by Charles Whitaker (1944-2021)
July 14, 2021
"In the Good ‘Ol Summertime," the local oldie-but-goodie radio station broadcasts Nat King Cole's song:
Give me those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer,
Those days of sodas and pretzels and beer.
Give me those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer;
You'll wish that summer could always be here.
How well these words express the natural man's response to summer! He feels release, even exuberance, as winter loosens its cold grip, and the land again becomes fruitful. As the days grow longer and warmer, human nature cries, "Let's make hay while the sun shines" and characteristically turns summer into a time of "give me," as the song puts it: Give me those long days to "catch some rays," to spend time at the beach or to make money in my business. Give me those warm nights to "eat, drink, and be merry" (Luke 12:19).
God's people are not immune from summer's contagion of self. Each of us can all too easily misuse summer, devoting ourselves to "sodas and pretzels and beer." If we dedicate summertime to our own pleasure or to our own business, we turn the blessing of summer into a marathon distraction. We have fallen into idolatry.
Summer can be a real blessing. It is a time of teeming fruitfulness, the land becoming alive with grain and vegetables and fruits. But in this abundance lies summer's snare. Speaking in a more general context, Moses cites the problem:
And it shall be, when the LORD your God brings you into the land of which He swore to your fathers, . . . to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant—when you have eaten and are full—then beware, lest you forget the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. (Deuteronomy 6:10-12)
The snare is forgetfulness. Depending on our nature, we can make summer either "crazy" or "lazy," as we fill every waking hour with work, play, or sloth. In the midst of everything that competes for the limited resources of our time and energy, how do we ensure that we remember God? The basket of summer fruit is a symbol or emblem God uses to help keep our focus on Him during summer. It teaches us two lessons: one of remembrance, the other of fear.
God connects the basket of summer fruit with its lesson of remembrance in Deuteronomy 26:1-10. We should note several factors.
The Setting: The Israelites, having endured decades of Egyptian slavery and wilderness wanderings, are poised on the threshold of the Promised Land. Moses instructs them: "And it shall be, when you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, and you possess it and dwell in it, that you shall take some of the first of all the produce of the ground . . . and put it in a basket" (verses 1-2).
The Symbol: a basket of the woven, wicker sort, filled with summer produce. We might visualize a cornucopia. God instructs the Israelite to bring the basket "to the place where the LORD your God chooses to make His name abide" (verse 2b), and there he is to make two declarations, the first to the priest, the second to God.
The Ritual: To the priest, the offerer briefly declares, "I have come to the country which the LORD swore to our fathers to give us" (verse 3). The declaration succinctly affirms that God has honored His promise to the patriarchs. After handing the basket to the priest, who places it before the altar (verse 4), the offerer makes his second declaration, this one to God. This affirmation recognizes God's faithfulness to carry out what He has promised: "My father was a Syrian about to perish, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous" (verse 5).
The declaration also rehearses Israel's "affliction and our labor and our oppression" (verse 7) in Egypt and mentions God's deliverance "with great terror and with signs and wonders" (verse 8). Then comes that timeless characterization of the Promised Land:
"He has brought us to this place and has given us this land,‘a land flowing with milk and honey': and now, behold, I have brought the firstfruits of the land which you, O LORD, have given me." Then you shall set it before the LORD your God, and worship before the LORD your God. (verse 9-10)
The basket of summer fruit served as tangible evidence of God's faithfulness to deliver them. Its existence stood as firm proof that He was "able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20; emphasis ours throughout). Remember, God promised the patriarchs land (Genesis 12:7; 13:14-15; 15:18-21; 17:8). But what He actually gave His people was so special, so grand, that only "a land flowing with milk and honey" could properly describe it.
The "worship" mentioned in Deuteronomy 26:10 was praise and thanksgiving to God for His works "exceedingly abundantly above all that [Israel could] ask or think." Yesterday or today, the basket of summer fruit teaches the same lesson: Remember your God in the midst of His blessings to you. Do not neglect Him.
Pretzels and Beer—or Milk and Honey?
Is not God's "land of milk and honey" a whole lot better than that created by those who have forgotten Him, a land "of sodas and pretzels and beer"?
Perhaps Peter had Deuteronomy in mind when he penned his second letter. In II Peter 1:3-4, the apostle mentions God's
divine power . . ., by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
Peter then urges us to add diligently to our faith virtue, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love (verses 5-7). What is the result of this growth process? "For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (verse 8).
In verse 10, Peter cries for "more" diligence in fulfilling God's calling of us out of this world and into His way of life. Doing so, "an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (verse 11).
Israel's possession of the land serves as an emblem of our possession of God's Kingdom. Indeed, the Israel of God has already entered that Kingdom in type. Notice the astounding truth God reveals in Ephesians 2:4-6:
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
Because Christ dwells in us, God sees His people already sitting with Him in heaven! No wonder Paul exults, "[W]e are more than conquerors" (Romans 8:37). But—it takes diligence. Forgetfulness will not do! This is the first lesson of the basket of summer fruit: Remember God's blessings, especially His greatest gift, the promise of salvation. He is the God of our salvation, Christ having given Himself "for our sins, that He might deliver us from the present evil age" (Galatians 1:4).
Fruitfulness to Famine
What of the basket's second lesson? As if the other side of a coin, it is a lesson in fear. Notice Amos 8:1, 11:
Thus the Lord GOD showed me: Behold, a basket of summer fruit. . . . "Behold, the days are coming," says the Lord GOD, "that I will send a famine on the land."
Amos 8 opens with an image of fruitfulness, but closes with a prophecy of famine. Here, the image of the basket is ironic: Seeing it, we are to fear. It is as though the basket is a harbinger of trouble. God makes that meaning clear in verse 2:
And He said, "Amos, what do you see?" So I said, "A basket of summer fruit." Then the LORD said to me: "The end has come upon my people Israel; I will not pass by them anymore."
Isaiah 28 best illustrates the link between summer fruit and an impending end, that is, the time of God's judgment for sin. The context is Isaiah's prophecy that Ephraim (Israel) will fall (verse 3). Notice carefully verse 4:
And the fading flower of its glorious beauty, which is at the head of the fertile valley, will be like the first-ripe fig prior to summer; which one sees, and as soon as it is in his hand, he swallows it. (New American Standard Version)
"First-ripe" (bikkoor, bikkoorah, or bakkoorah) is a variant of the word "firstfruits." A first-ripe fig is a delicacy begging for attention now. When one sees such a "fruit to maturity" (Luke 8:14), dripping white sweet through splitting skin, he should eat it promptly. It does not remain long in one's hand because it is at its peak; it will never taste better. Thus, Ephraim's fall will be at "noontime": Her enemies will pluck her at her zenith of power and glory and suddenly devour her.
English readers miss the Hebrew pun between the words "summer fruit" (kahyitz) and "end" (kehtz). But even modern-day Israelites understand that vine- or tree-ripened fruit, picked at its best, does not last long. It has come to the end of its course; the rotting process will soon begin. So, we feel a sense of urgency to act upon the fruit now—to eat it before it is too late. In fact, we use such idioms as, "The time is ripe for action" or "That person is ripe for a fall" to convey the idea that the end of the present circumstance is at hand—and deservedly so. Biblical examples of this metaphorical use of "ripe" occur in Joel 3:13 and Revelation 14:15, 18.
In Amos 8, God cites examples of the social injustice rife in Israel's society (verses 4-6) and asserts that He is ready to bring the violent civilization to an end: "I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on every waist, and baldness on every head" (verse 10).
An End—The End
If that is not strong enough, what about God's words through Ezekiel?
[T]hus says the Lord GOD to the land of Israel: "An end! The end has come upon the four corners of the land. Now the end has come upon you, and I will send My anger against you; I will judge you according to your ways, and I will repay you for all your abominations." (Ezekiel 7:2)
Not just any end! The end (kehtz)! To drive home the urgency of His message, God reiterates it in verses 6-7:
An end has come, the end has come; it has dawned for you; behold it has come! Doom has come to you, you who dwell in the land; the time has come; a day of trouble is near.
God says, "Now upon you I will soon pour out My fury" (verse 8; see verse 12). Israel, God says, is ripe for destruction (compare Lamentations 4:18).
The story Amos, Isaiah, and Ezekiel tell—the story all the prophets tell—is the same. They speak of a rich, glorious people, blessed of God, caught up in everyday life, immersed in the around-and-the-about. Their self-absorption brings their downfall, for they forget God's faithfulness to bless the obedient and to curse the disobedient. The greatest Prophet of all makes the same point in Matthew 24:37-39:
But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.
Noah's pre-Flood contemporaries were ignorant of their spiritual wretchedness. Revelation 3 makes it plain that we can be in the same boat. Thinking we are "rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing" (verse 17), we are blind to our true spiritual state.
Putting God on the Back Burner
In Ezekiel 7:11, the prophet makes plain why the end he describes so vividly is near: "Violence has risen up into a rod of wickedness [lawlessness]." Because of rampant sin, "The time has come, the day draws near" (verse 12). He pursues the same thought in chapter 12:
Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying, "Son of man, eat your bread with quaking, and drink your water with trembling and anxiety. And say to the people of the land, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD . . . "They shall eat their bread with anxiety, and drink their water with dread, so that her land may be emptied of all who are in it, because of the violence of all those who dwell in it."'" (Ezekiel 12:17-19)
When will this time of trouble come? Years in the future? Read the answer in verses 22-28. The violent, hedonistic Israelites dismiss Ezekiel's comments on two grounds:
1. The gainsayers contend that "every vision fails" (verse 22). They call God a liar! To this claim, God asserts, "I speak, and the word which I speak will come to pass" (verse 25).
2. The scoffers declare, even if the prophet's words are true, "The vision that he sees is for many days from now, and he prophesies of times far off" (verse 27). To this God answers, "The days are at hand; . . . none of My words will be postponed any more" (verses 23, 28).
With this witness, do we dare put the things of God on a back burner between the Feast of Firstfruits and the Feast of Ingathering? Do we honestly think we can get away with playing spiritual catch-up in the fall, a week or two after Trumpets? Can we defer study and prayer until winter's long nights and cold days keep us home? Not on our eternal life!
We dare not become distracted by the wealth of summer's activities. Review these Old Testament witnesses against neglecting God—any time (Zephaniah 1:14-17; Joel 2:1; Habakkuk 2:3). For a New Testament witness, notice Matthew 24:32, where Christ echoes Ezekiel's comments, "[I]n your days, O rebellious house, I will say the word and perform it" (Ezekiel 12:25):
Now learn this parable from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near, at the very doors. Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things are fulfilled.
His reference to the early fig is reminiscent of Isaiah 28:4.
Remembrance and Fear
So much happens during the summertime that it is easy to place God second or third—or lower—in our lives. That is deadly. James, using an agricultural metaphor, exhorts that we counter this natural, downhill tendency by making a conscious decision to await patiently our soon-coming redemption:
Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. (James 5:7-8)
Peter also recognizes the threat of spiritual entropy, the tendency to let the things of God slip away. Although his words in I Peter 4:7-8 allude to the imminent fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in AD 70, they certainly bear on our situation today:
But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another, for "love will cover a multitude of sins."
Peter's solution—sobriety in the face of distractions—stands in stark contrast to the craziness and laziness of which Nat King Cole's song speaks. We can express this spirit of serious expectation for God by dedicating our summer nights to prayer rather than to parties and our summer days to looking after others' needs rather than after our own pleasures. Peter describes how the truly God-fearing spend their summers—and their lives.
In his second epistle, Peter describes in more detail the attitude we should all steel ourselves to adopt in the face of summer's activities. He begins chapter 3 by mentioning one of the reasons he wrote the letter: To "stir up your pure minds by way of reminder" (verse 1). Then, in verses 3-4, Peter foretells of
scoffers . . . in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, "Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation."
Scoffers indeed! These were the children of the "rebellious house" of whom Ezekiel wrote, those who called the prophet into account for prophesying "of times far off" (Ezekiel 12:25, 27). "They willfully forget," charges Peter in verse 5, the great Flood of Noah's day (verse 6). He sets them straight in verse 7:
But the heavens and the earth which now exist are kept in store by the same word [of God], reserved for fire until the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.
In verse 11, Peter asks rhetorically,
Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God . . .?
The answer is clear from verse 13; We need to live by faith in the promises of God: "[W]e, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." Peter ends his letter as he began it, calling for our intransigent diligence in the faith. His conclusion should set the tone for the way we spend this coming summer:
Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless. . . . You therefore, beloved, since you know these things beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (verses 14, 17-18)
Peter takes us back to the lessons of the basket of summer fruit: Remember that God keeps His promises and bestows blessings on us. Fear lest the end come suddenly, and we have been too busy or too lazy to see the ripening fruit—too caught up in the around-and-about to prepare.
This summer, amid all the things we do—and before all the things we do—call to mind the two lessons of the basket of summer fruit. Make this a summer of thanksgiving, praising God for the above-all-we-think-or-ask cornucopia of blessings He continues to bestow on us. At the same time, always recognize that today's world is ripe for judgment, ready for picking. The end is near. Refusing even the most appealing distractions, let us diligently prepare for the fall harvest so soon to begin.