October 19, 2015

Reading the Leaves

Recently our family had occasion for an autumn walk at Amberley Park.. The leaves were just beginning to change, and some to fall, brittle, down upon the earth. And the children had just a delightful time in piling them together, and sprinting like Olympic long jumpers, down an invisible track, and into the pile. Oh, to be a child again! And to be able to enjoy God’s creation, whether in old age or young. That is the primary lesson I want to draw, autumn by autumn, from the changing of the leaves. God is a marvelous Creator; and the changing of the seasons also reminds us of His promise to be a marvelous Preserver, too. “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest … shall not cease" (Genesis 8:22). And the reds and yellows that signify the onset of fall remind us of that every October.

But the leaves have something else to teach us – especially in those days when, after their brilliant chameleon act, they fall to the earth dry, and brown, and dead … crackling under our feet, and soon to be blown away like chaff and forever forgotten. Because here in the deadness of autumn’s leaves is a portrait of lost mankind in his own deathly falling down into the earth. “The wicked” says Psalm 1, “are like chaff which the wind drives away.” Or, if you read the famous poet George Gordon (Lord Byron), the wicked are like the autumn leaves, fallen from the trees and never to return to their heights again.

That’s what Lord Byron wrote in his famous poem, “The Destruction of Sennacherib”, which is based on the biblical events described in 2 Kings 18-19. Sennacherib, king of the Assyrians, was threatening to sack Jerusalem and raze it to the ground. And godly King Hezekiah trembled within his palace. And he prayed! And. in the night, the angel of the Lord passed over the Assyrian encampments and slew 185,000 of Sennacherib's men in their sleep. Or, as Lord Byron put it majestically:

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

The whole poem is worth your time, and I’d urge you to read it … both as a sample of excellent writing, and as a testimony to the power and glory of God. But for now I just draw your attention to Byron’s autumn leaf imagery. The wicked “lay withered and strown”, he says, like the leaves of autumn, fallen dead from the trees. And I say to you, so it will be with all the wicked when such a scene as we find in 2 Kings 19 is repeated on a worldwide scale at the coming of Christ. The wicked will crackle under His feet … and in the eternal flames … like fallen leaves at a campground. And perhaps, in addition to beholding the beauty of the fall, we should also think of this when we hear the leaves crumbling beneath our steps in the weeks that are ahead. God forbid that any of us should continue in our sins, and suffer this fate! And God forbid that we should have no concern over those who are hurtling headlong toward this fate with no sense of what their death will really mean, apart from Christ.

This autumn, then, let us read and apply the lessons of the leaves, both as they bask in the afternoon sun; and as they grind, lifeless, beneath our footfalls. And let us turn ourselves, and point others, to Jesus – our Maker and Preserver, and the giver of autumn's beauty; and also the One who, alone, can save us from being gathered like autumn leaves and thrown into the fire.

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