With all this talk about how God calls us to hard work, you might begin to wonder when you’ll ever get to rest. Despite the fact that God does call us to work hard and avoid laziness, we are not to forsake rest and relaxation when it is needed. God knows that we need rest and He knows that many people may not rest when they need to. We can get caught up in our work sometimes and forget that we need to take a break in order to do our best. This is one reason God has commanded us to rest.
God Commanded Rest
When God instituted the Law for the Israelites, one command that we find numerous times is to keep the Sabbath. God commanded the Israelites to rest for several reasons, but we’re going to look at two main reasons. First, God wants us to remember that it is He who sanctifies us.
Moreover also I gave them my Sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am Yahweh who sanctifies them.
Ezekiel 20:12 (WEB)
God wants us to remember that it is He who created us, who cares for us, and who sanctifies us. We cannot accomplish what God has done by means of our own work. By taking rest and remembering the Lord, we can keep in mind the power and providence of God.
Another reason God commanded the Israelites to rest is because He knows we need to rest. Left to ourselves, we might work every day of the week in our attempt to secure our future or seek after the things of the world. But in the process, we’ll exhaust ourselves and strain our families. We can see the effects of overworking in the lives of workaholics. Stress, poor health, and struggling families are all caused by working too much. God wants us to take rest so that we can be refreshed and avoid these difficulties.
12 Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as Yahweh your God commanded you. 13 You shall labor six days, and do all your work; 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to Yahweh your God, in which you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your livestock, nor your stranger who is within your gates; that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.
Deuteronomy 5:12-14 (WEB) emphasis mine
I won’t say more about our need for rest because we’re going to look at it in more depth in the next part of this series.
The Sabbath Was Made for Man
God’s command to the Israelites about keeping the Sabbath was very serious, but in their zealousness for keeping the letter of the Law they forgot the purpose of the Sabbath. When the Pharisees saw Jesus’ disciples picking grain on the Sabbath and accused them of breaking the Sabbath, Jesus made the purpose of the Sabbath clear.
23 It happened that he was going on the Sabbath day through the grain fields, and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Behold, why do they do that which is not lawful on the Sabbath day?” 25 He said to them, “Did you never read what David did, when he had need, and was hungry — he, and those who were with him? 26 How he entered into God’s house when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the show bread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and gave also to those who were with him?” 27 He said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 Therefore the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
Mark 2:23-28 (WEB)
This passage is also found in Matthew 12:1-8 and Luke 6:1-5.
Jesus explains that God created the Sabbath for man and not the other way around. We are not here just to keep the Sabbath – as if that is our sole purpose for being created. God created the Sabbath so that we might have rest – rest that we need to refresh ourselves to do the hard work He has called us to. In all their arguments about what it meant to keep the Sabbath, the Israelites forgot why the Sabbath was created in the first place.
We see this same kind of legalism and loss of vision today in arguments about which day should be celebrated as the Sabbath and what should or shouldn’t be allowed. We forget the purpose of the Sabbath and what God intended it to be about. The important thing is that we rest, remember God as our Creator, Provider, and Redeemer, and seek to honor Him. We would do well just to keep the purpose of the Sabbath in mind rather than arguing about which day it should be observed and whether or not you’ll go to Hell if you don’t do it on the right day.
In the next part of this series, we’re going to look a little more at Jesus’ teaching about the Sabbath – that it was made for man so we might rest and remember God. God knows that we need rest, and He does not want us to work ourselves so hard that we do not take the rest He has created for us. We’ll look at the fact that we need rest, that God desires rest for us, and that Jesus led by example on this idea of rest.