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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Hefty Price to Pay

Treasured friend,

Please permit me a bit of musing today—as I work through something that’s been troubling me. Perhaps you’ll see yourself in my dilemma.

One of the most bothersome biblical commands for me has always been the Sabbath rest command.

“Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” Deuteronomy 5:12-15 (ESV).
Rest for me, one day in seven. Yeah, right, God, rest? Really? A whole day? Sounds like a luxury, a pipe dream.

Dad’s shots and meds don’t take a rest. Logging his vital signs doesn’t take a rest. The need to get his food to him—the right kind at the right time intervals—none of that rests. The need to make a living so I can, let me see, keep the roof over my head and pay my exorbitant health insurance costs every month—that doesn’t take a rest. So, how can I afford to lose an entire day to something as nonessential as rest? When I have the odd moment to actually get some paying work done, I can’t be bothered worrying about whether that moment comes around on some other day of the week, or on the day of rest set aside for worshipping the Lord and letting my mind reorder and refresh.

Surely, God, You aren’t asking me to rest. Not now! Must be someone else You’re talking to about this.

Perhaps that line of thinking sounds familiar. I know it’s a practiced and oft-repeated monologue I’ve given ad nauseum, in case God is listening. (I suspect He’s not only been listening, but counting the times I’ve defied the command.)

I was giving that monologue, quite by rote, this morning, as I read the Scripture in my devotions—who says I can’t talk and listen at the same time? I’d just completed writing a booklet on the life of one of the last of Judah’s kings, Josiah—so my Bible was still open to his story in 2 Chronicles 34. I read past it to the rest of the chronicler's account, where I found a fast-forward report of what happened to Israel’s monarchy as Josiah’s kids and grandkids, and the people they ruled, ignored God’s commands. And I came across this passage that I can’t recall ever having noticed quite this way before:

The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD rose against his people, until there was no remedy. Therefore he brought up against them the king of the Chaldeans, who killed their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary and had no compassion on young man or virgin, old man or aged. He gave them all into his hand. … And they burned the house of God and broke down the wall of Jerusalem and burned all its palaces with fire and destroyed all its precious vessels. He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years (2 Chronicles 36:15-21; ESV).

And here’s what jumped out at me:

• Sabbath wasn’t a punishment, but a privilege. Like all God’s commands, it was given because of His compassion for His people.

• Failure to keep Sabbath had consequences. Maybe it wasn’t only ignoring Sabbath, but breaking other commands, as well, that caused the people’s exile. But surely flouting God’s expressed direction, no matter which command, meant breaking the whole of the law.

• And look at that last verse—the land had to enjoy its Sabbaths. God would see to it. No one would or could live on the land (witness the utter destruction: the wall, the palaces, the precious vessels, even the very house of God all burned, broken down, uninhabitable.) The Lord would see to it that the land got its Sabbath—down to the last year that it had endured the transgression of ignored Sabbaths.

• This fulfilled a promise God had made through Moses back in Leviticus, which I found when I used my ESV’s cross-reference: “Then the land shall enjoy its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it" (Leviticus 26:34-35; ESV).

Now, the only conclusion we can draw from seeing this truth from God’s Word is that for some reason the provision of a one-in-seven (days and years) rest is of vital importance to Him. It’s something He built into creation. And it’s something that—while it doesn’t come to us naturally, lay itself out for us for the easy taking—we can't risk ignoring.

It won't surprise you that I’m not ready to shut down my computer and give it a Sabbath year (actually, it would have to be a couple of Sabbath years—I’ve been in the writing ministry for 25 years without one; mathematicians, help me out here, that would be how many Sabbath years missed?). But I’m ready to commit to taking a day a week completely out of the office—away from voicemail, email, blogging, Facebook, Microsoft Office, the whole lot of it. Maybe it’ll be Sunday, traditionally the day of worship for those who celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ. Maybe Saturday, as the Israelites celebrated it back in the chronicler’s day. Maybe another day—gasp—when clients may be in their offices and clamoring for my attention.

But it seems to me I’ve been playing with fire by ignoring this command. And I’d be well advised (after seeing the enormity of the price His people paid for ignoring any or all of His commands) to repent, to agree to change my ways, and to do it—as Christ gives me the strength to comply.

Does any of this self-correcting musing ring true for you? If it does, will you take up the challenge to do something about it? And ... if you don't mind, could I ask you to help hold me accountable to do what I've promised? I'm willing to do the same for you, if you ask.

Sheepishly and prayerfully,


A personal note:
Next week I’ll be guest blogger on the WORDsearch website’s blog, as part of the roll-out of my brand new Bible software package: The Julie-Allyson Ieron Bible Reference Collection, powered by WORDsearch 9.0. Please visit my website to learn more about this fantastic product that could revolutionize and energize your reading of God’s Word. Here’s the link to find out more:

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