Slaves to No Rest
The Bible recounts in the first chapter of Exodus how Israel’s extended furlough in Egypt takes a turn:
The result for the Israelites was hundreds of years backbreaking work as slaves to the Egyptians. The reality of their slavery was hard labor: hewing rocks from the quarry, hauling them to the sites of the pyramids, packing mud bricks to build the Pharaoh’s legacy. There were was no rest, no days off, only the dreadful drudgery of working every day under the heavy and abusive hand of the Egyptian slave drivers.
Remember: these were God’s people who bear his image (Gen. 1:27) like all humanity, made by the creator who himself rested after six days of work (Gen. 2:2-3), and who were chosen to be the people through whom the whole earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:1-3). Now the Egyptians had made them disposable commodities to be used and replaced when no longer functional, stripping them of their God-given dignity.
Rescued to Rest
As we read on in the book of Exodus, God’s plan for rescuing the nation of Israel from slavery through the leadership of Moses unfolds and we learn God’s intentions. His purpose in rescuing Israel from slavery was to create a community different from all others; one that displayed what it means to live under the rule of a gracious King, in contrast to the oppressive rule experienced under Egypt and in all other nations in their idol worship.
Critical to building this kind of community would be a day each week set aside where no work would be done in order that they could sit back and enjoy his gracious rule, reminding themselves of their dependence upon him. This day of rest or Sabbath was not a suggestion it was a commandment: "Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest" (Exodus 34:21).
To be clear, this was total rest for everyone: the Israelites, their servants, foreigners, even the animals! Can you imagine what it must have been like for the Israelites to receive the news that God was ordering them to take a day off?
Marked by Rest
The Sabbath commandment comes to us in the context of the Law that God gave his people, specifically the Ten Commandments. There is no shortage of opinions on how we should interpret the Law as Christians, but one primary use of the Law is this: to be a mechanism by which God reveals himself and tells us what he is like. So each law has a specific revelatory purpose which should function to make a practical difference in marking the believer as belonging to God.
The Sabbath day was designed by God to mark his people. It was a weekly display for themselves and all others of the gracious God they belonged to. It pointed back to the Exodus as a reminder of the slavery of the Egyptians, but it also pointed forward to the fulfillment of God’s promises to provide rest for his people even eternal rest.
It was also a mark of the God’s character. For example, because it was no small thing to take a day off in an agrarian society, it revealed him as the God who provided for his people. It also showed that he was not a distant God but a personal God who desired to be involved in the lives of his people at every level.
Called to Rest
Those who are in Christ are the people of God (1 Peter 9:4-10) and we are called to are called to his rest. While we await our final and ultimate rest in the New Creation, we are called to live today in light of that future reality. One day we can do that is to practice rest. While most of us are not at risk of hunger if we do not work our fields, rest is a real challenge today in our driven, stressed out culture where technology makes us available almost all the time. What a witness to our culture it is when we take one full day a week without work to simply enjoy the gracious leadership of our God and depends on him for all things.
In future posts, we will address planning time off but for now, let me challenge you to live out your Christian calling to rest.
When we enjoy some of the reality of that glorious future rest in the present, we commend Christ to a stressed, driven, manic, relentless culture. We live as those who don’t have to secure our past, present, and future, and as those who know the folly and sin of even trying. We know true rest in Christ and in all that he’s done. On the cross, he told us it was finished. The work is done. The job’s complete. Come all you who are weary, and he will give you rest.
So take a day off for the glory of God!