“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.”
Continuing through the Ten Commandments, I reach the command to honor the sabbath. The word sabbath, so my teachers and my concordance have told me, literally means rest, pause, or stop. What God commands here is in the positive, it is something that I must do. Contrast this with so many of the other commandments which are prohibitions against things and this command stands out. This command and the next pivot from how I am to behave toward God — only Him, no images, honor His Name — to how I am to behave toward other people. It is curious to me that the pivot is in the affirmative — Do this — while the rest of the commands are in the negative — Do not do this.
The command, simply put, is to rest.
There was a time in the United States when the population at large had trouble with this. There was this Puritan Work Ethic present in the country that meant almost everyone worked diligently and for long hours to earn their living. It is right and proper that our work should be eased by machines — that is why we invented them, after all — but our forebears did not only work to earn a living, they worked to make a life. Their work did not stop when the doors closed behind them or they came in from wherever their work had taken them. Those who came before worked to improve their minds and character and, in many cases, worked to make sure that their families were in the right and proper order. Too often, the modern American comes home from work and checks out. We do not work to improve our minds or our spirits within us or our character. Instead, we sit and numb ourselves whether it be through TV or games or any number of things that take us away from the heavy labor of working to improve our selves and our families. I find myself guilty of this and challenged to invest myself into the labor of building a man, a marriage, a family, and a life. Those things will and do require much and more of me, but they must be built and maintained or they will crumble into disrepair.
The other extreme of which Americans can be guilty is overwork; not knowing when to stop. And God was most certainly warning against this. If the command to rest includes a tacit command to work hard when it is time to work, then the command to rest becomes that much more imperative when a person does not know when to stop working. In this digital, always-on, ever-connected age it is entirely possible for work to follow me everywhere. E-mails and texts and phone calls from work can chase me home and, if I lack the discipline, they can and will intrude into the time that rightly belongs to building and maintaining other relationships like marriage and family and friendships. IF discipline is not imposed, those same intrusions can find their way into sleep and other necessary functions.
What God says boils down to this: You have six days to get your work done and on the seventh day you stop and you rest, because God made all of creation in six days and your work is not bigger or more laborious than what God did. That last part; the part about your work not being bigger or more laborious than God making the universe is implied in verse 11: For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. If God can get all that done in six days, imagine what you — a human created in the likeness and image of God — will be able to accomplish in six days. It is a command to trust God; a command to believe that I am, in fact, made in His image and able to accomplish that which needs doing in the time allotted to me.
Let me not stray into overwork or into laziness, but let me walk the path of rightness wherein I work when it is time to work and I rest and reflect on God’s goodness when it is time to rest.
Father, thank You for creating at all. You knew what we were going to do to what You had made, but You loved us enough to make us anyway. Thank You for the command to balance work and life; labor and rest. Please make me mindful of when too much of either one is creeping in and give me discernment to know which work needs doing at which time.