"Call the Sabbath a delight" (Isa. 58:13-14)! That was God's command to Israel. Why this command? Precisely because they did not call the Sabbath a delight. They neglected and ignored the Fourth Commandment to remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy (Ex. 20:8). They considered it a burden and a chore. How ironic! Should they complain because God commanded them to rest from their labors and take delight in the Lord?
God's command to the people of Israel was a good and gracious one--to rest! How welcome these words must have been to them at Mount Sinai! They had been slaves in Egypt until less than two months ago! Under the heavy burden of the Egyptian slavery, they had no rest. But now, the Lord was giving them the rest they longed for. In fact, He made their rest mandatory! He ensured their rest by law! Oh, how good and gracious was their God!
But why should this command to rest be a chore and a burden to them now? Because they were no longer slaves. Now, whatever profit they made was their own to keep. So they wanted to make more profit for themselves--even if they worked without resting! (What were they working so hard for if they could not even rest for a day, by the way?)
But what did God want to communicate through the Sabbath rest? Look back to the time God rained manna everyday in the wilderness. God gave Israel a double-portion on the sixth day. Why? So that they would not have to gather the manna on the Sabbath day. The message? God is their all-sufficient Sustainer and Provider! Their sustenance does not come from the land, which they till, and the flock they pasture. Unless the Lord gives the sunshine and the rain at the proper time, the farmers that labor labor in vain, no matter how hard and long they work. How comforting and encouraging it is that the Lord of the whole creation pledges to take care of HIs people. The Sabbath rest was a sign of this divine pledge!