What does it mean to be committed to the Lord?
That’s the question we’ve been exploring over the last couple of weeks in our study of Nehemiah. We’ve been encountering the Israelites rediscovering their spiritual lives and declaring they want to make changes and be committed to God.
We initially looked at how they learned to be obedient to the Lord — the first commitment. Then we looked at valuing and raising up the marriage relationship — the second commitment.
Then this past Sunday we investigated how to operate in our business and financial lives — and it comes from this verse in Nehemiah 10:31: “When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day. Every seventh year we will forgo working the land and will cancel all debts.”
Let’s first look at the relationship between the Old Testament and New Testament. As believers in Christ, we’re not under the Law as the Israelites were in Nehemiah. But the Old Testament nevertheless contains valuable principles we can apply to our lives today.
The Jews honored and celebrated the Sabbath. As Christians, we do not. But why? The answer has to do with covenants God set up between himself and his people in the Old Testament. There was God’s “rainbow” promise to Noah that no more floods will cover the Earth; there was God’s promise to Abraham that all nations of world would be blessed through him, which extended all the way through to Christ. Then there were the covenants of circumcision and keeping the Sabbath day to set apart the Israelites. And then we find the prophecy in Jeremiah 31, in which God tells the Israelites that he will write the Law on their hearts — a sign of a new covenant to come in Jesus.
With the coming of Christ, there’s a shift from the Law to grace. There will be no more temple sacrifices needed — Jesus made one sacrifice on the cross for all and for all time. Through Christ’s covenant, we are now the temple where the Holy Spirit lives, giving us the closest possible relationship with the Lord. As for the Sabbath day and keeping it holy, as believers in Jesus, he instead gives us the rest we need, and we’re no longer required to keep the Sabbath day.
So, what do we do with a passage like Nehemiah 10:31, where we find the Israelites declaring they won’t do business on the Sabbath day? Well, the idea of Sabbath-like rest is still very valuable — and can apply to how we go about our financial lives. And namely it’s about Who is ultimately in control: God! If the Lord is responsible for our livelihoods, then we will be trusting him and letting him impact the way we work at our jobs and businesses. Do you bring your work home all the time? Do you labor 24/7? Is your mind constantly on money — how much is coming in, how much is going out? Where does God fit into all of that? By finding time to rest from our labors, we’re saying to God, “I trust you. May your will be done in my financial life.”
The verse in Nehemiah also talks about leaving the ground fallow every seventh year — which is a principle that farmers still use. It’s about using the Earth in a respectful, healthy, sustainable way and not continually robbing from it. But that also requires trust in God. Leaving the ground fallow one season so it can replenish itself means that we won’t be able to use it for a while — but again, it comes back to the question: How much am I trusting God and believing that he will sustain me?
Finally, the verse talks about cancelling all debts every seventh year. This is a valuable principle that shows us not only caution in terms of loaning to others but the power of giving to others. When we do things like loan money to family and friends, for example, that can forever change those relationships — and often in negative ways. But when we freely give, we don’t have to worry about those relationships changing negatively — as all good gifts ultimately come from the Lord.
So let us take time to rest from our labors as we trust in God to provide for us and deepen our relationships with him; let us honor the Earth that God has given us and be good stewards of it; and let us freely give to each other as the Lord freely gives to us.