What is Sabbath? If you have ever considered what the importance of Sabbath is in this modern world, keep reading!
Our world has two extremes. We fill our days with busyness, without pause, intermission, or breaks from activity. We overschedule ourselves and our children.
The other extreme is that our busyness leads to burnout, causing us to rest to the point of needing an extended period of laziness as we binge endless seasons of a TV show, leading to procrastination and no purpose in our rest to rejuvenate us.
God knew that in order for us to thrive, we had to work from a place of Sabbath, with rest purposely built into our week to restore us. From Genesis to the New Testament, we are reminded of the importance of Sabbath as a day of focus set apart for us to process and prepare for the week ahead.
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What is Sabbath? A definition.
While many Christians refer to the Sabbath as the day they attend a weekly church service, the meaning is deeper. Sabbath is not another word for Sunday/Saturday or a worship service. The Hebrew word for Sabbath is Shabbat. It means “intermission,” an interval between periods of activity, a pause.
During a performance or a play, the musicians and actors take an intermission, not only to rest from the performance they have done so far, but also to mentally and physically prepare for what is ahead.
In Genesis 2, while the actual word Sabbath is not used, a form of it is, “shabath,” which means rest. God created the world in six days, and then
“on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”Genesis 2:2-3 (ESV)
God rested after spending six days creating, but this didn’t mean he was no longer going to work. He had an intermission to rest from work of creation and prepare him for the work to come.
Truthfully, God doesn’t need rest.
Psalm 121:4 (ESV) says,
“Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber or sleep.”
But He knew his children would need it, so He set an example for us to follow. When we accept the gift of rest, we are able to have the mental, emotional, and physical capacity to lean into God and all he has for our lives.
Why is Sabbath Important?
Now that we have a basic understanding of the definition of Sabbath, let’s take some time to look at the relevance and importance of Sabbath even today.
Sabbath is a gift that encourages rest
The first mention of the word Sabbath in scripture is in Exodus 16. The Israelites, after leaving their slavery in Egypt, complained of hunger and regretted leaving their bondage. Their Egyptian slaveowners fed them well. They weren’t used to relying solely on God for food. They relied on those who held them in slavery. While they had an abundance of food, they were also required to work every day, ruthlessly. Their lives were “bitter with hard service” (Exodus 1:14 ESV).
In the evening, God provided them with quail. For six days, every morning, the Lord gave them manna, a bread-like substance they could gather as much as they wanted. The Lord commanded them to gather it for six days, but on the seventh day, there would not be any manna to gather. They would have to gather and prepare the manna to have enough leftovers for the seventh day.
“This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD; bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over lay aside to be kept till the morning.”(Exodus 16:23 ESV)
Some of the Israelites didn’t listen. They woke up on day seven and went out to gather and work. They were used to working daily as slaves, but there wasn’t any manna to gather. Moses reminded them,
“‘See! The LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Remain each of you in his place; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.’ So the people rested on the seventh day.”(Exodus 16:29-30 ESV)
Moses reminded them that the Sabbath was a gift, given to them by God, giving them permission to rest. God will give them an abundance of manna, even on the days when there is none to gather. God gave his people a gift to rest from long, painful days of working in mud, mortar, and brick.
The Israelites were given the opportunity to enjoy true rest, be with their families, and rest their bodies and their souls from the years of bitter work.
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Sabbath is a gift that connects us to God
There is purpose in the Sabbath. It’s not the time to spend hours scrolling through our phones or binge-watching hours of television. Sabbath is a gift given to us by God, and when we are weary and need true rest (mind, body, and spirit), we must go to God to find it.
Matthew 11:28 (ESV) says,
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
The Greek word for rest in this verse is “anapauó,” which means “give intermission from labor,” which is Sabbath. Finding true rest through Sabbath is done by connecting with God. The Israelites did this by offering burnt offerings to God so that they could place their focus on God for Sabbath instead of work.
Because Jesus was the ultimate offering, we are no longer required to make burnt offerings to God, but we can pray, read the Bible, sing to Him, and worship in order to connect with Him.
Sabbath is a gift that prepares us for our calling
Our busy lives can distract us from what God has called all of us to do as followers of Christ. We are all called to live our lives while walking in our faith so that those around us can come to know God through our relationship with Him.
Sabbath allows us to slow down, be still, and rest so that we can be filled with God’s peace to share with those around us. Dedicating time to rest will have a positive impact on our families, friends, and those we encounter daily as we live our lives from a place of rest, not weariness.
When we set aside time to take our weariness to God and find rest in him, we prepare ourselves for the days to come. As Christians, the way we live our lives through our actions speaks loudest to those who don’t have a relationship with God. When we live our lives from a place of rest, those around us will be influenced by our peace and evident connection with God.
What does it mean to “remember the Sabbath and keep it holy”?
The fourth commandment of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 is
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”(Exodus 20:8 ESV).
The commandment goes on to say that no one should work, not even children, servants, or livestock.
“in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”(Exodus 20:11 ESV)
“Remember” isn’t only to bring something to mind, but to actually keep it in your mind, be mindful of it, and take action to make it special. Keeping the Sabbath holy means something that sets it apart from the remaining days of the week.
What does Sabbath look like for Christians?
The Jewish people celebrate Sabbath, or Shabbat, from Friday evening to Saturday evening. They commemorate the time with their families by having a dinner together on Friday evening, saying special prayers, and lighting candles.
For Christians, God wants us to set aside a day to come to him in our weariness and recharge. This may be the day you choose to attend your weekly church service. Those involved in ministry or those who volunteer at church on that day may benefit from choosing a different day to fully rest (body, soul, and spirit).
For families, parents may need to take turns choosing a different Sabbath to get the individual rest they need. Doing activities as families that involve rest, taking nature walks, and worshiping God together are ways to incorporate Sabbath rest.
Overall, no matter which day you choose, spending time before the Lord for restoration and refueling for the coming week is a gift. God is giving you permission to step away from your busyness and focus on your rest and relationship with Him.
Written by: Leah Lively
Leah Lively was born and raised in Virginia. As a mom of four, she has waded through the waters of parenting a child with chronic physical and mental health issues. Leah is passionate about helping others focus on God while walking through the chaos of life. Leah writes to encourage others and grow in their faith. She writes to let other parents know they are not alone. She shares her writing on her blog and social media pages and has also published four Bible studies. In her spare time, Leah enjoys listening to podcasts, hanging out with her kids, settling down with a good book and a cup of coffee, or spending time with friends.