In Exodus 20:8-10 God recognized the need that all living things have for rest by requiring that the Israelites
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.
Therefore, in a time in which most people had to work from sunup to sundown just to earn enough to feed their families, God required them to do absolutely no work at all from Friday evening to Saturday evening.
Many in our society have, at least two days off per week as well as holidays spread throughout the calendar year. In addition to that, paid vacation days are provided with most jobs. This is not simply the result of religious considerations (Saturday and Sunday), but also evidence that few in our country are in danger of starving by not working every day.
In spite of all this time off, however, in America we seem to be busier than ever before. Many jobs send work home so that even days off are stressful. Some voluntarily fill their time off with recreation that requires so much preparation and activity that it does not provide any opportunity to “recreate” either mentally or physically. Especially those with children often have so many extracurricular activities planned that they feel perpetually overbooked. Many work so hard around their houses or yards or even in helping others that their time off does not provide rest but simply a different work environment. Even technology seems to work against us by providing machines or appliances that are intended to make our work easier but instead create the capacity for more work to be done.
Please do not misunderstand me. I am not advocating laziness. The same God that prescribed the Sabbath for the Jews also inspired the Preacher to say “whatever your hand finds to do, verily, do it with all your might”(Eccl. 9:10). The problem is that our culture has latched onto the work ethic of Judaism and Christianity and ignored the benefits of the Sabbath mentality taught by the same God. None of the things mentioned above are, in themselves, wrong. Some are even very good. The cumulative effect on our society in general and Christians in particular, however, can be devastating. Chronic stress, emotional problems, and physical breakdown, are often the results of an overbooked society. Even worse for Christians is the lack of time to meditate on spiritual things, read our Bibles, pray, or teach our children about the awesome God we serve. The result is that the Devil is pleased.
Over the next four issues I intend to write several articles on what Christians can learn from the Bible’s teaching on the Sabbath and the margins it provided for God’s people long ago. These articles will also attempt to suggest things that can provide the margins we need to live truly spiritual lives. I cannot and will not try to re-institute the Sabbath. Neither will I try, as many religious people throughout the ages have attempted, to make Sunday the “Christian Sabbath” for there is no biblical foundation for that doctrine. The Old Testament does, however, dictate in physical and legal terms what the New Testament foreshadows in deeper, spiritual realities. God demanded margins in the lives of the Jews by his teaching on the Sabbath. Let us explore together ways we can, as God’s spiritual people, apply them in ours.