“The Corona Virus Sabbath.” That was what popped into my mind a few days ago as I pondered on the silent cities and the limitations on movement worldwide, (probably unprecedented, except in times of war, and even then, it’s likely not as limiting as this). I realized that the Sabbath, a concept which has eluded most of God’s people for so many years, was being enforced on nearly a global scale, even without our understanding.
What is the Sabbath?
In Exodus 20:8-11, the Sabbath was instituted by God as the fourth of the Ten Commandments.
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour, 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 male or female servants, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days, the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
The seventh day was the Sabbath. The Lord said we were to remember it by keeping it holy. The word ‘holy’ means ‘set apart, separated, consecrated, distinct.’ It was to be differentiated from the rest of the days. The opposite of holy is not ‘dirty’ or ‘impure;’ rather, it is ‘common, profane, ordinary.’ The Sabbath was not to be treated as an ordinary day.
So, we can look at the Sabbath in more than one way. It can be one amongst seven days, when people pull aside from normal and ordinary activity, and dedicate themselves to spending time with God. But many do not realize that the Lord provided for other Sabbaths apart from the weekly one. Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8 say that a day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years are as a day. The seven-thousandth year can amount to the Sabbath. It’s a season we are in, literally.
Beginning from Adam to date, 6000 years have gone by, give or take a few decades. Even the Jewish calendar, which places us right now at Year 5780, falls within the same range. In light of the 6,000 years gone by, we are in a transition period to the seventh day. 6000 years amount to six days, and the seventh day, the 7,000th year, should be a Sabbath for the earth.
Now, I do not believe that the fullness of this time has come – the ‘Millennial Reign’ period, as most Christians refer to it, because there are things that are meant to happen (which have not yet been fulfilled), but I believe that this is a sign, a reminder – of that coming rest. Rest can, and must be, at certain seasons, no matter what we insist on doing. There has to be obedience, yielding, a cessation of activity; not just for individuals or groups (who may choose to do so for their health or in a bid to please God), but even for the whole earth, because the Sovereign Lord ordained it to be so.
Exodus 20:8 tells us about the seventh day. “Remember the Sabbath day, to set it apart as holy.” But if you look at Ezekiel 20:12, it says: “I also gave them My Sabbaths, as a reminder of our relationship, so that they would know that I the Lord sanctify (set apart) them.”
The sabbaths occurred in cycles of ‘sevens’ and the Lord refers to them as His Sabbaths. It’s not just one in seven days; there are multiple Sabbaths, which speak of the same principle, first on a weekly basis, and also, every seventh year is a Sabbath year. Finally, after every 49 years (7 x 7), the 50th year was the Jubilee (Leviticus 25:8-12). It was the Sabbath of Sabbaths. (Note that God considers cycles to be days in His expressions and interactions with men. It is wise to retain this knowledge when you seek to interpret scriptures or revelations you may receive. A day could refer to a month, or a year. A cycle of seven days or years can be counted as a day. Below is an example buttressing this present blog.)
“For six years you are to sow your land and gather in its produce. But in the seventh year you must let it lie fallow and leave it alone so that the poor of your people may eat, and what they leave, any animal in the field may eat; you must do likewise with your vineyard and your olive grove. For six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you must cease, in order that your ox and your donkey may rest and that your female servant’s son and any hired help may refresh themselves.” (Exodus 23:10-12)
Each of these were commanded by the Lord.
The Fourth Commandment: Thou Shalt Rest!
“There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of Sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work, wherever you live. It is a Sabbath to the Lord.” (Leviticus 23:3).
That’s a ban on work, given by the Lord Himself. And you find the Lord go on to give more details throughout that chapter. He will tell you to count first from the Passover feast. And He tells you, after that seven days, in Leviticus 23:8;
“And on the seventh day, hold a sacred assembly, and do not do any work.”
Then further down, in verse 15:
“…from the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count (seven full weeks, seven times seven days) fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath.” This was the Feast of Pentecost/Weeks. Again, you were expected to rest and spend the time to appear before the Lord.
And when you break God’s commandments, his judgments follow, just as He had promised.
Leviticus 26:34-35 “Then the land will make up for its Sabbaths all the days it lies desolate while you are in the land of your enemies; then the land will rest and make up its Sabbaths. All the days of the desolation it will have the rest it did not have on your Sabbaths when you lived on it.”
2nd Chronicles 36:21 “The land enjoyed its Sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested until the seventy years were completed in fulfilment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah.”
Ezekiel 20:13 then follows with:
“But the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness, and they rejected My regulations. The one who obeys them will live by them, and they utterly desecrated My Sabbaths. So I decided to pour out My rage on them in the wilderness and destroy them. I acted for the sake of My reputation so I will not be profaned by the nations in whose sight I had brought them out.”
The Jewish Sabbaths, the sevens, the cycles of God – referred to the events of stopping active pursuits of human goals once every seven days, weeks, years, or seasons. But, were they Jewish, or were they the feasts of God with applications to all mankind?
The Purpose of Sabbath
The purpose of the Sabbath was to set God’s people apart. It was a symbol of absolute trust in God. It was a time when you did nothing apart from trust God. If Israel was attacked on a Sabbath, they couldn’t fight back. The Sabbath was a time of inaction. They had a ‘Sabbath day’s journey’ – a limited distance they could move so it wouldn’t amount to work. Cooking, and many other such things were prohibited. From this, one can but wonder, “What’s the purpose? Does God just have some special day?”
Many wonderful people of God who may be right on so many other things, tend to be sincerely wrong on this point. In thinking a particular day matters more than other days to God, I think we missed the woods for the tree. The reality, I believe, is that the Sabbath is a sign of trust. The bible calls it rest. Hebrews 4:9 tells us that ‘…there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.’ The Sabbath, like the other laws, is a prophecy. And like all the other laws, it is also a command to be obeyed which foreshadows the fulfilment of the new covenant. It prophesies of a time of rest from our efforts, and it’s a major show of trust in the Lord today. It’s a declaration: “Lord, I do not trust in myself. I trust You, to keep me, and if I don’t trust in You, I might as well just perish.” It’s a declaration of faith, and without this, you can’t please God.
God always builds in Sabbaths: periods of inability and inactivity, self-imposed or externally compelled, to come upon His people. It’s a truth compeller. It’s the same as being led out into the wilderness after leaving Egypt because it achieves the same thing. “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way these 40 years in the desert, to humble and test you in order to make known what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands.” (Deuteronomy 8:2) That’s what the Sabbath does. It’s like fire. It purifies us. It purifies our faith as revealed in our desires, our trust, our focus, our worship. Without it, we would worship other things. The goal of this instruction is love that flows from a pure heart, from a clear conscience, and from a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5) …so that the genuineness of your faith, which is more valuable than gold that perishes when it is tested by fire, may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7)
When God allows us to go through these seasons when we can look to nothing except Him, where we would be helpless without Him, then we are compelled to become more like Him, becoming like Him utterly, and trusting that all things work together for our good.
The Lord inaugurated the Sabbaths for this purpose. This is why a particular day does not matter. “Therefore, let no one judge you in matters of food and drink, or with respect to a festival, a New Moon, or Sabbath days. These are a shadow of things to come, but the reality belongs to the Messiah.” (Colossians 2:16-17) It’s not about the exact day or whether it was weekly, even though that’s a good routine to maintain, a day when you set aside many things and you spend time with the Lord. It will rejuvenate you physically, but more importantly, spiritually. It matters to God that your whole spirit, body and soul be preserved blameless to the day of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 5:23).
Leviticus 25:2 – “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them: When you come into the land which I am giving to you, then the land shall keep a Sabbath to Jehovah. You shall sow your field six years and you shall prune your vineyard six years. You shall gather its produce, and the seventh year shall be a Sabbath of rest to the land, a Sabbath to Jehovah. You shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard.”
Men always find God through one of two ways: by their calling out to Him, or by His calling out to them. The true Sabbaths can come about because you desire them to. (Isaiah 58 shows this, as fasting is actually a form of rest.) You can act them out based on God’s instructions. This is just how it works. But it isn’t so all the time. There are times when God reaches out through circumstances, and you just happen to find yourself compelled before Him. Like right now, worldwide. The Corona Virus is a Sabbath rest to be used for the glory of God. Do nothing else.
Isaiah 37:30 “And this shall be a sign unto you, All of you shall eat this year such as grows of itself; and the second year that which springs of the same: and in the third year, sow all of you and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruit thereof.” This is a picture of a Sabbath coming to an end, then entering a season of focused activity.
The Lord would want us to know what His seasons of rest are for. Sabbaths do not last forever. We are therefore wise if we make the best use of our Sabbaths, knowing that we will come into an end, and ordinary, normal life will return. But it’s what you do during the Sabbath that will give you the strength, enablement, and grace from God to carry on in the times of normal activity. It is those moments of turning aside and taking the risk by dying to your own wisdom. It is these seasons that prepare you for the many other seasons we face. Sabbaths are always brief, as seen in their being just 1/7 (one seventh) of the normal time. But they are a declaration to God that we trust Him. It’s a picture of depending on God, by refraining from the norm. It is one of your clearest declarations of faith.
(Thursday, 19 March 2020)
– Ita Udoh