This little section of Jeremiah contains some teaching and warning about a very specific violation: the breaking of the Sabbath. Of the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath law is maybe the most difficult for us to wrap our lives around, and the one we might be most inclined to think no longer applies to us. But we must be careful with such inclinations. In the Old Testament we discover that the Sabbath is a pervasive reality in the life of the observant Jew. And in the New Testament, it is an assumed observance amongst Christians. The biblical teaching about the Sabbath begins in Genesis 1 and wraps up in Revelation 22; it is a thread throughout literally the whole Bible.
So what does Jeremiah have to tell us about the Sabbath? Here, Jeremiah confronts a culture that has become accustomed to working and bearing burdens on the one day God instituted for rest. And the warning is introduced by some pretty stark language-the kind we might expect when God wants to talk about idolatry or murder.
21. Take care for the sake of your lives, and do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day or bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem. 22. And do not carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath or do any work, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your fathers.
When God begins to promise the blessings attached to Sabbath observance, the first one listed is that the rightful kings will be able to come in and out of the gate. The imagery is crucial. As long as there is clutter in the streets and the gate the king cannot enter, but if the clutter is cleared, the king will freely come and go.
24. But if you listen to me, declares the LORD, and bring in no burden by the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but keep the Sabbath day holy and do no work on it, 25. then there shall enter by the gates of this city kings and princes who sit on the throne of David,…
The Sabbath is ultimately about setting ourselves aside from the rest of the world and focusing our time and attention on God. It is ultimately about worship and sanctification. We deliberately take our time and our energy and clear a path for God to reenter our hearts and minds. The imagery used by Jeremiah says this very thing: if the streets of the city are full of wrongful clutter, the king cannot come and go. But if the people properly worship God and remove the market from the streets on the Sabbath, the rightful king will reign.
Ours is a cluttered life. We are constantly plugged-in and we are constantly in touch with just about any part of the outside world through 24/7 media, cell phones, and ubiquitous access to the World Wide Web. Each of these vies for our spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical attention. For us, then, a Sabbath act of worship will likely involve the deliberate clearing of the clutter so the King can come and go.
We need to take purposeful and effective steps to disconnect ourselves from the mindless flotsam we live in. So how can we, in a culture so different from the ancient Jewish culture, affect Sabbath in our lives? I have three suggestions, and they may be ones you have heard before.
First, we should pay attention to prayer in our lives. Instead of praying out of habit or circumstantial compulsion, we need to pray deliberately. It can and should act as divine water washing out the debris in our hearts and minds. Secondly, Scripture reading is reorientation. Being so inundated with the pagan culture’s worldview, reading Scripture should help reorient us toward God’s point of view. And thirdly, corporate worship is a whole-body/soul experience in which we take our time, our mental and emotional energy, and we worship God with brothers and sisters in Christ.
Are the pathways in your heart and mind filled with the kind of flotsam and jetsam that hinders the coming of your King? Do you hear the blessing promised by God for clearing out the clutter and allowing Him to enter? May we pay more attention to the Sabbath and the kind of relationship with our Lord it promises.