Exodus 34:21 “Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.
When you think about it, this was a very shocking command. In an agrarian society, weather and seasons take priority over everything else, because nature doesn’t wait for our convenience. That makes this command very counter-intuitive, but it is simply a clarification of the fourth of the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20:8) I see at least three reasons for this commandment. The first is very simply that God knows how He created us, and when subjected to uninterrupted labor we burn out very badly. Numerous studies have shown exactly that, proving that God’s commands are not capricious. The second reason is to remind us that God is our supply, and we are dependent on Him. If we are working constantly, we think the outcome is all the result of our own efforts, and we forget that we actually control only a fraction of our lives. The third reason I see here, and actually the one that jumped out at me as I read this passage just now, is that this is to free us from the tyranny of the urgent. Any farmer will tell you that plowing and harvest don’t wait for your convenience, given weather and the like, but here God is commanding us to make Him our first priority, even over important things that “can’t wait.” This is a vital lesson, even if our daily lives have little to do with weather and seasons. If we insist on doing “what has to be done” at a time when God has said to rest, we are placing ourselves above God and saying that our issues are bigger than He is. There is one note here that even Jesus made, and repeatedly at that: we aren’t to fail to take care of the animals – and by extension people – in our care. (Luke 13:15, 14:5) My wife, who had to milk two cows every morning and afternoon, before and after school, brought up that point. An unmilked cow is not a happy animal! Jesus famously proclaimed that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) We aren’t to be slavish about all this, but God’s commands are for our benefit.
In contrast to my wife, I wasn’t raised on a working farm, and as missionaries my parents were regularly very busy on Sundays. Even so, whenever possible they scheduled a nap for Sunday afternoons, Sunday lunch was either at church or a restaurant, and Sunday supper was generally quite simple. As a pastor myself, the same applies. For that reason I try to keep Mondays free, not accepting school classes then, but I have to confess that distinctions blur even for me. I need other ways to maintain the awareness that God is my supply, and to keep Him as my first priority. I too suffer from the tyranny of the urgent! However, most often that urgency comes from procrastination and/or a failure to plan in the first place. If I do things promptly when I have time, it is far easier to obey the Sabbath principle.
Father, thank You for this reminder. I could be called semi-retired at this point, but it still makes a real difference how I organize my life. Help me follow Your schedule for me, not lagging behind and not rushing ahead, so that Your purposes for me may be fulfilled as You desire, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!