Have you ever been fighting with your beloved, or even just feel distant because life happens? Have you then had a date night which energizes your relationship and reminds you why you love each other and simply refreshes your heart?
This is the Sabbath for God. I’m continuing (slowly) my way through Exodus 23 and v10 begins the portion of the Sabbath and the yearly festivals. God’s Torah not only gave the religious rules for Israelite society, but was setting up a complete social order which dictated every aspect of society. Israelite society was unique in that every action amongst their people was dictated by the fact that they were the Bride and Royal Priesthood of the One, True God of Creation. There was no separation between religion and state because their entire existence was to show the world who God was and what his character was like through their every word and deed.
Therefore, it was important that God set up a social construct which reflected his character. With that in mind, we turn to vv10-12:
For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the beasts of the field may eat. You shall do likewise with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.
God began by instituting a full Sabbath year in which, after six years of harvest, the agrarian society would let the land rest. This rule is two-fold in purpose:
- It is conservationist: God created the ground to be self-sustaining in nutrients. Every farmer knows that cultivation of the land depletes the ground of its natural nutrients. Therefore, God demanded that every seventh year the land should be allowed to rest and replenish its natural nutrients. God cared for the land and knew its needs – He demanded his people care for the land, not just reap what the land could give them.
- It is humanitarian: God created a perfect society which – if fulfilled to the letter – would rid systemic, generational poverty. This Sabbath year would negate any social hierarchical profit. Every family would have enough to eat that year – all needs would be met without social prejudice. It was to be a year of rejuvenation for those who had nothing.
The next portion (v12) narrows in scope, from the seventh year to the seventh day of the week:
Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed.
Again we see that God’s care was for every being: not only for His people, Israel, but for those under their authority – both servant, foreigner (Hebrew word indicates “refugee”), and animal. God set up Sabbath as his “date-night” with his people; but not only for his people. The Sabbath was a day in which everyone in the nation could rest and be refreshed – those who had no say in their daily requirements, like the slave. When the Israelites were in Egypt, they were forced to work every day and had no rest. Not so as a free people, nor would they enforce the same labors on others. God’s care moved far beyond Israel to all those within their land – man and beast alike.
What is interesting is that the Hebrew words used for “rest” in this passage are different when applied to humans vs. beast. The beast is to have rest: נוח “nuach” meaning to physically settle; physical rest. The person is to be refreshed: נפשׁ “nephesh” literally meaning to “breathe easy.” The animal is to be allowed bodily recovery, which the person is to be allowed spiritual recovery and refreshment. God distinguishes between the needs of the animal and person; He knows we need a day that our spirit can be refreshed – and that refreshment can only occur in His presence, during our “date-night” with our Creator.
God then makes this statement in v13:
Pay attention to all that I have said to you, and make no mention of the names of other gods, nor let it be heard on your lips.
When simply reading the Text, this command seems somewhat out of place. But when seen in the context of “date-night,” one remembers that our relationship with God is likened to marriage often in Scripture. Sabbath is our holy date-night and he does not want it tainted by even the thought of other soul-lovers. He does not want to share us with anyone or anything. He is jealous for his soul-lover with holy jealousy and knows that your love for another god will not refresh your spirit, but will drain you unceasingly.
If your spirit needs refreshing, ask yourself if you have been having “date-night” with other gods. What are you putting before Adonai? Lay it down and spend time being refreshed with your Creator.
The passage continues its “date-night” theme with three dates of massive parties that God wanted to have with his loves in vv14-17:
14 “Three times in the year you shall keep a feast to me. 15 You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt. None shall appear before me empty-handed. 16 You shall keep the Feast of Harvest, of the firstfruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall keep the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. 17 Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord God.
This portion is held within the agricultural context and therefore, lists only the portions of the feasts which involve agriculture. The Feast of Unleavened Bread is also known as Passover; the Feast of Harvest is Shavuot; and the Feat of Ingathering is Sukkot or Tabernacles.
I want to look specifically at Shavuot. The JPS Torah Commentary of Exodus explains that this second feast is fifty days from the second day of the first harvest: Passover. The rabbis of old described this feast as the ‘astseret, or “concluding feast” of Passover, which traditionally celebrates the revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai.
Shavuot is known in the Greek Septuagint as Pentecost. With this in mind, let’s take a short field trip to Acts 2:1-4:
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. 2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
On the day which celebrated the revelation of God’s Word to the Israelites, God’s Word was implanted in the hearts and spirits of the disciples through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit – what I could argue is the Shekinah I wrote about in my last post, God’s Demand for Justice. This is the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:33:
Through the Holy Spirit, on the day which Jews celebrated God’s revelation of his Torah at Mount Sinai, God indeed put His Torah within their hearts.
God is so detailed in his relationship with you. He misses nothings and gives you everything. He is your provider, your protector, and your redeemer. He forgives unendingly, pours out mercy, and bring over-flowing joy, peace, and love.
If your heart longs for an epic love story, your lover is awaiting your call. If you have forgotten your first love, your Date Night awaits. Take your Sabbath and allow time spent with your Love to refresh your spirit and renew your soul.
Shabbat Shalom, friends.