Sabbath Rest and the Environment

The Bible describes the world that God created as “very good” (Genesis 1:31)—perfect in every way. The planet’s ideal and even climate, harmoniously interactive ecosystems, and pure environment sustained and nourished an astonishing array of plant and animal life. Obviously, that world was very different from ours. No famine, fire, or floods. No earthquakes, and no deadly viruses. God’s rest on the seventh day of that creation week was really a celebration of a perfectly balanced world, a planet in complete harmony with itself.

That sounds nice, doesn’t it? And it highlights a question that many people are asking today: Since the ancient Sabbath marked the appearance of a planet in complete harmony with itself and its Creator, perhaps a contemporary Sabbath rest could signal the reemergence of that kind of world, or at least one that is better than what we see today.

God’s rest on the seventh day of that creation week celebrated a perfectly balanced world, a planet in complete harmony with itself.

The idea actually echoes many biblical concepts associated with Sabbath rest. Throughout history farmers have recognized the importance of crop rotation and of intermittently allowing land to lie fallow. The principle is simple: different crops demand different nutrients from the soil, and by rotating them the land can have a chance to replenish those nutrients. When land lies fallow, the soil experiences a complete rest—nutrients are more easily restored, the life cycles of pest organisms are disturbed, and earthworms and other beneficial animals can multiply more quickly.

Probably the earliest recorded advice to let land lie fallow is found in the Bible, and it’s in connection with the Sabbath cycle of seven. Just before the nation of Israel entered into the land of Canaan, God instructed Moses,

“Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a sabbath to the LORD. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the LORD. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard.’ ”

Leviticus 25:2-4 (NKJV)

Today we recognize this as sound agricultural advice, but the ancient Israelites apparently did not follow these instructions. The Bible states that centuries later, after the nation of Babylon attacked and conquered Jerusalem, the land lay fallow “until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths. As long as she lay desolate she kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years” (2 Chronicles 36:21). Apparently Israel’s mistreatment of the environment, which could have been safeguarded through observance of the Sabbath rest principle, was one significant reason that God allowed its culture and civilization to be ravaged by Babylon.

Revelation, the last book in the Bible, projects some of these same issues into modern day life. In Revelation 11:18, the Bible says,

“The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, And the time of the dead, that they should be judged, And that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, And those who fear Your name, small and great, And should destroy those who destroy the earth.”

More than one war in modern times has been fought over natural resources and food production, and it is also no secret that the same technologies that have allowed for tremendous increases in crop yields have, in many instances, also exacted terrible collateral damage on the environment and on humanity. Perhaps the Bible’s Sabbath rest on the seventh day of each week, and the principles of wisely using and safeguarding the resources found in our environment, really could make a difference for us today.