The irony of Sabbath

One of the cornerstone commandments of the the Old Testament law exists because God wants us to rest.  This is grounded in the Creation narrative in Genesis 1.

“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   NASB (Emphasis added)


What does it mean that God rested?  Was he tired?  Probably not (Isaiah 40:28).  Did he run out of things to do?  That’s hard to imagine.  No, when viewed against its cultural backdrop, God’s rest becomes perfectly clear.  In the Ancient Near East, deities rest in temples.[1] So what is God’s temple?  All of creation.  No one built a dwelling for him.  He built it for himself, so that he might dwell with his creation.  His rest has nothing to do with exhaustion, or the completion of a list.  His rest signals his sovereign authority over the cosmos, coupled with his desire to commune with his creation.  It blends his transcendence and his immanence.
So what does that have to do with taking a Sabbath?

I love stories about how God comes through.  They are so inspiring.  It seems I am not alone.  Inspirational stories and quotes are a staple of the movie and music industries.  The odd thing about it is everyone wants the story, but no one wants the desperation that leads to the story.  We want to say God has come through for us in remarkable ways, but we don’t want to be in a position where we need God to come through.

To be honest, I don’t think God wants us to be in that position either.  That’s why one of his commandments is the Sabbath.  Just think about that for a moment.  God, who is charged with being a legalistic and wrathful deity in the Old Testament, commands his people to take a day off.  Why?  Because he wants to remind his people on a regular basis that he comes through.  He wants to give them weekly inspirational stories of his remarkable provision and sovereignty.

One wonders whether we would reach the point of desperation as often if we heeded the urging of the Lord to rest.  The purpose of a Sabbath isn’t to distract your from all the things you have to do. You don’t take a Sabbath because you’ve finished your task list.  You don’t take a Sabbath because you are exhausted.  The purpose of a Sabbath is to face all the things you have to do and recognize that even if they don’t get done, God is on the throne. The world won’t end if you aren’t productive for a day. So don’t be distracted. Take comfort in knowing that your temporary inaction isn’t hurting anyone.

God rested on the seventh day to indicate that the entire universe is his temple and he is on the throne of that temple.  He wants us to rest as a reminder of that reality.  He wants us to rest because it is our way of intentionally giving him room to come through for his people.  So put down your work, let the dishes pile up, don’t mow the lawn today.  Enjoy your family, enjoy your friends, and enjoy your God as he comes through for you in ways that you can’t imagine.

[1] For further reading on the Garden of Eden as a Temple, see excellent works by John H. Walton such as The Lost World of Genesis One and The Lost World of Scripture, and Gregory Beale such as The Temple and the Church’s Mission.

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