Today’s reading: 2 Chronicles 35-36.
They set fire to God’s temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem; they burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there. He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power. The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah. 2 Chronicles 36:19-21
Debts come due. In our day there are bankruptcy courts that sometimes allow one to escape his debts, but in God’s court, the debt is always fulfilled. Before you give up hope, remember that under the new covenant of grace God fulfills our debt of sin by the blood of Jesus. Under the old covenant of the Law of Moses, the contract between God and his people required that they pay the debt.
When the writer of Chronicles says that the land enjoyed its sabbath rests, he means that it was satisfied that the sabbath debt had been paid. The law of Moses required that the land be given rest every seven years (Leviticus 25). God instituted the sabbath so that his people would rest and remember. He wanted them to rest from their busyness so that they could remember (1) God’s creation of the world and (2) their deliverance from Egypt. The seventh year rest for the land was just as important in that remembering process as the weekly sabbath. There were some 700 years between the time of Israel’s entry into the Promised Land and their exile into Babylon. God is telling us through the author of Chronicles that there were 70 times covering a period of 490 years in which the Israelites failed to keep the sabbath year.
You’re wondering why that matters. The Bible tells us why: to fulfill the word of the LORD. God is faithful to keep his word (praise him for his faithfulness), and he had promised the people that there would be consequences (curses) if they did not keep the law. He also promised, through Jeremiah, that the seventy year penalty would be enforced.
One more reason why it matters: God was preparing the land for the Israelites’ return. Something strange happened when Babylon conquered Judah. Instead of resettling it with foreigners as conquerors usually do, they left it empty except for some poor Israelites farming the land. God was preparing for his people to come back, but the curse on the land had to be removed before they could return. The debt of the unkept sabbath years had to be paid. Seventy years later the debt was gone, and the stage was set for Israel’s return.
Image by andiwolfe on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0