Last month we saw how God arranged the sequence of night and day to teach the gospel. At creation he established a sequence of evening followed by morning, of darkness followed by light. This pattern reminds us of our gospel hope that death itself will one day give way to new life. Every day God is faithful. Every day he calls us out of the heavy darkness of night into the marvelous light of dawn. We learn to recognize that when we walk through the shadows of darkness, God is drawing closer and closer to the dawn of redemption. But if the daily cycle of evening and morning can teach us the gospel, is it possible that the cycle of the seasons can too? Is it possible that God arranged the seasons to paint a picture of his redemptive plan?
In America, we typically learn about the four seasons in elementary school. We learn that spring comes first, with its budding trees and blossoming flowers. Then comes summer, when the trees and plants flourish in the warmth of the sun. Next comes autumn, when the leaves on the trees wither and fall away, and every tree in sight is reduced to a skeleton of trunk and branches. Finally, comes winter, the cold season, when snow covers the sleeping earth like a blanket. Observing all of this, we can see that the Creator established an unmistakable rhythm of life and death in the seasons of the year. But he planned for that rhythm of the seasons to teach us a lesson. You see, every year, throughout the long winter, the season of metaphoric death, we learn to wait patiently for the spring. Every year, we learn to look forward with hope and assurance to new life to come!
Seasons in Israel
In America, this is the gospel imagery that we observe in the seasons. However, Israel experiences the seasons in a very different way than we do. This, in turn, means that the Bible conceives of the seasons in a very different way than we typically do. How does the Bible conceive of the seasons?
In Israel, the contrast between the seasons is especially stark. There are only two major seasons: summer and winter. The Bible recognizes these — not as the four — but the two major seasons in the year (Genesis 8:22; Psalm 74:17; Song of Solomon 2:11; Zechariah 14:8). We tend to associate summer with life and winter with death. But in Israel, the seasonal metaphors are reversed. In Israel, summer is the season of death, and winter is the season of life. This is because Israel is semi-tropical with a dry season and a rainy season. During summer, the dry season, the grass withers and the flower dies in the hot sun. But during the rainy season, the mild and temperate winter, the land is covered with green grass and colorful wild flowers! So in the Bible, summer, the season of death, is a direct prelude to winter, the season of life! Could the gospel imagery be any more beautiful?
The apostle Peter explicitly tells us that God arranged the cycle of seasons in Israel to teach us the gospel. In 1 Peter 1:23-25, he cites the prophet Isaiah, who wrote, “All flesh is grass. And all its glory is like the flower of the field. The grass withers and the flower fails, but the Word of our God will arise forever” (Isaiah 40:8). After quoting Isaiah’s description of the cycle of the seasons in Israel (Isaiah 40:8), Peter then exclaims in no uncertain terms, “This is the gospel that was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:25).
A stark contrast
What exactly was the gospel message that Peter identified in Isaiah’s description of the change of seasons? To understand the apostle correctly, we need some further contextual background. As we said, the contrast between the seasons in Israel is especially stark. During the winter, from the time the “former rains” arrive in October to the “latter rains” in March, a cool wind blows from the east, carrying moisture-laden clouds off the Mediterranean Sea. This is when the land is covered with green grasses and colorful wild flowers. But around March or April, the wind shifts suddenly and blows from the scorching hot Jordanian desert in the west. The Arabs call this hot breath of wind the Khamseen. The Hebrews call it the Ruach Qedem. But the transformation to the land is as abrupt as it is dramatic. In the space of a single night, the green grasses and lovely wild flowers that have covered the land all winter dry up and die. Within hours, the land is turned into a barren wasteland. Summer has arrived, and only with the return of the rains of winter will the land come alive again.
Moses (Psalm 90:5-6), Isaiah (Isaiah 40:8), and Peter (1 Peter 1:22-25) all use the effects of Israel’s summer wind to illustrate the frailty of human life and the inevitability of death. Generations of men regularly spring up like the green grass of winter. But human excellence, for all its “fragrant” glory, is as frail as the winter flowers that perish with a mere breath of wind. Nevertheless, the prophet Isaiah specifically contrasts the mortality of mankind, that is frail like the grass and the flowers, with the immortality of the Word of God. Isaiah claims that the immortal Word of our God will arise forever (Isaiah 40:8)! While many biblical translations render the phrase, “will stand forever,” the specific term that Isaiah uses here is unmistakably the same term that Jesus uses for resurrection (Heb qum, cf. Mark 5:41). In contrast to the mortal grasses and flowers that wither and perish, Isaiah assures us, the immortal Word of God, which is filled with resurrection power, will arise forever (Isaiah 40:8)! According to Peter, this is the gospel message of the seasons!
Human weakness and the strength of God’s Word
Notice that Isaiah’s metaphor contrasts humanity’s weakness with the strength of God’s Word. The divine Word of God was destined to become authentic man in Christ (John 1:14). In his humanity, Jesus was subject to the hot wind of mortal death. But in his divinity, as the living Word of God, Jesus had to “arise.” The Word of God made flesh might have been subject to a day of death, but the Divine Word had within himself the power of an indestructible life (Hebrews 7:16). After death, resurrection had to follow! God established the pattern in which death must serve as a prelude to new life. Just as Jesus taught his Emmaus disciples on the afternoon of his resurrection, “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things (death) and then enter into his glory (resurrection)?” (Luke 24:26).
The cycle of the seasons has much to teach us about the pattern of suffering and glory, of death and resurrection, in our own Christian lives. God ordained the seasons in the beginning for Adam (Gen 1:14). When God made a covenant with Noah, he confirmed that the cycle of death and life reflected in the pattern of the seasons would continue until the end of the age. “While the earth remains,” God promised after the flood, “Seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Gen 8:22). Solomon, the wisest king of Israel, discerned that “there is a season” for everything in life. He proclaimed, “There is a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to harvest… a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance… a time for war and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). In the Bible, Israel’s two seasons of summer and winter (Psalm 74:17; Song 2:11; Zechariah 14:8) seem to become major metaphors for the cycles of death and life.
So, just as the cycle of evening and morning teaches us the gospel every day, the cycle of the seasons teaches us the gospel every year. This is the gospel hope that God gives to us. It is a hope that is based on the Lord’s faithfulness. We learn to endure seasons of suffering in this life with confidence that glorious seasons lie ahead! As Peter says, this is the gospel that was proclaimed to you!
Dr. Warren A. Gage, Th.M., J.D., Ph.D. is president of The Alexandrian Form, which provides life-changing Biblical teaching. © 2020 The Alexandrian Forum