There have been times when a farmer has plans for a piece of ground for a certain crop. He goes and plows the ground, spends several hours doing it, and maybe a day or two, three, or more; depending on the size of the piece of land, and the mode of power for plowing. Something happens; maybe too much rain, a family emergency, or just other duties come into play; and the ground goes neglected. That ground may have been plowed, harrowed, completely ready for seed, fertilizer, and all necessary preparations, but it goes neglected.
For a year maybe even two, or more, that ground lays there, growing grass, weeds, thorns – weeds and thorns are mostly what will grow on “fallow ground”. “Fallow ground” is what that land has become. There is no good fruit coming from this land. It really has no beauty to it. It has become hardened and needs to be broken up in order for it to be useful, productive.
Productivity for this land will only come about when that ground is plowed again, or broken up. You would not want to just plow the weeds and thorns under because of their seeds. There will be some in the ground already. Then, you would want to burn the ground off before it is plowed. Burning it off might be all you would need to do before you plowed, with some cleanup following the burn. After cleaning up some of the thorns and weeds following the burn, then you would set about the plowing or the breaking up of the “fallow ground”.
“For thus says the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: ‘Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest My fury come forth like fire, and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.'” Jeremiah 4:3-4 (NKJV)
There is a portion of land, a couple of acres, on the farm where I grew up, that is called, “The Pickle Patch”. I have never seen any pickles grown there. I think my Dad has, but I never have. I have seen and helped pick corn from there for feeding cattle and hogs, but that was when I was a very small boy. Today that small amount of acreage has grown up into a thorn patch. It does have a good set of fescue grass growing under all those thorn trees, (also known as “thorny locust”; at least around this part of the world), and it is there for wildlife to eat. That has happened from years of neglect.
The hearts and lives of men and women can become hard, calloused, and of no use to God when they are neglected. That is what has happened with the people to whom Jeremiah is speaking. The men of Judah and Jerusalem are the main ones the prophet addresses.
Just how, does the heart of a man become likened to “fallow ground”? How can a man become hard hearted toward God, and unproductive? There is only one step toward a hard heart. There is only one turn toward that “fallow ground”. That step and that turn is away from God. It may happen gradually with the coming of many blessing, comfort sets in, then, a complacent, apathetic attitude. It happens by missing just one quiet time with God, then one more, then one more. Then, there is the missing of one assembling with the saints of God in the worship of God. It happens by getting too involved in the pleasures and comforts of the society around us.
Jesus uses a parable concerning four different soil conditions in Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23. Jesus calls it the “Parable of the sower” (v. 18). It does deal with the conditions of the soil, however. The first is the hardpacked path area where people walk through the fields (common for that day); the second was shallow soil – shallow due to bedrock directly under a very thin layer of soil; the third could be compared to the “fallow ground”, because it is weedy and thorny soil; and the final soil is “good soil” which means that it is soil that has been worked and prepared for the seed, and it is the only one of the soils which produces fruit.
God is not pleased when His people are hardened by their neglect of their hearts. We know Jeremiah is dealing with their heart conditions when he writes of “circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your hearts…”. The study note from the MacArthur Study Bible says,
“4:4 Circumcise. This surgery (Gen. 17:10-14) was to cut away flesh that could hold disease in its folds and could pass the disease on to wives. It was important for the preservation of God’s people physically. But it was also a symbol of the need of the heart to be cleansed from sin’s deadly disease. The really essential surgery needed to happen on the inside, where God calls for taking away fleshly things that keep the heart from being spiritually devoted to Him and from true faith in Him and His will. Jeremiah later expanded on this theme (31:31-34; cf. Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Rom. 2:29). God selected the reproductive organ as the location of the symbol for man’s need of cleansing for sin, because it is the instrument most indicative of his depravity, since by it he reproduces generations of sinners.” MACARTHER STUDY BIBLE, p. 1067, (NKJV).
The child of God must never forget to maintain His walk with God. Why are some Christians so cavalier about their relationship with God? Could it be that they really have no relationship with God? Therefore, if that be so they don’t even know Him. God’s call through the prophet is for the people to break up the “fallow ground”. In other words, “Take those hardened hearts of yours, and plow them; do what is necessary to break them and humble yourselves before Me.”
The following is a quote from John Gills Exposition of the Entire Bible:
“break up your fallow ground; this is ground that lies untilled, not ploughed, nor sown, on which nothing grows but the produce of nature, as weeds, thorns, briers, &c. is common to men and beasts, and is trodden upon, and, so is hard and unsusceptible of seed; which, if it accidentally falls upon it, makes no impression on it, and is not received by it; and the breaking of it up is by the plough. The “fallow ground” fitly represents the hearts of unregenerate men, which are unopened to the word, and unbroken by it; nor have they the seed of divine grace sown in them; but are destitute of faith, hope, love, fear, and the like; there is nothing grows there but the weeds of sin and corruption; and are like a common beaten road; are the common track of sin, where lusts pass to and fro, and dwell; and so are hardened and obdurate, as hard as a stone, yea, harder than the nether millstone; and who, though they may occasionally be under the word, it makes no impression on them; it has no place in them, but is like the seed that falls by the wayside, Mat. 13:4, unless divine power attends it; for the Gospel is the plough, and ministers are the ploughmen; but it is the Lord alone that makes it effectual to the breaking up the fallow ground of men’s hearts, Luk 9:62, but when the Lord puts his hand to the plough it enters within, and opens the heart; it is quick, powerful, and sharp; it cuts deep, and makes long and large furrows, even strong convictions of sin; it throws a man’s inside outward, as the plough does the earth; and lays all the wicked of his heart open to him; and roots up the pride, the vanity, and boasting of the creature, and other lusts; and so makes way for the seed of divine grace to be sown there:” e-Sword edition.
It is a hard and evil heart that will not follow the path of our Lord. It is a hard and calloused heart that refuses to hear the Word of the Lord. God holds us, yea, even keeps us from falling. O, how God yearns for His children to continually walk with Him, and those who are His have the heart to walk with Him, but too often are turned aside by the allures of the world, thus the heart can grow fallow.
The prophet calls for a circumcision of the heart, or as it is worded, “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD…” This requires a conscience act of the men to whom he speaks. Have you ever heard the phrase, “Well! I am only human, you know.” We are human, and we do sin and make mistakes; however; that is no excuse for the child of God. He has equipped us to overcome the temptations which lure us from our walk with Him. We have His Spirit within us. This is that same Spirit which is in Christ Jesus. That is right. You have the power in you, as a Christian to resist temptation, the hardening of your heart to God, and anything that will turn you away from Him. One thing I might add here concerning things that can cause the heart to grow hard toward God would be the satisfaction and pride, even an arrogance that you are the child of God, leading to an attitude that you are better than anyone else. God forbid we ever do that. That is a hardened heart.
This circumcision of the heart [of yourselves] is taught by Jesus and the apostle Paul. Paul wrote, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” Colossians 3:2. This requires that the power of the Spirit of God be in you. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Matthew 6:21. When God is on your mind your thoughts will be on the things of God. When God is your treasure your heart will be set on Him, and in neither one of these can there be “fallow ground” or a hard heart.
This message is to the people of God. This message is to those who once had a thriving relationship with the LORD, but have grown hard of heart. He is calling you back. Plow the ground. Get into His Word, seek His face, repent of your sins, confess Jesus Christ is Lord.