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A Reflection based on Exodus 31:12-17 & the times we live in.

The Lord said to Moses: 13 “Tell the Israelites: You must observe My Sabbaths, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, so that you will know that I am Yahweh who sets you apart.  14 Observe the Sabbath, for it is holy to you. Whoever profanes it must be put to death. If anyone does work on it, that person must be cut off from his people.  15 Work may be done for six days, but on the seventh day there must be a Sabbath of complete rest,  dedicated to the Lord. Anyone who does work on the Sabbath day must be put to death. 16 The Israelites must observe the Sabbath, celebrating it throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. 17 It is a sign forever between Me and the Israelites, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, but on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.” (Exodus 31:12-17 HCSB translation)

What is the Sabbath?  Why is it important?

The Sabbath is a command from God to His people – to work only 6days & then to rest for a day. It isn’t a suggestion for people to take or leave at their discretion – but rather a command with some severe consequences for those who disregard it (vs14-15)! So at its simplest, ‘sabbath’ is a day of rest commanded by God. It’s important because God is the One who commanded it even calling it; ‘my Sabbaths’ (vs12).

What makes Sabbath, a sabbath? 

Cessation from work or rest alone doesn’t capture the ancient tradition of sabbath for God’s people.  Too many Christ-followers these days treat Sunday’s or Sabbath rest simply as an opportunity to lie in, to shop, or for  their chosen recreation/sport or for socialising/having time with family or friends.

However, such a pattern fundamentally misses at least two of the main purposes God intended for us in commanding us to keep a rhythm of sabbath rest. So what are the essential components of the Sabbath?

  1. Cessation of work, complete rest (vs15)
  2. A day of rest that is ‘holy to you’ (vs14) & ‘holy to the LORD’ (ESV) or ‘dedicated to the LORD’ (HCSB) (vs15) 
  3. That will lead to to greater knowledge of God (vs13&17) & underline the covenant relationship we have with God (vs12&17)

Sabbath Component no.1: Complete Rest

For some the command to cease work is easy.  However for others the cessation of work isn’t easy at all.  Complete rest on a Sunday can be a real challenge;

  • Especially to those who are self-employed and who’s income generation spills over onto Sunday’s and so resting means a loss of income.  
  • Cessation of work on a Sunday is also tricky for those who do shift work or work in retail and potentially have no power to determine their days of work.  This is one of the reasons we have two meetings on a Sunday, to try to accommodate people who are working shifts they have no power over.
  • Or for those who serve God in paid church ministry when Sunday is the peak of their weekly activity.
  • Or for those who have been infected by the disease of our age, busy-sickness or busy-addiction!  Sunday’s in many cultures are no longer a day of rest but an opportunity for school meetings with parents, shopping…

God’s command for us to sabbath/rest is an expression of God’s love and wisdom.  Creator God knows how we were formed, He knows what’s best for us, what physically, emotionally, spiritually & relationally good for us.  A failure to obey God’s loving good command doesn’t just put us in the disobedient camp but also rejects God’s wisdom – any wonder we are such a medicated society drowning in stress?  In a society infected with busy-sickness we need to gratefully accept God’s command and wisdom and learn again how to rest.

Sabbath Component no.2: Holy to you & Holy to God

The cessation of work’s purpose is SO THAT we can ‘set ourselves apart for God’, or so that we can dedicate ourselves to God and His people. The purpose of this space in the week God commanded, was that we could set ourselves apart activity and busyness of the week to focus on God, together with the people of God (the church)- this is why churches in many cultures gather to meet on a Sunday.

A consistent life rhythm of dedication to meeting with God’s people on a Sunday is so important because it is the outworking of this command of God to rest so that you can dedicate yourself to the worship of God with God’s people. This time isn’t yours in that sense, but it is holy (set apart) to God and so should be holy (special and set apart) for you and for me.

The modern pattern amongst believers to come to church 1 in every 2-3 weeks is a flagrant disregard to this command of God. We are not treating God as holy since we are disregarding His command, and we are not treating God’s Sabbath as holy either then if we are filling this time God has commanded us to set-aside for other things. We need to reflect; we need to repent, we need to re-prioritise & re-schedule so that we can obey God and keep His Sabbath holy – dedicated to Him and His people (the church). I urge you to pray about this earnestly and to obey the Holy Spirit’s promptings.

Sabbath Component no.3: The Promise

Relationships require an investment of time! Here in Exodus 31, I sense a promise of God that obedience to make His Sabbath your consistent life rhythm will result in something being gained!  God’s commands are rooted in God’s love for us; it is not so much that God wants something FROM YOU BUT FOR YOU. God’s purpose in us making the time and space to rest from work so that we can dedicate time to meeting with Him and His people is SO THAT we would KNOW HIM BETTER (vs13)! Jesus said it like this; “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27).

Sabbath rest is God’s good plan to bless you and I as we dedicate time to worship Him with brothers and sisters, as we sit under His Word and listen to His voice – so I urge you to obey God & to anticipate God revealing more and more to you of who He is.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.