“For evil men will be cut off,
but those who hope in the LORD
will inherit the land.” Psalm 37
I don’t know that this line sounds right out here in farm country.
My father-in-law was what used to be called a “small farmer,” in the days when there was such a thing. My wife grew up on a farm like Old McDonalds—little of this, little of that.
Well, I got news. Out here, those kinds of farms simply don’t exist. Farming has become agri-business, and everything has changed.
My father-in-law bought some land when he was farming, nowhere near enough for a young farmer today. But he owns the land, enough of it that my wife’s inheritance is significant. We could come heir to it, but then he might just give it away, to church or school.
But let’s say his land comes to us. Let’s say we keep it, and even though we don’t live on it, we might just drive by once in a while. We’d likely rent it out to the cousin who now farms it. Eventually however, we’d likely pass land ownership on to our children.
Now there is a possibility that our children will live in the neighborhood someday, but that certainly isn’t a given. So it’s possible that eventually the land her father bought as he slowly built his own farm will end up in the hands of absentee landlords.
That phenomenon is happening all over the rural Midwest, prompting people to ask whether so much “absentee landlordism” is going to be good for the health of communities. That question goes to the very heart of the quality of life out here on the far western edge of the cornbelt. What exactly is our future if people in faraway cities own the land we live on?
To promise, as the NIV does, that those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land sounds, in this region, like a pipe dream—and it is. Good people don’t inevitably win in the quest for land ownership. The mid-80s’ “farm crisis” made that perfectly clear. More often than not, good, hard-working people got flattened. Sorry, David—maybe that was true in old Israel, but it’s not true—nor should anyone promise it—in the rural areas of the Upper Midwest.
The KJV says, more metaphorically perhaps, that the righteous will inherit the earth. In our present context, I much prefer earth to land. If I lived in Toronto or New York or Los Angeles, I wouldn’t much care which word is used; but here, where the future of rural life is dependent upon land ownership, I much prefer “the earth.”
Earth spiritualizes richly. It suggests that those who hope in God inherit the concept of earth; they inherit the true (which is to say, spiritual) riches of this earth, not the ground itself, not the back forty, the neighbor’s thousand acres. Cold hard cash is not at issue here and neither is good black dirt.
Calvin says that what David means with this line is that those who hope in the Lord “shall live in such a manner as that the blessing of God shall follow them, even to the grave.” That blessing may well include a thousand acres, but you can’t take that promise to the bank.
It probably goes without saying that what David is promising is a far site better than the flattest, blackest land in all of Sioux County, Iowa. But out here, where land ownership is so important, it probably needs to be said.
Eventually, my wife will inherit the land. More importantly, and by grace alone, she—and her husband and our children and all of those we love, those who hope in the Lord--will inherit the earth.