Guarding the Gates

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Scripture: (Jer 13:19 NKJV)  The cities of the South shall be shut up, And no one shall open them; Judah shall be carried away captive, all of it; It shall be wholly carried away captive.

Observation: The walls, the city, and the temple had been rebuilt, and the Law of Moses (the Torah) had been read and explained to the people who had made a new dedication of themselves to the worship of God.  Now Nehemiah faced a new challenge as venders were coming to Jerusalem to sell their wares on Sabbath.  Even though he had warned them before, they had continued to do so, so this time he ordered that the gates of the city be shut during the hours of the Sabbath and threaten to have them beaten if they continued to come to tempt the people by trying to sell their stuff.

Application: We have heard of “guarding the edges of the Sabbath.”  Some of the most quoted words from the pen of Ellen White are: “We should jealously guard the edges of the Sabbath. Remember that every moment is consecrated, holy time.” (The Faith I live By, pg. 34) By the edges of the Sabbath we mean the beginning and the end of this special day, sundown on Friday evening  to sundown on Saturday afternoon.  I would not suggest we threaten our family, or anyone else, with bodily harm if they come to our house to sell something on the Sabbath or if our children are doing something that is not conducive to good Sabbath rest and fellowship.  However, as parents we do have the responsibility to  do all in our power to ensure that the sacred hours of the Sabbath remain untainted by outside influences.
As our girls were growing up, we switched to “Sabbath toys,” and “Sabbath music,” and “Sabbath  activities,” and we enjoyed a good time of worship to “welcome the Sabbath.”  We incorporated a few traditions like the lighting of the Sabbath candles (a Jewish tradition), had Mexican tostadas, and for dessert we had donuts (you know, the commandment says to keep the Sabbath “wholey”).  In the more conservative Jewish households the observance of Sabbath begins about an hour before sundown as they try to protect themselves for entering carelessly into those sacred hours.
The other edge of the Sabbath, the sundown that marks its end, should also be marked with worship,  and with a good time of family fellowship and prayer.  There’s no need to rush “out” of the Sabbath.  Again, Jewish tradition teaches that the Sabbath is finally over when at least three stars are visible in the sky.  What that means is that there should be no rush to end this day but rather linger in its blessings as long as possible.  In fact, there’s a certain sense of sadness to see the Sabbath come to an end as the new week begins.
The point is not to make of the Sabbath a day of rules, regulations, and prohibitions which turns it into the longest, most boring, 24 hours of the week.  Maybe we could think of the gates not as something to keep negative influences out of your life but as something that helps keep the blessings in and when we keep them open the blessings of this day flow out, away from us, even as we need them so desperately after a week of battling the world and its influences.  Guarding the edges of the Sabbath is like closing doors and windows in the winter months in order to keep the warmth of the home inside and the bitter cold of winter outside.  I love the feeling, during the cold winter months (specially here in Minnesota), of coming home and walking in from the cold garage into the warmth of the foyer.  The warmth of my house greets me as I open the door and embraces me until the next time I have to go out.  And that’s how I picture the Sabbath, its warmth embracing me and protecting me from the bitter cold of the rest of the week.

A Prayer You May Say: Father, thank You for the warmth and the rest of the Sabbath.

Used by permission of Adventist Family Ministries, North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists.