2 Chronicles 36;21 – A Sabbath Rest for the Earth ? | By Derek Chittick
The busyness of bees is proverbial, and it’s true that in spring, summer and autumn they will work from dawn to dusk, gathering pollen, nectar and water without a break. The average lifespan of a bee in this period of the year is 6 weeks, and they literally work themselves to death! However, a big change takes place as autumn fades into winter. The activity of the colony ceases and the bees cluster round the queen in a ball, retaining the heat that they need to survive and living off the honey that they have gathered over the working months. We often admire the bee for her busyness, but can we also not admire her and learn from her in her wisdom in taking times of rest too?
Of course, there’s no nectar or pollen for the bees to gather in the present winter season, but then this covid season has brought an enforced ceasing from habitual activities for us humans, but rather than relaxing into the opportunity for rest that this time affords, many of us, myself included, are either anxiously worrying about when this will all be over or trying to find things to be busy with, in order to fill our time in what we would describe as a useful way. Certainly, there are still things that need to be done in the ongoing business of daily life, but I suspect that quite a bit of our activity arises out of a perceived need to be busy, a driven-ness and a desire to fill up the empty space in our self-esteem, rather than because it really needs to be done.
The God given institution of the Sabbath indicates that part of the Lord’s design for healthy human living was the taking of one day a week for rest and worship, one year in seven for the land to rest and one year in 50 for a general restoration of freedom and justice. The whole structure was based on a trusting relationship with God that would allow people to enjoy the fruits of their labour abundantly while giving space for us to relax and breathe in the wonder and beauty of creation around us. However, the Sabbath was and is also designed to give that same creation the opportunity to relax and breathe, free from human exploitation and greed. The seventh day, seventh year and fiftieth year rests would give the earth a chance to be replenished and restored, ready to produce fresh resources in the following days and years.
Sadly, from the days of Israel onwards, we humans have been unable to appreciate and apply these Sabbath rests in any consistent way, with the result that we now find ourselves talking about an impending global crisis of the environment that puts Covid-19 in the shade. While a lot of the talk is speculation rather than scientific fact, there is no doubt that as we continue to pollute the earth and use up its resources in so cavalier a way as we have been doing, then disaster is looming.
On thinking of all this, I remembered a verse from 2 Chronicles 36, which I found interesting and potentially enlightening. The chapter is recording the end of the Kingdom of Judah as the people are taken away into exile in Babylon, an exile that would last for 70 years. The various prophets of Israel and Judah had foretold this event, and declared that it would be coming as a judgement for the ungodliness and disobedience of God’s covenant people. What I found interesting here, though, was what it says in verses 20 and 21: Nebuchadnezzar carried into exile the remnant, who escaped the sword, and they became servants to him and to his successors until the kingdom of Persia came to power. The land enjoyed its sabbath rest; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfilment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah.
A major reason for the removal of the people from the land was to give it time to rest and recover. It hadn’t been given its sabbath rests, so the Lord made sure that it was given them in another way. Given the current prophecies of doom and gloom for planet Earth, could it be that the Lord is using our enforced lockdown through covid as a means of giving the land, air and sea a bit of a rest from human exploitation? I’m not suggesting that the virus was sent by God as a judgement, but given that He works in and through every situation, whatever its source, to bring good and blessing out of it, could it not be that even in the horror and distress of this disease, God is working for good for people and nature? How much has the environment benefitted from the huge drop in travelling and other activities that produce greenhouse gases? Rather more than government agreements, I suspect.
Can we learn from this, so that when we return to “normal” life, we apply some restraint in our use of the world’s resources by giving the earth its sabbath rests? I really hope so. We might even learn something about the benefits of rest for ourselves!
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