I’ve been reading lately about the patterns of worship God prescribed for his people Israel – patterns of gatherings, feasts, and sacrifices as detailed in Leviticus, Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Today I’m struck by these verses from Exodus:
Exodus 34:21 – Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest.
I assume here that plowing time and harvest are the two “peak periods” for a farming society. They are the “all-hands-on-deck” seasons of work. In our day and age, we might wonder at the very idea of resting during such a time. Shouldn’t we work hardest during this period? Isn’t this the time when the most money is to be made, or when there is the most unavoidable work to do? And yet, it is precisely at such a point that God calls his people to rest. He calls them to recognize, remember, and confess with their bodily action that he is the one who keeps and provides. He calls them to remember that they can trust their most basic needs (like food, air, water) to him and him alone.
Granted, we don’t live under Mosaic Law, but Mosaic Law tells us still who God is and how he works. It even gives us some inkling of how our lives in worship ought to reflect his character and ways. So, let me ask this (for myself and all of you): How does God call us to rest, especially at plowing time and in harvest?
Exodus 34:23-24 – Three times in the year shall all your males appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel. For I will cast out nations before you and enlarge your borders; no one shall covet your land, when you go up to appear before the Lord your God three times in the year.
God required of Israel that all the males among the Hebrews appear before him three times annually (I think the text refers to males who have been weaned from their mother’s care, and probably even those who have reached the point of “manhood,” or accountability under the Law). This meant traveling to the location where God made his name to dwell, represented by the presence of the Ark of the Covenant. Eventually, it meant traveling to Jerusalem and appearing at the Solomonic temple.
Now, there’s only one problem with such an arrangement. With all the men gone, what happens when the “bad guys” come? Even if the women and children traveled with (as they likely did on many occasions…see the story of Hannah), what about the farms and belongings left at home? And yet, for this God has an answer: “Leave it to me…I’ve got it covered.” Notice how Exodus promises the Lord’s protection on his land, apparently with special concern during the times of annual corporate worship.
If nothing else, this promise from Exodus is a wide-open invitation to trust God; to trust him even with that which is most precious to us. We can do what he asks no matter how risky it seems. Not only can we do what he asks, but we must. Indeed, how could we do anything but obey him?