The reality seems to be settling in on all of us that we can’t avoid the implications of California’s serious drought. On just about every block we see lawns being replaced by landscaping including gravel, bark chips and desert plants. Meanwhile, we’re repeatedly receiving notifications from the water company, outlining new restrictions and warning of potential fines. If we take a vacation trip into the mountains, we’re sure to pass one or two reservoirs with pathetically low water levels. Just scanning the daily newspaper, we’re likely to be confronted with the latest battle between agribusinesses and environmentalists over water rights. We’ve been blind to the fact that the Los Angeles basin would, in its natural state, be virtually a desert, since we’ve been the beneficiaries of an elaborate system of water storage and transport that has allowed us to maintain a lifestyle based on the illusion that our water supply is inexhaustible. All of a sudden, we’re forced to realize that this isn’t so.
Los Angeles is more arid than Jerusalem — average rainfall of 14.9 inches per year versus 23 inches per year. However, rainfall has always been in short supply in both regions, making agriculture a challenge. In Old Testament times, the Jewish people were mostly farmers, and their lives, including their worship of God, revolved around the “early” and “later” rains:
If you will only heed his every commandment that I am commanding you today-loving the LORD your God, and serving him with all your heart and with all your soul — then he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil; and he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you will eat your fill. (Deuteronomy 11:13-16)
The “early rains” in Palestine came toward the end of October or the first part of November. That was the signal for the farmer to plow the land and plant the seed. Toward the end of the growing season, in March and April, they could expect the “later rains” to add the final boost for a good harvest. If either of these rainy periods had below-normal precipitation, food would be in short supply for both humans and livestock, and life during the dry months, May through October, could be very harsh. It’s easy to see how being faithful to God’s way and will would be seen as an important factor in causing him to send the blessing of good early and later rains.
The early and later rains were also seen as a metaphor for the spiritual fortunes of God’s people. Joel prophesied at a period when Israel was experiencing both physical and spiritual drought. He foretold a time of restoration and renewal:
Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the LORD has done great things!
Do not fear, you animals of the field, for the pastures of the wilderness are green; the tree bears its fruit, the fig tree and vine give their full yield.
O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the LORD your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before.
The threshing floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
For us as well, reflecting on the reality of our California drought can help us accept some basic truths we may have forgotten. Here are some thoughts that have come to me:
(1) I live close to the edge. I’m never more than a rainfall away from starvation. The “Big One” can come at any moment on the San Andreas Fault. This breath may be my last.
(2) I am totally dependent on God. He graciously gives me the rain, the sunshine, the air, people who care about me. I have every reason to be humble before him.
(3) I can only thrive if I remain in harmony with the rest of his creation. The early and later rains stand for all the rhythms of nature; if I disrespect those rhythms, I will destroy myself.
(4) This harmony needs to extend to every person around me, to every human in the world, to all the plants and animals that populate his vast living network.
The Prophet Jeremiah expressed the sad plight of those who refuse to accept the truth about the early and later rains:
“The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.” (Jeremiah 8:20)
— Pastor George Van Alstine