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19 November 2017

The Sabbath and Idolatry

Sabbath Day LDS

There's lots of different things that get focused on when we start talking about the Sabbath day. There's obedience, and holiness, and things we should (or should not) be doing. Sometimes, we talk about certain verses. The Doctrine and Covenants tells us to bring our oblations -our offerings- that we may be unspotted from the world. But there are other, less familiar, passages as well:

Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you.
-Exodus 31:13, emphasis added

I feel like, with the Sabbath so often being disregarded, it's easy to think of it as a relatively minor part of the covenant. To be obeyed when there's nothing pressing going on, when it works for you. But if the boss schedules, you... what're you going to do? Ya gotta eat, right?

The Lord is pretty serious about the Sabbath, though.
Sabbath breaking was a capital offense under the Law of Moses.

Stop. Look at that again.

The Lord  is very serious about the Sabbath.
He ordered death by stoning for Sabbath breaking.

The Sabbath is important. All the time-
-not just when there's no game on.

Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that sould shall be cut off from among his people. Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord. 
-Exodus 31:14-15

So, why the emphasis? What's so important about a day of rest?

A few years back, I discovered that they publish chronological versions of the Bible, and when my kids asked me to read them the Bible, we decided that's how we're going to do it: we're going to get the story, in order. It's amazing. I can't recommend it enough: putting the story in order makes things make so much more sense. Hero and I have been reading it for a couple of years now; he was pretty small when he made the request. We sometimes read just a few verses, occasionally it's been multiple chapters. And as we go along, passages that I have read in the traditional order, but had not context for, they are starting to come into focus. And sections that always bogged me down and defeated my efforts to read the whole thing cover to cover have been split up and become much more manageable, when read chronologically.

We're about halfway through the book; it's exciting: I now think of it as being halfway through the story. Having a strong narrative to attach the sermons and prophecies to makes a huge difference in how I'm understanding and retain things, and in the connections that I'm able to make as I read it. So. The Northern and Southern Kingdoms have long since split, and the North has fallen into serious apostasy.

It started with Jeroboam. He's always, "Jeroboam, son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin". What a way to be remembered! He introduced idolatry in the Northern Kingdom; taught them to chase after false gods - wood and stone, made by their own hands, gods that don't think or breathe. Gods with no power.  And they refused to return to the Lord, on the whole, until they were destroyed. We read about the brief reprieve, under Hezekiah, who was contemporary with Isaiah (and just a little bit prior to Lehi -- about the same distance in time as we are from Joseph Smith right now). But if you look in the Chronology, in the Bible Dictionary, right under Hezekiah it says, "End of the Northern kingdom".

So, right before Isaiah there was a much less well-known prophet, Hosea. He, like Isaiah, was sent to a people who would not listen. Like Isaiah, Hosea's marriage was made at the instruction of the Lord, and his family was a sign to the people.

And the Lord said to Hosea, Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land had committed great whoredom, departing from the Lord. 
-Hosea 1:2

So Hosea does it; he marries a woman named Diblaim, and she bears him three children: Jezreel, Lo-ruhamah, and Lo-ammi.

When the Law of Moses was given, the Lord told them that if they would keep the commandments, they would be the beneficiaries of a host of blessings. Rain in "due season", plenty to eat, protection from enemies -even when the other nations are vastly stronger.

Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am the Lord. 
If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them; ... I will have respect unto you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, and establish my covenant with you. ... And I will set my tabernacle among you: and my soul shall not abhor you. 
And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.
-Leveticus 26:2-13

So there's this inverse connection between idolatry and sabbath worship: they don't seem to ever coexist. To the degree that you do the one, you don't do the other. If you obey the first of the Ten Commandments, if you have no other gods, then you will keep the Sabbath. They are linked. But Israel in the Northern kingdom turned to idolatry under Jeroboam, son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. And now as Hosea is sent to them, their day of grace is nearly done, and destruction awaits them, foreshadowed in his children's prophetic names:

Jezreel: once the capital, after the fall of the kingdom it was never important again.
Lo-ruhamah: the name means "not having obtained mercy".
Lo-ammi: the name means "not my people". 

And then there's this amazing imagery, thoughout the book of Hosea, of Christ as the bridegroom -- and His church, the daughter of Israel, as an unfaithful whore of a wife, gone chasing after every sin imaginable, consorting with every other fake and useless god, turning away from the husband who sacrificed His very body for her.

But He loves her anyway.
He wants her back.

And I will visit upon her the days of Baalim, wherein she burned incense to them, and she decked herself with her earrings and her jewels, and she went after her lovers, and forgat me, saith the Lord. 
Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her... For I will take away the names of Baalim out of her mouth, and they shall no more be remembered by their name... And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving kindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the Lord. 
-Hosea 2: 13-20

There's this contrast between the richly deserved destruction, brought on by idolatry: betrayal so profound that it is compared, not just to adultery, but to whoredom. To deliberate, repeated, gross unfaithfulness in the holiest of relationships. And in contrast to the abominations of the people, there's this amazing steadiness, this depth of love, of mercy. The Lord knows exactly what his bride has done... and He wants her anyway.

That's Hosea. Hosea taught me what a terrible betrayal it is to put something -anything- before the Lord. And he taught me how, however often, the Lord is not just willing but anxious to have us back. Hosea's whole book is about how much the Lord loves His people. And Hosea's themes come back in later writers. You see it in the book of Isaiah, and tonight we found it reading in Jeremiah.

Jeremiah follows Isaiah, this time among Judah, in the Southern Kingdom. His prophecies cover a good chunk of time, including the reign of Zedekiah, the same king we're familiar with from Lehi's exodus from Jerusalem. Jeremiah picks up Hosea's theme:

Israel was holiness unto the Lord, and the firstfruits of his increase... The priests said not, Where is the Lord? and they that handle the law knew me not: the pastors also transgressed against me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit. ... Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. 
Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord. For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.
-Jeremiah 2:3-12

In chapter 3, Jeremiah talks about how Judah had her sister's example as a cautionary tale: Israel turned to idolatry and was destroyed, but Judah has only given lipservice to the lesson; she plays at observing the forms, but the Lord is not at the center of her affections. And it's bringing disaster upon her.

And then Jeremiah offers the people the cure:

And it shall come to pass, if ye diligently hearken unto me, saith the Lord, to bring in no burden through the gates of this city on the sabbath day, but hallow the sabbath day, to do no work therein...
-Jeremiah 17:24

The cure for the ills brought on by idolatry, the suffering that comes from allowing anything to come before the Lord in our lives and our hearts, is to shore up our Sabbaths. It is both a barometer, offering us a clue to how we are doing, and also an immunization, offering protection against the evils of the day.

Is your faith wavering? Keep the Sabbath.
Do you need blessings? Keep the Sabbath.
Have you strayed from what you know? Keep the Sabbath.

Keep the Sabbath. It's a starting place. A place to catch your balance and draw strength to face the rest of the week. Keep the Sabbath; attend your meetings and learn how to try a little harder to stand a little taller. It's firm ground from which to begin the long climb to the heights that He, in His mercy and love, invites us: to approach Him, to be joint-heirs with Him.

Keep the Sabbath; He is Lord of the Sabbath, and His plan is a plan of happiness, but unfaithfulness leads to misery every. single. time.

No wonder the Sabbath is a delight! 


Rozy Lass said...

Wonderful insights. What is the name of the chronological Bible? I'd like to get one too. I put up on my blog a talk all about the Sabbath Day, recently. I refer to the passage about breaking the Sabbath being a capital offense, and remind my listeners/readers that although we aren't killed for breaking the Sabbath, still we die spiritually a little each time and become dead and separated from God.

I remember reading the Old Testament straight through from Genesis to Malachi for the first time. I was amazed that when I got to Isaiah it make perfect sense. No, not every image and metaphor, but the themes and overall message of that prophet. Because I had read all the history leading up to Isaiah I understood that he was a prophet sent to an apostate people to preach repentance and the need for a Savior; that a Savior, Messiah, the Anointed One, was coming to redeem them. Isaiah has some of the most poetic and beautiful passages in the Bible.

Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and insights.

Ritsumei said...

Those prophets do make more sense in context. It's a little embarissing that it's taken this long for me to figure out how to get though the whole Old Testament, but I'm really coming to love it, and to love how it deepens and strengthens the whole of scripture.

And you're completely right about how Sabbath breaking is a little death every time.


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