Having recently suffered a heart attack because of stress, I decided I should research what the Bible says about Sabbath rest. Growing up on a dairy farm, we milked cows every Sunday. As a preacher, I preached every Sunday. However, in the story of creation God established the rhythm of six days of work and one day of rest.
The Fourth Commandment
"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 of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the 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).
Biblical definitions which help us understand this commandment
- Sabbath: Intermission - the root word means to desist from exertion
- Holy: To be set apart, consecrated, honored and treated as sacred
- Labor: Compelled to serve another
- Work: Occupation, business, employment
- Rest: Let lie, cause to settle down, make quiet, to permit
A working definition: The weekly Sabbath involves taking one day off in seven, as an intermission, where I rest from my normal work and labor. I set the day aside as a holy day to honor God and do His pleasure.
A time of honoring God by following the leading of His Spirit
May I suggest the following definition for "a day off from labor and business" as "not doing activities which make me money." The Bible says we don’t do our own pleasure on the Sabbath, but God’s pleasure (Isaiah 58:13). If I am a passionate, Spirit-filled Christian, and I ask the Lord what His pleasures are, His desires will bubble up easily and naturally within me (John 7:37-39). The Bible does say that I will care for my animals (Matthew 12:11) and I will minister to people’s needs (Lk. 13:14). The Sabbath also involved people going to the synagogue to hear teaching from God’s word and worshipping (Acts 15:21; Psalm 92:1). In addition, I may be led by the Spirit to stroll outside and celebrate God’s creation, or take a nap, or care for the children during a church service, or teach, or preach (Mark 2:27,28). The list is endless.
Some legalists have made a rule, no sex on the Sabbath. Others have made a rule, you must have sex on the Sabbath. I suspect God was saying to the person who made sex their god, “No sex on the Sabbath” and to the person who needed to deepen their relationship with their spouse, “Have sex on the Sabbath.” So rather than making God’s personal directives to me on any specific day a law which I and others have to follow forever, how about I just check with the Holy Spirit every Sabbath, and follow His leading?
Time off to renew
The Sabbath is to be a celebration (Exodus 31:16), so make sure to make it fun and enjoyable. It extends 24 hours from one evening to the following evening. It is a time of humbling my soul, as I acknowledge that while I take time off, God is fully capable to run the universe, handle ministry needs and provide for my needed finances (Leviticus 23:32). Studies have shown that people who take one day off in seven are much more productive as we begin the new week recharged. Inspiration, creativity and passion flow.
The weekly Sabbath rest is different from the lifestyle of Sabbath rest
Hebrews 3:11 discusses the fact that many Israelites did not enter the Promised Land, a land of rest, but rather died in the wilderness. This was because they did not honor and act on the voice of God. Hebrews 4 says there remains a Sabbath rest for those who live out of the voice of God. This lifestyle of Sabbath rest causes every day to be a refreshing, healing and creative experience because we are abiding in Christ (John 15). You will note that those Israelites who did enter the Promised Land of rest still honored the weekly Sabbath of one day off in seven. So we do BOTH, weekly Sabbaths and a lifestyle of Sabbath rest!
The Sabbath year
One year in seven is a Sabbath year where we don’t sow crops or prune vineyards (Leviticus 25:4). I had a family in my congregation believe that God would provide, so they gave their garden a year off. Their garden produced extra on the sixth year plus there was some natural outgrowth on the seventh year so they had more than enough. Since Israel did not honor God by keeping a Sabbath year for a full 490 years, God took them into captivity for 70 years so that the land could be receive the 70 Sabbath years it had missed (2 Chronicles 36:21).
Dishonoring the Sabbath brings judgment
"But if you do not ... keep the Sabbath day holy … then I will kindle a fire in its gates and it will devour the palaces of Jerusalem and not be quenched" (Jeremiah 17:27).
Honoring the Sabbath brings blessing
"If you call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, And honor it, desisting from your own ways … I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; And I will feed you …"(Isa 58:13,14)
Lord, what do you want to say to me concerning honoring the weekly Sabbath? Which day of the week would You have me do this? How do you want me to honor it next week?