Work Within a Balanced Life (Jeremiah 17)
Jeremiah also turned his attention to the rhythm of work and rest. As always, the prophet began with God’s earlier self-revelation; in this case, the Sabbath rest:
On the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. (Genesis 2:2)
Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. (Exodus 20:8-10)
Jeremiah, however, encountered a people who refused to honor the Sabbath:
Thus says the Lord, “Take care that you do not bear a burden on the sabbath day or bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem. And do not carry a burden out of your houses on the sabbath, or do any work, but keep the sabbath day holy, as I commanded your ancestors.” Yet they did not listen or incline their ear; they stiffened their necks and would not hear nor receive instruction (Jer.17:21-23).
Earlier in chapter 17, God, speaking through Jeremiah, said: “Cursed are those who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord. They shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when relief comes. They shall live in the parched places in the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. It shall not fear when heat comes, and its leaves shall stay green; in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit” (Jer. 17:5-8).
In essence, Jeremiah was repeating his point about faith in God’s provision, which we discuss above in chapters 8-16, with the Sabbath as a case in point. By depending on ourselves instead of being faithful to God, we come to believe that we cannot afford to take time to rest. There is too much work to do if we are to succeed in our careers, in our households and in our pastimes, so we break the Sabbath to get it done. But according to Jeremiah, if we trust in ourselves and make “mere flesh” our strength, it will lead to “desert” as we push ourselves 24/7 relentlessly to achieve. We “shall not see when relief comes.” In contrast, if we trust in the Lord, we will “not cease to bear fruit.” Ignoring our need for balance between work and rest is ultimately counter-productive.