Sabbath – Is it physical or spiritual rest?



After six days of creation work in Genesis, God rested on the seventh day. He blessed the seventh day as Holy. What is this rest mean to us? Is Sabbath just an old testament law and no more applicable in new testament? Lets go through Sabbath in details in this article.

While traveling from Egypt to the Promised land God gave Israelite's heavenly manna for six days and seventh day was God’s rest day. Israelite's were asked to collect enough food on the sixth day for two days as the food will not be provided by God on the 7th day. It required a certain amount of faith as the food (called manna) collected extra on other days got rotten (Exo 16:20) and only the food collected on the sixth day remains safe on the 7th day (Exo 16:22, 29). What is the manna? This is the shadow of the image of Christ, which is revealed in John 6:48-51. We will tie this back in the end with the context of Sabbath. But right now, would like to register in the mind of readers the link between the manna that gave Israelite the physical food and the heavenly manna which came in the form of Jesus and gave us spiritual food.

When God gave the ten commandments to Moses, Sabbath was added as the fourth commandment. ... the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. Exodus 20:10

The Israelite were asked to rest on the seventh day as per the fourth commandment. As time progressed the religious leaders came up with more minute laws. They defined what can be done and can not be done on sabbath days. For example they developed a rule, how much distance a person can be allowed to walk on Sabbath (i.e. Sabbath day walk). Anyone who does not observe sabbath has to be either cut off or put to death (Exo 31:14,15) as per Moses law. Evidence of invoking this law is recorded in Num 15:32 by putting to death a man who did not follow it.

Why Sabbath needs faith?

Following Sabbath law needs faith, obedience, meticulous planning, and discipline. As we go down the below list you will understand why so. As of now, we will cover this from old testament perspective.

1. Sabbath was not only limited to the 7th day of the week. The seventh month of the year was also considered as the holy month. The first day of the seventh month calls for sacred assembly and sabbath rest (Lev 23:26). No one should work or they should plan their work in advance. The 10th Day of the seventh month is the day of atonement and no one should work on this day. If anyone works on this day will get severe punishment from God (Lev 23:26-32)

2. The seventh year should be considered a year of sabbath for the land (Lev 25:4). There should not be any sowing or pruning for the entire year. But whatever the land produces without sowing and pruning can be eaten as the food. The next sowing activity will start only at the beginning of next year and it might take another 6-9 months for the crops to mature and yield the grains. An Israelite family must live on faith for more than 18-21 months (12 months on 7th year + 6-9 months for next yield) without any yield. They are totally dependent on God’s provision which either comes through extra yield from 6th year’s produce or the crops which grow by itself.

3. Year of Jubilee: This one needs even more faith and total dependence on God. On top of celebrating the 7th year as sabbath rest, after every Seven times, seven years needs to be celebrated as Sabbath year. It is called the year of Jubilee, which is the 50th year. The year of Jubilee is also sabbath year and there should not be any sowing or pruning. Let's understand this little deeper. The 49th year is the Sabbath year and 50th year is the year of Jubilee. Hence for two consecutive years, there was no sowing and pruning. The sowing will start on the following year and it will take 6-9 months for the crops to mature and yield. In other words, we are talking about 30-33 months of no net actual yield from the farming. Is it really possible? Here is God’s answer to that exact question. You may ask, “What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?” I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years.- Lev 25:20,21. So the promise of God fulfills the gap. It’s up to the Israelite to receive this promise by faith.

Hence the observance of Sabbath needs extraordinary faith and obedience to God. It's not only about the physical rest but to live our life by faith and in total dependence on God.

Psalmist description of Sabbath Rest

Psalm 95 revisits the incident happened on Meribah and Massah, where the Israelites quarreled against God and tested him (Exo 17). The lack of faith on several counts on God made the whole generation excluded from God’s rest planned for them in the promised land (Psalm 95:11). Here it is not people’s rest as it is clearly mentioned as “They shall not enter my rest”. Hence it is the spiritual rest offered by God in the promised land not the physical rest of Israelite. The journey of Israelite from Egypt, i.e. a place of slavery to the promised land, which is God’s rest in the shadow. The actual image is revealed in the new testament where we the God’s children are brought from the lives of sin to the righteous living through Jesus by faith. Without faith, it is impossible to obtain God’s salvation. Without faith, it is impossible to enter the promised land. Without faith, it is impossible to reach God’s rest.

How Jesus handled sabbath?

Jesus was picked by religious leaders several times based on the Sabbath rules. He was questioned whether someone can be healed on Sabbath? Whether Someone can pick grain on Sabbath or can pick up the mat on Sabbath? But Jesus kept healing, kept forgiving sins and kept walking on Sabbath days to fulfill his ministry. He gave one reason consistently as justification for all he was doing i.e. he is the Lord of Sabbath (Mat 12:8, Mark 2:28, Luke 6:5). He is not under the rules of Sabbath. But he is over it. He is the reason for the Sabbath. He is the Lord of the Sabbath.

Sabbath Rest is available for you

Finally, in Hebrew 4 ties all together on Sabbath by detailing out Psalm 95. The promise of Sabbath rest is still available today for those who believe (Hebrews 4:3). Psalm 95:7,8 reiterates it. “Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness. Our Sabbath rest can be obtained only in Jesus (Lord of Sabbath) by believing in the good news that was shared with us (Heb 4:2) and through his finished work on the cross. The final Sabbath rest comes through His reign under new heaven and new earth as detailed out in Isaiah 65:17-25.

Summary :

1. Sabbath is not about physical rest. It’s about entering God’s rest trusting on his providence.

2. Observing Sabbath was a command with the associated punishment of physical death, not a choice.

3. Entering Sabbath rest requires faith and obedience in the old testament as well as in new testament.

4. Jesus is the Lord of Sabbath.

5. We enter Sabbath rest by believing on His finished work.

6. The final rest of Sabbath points to new Heaven and new earth.

7. The Sabbath is available to everyone today and for anyone who believes Jesus.

Believe Him.

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