Under God’s divine timetable of extended grace, time had finally run out for Judah to repent of its sins and turn from its evil ways. The Lord now had seen enough stubborn idol worship and socially destructive behavior and knew something different would be required. It was time for the exile, a last-ditch effort by God to preserve the original covenant between Him and His people, initiated and agreed to at Mount Sinai under Moses.
The prophet Jeremiah announced to Judah that after decades of his own warnings plus the countless warnings of other prophets, this drastic action was now coming.
11 This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Jeremiah 25:11 NIV
The people of Judah still did not believe him or take it to heart until it finally did come to pass. Their seventy-year exile in the land of their enemy had begun.
Why did God choose seventy years? After that much time, it would be a whole different generation of people coming back into the land. Would not five or ten years be enough for them to get the message and to turn and change their ways?
While God is sovereign over all creation and can do whatever He wishes without explaining it to us, He had good reasons for choosing this specific number. It was a high number because the Lord had been so patient with Israel for so long.
Back in the book of Leviticus, Moses received specific instructions for keeping God’s covenant. Through Moses, the Lord led them out of slavery in Egypt and into a good land. He gave them daily protection and provided all they needed to enjoy a good life. In return for these many generous blessings, their covenant agreement specified that the people were to honor only the Lord in their worship, never other gods. In addition, they were to do their best to obey all of His Ten Commandments, honor His festivals of worship, and strictly follow the prescribed times of sabbath rest for both themselves and the land they farmed.
Leviticus 26 spells out these instructions that the people were required to follow regarding this sabbath rest. In addition to resting every seven days themselves, God required a sabbath rest for their fields every seven years. They were not to plant, work the fields, harvest, or sell the crops for profit during this seventh year, but rather, give thanks and recognition to the Lord for their bounty. The Lord promised to provide a large enough harvest during the preceding year to allow for this.
For most of their time in their land, 490 years’ worth, Israel ignored this land sabbath requirement. After that much time, one might think that the Lord had just forgotten all about it, but He didn’t. God is holy so He can not violate His word or His requirements. A broken covenant cannot just be papered over. A new, replacement covenant would be needed.
When Judah went into exile, they would stay for the exact length of time that they had skipped over with their farmland sabbath requirement – every seventh year of their 490 years in the land.
21 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 36:21 NIV
Most, if not all, of the kings in the genealogy of Jesus shared responsibility for this failure. We do not know if this land sabbath requirement was followed during King David’s reign, but I suspect it was. The line of kings had failed, but a new King was coming, and He would bring a new covenant with Him.
Jesus presented this new covenant on the night of the last Passover meal with His twelve apostles, the night He would be betrayed and handed over for His beating and crucifixion.
14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.
19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. Luke 22:14-15,19-20 NIV
With the new covenant, Jesus Himself took all of the punishment we deserve for our sins and failures to honor God. Through the shedding of His blood and His resurrection from the dead, we now enjoy a new covenant of grace, open to all people. It is not based upon our own worthiness or track record, but upon a total reliance on Him to cover us with His holiness. We are credited with a perfect honoring of the law because of His obedience to the Father, even unto His death on the cross, for all who would receive it. May you receive and enjoy all of the blessings of this covenant today!
Thank you, Jesus, for going to the cross for me. I acknowledge my sinfulness and failures to honor You and the Father. Grant me the new birth of the Holy Spirit in my heart and help me to honor God and love others today. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.