"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Many of us are familiar with these words. They’re actually a part of the Ten Commandments and can be found both in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. But what do they mean? Is God simply telling his people to relax every once in a while and not do anything? On holidays like the Fourth of July that we’re celebrating today, does grilling out and getting a tan count as biblically practicing the discipline of Sabbath rest? Over the next few weeks, we will examine these questions and more as we discuss the importance and holistic necessity of rest in our otherwise extremely busy lives.
The Origin of Sabbath
In the original Hebrew language, the word Sabbath literally means “to cease” or “to stop working.” This was not just a practice but an entire day in the Jewish religion depicted in the Old Testament. Every Saturday, the Jewish people would cease their work and rest from their labor the week before. As the religion progressed and evolved through the years, more regulations for the Sabbath arose. By the time Jesus was born, the religious people within Judaism had limited even the number of steps that a person could walk on the Sabbath day.
For the Church, however, the Sabbath has become a principle rather than a law, a discipline to be practiced rather than a day to be observed. Passages such Colossians 2:16-17 and Hebrews 4:4 show that the idea behind the Sabbath is a much more general principle that serves as a shadow of the nature of God, emphasizing its importance for Christians even today.
Reflecting And Enjoying Creator God
Drawing from the Ten Commandments in Scripture, we can see two primary reasons for practicing the discipline of Sabbath in our everyday lives. In Exodus 20:11, God compares the Sabbath to his own rest after the six days of creation. “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.” Here, we can see that disciplining ourselves in Sabbath rest models the God we serve. Because God is perfect, his rest after creation was not necessary; it was meant for reflection and enjoyment. In the same way, we Sabbath and rest not only to recharge ourselves, though this is definitely needed; at the core of the Sabbath is active reflection and enjoyment of creator God.
Cultivating Continual Dependence
The description of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5:15, however, gives us an additional insight into the purpose of biblical Sabbath: “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.” In this passage, God depicts the Sabbath as a symbolic reminder of his people’s need. Enslaved in Egypt, the Israelites were helpless and seemingly without hope. Through miraculous signs and wonders, God rescued his people and eventually brought them into their long-awaited promised land. When his people could not save themselves, it was God who stepped in to “get glory over Pharaoh and all his host” (Exodus 14:17). Just like the story of the Exodus, every time we Sabbath today it should serve as a reminder that we are ultimately dependent on the sovereign God of the universe. Though our culture idolizes work, productivity, and advancement, Sabbathing allows the Church to recognize God’s ability in the midst of personal inability. Additionally, Sabbathing reflects the Gospel of Jesus Christ, when God came near to man to save him when he could not save himself.
With these principles in mind, it becomes clear that practicing the Sabbath is a much-needed spiritual discipline in the life of every Christian. Over the next several weeks, we will discuss what Sabbathing looks like in different spheres of our lives. For now, as you go about your weekend parties and cookouts this Fourth of July weekend, take time to reflect on the significance of the opportunities God gives us to rest in our busy lives.