Lessons from the Law: No.6 : Rest & Respect
Ex 20:9-11 Remember the Sabbath day by keeping 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, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
The first two commandments were about having just the one Supreme Being, one true God. The second two commandments are about honouring Him. The third was about honouring or remaining true to His name. This fourth one is about remaining true to His memory. If every seventh day you stop work, it is a reminder of the Lord. (Is this why many nations don’t have a day of rest like this, because they don’t want to honour the One True God?). Indeed it is all about reminding. “Remember the Sabbath day” is how these verses start. The noun ‘Sabbath’ comes from the Hebrew verb usually translated ‘rested’. Its origin is in the Creation account when God worked for six days and then rested on the seventh.
Now if you look at that account in Gen 2:2,3 you will see a footnote to the effect that ‘rested’ can also simply mean ‘ceased’. Now the Lord doesn’t need to ‘rest’ but when He came to the end of His Creation work He ceased, which indicates a satisfactory completion. We have also previously noted that when He had finished, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Gen 1:31) We may suggest, therefore, that when we rest on the seventh day, it is a reminder not only that God is the One who created this world, but also that when He first made it, it was very good. That should act as a stimulus to seek Him to continue His work of restoration through salvation in Christ, to bring us back into that original place of sin-free relationship with Him.
The point is that the Lord made the seventh day special: “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” When the Lord blesses something or someone, He declares a decree of goodness over it or them. It was like the Lord took great pleasure in the sense of a job well done and so when He ceased, when He finished the work of Creation, He simply stopped and celebrated the next day when nothing needed to be done. He made it ‘holy’ or ‘different’, a day of thinking back to the work of the previous six days, of rejoicing in a job well accomplished, of a day with no necessity to add anything more to the work.
Sadly, when we think about the day of rest we see it through the tinted glass of the old sinful nature and think about being stopped earning more or making more, and having to have this day of inactivity, instead of rejoicing over the wonder of God’s gift of Creation to us and the wonder of His provision that is so lavish that it means we can pause up and have a day when we simply look, remember and rejoice and don’t feel we have to get on with things.
How do you feel about “commands”? Do you view “commands” as harsh instructions or do you see these are God’s words of protection and provision. The first and second ‘commands’ protect us from falling into superstitious worshipping of the elements or nature and from losing contact with God our provider. The third one protects us from drifting away from the reality of who the Lord is, so that we eventually become deceived and turn right from Him. This fourth one protects us from falling into materialistic naturalism that sees the world and life as utterly meaningless, the result of pure chance. From that all sorts of horrors follow.
Tragically we, as we’ve said, we so often see through tinted glasses of the old sinful nature and as such we focus on the “what we have to do” rather than the wonder behind it. Probably because of that, few of us wake up on a Sunday and immediately give thanks to the Lord for the wonder of the provision of His Creation – life in abundance. The Christian church made the day of rest a Sunday instead of the Saturday that the Jews had ‘honoured’, to add the focus of God’s provision of salvation through Jesus, the Sunday being the day Jesus rose from the dead (Mt 28:1, Acts 20:7).
If you read the Gospels carefully, you will see that the legalistic Jews had completely misunderstood the focus of the Sabbath and so we find a number of conflicts over the use of it (e.g. Mt 12:2, 12:10). God’s purpose was not to make the day of rest a day of misery and limitation; indeed quite the opposite. It was supposed to be a day of joy and celebration. How we have lost this, how we have made it just another day, a day of work for many, a day of materialism for many, and a day of ignoring and forgetting the Lord, or at least limiting Him to a couple of hours of remembrance. The loss has been ours. We are the poorer for it.