19 This is what the Lord said to me: “Go and stand at the Gate of the People, through which the kings of Judah go in and out; stand also at all the other gates of Jerusalem. 20 Say to them, ‘Hear the word of the Lord, you kings of Judah and all people of Judah and everyone living in Jerusalem who come through these gates. 21 This is what the Lord says: Be careful not to carry a load on the Sabbath day or bring it through the gates of Jerusalem. 22 Do not bring a load out of your houses or do any work on the Sabbath, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your ancestors. 23 Yet they did not listen or pay attention; they were stiff-necked and would not listen or respond to discipline. 24 But if you are careful to obey me, declares the Lord, and bring no load through the gates of this city on the Sabbath, but keep the Sabbath day holy by not doing any work on it, 25 then kings who sit on David’s throne will come through the gates of this city with their officials. They and their officials will come riding in chariots and on horses, accompanied by the men of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, and this city will be inhabited forever. 26 People will come from the towns of Judah and the villages around Jerusalem, from the territory of Benjamin and the western foothills, from the hill country and the Negev, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings and incense, and bringing thank offerings to the house of the Lord. 27 But if you do not obey me to keep the Sabbath day holy by not carrying any load as you come through the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle an unquenchable fire in the gates of Jerusalem that will consume her fortresses.’”
(Jeremiah 17:19-27 NIV)
In the previous passage, Jeremiah lamented about his situation – his feelings of betrayal by his fellow citizens of Judah, his isolation of fighting the battle alone, the silence of the Lord through all his trials. But yet, Jeremiah chose to be faithful to the Lord.
One thing missing from Jeremiah’s previous laments was the Lord’s direct response to the lament. Jeremiah had asked the Lord for His promised protection and to serve justice on those who made the threats.
Today’s passage is the Lord’s response to Jeremiah. The Lord gives Jeremiah his next preaching assignment: go to the main city gate in Jerusalem and tell everyone to obey the Fourth Commandment (observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy – Deuteronomy 5:12-15).
Why this commandment? It was a real litmus test, an indicator of the spiritual condition of the nation of Judah and the city of Jerusalem. The Lord’s proclamation through Jeremiah held both blessing and curse – blessing for obedience and curse for disobedience. The choice was in the people’s hands.
The people of Jeremiah’s day were treating the Sabbath the same as any other day – working their jobs, buying and selling in the marketplace, etc. They completely ignored the Lord’s command to rest and enjoy their relationship with Him. Unless they changed, the people of Judah and Jerusalem would be under the Lord’s discipline, not His blessing.
It’s interesting to compare Judah’s treatment of the Sabbath in Jeremiah’s day with the nation of Israel’s treatment of the Sabbath in Jesus’ day.
In Jeremiah’s day, the people ignored the Lord’s commands and worked on the Sabbath just like any other day. Even after being exiled from Judah and Jerusalem for seventy years, those who came back to Jerusalem quickly forgot what the Lord commanded. On his visit to Jerusalem, Nehemiah found everyone working and running their businesses in the marketplace on the Sabbath like any other day (Nehemiah 13:15-22).
In Jesus’ day, the tables had turned, and the religious officials forbade any Sabbath activity whatsoever, even if it showed God’s grace and mercy such as healing the sick. Jesus and the Pharisees had several run-ins over what was allowed or not allowed on the Sabbath.
I find it interesting that the nation of Judah presumed God’s grace on the Sabbath (even thought God had specifically called out what they could and could not do in His Law). The Jews of Jesus’ day added their traditions to God’s Law and overruled God’s grace and mercy on the Sabbath. Both understandings and both practices were wrong. And both interpretations of the Sabbath missed the main point of the day – taking time out to enjoy their relationship with God.
Jesus, in one of His many run-ins with the Pharisees, addressed the root of the problem. Listen to His words:
27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
(Mark 2:27-28 NIV, Jesus speaking)
May we always remember that we are made to live in communion with the Lord, and in community with one another. May we not be bound by human traditions to either perform or abstain from Sabbath activities, but rather, spend each one in fellowship with the Lord and community with others.
Where does each of us land on the treatment of the Sabbath? Do we polarize toward either the mundane of Jeremiah’s day or the legalistic of Jesus’s day? Or do we scrap both and spend the day in relationship with the Creator of the Sabbath and enjoy time with Him?