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  • Writer's pictureWilson Lim

Rhythms Of Refreshing: Biblical Basis



When we examine the Old Testament, we find that God gave many commands and instructions to the Israelites which they were to observe.  Indeed, many regard The Mosaic Laws to be in 3 major categories of moral, civil and ceremonial.  The ceremonial laws may in turn be divided into ceremonial cleanliness, diet, festivals and priesthood.  On closer examination of the cleanliness and diet laws, we will discover many of these align with modern understanding of hygiene and healthy diet practices, particularly amongst a less developed civilisation.

 

With this insight, is it possible that there are other laws that carry a practical benefit as well?  In this article, we examine more closely the sabbatical and jubilee laws to reveal that God had instituted particular rhythms that benefit the people and land.  An understanding of the principle of beneficial rhythms can be translate today to practical practices to benefit us in wholesome ways.


The application of such Old Testament practices into New Testament practices requires properly applying the eternal principles into today’s context.  

 

In so doing, we also seek to reinforce the importance of Old Testament Laws for New Testament believers.  For we believe that Old Testament laws and practices contain eternal principles which carry across the New Testament times.  However, it must be interpreted wisely using Jesus as the transforming connection.  In our articles “Covenant in the Bible (Part 5): How the Old Connects to the New” and “Covenant in the Bible (Part 5): How the Old Became the New”, we proposed this interpretation method to achieve the transition.  We demonstrated how this interpretation is consistent and comprehensive unlike most other methods today.  The application of such Old Testament practices into New Testament practices requires properly applying the eternal principles into today’s context.  

 

In examining Sabbath is this principled-based manner, it also provides sound defence against a legalistic or literalistic application of sabbath, against mystical or pietist approaches as well.  In other words, we ask why did God instruct and implement these?  

 

The Biblical Pattern of Sabbaths

 

God first introduced the concept of Sabbath unto the Israelites when He provided them manna in the wilderness for 6 days but not the 7th day in Exodus 16:23.  On the 7th day they rested from manna collection and regarded it as a holy day unto God.  The Sabbath later became part of the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20:8–11 (NIV) 8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

 

Notice the emphasis here is for the sabbath to be a sacred day of devotion unto God. That is a key reason given why they were to refrain from doing their own work on that day.  This is reinforced in Leviticus 19:30 (NIV) Observe my Sabbaths and have reverence for my sanctuary.   The commandment also connected back to the Genesis 2 pattern of God’s week of creation.  This clearly indicated that one of the major reasons God rested on the 7th day is to create a pattern by His own example. 

 

The Sabbath became the seal of the Mosaic covenant between God and the Israelites, as God instructed in Exodus 31:16–17 (NIV) 16 The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. 17 It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.

 

However, in the New Testament, believers come into New Covenant through Christ where the Holy Spirit is the seal of the covenant.  Thus, the Sabbath as a seal of covenant is no longer relevant to the New Testament believer.  Which is why Apostle Paul taught against the need to religiously observe the Sabbath day in Colossians 2:16 (NIV) Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a


The ultimate purpose of the principle of sabbath was revealed to be a spiritual rest from our own attempts at salvation to rest instead in Christ’s work.

 

Instead, the ultimate purpose of the principle of sabbath was revealed to be a spiritual rest from our own attempts at salvation to rest instead in Christ’s work.  Hebrews 4:9–10 (NIV) 9 There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; 10 for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.

 

While the ultimate spiritual purpose of sabbath is now made clear, does it by implication negate every other practical and spiritual benefits of sabbath?  Is there some principle of its rhythm that ought to carry across to the New Testament?  How should the relevant Old Testament commands and practices be filtered through the cross into the New Testament?

 

The Biblical pattern of Sabbath year for the land


Lev 25:1-7 (NIV) 1 The LORD said to Moses at Mount Sinai, 2 “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the LORD. 3 For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. 4 But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. 5 Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. 6 Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you—for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, 7 as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land. Whatever the land produces may be eaten.

 

In agricultural terms, it makes a lot of sense.  Because when we continue to plant the same crops year after year, we deplete certain minerals of the soil.  After 6 years the soil has been depleted and some minerals are more depleted than others.  It needs to be replenished.  What modern agriculture has sought to do is to replenish it artificially.  However, such artificial techniques introduce other problems.  The chemicals.  The churning of the topsoil actually kills the helpful bugs.  The continual planting of the same crops also attracts pests which multiply and entrench over the years.  Hence, letting the soil rest and allowing the leftover to just grow wild a little allows the soil to replenish and rebalance itself.   Clearly, there are practical benefits for the land during the sabbath years. 

 

The spiritual component in these sabbatical years is the need to trust in God’s provision when the land is not being sowed or harvested, according to His promises to the Israelites.

 

Further, God instructed that in every 50 years there is a total rest (Lev 25:8-12), during the year of Jubilee.  The land gets an extra year of rest.  Slaves are set free.  Family land is returned.  This allows the baseline family fortunes to be reset.  In other words, the mistakes of the generations can be reset in each generation.  The baseline wealth of land will be redistributed again roughly every generation.  Thus, the jubilee years also brought generational benefits to the marginalised. 


The primary benefit of the Jubilee is practical, and very significant in its impact especially to the under-privileged.

 

In terms of spiritual significance, the Year of Jubilee symbolises the liberation we experience in Christ.  Yet there are no additional religious observations required of the Israelites during the Jubilee.  Thus, it appears that the primary benefit of the Jubilee is practical, and very significant in its impact especially to the under-privileged.

 

The Biblical pattern of religious festivals


God instructed the Israelites to observe 7 special religious festivals annually.  These are the Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Firstfruits, the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Trumpets, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev 23) as depicted in the diagrams below.  Specific instructions were given as to what must be done in each festival.  We know that these festivals typified what God was planned to do in the New Testament.  It symbolically depicted the redemption plan of God such as the work of Christ to the return of Christ   

These feast usually begin and end with a “Sabbath-rest” day which are in addition to the weekly sabbaths.





 

God created rhythms in the life of the nation to achieve several key things of significance for the spiritual and community life of Israel.

These festivals incorporate various elements such as prayer, fasting and worship, reading of God’s Word, ceremonies (some of which are memorials and prophetic in nature), family and community gathering, repentance and celebrations, etc.  As can be seen from the diagrams above, these festivals essentially occur during spring and fall every year.   We can note therefore that God created rhythms in the life of the nation to achieve several key things of significance for the spiritual and community life of Israel.

 

Principle of rhythm for refreshing

 

Having surveyed the Bible on the various forms of sabbath and festivals and unpacking some of its significance to the Israelites, the question now is what significance does it hold for New Testament believers?  Since Apostle Paul pointed out that we no longer need to observe those days any longer.


Sabbath was intended to benefit men


While we showed that the principle of sabbath is ultimately intended to point to the spiritual rest found in Christ, yet there is a practical side to it as we hinted at.  The key to unlocking this crucial principle is to look at Jesus’s perspective.   Jesus revealed a profound truth in Mark 2:27 (NIV)  Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”  In other words, sabbath was intended to benefit men.  This stunned the Pharisees because they only saw that men had to fulfil the sabbath religious requirements. 


It is about creating healthy, beneficial rhythms. These rhythms are intended to help us in wholesome ways such as spiritually, physically, communally. 

 

How do these sabbaths benefit men?  By considering what we learnt about the biblical pattern of sabbath for believers and for the land, plus the annual festivals, we can reach some conclusions.  Firstly, it is about creating healthy, beneficial rhythms.  This is seen in the regular weekly, bi-annual, and longer-term rhythms for the benefit of the Israelites.  Secondly, these rhythms are intended to help us in wholesome ways such as spiritually, physically, communally.  Thirdly, these are acts that reinforces our devotion and trust in God.  For it requires us to stop certain activities which we may naturally desire to be involved in for activities that God deems more important.

 

Some practical applications of rhythms of refreshing


 The greatest immediate beneficial application is in spiritual disciplines. 

The benefits of rhythms have been known for a long time in some spiritual communities.  The greatest immediate beneficial application is in spiritual disciplines.  Following are some helpful rhythms.

 

  • A time for devotion to God.  Where we intentionally devote a regular time to worship God, to commune with Him in prayer.  Commonly today, a short daily devotional time is recommended.

  • A time for self-reflection.  Where we contemplate the state of our own heart, learning to develop in self-awareness with the help of the Holy Spirit.  Some have advocated daily or weekly times to do so.

  • A time for God’s Word.  Sabbaths were times where the Israelites gathered at synagogues for worship and teaching of God’s Word.  Typically today it is attending church worship services and small groups weekly.  The inclusion of Sunday school or other Christian educational avenues are also advisable.

  • A time to do God’s work.   It can be a time to intentionally do God’s work by setting aside our normal work.  On Sabbath days, Jesus was teaching and healing the sick.  On Sabbath, Apostle Paul taught, persuaded and witnessed of Christ in the synagogues and elsewhere.  Hence, it could be serving in a church ministry regularly.

  • A time for rest from our work.  Where we recognize we need rest from non-stop work.  It is good for us to rest physically and instead to carve out time for God and His purposes.

  • A time for family.  Some aspects of the Festivals require time with family.  Setting aside regular times of family relations and bonding is highly recommended.

  • A time for community.  The festivals were times of gathering to celebrate together as a community.  Being involved in church services and small groups provide such times of community.

 

Rhythms should be designed to suit our personal context to achieve the above.  Such rhythms may occur weekly, monthly or annually.  It should also be adjusted to suit changing contexts.

 

Conclusions

 

Rhythms of refreshing were implemented by God through the Old Testament laws for the benefit of the Israelites and even the land.  It was meant to provide well-rounded wholesome opportunities to sustain the physical, spiritual and communal needs.  An understanding of these principles should motivate us to consider appropriate application for believers today.  Particularly in the area of spiritual disciplines.


 

Copyright©️2024 by Wilson Lim. All rights reserved. Materials are free to be distributed in whole or part as long as proper acknowledgement is given to the author and not sold for profit.

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