For my introduction to taking a Sabbath, check out my last blog.
Sabbathing is by no means a new innovation in spirituality. The roots of observing a Sabbath are found deep within the Old Testament beginning in Genesis, commanded in Exodus, and expounded in the Law.
In the creation account in Genesis, God works for 6 days and then rests on the 7th.
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. – Genesis 2:2-3
The Israelites first observed a Sabbath soon after their deliverance from Egypt. God provided enough manna for each day until the 6th day when the people were instructed to collect twice as much as normal because:
This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till morning.’ -Exodus 16:23
Note that in this passage the only work that the people abstained from was the only type of work available to them: gathering and cooking.
When the Lord outlined what it meant for the Israelites to be his covenant people in the Ten Commandments, a provision was made for the observance of the Sabbath:
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
Interestingly, the Lord refers back to his subsequent rest after creating “the earth, the sea, and all that is in them.” The implication seeming to be that if God rested, who is powerful enough to create everything we know, then people, who are finite and limited, should follow his example and take a day to enjoy creation.
The Law, outlined in the remainder of Exodus as well as Leviticus and Deuteronomy, specified the types of activities that would be classified as work from which the people of God were to abstain in their observation of the Sabbath as well as outlined the religious practices that God mandated for his people. When Moses reminded the people of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy before they embarked into the promised land he restated many of the same sentiments in his appeal for their observation of the Sabbath: six days you should work but the seventh day is a Sabbath, do no work, don’t let servants, animals, or children do work, etc. But Moses makes one further appeal in Deuteronomy:
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. -Deuteronomy 5:15
Moses appealed to the Israelites experience of redemption in urging them to observe the Sabbath. Why would he do this? Perhaps Moses looked ahead to a time when the people would possess their own land and occupy themselves with the laborous and time-consuming task of cultivating the land and providing for their needs. Perhaps Moses knew that without a day to reflect on what the Lord had done for them the people would soon forget and break the covenant that the Lord, the God of their deliverance, had made with them.
Perhaps we’re not so different than the Israelites. When we work our hands to the bone as if everything depends on us we do not have the opportunity to reflect on the most crucial element of our lives, our redemption, which was not entirely dependent on our efforts. When we do not make a practice of resting from our labor and trusting God we wear ourselves out and do not have time to rest in his goodness, his faithfulness, his provision and we miss opportunities to enjoy his creation and all the good things with which he has blessed us, such as family and friends, hobbies, and personal passions unrelated to our jobs, school, or whatever else we do that occupies most of our time.
From the beginning God has designed us to rest in his provision, both in things that have been accomplished and things that are yet unfinished. Observing a Sabbath is one of his means for doing so.