Monday, June 13, 2011

Sabbaths: Cycles of Rest

Over the past few weeks, I have been diving into the scriptures about what it really means to enter the Lord’s rest.  Many may believe it has to do with “resting” after we die and we are in the Lord’s presence, or it has to do with allowing the Lord to be our comfort in difficult times.  Both are reasonable but I believe the scriptures reveal a much deeper teaching. I found that God wants us to enter His rest NOW while we are living so we may experience His kingdom in this life; right here, right now.  My reading mainly centered around a word search of “Sabbath.”  Since one of the 10 commandments is “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8), I’m compelled to ask the burning questions:

* What does Sabbath mean?
* Why was it so important to God?
* How did God instruct people how to honor it?
* Is the Hebrew Sabbath for all people?
* Why should we observe it?
* How Christians honor the Sabbath?
* Does the day matter?
* How can we enter the Lord’s rest today?

Sabbath literally means, “to cease” in Hebrew.  When God explained it to the Israelites, he instructed them to observe the day of rest just as God rested from all his work at creation.  Upon reading the scriptures concerning Sabbath, we’ll find the Sabbath rests are in cycles.  There are Sabbath days (weekly cycle), Sabbath months (monthly cycle), Sabbath years (yearly cycle), and Seventh-year Sabbaths (7-year cycle).

Sabbath rests were so important to God for several reasons:
1.  He set the example at creation when he rested on the 7th day (Genesis 2:2)
2.  He taught the Israelites about the Sabbath BEFORE he etched the 10 commandments in stone by his own hand on Mount Sinai. (Exodus 16)
3.  He listed it among his top commandments (Exodus 20)
4.  Desecrating it was punishable by death (Exodus 31)
5.  He likens it to honoring your parents (Leviticus 19:3)
6.  He called it a “day of sacred assembly” (Leviticus 23:3)
7.  He listed among reverence for His sanctuary (Leviticus 19:30)
8.  He established the Sabbaths among the feasts (Exodus 23:14-19)
9.  It is a sign between God and his people that HE makes them holy (Exodus 31:12-18)

The ONLY time I’ve seen in scripture when God detests the Sabbaths is when people refuse to learn to do what is right.  He wants us to seek justice, defend the oppressed (or correct the oppressor), take up the cause of the fatherless, and plead the case of the widow (Isaiah 1).  If our observation of the “rest” overrides caring for people who desperately need our mercy/compassion/help, we dishonor God.  As Jesus explained to the Pharisees, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. Doing “good” means binding the wounds of the broken, setting captives free, feeding the hungry, etc (Matthew 12:9-14 & Isaiah 58).

When God instructed the Israelites to cease from their work on the Sabbath, he also instructed them to allow their servants (even the foreigners among them) to rest as well (Ex 23:10-13).  In other words, rest is rest.  It means we rest, and we also refrain from making someone else work in our place.  Sabbath rest is for everyone.  Paul even continued in the Sabbath rest, and encouraged everyone to observe the Sabbath rest as well (Hebrews 4).  He also encourages new believers in Colossians 2:16-23, to not allow anyone to judge them by what they eat, drink, or observing festivals.  Worldly rules will perish, but God’s rules remain forever.  So as believers, we should be very interested in following God’s rules because the reality is found in Christ because he is Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 12:1-13).

According to God’s spoken words, honoring the Sabbath brings tremendous blessings.  First of all, he established the Sabbath day as a sign between him and his people that He makes them holy (Exodus 31:12-18).  God even promises to bring us, the foreigners who bind ourselves to him, to his holy mountain and give us joy in his house of prayer (Isaiah 56).  That is pretty good incentive for me!

There are also many benefits to explain why we should honor the Sabbath:
1.  Our Sabbath days are also times to be refreshed in God’s presence.
2.  Honoring the days of rests, gives us strength for long journeys ahead.
3.  We learn to trust God’s provision more, just as God provided two days worth of food for the Israelites in the desert.
4.  It changes our mindset that we must do lots of things NOW.  It takes us out of the “get things done” rat race that is so rampant in our culture.
5.  Our assemblies become more focused on him because we need not worry about doing any work that day.
6.  God richly blesses those who keep them holy!

God prescribes several cycles of Sabbath rest.  Most people are familiar with the weekly Sabbath rest.  We rest on the 7th day because God rested on the 7th day at creation.  That’s mainly understood.  God also prescribed monthly Sabbaths, yearly Sabbaths, and Seventh-year sabbaths.  These Sabbath rests can be seen among the feasts the Lord taught the Israelites.  The Seventh-year rest is confusing to most people.  From an agricultural perspective, it makes perfect sense.  Farmers give the land rest in the seventh year so the land has a full year to replenish nutrients in the soil.  If farmers had multiple fields, they rotated the fields so each field has a year of rest in the seventh year, and they can still maintain their crops for food.  There is much more to be said about how God instructed his people to observe the Sabbaths.  If you would like more reading on the subject, check out The Meaning of Sabbath at, or read the scriptures for yourself to learn about the all the Sabbath cycles.

I believe anyone who is bound to the Lord should observe the Sabbath as God prescribed.  Of course, we need discernment between what God our Father desires of our Sabbath and what man has changed over the years.   We should carefully go through the scriptures and seek God’s ways.  Jesus said that if we love him, we would keep his commands.  His “commands” are the laws given to Moses.  We know this because James stated at the council at Jerusalem that “the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath” (Acts 15:21).  So when we ask how should we honor the Sabbath, we must read what God says in the OT.  Following God’s laws give us freedom.  Jesus said “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).  So, Sabbath rest should not be viewed as a heavy yoke.  It is a prescription to be refreshed in the Lord’s presence.

Quite honestly, I cannot provide a solid answer.  The part of me that says, “Yes” believes it must be on the same day as what God instructed the Israelites.  The Israelites were on God’s calendar, which means the Sabbath day is the last day of the Hebrew week (that is Saturday for us under the Gregorian calendar).  We should desire to be on God’s calendar since he explains his “appointed times” in scripture in lots of places.  The part of me that says “No” wants to believe that as long as we have a consistent day of rest, we are within God’s law.  However, I have not found anything in scripture that has changed what day the “Sabbath day” is on.  So, I would error on the side of observing Sabbath on Saturday because it is most consistent with what God prescribes in scripture.

As we love the Lord with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength, He will show us the way.  Loving Christ means following HIS law.  Again, his law brings us REST not a burden, for King David wrote, “The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak what is just.  The law of their God is in their hearts; their feet do not slip” (Psalm 37:30-31), and they will inherit the land (Psalm 37:29).  Paul even stated, “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous” (Romans 2:13).  Entering the Lord’s rest begins by loving him so much that his law is written on our hearts, and our desire is to obey them because it honors God our Father.  Part of that law is keeping the Sabbath holy.  When we keep the Sabbath holy as God instructs us, we are thus in his rest!

As I stated before, this has come from weeks of reading scripture and prayer.  We must earnestly seek the Lord for his ways.  So much of scripture has been distorted over the years that many people do not know the true way.  To keep our feet from slipping, we must ask God to write his law on our hearts just like he wrote them in stone on Mount Sinai, and follow them with every fiber in our being.  We must seek God’s heart and ask him to help us remain mindful of those who need mercy.  May the Lord reveal himself to us, and show us his way so that we may be considered righteous in his eyes.


  1. Melanie,
    Great post - you bring up some incredible points. It's really hard to discern what is and isn't "rest" ... and hard to struggle between works, etc. We are no longer under "law" ... but we certainly don't ignore the law.

    I actually LOVE mowing my lawn - it's therapeutic for me, it gives me, ironically, with the sound of the mower and blower - a period of solitude where I'm shutting out the world, I don't have my phone on me, I'm not at a computer, I'm outside (which I love), etc ... but there would be some who would say this is "work" ... therefore, unlawful on the "sabbath", etc. So, it's always been a difficult subject to parse for me.

  2. Thanks, Fred! I think a major piece of Sabbath that we should all keep in consideration is not only the absence of "work" but celebrating the presence of God. When God gave the Israelites instructions of the feasts, he was essentially giving them "appointed times" with him. When they rested, they went into the temple to be in God's presence. So if we look at our rest as a time to spend with ONLY the Lord, that is the rest our hearts should desire the most. I'm learning this slowly but surely because there is so much I want to "do" that I don't even think about the rest required for a long spiritual journey.

    Another thing to consider is that the Sabbath means a dependence on God. Just as the Israelites had to depend on God to provide two days of manna so that they could rest on Sabbath, we should also learn to trust God to provide what we need so that we can take that day of rest - in his presence. It's a trust issue. We have to honestly evaluate ourselves as to how much we depend on ourselves, and how much we depend on God. It's such a hard lesson to learn.