“Bear in mind that the LORD has given you the Sabbath…So the people rested on the seventh day.” —Exodus 16:29-30
As we study Scripture, the Sabbath day is not mentioned until God led His people in mighty acts against Pharaoh in Egypt, delivered them from the bondage of slavery and brought them into the wilderness. While the Israelites were in the desert, God rained bread from heaven down upon His people and instructed them to gather for six days and on the sixth day to gather twice as much because the seventh day was a day of Sabbath rest.
Eventually, God led His people to Mount Sinai and wrote the Sabbath commandment right into the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. The placement of this commandment tells us something; it is the fourth commandment, not only standing at the conclusion of all commands relating to our vertical relationship of worship with God, but also acting as an intersection to our horizontal relationships.
As we read Leviticus and Deuteronomy, God started to introduce whole periods of rest, three pilgrimage festivals that were celebrated in the place where His name dwells—at the Temple in Jerusalem. Three times a year, the Israelites were to suspend all work-related activity and rejoice and celebrate God’s provision in Jerusalem. If we add up how many Sabbaths there were along with the festivals, in an average calendar year, there were about 92 days where God’s people celebrated the Sabbath before God.
But there is more, God introduced a Sabbath year. In other words, on top of 92 days a year, every seventh year was to be a year of rest, where the Israelites were not to work all year. The land and the animals were to rest. The crops that grew in the field naturally because of the previous seasons were to remain and be given to the poor who were allowed to go into the fields and glean. This was also a year where all debts would be cancelled.
If the above is not enough, God introduced a once in a lifetime double seventh, where in the seventh seventh year, which is the 49th year, the Israelites were not only to observe this Sabbath year of rest, but also the next year—50th year—would be known as the Year of Jubilee. This was a two-year period of rest from work.
From all this, God wanted His people to trust that He would provide for them as they rested from endless productivity or accumulation of goods and practice radical generosity towards the needs of others. To a nation that had suffered for centuries in slavery, the Sabbath was to be a time of harmony between our worship of God and our conduct in community.
Lord Heavenly Father, what a wonderful reminder that the Sabbath is not only a day of rest for myself, but also to worship and celebrate You in community. Thank You, Lord.