15 Apr 2008

Take a Break: Sabbath Rythms of Grace

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Exegesis, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Kingdom, Ministry, Preaching, Spiritual Disciplines, Worship

Introductory Thoughts

Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor 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, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey, or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5.12-15)

The Sabbath is the center of the Ten Words. Actually God and God’s redeeming hesed is the “center” and foundation of the Ten Words. But Sabbath forms a bridge from the first half to the second half of the our responsibilities to God. It connects concern for God with our concern for our neighbor. In other words it deals with our relationship with our Redeemer and our responsibility to our neighbor. Thus it forms the gracious center of the Decalogue.

The Sabbath Word is the only word that is significantly different here in the Deuteronomy passage than in Exodus 20. Those differences should not be slighted or passed over in silence but taken in light of the purpose of these respective books.

From a casual reading of the Ten Words it becomes apparent that God spends more time (and space) on the Sabbath than any of the other words. In this section God gives one explanation as to WHY Israel is to keep this wondrous word. At its root, the Sabbath is the most humanitarian and gracious of all God’s commandments. It is vitally important to see the Hebrew perspective on the Sabbath to understand Jesus’s attitude toward it. The Sabbath is the ground of the Second Commandment, the outline of Luke’s presentation of Jesus’ ministry and many other important themes in Scripture.Sabbath should bring images of grace and love in our mind.

In Exodus the Sabbath is based on creation. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. In Deuteronomy, however, there is no reference to creation at all, instead the Sabbath is rooted and grounded in mighty redemptive act of Yahweh in rescuing Israel from slavery . . . this is the Hebrew Bible Gospel. According to Deuteronomy we accomplish two things by honoring the Sabbath:

1) we “remember” the work of God on our behalf;
2) we provide rest for the slaves, aliens and even animals in our care.

What this Word Expects from Us

This Word wants those in the believing community to:

1) on a regular basis set aside our normal routine and work activities to gain respite and refreshment. This gives us freedom to relax from the daily grind;

2) that time we take out on a routine basis is set aside in God’s honor, to worship and to simply enjoy what God has done. This is an important aspect of “rest” in Deuteronomy;

3) on that day we are to recall the redeeming work of God. In short we are to remember;

4) We show grace to others in gratitude for the rest and salvation to Yahweh has granted to the believing community. Toil is not our lot in life . . . the Sabbath reminds us of that.

We in Churches of Christ have had drilled into our heads that Sunday is the Lord’s Day, not Saturday. This is true, but we have allowed a shallow understanding of what the Sabbath was all about to rob us of the grace in this word from God. I have said before, and I will say it again, it is methodologically wrong to read Paul’s debates with legalists and Jesus’s debates with Pharisees back into the Hebrew Bible. Pharisees did not exist in Moses’s day and there were no legalists in his day either . . . this is very important to remember.

The Sabbath is a gift from God to man. Jesus said that God made the Sabbath for man. The Lord’s blessing of a Sabbath is a provision to rise above mere existence. It was meant to bless us . . . not condemn us. Perversion turned it into something it was never intended to be.

As a gift of grace the primary character of the Sabbath is rest. Rest from work and toil. Rest does not mean “sleep.” But as we have seen it is refreshment, enjoyment, living a day as if the world does not depend upon me. It places in the cycle of life a provision for freedom from tyranny and the oppression of unrelenting labors. It places a check on our own driveness and increased pressure of unceasing demand to get ahead.

The Sabbath looks backwards to the grace of God in the Exodus . . . the single greatest miracle in history until the Incarnation of the Word. In breaking from our slavery to work (and dependence upon self), we will be reminded of God’s breaking us free . . . without our working contribution and the greater bondage to sin.

The Sabbath looks forward to our promised Rest with God. This theme is vital for understanding our promise of heaven. The Preacher of Hebrews states, that we Christians still honor the Sabbath, our goal is the real Sabbath . . . resting in God’s Presence (Hebrews 4).

The Year of Jubilee is the Sabbath on steroids. And this provides the food for thinking about heavenly rest in Hebrews 4. There is an old rabbinic legend that says,

At on time when God was giving the Torah to Israel, He said to them:
‘My Children! If you accept the Torah and observe my mitvot [i.e. commands] I will give you for all eternity a thing most precious that I have in my possession.

And what,’ asked Israel, ‘ is that precious thing which Thou wilt give us if we obey Thy Torah?

The world to come!

Show us in this world an example of the world to come,’ asked Israel.

The Sabbath,said the LORD, ‘is the example of the world to come.’”

(Quoted in Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath, p. 73).

Is this not what Hebrews 4 also says?

Concluding Thoughts

Regularly setting apart time for the Lord checks the human inclination to justify oneself by job or work or human effort. The Sabbath is a concrete symbol of God’s saving grace that redeems human life rather than humans saving themselves by work and effort. The Sabbath is a regular time to STOP striving, to STOP trying to keep up with the Jones’, to STOP trying to gain approval by our success. The Sabbath is a chance to GIVE love, time and rest . . . in the name of him who grants us gracious rest.

The Sabbath is the great equalizer, for that day is a foretaste of the Kingdom when all – great or small – are reckoned to be exactly the same and equal. There are no masters and slaves on that day . . . only brothers and sisters!

There are many texts in the Hebrew Bible related to the Sabbath, find them and relish the images God puts in your mind’s eye. The Sabbath is that picture of the way a community redeemed by the blood will live both in relation to God and to each other.

Seeking Shalom,
Bobby Valentine

12 Responses to “Take a Break: Sabbath Rythms of Grace”

  1. Alan Says:

    Fine posting. I must say that we are a bit cooler up here in Oregon. It was only in the 50s and it hailed.

  2. WendyC Says:

    Bobby, great thoughts here. I pity preachers not getting a Sabbath on Sunday. I do hope most take another day in the week to spend some “chill” time with God.

  3. JeremyNSunny Says:

    I’m happy to see that these are just the ‘Introductory Thoughts’; I need to hear more, since *resting* isn’t my forte. Thanks for bringing it to light and in clear focus.

  4. Anonymous Says:


    It has been a long time since I played much in the blog-o-sphere. I am currently visiting my Dad in Seattle, WA and this is affording me a lot of extra time with a computer (so this may be a brief appearance by me….).

    As is usual, I find your theological explorations here very stimulating. Thank you for these offerings.

    Allow me to explore a slightly new angle here which takes its fuel largely from what you have offered (which is illuminating for me this morning), as well as a bit from my digestion of offerings from N.T. Wright’s empire analysis. (I am aware that his empire analysis has recently come under fire. While I have not exhaustively searched out these recent criticisms, I personally believe his analysis weathers, perhaps with some nuances, these storms quite well.) My point being, that to a freed people of Deuteronomy, the Sabbath world-order profoundly changes the pace of “brick making.” The pharaohs of our world-ordering empires tend to get a bit anxious about their world orders on a number of levels. On the one hand, the hostile gods of “nature” must be appeased continually – unlike the benevolent creator god of Israel. On the other hand the slaves, those people whom the pharaohs and so forth have manipulated to the bottom status’s of priviledge and on whose backs their world orders are implimented seemingly need to be continually occupied with the said implimentations, lest they begin to imagine the world differently … ie. revolt!

    Both of these things, and perhaps a rainbow of issues in between as well as without, are deeply subverted by YHWH’s sabbath rest. His world order is kind and gentle to the slaves and ex-slaves as well as those of great priviledge. It promotes a way of life that bears His image and His order for His creation.

    Hope that jives. Certainly you are taking me to new places with sabbath today. Thanks….

    Many blessings….
    The blogger formerly known as Messianic Gentile

  5. preacherman Says:

    Bobby wonder post brother.
    I hope you have a blessed week!
    In Him,
    Kinney Mabry
    Preacherman! 🙂

  6. Matthew Says:

    Great work on the sabbath. It is a practice that is ever in need in this present world.

  7. Danny Says:

    Great teaching Bobby. We all would do well to listen and heed.

    I once knew some folks who did indeed view Sunday as the Sabbath and restricted what they did on that day to basically worship, eating and resting. They would not even wash clothes!

  8. john alan turner Says:

    I suppose some of this comes down to whether or not I believe God can take six days’ worth of work and stretch it into seven days’ worth of provision.

  9. Gardner Hall Says:

    Edifying thoughts, but sometimes difficult to put into practice in our hectic world.

  10. jimjonesdrinkscoffee Says:

    Thank you for this post. I needed it!

  11. James Says:

    Wow! Great article. Thank you!

  12. JT Says:

    I continue to work my way through your blog as time permits. I’m paying attention to your current blogs and also “catching up” from 16 years ago when you began! So, here I am in the spring of 2008 and what do I find? A few thoughts of yours on Sabbath! I have really been appreciating your approach to scripture, that is, you teach that one cannot understand the back of the Book unless he understands the front of the Book.

    Yahweh ceased working (creating) and rested on the seventh day and He blessed it and made it Holy. The seventh day, not any other day. Not Sunday, not the first day of the week and not the disabused “Lord’s Day”. At that time there were no Israelites, no Jews and no “rules” regarding the Sabbath.

    Later on, when the Law appeared in written form (although it surely already existed) the people of Israel failed to faithfully observe the sabbath, as well as many of the other teachings commanded by Yahweh. At one point, much, much later in history, the leaders, who sincerely wanted the people to no longer disobey God’s commands, created so many rules about observing the sabbath, intended as a helpful hedge of safety, that observing the sabbath became a “burden”. It didn’t take much to violate one of the man-made rules.

    Even after Yeshua resurrected, scripture reveals Believers faithfully observing the sabbath. Not “Jews who converted” – but faithful descendants of the ancient Hebrews who had come to believe their long awaited Messiah had come! MESSIAH-BELIEVING JEWS!

    Historical writings also reveal many “Christians”, even centuries after the Christ had risen, were keeping the sabbath. With time and many other factors, those who kept sabbath were persecuted, losing property, losing citizenship, losing liberty, even unto death.

    Mainstream Christianity for centuries taught, and still teaches that the sabbath does not need to be observed, but also in some cases that one sins if one keeps sabbath!

    God’s word teaches that His commands are “not too difficult”; they are “not burdensome”; “they are very near you, in your mouth, in your heart so that you may obey them.”

    How difficult is it, really, to set aside the seventh day (keeping in mind at minimum, all the blessings in Sabbath as Bobby has presented) and simply be still – cease from working and earning? Today’s Believers often talk about their “freedom in Christ”. Our freedom today is absolutely amazing, however, I say we miss incredible blessings by failing to 1) understand Sabbath blessings in line with Bobby’s teaching here, and 2) and we miss so much that the Sabbath teaches about the Father and the Son!

    Just a few thoughts

    Thank you again Bobby for your thoughts.

Leave a Reply