The Negev: Learning to Sow in Dry Ground
While preparing a sermon on Psalm 126, I had to do some research on the Negev (or Negeb, depending on your translation). I sometimes joke that if you love The Lord of the Rings, you will love the Old Testament. It is full of characters and kingdoms and battles and obscure locations that only the most hard-core Bible nerd would know anything about.
I will admit that
sometimes most times I am not reading the Old Testament with my Bible dictionary or atlas next to me. But with Psalm 126, there was no chance of getting around this particular geographic simile. It is the core illustration as the psalmist calls upon God to restore their fortunes like the watercourses of the Negev.
The Negev is a transitional land between the relatively fertile center of the Holy Land to the north and the desert to the south. It has enough vegetation for nomadic shepherds and their flocks, but the land is dry for the majority of the year. You can see a photo of the Negev above this article, but don’t let the pretty sunset distract you. Look at the land. It is dry as a bone.
However, during a short season each year, there is enough rainfall to the north for the excess water to run all the way down into the Negev, filling up dry riverbeds and flooding swaths of land.
I asked a farmer what happens to land that sees no rainfall for ten or eleven months, and he said that it would become dry and hard-packed. I then asked what would happen if there was suddenly a flow of water over land like that, and he told me that barely any of it would soak in. It would be like water flowing across tile or concrete–it would just keep going.
This meant that if you had any hope of growing anything in the Negev, you would have to prepare the land and plant your seeds before the water got there. You would have to plow into ground that hasn’t seen rain for ten or eleven months, and plant seeds in dirt that looks like it never has supported life and never will again.
We all have seasons where the soil of our life seems like the dirt of the Negev–dry, hard-packed, and seemingly unable to sustain life. Perhaps it feels like we will never have another relationship as good as one that has ended. We will never have a job like the one we left. We will never feel as good as we did before the accident or before the illness. We will never be happy like we were back when things were going our way.
The Psalmist seems to know something about feeling this way because they chose to use the image of a dry desert, not a fruitful vineyard, to illustrate their prayer. The Psalm calls on its hearers and readers that feel as though they are in a lifeless desert to plant seeds anyway, even if the only water they have is their own tears. Why? Because God has been faithful in the past, and God will be faithful again. The psalm ends with a firm statement grounded in trust and reliance on God–Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
Where is the dry ground in your life? What are the areas in which you struggle to see God playing a role? What would it look like for you to prepare that land and plant some seeds? In what ways would it challenge your faith to declare that though you may sow with tears, someday you will reap with shouts of joy because of what God will do?
Image by Matthewjparker] (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons