I spent my morning munching on bugs the other day — little brown beetles and little white worms (some might call them maggots). No — my granola was not expired — but it had been in my cupboard, open, much longer than I care to admit.
It was there, growing this tiny unknown infestation, because of one simple truth in my life: I absolutely refuse to throw away food (even stale food) before it is expired. To do so would be wasteful and you never know if you are going to have enough money to buy more food next week. It made perfect sense to mix my brand new yogurt with the “marginally” stale granola in the cupboard. I happily munched away until I noticed that my breakfast was moving!
What I quickly learned was that the bitter taste of the “extra protein” in my granola was the tangible repercussion of my infringement upon God’s territory. Indeed, my inclination to store up food for the future betrays a common violation upon God’s territory. Namely, anxiety about the future.
Jesus and Anxiety
Jesus had a number of things to say about anxiety, especially when it came to storing up for the future. The Gospel of Mathew records Jesus telling those gathered on the gentle hills north of the shores of Galilee, “do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body, more than clothing?” (Mathew 6:25).
And in Jesus’ very “salt of the earth” fashion he went on to use three examples from the environment immediately around him to illustrate his point.
- First, the birds of the air neither sow nor reap, nor gather into barns (store up food), yet God feeds them (6:26).
- Second, the lilies of the field neither toil nor spin, yet they are arrayed better than Solomon in all his glory (6:28-29).
- Third, the grasses of the field which are alive one day and thrown into an oven the next, are even clothed better than Solomon (6:30).
In other words, if God provisions the birds of the air, the lilies of the field and the ephemeral grass, you should trust that God will provide for your needs as well! Indeed, “are you not of more value than they” (6:26).
That all makes sense, but why the emphasis on Solomon? Why would it be important for Jesus to point out that the lilies, who do not toil, and the grasses, who have no ability to add to their life span, are cared for better than Solomon? Let me start by saying that I don’t believe Jesus was arguing that the people gathered around him can expect God to provide to them the wealth of Solomon. Rather, I think Jesus is hinting at a subtle character flaw one might miss in Solomon, his anxiety.
Food storage was a common problem for the ancient near-eastern everyman. In the land of Israel this was especially true. On the margins of where dry farming was possible, the small land of Canaan was prone to periods of drought. Also, Canaan’s seasonal patterns do not match those to which most of north America is accustomed. Winter growing seasons are composed of early rains and late rains, followed by dry hot summers where grain farming is impossible. If the early rains came too late, sowing could not begin and grain crops could fail. If the late rains came too early or were too copious, crops could fail, or worse, fully ripe crops could be left in the field to rot because of mistiming for the small overwhelmed labor force.
Between drought, and year to year variations in the timing of the rains, it is estimated that three out of every ten years would result in crop failure (Mathews and Benejamin, Social World of Ancient Israel). As a result, it would have been the natural inclination of every man, woman, and child to store up quantities of food for those lean years, or even those long hot summers.
We know this to be the case archaeologically. Large storage jars, known as pithoi, often make up a large portion of pottery assemblages found in any given settlement. For the early settlement in the hill country of Canaan during the opening stages of the Iron Age this was particularly true. So common were large storage jars of a particular type that they came to be known as “collared rim jars” and have led some scholars to collocate their appearance with the Israelite settlement of Canaan. Used as storage vessels for food and water, these jars would have been in every home and every “shop” in the neighborhood.
What’s more, near eastern kings had a tendency to create vast and complex food transport and storage networks in order to protect the food supply for their kingdoms. We know this to be the case for Solomon.
Immediately following the construction of the Temple and Palace complexes in Jerusalem, Solomon begins to reorganize the tiny kingdom in order to amass vast stockpiles of weapons, food and treasure. We’re told by the writer of 1 Kings 9 and 10 that Solomon began using slave labor to build a number of “store cities” and a fleet of ships in order to fill those store cities with food and drape his palace in the luxuries of the world.
He, also built cities devoted to the housing of over twelve thousand horsemen and a thousand chariots in order to protect and control this economic windfall
A number of archaeologists have found structures throughout the land of Canaan that they have associated with these building efforts of Solomon. For instance, though some disagreement exists regarding their function, it’s clear that Solomon began building large tripartite buildings in strategic locations throughout the country to act as either storehouses filled with pithoi or as stables to house the chariots and horsemen that protected stockpiles and trade routes nearby.
If there is any doubt that Solomon is squirrelling away the wealth of the world, the writer of kings answers by telling us that “Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and wisdom” (10:23).
Here’s the problem: Solomon’s accumulation of wealth, weapons and wives eventually results in “Solomon doing what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (1 Kings 11:6). While the proximate cause of Solomon failing to “follow the Lord, as David his father had done,” is identified as his following after the gods of his many wives (700 in fact) the ultimate cause is his anxiety over the future of his kingdom.
- Sending out emissaries to every nation betrays Solomon’s anxiety over the security of his borders.
- Collecting a harem of 700 wives and 300 concubines betrays Solomon’s anxiety about his political relations with their respective tribes, clans and kingdoms of origin.
- Amassing a fleet of ships to bend the wealth of the Mediterranean and Red seas into the land between betrays Solomon’s anxiety about whether or not God could feed Israel in this marginal land.
- Mustering a standing army of 12000 horsemen and 1400 chariots betrays Solomon’s anxiety about whether God can protect Israel.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way! When God, after the exodus, declared that there would in fact be a king in Israel, he put limits on that office (Deuteronomy 17:16-17)
- The king must not acquire horses
- He must not acquire wives
- He must not acquire excessive silver and gold
- He must not return the people to Egypt.
In acquiring weapons of war, wealth, and wives Solomon’s anxiety was putting the Israelites back into a world that looked very much like the Egypt they had left!
So, when Jesus compared Solomon to the lilies and grasses of the field, Jesus was not using Solomon as an example of God’s supernatural provision but as a subtle example of the destructive results of being anxious about the future. Solomon’s struggles for the future of his earthly kingdom were in vain. They resulted in the end of the united monarchy, the rending of Israel into two divided kingdoms, and war amongst the tribes of Israel.
Even though Solomon toiled day after day to amass huge resources, even though Solomon spent so much time and energy attempting to lengthen the days he would have control over those resources; the lilies of the field, and the grass, who neither toil, nor are promised a day beyond today, are better clothed than he. The life of Solomon’s kingdom should have been about more than food, clothing, treasure, and women.
What are you storing up?
Jesus concludes his little sermon on anxiety by stating “do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Which is a nice way of saying that tomorrow, next week or any future is, in fact, in James MacDonald’s words, “God’s property! Get off it!”
It’s not the physical act of storing food that is the problem. You have to eat and God knows this. The ancient Israelites had to eat, even when it was one of those three out of ten years when their fields produced nothing and God knew it (See how God graciously used food stores to aid Jacob’s sons through Joseph).The problem comes when you begin to depend more on that food store than on the God that provided it. The problem comes when you begin to believe, as Solomon did, in the security of chariots, horses and storehouses, rather than the provision of a beneficent and active creator.
Maybe it’s not bug infested granola that is the focus of your anxiety about the future.
- Maybe it’s that job you should move on from
- Maybe it’s the “safety” you feel because of that store of ammo next to your bed
- Maybe it’s that conversation you’re not having with your spouse, or your kids, or your sister
- Maybe it’s that good business idea you’re saving until you’re out from under your boss
- Maybe it’s that paralyzing diagnosis you just received
- Maybe it’s that Good News you’re not responding to, or sharing.
Your stockpiles of anxiety about the future will eventually become rotten and infested with bugs. Anxious store piles fester and paralyze. They won’t always be there when you need them. I saved up my granola for tomorrow only to have it rot in the cupboard. Solomon toiled and struggled only to have everything he worked for torn apart and broken down by God, “for who, by being anxious can add a single hour to the span of his life?” (Mathew 6: 27) That’s Gods property, get off!