Call the Sabbath a Blessing-2 (3/5)

  • Written by Pastor James
  • Published: 22 October 2012

There is a contrast made in our passage. This contrast is not between pleasure and pain; rather, the contrast is between one kind of pleasure ("your pleasure") and another kind of pleasure ("delight in the Lord"). Why is God calling His people to turn away from their pleasure? Is God saying that there is something wrong with all of our pleasures? Or is God simply speaking about our sinful pleasures?

When we read the phrase, "doing your pleasure on my holy day," we can see its similarity with the wording of the Fourth Commandment: "Six days you shall labor, and do all your work" (Ex. 20:9). Of particular interest to us is the parallel between "your pleasure" and "your work." You see, the kind of work that the Sabbath command forbade was the work they did for their livelihood. Was it sinful? No, it was the work that God Himself had given them to do, in the promised land! Not to engage in their work with diligence during the other days would be condemned as idleness! And yet the Sabbath command forbade the people of Israel from doing that kind of good and honest work!

So then, "your pleasure" in v. 13 does not just refer to sinful pleasures. It includes the innocent, good pleasures that God Himself gave us to enjoy during the other days! Is God the greatest Killjoy? No! Consider the creation week. The first six days were "good" days. Each of them was punctuated with the divine approval, "God saw that it was good." But what happened on the seventh day? The Lord set it apart ("God… made it holy") and blessed it above the other days (Gen. 2:3)! By way of analogy, we can see that, if God calls us to turn away from our pleasures that are legitimate and good, it can only be that He desires to grant us pleasures that are greater and better on the Sabbath day.

Better in what sense? One way to distinguish the Sabbath rest--delighting in the Lord--from our pleasure can be put in this way: the Sabbath rest is characterized by our delight in the Lord God Himself; our pleasure on the other days is characterized by our delight in the gifts of God. (The two are not mutually exclusive, of course. We are to delight in God all the time. But the Sabbath day emphasizes this more clearly.) And after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, on the Lord's day, our delight in God takes on the heavenly-minded character all the more.

Call the Sabbath a Blessing-2 (2/5)

  • Written by Pastor James
  • Published: 22 October 2012

Indeed, we could not call the Sabbath a delight unless God intended it to be so. But that is exactly what the Lord intended from the very beginning--God blessed the Sabbath day (Gen. 2:3). Why? For whom was it? Was it for Himself? Yes, God does, and must do, all things for His own glory. For He is the ultimate Good. For Him to bless the seventh day was to show forth His glory as the God of creation. But it was preeminently for man's sake that God blessed the seventh day and made it holy. In the Sabbath commandment, God's blessing is shown in the rest that man was to enjoy on the seventh day.

What is the rest we are looking for? Is rest simply ceasing from work? That is not exactly how the Bible wants us to understand rest. As we know, the Sabbath rest is grounded in God's own rest after his work of creation (Gen. 2:2-3). But what does it mean that God rested on the seventh day? The Jewish theologians wrestled with this question. Why? Because they understood God to be more than just the Creator of the heavens and the earth. They understood God to be also the Sustainer of all that He created (Ps.136:23-25), holding the world together (Col. 1:17), taking care of all His creatures (Matt. 10:29-30; Matt. 6:26, 28-29). So then, God's rest was not absolute--in the sense that He did not do anything except sitting on His heavenly throne, trying to catch His breath. God's rest on the Sabbath day was only from a particular type of work--the work of creation. Even on the Sabbath day, He was, and He had to be, engaged in another type of work--the work of providence.

This divine pattern is important for us to remember as we think about our observance and enjoyment of the Sabbath, isn't it? For there is a tendency among us to absolutize the dictionary definition of rest in our observance of the Christian Sabbath. But the Sabbath rest is not about not doing anything at all. We are called to worship God first and foremost. The works of necessity and mercy were allowed on the Sabbath as well as, of course, unforeseen emergencies. Many think that, once we are done with the worship service on Sunday, we can do whatever we want to as long as it makes us feel restful. But the Fourth Commandment says that not doing "all your work" is for the purpose of "keeping it holy" (Ex. 20:9).

Call the Sabbath a Blessing-2 (1/5)

  • Written by Pastor James
  • Published: 22 October 2012

"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!

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