SHOULD we keep the SABBATH, a weekly ‘DAY of REST’? Then Moses gathered all the congregation of the children of Israel together, and said to them, "These are the words which the Lord has commanded you to do: Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh day shall be a holy day for you, a Sabbath of rest to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire throughout your dwellings on the Sabbath day." (Exodus 35:1-3)
In the Old Testament, God commanded the Israelites to set aside one day a week as a “Sabbath”, a holy day of rest (Exodus 20:8–11; Jeremiah 17:19–27). The above passage is the seventh and the last mention of the Sabbath in the book of Exodus. Here, Moses speaks to the children of Israel that after working for six days, they should keep aside the seventh day as a day of rest, in which they should cease from doing any work. In fact, this day should be declared ‘holy’, a ‘Sabbath of rest to the Lord’. God further imposed the capital punishment of death on those who would disobey and work even on the Sabbath. The Israelites were further prohibited from even lighting a fire inside their homes for the purpose of cooking food on the Sabbath day!
We see that at the beginning of the next chapter (36:1-2) God appointed artificers who would be actively engaged in God’s work to construct the Tabernacle. However, before this can be started, God directed the Israelites to keep the Sabbath day (35:1-3). The doctrinal significance of this is that before we are fitted to work for Him, we must rest in Him: before we can bring to Him, we must receive from Him. In fact, the work on the tabernacle starts with an admonition to keep the Sabbath, just as the instructions for the work had concluded with such a reminder as well (31:12–18). Let us recall that it was Solomon, “a man of rest” (1 Chron. 22), who alone could build a house to Jehovah’s name!
The principal teaching concerning the Sabbath was the fourth commandment (20:8–11), and one additional feature of the Sabbath restriction was that the Israelites could not light a fire in their homes on the Sabbath day, which may indicate that they were depriving themselves of their own comfort in a natural way. In keeping a true Sabbath they were not occupied with their own activity that speaks of fleshly ease and gratification. This was God’s intention described later through prophet Isaiah: "If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the Lord." (Isaiah 58:13-14)
Let us remember that work is a gift from God and is essential to our nature. Even so, work was never intended to define our identity, and God does not measure our worth by our productivity. By establishing a day of rest each week, God put work in its proper perspective. This break in the routine cycle of productivity through maintaining the Sabbath day reminds us that work has limits and does not totally define who we are (see Psalms 127:1–2).
The weekly day of rest was intended for our good only. It allows us to restore our mind, body, and spirit from the demands of our labors. It also gives us time to celebrate what has been accomplished during the week, as well as in times past, as we gather with other believers to worship the Lord. If we ignore the Sabbath principle, we may lose our health, become addicted to our work, and develop an inflated sense of self-importance. God wants us to use the gift of Sabbath in ways that will benefit ourselves, our families, our work, and our faith.
Let us also remember what Jesus had said that even God “breaks” His own Sabbath by continuing to do good work: "For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, 'My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.'" (John 5:16-17) Even though God had completed His creation work a long time ago, He continues to maintain it and provide for His creatures every day. The spiritual application for us is that we can always do good, esp. on a Sabbath day. Also, it would be good for our physical, mental and spiritual well-being and we will never suffer burn-out if we can keep the Sabbath, a weekly day of rest, relaxation and restoration!
"There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience." (Heb. 4:9-11)