Sabbath: A Singular Focus
The seventy-year duration of the Babylonian captivity was not a random number; it had significant meaning. The book of 2 Chronicles explains that the Exile fulfilled “the word of the Lord…until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths. As long as she lay desolate she kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years” (2 Chronicles 36:21; see also Jeremiah 25:1-14).
To understand what it means for the land to “enjoy her Sabbaths” we must go back several centuries to the time when Israel first entered the Promised Land. At that time, God instructed the people to observe the Sabbath of the land. Sabbath means “rest,” and as a matter of good agricultural conservation, they were to allow their fields to lie fallow every seventh year (Leviticus 25:1-4). That year they weren’t to plant or to plow.
Israel had failed to observe this one-in-seven Sabbath for 490 years. In that stretch of time, Israel should have observed seventy Sabbath years. So the Exile of seventy years, during which the Promised Land lay fallow, would make up for the deficit. If Israel would not give God the Sabbath He required, He would take it from them by means of the captivity.
Why is implementing the Sabbath principle, a day of rest, so difficult for us? Somehow our culture has caused us to believe that busier is better. We’ve become unknowingly convinced that taking time to create rest and tranquility means we are unfit, weak, or incompetent. We’ve rejected the art of saying no without guilt or regret. We’ve fallen prey to the myth that if we don’t do as much as others, then we’re somehow not as valuable.
When we neglect time to create tranquility, serenity, peace, and repose in our lives, we limit our Christlikeness and miss out on some of God’s greatest gifts. In a previous post I shared this quote by Wayne Muller from his book Sabbath, “If we do not allow for a rhythm of rest in our overly busy lives, illness becomes our Sabbath – our pneumonia, our cancer, our heart attack, our accidents create Sabbath for us.” A recent diagnosis of stage 4 cancer in my own life has helped me to refocus my thoughts concerning the importance and priority of regular Sabbath keeping.
“If we do not allow for a rhythm of rest in our overly busy lives, illness becomes our Sabbath – our pneumonia, our cancer, our heart attack, our accidents create Sabbath for us.” Wayne Muller
After studying, reading, thinking, and praying about the Sabbath over the past several months while enduring chemo treatments, recovering from two major surgeries, and waiting to hear that my cancer is in remission, I have re-discovered the beauty of this biblical principle given to us and modeled for us by God Himself. Sabbath is not simply some Old Testament, old fashioned, old school concept. It has relevance for our lives today! Sabbath is more than a rigid rule to follow, even when it was first established for the people of Israel. God always and eternally intended the Sabbath to be a lifestyle – an attitude, a perspective, and orientation for living that enables us to govern our lives.
During Sabbath our frayed attention is corralled into one singular focus – the only focus worth having – Yahweh.
Written by Major Faith Miller, Corps Commanding Officer, Oil City, PA