Coming Close: Do I really need a sabbath?

Peet Dickinson

Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. 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 or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.  (Deuteronomy 5:12-15 ESV)

 It’s in the top ten, so it must be important.  The fourth commandment that God gave to the people of Israel was to take a break every seventh day, not a pseudo-break, mind you, but a legitimate halt to work.  Now, of the Ten Commandments, I reckon that this one might be the one I break most regularly, and as I have thought about it, as I break this one, I am actually breaking the first one as well.

So, how is breaking the Sabbath also breaking the first Commandment to have no other gods before the one true God?  So often, the reasons I have heard for keeping the Sabbath are about physical and mental health.  Certainly, the Commandments of God are for our good, and by keeping the Sabbath, a person will have a healthier and more balanced life.  As finite beings, we need to take a break and unwind.  If we don’t, we actually do physical damage to our bodies with things like stress, sleep deprivation, and high blood pressure.  This is, however, not the principle reason God has given this command in my estimation.  This commandment is all about our relationship with Almighty God.

Consider the culture into which this commandment was first issued.  This was an agrarian culture.  For those of you who have ever lived on a farm or known farmers, you know that it is often referred to as a “seven-day a week job.”  So, how could God ask an agrarian culture to take one day a week and do NO WORK?  Could it be to help them remember that it’s not all up to them?  Could it be to help them remember that God is God and they are not?  Why else would he follow this commandment up with a reminder of the Exodus in verse 15?  This commandment is clearly all about keeping the people of Israel in a right relationship with Yahweh.  By keeping the Sabbath on a weekly basis, they are kept in that same dependent posture that they were called to take as the LORD delivered them from the bondage of slavery in Egypt.  God wants his people to trust in him first and foremost rather than worshipping the god of self-reliance.  To do otherwise is unhealthy, not just for our bodies, but for our essential relationship with God.

So, do I really need a Sabbath?  That’s like asking, “do I really need God?”  Every time I break this commandment I am turning my back on the one who is faithful to deliver me.  He is the one with the mighty hand and outstretched arm, and that’s the place where you and I should take our Sabbath rest.  That’s where our loving Savior longs for us to rest.  So, if you were looking for a way to improve your relationship with God, try keeping the fourth commandment.  Why not start this week?