The other morning, my husband, Kris, read aloud from Jeremiah 50:7 that God is our "true pasture." It's an odd name for God: grazing land for livestock. These days, I hear the word pasture used mostly as a negative reference to retirement: Out to pasture. Chomping grass all day. Getting swaybacked and fat around the middle. Worthless.
The word has special meaning for Kris and me, though. Early in our marriage, when we raised cattle full time, we spent our days in the pasture—checking our heifers, moving cattle into the next field, killing thistle, brushhogging, sowing winter wheat, plowing up a paddock to sprig it with Bermuda grass. We attended all-day forage workshops and devoted entire summers to making our pastures into food for the cold, dry months ahead: cutting the grass, raking it, tedding it if it got wet, baling it, transporting the enormous bales to the barn. To this day, to me the smell of summer is the smell of hay. Newly cut hay. Hay curing in the sun. Hay caramelizing in bales rolled up too damp.
Pasture, in those days, was not only our daily occupation, but a precious commodity. Our livelihood. It kept our cattle, our daughters, and us alive.
Jeremiah's biblical audience must have similarly valued pasture. As God's name, pasture surely evoked for them his abundant provision. Without pasture, they knew there would be no lambs or heifers, no meat, no milk. Even the sparest of pastures enables life.
The context of this passage reveals other dimensions of pasture. As usual, Jeremiah has been ranting about the miseries awaiting the godless. Each nation will suffer in its own way: capture, shame, wars, terror. One nation will lay waste another's land: "No one will live in it; both people and animals will flee away" (50:3, TNIV).
Even God's chosen ones will suffer. "My people have been lost sheep," the Lord explains. "[T]heir shepherds have led them astray and caused them to roam on the mountains. They wandered over mountain and hill and forgot their own resting place. Whoever found them devoured them; their enemies said, ?We are not guilty, for they sinned against the LORD, their verdant pasture, the LORD, the hope of their ancestors'" (50:6-7, TNIV). God's people have left their good, lush pasture and entered the violent, chaotic wasteland of the godless, suffering such loss of sustenance, protection, and rest that their equally wretched enemies notice.
These past few weeks, as my family entered our yearly chaos of school and work schedules, I've been thinking about those pastures we used to tend and the sweet rhythms of those days. How restful work was then, compared to my current rush from home to the university where I teach, class to class, meeting to meeting, and back home again to dash a meal together, start a load of clothes, then race back out to pick up a daughter and bring her home. Already it seems impossible to find time to pray, to eat lunch with a friend, or even to notice the sky beyond the windows, the rain in the air, the leaves beginning to yellow. Might I be leading my family astray in my busyness? As my work year begins, I've been considering the pasture, even God himself, calling us to rest.
He's not calling us to stop working, certainly. In the pasture—as in the Garden—we have our allotted work. Cows munch grass and chew and think, and we drive through them, counting, looking for lost ones, fastening the gate.
Often we dream of rest as work's opposite, a void that replaces our frantic days or weeks or years of labor. But work in the pasture, in God, is rest. The purposeful rest that settled into my mind as I circled the field, seeped into my nostrils and ears and eyes with the sun's advance, sank steadily into my back and arms and legs, sore from lifting or from twisting backwards to watch the windrows as I drove. By nightfall, I was tired, happy to be done, certain to fall into sound, exquisite sleep the second I lay down.
Real rest, I'm guessing, happens in the pasture—when we slow down and actively seek it.
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