Have we lost the meaning of Shabbat? God sanctified the seventh day and made it holy, and continues to insist that we should keep the Shabbat many times throughout Scripture. But why is it so special? And what should it mean to us who are living in the New Covenant? Have we missed something?
There’s a lovely Jewish song for children, written by a famous Israeli songwriter, which speaks of the Jewish love of Shabbat. Translated, the words say:
Who loves Shabbat? Mum and Dad
Who loves Shabbat? Grandma and Granddad
Who loves Shabbat? Me, you and you
The whole world, pretty much!
Why isn’t it Shabbat every day?
Every day, Shabbat?
Sunday, Monday and Tuesday
All seem to go on for a year
Wednesday gives a gift to Thursday
The days go by so slowly Sunday till Thursday
And tomorrow, tomorrow is Shabbat
Because here comes Friday already!
Those who come to Israel are often struck by the rhythm of the Jewish week – and the joy of a truly restful Shabbat. You can’t feel guilty for enjoying total and luxurious relaxation because you can’t really do anything anyway; everything shuts down from Friday afternoon until Saturday evening – the Jewish day of Shabbat. There’s no transport, no shops, no nothing. Just peace and quiet. After a busy week racing through things to do lists that never seem to end, I could see why a forced stop and rest at the end of the week is so well-loved.
Does your pet know what day it is?
A rabbi taught me that the concept of a seven day week is one of the strongest arguments there is for the truth of Scripture. Where did that come from if not from God? It makes sense that we would instinctively know about the yearly cycle – the seasons come and go – a year. Leaves come and go, harvests come and go, even animals know when it’s winter and hibernate or migrate. Months too – the moon waxes and wanes, the tides and our bodies respond accordingly, dogs howl at the full moon – nature knows that a month has gone by. Day and night are also clearly defined by the course of nature – sun rising and falling… morning, noon and night. Birds, flowers, and all of creation responds. But a week? Does your dog know whether it’s wednesday or thursday? How can it? How can any created being – apart from humanity – know where we are in the week?
But we know because God told us. That is the only reason anyone knows. And that is why we, priviledged above all creation, know about Shabbat. It is like a secret treasure between friends – between God and mankind. In Exodus 31:13, God tells Moses:
“You are to speak to the people of Israel and say,‘ Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you.”
Above all, he said… a sign between us, and throughout your generations… God intended it to stick.
Shabbat is part of the creation story
But long before Moses and his merry men, right at the beginning of time itself and as part of the creation story, God carves out the seven-day week and makes the Shabbat holy:
So the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.
And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done,
and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.
So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
You will find these three verses at the beginning of the second chapter of Genesis, but it actually belongs at the end of the first chapter, according to Jewish tradition (the chapters and verses were added much later) because Shabbat was also part of the creation story. God created the universe, then created Shabbat and rested, giving us an example to follow.
God knows we need that time to just “be”, and to be able to rest with Him. To sit back and simply enjoy life, creation and our relationship with him. When it says that on the seventh day, God “rested’, it does not mean that he was tired, of course. As a ball comes to rest when it is thrown, it just means that God stopped. He came to a rest. And he wants us to do that every week for a whole day too. As Yeshua said, God didn’t make man for the Shabbat but he made the Shabbat for us! We need it, and he knows that, better than we seem to.
Shabbat rest is a command
The Ten Commandments appear not once but twice in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). The first time is more widely known, and found in Exodus 20:1-17, and the other is in Deuteronomy 5:6-21. The two lists of commandments are almost identical, but in Exodus, God says we must remember the Shabbat, and keep it holy, because of the example he himself gave in the creation story – working six days and resting on the seventh.
In Deuteronomy we are told to observe or keep the Shabbat, and the reason this time is because the Israelites were brought out of slavery. These two reasons are both very important – we are to be like our Father God and rest with him, and also we are not slaves any longer – we have freedom to enjoy rest! I have heard that this may be why the Jewish Shabbat dinner table always has two candles – to remember these two versions of the command to keep Shabbat holy.
So as we come up to the weekend, may your time resting with God be greatly blessed. May you be able to reflect on your week, on your life and your walk with our creator, and on the very gift of Shabbat that he has created for humanity – a special sign between us, and the gift of resting with him.