Posted by: rcottrill | May 20, 2011

Bringing in the Sheaves

Words: Knowles Shaw (b. Oct. 31, 1834; June 7, 1878)
Music: George Austin Minor (b. Dec. 7, 1845; d. Jan. 30, 1904)

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal

Some form of words such as sowing and reaping, grain, corn, and fruit, is found about 500 times in the Bible. This is not surprising, since the Holy Land was largely agricultural in those days. But being fruitful is also used in other ways in God’s Word. It is applied, for instance, to having children. “Be fruitful and multiply,” the Lord said to Adam and Eve (Gen. 1:28). And another use of the word concerns our spiritual lives.

As Christians, we are to bear both inward and outward fruit: the inward fruit of Christlike character, spoken of in Galatians as “the fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22-23), and the outward fruit of Christian service. Fruitfulness in the latter case is seen in the effect we have on the lives of others, by the enablement of the Lord (cf. Jn. 15:16; Rom. 1:11).

It is the latter kind of fruit-bearing that is the particular subject of the present hymn. But the words are actually a spiritualized application of some verses from Psalm 126, which speaks of literal sowing and reaping.

In about 605 BC, the Babylonians attacked Israel, and began carrying off the physically able, and better educated Jews, to serve as slaves in the land of Babylon. Twice more the invaders would come, and carry off still more people. The total length of the period of bondage was seventy years–until about 535 BC (cf. Jer. 25:11).

Contrary to what some might think, the Babylonians did not take captive all of the people. They left the elderly and the infirm behind. But these were not strong enough, or numerous enough, to defend their nation, or work the farms effectively. In the fields, a tangle of weeds grew, where once there had been fruitful acres.

When their captors finally permitted the Jews to return home, if they wished to, what they found was heartbreaking. The city of Jerusalem, with its walls and beautiful temple, lay in ruins. And farmlands were in a sorrowful state. Nevertheless, the returning exiles rejoiced to be back once more.

“When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion [Jerusalem], we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue within singing….The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad” (Ps. 126:1-2, 3).

The optimistic among them, who trusted the Lord to provide, encouraged those with land to begin the process of replanting. Things might look bad now but, with faithful work, they would improve.

“Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed [literally, his pouch of seed] for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him” (Ps. 126:5-6).

It is those latter verses that Knowles Shaw applied to Christian service–and not without scriptural precedent. Paul speaks of the sorrow and tears he shed over his work (Acts 20: 18-19; Rom. 9:1-3; Phil. 3:18). In addition, the Apostle Paul uses agricultural imagery sometimes. For example:

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase….And each one will receive his own reward according to his own labour” (I Cor. 3:6-8).

In the words of Mr. Shaw:

Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,
Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;
Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves,
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

The assurance of Galatians 6: 9 somewhat parallels the optimism of Psalm 126: “Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (cf. I Cor. 15:58). That is also the encouragement of stanza CH-3 of Shaw’s song:

Going forth with weeping, sowing for the Master,
Though the loss sustained our spirit often grieves;
When our weeping’s over, He will bid us welcome,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

1) What are some “weeds” or obstacles to our fruitful service for the Lord?

2) What has God gifted you, and given you an opportunity to do for Him?

Wordwise Hymns
The Cyber Hymnal


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