By Michael Juntunen
Sabbath is from the Hebrew word Shabbat, which means to cease, desist, or rest. Most people familiar with the term Sabbath tie it to Sunday, our day of rest, when we take a day off work to enjoy time with the family, attend church, or “veg out” watching a football game.
However, God looks at the Sabbath as more than simply a day off work. We find in Exodus 20:8-11 that God established the Sabbath as a special day that we are to keep holy or set apart. Therefore, we are instructed to make the Sabbath different from other days and assign it greater importance. This passage also says that God blessed the Sabbath, indicating that there are some benefits that come to those who keep this special day.
Since God placed so much emphasis on the Sabbath, I wanted to explore the subject to see if I could gain a better understanding of it. I discovered some concepts about the Sabbath that have helped it become more meaningful to me, which I want to share with you.
First, the Sabbath is a matter of lordship.
God tied the Sabbath to His work of creation (Exodus 20:11). He made all of creation in six days, and on the seventh day He rested. Divine rest was a common idea in ancient literature. According to ancient tradition, when the work on their temple was completed, a deity’s rest was obtained, and they would inhabit the temple to take their place as lord to rule over and maintain order in their world.
Isaiah 66:1 (NKJV) says, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. Where is the house that you will build Me? And where is the place of My rest?’” Could it be that the six days of creation represent God’s work in building His temple? The seventh day, then, would be the day in which He takes His place on His throne to rule and reign over His creation, establishing Himself as Lord over His Kingdom. Examples of this might be found in Exodus 40:34-38 and 1 Kings 8:10-11 when the work on the tabernacle and Temple of the Lord were completed. The cloud and glory of the Lord filled the buildings, and God came to “rest,” to take His place as Lord over the nation of Israel.
I believe, then, that God wants us to make the Sabbath distinct from any other day to provide an opportunity for us to pause from our regular activities to recognize Him as Creator. It also is a time when we can renew our commitment to Him and surrender our lives to His lordship, a time to allow our Creator God to fill our lives again with His glory and take up residence as our Sovereign Lord.
Second, the Sabbath is a matter of identity.
In Deuteronomy 5:12-15, we see that God connects the Sabbath to Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, their only responsibility was making bricks. Their value to Pharaoh was in their ability to make bricks. If they could no longer make bricks, they were no longer valuable. As a result of the exodus from Egypt, God delivered them from emotional bondage as well as physical bondage. By giving them a day of rest during which they no longer had to produce, God was saying that their value was not in what they did but in who they were – His people.
Today, we still tend to tie our value and identity to what we do. We work hard to gain approval from our parents, employers, or others whose opinions we value. We want to be productive so we can be seen as successful or at least competent. If we do not perform well or are not as productive as we think we should be, we see ourselves as failures and our value as a human being as diminished.
By giving us a Sabbath rest, God is providing us an opportunity to step back from our busyness and rest in Him. It is a time when we can allow God to speak to us and let us know that our identity is not based upon what we do, but rather on who we are. He values us even on days when we are not producing. God loves us, not because we do things for Him, but simply because we are His children.
Third, the Sabbath is a matter of freedom.
While the Israelites journeyed through the wilderness, God told Moses that He would provide them with manna from heaven every morning (Exodus 16:11-30). The people were to gather only enough manna each morning to feed themselves and their families for that day. They were to do this for six days, but on the seventh day they were not to gather manna for it was to be a Sabbath day. God promised them that on the sixth day they would be able to gather twice as much as on the other days, and they could keep it overnight without it becoming infested with maggots.
The same principle is found in Leviticus 25 when God introduced the Sabbath year and the Year of Jubilee. The Year of Jubilee, however, was declared not only a Sabbath year but also a year of liberty. During the fiftieth year, all lands or homes that were sold due to indebtedness were to be returned to the original owner, and anyone who was forced to sell themselves as a slave was to be released. This is a picture of God’s redemption and restoration of all things as He originally intended them to be.
Jesus tells us, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, NKJV). He is inviting all of us to stop laboring to please God through our “good works,” to stop working so hard to prove that we are valuable and to quit placing our security and survival on what we can do.
Throughout each of these passages, God stressed that obedience played an important part in receiving blessings, redemption, and freedom (Exodus 16:27-30; Leviticus 25:18-19). The introduction of the Sabbath seemed to be a test to see if God’s followers would trust Him enough to obey Him or if they would feel that their survival depended on what they could do. The writer of Hebrews illustrated this concept by attaching Sabbath rest to Israel’s faith and obedience. Believers are warned not to follow Israel’s example of rebellion against God’s Word. The author stated that because of their disobedience and lack of faith, Israel was not able to enter God’s rest (Hebrews 3:18-19; 4:2).
It is easy for us to be critical of Israel for their lack of faith. But if we are honest with ourselves, are we not guilty of the same thing? Won’t we find that instead of trusting God, we are relying on our own efforts for our provision, security, and survival? When we are confronted with our own financial giants, battling health issues, or facing any number of life’s problems, do we worry about how we are going to work things out? Are we afraid that we may not survive, or do we submit our problems to the Lord and rest in Him, trusting that He will lead us to the right solution?
Jesus tells us, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, NKJV). He is inviting all of us to stop laboring to please God through our “good works,” to stop working so hard to prove that we are valuable and to quit placing our security and survival on what we can do. Instead, He is asking us to put our faith in Him and follow His yoke (teachings). If we can learn to do that, we can rest – be free from worry and fear.
It is important to designate a day specifically for the Sabbath rest, but Sabbath is not limited to one day. For me, the Sabbath is a mindset that permeates every part of my life. The Sabbath means that I daily recognize God as my Creator and Lord, surrender to His lordship, and invite Him to establish His throne in my life. It also means that I don’t have to try to earn His love and favor by doing things for Him. I can rest in the knowledge that He values me because I am His child and my identity is wrapped in my relationship with Him, not in how much I produce or how successful I am.
As a result, Sabbath also means that I can obey God and follow His path for my life fully trusting that He will protect me and provide for all my needs. My security, success, or survival depends on Him and not on me. Therefore, I am free from worry, fear of failure, or the feeling that I must always perform well to prove my value. I can now rest in the assurance that I am His son, and He is well pleased with me. Sabbath means living in FREEDOM!
About the Author
Mike and Nancy Juntunen pastored churches in the Central and Mountain Plains regions of Open Bible for over thirty years before going to the mission field. They were the directors of INSTE in Hungary for ten years and also assisted in the Open Bible Church in Gherla, Romania, for two years before coming back to the U.S. The Juntunens, currently serving as pastors of Church of the Open Bible in Hardin, Montana, have three grown sons and seven grandchildren.