In ancient Judaism, Sabbath was a day anticipated, and then reflected on. Sabbath followers would spend 3 days preparing, 1 day observing and remembering, and 3 days looking back in gratitude for a day in which they were allowed to rest. At this time in history, people worked 7 days a week so some cultures viewed them as lazy for taking a day off. Other cultures, such as the Romans, similarly adopted a day off.
Thus, while the Jewish & Roman calendars aligned, Sabbath has been practiced in many ways by different people groups throughout time. The early Christians emphasized a day of gathering in celebration, as opposed to the Jewish Shabbat rest, and the day of the week shifted from Saturday to Sunday after the time of Christ (hint: think Resurrection Day).
As far back as creation in the Old Testament, we see the idea of Sabbath mentioned. With the giving of the 10 Commandments, there were 3 instructions about relating to God, 1 about the Sabbath and 6 about relating to others. After the Exodus, the more detailed law was given to the Israelites to show them how to live as free people and included instructions about how to Sabbath. In the New Testament, Jesus seems to model a new approach to the law, again Sabbath is still included.
It seems the original purpose of Sabbath was for the people to remember two things. First, that God worked for 6 days and then rested for 1, and so by living as He did we remember Him (and simultaneously remember we are not Him!). Second, the people who were slaves and never allowed a day off were now free. The symbols of the Sabbath meal included reminders of God’s provision and opportunity to thank Him.
In what other ways did people observe the Sabbath? Is there any relevance to today? Does it matter which day it is, what we do, or don’t do? I would agree with Kent that the Sabbath is more about freedom than rules, that it is an opportunity to receive the gift of rest and to remember that we are loved, but I also find it interesting to research. In studying and practicing the Sabbath today, we connect to an ancient past, remembering that the story is bigger and older than we are and that rest, freedom and love are available for all.
If you are curious to learn more, read chapter 3 of Keri Wyatt Kent’s book Rest, available here. Join us next week for chapter 4!