“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Exodus 20:8–11
Have you ever heard someone say, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater”? Did you ever stop to wonder where this saying comes from? Imagine if you were one of the American pioneer settlers and everything was scarce—including water. Back then families would bathe once a week, all using the same bathwater: the father first, then the mother, then all the children until at last the baby was washed in the family tub. Then it would be the daughter or mother’s job to throw out the very dirty (at this point) bath water that had served its purpose—and then some. This saying reminds her to not forget the family’s precious, tiniest member before taking care of that nasty chore.
The Pharisees (Jewish religious leaders) had taken observing the Sabbath to a legalistic extreme, tying God’s approval to the observance of this day in all its minute details. That is not what God intended the practice of sabbath to be. Yet, in our culture, we often choose not to place any focus on the Sabbath day at all. We toss out the baby along with the bathwater. There is clearly wisdom in taking this day of rest, which was modeled for us not only by Old Testament saints but also by God Himself. After creating, He rested (Genesis 2:2).
the purpose of sabbath
When we intentionally set aside our to-do lists (especially when there are still some items noticeably unfinished and demanding attention), when we decide to stop striving to meet that deadline at work, tackle that mountain of laundry, finish a home-improvement project, or run kids from one activity to another for just one day a week, we are acknowledging that we aren’t the creator and sustainer of our own lives.
In his book Every Good Endeavor, Timothy Keller writes on the issue of rest as a rhythm within Christian work:
“We are also to think of Sabbath as an act of trust. God appointed the Sabbath to remind us that he is working and resting. To practice Sabbath is a disciplined and faithful way to remember that you are not the one who keeps the world running, who provides for your family, not even the one who keeps your work projects moving forward.”
By taking an intentional rest from our work we are making a declaration to our neighbors, extended family, to our children and to our own anxious hearts: God is the one who sustains me. As Christians remembering the sabbath, we remind ourselves that true productivity and true rest can only come from God. The sabbath is also a reminder that the work of Christ on our behalf was perfect. He did what we could never do, living a perfect life, giving Himself as the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and finally rising again defeating sin and death. Without the work of the Son on our behalf we would be utterly lost, and no amount of work would be sufficient to save our depraved souls.
the wisdom of sabbath
Many of us have been taught we don’t have to observe sabbath, or perhaps we haven’t had our attention drawn to sabbath at all. But a sabbath could be the solution we are looking for. We are over-scheduled, stressed out, and looking desperately for a space to experience peace. This is why God gave us the sabbath—to remind us that yes, our work (both inside and outside of the home) is important, but it isn’t what sustains us. We are looking for not only a pause from work, stress, and performance, but also the reminder that what we really need, we already have—God Himself, who created us, redeemed us, and is continually sustaining us.