We're starting now to get into the commandments, into God's instructions for Israel on how they are to live. And one of the central commandments for the people is that they observe a Sabbath. In Exodus, the Sabbath is prescribed because the Lord Himself rested on the seventh day; in Deuteronomy, it is because the Lord led them out of captivity in Egypt. Regardless of the reason, the prescription hasn't changed: the people of God are to work six days and rest on the seventh.
Sabbath is a lost art in our 24/7/365 world. We don't have to stop, so most of us don't. The rest of the world doesn't stop, so we often feel like we can't. If we do, we might get left behind. Or perhaps it's just more convenient not to. There are 168 hours in a week, and it seems like we can be more conscientious of our time if we have all of them to use. Cut us down to 144, and all of a sudden, we feel pressed.
As though time is even real.
But God's idea for Sabbath isn't just about us, and that's something important that we have to understand. It's not individual or personal; it's one of those communal ideas that God is so fond of, and so when He gives more detailed instructions on just what Sabbath means, He makes sure that you understand that it's not just about you.
Specifically, He says that when you observe the Sabbath, everyone around you observes the Sabbath, too. The servants in your household Sabbath with you. The oxen in your field. The livestock in your fold. Your wife and sons and daughters, indeed your whole family. When you rest, everyone connected to you rests.
In other words, on the seventh day, make sure you provide rest for those upon whom you depend for your six days of work. If they're working with you, human or animal, they're resting with you.
Not only does this give the laborers rest, but it also gives the land rest. For one whole day, it's not being worked; it's free to just do what it naturally does, to exist in the glory of God and be, well, what it was created to be, not what it's being made into.
And that, by the way, is why we need to Sabbath - so we can stop being what we're trying to make ourselves and for a little while, just be what God has made us. Whoever we are when we're not working on it is who we are at our most intimate, by the grace of God, and we need some time to touch that.
But God's prescription for the Sabbath, where not just you but everyone tied into you rests on the seventh day, has changed the way I Sabbath, for the better.
Because now, when I think about the day that I've set aside for rest and what I will or will not do on that day, I think about whether what I will do will cause someone else to have to work in order for me to do it. In other words, I think about whether my rest brings rest to others. If it doesn't, I don't do it.
Imagine if your day of rest was a day truly of rest and not a day to "catch up" on things. Imagine if you decided on your Sabbath that you wouldn't shop - your shopping requires someone else to work to maintain the store. Yes, they are working anyway because not everyone Sabbaths when you do, but that's not the point. Imagine if you decided that on your Sabbath, you would not eat out, not even fast food, because your eating out would require someone else to be working when you aren't. It's the basic principle that had even much of America closed on Sundays until the last few decades - when we rest, we rest together. If we set aside a day for not working, then none of us will work. And I know, it doesn't seem to make much of a difference when the world runs without you and doesn't seem to even notice that you're not asking anything of it, but I'm telling you right now - it makes a difference in your own heart.
And that doesn't mean, I don't think, that no "work" is done on the Sabbath. Sometimes, we have opportunity to love one another on the Sabbath and it almost looks like work, but love isn't work; it never has been. So yes, even when I am resting, I am willing and able to love others. I do it out of a different heart on my Sabbath day, with a different pace and a different attitude. And yes, I have even run to the store on a rare Sabbath for someone I love who has had no other options.
But I keep coming back to what God says about Sabbath and trying to be intentional about what rest means. It's not about us individually; it's about us collectively. It's about us giving rest to one another while we take our own and receiving the gift of rest from others as they take theirs and letting the land and the animals and our own souls, just for a time, be what they are instead of what they're being made into. And remember the glorious God who breathed life into it all and made it possible.
Even in a 24/7/365 world.