SUBDUE THE EARTH FOR BREAD
Bread needs good soil and nature or chemicals do not make it lasting or suitable. The command the Creator gave to Adam was, “Subdue the land or ground” (Gen. 1:28). Nature needs human hands and minds to prepare the soil before it can produce grain that can become bread. The soil, by itself, is only a tool in the hands of a master-farmer that knows and understands the content and ingredients required to keep the ground productive. Above all else, he respects the earth and treats it with dignity because it is the only source for his daily bread.
Bread does not grow by itself. I was born on a farm in my grandfather’s home. By the age of twelve, I worked along side of men on a farm. From my father, I learned how to prepare the soil without modern chemicals that depleted the soil. We enriched it with degradable refuse from animals, humans and nature. We plowed it under and let it become part of the soil. We did not poison the land with chemicals to kill weeds or the bugs that keep the soil arable. We picked weeds by hand put them in a pile where they degraded and could be used as manure. The little worms made passages and tunnels in the earth and allowed moisture to reach the roots of the plants. These little creatures are also the Creator’s workers to help man subdue the earth. They too eat a portion of the plants and seed man sows, but it is minor in the service they render and the sacrifices they make by keeping the ground porous. They themselves become nourishment to the earth. It is an amazing system the Creator has designed for man to grow his own food.
The word “subdue” does not mean that man must force his hand on the soil, but man must treat it with the respect he has for himself, that is if he expects the earth to feed him. In my own encounter with the soil, I fully identify with the four types of ground Jesus described in The Parable of the Sower (Mk. 4; Mt. 13). He mentioned four types of ground the path, the rocky, the thistles and the good soil. I have had experience with all four. We did make paths by driving and walking on roadways to get to the productive land and I did graze cows on these narrow paths. They too produced grass and weeds our cows enjoyed. We had a piece of land where I picked rocks until my hands bled. Every winter, the frost brought more to the surface. Our labor was not in vain for the harvest made the effort worth. The thorns of course were due to our negligence. They do no stay or grow in bad land but spread anywhere, even among rocks. They made my hands just as bloody as the rocks. I pulled many by their roots before they could harm the grain we had planted and seeded. When the thorns became too large to be pulled, we cut off their heads before their seed could spread. Under such circumstances, we did harvest from thirty to sixty percent. We never harvested one hundredfold on any soil because nature is a brutal competitor. Even with the most strenuous endeavor to control weeds, they will take as high as forty percent to sustain themselves in this cursed world.
Whether we want to believe it or not, this is by the Creator’s design to bring man to his senses for being disobedient and negligent on his own behalf. Man is paying for what he caused. Whenever we think we get something for nothing, we hurt ourselves. The illegal food the first couple ate had a high price tag. The Creator’s message to Adam was, “Because you have obeyed the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree, I have commanded you not to it of it, the ground is cursed because of you; labor that will cause you sorrow will be your food all the days of your life; thorns and thistles you will harvest and live off the plans of the field. With sweat on your brow you shall eat bread until you return to the ground out of which you were made; for, dust you are and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:17-19).
It is a crime to expect nature to take care of itself. We did not have a large farm, just big enough for us to keep the soil good and productive, far from being a hundred fold; nevertheless, sufficient to make a very comfortable living. Thirty to sixty percent income from a piece of land is an enormous profit in contrast to the business world. I also have some experience with farming in Canada. I worked for a man who had eight hundred acres in Manitoba, in contrast to our less than a hundred acres in Poland. We harvested just as much grain on our small farm than the Canadian did in fertile Manitoba from his huge farm. In addition we harvested loads of beats, cabbage, potatoes and other vegetables, while the Canadian did not. The Canadian had better soil than we did, except he had abused its virginity. He would furlough some sections, but he would not decompose the weeds, only plow them under and they would reappear and displace the grain. We, in Poland, did not even furlough some of our land, but merely rotated crops. We subdued the soil or gave it back what it needed to stay alive, the Canadian let nature and chemicals kill the life in the soil. After years, I returned to that fertile part in Manitoba where hundreds of small farms once lived. I found that two of my cousins were farming the entire area with big machines. During the long winter season, they ran lumber camps to sustain their farms.
My folks farmed in the Ukraine, in Poland and in Germany. In the first two places the soil was replenished with what nature provided. In the third place, we had to add by regulation chemicals. After several applications of the chemicals, the soil turned dry and hard. Even as a boy, I noticed there was no life in the soil and no birds came to pick worms when I plowed or harrowed. The soil like the human body, when it is properly nourished, stays healthy and productive. And like the human body, it has to be kept clean and active. If it is left alone too long, it too becomes useless and sickly. A farmer can learn a valuable lesson from Jesus’ Parable of the Weeds by substituting for “the kingdom of heaven” the word “farming.” “Good farming is like a man, who sows seed into a field. But while everyone slept, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ ‘An enemy did this,” he replied. The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters, first collect the weeds and tie them into bundles to be burned, then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn’” (Mt. 13:24-30).
The parable tells us of the danger, when we stop managing what we sow. Without care and upkeep the weeds take control, the wheat production will decline and completely cease. For our own experiment, we allowed ivy to spread on our property and we have to spend many hours just to keep it from smothering plants trees and our asphalt driveway. And when we pull it up, the earth is dried out. It requires new manure and the kind that is for sale has been treated and is as useless as the soil that the ivy has sucked dry. We have a variety of flowers and shrubs around our place. We have them because my wife puts all the leftovers and the dishwater into the soil. The kitchen deposits attract the worms in the soil and allow moisture to nourish the plants. And the flowers and plants draw the bees and the birds to feed and nest. I get tired carrying pails and pails of water and collecting rainwater to feed the soil. But, when we sit in our yard and enjoy our man-made beauty, then we feel rewarded for our labor.
Man has the ability and the means to make a desert bloom (Isa. 35:1). To do so, he has to settle and not live in portable dwellings as a nomad following the game for his livelihood. The nomadic life of the American Indian was no match to the domestic European settler that could live on one hundred sixty acres. A nomad needed thousands of acres for his animals to graze, while a settler can increase the productivity of his land and harvest hay more than once per season. The Indian reverence for mother earth did not provide enough berries and wildlife to sustain an increasing population. Indians blame their loss on the superior force of the European settlers unnecessarily. Their nomadic lifestyle demanded vast areas for grazing and hunting and that led to conflicts among their own tribes and even families. Sooner than later, they would have exterminated each other like Cain did with Abel. The writer of Genesis wants us to believe that Cain slew his brother over a sacrifice, particularly over a blood sacrifice (Gen. 4). He could not help himself by being partial to the nomad Abel and not to the settled farmer Cain and he is rather pleased that Cain was driven from his land and home and became a wanderer himself; but, he did not stray for long and he built the first larger settlement, a city called Enoch. According to Isaiah, God had no pleasure in blood sacrifices (1:11). It is more likely that Abel’s sheep or goats helped themselves to Cain’s grain field and damaged Cain’s bread supply. It was the first conflict over bread, rather than some sacrifice. The Creator’s first command was to subdue the earth and the second was to manage the animals. It appears that both brothers had failed in their responsibility to secure bread.
Yes, “man does not live by bread alone;” but without bread, he cannot live at all; and without the earth, he cannot make bread.