“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
So, commandment Four…
I think there is a lot of confusion around this commandment, or at the very least, an abundance of strange manifestations to “keep” this commandment.
The Sabbath in essence has two references. The first is the creation story where God rested on the seventh day. The second is the giving of manna for six days and none on the seventh, but twice as much on the sixth day.
So what is the Sabbath, why should we remember it, and what does it mean to keep it holy?
The Sabbath is the rest day. The most obvious reference for the Sabbath day is the seventh day of creation when God rested from the work he did for six days prior. The not so obvious reference, or at least easily forgotten, is the second reference mentioned, the giving of manna and how the practice of the Sabbath day originated.
The Sabbath day originated in practice when Israel was in their exodus from Egypt. During this mass exodus the hundreds of thousands of people obviously needed food to eat, so each day God provided a substance they called manna (or “what is it?”) The manna would form with the morning dew and Israel would go out and collect it each morning. If they collected more than they needed it would rot and not last till the next day, except for on the sixth day. On the sixth day they were to collect enough for two days and on the seventh day the manna would not form. And on this day, unlike the other days, the extra manna collected would not rot. This was an enforced rest from the work of gathering manna, a training of the people of Israel to learn to trust in their God, and a sign to the rest of the world of God’s ability to provide and sustain. God sums up the reason for this enforced Sabbath as, “so you may know man does not live on bread alone, but from every word of God.”
It’s in this context and reference that God issues the 4th commandment, to remember the Sabbath (the rest day) and keep it holy (set apart to Him.) For one day Israel would be weened off this enforced Sabbath with the manna and would be responsible for remembering it themselves. The training wheels would come off and the enforced (or practiced) time-outs should ideally give way to mature people who could recognize their need for rest and reorientation to life with God. Israel was to become a people who knew their lives were sustain and provided for by God and not by their own efforts and work alone. A people who practiced a Sabbath to recognize and remember there was more to this life than what is seen, more to this life than getting ahead and accumulating wealth, more to their subsistence than the natural.
And almost comically, in giving further explanation of the command, God preempts how some of our minds will inevitably work to try and get around the command, how to still get ahead while presuming to rest and be dependent on God. So God follows the command of you shall not work by saying, “nor shall you spouse, children, servants, foreigners among you, nor your animals. Ha! 🙂 Can you see it? It’s exactly what we would be thinking… “okay, I can’t work, so I’ll have my spouse work. Oh she can’t work either, okay, my kids. No? Well then my employees. No again? Foreigners? My Ox and horse at least? No?” 🙂
So what does this mean for us? Does it mean I shouldn’t work on Saturday (or Sunday)? Not necessarily. Here’s the point. We need to remember that these commands are God starting to teach and train his people how to live in His kingdom. He’s teaching people how to live in community with Him, how to live in a good way… good for themselves, others, and creation. He’s teaching people to remember where our life and subsistence come from, that they come from a life lived with Him. And this is easy to forget if 24/7 we are caught up in the various cares, riches, and pleasures of this life. So, God in this command, calls us to regularly step out of the daily grind for periods of time. He teaches us to have regular times of putting all work and other things aside to spend dedicated time with Him (aka keep it holy.) Now that may be a Saturday or Sunday, but may even be a Monday or Friday. The point is (among many other benefits) that by having this rest time with God you will learn to know Him, how to depend on Him, and that you CAN depend on Him, on the day of rest and all other days as well.
So finally, what does a Sabbath day look like? Well, I think that’s different for different people. For some it might be going to a church gathering, and for others it might be not going to a church gathering. For some perhaps it might be going on a hike or to the ocean, and for others it may be sitting in a chair with a cup of coffee and a favorite pen and notebook and Bible and a burrito (or two) bought the day before so he doesn’t have to be interrupted making lunch. I don’t know who that could be though. 😉 Ha!
Whatever the case, find your regular Sabbath, time with God apart from everything else. And if what once you found restful time with God isn’t so restful anymore, don’t be afraid to change your routine. Remember, the goal is restful time with God, not maintaining a particular practice, tradition, or routine. You are in a relationship that will grow and change with time, so adjust accordingly. 🙂 May God meet you in your time with Him!