This morning my wife and I were reading in Numbers, chapter 15. Verses 32-36 treat the topic of Sabbath. As is our habit, we followed up on some of the cross- references. There are many. The idea of Sabbath is important to God. Unfortunately, it does not seem nearly so important to man.
The origin of the Hebrew sabbat is uncertain, but it seems to have derived from the verb sabat, meaning to stop, to cease, or to keep. Its theological meaning is rooted in God’s rest following the six days of creation (Genesis 2:2-3). The meaning of the Sabbath can be found in several places. Exodus 20:8-11 tells us this:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep 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, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For 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.
This passage makes a clear connection between the Sabbath day and the seventh day on which God the Creator rested. Sabbath observance therefore involves the affirmation that God is Creator and Sustainer of the world. In the New Testament, believers found it appropriate to use the day of Resurrection as the day of Sabbath rest and worship. (See Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2).
To “remember the Sabbath” meant that the Jew identified the seven-day-a-week rhythm of life as belonging to the Creator. If the Creator stopped his creative activity on the seventh day, then those who share in his creative work must do the same. Sabbath contravenes any pride that may accompany human mastery and manipulation of God’s creation. In ceasing from labor we are reminded of our true status as dependent beings, of the God who cares for and sustains all his creatures, and of the world as a reality belonging ultimately to God.
In the next few entries, we’ll look at several aspects of the Sabbath. In the meantime, I’d be interested in seeing YOUR ideas on Sabbath. What does it mean to you? Does it require anything of us? On what day should it be observed?