If you have read the Bible much, you know there is a lot of talk about this day called ‘Sabbath.’ Jesus talks about it, and even used the Sabbath to antagonize the Pharisees and expose their hypocrisy. Israel was supposed to keep a Sabbath day, and even a Sabbath year. One of the reasons they went into captivity was because they grossly neglected the Sabbath.
What should be most unsettling for those of us who claim to obey the Bible is the fact that the Sabbath shows up in the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. Yes, one of the Big Ten is that we are to take one day a week to rest and not do work. It is right there in the same list with not committing murder or adultery. Now that is unnerving, or at least it should be.
Are you telling me that taking a day off every week carries the same moral weight as sexual purity in marriage? And the same moral weight as plotting and carrying out a murder? It would appear that yes, it does. In fact, if amount of ink is any indication, then this Sabbath command might be more important (if that is possible) since it gets more ink than any of the others. Take another look at Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. God doesn’t just say, “Remember the Sabbath” and let it go at that. He goes into a great deal of detail. Seems this is a pretty important command, a pretty important moral issue.
So why is Sabbath so important? How can a day off work even begin to compare to the other commandments? Let me throw out a few thoughts. Remember that the Decalogue was given to an agricultural society, a work cycle not many of us live any more. In the spring, the fields needed to be plowed. Seed needed to be sown. Weeds needed to be killed. In the fall, when the crop was ripe, the harvest needed to come in fast before rain or wind or hail destroyed an entire year’s income. There was a lot of pressure to get each season’s work done as fast as possible. The idea of taking off one full day each week was completely counterintuitive.
Taking a Sabbath day, in obedience to God’s command, was really an act of trust. It was a living statement that God was actually in control of my crops and my income. It was an acknowledgement that God is sovereign over the winds and rain and He is the one who makes things grow, not me. Sabbath is only partly about a day of rest; it is also a deterrent against idolatry, against self-sufficiency, against thinking I am in control of my destiny. It is even a means of socio-economic balance, not allowing a workaholic to get further ahead financially because he or she works 7 days a week.
We live today in a mostly post-agricultural society. Oh, there are still a lot of farmers out there, and I have the highest respect and appreciation for what they do. It is a lifestyle I would have loved to live had my life gone differently. But how does the Sabbath apply to the office worker? the construction worker? the housewife? the firefighter? the doctor or nurse? and so on? It is still an act of trust and a deterrent against idolatry. Taking a day off each week is still a strong statement that God is in control, not me.
Few would disagree that we as a 21st century people are way too busy. Many would even agree that this busyness is a sin. What better way to counter-act that busyness than by taking one day each week, and resting. No shopping, no errands, no work, no busyness. But simply resting. Being still. Worshipping. Lingering long over the Word, over dinner, over a sunset.
I suggest to you that our busyness is idolatry. It is an act of thinking we are so important that we can’t stop or our world will collapse. The kids will miss soccer practice. The profitable stock deal will get away. I will miss a text message. The car won’t get washed. Do we really think we are such a big deal that the world will fall apart if I shut down for a day? Sabbath is acknowledging the fact that God is God, and I am not; He is in control, and has it all covered.
Of course for most of us, taking a Sabbath day each week means something in our lives needs to go. So what are you going to eliminate from your life so you can obey the Fourth Commandment? Or will you continue to flaunt your self-sufficient, I-can-do-it-all lifestyle in the face of God? Let me suggest, quite strongly, that refusing to obey the 4th commandment, refusing to take a Sabbath day each week, is idolatry. And that is a violation of the First Commandment! Wow, double whammy. Take stock, reflect, slow down, eliminate something. Be still, and know that He is God, and you are not.