In the Scriptures God is depicted as a husbandman, that is, a cultivator or tiller of the soil. He spares no effort in tilling the “soil of humanity” in preparation for the good seed of His Word, in expectation of a rewarding harvest. When Israel failed to produce the kind of harvest that God had a right to expect from them for His labour, He protested, “What could have been done more … that I have not done?”, Isa. 5.4. It was not from want of preparation or effort on God’s part, v. 2, but of failure to respond in the right way on Israel’s part, v. 4.
God’s interest in husbandry is reflected in the fact that He put Adam “into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it”, Gen. 2. 15. Until then, there had been “not a man to till the ground”, v. 5. God had “planted” it, v. 8, but it fell to Adam to cultivate it. Doubtless it was a pleasant task performed in a very pleasant place, and had it not been for the entrance of sin and the curse which it brought upon the ground for Adam’s sake, he would not have had to contend with “thorns … and thistles” in order to “eat the herb of the field”, for his “bread”, 3. 18, 19. But, as a consequence of their sin, he and Eve were excluded from Eden that Adam might “till the ground”, v. 23, “in the sweat of (his) face".
There was nothing wrong in Cain’s choice of vocation as “a tiller of the ground”, 4. 2. It was neither better nor worse than Abel’s vocation as a shepherd; both occupations were honourable. The wrong lay in the method of Cain’s approach to God in bringing “of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord”, this fruit not being the first fruit, v. 3. God openly rejected it, whilst accepting Abel’s sacrifice of “the firstlings of his flock”, v. 4. It was this difference of treatment by God that provoked the quarrel between the two brothers, ending in Abel’s murder, v. 8. Cain had doubtless been better taught than to offer “the fruit of the ground”, and even having done so, it was open to him to amend his error, v. 7, which he declined to do, thereby sealing his fate. “The way of Cain”, Jude 11, was not God’s way, nor that of Abel. Cain’s sin made his occupation as “a tiller of the ground” even more onerous than that of his father, for as a result of God’s curse he was told “When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength”, 4. 12. It would mean more labour for less result, and Cain would never be satisfied with it in the sense of Proverbs 12. 11; 28. 19.
It is said of Uzziah king of Judah that “he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord”, 2 Chron. 26. 4. Although he had all the responsibilities of kingship, fortified Jerusalem, and raised and equipped an army to fight against Judah’s enemies, he still found time for pleasure in rural pursuits – “he had much cattle … husbandmen also, and vinedressers … for he loved husbandry’, vv. 6, 7, 9-15. It was therefore all the more regrettable that he did not keep to these rural pursuits, rather than presumptuously trespassing upon the exclusively priestly function of offering incense, v. 16. Nonetheless, until then God must have found a man after His own heart in Uzziah’s love of husbandry. Nebuzaradan, Nebuchadnezzar’s captain, might regard the occupations of vinedressers and husbandmen fit only for “the poor of the land”, Jer. 52. 15, 16, but these were occupations dear to God’s heart.
In the parable of the wheat and tares, the Lord spoke of the world as a field which God cultivates and harvests, “The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field”, Matt. 13. 24. Interpreted, the field was “the world”, v. 38. The sowing of the seed implied adequate preparation of the soil for its reception. The Lord likened Himself to the Sower, and the good seed to “the children of the kingdom”, vv. 37, 38. With ill will, the devil also was interested in sowing tares where he had not cultivated, namely, “among the wheat”. The tares were “the children of the wicked one”. Both wheat and tares were allowed to grow together until harvest, when the tares would be uprooted and burned, and the wheat garnered. The sowing of the good seed was in expectation of “fruit”, v. 26.
The Lord used the same metaphor in connection with the Samaritan “harvest”. When the woman of Samaria urged the men of her city, “Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did”, John 4. 29, “they went out of the city, and were coming to him”, v. 30 r.v. As He conversed with” His disciples over the matter of food, He probably saw the Samaritans approaching, and said, “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest”, v. 35. Harvest was not four months hence, but spiritually it was immediate, for “many of the Samaritans … believed on him for the saying of the woman … And many more believed because of his own word”, vv. 39, 41. If His disciples were called to reap where they had not sown, w. 37, 38, it was because God had sown, doubtless through the exertions of others, and had given “the increase”, cf. Matt. 9. 37, 38.
Paul envisaged the local church at Corinth as “God’s husbandry, (and) God’s building”, 1 Cor. 3. 9. In this passage he developed at some length the metaphor of the “building”, vv. 10-17, rather than that of the “husbandry” (Greek, georgion), cultivation of the soil. In both metaphors Paul viewed himself and Apollos as “labourers together with God”; they were “ministers by whom” the Corinthians had “believed”, vv. 5, 9. In his preaching at Corinth, Paul had “planted” and Apollos had “watered”, but overall, it was “God that giveth the increase”, vv. 6, 7. Without God’s contribution, the efforts of Paul and Apollos would have been in vain. They served but one purpose, that of advancing God’s work at Corinth, and each would be suitably rewarded for his distinctive contribution to it, v. 8.
God has, so to speak, invested His “grace” in the church. To the same Corinthians, Paul wrote “We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain”, 2 Cor. 6. 1. In their conversion, they had responded to Paul’s intreaty “be ye reconciled to God”, 5. 20. He now intreated them not to “receive … the grace of God in vain”, that God might have a proper return for the investment of His “grace” in them. Paul himself had a good conscience in this matter. He could write, “by the grace of God I am what I am; and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain … not I, but the grace of God which was with me”, 1 Cor. 15. 10. Although Paul, like ourselves, would have been ready to admit, “We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do'1, Luke 17. 10, no one was more extended in the cause of Christ or more profitable in its service than Paul. He could write of “labours more abundant”, 2 Cor. 11. 23; that “I laboured more abundantly than they all”, 1 Cor. 15. 10, and of “labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily”, Col. 1. 29.
In the parable of the Sower, even the seed sown in “good ground'” was varyingly fruitful, “some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold”, Matt. 13. 8. If it be thought that “thirtyfold1’ (3000%) was a good return upon outlay, the potential is “an hundredfold”. Similarly, in the parable of the vine, the Lord spoke of “fruit”, “more fruit” and “much fruit”, John 15. 2, 5. “Much fruit1’ is the optimum. There is another gradation in “gold, silver, costly stones1’ in the metaphor of the local church as a “building”, 1 Cor. 3. 12 r.v.
The husbandman has first claim upon the fruit of his labour; he labours in his husbandry, although others may well assist him: “The husbandman that laboureth must be the first to partake of the fruits”, 2 Tim. 2. 6 r.v. Since the local church is “God’s husbandry’, and He Himself labours in it and gives “the increase”, the produce belongs to Him, although not without regard to rewarding those who have been employed by Him as “labourers together’ with Him. Those like Paul who “planted” and Apollos who “watered” will be rewarded accordingly. There are no short cuts in husbandry; it must wait upon the course of nature. The husbandman must patiently await the result of his labours. Having sown the seed, he must wait for it to “spring and grow up … first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear”. Not until it is ripe can he safely harvest it, Mark 4. 26-29. James likewise wrote, “the husband-man waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient over it, until it receive the early and latter rain”, James 5. 7 r.v. God is not less patient waiting the harvesting of the fruit of His labours in the church.