Sabbath Rest #8 - Keeping it Holy

The obvious feature of Sabbath-keeping is rest, stopping working, and taking time to relax from the weekly routine.

However, another one is often overlooked; to keep it Holy, which is part of the Ten Commandments:

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:” – Exodus 20:8-10

It is also declared a 'holy' thing in Ezekiel when referring to the priest's behaviour:

“Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them.” – Ezekiel 22:26

In Nehemiah, when he is angry at how the Israelites have relaxed on observing the Sabbath, and they continue with things like work; there’s a reference to ‘sanctify’ the Sabbath:

“In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals. There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day? Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath. And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day. So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice. Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no more on the sabbath. And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day. Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy.” - Nehemiah13:15-22

In Isaiah, there is a reference to not doing our ways but rather God’s holy ways, which then becomes our delight:

“If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” – Isaiah 58:13-14

Regarding ‘keeping’ this day Holy, there is the principle that it is already something that is Holy and therefore needs to be kept that way, rather than trying to make it like that again after, say, a week’s work.

This goes back to God blessing this seventh day at the beginning of creation:

“For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” – Exodus 20:12

“And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” – Genesis 2:3

‘Holy’ can be defined as being separated for God and His Worship, and reflecting His Holy and righteous character.

That is basically the goal of Salvation; God preparing a people throughout history to end in a pure and delightful bride in His presence.

The Two Purposes

Therefore, in a reactive sense, the Sabbath is meant to take us away from work and daily life responsibilities to rest and be refreshed.

However, it shouldn’t stop there, with early criticisms of the Sabbath rest being that it caused idleness rather than the pursuit of Godly things.

As mentioned in an earlier section, by challenging the human-made Sabbath rules in His time, Jesus Himself demonstrated how the true Sabbath rest should do good to others and God, not just be a reactive and potentially lethargic rest.

Therefore, in a proactive sense, we should use this time, which has been blessed by God, to seek Him and be Holy, as He is Holy.

Therefore, the Sabbath is also an in-depth Holy weekly time beyond our usual commune with God 24/7 throughout the rest of the week.

A Restaurant Example

One analogy I can think of to appreciate this special spiritual aspect to the Sabbath is to imagine your favourite restaurant or eat-out place.

A close friend or relative who you love being with has committed to being there themselves one day a week and invites us to hang out with them at this restaurant at that time.

They’re still available to speak and see them by phone or over the internet at any time and place during the whole week. However, on this particular day, they are resting at the end of a week and wanting us to be there in person to enjoy their company.

Therefore, the actual restaurant and location are not important; it’s the presence of the person there that is special.

Personal Pursuit

Looking into the detail of how keeping the Sabbath Holy should look, it’s primarily about each person’s own relationship and commune with God.

Without the distractions and concentrations of daily life, we can seek God through reading, studying, and meditating on His Word - the Bible. This is with worshipful prayers and a thankful heart.

In Isaiah, the Israelites are reminded about letting this slip and the daily toils of life taking the focus of the Sabbath day:

“If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” - Isaiah 58:13-14

God wants us to put His purposes and ways first, rather than our own.

However, He then promises to fulfil and bless us with our heart’s desires once they are aligned with His ways:

“Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” – Psalm 37:4

God has also blessed this seventh day of course. Therefore, I believe there is a closeness and peace with God that can exist here beyond any other day, time, or method; because we trust and obey Him, and therefore benefit from what He has blessed.

“And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” – Genesis 2:3

On a practical note, I believe this is something that you develop further as you pursue God each Sabbath.

In my early days of God revealing to me not only the importance but the joy of the Sabbath, I sometimes still ended up buying things, or working a little, or relaxing with hobbies like cycling and surfing.

However, I now feel uncomfortable with doing these on a weekly Sabbath.

In short, Christ invites us to give Him all our burdens and rest in Him:

“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” - Mark 11:28-30

The Seventh-day Sabbath rest is a practical demonstration of this and helps keeps us humble and human, knowing that our efforts can only go so far.

No Work or Trade

One specific way God describes how we keep the Sabbath Holy is to not buy or sell on this day, often seen as a harsh restriction.

Although this is part of the original fourth commandment, such trading is clarified elsewhere in Scripture as not suitable for the Sabbath:

“And if the people of the land bring ware or any victuals on the sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy it of them on the sabbath, or on the holy day: and that we would leave the seventh year, and the exaction of every debt.” – Nehemiah 10:31

“Saying, When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit?” – Amos 8:5

The principle is trust. By not doing any form of labour or transaction and trade with others, we acknowledge God as our true source of everything.

When God showed this to the Israelites, he explained how it was okay to make an extra effort on the previous sixth day to prepare food etc., as required for this Sabbath day.

“And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.” -Exodus 16:5

The Whole Household

God also prescribed this blessing in the Old Testament for the whole household, including servants and immediate family members.

“But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:” - Exodus 20:10

In modern terms, this arguably includes any extended family members and tradespeople or getting more practical; any say takeaway delivery drivers. The emphasis is that your sphere of influence is also included in the rest that God wants us to have.

Two Consequences of Rest

There are arguably two downsides or side effects to this Sabbath rest that I’ve come to appreciate (from a human perspective, that is).

First, in addition to resting on one day of the week, God commanded work on the other six. So, we need to work hard as well as rest well.

Second, I have found it harder to come out of resting mode at the end of the Sabbath time on a Saturday afternoon or evening.

I have always liked to keep busy with things; therefore, part of me at the beginning of each Sabbath day does not want to rest, as I want to carry on with the ‘things' I’m doing see ‘results’.

But by the end of the Sabbath day on a Saturday evening, I then struggle to get back into the momentum of things until later on Sunday, as I have then reached that sweat-spot of rest that I believe we as Christians should live by.

Fellowship & Family

Having Godly fellowship with other believers and family is an important part of experiencing the full and holy rest that God intended us to have on the Sabbath day.

Although the priority in the Old Testament was rest within households, there is a reference to a ‘holy convocation’ and ‘sacred assembly’ being part of this:

“Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings.” - Leviticus 23:3

Therefore, Sabbath is not actually a church meeting or gathering of believers on a Saturday. Instead, it is when each person rests and worships God within their own hearts.

However, gathering with others is then an expression of this, as the emphasis was in the New Testament:

“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” – Hebrews 10:25

From my personal experience as per the start of the study, the first year or two of my own Sabbath experience was without a regular Saturday church attendance.

However, God has now led me on to a group of believers that I can fellowship with on the Sabbath day, which I believe the Lord will do in some form or other as people rest and seek Him on this day.

Doing Good

Finally, the Sabbath's purpose is to enjoy God and do good to others as we relate to them on this day rather than live in complete isolation.

Jesus often challenged the over-religious attitude of people at the time towards the Sabbath by allowing his disciples to do good on this day and carry out healings:

“And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days. Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other.” - Matthew 12:11-13

“And it came to pass, that he went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. And the Pharisees said unto him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? And he said unto them, Have ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungred, he, and they that were with him? How he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which is not lawful to eat but for the priests, and gave also to them which were with him? And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.” - Mark 2:23-28

Therefore, whilst there is a time and place on the weekly Sabbath for persona rest and worship of God, it's also important to love, serve, and do good to others on this day. 

Christ's two greatest commandments as mentioned in the previous section was to love God and then others with all our heart, soul, and mind.

On the Sabbath Camper display, I've identified five key features of the Holy aspects to the Sabbath as brought out in the Old Testament. 

These are through markers along the bottom of the Saturday road - being blessed ar creation, doing no work and having fellowship as part of holiness in the middle, and doing good as emphasised by Christ at the end.

holy factors sabbath rest sharedfish

holy tripple sabbath rest sharedfish

blessed holy sabbath rest sharedfish

doing good holy sabbath rest sharedfish