Numbers 29:7–11 (NRSV): 7 On the tenth day of this seventh month you shall have a holy convocation, and deny yourselves; you shall do no work. 8 You shall offer a burnt offering to the Lord, a pleasing odor: one young bull, one ram, seven male lambs a year old. They shall be without blemish. 9 Their grain offering shall be of choice flour mixed with oil, three-tenths of an ephah for the bull, two-tenths for the one ram, 10 one-tenth for each of the seven lambs; 11 with one male goat for a sin offering, in addition to the sin offering of atonement, and the regular burnt offering and its grain offering, and their drink offerings
These are God’s instructions for Israel to recognize a “day of atonement” in which they made sacrifices to God in recognition of their sin and in search of God’s mercy and forgiveness. This section of Numbers has already offered instructions for other festivals and will follow our passage with instructions for “festival of booths”. In each instance there are sacrifices and worship services and celebrations of various kinds.
What gets my attention this morning is v.7 “you shall do no work”. It’s a day off! Cool! For other festivals mentioned in this section we read again “you shall do no work” or perhaps “you shall not work at your occupations”. Same idea. These are to be Sabbath days to the Lord in addition to the regular weekly Sabbath.
Remember the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt a short time before these instructions were given. Scripture tells us that Pharaoh, the leader of Egypt, was continually anxious about having enough food for him, his family, and his nation. As a result he forced the Hebrew slaves to work EVERY DAY. No days off. Period. One of the greatest blessings God gave to Israel was the Sabbath day – a day of rest to start the week. How was this possible? Because God would be their provider so they didn’t have to fear not having what they needed. Even so, I imagine it seemed very strange to the recently freed Hebrews slaves to take this many days off. What an incredible gift!
I’m on Sabbatical right now – an extended time off from my duties as pastor of the church I lead in suburban Dallas. It began May 1 and goes to August 1, which is my return date. I’ll admit, having this much time away from my work life was very strange for the first couple of weeks. I think the last time I was away from work this long was when I returned from Army training before I returned to college. That was a LONG time ago.
That said, I can’t tell you what a gift it is to step away like this. Perhaps I’ll write more about it when it’s completed, but for now just know that it has been a great blessing on many levels. Yet it took the first 2-3 weeks to really get myself off of work mode mentally and emotionally. I’ll be starting the second half of Sabbatical soon and I’m pretty sure it will be better than the first half!
So this morning I don’t have some great lesson or commentary. Mostly I am feeling gratitude for this special time, special for me and for my family too. I pray that you find some time to “do no work” as Moses commanded the Israelites. Lord, let it be so. Amen.