Over the past several years I have found that the Jewish “Sabbath” is a foundational concept in a meaningful and healthy relationship with God. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get much airtime in Christian circles other than the occasion reference to a Sunday morning worship service or a late afternoon nap. But at the heart of the Sabbath is a deep and transformational truth that I believe to be massively conflicting with the current American standard of life.
First, I’ll confess that I have a slight obsession with first century Judaism and have read massive amounts of literature concerning their understanding of God and OT scripture. In terms of the Sabbath, I was always under the impression that Jews were to abide by a very strict set of rules on the Sabbath day. And while there are 39 categories of things that cannot be done on the Jewish Sabbath (Friday night to Saturday night), you will never catch the true meaning by simply looking at them.
The incentives for staying on the straight and narrow in the way you observe the Sabbath for Jews are convincing. Exodus 35:2 says that anyone who does any work on the Sabbath should be put to death. Obviously, one would like to avoid that at all costs. But more than that, Jews truly want to honor God with the way they walk through life; and because the concept of Sabbath is absolutely central to the Jewish faith, it is important that they get it right. So, they do whatever it takes to stay clear of working on this day.
But what does work mean? Well, a bunch of Rabbi’s (Jewish teachers and scholars) got together and came up with a definition that I think is interesting: work is “anything that causes you to exercise control over your environment”. So anything that fits this description is off limits.
At the beginning of Sabbath each week (18 minutes before sundown), the woman of the house will light two candles.
The first candle is in honor of Deuteronomy 5:12, which says, “observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy”. They light this candle as a reminder to observe the greatness of God.
The second candle is ignited in honor of Exodus 20:8, which says, “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy”. They light this one as a reminder to remember creation, the exodus and the conquest of Canaan. They remember with the lighting of this candle that they exist to bring God glory.
So the candles are lit to reinforce the concepts that guide the Jewish lifestyle: God is great and we exist to bring Him glory. You could also say that Sabbath is spent concentrating on who God is and what He has done.
The word Sabbath is derived from the Hebrew word Shavat, which we usually interpret, “to rest”. A better translation of that word would be “to cease”. Sabbath is not really about resting so that you can be ready to go for the rest of the week. Rather, it is about willingly ceasing from work in order to remind yourself that if you don’t do anything at all, the earth still spins. If you cease from the activities that cause you to exercise control over your environment, the world doesn’t come crashing down. He is still God and He is still in control.
This is a tough pill for us to swallow. We live in a culture that glorifies our pension for being busy by telling us that the busier we are, the more important we are. We slowly begin to believe that the world actually revolves around us and that if we stop for a minute, everything might just fall apart. When we continually let the weight of the world fall on our shoulders, we begin to place ourselves in the seat of God. When we don’t take the time to observe God’s greatness and remember all the great things He has done, we forget who we were created to be – and who we were created to be in relationship with. And ultimately we forget that we’re not important at all apart from the beauty and value that He invests into us.
So, light a few candles and take the time to reflect on this: God is God and you are not.