You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day must be a Sabbath day of complete rest, a holy day dedicated to the LORD. Anyone who works on the Sabbath must be put to death. (Exodus 31:15 NLT)
Sounds kind of harsh, eh? It's the exact opposite of what we would expect from someone in authority. When was the last time your boss told you to take a vacation day - or die?!?
As I am studying the Old Testament I am realizing how often we let our Western ideology steal from us great truths in the bible. We dismiss things we don't understand and we accept misconceptions about God because of it.
So, why is resting on the Sabbath such a big deal? In Exodus 31 God refers to the Sabbath law as 'a sign of the covenant' between him and the Israelites. Which covenant? The original one with Abraham.
'I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.' Genesis 12:1-3
So how is observing the Sabbath a sign of God's promise to Abraham? What does rest have to do with it? I propose it's less about bumming around on Sunday and more about acknowledging who is really in charge.
Genesis 1 is all about creating order from chaos. On Day 1, God created day and night. On Day 4, he created the sun and moon and stars to fill the day and night. On Day 2, God created the sky and sea and on Day 5, he filled them with birds and fish. On Day 3, he created the earth and the vegetation to fill it. On Day 6, he filled the earth with animals, first and then humans.
Do you see what he was doing? He created a space and then created the thing that would rule over it. The stars and moon would control the sky and seasons. The fish and birds controlled the sky and sea. Animals filled the earth to dominate over it, but human dominated over it all. We had a special role to fulfill in order to maintain the order God had created.
We think of the creation of humans as the grand finally. But God wasn't done. Why? Because he knew that chaos likes to creep back in.
If the Israelites were really going to be a blessing to all families, there was a secret they needed to know about - the importance of rest.
Wherever you sit on the creation debate, most scholars believe Genesis was written sometime after the Exodus. So, the audience would have been very familiar with slavery. They were a people that knew what it meant to work and work and work - sun up to sun down day in and day out.
We do the same thing today. There just aren't enough hours in the day to accomplish everything we need to get done. What God knew long ago is that scurrying around more only leaves us tired and vulnerable. So he created the Sabbath - a regular time for us to stop, take a deep breath and remember that HE is the creator of order. HE is the only one capable of holding all of creation together. Only HE can give us real rest in the midst of our craziness.
Not taking time to reconnect with God each week is a lot like skipping supper - you'll live and the world may compliment your weight loss, but you'll go to bed every night hungry.
So if you skip the Sabbath, will we die? Probably not in a bolt of lightning from heaven, but definitely in a slow, painful exhaustion as we try to manage our own life being our own god.