Husbandman (n.) – Any person involved in the care of plants or animals, especially domestic animals. One who tills the soil.
The New American Bible has a translation of Psalm 37:3 that involves the above definition. “Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land, and cultivate faithfulness.” It seems, according to this valid translation that we are to be gardeners or husbandmen for God. Our husbandry is not of animals or plants, but of faithfulness. It is certainly something that needs cultivation. It doesn’t grow wild. When neglected, it dies.
The Hebrew word translated “faithfulness” in this passage has several shades of meaning. Each of those shades reveals an area of our lives in which we need to tend, or cultivate, faithfulness.
The basic meaning of the word denotes firmness. One who is faithful does not move from his position easily. When he takes a stand, he stands like a well-rooted tree.
The first time we find the word is Exodus 17. In a battle with the Amalekites, whenever Moses held his hands up Israel took the advantage. Whenever his hands lowered, Amalek started winning. In verse 12 we read,
But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady [faithful] until the going down of the sun.
This steadiness is what we need to cultivate in our spiritual lives as well. As steady as Moses’ hands were, so should we be when standing for God.
When Paul introduces the armor of God, this is the idea he uses. “Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore.” We have an enemy. He is not going to give up in his attacks on us. We must not give up in our defense.
How easy is it, though, to give up. Even Moses got tired and lowered his arms. Such steadfastness is not easy. We have to cultivate it. When I was in college I played the guard in Eugene Ionesco’s Exit the King. The part required me to stand at attention through most of the two hours of the play. The first day of rehearsal, I could barely stand without moving for ten minutes. I intentionally added more time each day, until I could stand without flinching for two performances a day, if necessary. When I had to stand fast, I cultivated steadfastness.
How do we do that, spiritually? The same way I learned to stand. Repetition. That is why God tests us. Not so that we will fail, but so we will stand. “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.” (Jas 1:3) Growing plants or training animals is not easy work. Neither is cultivating steadfastness. It doesn’t happen overnight, but every victory brings us closer to the goal.
Another factor in tending firmness is looking beyond today. When we can see the results in our mind, the work is easier. Why does a farmer plant a crop? Because he sees the plant even while it is yet a seed. Why do we stand firm in our faith? Because we see the fruit of our labors. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Cor 15:58) When we know our labor is not in vain it becomes much easier to be steadfast in our work.
A second meaning of the Hebrew word emunah is truth. “A faithful witness will not lie: but a false witness will utter lies.” (Prov 14:5) The concept is not far from steadfastness, because truthfulness is merely steadfastness in the truth. People can trust who you are or what you say because your word or yourself has remained firm in the past.
God, of course, is the ultimate example of truthfulness. He is truthful not only in what he says, but who he is. When he says something, it can be counted on. And when you know a trait of God, you know he will always exhibit that trait. In Hebrews 6 the writer argues that when God made a promise to Abraham he swore by himself. In doing so, God swore by two unchangeable things, his words and his self. In everything God is truthfulness.
Because God is truthful, he wants us to be so, too. The lack of truthfulness is one of the things God hates the most. “Lying lips are abomination to the LORD: but they that deal truly are his delight.” (Prov 12:22)
These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren. (Prov 6:6-19)
This is an area where we can see everyday that truthfulness needs tending. Left alone, our tendency is toward untruth. We are threatened with embarrassment, so we lie to protect ourselves. We want to spare others pain, so we avoid the absolute truth. There are even people who seem to cultivate lying, who make an art out of being untruthful. That kind of person would be like someone who intentionally plants tumbleweeds. He is worthless in himself, and will reap a worthless crop.
Although we may lie with our lives, it is our words that most often get us into trouble. “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man.” (Jas 3:2) When we learn to control our tongue, then the personal truthfulness will fall into place.
Cultivating truthfulness may be one of the hardest things we must do. It is, however, not impossible. We can learn, as the old saying goes, that we have two ears and one mouth to teach us to listen twice as much as we talk. Speaking, contrary to some people’s opinion, is not a reflex action. It involves thought. Granted, some people think a lot faster than some of us, but we can learn to think carefully before we speak.
The Talmud says that leprosy was not the disease we know by that name. Instead it was a punishment by God for lashon hara, evil speaking. If every time we told a lie, or spoke ill of someone even if it were true, we were stricken with this disease, it might make it easier to avoid an evil tongue. If our lack of truthfulness were manifested by a nose like Pinocchio’s would we learn to be more truthful? Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” He could as easily have added, “and you can’t fool God any of the time.” If we remember that, we will cultivate truthfulness. It is to the extent that we don’t believe that that we let untruth grow wild in our lives.
The most common meaning of the word in question is “faithfulness.” When we talk of being faithful it is usually in relation to marriage, and to sexual faithfulness. But faithfulness is required toward everyone, not just a spouse. We must be faithful to God, of course, but in doing so we must be faithful to our employers, our friends, our acquaintances, and especially to ourselves.
Again, God is our example of faithfulness. He will not let us down, even in temptation. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (1 Cor 10:13)
The most scathing denunciations of Israel by Jeremiah and the other prophets were because God’s people had been unfaithful to him. They are compared to a spouse who violates the marriage contract. Indeed, one reason God hates divorce is because it is a sign of unfaithfulness.
When Jesus spoke of the judgement in Matthew 25, what was the commendation of those on his right hand? “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” When God wants to reward us he can find no greater word than “faithful.” Therefore, there can be no greater good than to cultivate faithfulness, to God and to others.
Even in marriage, faithfulness is more than purity. There are many men who would never cheat on their wives who are nevertheless unfaithful. The man who complains about his wife at work is unfaithful to her. The person who gambles away all the income is unfaithful to the family. Even a man who spends all his time working may be unfaithful to his family. We can likewise be unfaithful to God. We don’t have to worship an idol. All we have to do is fail to defend God when those around us belittle him and his church. We can be faithful in attendance at the assembly of the church, but unfaithful to God if that is all the time we give him.
Steadfastness, truthfulness, faithfulness. These are all fruits from the same tree. It is a tree worth growing, because it is a tree that will help us get to God. It takes work to grow this tree. We need to plant the seed in our lives. Like the vinedresser, we need to dig a trench around it, to protect it in our lives. It requires daily, even hourly, watering. There is no rest for the husbandman. Agriculture waits for no man. But the reward is sweet and sure. The reward is being with the One who is steadfast, truthful, and faithful. That is why we must cultivate faithfulness.