|Series Theme: Meditations in Lessons from the Law of Moses|
Meditation No. 24
Meditation Title: Sabbath Laws
Ex 23:10-13 "For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what they leave. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.
Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest and the slave born in your household, and the alien as well, may be refreshed.
Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.
Within the Ten Commandments we have already seen, as the fourth commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 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, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.” (Ex 20:8-10) The use of the “Sabbath” brings together reverence for God, with His very practical caring for man. The fourth commandment was to make the seventh day holy, or different, by not working on it. As a command immediately following three about God, and coming before the practical commands about man, it seems to be a caring for man while at the same time thinking of God.
In these further laws, mostly about life in society, first of all here in our verses today, the law is about having a year off work. This would have been a real act of faith because it would mean waiting two years for harvest supply. Several points are worth noting here. It is suggested that leaving the land for a year increases its fertility, i.e. wise use of land. Some have suggested it was calculated from when a person received the land, which meant staggered Sabbaths across the land. Care for the poor and for the environment generally (animals in particular) are also seen as purposes in God's mind.
Then we come to the more usual aspect of the Sabbath, a rest on the seventh day. Again the emphasis here is on the workers (including animals) having a much needed rest and being refreshed. Resting up from work would have meant it was a great communal day, as people had opportunity to get together in relaxation, as well as to specifically remember the Lord together. Societies that do not do this have lost much. This is God's wisdom and we reject it at our peril.
The strength of these injunctions is in the fact that they occur again and again in Scripture, for example, “ Then the LORD said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites, `You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD , who makes you holy. Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people. For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD . Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day must be put to death. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rested.” (Ex 31:12-17)
There again we have all the ingredients of the Sabbath: the activity – no work; the reason – it is a holy day; the background – on the Seventh day of Creation God stopped work; the penalty for disobedience – death. But there is something additional here: it is to act as a sign to show the special relationship that Israel had with God. Adhering to it would be a sign to the Lord of their obedient hearts; following it would be a sign to Israel of their relationship with the Lord; following it would be a sign to the rest of the world of their relationship with Him. The Sabbath would thus become almost a signpost pointing to the Lord.
Following this injunction in this part of the Law, we find: “Be careful to do everything I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips. ” It is first a call to obedience and then a call to uniqueness of relationship and the two things are inextricably linked together. If they turned to other gods then that would mean that they relationship with the Lord was disappearing and when that happened they would no longer bother with the Law. The reality was that keeping the Law was completely tied in with their having a relationship with the Lord. One went with the other. No relationship = no law keeping. No law keeping = sign of absence of real relationship. It is also true of Christians. A sign of a real relationship with God through Christ is a godly spirit-led life. Absence of godliness and spirit life suggests an absence of a real and genuine relationship.