Scripture: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Exodus 20:8-11 ESV
Observation: The fourth and fifth commandments uniquely present positive directives rather than prohibitions. Here, the Lord states the command (verse 8), specifies how to keep it (verses 9–10), and provides the basis for its observance (verse 11). Interestingly, the Lord’s command calls for remembrance of his Sabbath, but this is not merely passive recall but active observance. How? By hallowing this one day each week as sacred to the Lord—set aside for him. Thus, Israel must break from the ordinary labors and give divine rest to their families, servants, livestock, and land. Why? Because after creating all the beautiful elements of our planet, Yahweh rested on the seventh day and consecrated this special day as holy.
How is the day special? No other religion observed a weekly day of rest in the Ancient Near East. However, the Babylonian kings would officiate a rite of reconciliation with their deity on each day of a full moon. Nevertheless, work carried on as usual. Thus, as typical of the Mosaic Law, a Sabbath observance set Israel apart from its pagan neighbors.
Takeaway: Unfortunately, over time, Israel followed their idolatrous neighbors’ ways and failed in every aspect of observing the Sabbath, thus bearing the weight of their apostasy in Babylonian exile. But by the time of Christ, under the yolk of Rome, the religious leaders wanted no part of risking exile again. So when Jesus healed and performed other ministry duties of his calling on the Sabbath, the Pharisees and teachers of the law expediently sought to charge him with heresy and rid themselves of Jesus rather than risk the whole nation perishing (John 11:50).
Fear drives us as well. We fear failure or missing out on the fun, and thus we press on to do or accomplish more. But when we cheat ourselves of time to remember how our God loves us, rescued us, and continues to guide us under his blessings, we hurt ourselves and those around us. For when we press on devoid of regular rhythms of renewal in the presence of our Lord, we leave little reserves to love the Lord with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves. Conversely, when we set aside time to devote our attention to the Lord in worship and fellowship, we rest our minds, bodies, and souls in his Sabbath shalom (well-being of the soul) and gain a godly perspective of those concerns that stir our fears and anxieties.
So do we spend a whole day on Sunday observing the Sabbath? The early church fathers moved the Sabbath from the seventh day (Friday sundown to Saturday Sundown on the Jewish calendar) to Sunday (the first day of the week) to give God the first fruits of our time. While their rationale is cohesive with tithing, we would do well not to follow the example of the Pharisees and mandate days and times of observance. Our ministries or our means of earning income may require us to remember the Sabbath on other days and times of the week. If so, we must not neglect regular communal worship, where we encourage one another and partake together of the Sabbath shalom (Hebrews 10:25).
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for the gift of the Sabbath embodied in your Son. Would you please help us to regularly set aside time for you together with the body of Christ so that we might remember who you are and who we are as your beloved children, thereby appropriating your Sabbath shalom? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling
Leave a Reply