“Moses assembled the whole Israelite community and said to them, ‘These are the things the Lord has commanded you to do: For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a day of sabbath rest to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it is to be put to death. Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.’”—Exodus 35:1–3 (NIV)
In today’s passage, the Lord reminds His people of an extremely important commandment. He tells them to separate one day each week as a holy day of rest unto the Lord. In the next few chapters, the Israelites will have a lot of work to do, such as building the intricate and complex tent of meeting. So, before getting started, they’re reminded of the all-important practice of entering into God's rest by respecting the Sabbath.
As we discovered in Exodus 20, God commanded us to rest, trusting He will sustain and provide for all our needs as He refreshes us and we enjoy Him. So, Sabbath is a way for us to practice faith and receive joy, rest, and restoration!
John Mark Comer wrote, “On the Sabbath, we don’t just take a day off from work; we take a day off from toil. We give Him all our fear and anxiety and stress and worry. We let go. We stop ruling and subduing, and we just be. We remember our place in the universe. So that we never forget . . . There is a God, and I’m not Him.”
Now, after reminding them of the commandment, He states the consequence is being put to death. Why death? Because observing the Sabbath was an important sign of the covenant between God and His people. Failure to obey this critical component of the covenant was such a serious breach of the relationship. How so? Because it also involved a breaking of the first three commandments.
By refusing to keep the Sabbath holy unto the Lord, they were putting other gods before the Lord—work, money, influence, success, achievement, etc. They were putting their security, identity, and hope in other things, making idols of these things, and failing to respect the name of the Lord as supreme. Thus, the death penalty emphasized the seriousness of maintaining fidelity to the solemn pledge between the people and God.
So, before they built the tent of meeting, God first called Israel to the work of simple obedience because devotion is a prerequisite for doing work for the Lord. It was imperative that devotion not be overlooked even to do praiseworthy work.
Friends, even though Christians aren’t bound to the consequence of breaking the Sabbath because of the work of Jesus to redeem us, the consequence here acts as a caution and guaranteed outcome of our failure to rest in the Lord. How so? Well, when we don’t rest in the Lord, when we don’t place our hope, trust, security, and identity in Him, it catches up to us. The death we experience in this respect is that we’re prevented from experiencing His grace, provision, and restoration as we should; we wind up getting cut off from our connection with God, others, and our own spirit.
May we take this command seriously and work hard unto the Lord but then rest easy in the Lord, in faith and security and enjoyment of Him!
Pause: Why is the Sabbath so important? Why is our failure to keep the Sabbath so damaging even as Christ followers?
Practice: Look at your schedule this month. Make it a point to clear your calendar for one day per week to rest in and enjoy the Lord, the people in your life, and His creation.
Pray: Lord of the Sabbath, help me to rest and find security and identity in You alone. Teach me to rest, Jesus. Grow my faith, Jesus. Amen.