The seventh day was made holy and we are to remember to keep it holy. To set it aside from all other days as special – ‘to the Lord’. The rest is not to be aimless rest – but a GOD centred rest. Our attention is to be directed to God in a way that is more concentrated and steady than on ordinary days. We keep the day holy by keeping the focus on the holy God. We set it apart by turning from your own ways and pleasures and taking delight in the Lord. Again, we see this in Isaiah 58:13-14…“Keep the Sabbath day holy. Don’t pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as the LORD’s holy day. Honor the LORD in everything you do, and don’t follow your own desires or talk idly. If you do this, LORD will be your delight. I will give you great honor and give you your full share of the inheritance I promised to Jacob, your ancestor. I, the LORD, have spoken!”
Every seventh day man is invited to cease all his work, put down his shovel, lay aside his drill, turn off his computer and iPhone, and cross over into holy time. By doing this he will not only be blessed with physical rest, but also with a new way of seeing. Looking back on the week, he can extract the eternal from the daily grind and rescue from decay God’s dealings that often go unredeemed in the hurried pace of life. The invitation to rest is not just for Israel, but a perpetual gift for all human beings and domesticated animals. Even our milk cow and pet turtle are allowed to rest. This gift of rest was not just for when it was convenient, but as we read in Exodus 34 – even during critical plowing and harvest seasons. This rest could not even be withheld from workers for the sake of production! ‘You shall work six days, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during plowing time and harvest you shall rest’ (Exodus 34:21). We must remember that in the Creator’s generosity there is always ample provision. So while the nations toiled endlessly for fear of not having enough – never shutting down their commercial enterprises; Israel anticipated the end of the week when they could step over the boundary of ordinary time, with its endless noise and anxiety and enter into the eternal realm of holy time.
When the Sabbath commandment was reiterated in Deuteronomy, another rational was given for keeping this day of rest. Listen to Deuteronomy 5:12-15…Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant or your ox or your donkey or any of your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day.
Here we have Moses repeating the commandments to Israel before they were to enter the land of Canaan. There are a couple of things that I would like to highlight in this passage that are unique. First, there is more of an emphasis on the community aspect of God’s provision for rest. The people were so interconnected, if they did not rest, others could not rest. Their rhythm of work and rest affected the rhythm of servants, animals, and even strangers. So Israel’s rest was to be a contagious thing. Second, remember that the Sabbath was given to celebrate God as your Redeemer. In Exodus, the Sabbath was given to celebrate the Creator – to be attuned to and in harmony with the breathing pulse of all that is around you. In Deuteronomy, the Sabbath was given to celebrate God as Redeemer, who broke the tyranny of 400 years of slavery!
Here’s how Eugene Peterson puts it: ‘In Deuteronomy we are told that keeping the Sabbath is a matter of simple justice; it prevents the stronger from exploiting the weaker, whether parents over children, employers over workers, even masters over horses and mules. Everyone is given a day to recover the simple dignity of being himself, herself, in the community without regard to use or function or status. A kept Sabbath keeps us out of one another’s hair for at least one day a week. Sabbath breaks the stranglehold, emotional or physical, that some of us have on another, a stranglehold that prevents the spontaneities of love and sacrifice.’
Though justice and protection of the weak were certainly good results of Sabbath-keeping, the primary reason was theological. Just as Israel had reason to celebrate the Creator for His finished work of creation, so now she was to celebrate God’s work as her liberator! As Israel contributed nothing to the creative process, so it was in her redemption. God used all the forces in His created world to overcome Pharaoh’s stranglehold and set her free! So on the eve of every Sabbath, creation and salvation unite under one flag of the unearned gifts of God’s grace. As if there wasn’t enough to celebrate in the miracle of creation – freedom from slavery adds yet another dimension of joy! Truly we can sing…”Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee!”
This is what the Sabbath was meant to be. Sabbath was originally intended as a radical departure from the cares of the world into another dimension of time, where the primary focus was for God’s people to celebrate the free gifts of God in creation and redemption. How legalistic, suffocating images of Sabbath-keeping crept into both Jewish and Christian circles is beyond me! So the beautiful thing about the Sabbath is that God instituted it as a weekly reminder that true blessing comes from His grace – not our labour; and that we hallow Him and keep the day holy if we seek the fullness of His blessing by giving our special attention to Him on that day.