– Isaiah 61:1b-5b
So began a miserable conversation with my building contractor, Eladio Stoltzfus, on a miserable day ... that turned into a miserable month.
Located in rural Maryland, my home doesn't enjoy the convenience of being tied into a municipal sewer complex. Instead, we have the next-best alternative, which is a private, underground septic system. And, if you know anything about septics, they either work ... or they DON'T. And on this particular day? Suffice it to say that my brand-spanking new system definitely DIDN'T!
All I ask of a septic system is, when I flush, I want things gone. Gone for GOOD -- NO RETURNS, PLEASE! But on this dismal morning, as I stepped down into my lovely, finished basement ... Horrors! Returns EVERYWHERE! Shooting out of the septic vent ... all across the floor!
Freeze scene ... (We'll be back!)
* * *
Continuing our tour of Isaiah 61, the Messianic Playbook, we come to this curious statement, this glorious promise made to the "Blessed Mournful" – that unique group we've been studying who profoundly lament the sinful, fallen state of their society, and who are ready to commit their lives to being ambassadors of change:
"... The sons of the foreigner [alien] shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers."
As with any piece of God-given Scripture, this one can be, and has indeed been, wrenched out of its rightful context by spokesmen – on both sides of the debate -- of social policies ranging from slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries, to immigration reform in our own time.
But, to those of us who identify as heirs to the promises in Isaiah 61, the burning question is twofold: What was the statement's meaning to its original audience? And, what should it look like for us, living now in the Messianic Age?
We cannot arrive at the second answer without an accurate perspective on the first. When the Holy Spirit, through the prophet Isaiah, spoke of FOREIGNERS – or ALIENS, as the King James and other versions render it – He was NOT referring to the idolatrous, perverted people groups who had inhabited (and were still inhabiting, contrary to God's perfect will ... but that' a topic for another study!) the "promised land" of Canaan. Those cultures were so utterly corrupt, immersed in sexual immorality, infant sacrifice, and other abominable behavior that God's people were ordered to wipe them out. Make no treaties with them, no intermarriage, no working relationships. No "plowmen and vinedressers." Nada!
On the other hand, God called for quite a different sort of treatment for foreigners – aliens – who out of admiration for the people of God, the Israelites, chose to live among them. There were, in fact, countless such immigrants from the surrounding nations. The Lord was quite in favor of this state of affairs. In fact, when we peek at the previous chapter, Isaiah 60, it says, "... The Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising." (vv. 2b-3)
And provided these Gentiles honored God and observed the Law of Moses (see Leviticus 24:22), they were to be treated as equals and not oppressed or enslaved (Leviticus 19:33-34). On the contrary, foreigners would often move to Israel to be "plowmen and vinedressers" because they knew they could expect honest, godly employers–a much better situation than in their own lands.
But now, back to ... HOW does all of this relate to my heretofore-lovely basement awash in raw sewage?
Well, it has to do with the second part of our question regarding today's Isaiah 61 segment: What should this promise -- "... The sons of the foreigner [alien] shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers" -- look like for US, living now in the Messianic Age?
If you're at all familiar with Pennsylvania Dutch names, you've probably guessed by now that Eladio Stoltzfus is a member of the Amish community. In fact, having lived right on the Pennsylvania border for the past 28 years, I've found it wise to engage the services of Amish-owned companies such as Eladio's whenever I need something done RIGHT. Fine Amish businessmen have replaced my roof, remodeled my kitchen, built the furniture for my home, provided tree service, excavation services, and constructed a very large addition on the back of my house.
Now, if you have any experience with home projects, you know that things don't always go as expected. And, that's where members of the Amish community shine, when it comes to a godly work ethic, pride in their craftsmanship, making things right when they go amiss, and honesty—"to a fault"!
In the sad case of the septic fiasco, it all began with my county's requirement that we move the septic system further from the house before we could install the addition. So, my contractor "subbed" the work, in good faith, to another company (NOT Amish) who, as it turned out, didn't know a septic tank from a hole in their head. They properly crushed the old tank and trucked in a brand new one, dug the hole, and plopped it in ... but not deep enough. So, the line from the house to the tank was running UPHILL. And after a number of weeks, a symphony of factors including the viscosity of liquids and solids, and a pesky little force known as "gravity" ... resulted in a clogged sewage line and ... you know the rest of that story!
But the "miserable day that turned into a miserable month" could have been much, much worse. In short, the subcontractor did NOT rectify his mistake, even after we hired an independent inspector who confirmed that the root cause was the tank not being installed deep enough and the line running uphill. Instead, Eladio Stoltzfus himself paid OUT OF POCKET (over $3000) to hire another excavating company – AMISH, this time! – to exhume the tank, dig the pit deeper, reinstall the tank, clear out and rerun the lines, and even replant the lawn that had been disturbed. He never once complained or tried to deflect blame.
And that was just one example of the numerous little issues – every construction project has them! – that Eladio dealt with in a manner that was more than just "professional"; it was always gracious and godly. In fact, ask anyone living near one of the many Amish communities across the U.S. who has had an opportunity to work with an Amish contractor, and you'll find that, more than likely, they would never take their work elsewhere.
As for "plowmen and vinedressers," I've found that Amish-owned companies don't just employ "their own"; they also hire skilled workers from all walks of life who seem thrilled to be working for an Amish firm. One of Eladio's employees, a master carpenter who spent weeks doing the interior finishing work on my house addition, confided that, during the twelve years he's worked for Eladio, he has been offered work by other (non-Amish) companies, often for a higher salary, but always turns it down. "I could never find someone who treats his employees with such honesty and respect," he said.
In retrospect, our previous study focused on Isaiah 61:5a, "Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks." We found that, not only does our Lord wish to bless us in work and business when we're faithful and put His kingdom first, but He also causes "strangers" – non-believers – to appreciate and support what we're doing.
To round it out, verse 5b, "... The sons of the foreigner [alien] shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers," echoes the glorious promises of Isaiah 60. (Read that entire chapter when you have a chance!) The last shall be first. The meek shall inherit the earth. The lowly, humble, god-fearing servant of God shall, in fact, be the head and not the tail! A city set on a hill. Gentiles shall come to our light, and kings to the brightness of our rising.
WHY? Because we're brilliant and deserving of adulation? No, indeed! Rather, it's because the Light in us is Jesus, and we're to draw all men to Him.
My friend, the master carpenter who works for Eladio Stoltzfus, is not a Christian ... yet. But he's keenly aware of the light he sees in his employer's spirit, and he's "almost persuaded" to be a Christian himself. Any day now! The Holy Spirit is still at work....
Why not pray ...
How unsearchable are Your judgments, and Your ways past finding out! [Romans 11:33] Thank you for promising to bless us, Your faithful servants, even in the apparently mundane dimension of work and business, so those who are alien to Your love and character will see them reflected in our own lives, want to partner with us, work with us or for us, and ultimately come to know the same God we serve.
In Jesus' name. Amen"
Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 3/27/2022.
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