Devo: Summertime Sabbath
Our culture is all in on self-care. And we know it's a good idea to regularly go to church. But is this what it means to sabbath rest?
BY Hannah Buchholz
Pop quiz: Remembering and keeping the Sabbath means:
- Going to church on Sunday
- Having a regular self-care routine
- Getting a nap in during the weekend
- Unsure but pretty sure it's none of the above
My answer is d) because even though I definitely don't have it all figured out, I feel pretty confident that it’s none of the other 3 options. There have been plenty of times in my life I've felt burnt out, and each time I come back to wondering if I understood Sabbath, if it would keep me from burnout.
All that to say, this devo has lived in my brain for a long time. And initially, putting it on paper looked like me typing an outline, questioning it all, deleting it, and stress-eating about 6 Reese's. That's why at the bottom of this post, you'll find some resources from people much smarter and more well-versed in this topic than I am.
Out of the 10 Commandments the Lord gave the Israelites at Mt Sinai, this one seems the most convoluted to me. There’s a myriad of philosophies out there on what it means to Sabbath. But I think enough of us are most comfortable putting it in a box to figure out later. We say, “Yeah, maybe someday I’ll 'sabbath,' but right now, in this season, I’m busy.”
Sabbath Examples in Scripture
As always, the best way to understand scripture is to read more scripture. Let’s look at some places in Scripture we learn about the Sabbath.
- In Genesis, God rested or stopped His labors after God created the heavens and earth. Then, He put or rested humans in the Garden of Eden to work it. In Genesis 2:2-3 and 2:15, two words can be translated as rest: shabbat (Strongs 7673) and nuakh (Strongs H5117). Shabbat simply means to stop. Nuakh means to settle in or dwell. God rested and settled the humans in the Garden.
Note a pattern: Each day of creation, the author ends the section with the phrase, “and there was evening, and there was morning, the ___ day.” The seventh day is missing this phrase.
- In Exodus, before the Lord speaks the 10 Commandments to the people, the topic of the Sabbath comes up when He provides manna. For 6 days, the Israelites gather the manna, but on the seventh day, they don’t go out because it is a day of “solemn rest, holy to the Lord.” (Exodus 16:23).
- In Leviticus, we learn about holy days and festivals where everyone gets rest. And I mean everyone: the masters, servants, the animals, and the land. In chapter 25, the Israelites are commanded to start the strange practice of the Year of Jubilee, a kind of reset for the land and those in debt. (This definition of the Year of Jubilee doesn’t do it justice. For more info see https://www.gotquestions.org/Jubilee.html)
Each one of these examples teaches us something about the Sabbath.
Sabbath Lessons for Us
- In the Garden before the Fall, we glimpse our future reality, the future new creation. The 7th day in Genesis 2 doesn’t have the clause “there was evening and there was morning” because in the new creation, the 7th day rest won’t end. Although Adam and Eve worked the Garden, they weren’t being worked to death. They weren’t slaves to their labor, the land, or anyone else. That kind of work came after the Fall. So our first takeaway? When we Sabbath here on earth, we are illustrating what the reality of the new creation will be. We look forward to the Garden restored.
- When the Lord provided the Israelites with manna and told them on the 6th day to collect enough for both the sixth and seventh days of the week, He was asking them to trust His provision. The Isrealites couldn’t force the manna to appear on the 7th day (or any day for that matter). This brings us to the second lesson: Sabbath means trusting the Lord’s provision and resting in the knowledge that we are not omnipotent. We are not “the masters of our fate” as William Earnest Henley states in his poem Invictus. Meditate on God's authority, power, and control of the world, and I'd imagine you feel a weight lift off your shoulders. Because He is a good God, His sovereignty can be joyfully trusted. You no longer have to carry the burden of trying to hold everything together.
- For the Israelites, each holy day from the Passover to the Feast of Booths reminded them of their rescue from Egypt and God’s provision. While at Sinai, God set up a system where no tribe grew too strong, and no one was a slave to their debt forever. It even protected the rights of foreigners and servants - something uncommon at that time. From this, we learn that Sabbath is freedom. It is freedom from being worked to death and freedom from oppression (from others and our own sin). Yes, Sabbath can mean a general rest from your work, but it also means freedom from the toils of this world (stress, anxiety, exhaustion, etc). And best of all, it points to the freedom from the slavery of your sin.
Jesus had a few things to say about the Sabbath, too. Although the Pharisees harassed him for not honoring the Sabbath as they would have liked, Jesus knew something they didn't: the Sabbath is about mercy, not the Law. Let’s look at one last truth found in Luke 4.
At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, after he returns from being tempted in the wilderness. He visits the synagogue in Nazareth and quotes from Isaiah 61:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
After speaking these words, Jesus sits down and said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” It's a mic-drop moment.
“Proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This is Jubilee language! Jesus’ ministry on earth brought Eden back. He is the fulfillment of the Sabbath. Old Testament prophets knew an Anointed One was coming. In Luke 4:21, Jesus is saying He is that Anointed One. He is the one who - filled with the Spirit of the Lord - will bind up the brokenhearted, bring hope to the poor, and release the oppressed.
For Christians, remembering the Sabbath means remembering that Jesus has released us from our sin and the oppression of this world. When we’re not sure how to Sabbath or what it means, we only need to look to Jesus. We look to His ministry that healed the sick and comforted the hurting. We look to His provision and promises. Our striving stops. Our work no longer becomes the work of death but the work of life.
“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Jesus in Matthew 11:30)
Jesus, you are Lord of the Sabbath. Thank you for your work on the cross to restore our broken world and give us a way to enter back into the Garden - back into a right relationship with the Father. Father, we praise you for the gift of salvation. Please help us find a regular rhythm of resting in You. Let us practice the Sabbath as a way to live as if we are already in the promised land with You.
Quotes I found helpful in my study of the Sabbath, said in ways I can’t say better myself:
Point 1: “The Sabbath is that point in time where God and man meet. On the seventh day of creation, God joined himself and his eternal presence to his temporal creation, to the world of man. On the Sabbath day, man not only recalls but participates in an act of cosmic creation … he experiences the original structuring of time within the microcosm of his own life … The observance of the Sabbath links humanity to a divinely ordained future, as well as a divinely created past. Sabbath observance has cosmic implications... a foretaste of an eschatological future … a prefiguration of the final phase of the divine/ human reconciliation. In pointing back to the beginning, the Sabbath also points to what is yet to be, to the final destiny to which all creation is moving.” Bernard Och in Creation and Redemption: Towards a Theology of Creation, 240
Point 2: From the Bible Project’s notes on their study of the Sabbath, they write, “The rhythms of gathering and not gathering on the Sabbath are an imitation of God’s own patterns of work and rest in Genesis 1. God pronounced “good” days one through six and “very good” on day seven. Therefore, Israel collects manna on days one through six and double manna on day seven. On the seventh day, God rested (took up residence in his temple). Likewise, on the seventh day, Israel rested, and Moses rested a perpetual sample of manna before Yahweh and before the testimony (Exod. 16:33-34).”
Point 3: “The Sabbath grows into a symbol signifying humanity’s salvation and freedom, free from bondage, both external (oppression and slavery in Egypt) and internal (sin of estrangement from God and other humans); freedom from anxieties as to what to eat (Exodus 16:27; Leviticus 25:6, 20), and where to live (Isaiah 56:2-7). Sabbath thus acquires an eschatological meaning. By abstaining from his work every seventh day, humanity stands before God in absolute freedom, rejoicing in his salvation (Isaiah 58:13-14), and looking forward to the realization of this joy of God’s salvation and freedom for all people of all times.” Gnana Robinson, The Origin and Development of the Old Testament Sabbath, 420
For further study:
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