Rediscovering the Sabbath

I’ve discovered that I often think I understand an instruction in the Bible simply due to familiarity but when I actually search God’s Word for an accurate answer I discover I held an incorrect or too narrow of view. Notably the former method of understanding is much less demanding. Such is the case of Isaiah 56.

The first 8 verses of Isaiah 56 issues a divine directive to “Keep the Sabbath” and specifically twice in vs 2 and 6 elaborates by saying,

“Keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it” Isa 56:2

This begs the question – does this apply to me today? If so, what does it mean?

Does this apply to us?

Well it’s the 4th Commandment (Ex 2o:8) and we find Holy Day observances continuing through the New Testament so there is no cause to conclude this prescription has expired. So…

What does it mean?

Let me pause for a moment and say that this isn’t about how you observe the Sabbath. This is not meant as condemnation of judgment on anyone but a challenge to examine scripture and ourselves to rise up to this commandment. I simply offer that Christians are not called to the bare minimum but always called to more… the process of becoming more like Christ, sanctification, should be a continual expanding of our understanding and challenge to our ways.

Let’s look to God’s Word to begin an understanding of “Keeping the Sabbath”

Sabbath Instituted

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. Gen 2:1-3

Don’t let our familiarity with this passage gloss over its significance. Does God need rest? I’ve often heard the refrain “Even God took a day to relax”. Yes there is an example for physical restoration set but the idea that God set aside the Sabbath for our needs is ludicrous. Shall we reduce this understanding to a divine power nap? No.

So why did God rest? It was time to be mindful and observant.be_still

It’s the first hint of a common theme in that bears out instructions for us to be still and be mindful and I might dare suggest this is the heart of many of the following passage concerning work and food preparation. When I’m overly concerned with this temporal life or physical things then I’m not concentrating on God. Hence God made the Sabbath Holy to draw us to Himself.

Working on the Sabbath

"’Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. 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 or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. Deut 5:12-15

A very serious instruction that we will see applied strictly. Let it be said that we are under Grace and in my humble opinion the point of this is to draw me spiritually and that takes time, study, reflection, meditation, and worship all of which are battling for time during our working days. But let us return to the hypothesis that we are called to more. Shouldn’t my life reflect these instructions?

Sacred Assembly

“‘There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a sabbath to the LORD Lev 23:3

There isn’t much gray area here. God’s Holy day should find me with God’s people in corporate prayer, study and worship. A sacred convocation.

Ways and Words

Fair warning this is getting ready to get uncomfortable

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the LORD,” Isa 58:13

Not going your own way… that squarely defeats any flimsy excuse I might offer. Say what you like but we like to find exceptions for deer stands, golf, and NFL football. Those seem petty and childish in the light of a great God.

Idle words… perhaps I should hush, listen, meditate, study. Be still

Commerce Condemns Us

“Therefore I warned them against selling food on that day… “What is this wicked thing you are doing—desecrating the Sabbath day” Nehemiah 13:15-18

Nehemiah looks at the people and their buying and selling of food and rebukes them harshly. I taught this morning with a gas station coffee cup in my hand and we go out to eat 75% of the time for Sunday lunch. I must admit this caused me to stop in my tracks and examine how I “keep the Sabbath”. When I combine this teaching with Deut 5 which involves requiring others to work on my behalf I find myself at a new crossroads.

Now I do not dare suggest that eating out or buying coffee is evil, sinful, or detracts from the Sabbath. However, I am saying that in my own life making a concentrated effort not to purchase anything, including food, would make me more mindful of the day. I think that would be a good thing and may be getting back to the heart of the Sabbath.

If I choose to make Sunday as distinct as possible from the other 6 wouldn’t that cause me to be mindful of my practices and motivations? I think maybe so.

How serious did God take the Sabbath?

“On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much—two omers for each person—and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. He said to them, “This is what the LORD commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the LORD. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’” So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. “Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a sabbath to the LORD. You will not find any of it on the ground today. Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.”  Exodus 16:22-26

The miracle of the manna in the wilderness, and yet God expected His day to be so “set aside” that He didn’t even want them to gather bread on the ground that day. The Israelites were expected to gather extra on the 6th day and do all the cooking and just eat the left overs on the Sabbath.

…but wait

If I can’t eat out and can’t cook on Sunday I might starve so let’s interject a very important point.

Don’t get legalistic about the Sabbath. (hint: See Matthew 12:1-13)

This isn’t a set of check boxes and regulations to be followed but a day that God asked us to set aside, to focus on Him, to worship Him and to think on Him.

How serious do I take the Sabbath?

I’m not sure what my Sunday’s will look like moving forward but its high time I put as much emphasis on God’s desire for Sunday as I do on my Sunday afternoon nap. I’m still praying as to how I’ll observe the Lord’s Day but I can assure you I take it much more seriously than I did just a week ago.

1 Comment

  1. It’s important to remember that we are under an entirely different covenant than Israel was (and still is). Their covenant was basically “if you do these actions, you will see these results – both blessings and curses.” (See Deuteronomy 28 for a huge list of blessings and curses.)

    Our covenant is entirely based on the work of Jesus. He is the fulfillment of the law. Once we believe in our hearts that he was raised from the dead and actually say out loud that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9-10) then we get Jesus’ righteousness put in our account. It’s as if we are constantly fulfilling all the points of the law just like Jesus did, regardless of our actions.

    Our faith in Jesus entitles us to all the blessings and exempts us from every curse under the law. However, if we go back to the “Egypt” of keeping rules, such as the Sabbath, looking for a blessing then we fall back under the Old Covenant of the Law. (Galatians 2:18-20)

    All that to say it’s not about keeping the Sabbath so much as it is resting in the Lord. Rest is a good thing for sure. We have this overwhelming tendency towards striving. Jesus said his yoke is easy and his burden light. We forget that and make it way harder than it needs to be. Sometimes though it can almost be an effort to stop striving and rest in Christ.