This commandment has at its core an assumption of work and a command to rest. God’s gift of grace is divine permission to stop work, to take a day off, rest aching limbs and think about something else. This commandment does not tell us to work – that comes in Genesis chapter 1 as part of the pattern of a good creation. Here God commands us to be leisurely, to overcome any compulsion to work until everything is done. He asks us to keep a substantial proportion of our lives holy, set apart and qualitatively different from our everyday work.
Humans need rest and time off to relax and recharge, and so do the servants and those with the most menial tasks; so do the working animals and the machinery; so does the land itself, the pastures and the fields.
The word ‘Sabbath’ has a root that means to stop, to cease. Exodus 31:17 says, ‘in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed’. The language is anthropomorphic, for God is never weary, but that makes the command so much stronger for us. Can we genuinely stop regular everyday work? Or are we always working out what we will do when back at the desk? Are we able to sit still, walk slowly, spend time with someone who isn’t going to talk very much, play with our children? And do it because the Lord calls us to be rested and refreshed as we observe his Sabbath.
God rested on the seventh day and saw that it was all very good. If we do not stop, then we may find we have never noticed the things that are very good. Sabbath grace is a free gift to those who are called to work. Unless we stop and rest from our appointed tasks we may be tempted to think that it is our work that makes God love us. Times of rest and reflection remind us that we are loved apart from what we do.
Used by kindpermission of LICC www.licc.org.uk