Break up Your Fallow Ground
“For thus says the Lord…..’Break up your fallow ground and sow not among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, remove the foreskin of your hearts,…’ Jeremiah 4:3-4
An important principle of the Scriptures is that the source of spiritual life is our faith, or our belief system. We need to be transformed internally in our hearts and minds to become spiritual. We need to change the way that we think and change the focus of our life. That is, we need to change the main hope of our lives, or the object of our affections. Our minds and hearts are the critical areas that need our constant attention.
As a result of this internal transformation, we bear spiritual fruit. This fruit can be summed up in the word love, and we are told by the Scriptures that true spiritual love fulfills all of the law and the prophets. If we are walking in love, that is, loving God with all of our hearts and loving our neighbors, than we are in alignment with all of God’s laws.
A serious error that God’s people had made in the past was to focus on their external actions without dealing with their internal hearts. They had a list of regulations and laws that they determined to follow and focused their lives on keeping and following these regulations.
The first problem with this approach is that no amount of will power or determination can give you what is needed to keep God’s laws if your internal heart and mind have not been transformed. The result of this self-determination approach is always failure. There may be a period of time that people can be successful, especially those with strong will power and determination, but ultimately this approach will fail.
The second problem is that it is possible to “feed your flesh” while you are focused on following the set of rules and regulations. The flesh is a very powerful force. Over time the rules are “bent” or compromised to allow for the flesh or perhaps cover up the indulgence of the flesh. Also, over time, the important things that God requires get put aside, and the unimportant regulations come to the forefront and take precedence. This happened with the religious Jews at the time of Jesus who put emphasis on washing their hands and utensils before meals, which were man-made additions to the regulations, and forsook the weightier parts of the law like justice and truthfulness, and caring for the poor and widows.
Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, “Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”
He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death. ’But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying:
‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth,
And honor Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”
Our actions are the result of the way we think. They are the result of our world view. Our faith is the root and our actions are the fruit, to use the plant analogy. There is a parable that Jesus told that illustrates this truth:
He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’”Luke 13:6-9
If there is a problem with bearing fruit, the source of the problem is at the root, not at the fruit itself. The answer to correcting the fruit problem is to strengthen the root (in the scriptural example above it was by digging around the root and fertilizing it). So too, it is our internal heart and mind that needs our attention to keep the fruit healthy. Our thoughts guide our actions.
In the book of Jeremiah the Lord is dealing with a people who have turned their hearts away from Him and have sought after other gods. As a result, they have participated in many evil and wicked practices, including “orgies in the mountains”, and have forsaken truth, justice and righteousness. God is about to bring His judgment upon them and has sent the prophet Jeremiah to convince them to turn back and repent.
One interesting part of Jeremiah’s initial prophecies in chapter 2 says this:
“For cross to the coasts of Cyprus and see, or send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods?” Jer. 2:10-11
The Lord is pointing out here that other nations don’t turn their back on their gods, even though they are false gods, but His people have turned their back on Him, the true God. Why is this? I think that it is because false man-made religions allow people to feed their flesh, while performing shallow external religious activity, having the appearance of being right with “god” and benefiting from this religious activity. Isn’t this true today for many religions? If you do the religious activities, going to the weekly service and giving your money to the organization, you are in right standing with “god” but you can continue to indulge in the fleshly activities.
The Lord requires your heart. He requires that you die to your flesh and to the evil system of this world. He requires that you focus on His promises and look to pleasing Him and not pleasing man or feeding your fleshly passions or pride.
This falling away of God’s people and the resulting call of the Holy Spirit to repent and turn back is repeated throughout the Old Testament. It’s seems to be the pattern of man to drift back into the ways of the world with a need to be refreshed and returned to the correct place in their hearts.
In the 4th chapter of Jeremiah the Lord comes to the root of the problem when He says, “Break up your fallow ground and sow not among thorns”. The word fallow here means ground that has been uncultivated and left barren. It has become hard and needs to be broken up. And if you sow among thorns, the fruit is choked out, so the plant can’t produce the needed fruit.
This is about our spiritual life and growth. The soil of our hearts needs to be fertile and ready to receive the truths from the Spirit. We need to remove any “thorn bushes” that would choke out the fruit of our spiritual growth. The Holy Spirit can show you what this may be in your life, but essentially it is any part of your flesh that is being fed or any part of this world that is taking too much of your heart’s affection. It is so easy for us to get caught up in the activities of this life, in our work, with our families, or even with other “religious” activities, that we abandon the most important part of communicating directly with the Lord. We need to talk to Him and allow Him to talk to us. Much of His communication comes to us through His Word, the Scriptures. This communication is the source of spiritual health. It keeps the focus of our heart correct. It “fertilizes” the soil of our heart. It’s how we get encouraged and influences the way we think. It builds up our faith, and keeps our hope and affection set on heaven and God’s promise of eternal life with Him.
The next verse says, “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord. Remove the foreskin of your hearts”. God wants our hearts to be pure towards Him. The word “foreskin” here represents the “fleshly” part of our hearts that focuses on our worldly pleasures and passions. These need to be kept in check or they can begin to overpower our spiritual focus. When we came to the Lord, we died to the things of world and began to live for Christ. The problem is that our flesh constantly wants to come back to life and resurrect the things of the world. We must keep putting these things to death in our hearts, cutting away this “foreskin”.
Paul’s letter to the Colossians is perhaps the best example of this need for us to deal with our hearts in the manner mentioned in Jeremiah chapter 4. I’ll leave you with some select verses from Colossians that illustrate these truths. (The sections in bracket are from the Amplified Bible)
“In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; [thus you were circumcised when] you were buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” Col. 2:11-12
“If with Christ you died to the [material ways of looking at things and have escaped from the world’s crude and elemental notions and teachings of externalism], why do you live as if you still belong to the world? “ Col. 2:20
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication [sex outside of marriage], impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Col. 3:1-5