16 November 2012

What is a "Sabbath"?

I've been thinking a lot about the term "sabbath" lately. It's really a deep concept. It means so much more than "Sunday go to meeting" day or day off.

The origin of the Hebrew sabbat is uncertain, but it seems to have derived from the verb sabat, meaning to stop, to cease, or to keep. Its theological meaning is rooted in God's rest following the six days of creation (Genesis 2:2-3). The meaning of the Sabbath can be found in several places. Exodus 20:8-11 makes a clear connection between the Sabbath day and the seventh day on which God the Creator rested. Sabbath observance therefore involves the affirmation that God is Creator and Sustainer of the world. (In the NT, believers found it appropriate to use the day of Resurrection as the day of Sabbath rest and worship. See Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2).

To “remember the Sabbath” meant that the Jew identified the seven-day-a-week rhythm of life as belonging to the Creator. If the Creator stopped his creative activity on the seventh day, then those who share in his creative work must do the same. Sabbath contravenes any pride that may accompany human mastery and manipulation of God's creation. In ceasing from labor we are reminded of our true status as dependent beings, of the God who cares for and sustains all his creatures, and of the world as a reality belonging ultimately to God.    

  • The Sabbath is a sign of the Covenant. God says (Exodus 31:13), “This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so that you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.” He is holy, therefore only He can make us holy. We employ certain signs and symbols in the church. Baptism symbolizes our dying in Him and becoming a new creation. The LORD’s Supper indicates that He shed His blood that we might have communion with Him.

  • The keeping of a Sabbath is not suggested. It is required. Exodus 20:8-11 makes it clear that the reason we must keep the Sabbath is because God did. Why would God make this a command, instead of a helpful suggestion? Because people don’t generally respond to suggestions. Good intentions abound, but actions don’t necessarily follow the intent. “Nothing less than a command has the power to intervene in the vicious, accelerating, self-perpetuating cycle of faithless and graceless busyness, the only part of which we are conscious being our good intentions.” (Eugene Peterson).

  • The Sabbath is not intended to be a burden. The spirit of the Sabbath is joy, refreshment and mercy, arising from remembrance of God’s goodness as Creator and as the Deliverer from bondage. The Sabbath was a perpetual sign and covenant, and the holiness of the day is connected with the holiness of the people (Exodus 31:12-17; Ezekiel 20:12). Joy was the key-note of their service. Nehemiah commanded the people, on a day holy to Jehovah “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:9-13). The Sabbath is named as a day of special worship in the sanctuary (Leviticus 19:30; 26:2). It was proclaimed as a holy convocation. (Leviticus 23:3). The observance of a Sabbath is not merely the taking of a day out of the week. It is a sign of recognition that God is God. It’s an indication of our trust in a sovereign God who can take care of things quite nicely even if we take a day off.

  • Eternal Sabbath. Hebrews anticipates an eschatological "sabbath rest" (sabbatismos) that remains for the people of God (see Hebrews 4:1-11). The term sabbatismos appears nowhere else in the New Testament, and may be the writer's own creation to indicate the superiority of the coming rest to that of the seventh day. Though a superior quality of rest, it is still marked chiefly by the cessation of labor patterned after God's rest on the seventh day. This final rest is only for Christians. (See Revelation 14:12-13). This final, eternal, rest will not be a complete stoppage of all activity. It will be like an active retirement. (See Revelation 7:9-17).

So, the idea is that you work during your lifetime, but don’t allow yourself to become a slave as Israel did when they worked 400 years without a vacation (Deuteronomy 5:15) and were, therefore counted as slaves. 

Always be looking forward to the time when you are no longer a slave to schedule but will have the opportunity to worship God as your full time activity.

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