Last night at Bible study, someone (not me) made a profound observation on Exodus 20.8-11:
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work — you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
What was the observation?
God tells us to keep the sabbath because that’s what he did.
I’ve often heard it said that we should down tools one day a week because we’re not God and taking time off is a concrete way of saying, ‘The world will keep turning without my input — at least for 24 hours’.
This sort of argument tends to get wheeled out when touting the wisdom of sabbath-keeping for Christians now. I know I’ve done it.
But the logic of the commandment runs in the opposite direction.
We’re to rest one day a week because we’re like God.
What’s more, I think it sheds light on the reason Jesus gives in defence of his notorious sabbath behaviour: ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath’ (Mark 2.27).
Likewise with the whole ‘My Father is still working, and I also am working’ discourse in John 5 — which includes a cryptic reference to Jesus being the Son of Man.
How are these illuminated by the logic of the sabbath command?
Because Jesus doesn’t heal and do his Father’s work on the sabbath in a divine breach of the commandment but in a human fulfilment of it!
Jesus shows us what the sabbath was always for: entering into and sharing the fullness and joy of God in creation.