How Should We Observe the Sabbath?
God Intended for Us to Take a Day of Rest Each Week
The Old Testament talks a lot about the Sabbath. God wants his children to work six days and then rest on the seventh. In fact, he commands that they observe the Sabbath. But lest we think this is an Old Testament thing, God says it’s a lasting covenant for generations to come. That makes it sound like it applies to us today, that he expects us to observe the Sabbath too.
Let’s unpack what this entails.
The Sabbath Is Holy
First, God says that we are to observe the Sabbath because it is holy. He doesn’t state why it’s holy. He merely decrees that it is. He’s sovereign, so he can do that.
Because the day is holy, it’s sacred, belonging to him. We are to regard it with reverence, a day deserving our respect. Many of us have lost sight of this fact. It’s time to reclaim the Sabbath as holy.
The Sabbath Is a Day with No Work
At the time when God says to observe the Sabbath, the Hebrew people have just ended a time of enslavement, working continuously, toiling every day without a breather. Taking a break would emerge as a welcome respite, giving them a chance to recover from the week that was and recharge for the week that will be.
The Sabbath Is a Day of Rest
Though slavery still exist today, most of us aren’t under its evil grasp. Yet many in the modern world still act like we’re enslaved. We’re a slave to busyness. We need a break from our jumble of continuous activity. We need a Sabbath rest, a day set apart from the other six.
Those Who Don’t Observe the Sabbath Deserve Death
So that we know how serious God is about this, he says that everyone who doesn’t observe the Sabbath deserves to die. Yikes! We can debate if this is an immediate physical death or an eventual spiritual death or something else, but that discussion misses the point. God wants us to know he takes observing the Sabbath very seriously.
What the Sabbath Doesn’t Entail
Though I’m still looking for it, I haven’t found a verse where God commands his people to go to the temple (church) on the Sabbath (Sunday). Yes, he does prescribe certain religious observances where the people go to the temple, and some of those days fall on the Sabbath. But I haven’t found a verse where he tells them to go to the temple every Sabbath—only special ones.
How Can We Observe the Sabbath Today?
How can we apply God’s command to observe the Sabbath to our life today? This is up for each person to determine. We have three biblical principles we can use to guide us.
Holy: First, it’s a holy day, set apart from all others. What should we do to treat the day as holy and not like the other six days of the week?
No work: Second, we are to do no labor on the Sabbath. What constitutes work is up for us to determine. A task that gives us joy is not work and may be an opportunity to worship God on this holy day.
A Day of Rest: Third, the Sabbath is a day of rest. What constitutes rest? Taking a nap? Spending time with family and friends? Going to church? Any activity that recharges us may apply as rest.
We need to reclaim the Sabbath as a holy day of rest without work. The details of how we do this are up for us to decide.
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.