In Part 1, we looked at how the idea of rest isn’t just part of God’s plan for humanity. It is in His plan for the whole of creation.
If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, you can check it out here.
For creation, rest came around once every seven years. Fortunately, God realised that if humans were expected to work for six years and no break there would be a lot of breakdowns. So rather than one year in seven being set aside for rest, Leviticus 23 says that the seventh day is to be a “Sabbath of solemn rest”. So, according to the Gregorian calendar we use today, God commands that we take 52 days of rest a year (maybe 53 depending on the year)! That is a lot of resting to be done.
But before we start celebrating the fact that God advises us to nap for 52 days a year (because that’s what rest means, right?), let’s check out the rest of Leviticus 23 v3.
“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the LORD in all your dwelling places.”
We’ve already established that it is one day in seven that we are to rest. The very fact that it is called “solemn rest” shows that this is to be taken seriously. However, “solemn” does not have the same grave and serious connotations in the Bible as it does in everyday language. Instead, it is linked to the word “ceremonious”. A special event or occasion. So this day of rest is not just a day like any other apart from not doing any work. It is meant to be special! Maybe not quite the party of a jubilee year but still a chance to move away from work and focus on something else.
So a Sabbath is a special day of rest. When you think about an average Sunday, you could argue we’re already doing this. We take the day off work, often have a lie-in, go to church where we take park in ceremonial activities, and then we go home where we continue to not do our normal work. We treat the day with respect by attending church and because it’s a weekend we count it as a day of rest because we’re out of the office. But is that really all there is to Sabbath?
For a Purpose
There is one phrase in Leviticus 23 v3 that upsets our whole idea of what a Sabbath should look like. God declares Sabbath to be “a holy convocation” but what exactly do these words mean?
Holy is one of the most common and popular words in Christian jargon. We use it to describe Christians as a people and parts of a service like communion. It makes us sound special and extra-religious. This isn’t too far from the truth. Holy means to be “set apart”. If something is holy, then it is special and to be kept for God. When something is marked as holy, God is putting His stamp on it.
And this convocation that God has put his stamp on? The Hebrew word for this, Miqra, has two different meanings. It is both an assembly or public meeting and a reading. This is what it should look like when we meet on a Sabbath (often a Sunday for Christians) to rest. We meet together for a reading, to learn as a group.
Okay, so we work six days a week and then on the seventh we… meet together to study the Bible? That doesn’t sound very restful. Or is it all a matter of perspective and purpose. Let’s look at your headspace when you are at church. Are you focusing on the hundred and one things you need to do before you go back to work the next day? Or are you focused on meeting with God, other Christians and reading the Bible together? Because your purpose for your Sabbath will define your perspective of the day.
“In Your Dwelling Places”
The end of verse 3 states “It is a Sabbath to the Lord in all your dwelling places.” So the Sabbath goes beyond meeting together to read the Bible. It is more than a holy convocation. It goes out of church into our homes.
This is why your focus matters. If you are worrying about the jobs and responsibilities waiting for you after church, you probably won’t be engaging with the service. But if we shift to a focus centred on meeting with other Christians and reading the Bible together, we free ourselves to take part fully in the reading, teaching, and worship. This change in focus isn’t easy and takes practice. It means saying no to some of the things that we might think are essential to the life we want. It can also mean saying yes to some things that we’ve deprived ourselves of but that will help us to change our focus. (Check out the hints and tips sheet I included of my favourite ways to help change that focus.)
So what’s the conclusion then? Rest is so important but it is not just a matter of napping. It is about shifting our focus away from our regular work and to coming together as a church. This isn’t a call back to living under the law, afraid to wash a dish on a Sunday. Instead, it is about taking the opportunity to put down our daily work to meet and read together. There is no ban on doing the ironing or washing up. Just an encouragement to reflect on what your perspective of Sabbath’s purpose is.