01 April 2012

Lord's Supper Devotion: Looking Forward

Devotion presented at church 1 April 2012:

Luke 9: 61-62 tells us the last part of Jesus speaking to various people about following him, and this last person in the discussion says:

‘I will follow thee, sir, but first permit me to take leave of those in my house’; and Jesus said unto him, ‘No one having put his hand on a plough, and looking back, is fit for the reign of God.’ (Luke 9:61-62 YLT)

I recently read through this in my daily reading, and decided to stop and figures out a bit more about what this whole looking back thought meant.

I had always basically looked at it as meaning someone who sets off on a task and then turns back around or looks back and mourns all he left, and is therefore not fit to continue the task. That type of meaning can be implied here, but I wanted to see if there was more – if this might hearken to a cultural idiom or other root meaning.

Some commentators make connections with the story of Elijah meeting with Elisha in 1 Kings 19:19-21:

So he [Elijah] departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him.

And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?”

And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him. (1 Kings 19:19-21 ESV)

In Beale and Carson’s Commentary of the New Testament Use of the Old Testament we are told (slightly edited by mean for ease of presentation):

In these verses many commentators have again detected the presences of Elijah traditions…where Elijah allowed Elisha to be farewell to his family before following him. The significance of this passage is further supported by the wording on 9:61-62, where the phrase . “I will follow” appears with . “plow.”

The contrast between Jesus and Elijah not only highlights the unique authority of Jesus but also points to the eschatological urgency present in Jesus’ ministry.

Finally, the act of looking back in 9:62 may also be an allusion to the story of Lot’s wife, who “looked back” and “became a pillar of salt” (Gen. 19:26). In both texts verbs of looking appear with the phrase “to the back.” The use of the Sodom story in its Lukan context (10:12) further supports the presence of this allusion in 9:62. Again, one finds the presence of the theme of urgency in the context of divine judgment.

Then, in the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery they offer a lot about farming and plowing, and I reference just a small section here:

Plowing is a rich metaphor in the Bible. We read about plowing iniquity (Job 4:8, Hos. 10:13) and about oppressors who plow upon the back of the victim and make long furrows (Ps. 129:3)…

Other usages include reference to breaking up the fallow ground for overcoming hardness of heart (Jer. 4:3) and, in Jesus’ well-known parable, fixing one’s gaze on the plowing to be done for single-minded dedication to the work of the kingdom (Luke 9:62)

They then go on to show a few examples of plowing in OT eschatological visions, like the beating of swords into plowshares, and the vision in Is. 61:57 of a time with there is no longer a need to work the fields because others will look after it, or in Amos 9:13 when the richness of God’s blessings when the harvest will proceed and overtake the planting. Then they state:

The connotations become negative in the oracles of judgment. God’s judgment against Judah is pictured as the doom of perpetual plowing without harvest (Hos. 10:11). There are also references to Zion being “plowed as a field,” equated in parallelism with Jerusalem becoming “a heap of ruins” (Mic. 3:12; Jer. 26:18)

So, in light of the timing of Jesus’ words and the coming judgment upon Jerusalem in that generation, we can see how the plowing parable can be seen as a judgment issue as both references have mentioned.

Then, I found a slightly different idea presented by George Lamsa in his book A Key to the original Gospels, where he stated:

A man who is considered an expert plougher and a good worker is one who while ploughing never looks behind. A new servant who has just been hired, is watched by his employer to see if he looks behind.

Ploughers who look behind are not considered good workers. They look behind to see how much of the field has been done in order to recon when they will be finished. While doing this they have to stop the oxen.

A tireless plougher is one who always looks forward, determined to finish his work and only looks at the unploughed soil to see it decreasing in size.

The disciples of Jesus were not to look behind and be discouraged by the few converts which had been gained, because the work of the gospels at the outset was to progress very slowly. But they were to look forward to see the big work ahead.

So, as we look around us these days, and we see the terrible things going on around us, and the rough road ahead, let us not stop and look back, but continue to look forward and keep our eyes on our Lord, who joins us now to partake of this meal with us in the Kingdom.