Thus said the Lord to me: “Go and stand in the People’s Gate, by which the kings of Judah enter and by which they go out, and in all the gates of Jerusalem, and say: ‘Hear the word of the Lord, you kings of Judah, and all Judah, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who enter by these gates. Thus says the Lord: 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. 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. Yet they did not listen or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck, that they might not hear and receive instruction.
“‘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, then there shall enter by the gates of this city kings and princes who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their officials, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And this city shall be inhabited forever. And people shall come from the cities of Judah and the places around Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin, from the Shephelah, from the hill country, and from the Negeb, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings and frankincense, and bringing thank offerings to the house of the Lord. But if you do not listen to me, to keep the Sabbath day holy, and not to bear a burden and enter by the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem and shall not be quenched.’” – Jeremiah 17:19-27 ESV
When God created Adam and placed him in the garden of Eden, He gave him one prohibition. There were trees of all kinds from which he could eat and enjoy their fruit. But there was one tree he was to avoid at all costs.
But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden — except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” – Genesis 2:16-17 NLT
And we know what happened. He and Eve, tempted by Satan, ate of the one tree that God had declared off limits, and the rest, as they say, is history. And here, in this little vignette recorded in the book of Jeremiah, we have yet another case of God issuing a command: Keep the Sabbath holy, and the people refusing to obey. One day. that’s all God had asked of them.
“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.” – Exodus 20:8-11 NLT
They had six other days to work and play. All God asked was that they dedicate one day to Him. It was to be a holy day, set apart for remembering God and resting in His provision. Ceasing from labor on that one day was to be a sign of their commitment to Him and their dependence upon Him. He would meet all their needs.
Adam and Eve didn’t think all the trees in the garden would be enough, so they disobeyed God and ate of the one tree He had prohibited. They didn’t trust God. And when the people of Judah refused to obey God’s command to rest on the Sabbath, they too were exhibiting a lack of trust in God. We see this illustrated all the way back in the story of the Exodus. When God had delivered the people of Israel from captivity in Egypt and led them into the wilderness, the people began to complain about the lack of food.
Then the whole community of Israel set out from Elim and journeyed into the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Mount Sinai. They arrived there on the fifteenth day of the second month, one month after leaving the land of Egypt. There, too, the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron.
“If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.” – Exodus 16:1-3 NLT
One month. That’s all the time it had been. And they were already complaining and whining. In spite of all God had done to deliver them from Egypt, they didn’t trust Him. So, God told Moses what He was going to do.
“Look, I’m going to rain down food from heaven for you. Each day the people can go out and pick up as much food as they need for that day. I will test them in this to see whether or not they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they will gather food, and when they prepare it, there will be twice as much as usual.” – Exodus 16:4-5 NLT
God told them,“‘In the evening you will have meat to eat, and in the morning you will have all the bread you want. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.” (Exodus 16:12 NLT). The people were instructed to gather a specific amount per person in their tent; no more, not less. And when they did, all had enough. No one went without. And they were told:
“Do not keep any of it until morning.” But some of them didn’t listen and kept some of it until morning. But by then it was full of maggots and had a terrible smell. – Exodus 16:19-20 NLT
Day after day, God provided them with quail in the evening and manna in the mornings. But there was one stipulation: On the sixth day, they were to gather twice as much as usual. And when the people questioned Moses about this, he responded:
“This is what the Lord commanded: Tomorrow will be a day of complete rest, a holy Sabbath day set apart for the Lord. So bake or boil as much as you want today, and set aside what is left for tomorrow.” – Exodus 16:23 NLT
It’s important to note that God had not yet given them His commandments. There was no Sabbath day to keep at this point. And yet, God was telling them to observe a Sabbath day set apart to Him. On that one day, there would be no quail or manna. They would have to trust God. And Moses told the people:
“Eat this food today, for today is a Sabbath day dedicated to the Lord. There will be no food on the ground today. You may gather the food for six days, but the seventh day is the Sabbath. There will be no food on the ground that day.” – Exodus 16:26 NLT
But you can probably guess what happened next.
Some of the people went out anyway on the seventh day, but they found no food. – Exodus 16:27 NLT
They had gathered enough for two days. God had provided for all their needs. But they didn’t trust Him. So, they went out anyway, looking for more quail and manna. And God asked Moses a question to which He already knew the answer.
“How long will these people refuse to obey my commands and instructions? They must realize that the Sabbath is the Lord’s gift to you.” – Exodus 16:28-29 NLT
The Sabbath was God’s gift to them. No work. No gathering. Just rest. And a day designed to remind them of God’s provision for them. He was to be their focus, not the quail and manna. They were to concentrate on the Giver, not the gift. They were to put their hope in the invisible God, not the visible food that fell out of heaven.
But back to Jeremiah. God told him to stand at the gate of Jerusalem and declare to every single person, rich and poor, young and old, king and peasant:
“Listen to my warning! Stop carrying on your trade at Jerusalem’s gates on the Sabbath day. Do not do your work on the Sabbath, but make it a holy day. I gave this command to your ancestors, but they did not listen or obey. They stubbornly refused to pay attention or accept my discipline.” – Jeremiah 17:21-23 NLT
One day was all God had asked of them. Set aside a single 24-hour period in which no work would be done. During that time they were to rest in God, trusting Him for all their needs. But like their ancestors, they refused to obey. They were doing business on the Sabbath, treating it just like any other day. They were buying and selling, trading and bartering. They were treating the Sabbath, God’s gift to them, with disrespect. They were putting their trust in material things instead of the God of the universe. And God reminds them what will happen as a result of their failure to obey Him.
“…if you do not listen to me and refuse to keep the Sabbath holy, and if on the Sabbath day you bring loads of merchandise through the gates of Jerusalem just as on other days, then I will set fire to these gates. The fire will spread to the palaces, and no one will be able to put out the roaring flames.” – Jeremiah 17:27 NLT
So, what’s the point of all this? Why did God have Jeremiah focus his attention and message around the fourth of the Ten Commandments? What was it about the Sabbath that God felt it was necessary to emphasize. Go back to the garden. God put one tree off limits: The tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And yet, this became the one tree that Adam and Eve coveted more than all the others. Why? Because Satan told them that God was holding out on them. When God had told them that death would be the outcome of eating the fruit of that one true, Satan countered:
“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” – Genesis3:4-5 NLT
They would be like God. Self-autonomy and self-rule. That was the real temptation. Rather than obeying God, they could run their own lives. Instead of having to trust God, they would have the knowledge to manage the affairs of life on their own. And what about the Sabbath? That one day was to be reserved for resting in God. It was to be a weekly reminder of their dependence upon Him. But self-preservation is a powerful force in the life of every human being. We want to be our own god. We want to run our own lives. God’s emphasis on the Sabbath and their refusal to observe it was an indictment of their failure to trust Him. Rather than seeing the Sabbath as a gift from God, they saw it as nothing more than a prohibition. Adam and Eve had thousands of trees to enjoy, but they couldn’t take their eyes off the one God had denied them. And yet, His denial of that one tree had actually been a gift to them. He would be their source of all knowledge. He would care for them and provide them with all the wisdom they would need for life. But somehow, we end up thinking that what God has prohibited is the one thing we have to have. When what we really need is Him.
–English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.