Some time ago, Signs of the Times® received an email from someone I’ll call Mike, which isn’t his real name. I’ve slightly edited his note for clarity and focus. Here is what Mike said:
“I have always had respect for Adventists as observant Christians. But the economic reality of the times has forced many of us to neglect the Sabbath day in order to survive in the secular world. I wish your publication would acknowledge this reality that most of us have to deal with, and which I don’t think we should have to feel guilty about.”
An email to Abraham?
Wouldn’t it be neat if we could send time-travel emails to the people in Bible times? However, I think if we forwarded Mike’s email to Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Daniel, and other well-known Bible folks, we’d get back a lot of raised-eyebrow emojis.* “I’m confused,” they’d reply. “Are you suggesting that we disobey a command of God because it’s inconvenient?”
You see, each of the Bible characters we name our kids after—Peter, Andrew, Paul, James, John, Samuel, Noah—were honored by God because they did exactly the opposite. They bucked the culture. If God said to do something, they believed it, and they did it. They obeyed God no matter what—sometimes at the cost of their lives.
Paul, for example, started out as a zealous ISIS-style terrorist persecuting Christians. But when he met Jesus in a blaze of heavenly light, he switched sides and started preaching Jesus’ good news in spite of being stoned by mobs, confined in prison, and finally executed.
Joseph, who’d been sold as a slave, served an Egyptian government official who had a lustful wife. When she tried to seduce him, he backed away. “How then could I do such a wicked thing,” he asked her, “and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9). Sadly, honoring number seven of the Ten Commandments earned Joseph serious jail time.
One afternoon in Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stood upright and alone among acres and acres of people who’d fallen flat on their faces to obey King Nebuchadnezzar’s command to worship a golden image. The penalty for disobedience was incineration in a horrendous fire in a blazing furnace, yet these three young men told the king in no uncertain terms that their God was able to deliver them. “But even if he does not,” they said, “we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:18).
Daniel himself faced a similar threat. His political enemies tricked the king into making a law that for a month, nobody should worship any god but the king himself. Daniel, whose habit was to open his windows in the direction of Jerusalem three times a day and pray out loud, ignored the law. He was immediately thrown into a pit of lions, where he remained trapped all night. God protected him, but like his three friends, Daniel was ready to die rather than disobey commandment number one about worshiping other gods (Daniel 6).
Nehemiah and the Sabbath
Along about 445 B.C., a faithful Jew named Nehemiah was serving in the palace of Persia’s king. Concerned about his countrymen who were trying to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls that had been torn down by their enemies, Nehemiah got royal permission to go and help them.
When he arrived, he was horrified to discover that the Jews were being careless about the Sabbath day. “In those days,” he wrote in his memoir, “I saw people in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads. And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Therefore I warned them against selling food on that day” (Nehemiah 13:15).
Can you imagine what these busy merchants must have said to Nehemiah? “Chill out, man. We’re rebuilding our nation. The economic realities are that we’ve got to work seven days a week just to break even.”
Nehemiah didn’t buy it. “I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, ‘What is this wicked thing you are doing—desecrating the Sabbath day?’ . . .
“When evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I ordered the doors to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over. I stationed some of my own men at the gates so that no load could be brought in on the Sabbath day” (verses 17, 19).
is the Sabbath still important?
Someone might say, “But that was then. This is now. Is the seventh-day Sabbath still something I need to pay attention to?”
Nobody knows what the original Ten Commandment tablets looked like, but we do know some facts about them. The words were engraved in stone by the very finger of God (Exodus 32:15, 16), and squarely in the center of those laws was commandment number four: “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8–11). In other words, the Sabbath command is neither a prologue nor an afterthought. It’s embedded in the very center of the ten—and it contains more words and more detail than any of the others.
This means that God’s Sabbath command is just as permanent and just as relevant as the other nine. If it’s still wrong in 2020 for me to worship false gods or blaspheme the name of the true God or dishonor my parents or murder or commit adultery or steal or lie or covet, then it’s still wrong to trample the Sabbath with my work boots.
Now let me tie this all together by telling you what happened this morning. This literal morning, Sunday, November 24, 2019.
my diabetes commandments
Because of my family history—and my decades of careless eating habits—I’m a borderline Type 2 diabetic. A lab test in July 2019 showed that my blood sugar level was in the 250s! With my wife Shelley’s research and encouragement, I enrolled in a diabetes-reversal program so I could try to avoid going on medication.
Guess what—I gained a whole new set of commandments! Thou shalt eat a balanced meal—avoiding too many carbs at once. Thou shalt move thy diet toward fruits and grains and beans and veggies that have been processed as little as possible. Thou shalt get a glucose monitor at the drugstore and keep track of thy glucose levels. And immediately after every meal, thou shalt take a 20-minute-or-longer walk, the longer, the better.
It was the walk that was most inconvenient, at least at first. But once I understood that it’s the after-meal walk as much as anything else that keeps my glucose level from spiking, I forced myself into the habit, and these days I rarely miss one. Now my levels are manageable—and I’ve lost 15 absolutely painless, hungerless pounds. And my blood pressure is dropping back to more normal levels too.
So what happened this Sunday? For breakfast, Shelley served me a moderate amount of grapes, plus apple and pineapple and tangerine slices, plus a small dish of a bean-based stew. The main course was a tastily seasoned omelet made from yolkless egg whites. And as soon as we finished eating, we took a leisurely, hour-long walk.
And when we came back, I tested my blood sugar, and the reading was 111. For a guy who scored 256 last July, that’s pretty good! And earlier this morning, my blood pressure was 127/76. That isn’t perfect, but it’s much better than July’s 150/90.
OK. You tell me. Am I going to start ignoring those diabetes “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” because of economic realities or any other reason? No, I’ve fallen in love with them! They’re keeping me off diabetes medications. And they’re staving off a stroke or heart attack.
And that’s also why I love the Sabbath. Its invitation to profound rest is healthy for my body, my mind, and my soul. Created in Eden before there was any sin or any Jewish race (Genesis 2:2, 3) and celebrated not only by Nehemiah but by Jesus and the apostles, it’s the final commandment that our desperate planet needs to turn our hearts most fully to our Creator.
Give it a try!
Maylan Schurch is pastor of the Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church in Bellevue, Washington, USA. He is a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times®.
* An emoji is a small cartoon of a face, smiling, frowning, etc., and often round. See an emoji on the cover of this issue of Signs.