But they were wise men who drew up that solemn covenant. They knew and understood the human heart. Is it not a fact, that whilst we are all ready to own that we are sinners in a general sense, we are slow to own that we are guilty of any particular sin? We do not mind confessing that we are miserable sinners, but we should indignantly deny being selfish or idle, or unforgiving, or proud, or bad-tempered.
So those who wrote the parchment felt it best to go more into detail, and to put down certain things in which they felt they had done wrong in the past, but in which they meant to do better in the time to come.
(1) They promised that they would not in future marry heathen people, that they would not give their daughters to heathen men, or let their sons choose heathen wives.
(2) They engaged to keep the Sabbath, and not to buy and sell on the holy day; and they promised that if the heathen people round came to the city gates with baskets of fruit, or vegetables, or fish on the Sabbath, they would refuse to buy.
(3) They stated that for the future they would keep every seventh year as a year of Sabbath. The Sabbath year had in times past been a great blessing to the land. The one work and occupation of the Jews was agriculture, farming of all kinds. Every seventh year God commanded that all work was to stop; there was to be a year’s universal holiday, that the nation might have rest and leisure to think of higher things. Yet they did not starve in the Sabbath year, for God gave them double crops in the sixth year, enough to cover all their wants until the crops of the eighth year were ripe. All that grew of itself during the seventh year, all the self-sown grain that sprang up, all the fruit that came on the olives, and the vines, and the fig-trees, was left for the poor people to gather; they went out and helped themselves, and comfort was brought to many a sad home, and cupboards which were often empty during the six ordinary years were kept well filled in the Sabbath year. But this command of God had been neglected by the Jews; it needed more faith and trust than they had possessed, and they had let it slip. Now, however, they promise once more to observe the Sabbath year.
The rest of the covenant concerned the amount to be contributed for the service of God. They agreed to pay one-third of a shekel each year towards the temple service, and to bring by turn the wood required for the sacrifices, beside giving God, regularly and conscientiously, the first-fruits of all they had.
This was the solemn covenant to which were fastened so many seals, this was the agreement by which they bound themselves to the service of God. As they went home, and shook the dust off their heads, and took off their sacks, they went home pledged to obey and to love their God.
Which of us will follow their example? Who will bind himself to God? Who will put his seal to the document, and promise to serve and obey the Master who died for him? Will you?