Recently, I listened to a prominent preacher discuss the need for Sabbath. He pointed out that it was one of the commandments; therefore, it carried as much weight as the other nine commandments we so carefully guard. I agree with him. We often toss Sabbath-keeping out with the mop water. Our “day of rest” is just another day of work. There’s no respite in it as we try to fit in all the things that we failed to do through the week. But he also said that a Sabbath was about doing whatever the Sabbath-keeper enjoyed doing. He cited Jesus’ words that “man was made for the Sabbath; the Sabbath wasn’t made for man.” I understood what he was saying, but I wanted to see what Scripture had to say about it.
1. The day was hallowed (Exodus 20:11). It’s the same word Jesus used in His prayer pattern. “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” Hallowed means “sanctified, separate, holy, consecrated.” The Sabbath is to have a holy focus, not a human one. In fact, the commandment says, “Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.” The people who are often used as examples of biblical self-care followed this rule. Jesus spent time alone…to pray. The disciples who followed Jesus’ instruction to “come away and rest” encountered His teaching and a miracle of feeding the multitude.
In fact, Isaiah 56:13, God expressed disapproval in His people “doing thy pleasure on my holy day.” The NLT puts Isaiah 56 this way, “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 Sabbath in everything you do on that day, and don’t follow your own desires or talk idly. Then the LORD will be your delight.”
First and foremost, the Sabbath focused on worship.
2. Man’s labor ceased. While mandatory duties could still be performed and crisis situations handled, things that could be taken care of prior to the Sabbath were not permitted on the day of rest. This freed the people to worship. Old Testament priests still offered sacrifices and carried out tabernacle tasks. Jesus still performed miracles. The disciples still preached in the synagogues. But the mindsets of earning and laboring were replaced with spiritual attentiveness.
3. In seasons of Sabbath, rest was a period of stillness. It was a season without war, a time of peace. Weapons were put away. Tools set aside. A Sabbath rest left the land untilled, the fruit unharvested, the fields unplanted. There was no doing; only being. And trusting God for present and future provision.
4. Rest was synonymous with inheritance. Israel’s Promised Land was a land of rest. Christ followers who come unto Jesus will find rest. Rest for the soul is found beneath His yoke. “For we which have believed do inter into rest,” Hebrews 4:3 says.
Unfortunately, the enemy wants us to have the rest like that of king Nebuchadnezzar “I was at rest in mine house, and flourishing in my palace.” Here, he later testified, God told him that his destruction was imminent. Micah 2 describes a polluted rest. “It shall destroy you, even with sore destruction.” Too much focus on SELF can have that effect. It can take our eyes off of our real Source of restoration. Isaiah 30:15 says, “In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength…” It was a kind of rest Israel rejected, and if we aren’t careful, we will, too.
But if we look to the pattern God gave us, we will find replenishment for our over-extended, oft-exhausted lives. We can hallow a day for spiritual focus, cease the busyness, and seek stillness. We can take time to BE with Jesus, just BE. No striving. No attempting to earn anything. No bustling about in Kingdom work. No scurrying to meet the needs of others. Simply sitting in quiet confidence. In faith that God can handle what needs doing while we steal away with Him. In faith that coming close beneath His yoke will ease the burdens off our shoulders. In faith that our love exchange will empower us for the doing that we’ll do later. Confident that if we will just lean in to hear His voice, we will be part of the feeding of the multitude as well as partakers of the bread.
Does this mean we don’t take care of ourselves, that we shouldn’t do things that bring us a sense of happiness, that we don’t need down time, or that we can’t pluck an item off a self-care list and enjoy its benefits? No. But if we really want rest, we need more than what simple pleasures and self-focus can accomplish. We need to keep the Sabbath. At the heart of Sabbath rest, we find that self-care is spirit care, for when we take care of our spirits, we take care of ourselves.
All other passages are King James Version of the Holy Bible; public domain.