Lev. 9:23-25 “ When you come into the land and plant any kind of tree for food, then you shall regard its fruit as uncircumcised. Three years it shall be uncircumcised to you; it must not be eaten. And in the forth year, all its fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to Jehovah. But in the fifth year, you may eat of its fruit to increase its yield for you: I am Jehovah your God.”
This is a fascinating little command and exemplifies a number of Torah commands. You see, to plant a tree and not eat its fruit immediately, so far as I know, gives no real advantage in an agricultural sense. To the natural mind, obeying this command looks like another one of those ill-effects of religion: burying food that could be eaten.
However, God threw in this statement “to increase its yield for you.” In effect, He’s saying, “If you do this, your fruit trees will bear more.” There’s no natural reason for this. It’s supernatural. It’s the same principle as giving: God wants us to be free from the love of money, so He tells us to give some away. But when we do, rather than becoming poorer, we become richer, both spiritually and financially.
Fresh back from Japan, I had a job that didn’t really provide for me, and I was losing it, anyways. I withdrew $4,000 from a mutual fund, knowing I’d need the cash. At that time, I happened to read the story of Ananias as Sapphira in Acts 5, and I felt a conviction to give my savings away. Now I know that just because God struck them dead for not giving away all profit on a field doesn’t mean everyone who sells something has to give all their money away. The root of their problem was lying to the Spirit, anyways. I get that. But for me at that point in my life, I felt conviction to do so. Lacking a little faith, I only gave half.
Within two months, Amazon hired me as a temporary support engineer contractor at $26/hr. I had no experience in the field, just a Cal Poly degree, and I’d had 3 years away from computers to forget everything I learned in college. And I totally bombed the interview. It was a miracle. During my first few months, I felt like I accomplished nothing and they were on the verge of firing me. About that time, I encountered another challenge to be generous to a broke and broken roommate, and I chose to pay his rent. Within two weeks, they offered to take me on permanently, with a big raise, complete with benefits.
The theological term for this type of thing is… get ready for it… a test. Will you eat the fruit of these trees during the first 4 years? If not, He’ll provide more fruit. How do you know He will? He promised to. You have no other assurance. Do you trust God at His word? Will you lean on your own understanding or acknowledge Him in all your ways?
These kinds of tests come throughout the Bible. The Bible begins with another test involving a tree and fruit, and the results of Adam and Eve’s failure there should give us a hint of how important God’s tests are. Here’s a few more in our modern lives:
Don’t get sexually involved before marriage, and you will be satisfied.
Set your mind on things above instead of an excess of TV and movies, and you won’t be bored.
Submit yourself to spiritual authorities in your life, and you will find freedom.
Rest in the completed work of Jesus, and you will please God. You’ll even end up producing works.
Die, and you will find life.
Trusting God no assurance in the natural is called… here’s another big word… faith. Faith isn’t a mystical, hard-to-define quality. It’s how much you are willing to take God at His word even when it seems foolish from natural eyes.
The great thing about tests is that often (not always), we don’t have to sacrifice the thing we’re being tested with. For me, I gave up money in a down economy when I was about to join the unemployment party, and God provided a hundred times as much in return. When Abraham chose to offer Isaac, God stopped the knife. In the Kingdom, the only way to keep something we treasure is to lose it. And when we refuse God, often we lose it, anyways. King Saul wanted to protect his kingdom and offered sacrifices to God without a priest, so God tore his dynasty away (I Sam. 13).
At the same time, there are times we make the sacrifice. Abraham actually had to leave his homeland, and he died without inheriting the Promised Land. The disciples had to drop their nets and follow Jesus. And while Peter was rescued from jail, James was martyred. Henry Martyn, missionary to India and Persia, left the love of his life in one the great, heartwrenching dramas of church history. He died in a foreign land without ever seeing her, again.
Maybe you’re in a relationship with a guy or girl (Christian or non-Christian) who leads you away from God rather than to Him. And He convicts you of this and you dump them. You will probably be single for a while. God has no obligation to bring you the person of your dreams within a month. We must not grow bitter if the dagger actually falls into our Isaac’s heart, because in some tests, God really does want to put something to death. However, in that exchange, you gain a greater portion of His presence and love, which is far better.
The thing is, ultimately, we own nothing and have no rights. We are crucified and dead and slaves. Everything we own is God’s, and He has a right to do whatever He wants with it. The funny thing is though, when we live like crucified, dead slaves, God treats us like resurrected, exalted sons.