The term Sabbath come from the Hebrew word for “case.” This day of stopping normal activity and work was to serve as a reminder of God’s rest after the work of creation (Gen 2:2-3). God set aside this day as holy and blessed it as a gift to humankind.
Remember the day of worship by observing it as a holy day. You have six days to do all your work. The seventh day is the day of worship dedicated to the LORD your God. You, your sons, your daughters, your male and female slaves, your cattle, and the foreigners living in your city must never do any work on that day. In six days the LORD made heaven, earth, and the sea, along with everything in them. He didn’t work on the seventh day. That’s why the LORD blessed the day he stopped his work and set this day apart as holy. (Exod 20:8-11).
During the exodus, the Sabbath became institutionalized in the Hebrew nation when people were forbidden to gather manna on that day (Exod 16:23-30). The ceasing of work was a mandate rather than a suggestion. In time it became apparent that God’s intention for the Sabbath was not only rest but also worship. In the Old Testament this consisted of sacrifices (e.g., Num 28:9-10), and in the New Testament the day of worship was centered on the reading and teaching of God’s Word (e.g., Mark 6:2; Luke 4:16);
A COVENANT PROMISE
The Sabbath first of all symbolizes the covenant promise. God set this day apart as holy for his people. The surrounding nations did not participate in the Sabbath rest, only the chosen people Israel. It called to mind the promise God had made to preserve and save his people (Lev 24:8) and was an expression of the Israelites’ faith in God as they upheld their part of the covenant. The Lord said, “I also gave them certain days to worship me as a sign between us so that they would know that I, the LORD, made them holy” (Ezek 20:12). Even today, keeping the Sabbath is an expression that we trust God to provide for our needs. We can rest from our work because we know that our well-being is not ultimately dependent on our own effort but on God’s grace.
The importance of the Sabbath as part of the covenant is underscored himself as Lord of the Sabbath. He repeatedly healed on the Sabbath and declared that “the day of worship was made for people, not people for the day of worship. For this reason the Son of Man has authority over the day of worship” (Mark 2:27-28). Over and over again Jesus affirmed that the Sabbath was gift rather than a burden, one that is able to be enjoyed more freely because he came to fulfill the regulations of the law we are unable to fulfill ourselves.
A SIGN OF ETERNAL REST
A Sabbath, although a literal day of rest, also serves as a symbol for the eternal rest of heaven. Hebrews 4 fleshes this out fully, drawing a connection between the Sabbath rest of the Old Testament and the “place of rest” found by those who obey God (vv. 1-11). The author of Hebrews seems to go back and forth between the Sabbath day and salvation, using the two images almost interchangeably, and then concludes with these words: “Therefore, a time of rest and worship exists for God’s people. Those who entered his place of rest also rested from their work as God did from his. So we must make every effort to enter that place of rest. Then no one will be lost by following the example of those who refused to obey” (vv 9-11). Believer’s participation in a weekly Sabbath is rested from the work of creation and invites us into covenant relationship, as well as the eternal rest that awaits us as the final fulfillment of that covenant. We can rest and be at peace, trusting in God to meet our needs in the here and now, in part because we know that our true home and final rest is in heaven.