Sustenance for The Spirit
When we read the fourth Commandment in Exodus 20:8, we typically skip quickly through it, mainly because we don’t revere the Sabbath Day like the Jews were instructed to do. We meet on Sunday, their Sabbath was traditionally on Saturday, and they instituted some pretty strict rules about what they could and could not do on the Sabbath; some imposed by God, and some evolved from human control-ism we call legalism. As protestant Christians, we consider Sunday a day to re-focus and worship God, taking some time to rest and prepare spiritually for the week ahead, at least in theory. It is certainly Sabbath-like.
I find it interesting that in Exodus the reasoning behind the Sabbath command is to follow God’s model of rest after six days of labor in creating the world. And, certainly a rest sounds needed after such a task. I have my doubts that God really need a “rest,” maybe a power nap; but, we fall into a sort of humanistic-thinking, making God like us when we imagine him exhausted after a demanding creation job. I feel like the explanation in Exodus is something we can relate to as humans, centuries after the command was given to God’s people. Volumes have been written about the need to take breaks and vacations to prevent burn-out, exhaustion and brain fog.
However, in Deuteronomy, when Moses is giving the commands to the nation of Israel, who have been through some questionable faith moments in their pilgrimage, the reasoning to observe the Sabbath is different:
Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, not the alien within your gates so that your manservant and maidservant may rest as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:12–15, NIV)
My understanding is that the Sabbath day observance is wrapped around remembering their freedom. Taking time out of a busy week to relish in the reality that they are no longer owned by Pharoah and are free of Egypt, which was not the place God wanted them to be. This gives our Sunday, Sabbath-like tradition, a new dimension.
We need time to rest, re-direct our thoughts and remember what God has done for us. We need time with our family or fellow Christians to re-charge our batteries. But, we also need to realize our freedom in Christ, and reflect on what could be “owning” us as slaves.
Being a servant and a slave are different. Being a servant connotes positively. We sacrifice ourselves to help others, doing what we can to boost someone’s spirits or do something they cannot do for themselves. It is a natural part of the Christian walk. We can’t miss it when we read Jesus’ message in the gospels and His actions with the diverse people He interacts with. Being a slave on the other hand, carries a more negative feeling. Slavery was a terrible business in Jesus’ day and throughout history. It involved the ownership of people, treated as property. Whereas servanthood implies a choice of obedience, slavery implies enforced obedience, often beyond the control of the slave. I make this point only to drive home God’s message in Deuteronomy to His children who had been slaves in a foreign land. He had rescued them and had big plans for their future, and he knew they needed to think about that often if they were to stick to the plan. Therefore, remember the Sabbath.
I don’t want to miss the message here. I don’t want to skim across a seemingly antiquated commandment without seeing what God is really saying and urging, even today. Jesus came and provided some much needed wisdom regarding the Sabbath, which makes perfect sense when you consider the reasoning for the Sabbath observance. After healing a man while eating at the home of a “prominent Pharisee” on the Sabbath day, Jesus explained to His appalled audience, “Then he asked them, ‘If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?’ And they had nothing to say.” (Luke 14:5–6, NIV) Jesus was using some common sense, but the real underlying question was, “Are you still a slave?” And, “What are you a slave to?” The Pharisaic group gathered there were speechless. It was possibly the most powerful Sabbath day message they had heard in a while, maybe ever.
I’m thankful that we take time on Sundays to reflect and refresh spiritually. I love that we share in breaking bread and drinking the fruit of the vine together, reflecting on Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. I never want to miss the opportunities afforded during those moments of worship. But, I intend to add into my thoughts a question God instituted many, many years ago, and that I believe is equally appropriate today: “What am I a slave to?” The Sabbath command tells us that we have been set free and have become slaves to only one thing….God. How grateful I am for that assurance and the promises that come with it. Remembering the Sabbath means to live freely for God and Him alone.
Have a great day!