The Rhythms of Rest
Who can imagine what the acts of Creation—light amid darkness, oceans brimming with life, birds suddenly taking flight—must have been like? And the supernatural creation of Adam and Eve? We can’t even begin to grasp how God did it.
But then, after all of this active creating, God turned His attention to something else. At first glance, it did not seem as spectacular as leaping whales or dazzling feather displays. God simply made a day, the seventh day, and then He made it special. Even before humanity would dash off to our self-imposed stressful lives, God set a marker as a living memory aid. God wanted this day to be a time for us to stop and deliberately enjoy life—a day to be and not do, to celebrate the gift of grass; air; wildlife; water; people; and, most of all, the Creator of every good gift.
This invitation would continue even after the first couple was exiled from Eden. God wanted to make sure that the invitation could stand the test of time, and so, right from the beginning, He knit it into the very fabric of time itself. During this week, we will study God’s wonderful invitation to enter into a dynamic rest, again and again, with every seventh day.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, August 28.
God was there at the beginning. The Lord God spoke, and it was. Light divided day from night; firmament, sky, and seas were spoken into existence on the second day; dry land and vegetation followed on the third. God formed the basic framework of time and geography, and then He filled it during the next three days. Lights governed the sky by day and by night. Different from the stories of most ancient cultures, the biblical Creation account makes it abundantly clear that the sun, the moon, and the stars are not deities. They entered into the picture only on the fourth day and are subject to the Creator’s word. Moses’ description of days five and six (Gen. 1:20–31) is full of life and beauty. Birds, fish, land animals—they all fill the space prepared by God.
This was not just any space that God had created; it was a perfect place. Teeming creatures filled the earth. Like the refrain of a catchy tune, God kept saying that it was “good” after each day.
God stooped and began to shape mud. Humanity’s creation in God’s image and likeness was an object lesson in intimacy and closeness. God bent down and breathed life into Adam’s nostrils, and there was a living being. Eve’s special creation from Adam’s rib added another important element to Creation week. Marriage was part of God’s design for humanity—a sacred trust of partnership between ’ish and ’ishshah, “man” and “woman.”
This time, when God looked at everything He had made on day six, the refrain sounded different: “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (Gen. 1:31, NKJV; italics supplied).
Creation may have been “very good,” but it was not yet complete. Creation ended with God’s rest and a special blessing of the seventh day, the Sabbath. “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Gen. 2:3, NKJV).
The Sabbath is part and parcel of God’s creation. In fact, it is the culmination of Creation. God made rest and created a space for community where humanity (in those days the core family of Adam and Eve) could stop their day-to-day activities and rest side by side with their Creator.
Unfortunately, sin entered this world and changed everything. There was no more direct communion with God. Instead, there were painful births, hard work, fragile and dysfunctional relationships, and on and on—the litany of woes that we all know so well as life on this fallen world. And still, even amid all this, God’s Sabbath remains, an enduring symbol of our creation and also the hope and promise of our re-creation.
If humanity needed the Sabbath rest before sin, how much more so after? Many years later, when God freed His children from slavery in Egypt, He reminded them again of this special day.
With this command, God calls us to remember our origins. Contrary to what so many believe, we are not the chance products of cold, uncaring, and blind forces. On the contrary, we are beings who are created in the image of God. We were created to share fellowship with God. It did not matter that the Israelites had been treated as slaves with little worth. With each Sabbath, in a special way they were called to remember who they really were, beings made in the image of God Himself.
“And since the Sabbath is a memorial of the work of creation, it is a token of the love and power of Christ.”—Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 281.
After 40 years of wandering in the desert, a new generation with vague, if any, memories of Egypt had grown up. They had a very different life experience from that of their parents. This new generation had witnessed their parents’ continued lack of faith, and as a consequence, they, too, had to wander in the wilderness as their parents’ generation died off.
They were privileged to have the sanctuary in the center of their camp and could see the cloud indicating God’s presence hovering over the tabernacle. When it moved, they knew that it was time to pack and follow. This cloud that provided shade during the day and light and heat at night was a constant reminder of God’s love and care for them.
Contrary to popular theology, these verses prove that the seventh-day Sabbath predated the giving of the law at Sinai.
What happened here?
The special food that God supplied was a daily reminder of the fact that the Creator sustained His creation. In a very tangible way, God was supplying their needs. Every day was a miracle with the food appearing and disappearing with the sun. Any time that anyone tried to hoard for the next day, it would rot and stink; and yet, every Friday there was enough for a double portion, and the leftover to be eaten on Sabbath remained miraculously fresh.
Israel now had the sanctuary service and all the laws and regulations recorded in Leviticus and Numbers. Still, the aged Moses summoned everyone and repeated their history and revisited the laws that God had given (see Deut. 5:6–22).
This new generation finally was poised to enter the Promised Land. Israel was about to undergo a change of leadership, and an aged Moses wanted to ensure that this generation would remember who they were and what their mission was. He did not want them repeating the mistakes of their parents. And so he repeated God’s laws. The Ten Commandments were repeated so that this generation, poised on the brink of conquering Canaan, would not forget.
Israel was camped on the eastern side of the Jordan. They had taken possession of the lands of the king of Bashan and two kings of the Amorites. Once again, at this crucial moment, Moses called Israel together and reminded them that the covenant made at Sinai was not just for their parents but for them too. He then went on to repeat the Ten Commandments, again for their benefit.
In Exodus 20:8, the commandment began with the word “remember.” Deuteronomy 5:12 began with the word “observe” (NKJV).The word “remember” came a bit later in the commandment itself (Deut. 5:15). In this verse, Israel was told to remember that they were slaves. Although this generation had grown up free, they would all have been born into slavery were it not for the miraculous rescue. The Sabbath commandment was to remind them that the same God who was active in the Creation story also was active in their deliverance: “the Lord, your God, brought you out from there with a strong hand and outstretched arm” (Deut. 5:15, NABRE).
This truth fit the then-current circumstances of the Israelites, standing for a second time at the border of the Promised Land, some forty years after the first generation failed so miserably. They were as helpless in conquering this land as their forefathers were in escaping from Egypt. They needed this God who acted with a “strong hand” and an “outstretched arm.”
The Sabbath was about to take on an added dimension. Because God was the God of liberation, Israel was to keep the Sabbath day (Deut. 5:15).
Of course, Creation is never far from the Sabbath commandment, even in Deuteronomy 5, despite the added reason to keep it: the liberation of Israel. In a sense, the liberation of Israel out of the land of Egypt is the starting point of a new creation, similar to the Creation story in Genesis. Israel, as a liberated people, is God’s new creation (see also, for example, Isa. 43:15).
And because the Exodus is seen as a symbol of freedom from sin—that is, Redemption, we can find in the Sabbath a symbol of both Creation and Redemption. Hence, in a very real way, the Sabbath points us to Jesus, our Creator and our Redeemer.
God commands His people to keep the Sabbath day. Right along with not murdering and not stealing is the command to remember the Sabbath, even though the Bible doesn’t give us specifics on exactly how we are to keep it.
Because Sabbath keeping means celebrating Creation and Redemption, its atmosphere should be one of joy and delight in the Lord and not one of gloom.
Remembering the Sabbath does not begin on the seventh day. As the first Sabbath was the culmination of the Creation week, so we should “remember the Sabbath day” all week and plan ahead so that we can set aside our weekly work and thus “keep it holy” when the Sabbath comes. Intentionally preparing during the week and especially on the preparation day (Mark 15:42), or Friday, is key and adds to the delight as anticipation builds for this very special day.
Sabbath keeping also means nurturing our relationships with family and friends. God provides time for focused fellowship with the whole family, and it includes rest for even the servants and the family animals (see Exod. 20:8–11). Sabbath and family go together.
While rest and family time are important principles, Sabbath keeping also means participating in corporate, focused worship of God with our church family. Jesus attended and led out in worship services while on earth. (See Lev. 23:3, Luke 4:16, and Heb. 10:25.)
Even though our weekly routines and rhythms may be rushed, yet, deep in our hearts, there is a yearning for true Sabbath rest, true communion with our Maker. Remembering to stop all our business and planning to spend time with God and nurture our relationships, we can enter into the rhythm and rest of Sabbath.
Further Thought: “God gave to men the memorial of His creative power, that they might discern Him in the works of His hand. The Sabbath bids us behold in His created works the glory of the Creator.
. . . On the holy rest day, above all other days, we should study the messages that God has written for us in nature. . . . As we come close to the heart of nature, Christ makes His presence real to us, and speaks to our hearts of His peace and love.”—Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 25, 26.
“One of the important reasons why the Lord delivered Israel from slavery to Egypt was that they might keep His holy Sabbath. . . . Evidently Moses and Aaron renewed the teaching about the holiness of the Sabbath, because Pharaoh complained to them, ‘Ye make [the people] rest from their burdens.’ Exodus 5:5. This would indicate that Moses and Aaron began a Sabbath reform in Egypt.
“The observance of the Sabbath was not to be a commemoration of their slavery in Egypt, however. Its observance in remembrance of creation was to include a joyful remembrance of deliverance from religious oppression in Egypt that made Sabbath observance difficult. In the same way, their deliverance from slavery was forever to kindle in their hearts a tender regard for the poor and oppressed, the fatherless and widows.”— Appendix note in Ellen G. White, From Eternity Past, p. 549.