In those days I saw men in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads. And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath, Therefore I warned them against selling food on that day.Nehemiah 13:15
Nehemiah was concerned by this disregard for the Law. He is trying to correct the difficulties that had caused problems for Israel in the past. So he orders the gates to be closed at sunset on Friday. He requires the Levites to cleanse themselves and to guard the gates so that no one violates the Sabbath.
Should we also keep the Sabbath by refraining from work and travel? As we have seen throughout this book, these regulations imposed upon Israel were what the New Testament calls
shadows, pictures of something even more important that God wants observed. You observe the Sabbath when you fulfill what the Sabbath portrays.
At the heart of the Sabbath is the word rest. The Sabbath is intended for people, that they may learn to rest. The Sabbath is God's stress management program! It is how to prevent burnout—how to recover from too much pressure and catch up with yourself. It is how to gather yourself together and become able to handle the work you must do.
There are two reasons given in the Scripture for the Sabbath. The first one is found in Exodus 20:11. There we are told that because God finished creation in six days and then rested on the seventh day, He asked His people to rest after six days of labor. Why did God rest? He accomplished His objective. People too must recognize a limit to their work. There is a need to stop, to allow the body, mind, and spirit to recognize their limitations.
The second reason the Sabbath was given is often ignored. God said to Israel,
Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day (Deuteronomy 5:15). They were to rest in order to reflect on God's ability to work beyond the labors they had already completed.
So there are two aspects of the Sabbath—creation and redemption. There is a rest of cessation; a ceasing from our own works. But then there is the rest of rejoicing in the mighty delivering power of God.
Father, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of my life, teach me that I need to enter into the rest of creation and redemption, always remembering that Your work comes before my work.
Are we at rest because of the work God has done and is doing in us? Are we relying on our own strength rather than understanding His power as the source?