Musings on Sabbath Rest

The Hebrew word from which we derive our word Sabbath means cessation from exertion. Sabbath is a time for rest, for refreshment, for setting aside space for God to speak to us.

From the beginning of creation, God has seen the need for human rest. Genesis tells us that after creating the world, God rests from his labors. I don’t think that God rests because he tires like humans but as an example for humans: if God does it, then how much more should we do it. God also builds time for rest into the life of Israel: a Sabbath each week, a Sabbath during the Seventh New Moon or Feast of Trumpets and the sabbatic year, the septennial rest for the land from all tillage cultivation.

Besides the fact that these days and times are designed for rest and refreshment, times set aside for enjoying community and for deepening relationship with God, they are also times for trusting God. The people are commanded not to work on the Sabbath and to trust God to accomplish their tasks on the other six days. In Exodus 16, when God introduces the manna, he commands the people to gather only enough for one day, except on the day prior to Sabbath—on that day no manna appears. The point is that they have to trust God that they have enough from what they gathered the day before. When the seventh year rolls around, the Sabbath year, when they are to allow the land to rest, they must exercise great trust in God that he will supply their need from what they grow the year before. As we can see the Sabbath is more than rest alone, it is time for personal, spiritual growth and trust.

Every year we participate in Summer Sabbath here at HWC. It’s a built-in opportunity for us to pull back for rest and re-centering—spending more time with your family, visiting a little more with your neighbors, reading a book you have been putting off, lengthening your prayer time, expanding your Bible study time, exploring God’s creation, taking advantage of God’s wonderful gift of relaxation. As Jesus reminds us: “The Sabbath was made to serve us; we weren’t made to serve the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27, The Message). The prophet Isaiah also tells the people of Israel:

“If you watch your step on the Sabbath
and don’t use my holy day for personal advantage,
If you treat the Sabbath as a day of joy,
God’s holy day as a celebration,
If you honor it by refusing ‘business as usual,’
making money, running here and there—
Then you’ll be free to enjoy God!
Oh, I’ll make you ride high and soar above it all.
I’ll make you feast on the inheritance of your ancestor Jacob.”
Yes! God says so!

(Isaiah 58:13-14, The Message)

With the blessing of God, go enjoy the gift of Sabbath.