Every seven years, Israel was to celebrate a Sabbath. In that year, the land was to rest, to lay fallow. And something else, quite extraordinary, and under-emphasized, was to take place – The Seventh Year National Education Campaign. According to Deuteronomy 31:10-13, Israel was instructed to gather during this Sabbath year, in a national assembly, a special gathering, to again read and hear the Word, the commandments and the covenant. Israel, as far as we know, never once celebrated a Sabbath year or held such an assembly. Increasingly, they even resisted the celebration of the Sabbath day.
The purpose of this Sabbath year was to break the routine of life and give themselves to a season of revisiting the words of the covenant, “…that they may learn to fear the Lord.” If they became too detached from Scripture, they would lose their respect for God, and when they ceased to see God as unique and exceptional, they would drift toward idolatry. Sadly, they never tried God’s way, and they became like the nations around them.
The writer of Hebrews warns, “Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left [us] of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it …” (Hebrews 4:1-2). The loss of the fear of God is the root to a loss of respect for everyone and everything else. The moral descent of the modern church is without a doubt associated with the absence of an appropriate fear of God. It affects our witness as well, since it is difficult to appropriately represent a God who we do not deeply respect. Jerry Bridges observed, “There was a time when committed Christians were known as God-fearing people. This was a badge of honor. But somewhere along the way we lost it. Now the idea of fearing God, if thought of at all, seems like a relic from the past.”
When Isaiah cried out, “Woe is me … I am undone!” It was a heightened sense of moral consciousness in the presence of moral purity and excellence. John Calvin urged that his followers be “empty of all opinion of our own virtue, and shorn of all assurance of our righteousness – in fact, broken and crushed by our awareness of our own utter poverty.” Jesus called the ‘blessed’ life one in which we were ‘poor in spirit.’ This is a recognition of our moral and spiritual poverty before God. The church today attempts to stand on their own merit; the ancient saints were wont to fall humbly before God’s excellence.