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If you have been with us at Grace for the past few weeks I hope you have enjoyed our expedition into the story of Jonah as much as I have. If you are joining us for the first time at Grace, let me catch you up with where we are in the story:
Jonah is told by God, get up and go to Nineveh and cry out against their evil, point it out to them so they can see it and repent from their sins. So Jonah gets up and goes in the other direction, to Tarshish. Jonah decides they don’t want to do what God has told them to do, so Jonah goes on vacation, they charter a ship, hire a crew, and from there we hear a tale of a fateful trip that started in a tropic port aboard a tiny ship. Jonah goes overboard, spends three nights and days in the belly of a fish. It’s in the fish that Jonah finds a sense of rescue – everything else that has swallowed up Jonah in the past is taken away yet God’s love still.
This is where we pick things up today – the word of the LORD comes to Jonah for a second time, Jonah is told get up and go to Nineveh, and this time Jonah goes to Nineveh, no questions asked.
Sometimes Biblical scholars and commentaries say that this is the moment when Jonah is, finally, faithful, but I think there is something more subversive going on here.
The narrator tells us, “Nineveh was indeed an enormous city, a three days’ walk across” Nineveh is a large city, it’s a metropolis in the ancient world, it’s a city so large that it would take at least three days to walk from one side of the city to another, and then the narrator goes on to tell us that “Jonah started into the city, walking one day, and he cried out, ‘Just forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!’”
Jonah is on the edge of Nineveh, they have barely entered the city and they say the laziest and least helpful prophecy in the Bible. It’s as if Jonah was told by God to come to Des Moines and cry out against us, and so Jonah got to the new flyover bridge by Urbandale and Grimes and Jonah and said, “40 days till you are destroyed, best of luck.”
Does that sound like faithfulness or does that sound like Jonah is trying to do such a terrible job that God never asks Jonah to do anything again?
If you ever want to get out of doing something, if you ever want to make sure that someone never asks you for a favor again, the first time they ask for your help, help, but be terrible at it. When you’re asked to help with the laundry, as you’re washing the lights make sure the water is set to hot and toss in a red towel – everything will come out pink and you probably won’t be asked to help with laundry again.
Technically, Jonah does what God asked of them, but when it comes to prophesy in the Bible, Jonah isn’t doing their job as much as they are trying to get out of every being asked to do this job again.
The prophet Nahum is also told by God to cry out against the evils of the Assyrian empire and we will get more into detail about what those evils are next week, but for now, let’s compare what Nahum says to Jonah’s lazy, ’40 days till destruction’ prophecy.
“An oracle about Nineveh: the scroll containing the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite. The LORD is a jealous and vengeful God; the LORD is vengeful and strong in wrath. The LORD is vengeful against his foes; [God] rages against his enemies. The LORD is very patient but great in power; the LORD punishes. [God’s] way is in whirlwind and storm; clouds are the dust of his feet. [God] can blast the sea and make it dry up; [God] can dry up all the rivers. Bashan and Carmel wither; the bud of Lebanon withers. The mountains quake because of [God]; the hills melt away. The earth heaves before [God]— the world and all who dwell in it. Who can stand before [God’s] indignation? Who can confront the heat of [God’s] fury? [God’s] wrath pours out like fire; the rocks are shattered because of [God]. The LORD is good, a haven in a day of distress. [God] acknowledges those who take refuge in [them]. With a rushing flood, [God] will utterly destroy [Nineveh] and pursue [God’s] enemies into darkness.” (Nahum 1:1-8)
And that’s just Nahum warming up. Nahum chapter three gets really explicit, “Doom, city of bloodshed—all deceit, full of plunder: prey cannot get away. Cracking whip and rumbling wheel, galloping horse and careening chariot! Charging cavalry, flashing sword, and glittering spear; countless slain, masses of corpses, endless dead bodies—they stumble over their dead bodies! Because of the many whorings of the whore, the lovely graces of the mistress of sorceries, the one who sells nations by means of her whorings and peoples by means of her sorceries: Look! I am against you, proclaims the LORD of heavenly forces. I will lift your skirts over your face; I will show nations your nakedness and kingdoms your dishonor. I will throw disgusting things at you; I will treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle. Then all who look at you will recoil from you and say, ‘Nineveh has been devastated! Who will lament for her?’” (Nahum 3:1-7)
Between Nahum and Jonah, whose words are more evocative? Which one of these prophets grabs your attention? And yet, between Nahum and Jonah, who was more successful? Which one of these prophets turned the peoples hearts away from evil and towards grace?
“Jonah started into the city, walking one day, and he cried out, “Just forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God.”
It’s a small detail in the text but it’s so much fun – Jonah is the most successful prophet in the Hebrew Scriptures, an entire city believes what Jonah says and repents, the narrator tells us that “the people of Nineveh believed God”. Did you notice what the narrator doesn’t say? The narrator doesn’t say is that the people of Nineveh believed God because of what Jonah said. The people of Nineveh don’t give Jonah any credit because, frankly, Jonah has done nothing to earn any credit.
“the people of Nineveh believed God. They proclaimed a fast and put on mourning clothes, from the greatest of them to the least significant. When word of it reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, stripped himself of his robe, covered himself with mourning clothes, and sat in ashes. Then he announced, “In Nineveh, by decree of the king and his officials: Neither human nor animal, cattle nor flock, will taste anything! No grazing and no drinking water! Let humans and animals alike put on mourning clothes, and let them call upon God forcefully! And let all persons stop their evil behavior and the violence that’s under their control!” He thought, Who knows? God may see this and turn from his wrath, so that we might not perish.”
In the ancient world, people would wear mourning clothes, sometimes called sackcloth, and sackcloth was a coat made of goat hair. Sackcloth was itchy and uncomfortable and the idea was that because our feelings of grief and mourning and repentance are itchy and uncomfortable, what we wear should match what we feel.
Jonah is a satire, Jonah is supposed to be funny, which is why it’s not just the people of Nineveh that fast and wear mourning clothes to symbolize their repentance, all of the animals have to as well, the narrator of Jonah wants us to imagine people wearing goat hair coats trying to put goat hair coats on their goats while watching their flocks and cattle so closely that don’t even lick the grass let alone taste it.
The absurdity of this repentance is supposed to be funny, it’s there for a laugh, but it’s also there to show us how far away from God’s dream we can wander. The evil and injustice that humanity perpetuates doesn’t just affect humans. Our sin has destroyed more than relationships, it’s destroyed forests and rivers and ecosystems. Animals are included in the story of Jonah because God’s redemption has always been about everything. Nothing is separated from God’s grace and if this grace includes everything then our treatment and appreciation of animals and creation has to be included with how we turn from evil and seek to do good.
The text shows us the scale and the scope of this repentance, how the people of Nineveh find hope in God putting all things back together, and in the midst of this repentance there is something that the king says that echos what the sailors said during the storm earlier in the story.
If a phrase is repeated in the Bible, it’s usually something that we should pay attention to. In chapter 3, verse 9, the king says, “Who knows? God may see this and turn from [God’s] wrath, so that we might not perish.” When the storm starts rocking the boat in chapter 1, the sailors say to one another, “Perhaps the god will give some thought to us so that we won’t perish.”
While these are similar phrases, there is a humility in what the sailors say and an audacity in what the king says that we can’t see in the English translation of the original Hebrew words. God never had Jonah cry out against the sailors of the ship like Jonah cried out against the city of Nineveh. The crew simply hopes that God might notice their struggle and take care of them. The king in Nineveh hopes that God might see their repentance and God will repent from God’s wrath. In Hebrew, the king says וְנִחַ֖ם הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים וְשָׁ֛ב יָשׁ֔וּב (ya-Shuv ve-ni-Cham ha-E-lo-him ve-Shav)
The words יָשׁ֔וּב (ya-Shuv) and וְשָׁ֛ב (ve-Shav) both come from the same root word shuv which means to return or to turn back. In Biblical Hebrew, there are words that have a wide semantic range and from the context these words can be translated in a variety of ways. יָשׁ֔וּב (ya-Shuv) and וְשָׁ֛ב (ve-Shav) are examples of this – sometimes it’s translated as answer, other times it’s avert, sometimes it’s return, sometimes it’s to bring back, sometimes it even is translated as repent. Depending on the context, there are a whole bunch of ways that these words can be translated into English from Hebrew due to their wide semantic range.
Other words don’t have a wide range, they don’t have a multitude of meanings and they just mean one thing and always mean one thing. הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים (ha-E-lo-him) is God and it’s always going to be translated as God.
The word וְנִחַ֖ם (ve-ni-Cham) is another Hebrew word with a narrow semantic range. Our translation takes this word וְנִחַ֖ם (ve-ni-Cham) and turns it into God turning from their wrath, and the two words that mean turn are in that passage so the translation makes sense, but a more direct translation of וְנִחַ֖ם (ve-ni-Cham) is to apologize, to be sorry, to repent or to relent.
In the story of Jonah the king says, “who knows, maybe God will repent from their wrath”.
Can you believe that arrogance, that audacity, of this king? What kind of heretic would say to God, “you owe me an apology”?
The king thought, “Who knows? God may repent from [God’s] wrath, so that we might not perish” and the narrator of Jonah tells us, “God saw what they were doing – that they had ceased their evil behavior. So God stopped planning to destroy them, and [God] didn’t do it.
Translators have to make a lot of choices, as we saw just a little bit ago, sometimes a word has a lot of semantic range and it can be translated a few different ways. On top of this, there are also cultural and theological considerations that are a part of translating the Bible. A direct, word for word, a translation could create some phrases that distract from the text instead of share the meaning of it.
Our translation today takes the original Hebrew and turns it into, “God stopped planning to destroy them” and that’s an OK translation, it fits the general feeling of the text and it fits some of our ideas about God. We often imagine that we can be on God’s bad side or we can be on God’s good side. If we’re on God’s bad side, we’re really on God’s bad side and a lighten bolt might strike us down at any moment, but if we repent God will stop planning to destroy us. But the Hebrew in this passage doesn’t say God stopped planning to destroy them, in Hebrew the text says, וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם הָאֱלֹהִ֗ים (ve-ni-Cham ha-E-lo-him).
It’s not just that God stopped, it says God relented, God repented, God apologized.
This isn’t the only time in the Hebrew Scriptures that God relents – it happens in Exodus 32:14, 2 Samuel 24:16, 1 Chronicles 21:15, Psalm 106:45, and Jeremiah 26:19 among others.
Of all the moments to be preaching at a camera instead of with you in person, this is probably the hardest because my hunch is that most of you have never heard of a God who repents and apologizes.
This could be a whole new idea for you and new ideas can be a relief, or they can be shocking, or they can be dangerous. You could be comforted, you could be angry, you could be confused, you could think I’m a false teacher and heretic because what are we supposed to do with a God who repents?
Since I can’t gauge your reactions in realtime, we’re going to talk this through a few ways. Before I tell you a couple ways that I resonate with God repenting I’ll share with you all one way that I disagree with and I’ll try to do it charitably, but with a bit of cynicism here and there.
There are Reformed and Calvinist theologies that focus, primarily, on God’s sovereignty. These theologies have at their center of gravity God’s power, authority, and control. This sovereignty means that everything happens according to God’s plan. These theologies say that from global pandemics to what you ate for breakfast, it’s all a part of God’s plan.
This is my cynicism around Reformed and Calvinist theology talking, but with this sort of theology it is as if we are merely actors following a script that God wrote so that we can be examples of either God’s judgment or God’s redemption.
The reformed theologian and pastor RC Sproul writes, “The biblical narratives in which God appears to repent, or change His mind, are almost always narratives that deal with His threats of judgment and punishment. These threats are then followed by the repentance of the people or by the intercessory petitions of their leaders. God is not talked into ‘changing His mind.’ Out of His gracious heart He only does what He has promised to do all along – not punish sinners who repent and turn from their evil ways. He chooses not to do what He has every right to do.”
I assume this isn’t what RC Sproul had in mind, but when I read that quote I thought of the Simpsons episode where Bart and Lisa are on rival hockey teams and they are about to play against one another for the championship. The night before the game, Bart says, “I’m going to swing my arms and if you get hit, it’s your own fault” so Lisa says back, “Well, I’m going to kick air and if you get kicked it’s your own fault”.
For RC Sporul, it’s not just that God is saying I’m kicking air and if you walk into it, it’s your own fault, in this reformed, Calvinist theology, God is a cosmic marionette pulling the springs so you can’t decide if you will be kicked or not.
There are reformed and Calvinist theologies that are much more gracious and generous than this, but at their extreme, these theologies say God planned everything that happens everywhere, all for God’s glory and all for God’s judgment. This theology would say that, because we are predestined but don’t know where our predestination is leading us, it might feel like God is repenting, but God is simply continuing to do what God has always done.
In a variety of Christian theologies, the first thought when it comes to the nature of God is sovereignty. RC Sproul wasn’t a member of some fringe church, they were a Presbyterian, a certain kind of double-predestination Presbyterian, but still within the generous boundaries mainline Christian theology. Personally, I think this theology can be dangerous and destructive because it says that every bad thing to ever happen was caused by God because God didn’t just want it to happen, God made it happen. To me, that God sounds cruel and callous.
Our theological tradition at Grace isn’t reformed or Calvinist, we are in the Wesleyan and Methodist tradition where our first thoughts about the nature of God are love, grace, and peace.
Our theology doesn’t begin with God kicking to cause our wounds, our theology begins with God mending and healing.
This love requires a certain level of freedom and mutuality, even humility.
I am not sure when I will finally feel like I’m an adult, but I did realize I was old when I finally had a favorite travel mug for my coffee. I love my travel mug, it keeps my coffee hot and with all the times I’ve dropped it, it’s never broke or spilled my coffee. I love that travel mug. That travel mug has no capacity to love me back and no matter how many decisions I make on behalf of that mug, it will never love me in return because it can’t.
Mutual love requires freedom and choice, mutual love cannot exist without the option to say yes or no.
Imagine that you are teaching someone that has never cooked before how to chop and onion. You give then an onion, a cutting board, and a chefs knife and tell them that they will need to quarter the onion and then they need to take those quartered sections and slice them crosswise and lengthwise, but then this person that you are explaining the finer points of chopping an onion grabs the knife, puts the onion on the cutting board and they have their thumb resting in a position that you know will require reattachment if you don’t stop them.
In that moment do you politely say, excuse me, if you don’t move your thumb you are probably going to cut it off or do you shout and grab the knife in their hand as fast as you can?
You might apologize for yelling but you would never apologize for stopping them from getting hurt.
That’s one way to think about this passage and the idea of God repenting, and here’s another. When I was in college, a friend and I took a road trip from Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa to Bowling Green University in Ohio for Spring Break. Nothing says spring break like a road trip to Ohio. On the way there and on the way back my friend and I took turns driving and this was before cellphones with GPS, but after mapquest was created so we printed off our route and hit the road. On the way back to Iowa from Ohio we were driving late at night, so we took turns being each others chauffeurs, alternating naps in the backseat with driving. When we came into Illinois I was in the back seat trying to rest but I couldn’t sleep, and noticed that my friend missed an exit and I thought to myself, they think I’m asleep, and they also have the printed instructions with them, we might be going the right way for a little bit, but one way or another we’re going home.
About an hour later my friend said, ‘I think we’re lost’ and I said ‘We’re not lost, you just missed a turn an hour ago’. We got home, two hours later than planned, I repented, we traded spots in the car, I drove as they took a nap, and all was well in the end.
Maybe we can think about God repenting like that – of God having a destination in mind, God wants us to get home but God also gives us the freedom to follow our own detours along the way – God doesn’t abandon us when we’re lost, God says “I’m sorry you’re lost, I’ll make sure you’re found.”
Or maybe we can think about God repenting like this – I have a one-year-old nephew in Boston named Oliver that I haven’t been able to meet yet. Even though I haven’t met Oliver, I’ve been able to see them grow over the last year through pictures and videos and there is something interesting that happens when it comes to how we react even with a picture of an infant. If there is a picture of Oliver in the family text group, as soon as you see the expression on their face, you mirror it.
When Oliver is sad because they are teething, you are sad with Oliver. When Oliver is excited and overjoyed eating their first cupcake, you are excited with Oliver. We can’t help but mirror our emotions with one another, that’s what empathy is all about – not just recognizing what someone else is feeling, but feeling it with them.
Too often we want to assume that God has bigger things to deal with, that if God is all powerful and almighty, God can’t be all that interested in us – but what have we seen so far in the story of Jonah?
God has a final destination in mind, God is moving in the lives of Jonah, the sailors, the people of Nineveh, God is with them no matter what so that they might experience, know, and share in God’s grace. There is a continual invitation to be a part of this grace and even when there are detours, the grace and peace that God has in mind is still the final destination.
In our reading today, we see how God responds to our response to be a part of this grace, if the people of Nineveh are going to sit with their cattle and flocks in sackcloth and ashes to show their repentance, God will meet them there, God will go so far as to say I don’t just know how you feel, I am going to feel this with you.
God has always been is incarnational. Often in the church, we save the technical term incarnation for Christmas to say how God is with us in the birth of Christ, but the Bible shows us that God has always been searching for and finding ways to be with you. You’re repenting, God will repent with you, you’re celebrating, God will celebrate with you, you’re grieving, God is grieving with you.
God has never been too almighty to be humbly with you and this passage in Jonah is a foretaste of what we see in Philippians where Paul writes, “Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal to God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross…”(Philippians 2:5-8)
God’s grace is amazing not because of it’s might and power and sovereignty, but because of God’s humility. The king of Nineveh, just like those sailors at sea, wonders if God will notice them, if God cares about them, and God responds by not simply saying I care about you, God says I’m with.
A year ago this weekend we had our first online-only service. I don’t know about you, but in the past year I’ve felt like the king of Nineveh, wondering to myself, “Who knows? Maybe God will notice us?” To all of the fears, all of the loss, all the anxiety and pain that this last year has forced upon us, maybe God is saying, ‘I’m sorry, I am always with you, no matter what you are going through, no matter where you are, you will never be alone.’
If God is not beyond repentance, what does that mean for us? Maybe we can soften our hearts to accept or extend the repentance that we need, with one another, with ourselves, even with and from God.
God is love and this love is with you, even when you wonder if God will notice you. God is with you, even when God repents saying ‘I’m sorry you couldn’t see me and didn’t experience the fullness of grace that is already yours, but if you can sense me know, if you can feel the nearness of the spirit here and now, maybe the next time you wonder if I’m with you, you’ll remember that I never left.’
The LORD’s word came to Jonah a second time: “Get up and go to Nineveh, that great city, and declare against it the proclamation that I am commanding you.” And Jonah got up and went to Nineveh, according to the LORD’s word. (Now Nineveh was indeed an enormous city, a three days’ walk across.) Jonah started into the city, walking one day, and he cried out, “Just forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown!” And the people on Nineveh believed God. They proclaimed a fast and put on mourning clothes, trom the greatest of them to the least significant. When word of it reach the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, stripped himself of his robe, covered himself with mourning clothes, and sat in ashes. Then he announced, “In Nineveh, by decree of the king and his officials: Neither human nor animal, cattle nor flock, will taste anything! No grazing and no drinking water! Let humans and animals alike put on mourning clothes, and let them call upon God forcefull! And let all persons stop their evil behavior and the violence that’s under their control!” He though, Who knows? God may see this and turn from his wrath, so that we might not perish. God saw what they were doing–that they had ceased their evil behavior. So God stopped planning to destroy them, and he didn’t do it.
March 15 – 20, 2021
Click on the day to expand the guide.
Read – Mark 2:1-12
Notice – Archeology in Capernaum has shown that some “living rooms” could hold up to 50 people. Four men tried to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus on a stretcher, but the room was full. They got creative! Most houses then had a roof of branches or rushes laid over beams, then covered with dried mud—and an outer staircase to the roof. Jesus’ healing power was most obvious when a paralyzed man got up and walked. But Jesus knew physical healing wasn’t the only healing this person, or the crowd, needed. Would you have been surprised to hear Jesus say to the man lowered through the roof, “Your sins are forgiven”? The man would have remained paralyzed without his four friends’ determination to get him to Jesus. Who played a major role in bringing you to Jesus or, if necessary, bringing you back to Jesus? Who do you know and care about who needs what only Jesus can offer? Or who do you need to forgive, even if forgiving them is as difficult as tearing through the roof of a home?
Pray – Jesus, thank you for caring about the well-being of both my body and my inner- self. Help me to live each day in the beautiful reality of your forgiving, restoring grace. Amen.
Read – Matthew 6:5-15
Notice – The prayer Jesus taught was simple and concise. True prayer is not a matter of saying impressive words, but of having the right attitude before God. As with giving, so with praying. Jesus said that doing it mainly to impress others or God of our personal holiness robs the act of its spiritual value. What in Jesus’ teaching can help you discern the difference between praying for show (in public or private) and honest, worshipful prayer whose aim is to connect you with the heart of God? In verse 12, Jesus included a key antidote to hypocrisy: realizing that we need God’s forgiveness. We can’t truly accept forgiveness if we’re unwilling to offer it to others. Jesus pointed to our readiness to forgive others as one key sign that our prayer for forgiveness is honest (verse 14). Is there anyone you are struggling to forgive? Are you willing to enter the process of forgiveness, and to ask God to help you with it, no matter how long it takes?
Pray – Jesus, I can write an obvious, abstract definition: “Prayer is honestly talking to God.” The reality is tougher. Help me keep growing so that I highly value talking to you and do it often and honestly. Amen
Read – Isaiah 55:6-8
Notice – God is “generous with forgiveness,” Isaiah 55 said. It is never a matter of God being unwilling to forgive, of us having to “earn” forgiveness by repenting. Today’s reading comes from the part of Isaiah most mainline scholars identify as “Second Isaiah.” This is the “comfort” or “consolation” section of the book (cf. Isaiah 40:1), likely written as the long exile in Babylon was ending. It aimed to reassure the Israelites that despite the hard times they’d faced, God was still with them and still loved them (cf. Isaiah 40:27-31). But even then, the people needed to realize that they must “seek” God, that they could not claim mercy and just go about “business as usual.” Princeton professor J. J. M. Roberts wrote, “A change of life and thought is demanded of the wicked.”* In what ways is God’s Spirit calling you to “repent,” to choose a change of life and thought?
Pray – God, your ways are not my ways. You are far more willing and eager to forgive than I am. Yet you set standards of life for me much higher than any I’ve ever imagined. Help me honestly abandon the wrong and commit myself to living in the holy light of your mercy. Amen.
- J. J. M. Roberts, study note on Isaiah 55:7 in The HarperCollins Study Bible. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1993, p. 1093.
Read – Jeremiah 31:31-34
Notice – Jeremiah linked the promise that God would “engrave” God’s instructions on our hearts (an echo of God engraving the 10 Commandments on stone tablets—cf. Exodus 31:18) with God mercifully forgiving and “never again remembering” our sins. Why would God’s mercy change the way a person lives? How can gratitude for God’s mercy help you live the life that God wants for you? As we saw earlier on Tuesday, Jesus taught us to pray “Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us” (Matthew 6:12). How do God’s instructions, God’s principles engraved on your heart, show themselves in your day-to-day living?
Pray – Jesus, help me to remember and live into the gracious way that you so thoroughly set aside my sins that I am free to leave them behind me. Thank you for sometimes choosing to forget. Amen.
Read – Joel 2:12-13
Notice – Joel’s profound, heartfelt appeal for repentance echoes for every generation of God’s people. Our God, the prophet said, is “very patient,” “ready to forgive.” God’s mercy is always there, but we can only claim it honestly when we truly turn away from what is wrong in our lives. “Tear your hearts and not your clothing” may sound odd. But “in the ancient world people would tear their clothing to show that they were sorry and wanted a change of circumstances…. Joel urges people to make sincere and lasting changes and not simply outward signs.”* That was also a key to the message Jesus, John the Baptist, and the apostles preached. In your own life, what’s the difference between simply trying to look sorry and genuinely choosing to change?
Pray – God, if I try to fool myself (or you) with fine words while my heart remains unchanged, you see right through me. By your Spirit, move me to yearn for a new heart and a faithful spirit deep inside me. Amen.
- J. Andrew Dearman, study note on Joel 2:13 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 1449 OT.
Read – Isaiah 56:1-8, Isaiah 58:6-14
Notice – Leviticus 25 set out a “Sabbath” principle for land use and even the forgiveness of debts. In actual practice, “this legislation seems not to have been observed historically.”* That may be one reason Isaiah 56 and 58 linked keeping Sabbath with practical steps to welcome and help excluded groups like eunuchs and immigrants (e.g. Deuteronomy 23:1-6), and the hungry and homeless poor. These prophetic passages called Israel to keep Sabbath not idly, but as a nation in which everyone was responsible to seek the well-being of all. Isaiah 56 challenged the human inclination to shut out people who are, in various ways, not “like us.” How did this passage teach that treating “outsiders” justly is a key part of keeping the Sabbath? What kinds of attitudes and actions, guided by the God who gathers outcasts, can help make Grace more fully “a house of prayer for all people”? How will you relax and enjoy the sabbath today? Could you even forgive yourself by setting your to-do list aside to remember the sabbath and keep it holy?
Pray – God of justice and compassion, grow in me a spirit that seeks to truly revere your Sabbath commands by doing the things that please and honor you. Amen.
- A. E. Willingale, article “Debt, Debtor” in The New Bible Dictionary, Third Edition. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.