Aug. 31 Bible Studies for Life: Our Work with Creation
Aug 26, 2014
By W. WILEY RICHARDS
The Bible assigns to humans the responsibility for having dominion over fish, fowl and every living thing that moves upon the earth (Gen. 1:28). We can easily discern God’s will for us as caretakers of the natural order. However, our assigned text concerns not humanity’s oversight of the creation, but Israel’s mandate to observe the Sabbath year (Lev. 25:4). To understand that divine mandate we will need to delve a little deeper into the background of the seventh day, seventh year and 50th year. We will conclude with a brief application to us as Christians.
In the beginning, God blessed the seventh day (Gen. 2:1-3). The fact that He “rested” simply means He had completed the initial work. Picking up the fact of the seventh day, God implemented it with Israel (Exodus 12:15-16). He gave it to memorialize the Passover in Egypt. He required Israel to observe it weekly as they gathered extra manna on the sixth day and rested from all labor on the seventh day (Exodus 16:29). They observed the seventh day as special in the consecration of Aaron and the priests (Exodus 29:9-10). However, we find the clearest exposition of Israel’s unique standing among the nations in the Book of Exodus. Twice, the Sabbath is called a sign between God and Israel, a ritual to be kept throughout their generations (Exodus 31:12). The second reference can be found in Exodus 31:17, linked to the creation story in Gen. 2:3. In God’s words through Moses, “It is a sign between me and the children of Israel forever: for in six days, the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.” Surely, it was not a casual reference to the seventh day of Genesis.
We must now consider the Sabbatical year (Lev. 24:3-7). With this change in emphasis from the weekly Sabbath to the Sabbatical year, Israel’s responsibility was based on a gigantic leap of faith. To gather enough food and supplies on any given Friday was manageable. To lay in store for both humans and livestock to be sufficient for an entire year (v. 4), they would be forced to trust God to produce abundantly. In the Jubilee year, the 50th, all debts were to be canceled and all indentured servants freed (Lev. 25:8-55). Israel never observed a Sabbatical year, but God keeps accurate records. In the captivity in Babylon, God “collected” His Sabbaths (2 Chron. 36:20-21; Jer. 29:10). The land lay fallow for 70 years.
The Sabbath revisited (Mark 2:27; Exodus 23:12). By the time of Jesus, Jewish observance of the Sabbath became overburdened with rules, sub-divided into 30 classes of prohibitions, embodied in 365 rules. Jesus showed Himself at odds over this belief and practice. He stated the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27; Deuteronomy 23:12). With the beginning of the Christian movement, believers soon realized they could not observe Sabbatical strictures while preaching the Gospel. They adopted the first day of the week as honoring our Lord’s resurrection (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2; Rev. 1:10).
We consider now Christians’ cultural duties (Rom. 13:1-7). The question of how to handle environmental issues has vexed Baptists for more than 100 years. On one hand, the Bible assigns humans with the responsibility of having dominion over the natural order. On the other hand, we wrestle with how to balance our cultural duties with our moral and legal responsibilities. We have been ready to act in public on moral issues such as laws regarding the sale of alcohol, the public display of soft-porn “girlie magazines” and abortion. Also, we oppose people who throw trash beside the road, but as Christian citizens we must set the example for taking care of God’s creation.
One operative principle we can adopt concerning church involvement has already been mentioned. On a clearly moral issue, we ought to take a stand—in the pew and pulpit. On others, decide whether getting involved may detract from our commitment to the Great Commission. The Good News about Jesus should take precedence over problems that can be addressed by the public at large.
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