Today’s Passage: Leviticus 26
You’ll find the final mentions of the Sabbath in Leviticus in the twenty-sixth chapter. It’s an “I have set life and death before you, choose life” situation, where God lays out the blessings that Israel will reap from obeying his commandments and the penalties they’ll suffer if they don’t. The passage opens by recapitulating the prohibition on idolatry, then adds, “You shall keep My sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary; I am the Lord” (2). Here the Sabbath is tied to reverence for God’s space and rejection of the worship of other gods. As an emulation of the example set by God in creating the world, it’s a way of joining him in one’s rest. The Sabbath is serious business.
We see exactly how serious as the litany of punishments for disobedience progresses. If Israel continues to “act with hostility against [God]” (27), God promises to send the other nations to scatter them and remove them from the land. He states:
Then the land will enjoy its sabbaths all the days of the desolation, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it will observe the rest which it did not observe on your sabbaths, while you were living on it. (34-35)
If you overwork the territory you inhabit by not keeping the Sabbath, says God, then he’ll ensure that the land gets as many make-up Sabbaths as it needs to recover from the mess you’ve made of it. And in the meantime, you’ll be oppressed and anxious, living in your enemies’ land!
But there’s still hope, even in exile. God says that if his people confess their iniquity and turn back to him in humility, he will not reject or destroy them. In the interim, the land will continue to recover, as he explains: “For the land will be abandoned by them, and will make up for its sabbaths while it is made desolate without them. They, meanwhile, will be making amends for their iniquity…” (43). The time spent kicked out of their land serves as a kind of penance or purgatory for the Israelites; there’s also the notion that disobeying God abuses the land as a consequence. If you make it suffer, the land gets a Sabbath from you!
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Leviticus, it’s that the Sabbath is serious business. See you guys next week when we get into Numbers and Deuteronomy, and in the meantime, enjoy your Sabbath tomorrow.