Sabbath Joy

What in the world is the big deal about keeping the Sabbath Day, or for us Christians, keeping Sunday, the first day of the week, the day of resurrection, holy? We can understand the urgency of the other commandments, because they seem to be clear ethical matters, such as stealing, adultery, or as we talked about in the last post, taking the Lord’s name in vain. But why bother ourselves with keeping a day special? Are not all days for the Christian to be special? Moreover, even when we go to Church on Sundays, doesn’t it usually amount to giving up just a small portion of the day? Isn’t the rest of the day spent in activities not all that spiritual, such as lounging around watching football? Do we even know what it means to keep a day holy?

Well, as all these laws, the law of the Sabbath day is anchored in creation and the created order. By divine design, creation’s goal and climax is the last day, the seventh day. It is called the day of rest, and if you look closely at Genesis 2:1-4 you will notice that this day alone is not said to have an “evening and morning” like the first six days do. Scholars have long interpreted this to mean that the seventh day was meant to be ongoing; God made creation to be a perpetual seventh day. Since we are made in God’s image, we are expected to be like God in every way; we are to live in divine “rest.” This doesn’t mean that we were made for hammocks, snoozing, and sipping of lemonade. Certainly God was not tired out after the six days of creating. Rather, for God to “rest” at the end of His creative activities means to stand back and enjoy what He has made, and with satisfaction to observe how it works.

“Rest” is therefore not a passive and inactive idea in the Bible. Rather, it is an active concept where God maintains His creation with an expectation of its usefulness and providentially upholds it. Like God, Adam and Eve were busy in the garden in the context of the seventh day, working with the soil, shaping, and naming, all aspects of dominion. Humans were made to be creative like God in His six days of creation, but to stand back and enjoy is also to imitate God on the seventh day.

Have you ever made or created something and just stand back and look it over in happiness and admiration? Of course you have! This is not pride (although it could be perverted into pride). Rather, it is evidence of the fact that you were made in the image of God. It is a “God-thing” to joy in creation. Perhaps this captures the essence of the Sabbath law more than anything else; to observe the Sabbath is to step back, like an artist at a canvas, and rejoice in God and His creation, and indeed, in what God has done and is doing in your life.

The opposite of this is a slave mentality. The reason for keeping the Sabbath in Deuteronomy 5:15 is to remember that the Israelites were once slaves in Egypt. “Egypt” to the Israelites symbolized “the world” as we experience it in the fall. It is a place that enslaves and devours our humanity. In the world today, slavery takes on many forms. We become slaves to our work, slaves to our entertainment, slaves to our carnal passions, slaves to our computers, and live in a slavery that take us away from any real childlike joy in God for who He is and what He has done.

By keeping the seventh day, the last day of the week, God taught Israel to live the hard days of toil under the curse on the earth in anticipation of the last day, thus living the week in hope of a day where the covenant people of God can stand back and see what they were truly made for, the joy of God! Without the Sabbath day, there would be no hope for Israel, and where there is no hope, they could not help by fall into dismal habits of daily drudgery, and become like their pagan neighbors. Everything hanged on the Sabbath day for the ancient Hebrews, and we see that it really is a moral issue! Without the Sabbath, there was no hope, and where they is no hope, there is not only no joy, but no incentive to live moral lives before a God who will one day restore the seventh day of rest to humanity.

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