God gave them all into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. He carried to Babylon all the articles from the temple of God, both large and small, and the treasures of the Lord’s temple and the treasures of the king and his officials. They set fire to God’s temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem; they burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there.
He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his successors until the kingdom of Persia came to power. The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah.2 Chronicles 36:17-21
In my daily devotional reading of scripture, I got to the end of 2 Kings with a deep sadness in my heart. God’s people rebelled against Him, and they lost everything as Babylon conquered them and exiled them. Rebellion and sin without repentance always leads to a tragic story. I flipped to the end of 2 Chronicles to read that writer’s version of the same story. That’s when I noticed a line that feels very familiar to what we are living through right now.
In the midst of a horrific moment in history for the people of God–the Temple burned down, the sacred items stolen, the people being enslaved and exiled, Jerusalem destroyed, the leaders killed–God mentions one bright spot, “The land enjoyed its sabbath rests…” Notice it’s plural.
In the covenant that God made with His people, giving work a rest and giving the land a rest was part of the deal. Every seven days the people were to rest from work and every seven years the land was to rest from productivity. Amid all of their rebellion, the people of God certainly weren’t following this command.
‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest. Whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you…Leviticus 25:2-6
The Lord was using a tragic situation to catch up on all the rest the land should have had but didn’t. So instead of giving the land rest once every seven years, the land got 70 years of rest all at once. Seventy times seven is 490 years worth of sabbath rests for the land. That many years reaches all the way back to the time of King David.
And what does 70 times 7 remind you of in the New Testament?
Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.Matthew 18:21-22 NASB
Seventy times seven is all about forgiveness. For the people of God in exile, God was taking a terrible situation and using it to restore the land and bring rest to the productivity of the soil. He was also using the situation to restore the people’s hearts back to faithfulness and bring rest to their wayward souls. Within 70 years, the people would return to the land and return to their covenant with the Lord. The restoration of the land itself was a sign of God’s limitless forgiveness.
So, what is God bringing rest to right now? Is He allowing the earth to rest? Is He challenging our addiction to productivity and using this terrible situation to restore all the sabbath rests we should have been taking? Is He inviting us into His limitless forgiveness?
Maybe hyper-productivity isn’t what God ever wanted for us. Maybe fruitfulness is what He wanted, which includes regular cycles of rest and the embrace of intentionally unproductive days.