I have a specific focus here. I’m not writing about how this virus originated, whether it’s of God or of the devil, or the role of China, the government, or the wisdom of any medical or political leader’s opinion. I’m addressing the reality of the situation most of us find ourselves in at the moment—the near shut-down of our economy and our social interactions.
I recognize that not everyone is sitting at home, bored and looking for things to do. My personal situation is quite different from what many others are going through; my wife works part-time in an ”essential business.” As an educator whose classes have been moved from in-person to online, I am working a full-time job and a half at the moment. But most of us–working or not—have seen some parts of our lives come to a standstill. For those of us who love God and want His will in our lives, I believe He is speaking of one way we should be using this time.
The Sabbatical Year and the Year of Jubilee
God’s law in ancient Israel had a rule about planting. In Exodus 23:10-12 says “Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, but the seventh year you shall let it rest [emphasis mine] and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat. In like manner you shall do with your vineyard and your olive grove. Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female servant and the stranger may be refreshed.
We see that one of the reasons for this command was “that the poor…may eat.” That is worthy of study and thought as well, but my focus here is found in other references to that same idea. The Lord told Moses in Leviticus 25:2-5, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a sabbath to the Lord [emphasis mine]. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land [emphasis mine again], a sabbath to the Lord. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard. What grows of its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine, for it is a year of rest for the land….’”
The Year of Jubilee every 50 years (the year after 7×7 years-see Leviticus 25) was similar to the sabbatical year in that it was also a year for the land to rest. But there were more actions that God called His people to during that. Deuteronomy 15 has the details.
So now most of us find ourselves in an enforced season of rest. Articles are coming our way on how to use our time, social media is bursting with suggestions, and many a celebrity is sharing what they’re doing now and making recommendation. But the sovereign God is the one we should be listening to, and these Old Testament scriptures provide a great deal of direction.
God wanted the land to have a rest, not only to allow the poor to eat, but to allow the land to restore itself. In the years before chemical fertilizer was used, the land needed time to build itself up again after years of use. One writer on the topic puts it this way:
The core philosophy behind crop rotation is that letting a field lie fallow enables it to restore minerals depleted by crops. Crop rotation is all the more important in fields where the soil is prone to depletion or where demanding crops have been grown.1
Life has a way of “depleting” us. We’ve been distracted and depleted by work, personal responsibilities, and the demands of many other people. We’ve been stretched to where our love has sometimes grown small, our patience thin. We’ve ignored the “little things,” the “no big deal” things because, after all, we have bigger things to worry about and do. “Demanding crops” have grown in our lives, depleting the soil of our hearts and spirits. The little foxes (Song of Solomon 2:15) have damaged us emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. We need renewal and restoration.
God, the “great Redeemer,” is using this time to restore our souls (Ps. 23:3). We’ve been made still, whether we wanted it or not. Some of us have been severely limited in terms of travel; many of us can’t even leave the house. God wants to meet us now, to do a work that only comes with rest–a work to build us up after activities and distractions have stolen our peace, taken up residence where they have no right to be, and where the hand of God hasn’t been allowed to go near in some time.
Think about this in the natural world. Can a car be worked on when it’s being driven? Can a person have surgery unless they’re still? We’ve been made still, and God wants to get to those places that have been torn, thinned, diseased, depleted, and strained. Will we let Him? Will we seek Him to do that?
Most of us could name off the “big areas” that need to be worked on in our lives: our temper, our thought lives, the big problem we inherited through parents or trauma. While He is undoubtedly working on these areas, this is a special time for we might call “the small areas.” How about that person whose name you really don’t want to hear—will you forgive him/her, finally? What about that silly habit that you know is wrong—will you listen to hear a way out of it?
What about that relationship that you know that’s not quite right—will you take that first step to correct it? One of the commands associated with the Year of Jubilee was to forgive all debts. There may be many people who “owe us something,” but can we grab this holy moment to release them of their debts? The Lord has things to do in His church if we are to be all we need to be after this is over.
For many of us, the big, loud, constant drone of distraction has been turned way down, and we’ve been quieted and stilled. It’s time for some spiritual surgery. There are things that need to be implanted, things that need to be removed, and things that need divine adjustment. He’s been prepping us all this time—whether we knew what was happening or not–and now has us on the operating table. Will we listen closely? Will we let Him touch those tender areas? Will we be still and know that He is God? Say yes—the grace is there.