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).1