Leaven and Rest: Thoughts About the Sabbath and the Lord in COVID-19

As we are all stuck in our homes, I’d like to share something I thought about from Exodus. Not long ago, our church went through this book. There is a point in Exodus where God institutes the Passover and Passover meal. Now we know about the symbolism of the Passover, and we know about the sacrifice of the lamb that saves us from death. But here’s another command that is rather confusing. They symbolism is quite strange:

“This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.”

What’s the deal with this “leaven”?

Short Science Lesson on Yeast

Leaven is what we know as yeast. What is yeast? It’s a fungus. It eats starches in dough, which is just a long form of sugar. As a result, carbon dioxide is produced. But because dough is sticky, the air can’t get out, and it gets trapped in the bread. As a result, the dough rises into bread.

Where does yeast come from? Yeast originally comes from everywhere. If you have dough, and you do not keep it indoors, but take it outside to the smelly, breezy outdoors, your blob of dough will pick up dust and pollen, but most importantly, it will pick up yeast. It’s in the air you breathe.

This is a command to leave all the yeast in Egypt is a real command, but it is also a metaphor: This stuff that lives here, this stuff in your house, used in the food you eat, gathered from the land in which you live, and contained in the very air you breathe:

Leave it behind. Get it out of your house. Don’t let it sit near you. Don’t let it infect you.

Eat unleavened bread to feed your body, and the meat of the lamb that keeps death away from you. Feed your body only what you need to eat, burn the rest, and get ready to go where I will tell you to go.

The Sabbath

This also brings me to another confusing point that starts in Exodus. It’s that command about the Sabbath. Why is this weird? Let’s review:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)

Why is this commandment strange? Think of what Jesus does with the command “You shall not kill.” He gives it new intensity:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:21-22)

Think of what Jesus does with the command “You shall not commit adultery.” He gives it new intensity:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matthew 5:27-30)

Think of what Jesus does with the command “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” He gives it new intensity:

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (Matthew 5:33-37)

But what about “Remember the Sabbath and Keep it Holy?” What does Jesus say when his disciples are picking grain and eating it in the Grain field?

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

Wait – what?

Do Not Be Infected By Your Surroundings; Be Led by God

Let us remember that God delivered Israel out of Egypt because their cries for relief were heard by him, and he had compassion on them. But he would need to do more than merely deliver them out of Egypt. He would have to deliver them from themselves.

Think of the lesson of the yeast: Do not be infected by your surroundings. Egypt is a place of great wealth. But it is also a place of hard labor and bitter struggle. When the Israelites come out of Egypt, will they enter the rest that God has given them, or will they oppress themselves in seeking to accumulate things for themselves? Will they trust that God will provide for them – a God that literally rains down bread from heaven? Or will they lack faith and fear hunger and battle?

[Spoiler Alert] The Israelites do not do very good after they are rescued.

We are the Israel, But Not in a Good Way.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures
He leads me beside still waters

But us?

We all, like sheep, have gone astray
Each of us has gone to his own way.

The Sabbath command is a simple rule for God’s people to be rescued even after they are rescued. Israel was delivered from wicked taskmasters in Egypt. God is commanding them not to become their own wicked overseer when they leave Egypt.

Do not be infected by Egypt. You left that behind.

“Serve Me, Not Pharaoh.”

There is an interesting thing that happens in the argument between the Pharisees and Jesus in John 8. When Jesus tells them that they are slaves to sin, the Pharisees respond:

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” (John 8, 31-33)

Wait, the Jews say “Never been enslaved to anyone?” Haven’t they read Exodus? Well, they’re Pharisees, so they’ve probably memorized Exodus.

But there’s a funny thing about that. We know the following from Genesis:, because of God showing his favor to Joseph through his dream, which caused them to stockpile for the famine, all of the Egyptians, except for the priests, who “received a fixed payment from Pharaoh” sold their land, their livestock, and eventually the future labor of their bodies to the king in exchange for food to eat. Therefore, all of the Egyptians are slaves to Pharaoh. But as for Joseph and his family, they settled in Goshen, in the best land of Egypt, and they were provided for by Joseph, who gave them not “a fixed portion,” but who gave to them a more flexible amount “according to their dependents.”

This means that the Israelites are the only ones in Egypt who are not slaves of Pharaoh.

The story of Exodus is not a story of slavery to freedom. It is a story of two masters: Pharaoh and God. Pharaoh is a harsh leader who tries to illegitimately make the sons of Israel his servants. The other is God, who provides generously to those who love him. When Pharaoh oppresses his people, God brings them out. The story of Exodus is God bringing Israel out of oppression, but not to “freedom.”

“My Yoke Is Light. My Burden Is Easy.”

The other funny thing about Exodus is that “service” and “sacrifice” is used more often to detail what Israel is going to rather than what it is coming from. The story of Exodus is not about being freed from servanthood, it is about going to our rightful servanthood. Who is the master? It is God.

As Jesus says to his disciples, and as he said to Israel through the law:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Why is Jesus so “meh” on the Sabbath? Because those who follow him will find rest. And rest from harsh service was the goal of the Sabbath. Jesus fulfills the law:

“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:4)

The Lord “Visits the Iniquity” And Is “Jealous”?

There is another thing in Exodus that is very strange. It is in the second commandment:

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands[b] of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6)

That word “jealous” is strange. In Hebrew, the word is קַנָּ֔א (qanna)which we have translated as “jealous,” but this is a little incorrect. In scripture, qanna ONLY appears as an adjective to describe God. Meanwhile, jealous is a word that is used to describe you and I, and it is strange that it is used to describe God. It is close, but this is a breakdown of the English language, not of the translation itself.

Rather than the dictionary entry for “jealous,” the best description of qanna is in the next sentence:

“visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

This is also strange, because we see “visiting the iniquity” as inflicting punishment, which doesn’t sound so good. But that’s not actually what it means or even what it says.

That word “visiting” is actually the Hebrew word פֹּ֠קֵד (paqad). It does mean “visit,” but it means much, much more than that. In scripture, it is sometimes translated to English as “visit” but it is also translated as “appointed” or “notice” or “punish” or “take notice” or “muster” or “number” and even “to appoint as an overseer.” That is a very complex word, and no word in the English language can cover that much ground.

Additionally, the word “iniquity” is not actually a punishment. It is the Hebrew word עֲוֺ֨ן (avon) which means “bent,” and is quite an allegorical word. We should remember it in relation to the word “sin” which is also an allegorical word. It means “to miss.” Imagine a sight on a gun that is bent. You will be “missing” a lot with that gun. Imagine the crankshaft on an engine that is “bent.” That engine will either not run, or will painfully shake itself until it dies. Thinks of that metaphor next time you think about sin.

With this in mind, there is an amazing and compassionate take on this particular passage, which sounds so harsh to our ears that cannot hear. Let’s revisit this passage with the full spectrum of what is being communicated in this passage of Exodus 20, informed by what we know of God through Christ Jesus:

I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt. It is ME, and no one else.

Do not bow down to other gods. Do not serve these gods who will oppress you and abandon you and fail you.

Do not make anything yourselves either to serve or bow down to either.

Remember that you are my people, and my power, my favor, my blessing, and my name – which is righteous – goes with you. Do not take this name in vain by serving idols, by making worthless gods, by doing what you know is not righteous or calling something righteous when it is clearly not.

Do not do these things, because I am qanna of you. I am extremely possessive and protective and persistent in my desire to have you as my own. I pursue you across years, decades, centuries, and ages in a way that you could not even imagine. I am the Lord your God and gentle. I notice your iniquity, which you seem to love very much, but I do not punish. I will let it be your overseer if you wish – for a generation or two, maybe three or four. If you hate me, I will let you see what power you have over me: none. If you do not serve me, I will let you see what you have freely done: you have courted death.

But if you love me, if you keep my commandments, if you know that I love you by the good commandments I have given you, I will shower my strong and eternal love on you. I will shower it on you and your children, for a thousand generations.

I am qanna of you. I have called you my people! Call me your Lord!

Therefore, I will tell you what to do. First, do not return to your days of hard labor in Egypt. Even myself, in all my omnipotent power made the cosmos in six days, and found it good to rest on the seventh, even though I never get weary and never sleep. So you should remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy, as I am holy, giving yourself rest as I give you rest. Do not labor. I will provide.

Additionally, honor your father and mother, that it will go well for you. You will not live long if you do not honor your father and mother!

And as you know, do not do what you know will hurt you. Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not commit adultery. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, his house, or his livestock. Instead, remember that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt. Covet me. If you lack, call to me. If you lack, be patient and wait on the Lord. If you lack, remember that I hear you and I heard you before.

I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt. I saved you with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm! You saw wonders that I performed for you. Call out to me again! I will save you again!

That is what it means to “visit the iniquity.” That is what it means for God to be qanna.

A Qanna God During COVID19

As I sit by myself and look at all the funny memes and Tik-Tok videos of people at home, I think of the reactions of people who are forced to spend time with their family and never go out. There are legitimate needs out there, but there is also a great deal of iniquity.

We are impatient. We are restless. We do not want to rest. We do not want to sit with the Lord and contemplate what he has given us. We want to “get back to work.” We are restless, and our souls will remain restless until they find rest in God.

How does this apply to COVID19? Well, it must. Something this big happening all over the world cannot have happened without God’s divine influence. He does not ignore a sparrow that falls to the Earth. How could he ignore this? I’m quite sure that God has seen us all. He has seen what we have struggled with. He has seen our bickering, our exhaustion, and out bitterness. And our God who loves us – who let our bent-ness be our overseer for a small amount of time – has now said:

STOP. Lie down, and REST.

DO NOT SERVE OTHER “GODS” OR ANYTHING ELSE BUT ME. Do not serve all the things that you now see cannot save you. Look at all your plans just weeks before. Where are they now? Instead, see that it is I who provides. It is I who gives you life. It is I who inflicts death. And about that death you see: Do not worry, because only I call people home. They will come if I wish. They will stay if I command.

WORSHIP. Look what I have done to show my power. There is no toilet paper in the store and no work at your job because of my discipline and instruction. See: You still have toilet paper, don’t you? A check is in the mail, too, isn’t it? Isn’t my instruction gentle? Am I not good? Can’t you see that even now, there is food and medicine and delivery and light and heat and electricity and internet because of my great and wonderful compassion.

SERVE. There is still work to do. There are some who work harder now than before. Take strength, because I am mighty to save. I am mighty to save. I will work my power through doctors, nurses, garbage men, janitors, and unemployed souls desperately seeking work. I will work wonders in your midst, and people will be speechless because of what they will see. Honor the authorities I have placed over you. They have been placed in their positions for your good. And though they are often blind to me, take comfort, because they have no true power. They are my servants, whether they know it or not. I have already made them too busy to do or think about anything except for what I wish. Their goals for private gain are gone. They instead only argue about how to save life. They bicker because they do not know how to save life. Imagine what they can accomplish by me and for your good when I decide to show them?

PRAY. I will watch over you. Call to me. I have brought your plans to ruin to save you. I have let your restlessness be your overseer for long enough. I am bringing you and your family back to me. Notice how all of your friends, your distractions, your business are now gone. Come to me, because I love you. I have pursued you from the garden of Eden, over centuries and millennia until now. You are free by the work of Christ, but you are not truly free yet. I will let you escape from your burdens. You will not be free, because look where that put you. Instead, learn from my. My burden is light and my yoke is easy. Come to me. You will rest. I can save. Pray. I have done wonders in the past. Call on me again.

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of sin and death. I qanna of you, and I will never rest in my pursuit of you.

Stay safe, everybody. Stay strong. Be filled by the Spirit, which will push you do to what you ought to do.

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