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Are You Caraway or Cumin?

When suffering comes, we invariably ask questions. Why? Why me? Why this? The questions grow more insistent when we compare our suffering to those around us, when the stacks seem so uneven. Why do I experience chronic pain when he’s carefree? Why did my husband walk out when hers loves dotingly?

Or, when roles reverse, we ask the same questions with a tinge of survivor’s guilt: What have I done to deserve an intact family when they’ve buried three children?

These questions express a struggle to trust, an urge to understand. However, as finite creatures, we might not get it. The finite cannot comprehend the infinite, as the reformers loved to say. So what should we do with our unanswered questions? Isaiah offers help.

When we open our Bibles to Isaiah 28, we see Judah facing a brutal invasion. People clamor for answers. Will they suffer the same fate as conquered Samaria? Must the chastening, sanctifying process look exactly the same for both kingdoms?

Consider the Caraway and Cumin

Not necessarily. Isaiah interrupts his prophecy and bids the people of Judah to consider the farmer. The farmer knows how to prepare the ground. He knows how, where, and when to plant the various types of seeds (vv. 23–26). He knows exactly how to harvest each crop so as not to damage any of the fruit:

Caraway is not threshed with a sledge, nor is the wheel of a cart rolled over cumin; caraway is beaten out with a rod, and cumin with a stick. Grain must be ground to make bread; so one does not go on threshing it forever. The wheels of a threshing cart may be rolled over it, but one does not use horses to grind grain. (vv. 27–28, NIV)

Isaiah’s audience had grown caraway and cumin. They knew the tricks of the trade, the necessary differences in process. So Isaiah isn’t explaining the agricultural process to the people. Instead, he invites them (and us) to put themselves in the place of the caraway and cumin.

How bewildered they must have been amid their suffering—and how sorely tempted to ask, Why am I here? Why do I have to endure the beating? Why am I ground under the threshing cart when my neighbor gets a few gentle whacks with a stick? The answer is that the Farmer knows what he’s doing.

Consider the Farmer’s Goodness and Grace

The Farmer knows how to accomplish his goal. The confused seed may be tempted to believe the farmer aims to destroy it, but he sees the greater potential. The purposed end of the seed is the finished loaf of bread. The breaking down is the building up.

In the same way, the Lord has good and gracious purposes for his children. The farmer knows how best to bring forth fruit from the land, and the Lord knows how best to produce his spiritual fruit in us. Who is this God so working in us? He is “the LORD Almighty, whose plan is wonderful, whose wisdom is magnificent” (v. 29). We can trust the Farmer.

The farmer knows how best to bring forth fruit from the land, and the Lord knows how best to produce his spiritual fruit in us.

We have greater cause to trust, for God has displayed the fullness of his love, the goodness of his plan, and the immensity of his wisdom at Calvary. Jesus was crushed under the full weight of God’s righteous wrath, ground like grain under the burden of our sin, so we might feast on the Bread of Life. Even when we don’t know the why, we know the Who—and we know he’s good. As Spurgeon poignantly quipped, the Christian “trusts him where he cannot trace him.”

Our farmer Father isn’t raising us up to be devoured but to be delighted by seeing and savoring him. That truth steels us to face trials of various kinds. As you compare your suffering to those around you, remember to trust the Farmer.

I don’t know why one person’s body gives out under the mental and physical anguish of trauma. I don’t know why one suffers the tragedy of untimely death while another lives a long, full life. I don’t know why I’ve escaped the suffering some in my congregation have borne with faithful endurance, the weight of which I feel certain would have crushed me. Merely walking with them in their pain has often felt like more than I can handle (and it is, in my flesh). In those moments, when struggling to speak hope into the ache of agony, what can I offer but the simple, beautiful truth that we can trust our Farmer?

Trust with Hope

I see profound trust in the Farmer embodied in Paul’s ministry. Like the caraway, he was “perplexed, but not driven to despair; . . . struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:8, 9). Writing of his unjust imprisonment, he noted it had become clear to everyone that he was “in chains for Christ.” As a result of his suffering, the church grew bold to proclaim the gospel without fear (Phil. 1:13–14, NIV).

Our farmer Father isn’t raising us up to be devoured but to be delighted by seeing and savoring him.

That’s the perspective of one who trusts his Farmer. He knew God chose a specific means for his sanctification and that God’s purposes extended beyond his own life. (It’s hard enough to see what God’s doing in our lives; it’s harder still to see what he’s doing through them.) In effect, he says, “Crush, batter, and grind me—but be my strength to endure. Work in and through this frail, finite, fallen being for your glory and your people’s good.”

When life hurts and you ask these questions, trust the Farmer. He puts you exactly where you need to be and prepares the harvest with all wisdom. The harsh blows we feel are, in his mercy and wisdom, given with all precision to produce in us the fruit he longs to see. We’re being prepared like bread for our Master’s enjoyment, only to sit with him at the banqueting table in the end, marveling from the perspective of glory at his wonderful plan and magnificent wisdom.

Trials come by his design—the wisest, surest way to see the harvest he’s promised to produce in us. Trust the Farmer.


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