God had a serious thing about the Sabbath. Throughout the prophetic books of the Old Testament, the lack of observing a Sabbath day’s rest is consistently mentioned as a reason why judgment was on its way. And it wasn’t just a side issue for God; He really took umbrage about treating the Sabbath like any other day of the week. Listen to the cold description: “If you value your lives, don’t do any work on the Sabbath…. If you keep on carrying things through the city gates on the Sabbath [in order to do business] and keep treating it as any other day, I will set fire to these gates and burn down the whole city, including the fortresses.”
Whoa! What is that all about? Such language and warnings are pretty strange to our modern ears. Why in the world would God be so upset about doing a little business on the Sabbath day? The reason the Lord held tenaciously to a Sabbath rest is that it was intended as a time of sheer enjoyment and change of pace from all the other days. It was a chance to connect with God in a special way. It was an opportunity for God’s people to connect with each other in worship and delight in the unforced rhythms of gracious relationships.
But for centuries, the people forsook this Sabbath day because they wanted to do business, make some more money, and carry on just like everyone else did in the world. There will always be work to do – another phone call, one more business connection or task, or correspondence to maintain. After all, can’t let the competitors get the advantage! So, if working on the Sabbath is what it took, okay we’ll do it. But God interpreted all this as a profound lack of faith and stiff-arm in his face. Rather than trust in the Lord, the slippery slope of a downward relationship with God began with simply not paying attention to the Sabbath.
Whether we need to hold to the actual same Sabbath day rest today for Christians has often been debated. But what is not up for debate is setting aside a consistent weekly time and place for extended rest with the Lord. If we see this as negotiable, perhaps we need to spend some more time in the prophetic books.
Holy God, you scan the earth looking for faithful people. May the gift of faith you have given me nurture and grow into a consistent, sustained, and committed life of fellowship with Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.