The gathering of things planted, a natural time of reaping in joy what has been produced during the year in an agricultral community. Jesus reflects the Bible's theological viewpoint on harvest when he enjoins believers to ask the "Lord of the harvest" for laborers (Matt 9:38). God stands in control of the harvest time; it is part of his work (Jer 5:24; Amos 4:7).
Human Response. In an agrarian society such as that reflected in the Bible, a human response to God came with planting and reaping. Offerings came from the fullness of one's harvest (Exod 22:29). At least two festivals focused on harvest. The Festival of Harvest or firstfruits came in the spring, fifty days after Passover (Exod 23:16). The Festival of Booths fell at the end of harvest in the fall.
Farmers needed to do their part in planting to be able to reap (Prov 6:8). But the focus in harvest revolved around the product and the work of the Lord in bringing it to completion. Even during harvest, the Sabbath rest was to be kept so that the focus would remain on the Lord (Exod 34:21-22). Of course, great joy accompanied the harvest (Isa 9:3).
The firstfruits came to the priest, who would offer them to the Lord. If a person brought them, then the Lord might accept them (Lev 23:10-11), an acceptance perhaps reflected in the successful completion of the harvest in the fall, a "blessing" (Deut 24:19; Psalm 107:37-38). Some of the harvest remained in the fields for the poor (Lev 19:9; 23:22).
Acknowedgment of the Lord's part in the harvest was important, perhaps best seen when crops failed, usually attributed to the Lord for the failure of Israel to recognize God's part (Isa 17:11; Amos 4:7; Hag 1:6). Metaphorical uses of the word stem from this viewpoint.
Metaphorical Usage. Metaphorical usage of harvest takes on a positive sense when Jeremiah refers to Israel as God's fruitfruits of harvest (2:3). In the New Testament, believers may sow and reap a spiritual harvest of righteousness (2 Cor 9:10).
However, most usages allude to judgment. The prophets indicate that the Lord destroyed the harvest in judgment (Isa 18:4-6; Jer 12:13). As God of the harvest, the Lord speaks and takes it away (Hosea 2:9). In fact, Israel herself becomes a harvest (Hosea 6:11). The nation of Babylon comes to "harvest" her (Jer 51:33). The judgment of God uses a familiar image in the life of Israel, but it does not carry the joy experienced at the seasonal gathering. Israel turned away from the Lord and suffered a punishment like a harvest.
Jesus described the last judgment in a parable about harvest (Matt 13:30,39). The Jews of his day understood the connection of harvest and judgment. Judgment is the focus again in the words of the angel in Revelation 14:15.
G. Michael Hagan
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287. All rights reserved. Used by permission.