What is the Sabbath, and does it matter today?

What is the Sabbath, and does it matter today?

Sabbath is a practice that perhaps isn’t held in as high a regard as God intended. The 21st Century life is busy, constantly moving and with very little time to relax or set aside to worship God. We pack our lives full, and often, that means we are too busy to practice the Sabbath. Let’s delve deeper into what the Sabbath actually is and consider whether it is a practice we should be more intentional about having as a part of our own family culture and routine.

‘Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour 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, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.’ – Exodus 20:8-11

What is Sabbath?

The word Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word ‘Shabbat’, which means to cease or rest. In Exodus, God commands His people to keep the Sabbath holy. It is one of the ten commandments, and therefore it is important to God! In Genesis, the creation story tells us that on the seventh day, God rested. This is the first example of seventh-day rest in the Bible. Throughout the Bible, we see a beautiful rhythm of rest and work set in motion from the very beginning of creation. It is a rhythm to help us work from a place of rest, remind us of the value of stopping and renewed strength, and a time to be spent with family and friends.

In Exodus, we are also commanded to keep the Sabbath should be kept holy. The word holy means set apart and sanctified; the Sabbath day should be different from the rest of the week. In Genesis, the purpose of the first Sabbath was to allow God and man to rest in their relationship. The Sabbath should be a God-centred time, where we intentionally carve out time to invest in our relationship with Him. In the Old Testament, the Jewish community would have increased the Sabbath day’s sacrifices; there was an increase in focused activity towards God. It is a time to rest in the presence of God and remember what God has done for us.

Sabbath also represents freedom. God gave the 10 commandments after the Israelites were set free from slavery in Egypt. They had been kept in slavery by the Egyptians for generations; they did not have any freedom. They would not have been allowed a day off whilst captive in Egypt. The day of Sabbath rest is a reminder of freedom from captivity. It applied to all, even the servants and those not apart of the community that God gave the command of Sabbath to. It provides a right to rest to those who might not usually have that right. The Sabbath levels the playing field and reminds us that regardless of who we are, there should always be the dignity of rest.

For Christians, we can draw a parallel between the freedom of the Israelites from Egypt and the ultimate freedom found in Jesus. In Galatians 5:1, Paul writes, ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery’. When Jesus came to earth, lived the perfect, sinless life and then died on a cross in our place, he did that so that we might have freedom. Freedom from oppression, fear, anxiety and ultimately sin and death. The Sabbath reminds us of this and allows us to have space in our lives to focus on God and find freedom in His presence.

Ultimately, Sabbath is a gift from God.


Does it matter today?

The Sabbath practices are a Jewish tradition and yet are still significant for Christians to consider. I would strongly encourage you to consider making it a part of your family routines for a whole host of reasons. Although we are no longer under the law, the law offers us an insight into Gods guidance. Jesus was Jewish, and he valued the Sabbath. He did not hold the Sabbath as a legalistic command, he taught against this, but the purpose and heart of the Sabbath was still something Jesus advocated. In Mark 2:27-28, Jesus says, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath‘. There is purpose in the Sabbath for us today, not to hold us back or hold us captive to a set of rules, but to demonstrate the freedom we have!

Everything God commands is for the best interests of those who love him. It is not something to be bound by; however, in obedience to God, we can use the law in the Old Testament to demonstrate God’s heart. There is godly wisdom to be found in the commands of God, the rules are for a specific people in a specific time, yet when we discover the message, we can apply the wisdom to our lives today. Sabbath is important to God. But there are also incredible benefits for us, should we decide to make it a part of our life.

The benefits of practising the Sabbath are twofold; there are benefits for both your emotional and spiritual health. The Sabbath allows us to take a break from the demands of life. The routines and pressures of work, and to set time aside to be in God’s presence. This results in a strengthening of our relationship with God and allows us to have intentional time set apart for family. Therefore, not only are our relationships with God strengthened, but we can also experience strengthened marriages, healthier relationships and closer friendships. We are created for community with God and with others. The Sabbath provides a framework for us to experience this time with others intentionally.

Rather than viewing the Sabbath as a rule that we must obey, it is much more an invitation into God’s presence and perfect rest. It is liberating.


So What? 

Personally, for me, Sunday is rarely a Sabbath. Julian and I often serve in Church on Sundays. It is for this reason that we set aside Saturday as a Sabbath day for our family. Find a routine that works for you and your family but set apart time for rest and for connecting with God. Decide what this means for you too, the Jewish religious leaders have a set of rules to follow on the Sabbath, a list of restrictions. This can make the Sabbath feel legalistic, and as Christians, we are called to live in freedom! However, that does not mean that you might not want to put some boundaries in place for your Sabbath. Perhaps you might want to put away the work phone or plan chores around them not being needed on the Sabbath.

In whichever way you decide to practice the Sabbath, keep rest and relationship with God at the centre.


How do you practise the Sabbath in your family? Is there anything you might implement today as a family tradition?



Photo Credits: Photo by Paolo Nicolello on Unsplash

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