the dead flies are removed and our life is diffusing the fragrance of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:15). He will get our attention. He will bring us face to face with our faults with the grace to finally bring change.