God lays out the fourth commandment in Exodus 20:8-11.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 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. 11 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.”
God commands rest. The Hebrew word for Sabbath is “shabbat,” and it comes from the word which means, “to cease.” God commands his people to stop working. Not only they, but their children, animals, and even foreigners passing through their land. Not one of them was to work on this holy day.
So, you couldn’t just tell someone else to work for you on the Sabbath. You couldn’t have your servants, kids, or animals pull your weight. Everyone was to rest. The reason is because this is the example – the precedent set by God himself in his very creation of the world.
The concept of the Sabbath is very important to us today. It points us back to creation and, even more importantly, forward to redemption. In Deuteronomy 5:12-15, the Sabbath was meant to point God’s people to their own deliverance from Egypt – from slavery.
All of this points us, today, to our rest in Christ. We are commanded to cease from labor; to remember our deliverance from slavery; to rest in Christ alone every single minute of every single day in order to glorify him by our complete and total trust and faith in Him – despite the, often times immense workload he has ordained for us.
Resting in Christ does not mean that once we know him we can shuck all our responsibility and not do that which we have been called to. It is not holy or righteous to cease from our work by dumping it off on everyone around us while we bask in the presence of God.
It is tempting, I know. I personally have an almost superhuman ability to block out noise and distraction when I want to study my Bible. No matter how many mental gymnastics I do, I cannot justifiably come to the conclusion that God has commanded me to rest instead of doing the jobs he has given to me. Even on the Sabbath, God has not commanded me to ignore and neglect my home and children in order to prove I am faithfully resting in Him. No. God wants me to pray for strength and endurance so I might have the great faith it takes to rest in Him in my most overwhelming circumstances.
Resting is remembering God and trusting him enough to stop working in my own strength, not only for one day per week, but every single day until my eternal rest.
Unfortunately, just like a human, I often get off track. After I work in my own strength without resting in him for a long time, I crash, I burn, or I quit. Quitting is resting in my own means. It is a selfish rest. And it doesn’t really help me, either. Vacations do not make overwhelming situations go away. If I left my home and children for a week, they wouldn’t magically become obedient, mature, and respectful while I was gone. They may not even be alive anymore! Literally ceasing from the work God has ordained in my life is never an option! Ceasing from trusting in myself to accomplish it or trusting in my work itself is what this command calls me to.
On the contrary, carrying on and trusting that He is enough to help me accomplish all that which he has called me to do is truly what resting in him is all about. That is a holy rest; a God-glorifying rest; a righteous rest.
I believe taking a once a week rest from physical or worldly work and daily responsibilities as much as humanly possible is definitely wise. I believe, however, the command to keep the Sabbath for New Testament believers is rooted in our rest in grace, not works, and, ultimately, our eternal rest in Christ, in heaven. Even a more literal approach to Sabbath-keeping only indicates and prescribes one day per week for rest from our human responsibilities and callings. That means the more time we spend “resting” outside that prescription, the less we are actually trusting in God to give and provide us with the true rest he has promised – the rest that comes solely from Him despite overwhelming circumstances and hard labor coupled with a constant, urgent call to share his good news with everyone, everywhere, always.
“Neglected duties remain duties still, notwithstanding our neglect.” ~Matthew Henry