"So the message of the LORD spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled. The land finally enjoyed its Sabbath rest, lying desolate until the seventy years were fulfilled, just as the prophet had said."
(2 Chronicles 36:21)
For many years prior to the Lord calling the Prophet Jeremiah, the people and specifically their government had not observed the commandments of God. In doing so they brought about a covenant violation and left themselves exposed to impending judgments. Because the rulers and subsequently the people left the God of Israel, they then found themselves without a covering of protection. This resulted in national judgment; financial ruin, slavery, massive homelessness, and disease. It was then that God decreed that because they had not followed his commandments he would take them from the land and allow the land to remain empty for seventy years to accomplish a Sabbath rest for the land.
It seems that history has a way of repeating itself. The new restrictions that have been placed on the people during the COVID19 crisis is causing a ceasing of all regular activities and commerce around the world. For the first time in many years, people are staying home with their families. The number of automobiles and other transportation has decreased. For the first time in decades the air quality in many urban areas is starting to greatly improve, fish are returning to once overused water ways, and people are actually being forced to spend real time with their families instead of running from one activity to another. Strangely enough, while this ceasing has been imposed upon the people, it is also demonstrating the importance of the Sabbath day.
In western culture we often see the Sabbath as just a day of religious observance. While religious observance can be good, the observances can become a heavy burden and in some cases a day of work for not only the people but the religious leaders. We get the word Sabbath from the Hebrew word Shabbat which mean 'rest' or 'ceasing'. But while the weekly sabbath was one day in seven for rest it was in actuality part of a much large cycle of rest and renewal that God instituted for his covenant people to follow in the respective covenant land grants that they occupy.
You see far more than just a religious observance, the Sabbath is itself a blessing because in our rest or ceasing we and our land become renewed. Our strength is restored and the land will again yield it's abundance. It serves as mark upon God's people so that the destroying angel will pass us by.
GOD'S APPOINTED TIMES-CYCLES OF REST AND RENEWAL
Each week when we observe the Sabbath Day we are observing an Appointed Time. The Feasts (or Appointed Times) of Israel are what are termed ‘High Sabbaths’. Like the weekly Sabbath they are days specifically set apart by God for all his people to observe:
“Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, Concerning the feasts of the Lord, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts.
Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings. These are the feasts of the Lord, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their seasons.” – (Leviticus 23:2-4)
The keeping or remembering (to both say and to do) the Appointed times falls under the commandment:
“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”- (Exodus 20:8-11)
Besides fulfilling the commandment to ‘remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy’ the observance of God’s appointed times served as times for his people to come, appear before him, and call upon his name. In many ways the modern Mormon events of General Conferences and Solemn Assemblies echo back to the observance of these divine appointments. Examples of the observance of God’s appointed times can be seen with Adam at Adam-Ondi-Ahman, Moses and Israel at Mount Sinai, Jacob and the Nephites at the Day of Atonement, King Benjamin at the Feast of Tabernacles, Christ at Passover, Christ at the Temple in Bountiful, Joseph Smith and the receipt of the plates at the Feast of Trumpets, Passover at the Kirtland Temple Dedication, among many others.
What are the specific Appointed times?
Besides the weekly Sabbath and the new moon of each month there are 7 High Holy Days appointed for all Israel to be observed through all their generations. There are Seven specifically appointed times divided into Three Seasons of Observance:
Appointed Times of Israel:
1. Passover (Pesach)
2. Unleavened Bread (Chag Ha Matzah)
3. First Fruits (Ha Bikkurim)
4. Pentecost (Shavuot)
5. Day of Trumpets (Yom Teruah)
6. Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)
7. Tabernacles (Sukkot)
What would be the purpose in observing the Appointed Times now?
Besides honoring God and fulfilling his commandments, the Lord warns his people of pending judgment soon to be poured out upon our nation and gives them instructions regarding his appointed times. The Lord commands his people to call your solemn assemblies:
Hearken, O ye people of my church, saith the Lord your God, and hear the word of the Lord concerning you— The Lord who shall suddenly come to his temple; the Lord who shall come down upon the world with a curse to judgment; yea, upon all the nations that forget God, and upon all the ungodly among you. For he shall make bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of their God.
Wherefore, prepare ye, prepare ye, O my people; sanctify yourselves; gather ye together, O ye people of my church, upon the land of Zion, all you that have not been commanded to tarry-go ye out from Babylon, be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord, call your solemn assemblies, and speak often one to another. And let every man call upon the name of the Lord. (D&C 133:1-6)
Through the mouth of his Servant Joseph Smith, God has declared a curse of judgment upon the nations that forget God and upon all the ungodly. As a result the eyes of ungodly Nations and peoples shall see the revelation of the arm of the Lord in the experiencing of these judgments to their destruction to their salvation. Oh, The Greatness and the Mercy of our God, for even in the midst of judgment and calamities, he remembers his people both Gentile, Remnant, and Jews in giving them divine instructions to prepare them for the days ahead:
1. Set yourselves apart by gathering together
2. Be clean
3. Call our solemn assemblies
4. Speak often to one another
5. Call upon the name of the Lord
GENERAL CONFERENCE AND THE APPOINTED TIMES OF ISRAEL
I find it interesting that each year general conference is held both in the Spring and in the Fall of the year- ironically very close or sometimes even on (depending on the year and the calendar) the Feasts of Passover and Sukkot (Tabernacles). We may not observe these appointed times according to the manner of the Jews, but the intent of our observance is no different-Appear before the Lord in Solemn Assemblies, Speak often to one another, and Call upon THE NAME of the Lord.
In the current pandemic that we are experiencing, the observance of the Sabbath Day and The Appointed Times carries great blessings and promises. The blessings of observing the Sabbath are typified in God's instructions regarding the Observance of THE HIGHEST SABBATH IN ALL ISRAEL-YOM KIPPUR (The Day of Atonement):
“Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast.
Shout aloud! Don’t be timid.
Tell my people Israel of their sins!
Yet they act so pious!
They come to the Temple every day
and seem delighted to learn all about me.
They act like a righteous nation
that would never abandon the laws of its God.
They ask me to take action on their behalf,
pretending they want to be near me.
‘We have fasted before you!’ they say.
‘Why aren’t you impressed?
We have been very hard on ourselves,
and you don’t even notice it!’
“I will tell you why!” I respond.
“It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves.
Even while you fast,
you keep oppressing your workers.
What good is fasting
when you keep on fighting and quarreling?
This kind of fasting
will never get you anywhere with me.
You humble yourselves
by going through the motions of penance,
bowing your heads
like reeds bending in the wind.
You dress in burlap
and cover yourselves with ashes.
Is this what you call fasting?
Do you really think this will please the LORD?
“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
“Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind.
Then when you call, the LORD will answer.
‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.
“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
(THEN COMES THE REALLY COOL PART AND THE BLESSING OF THE DAY OF ATONEMENT)
Feed the hungry,
and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
The LORD will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like an ever-flowing spring.
Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities.
Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls
and a restorer of homes.
“Keep the Sabbath day holy.
Don’t pursue your own interests on that day,
but enjoy the Sabbath
and speak of it with delight as the LORD’s holy day.
Honor the Sabbath in everything you do on that day,
and don’t follow your own desires or talk idly.
Then the LORD will be your delight.
I will give you great honor
and satisfy you with the inheritance I promised to your ancestor Jacob.
I, the LORD, have spoken!”
Recently a Fast was declared. In light of Isaiah's words the question we may want to ask of ourselves is what was the purpose of our fast, "To afflict our soul so God will give us our stuff (money, jobs, toys) back? or "To sacrifice a portion of what we have so that another may have life"?
At this time of General Conference and The Coming Passover, let us remember the Sabbath Day and the instructions God gave to Israel through the Prophet Isaiah so that during this time of crisis and the potential economic aftershocks so that we can them claim the promises of the Sabbath that our, "light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.The LORD will guide you continually,giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring. Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities. Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes."
Let us remember that the blessing does not come from religious observance, but from taking the light we have received from God to bestow upon others. We do this by freeing those who are wrongly imprisoned; lightening the burden of those who work for you, letting the oppressed go free, removing the chains that bind people, sharing your food with the hungry, and giving shelter to the homeless, giving clothes to those who need them, and not hiding from relatives who need your help.
As we observe General Conference this week, let us remember the true purposes and blessings of the Sabbath. In the trying times ahead, those who are healers on the Sabbath will find that their substance never diminishes and their light is never extinguished. Let us submit to God's rest and not be forced to rest like ancient Israel.