Last week, in “What the Sabbath Rest Isn’t”, we discussed the pattern of rest God established for His followers as well as how that pattern became corrupted. But recognizing what the Sabbath isn’t doesn’t always help us when it comes to recognizing what the Sabbath is… or even whether it’s something that (medical evidence aside) ought to be observed by believers today. Was the Sabbath merely meant to be the Jewish equivalent of a “day off”? Or was it intended to be something more? And if it was, are there consequences involved with ignoring it?
For the answer to these questions, we must turn first to the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 20) Delivered to Moses on Mt. Sinai, these ten basic rules outlined the behavior which God expected from His people. More than just a set of guidelines for righteous living (or, as Paul would later point out in Romans 3:20, a spotlight to help identify sinful behavior), these commands set the parameters for our relationship with God. They helped the Israelites identify those behaviors which would either deepen or destroy the intimacy they enjoyed with their Creator.
If you’ve taken the time to thoroughly read the New Testament, you’ve probably noticed that each of these commandments is repeated… but with a single exception: “Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the sabbath of Jehovah thy God.” (Exodus 20:9-10a) Why isn’t there a Sabbath command to be found in all of the teachings of Christ or His Apostles?
While most of us are familiar with the initial giving of the commandments in Exodus, far fewer Christians are acquainted with the reiteration of these commands to be found in Deuteronomy. It is here, in chapter 5, verses 12-15 that God explains to Israel that there is far more to this day of rest than simply relaxation. Indeed, those who follow Him are commanded to, “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 of the LORD your God; in 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 cattle or your sojourner who stays with you, so 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 of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day.” The reason for the Sabbath? To remember Israel’s deliverance from slavery.
Since not every member of the expanding Church was Jewish, it’s not surprising to find the Apostle Paul advocating the type of freedom which allowed believers the choice between observing the Sabbath or abstaining. (Romans 14:4-6) But even then, the issue wasn’t cut-and-dried. Many believers both then and now continue to see a parallel between Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and our own deliverance from sin. And if the Hebrew people were to celebrate the one on a weekly basis, how much more should we as Christians take time to celebrate the latter!
Next week, we’ll dig a bit deeper as we examine the relational nature of a Sabbath rest, but for now, feel free to share your own thoughts on the subject in the comment box below!