For most of my life, I never thought much about Sabbath. It seemed like an “Old Law rule” that didn’t particularly apply to me. Last year, I watched this video from the Bible Project, and it got me thinking about Sabbath in a new way. Since then, I’ve encountered other great resources that have helped me better understand what Sabbath means.

More than legalism

I recently came across Walter Brueggemann’s book, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now, which explores the depths of meaning behind the Sabbath in the Hebrew Bible. Is Sabbath rest simply a gift from God that reminds humans of our need for rest? Or does it also encourage us to view production and provision through a different lens than the greed and overconsumption of our culture?

When God told the nation of Israel to take a day of rest in the wilderness, they had to trust Him to provide for them. While they gathered manna every other day, on the Sabbath they had to trust that their supply from the previous day would suffice. When they had a nation to call home, they were told to pause production on the Sabbath, and give rest to their slaves and animals. This concept was expanded in the yearly feasts, the years of release every 7 years, and the jubilee every 50 years.

God expects His people to let go of the need to constantly strive for more. While surrounded by nations and cultures that glorify power, greed, acquisition, and pride, God’s people are instead to adopt a posture of humility and thankfulness toward God, and mercy and justice toward neighbor. So Sabbath meant more than a religious task to be somber and reflective. It was a reorienting of mindset, and refocusing on the relationship with God and neighbor.

Jesus brings a renewed vision of Sabbath

Now I am listening to the Bible Project podcast’s Sabbath series that details how Jesus is our ultimate Sabbath. Jesus scandalized religious leaders by healing on the Sabbath and teaching the overarching importance of mercy. In Matthew 12 & Mark 2-3, he asserted himself as having authority over the Sabbath, and clarified these points about the day:

  • It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath, and to show mercy to those in need (Matthew 12:10-13)
  • Sabbath is made for the benefit of man; not man for the sake of following Sabbath (Mark 2:27)

Jesus also spoke of himself as a source of rest (Matthew 11:28-30).

“Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; “and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. “Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Matthew 6:26-30 NKJV

What does Sabbath look like today?

I’m still meditating on the question of what Sabbath rest could look like in my own life. It would be easy to turn Sabbath into another burden to place on ourselves to feel holy – as history shows. But it is important to recognize the theme of finding rest in God that threads its way through Scripture. As I learn more, I recognize some unhealthy tendencies in myself. I often fail to rest well, pressure myself to be “productive” when my body reaches its limit, and trust my own productivity over God’s generous provision.

I’ve found new depths of wisdom in Psalm 46:10 after comparing multiple versions. I grew up on the King James “be still,” but I find helpful nuance to see how other translators chose:

  • “cease striving” (NASB 1995)
  • “stop your striving” (NET)
  • “desist” (YLT)
  • “stop your fighting” (CSB)

There is value in stopping the struggle, in resting, and in recognizing where our limits are. When we recognize those limits and bring them to Jesus, we will find rest for our souls.