As I was reading through Leviticus this time I realized Sabbath rest is more than I previously thought. More of a blessing. More of a sacrifice. And for more than just God’s people.
I’ve always thought of Sabbath rest in terms of being for the purpose of setting aside a day for the Lord. And it is, but I think it’s more than that. Here are a few of my observations.
1. Sabbath rest is a gift. I have to confess to you that observing the Sabbath, or the Christian Sabbath, seems at times to me like another rule or regulation. I shouldn’t go to the store because it’s Sunday. I should just wait until Monday. I probably shouldn’t tackle that big organization project even though I’m home and we don’t have any obligations. I’ve lost sight of the fact that Sabbath rest is a gift from God to be enjoyed and not an inconvenience.
Maybe the problem is that I’ve been thinking like a Pharisee. They thought they had the Sabbath down, but Jesus showed them otherwise. When Jesus was criticized by the Pharisees for healing a man on the Sabbath, they accused the Lord of breaking one of God’s laws saying that His healing was a form of work. Jesus showed them they were hypocrites and that of course doing good was not prohibited by Sabbath rest. (Mark 3:1-6) I find it interesting that Jesus anticipated their criticism and had just finished explaining that “the Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath”. (Mark 2:27) Obviously the Pharisees missed the point, but I don’t want to miss it. Sabbath rest is a gift from God to meet my need for rest. I should enjoy the rest and thank Him for it.
2. Sabbath rest requires sacrifice. Do you pride yourself on being industrious? I love it when I get lots accomplished! God made us to work- that’s why it brings such satisfaction. However, on the Sabbath God wants us to rest, and He expects that our resting from work will require sacrifice on our part.
“Do no work during that entire day because it’s the Day of Atonement… All who do not deny themselves that day will be cut off from God’s people. And I will destroy anyone among you who does work on that day. You must not do any work at all! This is a permanent law for you and it must be observed from generation to generation wherever you live. This will be a Sabbath day of complete rest for you, and on that day you must deny yourselves.” Leviticus 23:28-31
Sabbath rest is connected somehow to showing reverence to God’s sanctuary, or His church. “Keep my Sabbath days of rest, and show reverence toward my sanctuary. I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:30 Our desire to show reverence to God must supercede our desire to get projects accomplished or to make money.
3. Sabbath rest is not just for God’s people. It’s also for the land. The Israelites were supposed to observe a year of Sabbath rest every seventh year during which they would not plant crops or harvest them. The Lord took this seriously and warned of exile to a foreign land should they fail to obey Him in this and the rest of His law.
“Yes, I myself will devastate your land, and your enemies who come to occupy it will be appalled at what they see. I will scatter you among the nations and bring out my sword against you. Your land will become desolate, and your cities will lie in ruins. Then at last the land will enjoy its neglected Sabbath years as it lies desolate while you are in exile in the land of your enemies. Then the land will finally rest and enjoy the Sabbaths it missed. As long as the land lies in ruins, it will enjoy the rest you never allowed it to take every seventh year while you lived in it.” Leviticus 26:32-35 (emphasis mine)
Maybe we should rest our land, too. I read the book, The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan a couple of years ago about the over cultivation of our farm land that led to the dust bowl. It was a tragedy that could have been avoided, and many think we may be on track to repeat mistake from our past. I’ve heard of crop rotation. Maybe letting the land rest is still important to God. I’ve never thought about it before, but we know that “with eager hope the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Romans 8:21-22
God does not love just the spiritual and hate the physical. He loves His creation, all of it, and someday He’s going to make new heavens and a new earth and believers will enjoy eternal life on that new earth. Maybe we should once again take seriously His command to give the land rest. Just a thought.
Leviticus has helped me to see Sabbath rest as the gift God intended it to be. All of the physical creation suffers from the effects of the curse. People and land alike need rest. God graciously gives us this rest and we should observe it with thankful hearts. This can be yet another way to worship the Lord and give Him glory.
I'd love to hear your response to this and I've even started a discussion in my new blogfrog community on observing the Sabbath. How does your family observe the Sabbath?