by Mark Fulmer
The LORD spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the LORD. For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land. The Sabbath of the land shall provide food for you, for yourself and for your male and female slaves and for your hired worker and the sojourner who lives with you, and for your cattle and for the wild animals that are in your land: all its yield shall be for food.
It's probably already crossed your mind. How could it not? There are hundreds of news articles every day. And, given our community-based solitary confinement, you may actually be checking those hundreds of articles hundreds of times. What else are you going to do? Working from home just isn't the same as just working. The ordinary rhythms of life have been put on hold, recalibrated. We are in an unprecedented global pause.
This shared season, though, is not an unprecedented idea. You may have already begun to think of it that way. This is a time of slowing down, of refocusing priorities, of concentrating on eternal things. These are the realities of Sabbath. And Sabbath is a reflection of God's very character.
When God spoke His commandments to Moses, that one about keeping a Sabbath included a clear explanation. (Exodus 20:8-11) We rest because God rested. He didn't need to, but His people do. And in several follow-up conversations, God makes it clear that His people are to reflect His character in the land of promise, in its culture and its horticulture.
Now think about that for a second. If you are a self-respecting, self-feeding agrarian citizen, and you get the message to "take a year off," how does that strike you? Apparently it struck the Israelites the same way, because there's no good evidence that they ever actually implemented the Sabbath year.
But three important things are worth noting, and they might just be just right right now. First, the Sabbath is "to the Lord." God says so twice in seven verses. The stepping away from the routines of life in order to remember, worship, and honor God is the very point of Sabbath, and a clear distinguishing characteristic of the people of God.
Secondly, these verses in Leviticus remind us that God is in control of His creation. So much of our scurrying about is about trying to control the future. Sabbath reminds us that we are called to walk with the Lord one day at a time and one step at a time. "Give us this day our daily bread.", we are taught to pray. The Lord God holds the future and is actually already there.
Thirdly, Sabbath is not merely self-centered private quiet time. In Exodus, when God first explains the year of the Sabbath, (Exodus 23:10-13) He says that the land and the poor and the animals are all part of its design. God cares about all of those, and Sabbath reminds us to care as well.
Maybe you've noticed the recent news articles that describe some completely unexpected effects of the current viral pestilence. The smog is clearing. The people in Northern India can see the Himalayan mountains for the first time in fifty years. It's also clearing in Los Angeles. The wild animals are returning to the National Parks in America. And even the crust of the Earth is more still, making seismologists adjust their instruments while checking for earthquakes.
It may just be that God Almighty is showing all the Earth, and the people in all the Earth, that Sabbath still matters.
The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.