Paul writes in Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (all Scripture ESV). There, he relates the concept to sharing “all good things” with teachers of the Word (6:6) and bearing one another’s burdens (6:1-5). Though this is the first time Paul has used this analogy in Scripture, it has deep roots (pun intended) in the Old Testament and will become a favorite analogy of the apostle.
Perhaps the first person in Scripture to use the sowing/reaping analogy was Job’s terrible friend Eliphaz: “As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same” (Job 4:8). Eliphaz (wrongly) explains to Job that because Job has “reaped” sorrow and trouble, he must have “sown” iniquity. You deserve what you get, in other words. But this wisdom book lets us know that sowing and reaping isn’t always a one-to-one correspondence. Sometimes, stuff happens that can’t be explained by the simple metaphor of, “I’ve sown bad seed; therefore, I reap bad fruit.”
Proverbs 22:8 uses the analogy as well: “Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of his fury will fail.” If you sow injustice, you’ll reap disaster and fail in their reign of anger. Proverbs is a very cause-and-effect type wisdom book, a nice balance with Job’s anti-formulaic themes.
When throwing down indictments on the Israelites, the prophet Hosea writes, “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind. The standing grain has no heads; it shall yield no flour; if it were to yield, strangers would devour it” (Hos 8:7). The judgment of God will come upon them like a whirlwind. This isn’t the first time (nor the last) that sowing/reaping will be related to God’s judgment. Later on Hosea will also write, “You have plowed iniquity; you have reaped injustice; you have eaten the fruit of lies” (10:13a).
There’s even a few non-biblical sources that use the same analogy. Here’s one example from an old wisdom book called Sirach: “Don’t sow in furrows of injustice, and you won’t reap evil things sevenfold” (7:3 CEB).
Moving over to the NT, Paul writes in 2 Cor 9:6, “The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” In this passage, he applies the saying to financial giving. There are other times in Paul’s writings when he uses a similar agricultural analogy, perhaps most notably in 1 Cor 3:6-8.
Finally, we can also point to a number of passages in Scripture that use the “reaping” metaphor to refer to God’s coming judgment (see Jer 12:13; Mt 13:24-30, 36-43; Rev 14:15-16; Moo, Galatians, 386). This isn’t absent from Paul’s use of the metaphor in Galatians 6, as there he references eternal life as a positive result of reaping good, and corruption as a negative result (6:8).
Next time you walk past your garden, consider: you reap what you sow. Spend your life on things that will matter eternally and you won’t regret it when you reap the harvest that is to come.