Shabbat Shalom for All
In the beginning God created, said, made, called, placed, and blessed all He made.
And so the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their heavenly lights. By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because on it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. (NASB, Genesis 1:1-2:3; emphasis added by myself)
From the very first pages of Scripture, readers are pointed to God’s work and, to a lesser degree, His rest. God works for six days, creating, making, speaking things into existence and then blessing and naming them all. It is no surprise to readers, then, when God makes Adam that He calls Adam to work the grounds of Eden; Adam is made in God’s image, and God worked, therefore Adam will also work. God also rested, and so too Adam will rest. However, in these early chapters of Genesis, there isn’t much description of what rest actually looks like. An entire chapter is devoted exclusively to God working and poetically describing what that work looked like. However, in a mere three verses in Genesis 2, we are told that God rested. That’s it. How can we, Christians today looking to God’s Word for guidance in understanding Him and ourselves more deeply, begin to approach the idea of rest? How can we rest in the way that God intended for us? Sin has no doubt distorted the way we approach the idea and execution of resting. The idea of rest may appear elusive for readers today because we aren’t provided as many details in scripture about rest as compared to work. Frequently, we believe we are resting when in reality we never actually stopped working! On the other hand, we sometimes limit our definition of rest, and if we don’t rest in a specific way, then we don’t believe we can truly rest at all. In all of this, I believe that God has paved a way for us to understand rest as He intended for us, and has not left us without answers to the many questions surrounding “rest.”
I would first like to explore a word in the English language that we use synonymously with “rest.”
Although this word is a synonym, ultimately I want to show that it conveys a different meaning which gives us a deeper understanding of rest: sleep. I think one of the most common ways we consider resting is through the physical act of sleeping. No doubt sleeping is restful and necessary for us to function biologically and work well! Unlike God, though, we need to sleep. In Genesis, God does not rest because He has to or because He has grown tired or weary. Psalm 121 tells us that in fact God does not sleep at all: “He will not allow your foot to slip; He who watches over you will not slumber. Behold, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (NASB, Psalm 121:3-4). God chooses rest, He chooses to marvel at the very good creation He had made, He models and becomes our rest so we are not without His guidance. This is key to understanding God, who He made us to be, and what rest actually entails. If God chose to rest on the seventh day, and we are made in His image, are we too not supposed to choose rest over work? It would be impossible to rest without the inclusion of work in our lives as well; both are good and we are created for both.
With that assumption in mind, sleep may be included in our idea of rest, but sleeping cannot be the be-all and end-all to our definition of rest because we need sleep; we do not choose to or not to sleep (generally speaking here, as ample amounts of caffeine can stave off sleep
for short periods of time). I am not arguing that rest isn’t necessary or essential, but I do want to convey that rest is chosen and more intentional, while sleeping is an involuntary act that (should) occur every day. Rest is a conscious act taken: to be fully aware of one’s restoration; sleeping is the opposite: to be unconscious and unaware of the restoration happening in the body. And, although God does not tell us exactly what rest looks like for every single person, He does provide guidance in Exodus:1
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. For six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; on it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male slave or your female slave, or your cattle, or your resident who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and everything that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; for that reason the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (NASB, Exodus 20:8-11; emphasis added by myself)
Interestingly, this passage from the Ten Commandments instructs us to work six days yet it never explicitly says “you must rest on the seventh.” Rather, it says “do not work on the seventh.” Our reason, our “why,” for resting can be found in the final line: “For that reason the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:11). We rest because God rested and because God made the seventh day holy, set apart from the other days.2
This phrase is repeated exactly from Genesis, so the language points directly back to the creation account and we are to use God as our authority in keeping the Sabbath. In fact, the Hebrew word “shabbat,” is used in both Genesis 2:2-3 and Exodus 20:11 as we are called to “cease work” or “keep the rest” just as God “ceased work” or “kept the rest.” We are reminded twice in the first line and the last line of the Exodus passage to keep the Sabbath holy, which treats the Sabbath, or rest, as a blessing (Mueller).3 Rest is freely given to us; it is meant to bless us, to restore us completely so that we can work to God’s glory for six days; it is not something to be checked off a to-do list nor a task we should begrudge. Just as we uphold other commandments with fervency, we should also do the same with this one; commandments are not suggestions or helpful tips, they instruct us in ways to flourish and live the way God meant us to. This includes choosing to rest and setting apart the seventh day just as God did. No longer do we need to work incessantly as the slaves did in Egypt, and more broadly we are liberated from the chains of sin; we are set free and we get to choose rest, which is something to celebrate!
Based on the passages thus far, answers to the question “How do we define rest?” includes: choice, a lack of or pause from work, everyone engaging in rest, the remembering of God’s creation and holiness, and recognizing that God is truly in control on the seventh day. Yes, we are created in God’s image and we reflect Him in many ways, but we are not God and there are still forms of rest that we engage in that God does not. This includes sleep and relinquishing control; yet God never sleeps, as mentioned earlier, nor is God ever out of control. He is ever-reigning on His throne and all is held together by Him (Col. 1:17.) It may be helpful to consider rest in two different categories: necessary/human rest and God-patterned rest. Sleep and lack of control would fall in the category of human rest, while choice and pausing from work would fall in the category of God-patterned rest. When considering what rest means to you and redeeming your rest through resting in a God-patterned way, ask yourself: how are you pausing? How are you celebrating? How are you being restored? The activity itself is not what defines rest, especially as activities that are restful differ between us. Rather, the intentions behind our activities and ceasing work to
enjoy all He has provided for us should lead us towards understanding rest. After all, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath, according to Jesus, which is not a form of work. (Matt. 12:9-14.) The call for us as Christians is then to thoughtfully engage with rest so that we are
restored completely and can flourish. Our restoration allows us to work wisely for six days in the coming week! Rest and work are two sides of the same coin; they go together and one cannot exist without the other.
Ultimately though, restoration should be what guides us as we consider what rest truly means to each one of us individually. For me personally, playing basketball with friends would be work; I would not feel rested and probably more stressed than before I started the game. Conversely, going on a run is incredibly restful for me as I consider the ways God made my body to move and the blessing it is to have my body work in a certain way to make running possible. Although I am physically tired after running, the act is spiritually restful for me. For a long time, I saw reading as work: while in graduate school, I had to read 400 or more pages per week and reading transformed from hobby to work. Yet, God has redeemed reading for me and now I feel as though I can read anything whether that is an academic article or a fantasy fiction book and feel restored through that. Simply pausing is not rest; rest is actively restoring our spirit through refreshment in the Lord, which may include actively doing something like going on a run or reading a book.
Let us celebrate in our rest by reflecting on our work and free time, and worship God who made all these things possible. Let us keep our rest holy and pure by ceasing all kinds of work, whether leisurely or not. Let us treat rest as a gift and blessing freely given to us by Yahweh who gives us the opportunity to rest in Him because He has already done all the work for us.
Special thanks to Greg Ellis and David Hoffner for talking with me about my ideas in their early formations, reading my drafts, and having white board drawing time to help hone in what I want to communicate through this piece!
1. I am choosing to focus primarily on passages from the Hebrew Scriptures, especially in the Torah, as these would have been the Scriptures that Jesus grew up on and where he quoted from when discussing rest in the Gospels.
2. This article will not discuss the debate regarding if the Sabbath still should mean one day of rest or resting throughout our week of work, taking micro-versions of the Sabbath.
3. Mueller, Ekkehardt. “The Sabbath Commandment in Deuteronomy 5:12-15.” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, 2003, pp. 141-49, digitalcommons.andrews.edu/jats/