Everyone needs a vacation. Sometimes the vacation doesn’t go very well and we are anxious to return to our regular lives. But for the most part people love vacation. It gives them a time to relax, revitalize, and renew themselves.
But the same people who love vacation are often workaholics, not realizing that they need to take more time than just a vacation for a time to rest. The body cannot handle an onslaught of work, work, work. We all need time to step back and refocus.
But that is not what the Sabbath is about. We talk a lot about the Sabbath being a time to rest and rejuvenate but it is much more than that. God doesn’t command us to remember his rest for our benefit. But this is what he says:
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you will work and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work on it, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, your female servant, your livestock, or your foreigner who’s in your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and everything in it, but he rested on the seventh day. Thus the Lord blessed the Sabbath and made it holy.”Exodus 20:8-11 (My Translation)
As we continue to focus on the first four of the Ten Commandments, having looked at having an exclusive relationship with God, not flirting with idols, and respecting God’s reputation, we now turn to the Sabbath and how we can remember God’s rest. There’s a lot more to it than we think.
Day of Rest
What is the Sabbath? The word for Sabbath and Hebrew means “rest.” But it’s a different kind of rest than we think of. Many of us who observe the Sabbath take a day of rest, every seventh day of the work week.
For some people that’s Friday into Saturday and others take their Sabbath on Sundays. Many people argue over which day is the proper Sabbath day. Jews worship on Friday into Saturday. And Christians worship on Sunday.
It’s most likely that Friday into Saturday is the more accurate day, for the tradition from the Jews is older than the Christians. The reason Christians take Sunday is that Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday morning. They call it, “The Lord’s day.”
But for those who continue to argue about which day is the Sabbath, consider that we don’t know what day was the seventh day of creation in Genesis 2 on which God rested. Different traditions and calendars exist that place the first day of the week on different days.
God does not tell us which day of the week he took his Sabbath rest. We just know that on the seventh day he rested from his work. It was an example for us. God does not need to sleep or rest. He doesn’t need to take a break from his work.
God did not design our bodies to run 24/7. We need a rest mentally, physically, and spiritually. Even science can prove that we need a rest every once in a while. God designed his creation around a seven day week on purpose. He wants us to take one day out of seven to rest.
Although we do need rest from our work and everything else going on in our lives, this is not the only reason that God set up himself as an example to rest. But before we continue to talk about that I want to talk about how we rest from our work.
Rest from Work
It’s right in the text as the reason for the Sabbath rest. Exodus 20:10 says that we must abstain from work on this day. God’s blessing comes on the seventh day when we honor him and remember it. On it we do not work.
So it seems clear to us that since we are not working we are resting. The Bible provides God as an example. He does not need to rest, but he took a whole day to rest from all of his work the six days before. This seems to be the example and model for us.
While there is benefit to resting from your work for one day a week, is this the only reason we follow the Sabbath? There are some clues in the text that the Sabbath is much more than abstaining from work. Exodus 20:10 also says, “It is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.”
If I might clear up the English from the implication of the original language the idea of the Sabbath is that it is dedicated to a God. We give it to him, and so it has religious significance as much as a physical rest. We can benefit from the Sabbath physically, but we must understand it’s much more than that.
The Israelites took this commandment quite literally. They learned very quickly in the wilderness that the Sabbath was a holy day to the Lord and they must not work on it. God provided manna from heaven for them. And he told them that they must collect it every day of the week. But on the sixth day they must collect enough for two days.
When the Israelites went out on the seventh day, the Sabbath, to gather their daily allotment of manna they found nothing on the ground to collect. But they greatly angered the Lord who told them not to go out on the seventh day because it was a holy day devoted to him.
They were learning the hard way that they were not to work on the Sabbath day. They relied on God to provide their needs for that day. They did not have to rely on their own resources or ingenuity. It was meant for them to not work.
Some of the rabbis later on in history would try to define work legally so the Israelites knew what they could and couldn’t do. Can you believe that one of these rabbis said that anything you do between your index finger and your thumb is considered work?
That’s one of the reasons “Picking up your bed and walking” was a violation of the work rule on the Sabbath. That’s why healing a person on the Sabbath was considered work. There were also regulations for how far you could walk before it was considered work. One of the rules states you can walk no more than two miles on the Sabbath, or it would be considered work.
All of this seems crazy to us today. But there’s something to be said for not focusing on God during the Sabbath day. It’s so easy to find little things to do until you find you have been working all day. That is not what God wants.
One of my professors in school came from a very conservative Jewish background. His father on a Friday afternoon turned on the TV back in the 1980s. These were the TVs without remotes. They had those knobs you had to use your index finger and thumb to turn the dials to set the channel and volume.
He wanted to see the Yankees baseball game but it was happening during the Sabbath. So he preset the TV before the Sabbath began on Friday at sunset. My professor, his son, came in the living room and saw the TV on. Realizing that the Sabbath was coming in they needed to devote themselves to the Lord, he turned the TV off and Sabbath began.
Boy was his father upset! He was angry because he could not turn the TV back on to watch the game. But he thought of a solution. He went to the Gentile neighbor across the street, invited him into the house, and had him turn on the TV for him.
Such rigid definitions of work on the Sabbath cause an enormous amount of legalism. I don’t think God wants us to live this way and practice the Sabbath in this way. Not working has nothing to do with our actual work.
The injunction not to work on the Sabbath has a deeper meaning to it. It’s not about what you can and can’t do on the Sabbath. It’s about where your heart is and what you are placing your energies toward.
Just like fasting keeps us from worrying about our food for the day when we focus on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, abstaining from work on the Sabbath allows our hearts to be focused on God rather than the daily chores of life. We rely on him alone to take care of us, to feed our spirits, and we enjoy his presence.
Rest in His Presence
There is evidence from the Ancient Near East and its culture that taking the Sabbath rest was much more than a rest, ceasing from activity. The Bible speaks to the idea that the Sabbath rest was about God inhabiting his creation that he spent six days preparing for humans and himself.
As God takes his rest he takes dominion over his creation. So when we honor the Sabbath day and remember it, we are doing much more than stopping from our work. We are honoring God and remembering that his presence is with us on the earth.
When the Israelites finished the Temple in Solomon’s time, Solomon dedicated the Temple to God and his presence filled the temple. In the same way, the Sabbath is God’s filling of the earth as his temple, his dwelling place. He wants to dwell with us. So the Sabbath is ultimately about abstaining from work so we can dedicate our time and thoughts toward the Lord.
Remembering God’s rest is about resting in his presence. We remember him and spend time with him. We focus on what God wants us to focus on. We worship and glorify him during this 24 hour period. Our thoughts are on him.
One of the things I enjoy the most is going to church on Sundays as I worship. I remember the Lord and I think on him. He uses me in powerful ways to minister to others. I am focused on his presence and his Spirit throughout my day on Sunday.
However, as a pastor I am always working on Sundays. Anytime that I’m preaching or taking part in the service in any way I am using my gifts, but I’m also using the talents and skills I was given in Bible College and seminary to lead the people.
So for me, I took a different day of the week as my Sabbath where I spent my day not working and focusing purely on God. I didn’t have thoughts on how to administer something in the service, what I was preaching on, or dealing with any relationship issues in the church. I usually took Mondays to spend time in the Lord’s presence and focus purely on him instead of what I had to do that day.
May I suggest that you take time the day before your Sabbath to prepare meals ahead of time, do the work you would do on that day ahead of time. Give yourself an opportunity to meet with the Lord without anything hindering you from spending all of your focus on him. Just as the Israelites gathered the manna and prepared their food beforehand we should do everything possible to make our Sabbath about the Lord and nothing else.
Enter His Rest
Entering his rest on the Sabbath, the seventh day of our week, isn’t about not working. It requires us to give into the idea that he will be our Provider and we will not rely on our own resources or abilities to take care of ourselves.
God instituted a Sabbath day every seventh day of the work week. But the Law of Moses when even further than that. It required that every seventh year was a Sabbath year to the Lord. Even more, it then required that the fiftieth year was a jubilee unto the Lord.
After seven Sabbath years, the next year was dedicated to the Lord. The Law calls for the people of Israel in that fiftieth year that the Israelites were expected to rely on God for an entire year for everything. Just like they waited on him on a 24 hour Sabbath they would wait on him for 365 days. As far as I know this was never practiced in Israel.
But more than that Israel never learned in the wilderness to enter into God’s rest. The writer of Hebrews talks about this in Hebrews 3:7-4:13. The Israelites challenged and tested God for 40 years in the wilderness. They made got so angry that he swore they would never enter his rest.
That rest may have referred to the Promised Land, for no one except Joshua and Caleb from the entire first generation of Israelites entered into the land of Canaan. The writer of Hebrews says that those who sin against the Lord and rebel against him, the disobedient, are the ones who do not get the opportunity to enter his rest.
So when God promises us great things like what he has done for us, saving us from sin and redeeming lives from the pit, we must enter his rest. We must thankfully enjoy his presence. We enter God’s rest today while we still have the opportunity. We rest from our own works and trust in his.
Resting on the Sabbath doesn’t refer to not working but to entering God’s rest. It is not just a physical rest, but also a spiritual one. We rest from our works so we can focus on him and give him glory for what he does in our lives.
As we trust in the Lord and enjoy his presence we give him all the attention and glory he deserves. We worship him for who he is and rest in his provision for us. We let God take care of us and trust in him for everything we need. How do you celebrate the Sabbath in your life?