God in the weekly calendar

In a sermon on Exodus 23:10-19, J.Ligon Duncan shares these observations:

In verses 10-12, we see how God has woven Himself into the very rhythm of weekly life in Israel and how trusting God for provision and sustenance is woven into the yearly calendar of Israel.  In verses 10-12, we have a section that reflects the oldest sacred calendar in the Scriptures.  It’s based on the calendar of creation; a seven-day cycle.  The foundations of this calendar derive from the creation days.  Verses 10 and 11 deal with the seven-yearly Sabbath; verse 12 deals with the weekly Sabbath.  But the weekly Sabbath is central not only to the seven-year cycle of Sabbath observance which is spoken of in verses 10 and 11, but it is also central to all three festivals that are going to be talked about in verses 14-19.

Did you realize that all three of those festivals are on a weekly calendar culminating on the Sabbath?  So fundamental to all of Israel’s religious observance is that seven-day Sabbath cycle.  In verses 10 and 11, we are told that every seven years that Israel is to allow the land, the fields, to lie fallow.  Now we know that agriculturally speaking, that’s a good practice, especially when you don’t have fertilizer.  But that’s not the reason Israel is told to do it here.  In fact, Israel is told to do this: look at verse 11, “because of the benefit this will give to needy humans and to animals.”  What’s the point?  The point is: God is a provider that is concerned about needy and even about the wild beasts of the field.  You remember how often the psalms celebrate that fact?  “They open their mouths and you give them food in due season,” the psalmist says.  Jesus can say that he is concerned even for the birds and provision for them.  And this fact is celebrated in this law in Exodus 23:11: God is the provider for all of His creatures.

You may wonder, “How do you get that from a law?” Look at the previous laws.  Just allow your eyes to scan back up, just a few verses, back in to verses 1-9.  How do you get from laws on treatment of the oppressed and widows and orphans and strangers to laws about seven-year Sabbaths and weekly Sabbaths?  Well look at the connection.  The seven-year Sabbath has as part of its design the care of the needy.  So God moves in verses 1-9 from laws about how we’re to care for the needy to a law about how He is going to care for the needy, through us.

And then in verse 12, we see that God’s work and rest in creation is the paradigm for man’s work and rest each week.  Israel’s fundamental calendar, you see, is not based on astronomical movements, the stars or even the seasons, ultimately, although there is a correlation between two of their great feasts and significant parts of the agricultural season.  Ultimately that calendar is not astronomically or seasonally based; it’s sabbatically based.  The calendar of Israel is based on the creational rotation; the seven-day cycle is the fundamental part of Israel’s calendar.  And even that seven-day cycle presses Israel to trust in God.

You think of it: you come from a nomadic culture and a primitive agricultural culture; to stop work for one day is to risk death and to do so forces you to trust God.  If you’re going to stop work for one day, and certainly if you’re going to allow a field to lie fallow for one year, you are really testing your chances……. You have to trust God to do that, and isn’t that the whole point?  The very cycle of worship presses the believer to trust God that He will provide, and we’ll see this celebrated over and over in the feasts that we’re going to look at in just a few moments.

But I want you to see this: God, by weaving Himself into the weekly calendar of Israel has shown to Israel how integral He is to them.  And correspondingly, their schedules show the priority of God in their lives.  God, if I can put it this way, interrupts the rhythm of life every seven days and He says, “That’s my Day.”  And in that way we see something of their priority.

To read the rest of the sermon, click here:


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