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The Sabbath as a day of rest

Andrews University
Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary
The Sabbath as a Day of Rest
A Paper
Presented in Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Course
GSEM THST 608 Great Controversy, Covenant, Law, and Sabbath
Spring 2022
Kwarteng Amaniampong
February 18, 2022
“On the seventh day God ended 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 in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made”
(Genesis 2:2, 3). Because God rested on the seventh day, he designated it a holy day to be
remembered for all time.
We live in a vastly individualistic society in which men and women’s desires are to advance
themselves at all costs. From working 40-60+ hours weeks, there seems to be no desire for man
to rest from their labors citing, that ‘I’ll rest when I’m dead’ quotation or making excuses such
as, ‘I have too much to do’, ‘I need to make money’ and so on and so forth. Rest or Shabbat as it
is translated in Hebrew, was a mandate from Heaven in which the mandator himself participated
in. It is in the Book of Genesis 2 where we see that God Himself, upon the completion of His 6day work week, He rested on the Sabbath. Genesis 2:2, “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 in it He rested from all His
work which God had created and made.” Not only did God rest on the 7th day, a special blessing
was added onto the Sabbath day that we don’t see in regards to the other days in the Creation
From the beginning, God instituted the Sabbath to be a Holy and sanctified day of rest for
Himself and for His people. As we discuss the Sabbath as a day of rest, we must recognize that
we are discussing a concept that was instituted before any ‘real’ rest was needed during Creation
week. God could have created the earth and all that is within it by i.e. thinking it into existence,
speaking the animals, trees, water etc. into existence but that’s not what we see happen during
Creation week. God in an orderly fashion, created the earth and all that we have in it today and
without breaking a sweat, still desired to rest from His work and commune with His creation.
The fact God himself saw the need to break from the cycle of work and have a day of rest, isn’t
an indication of the feebleness of our nature, although we are, it is rather a reflection and
indication of the omniscient abilities that God has. In his divine knowledge, he saw a need for
Himself to have a day of Shabbat, and more importantly, a need for his creation to have a day set
apart to rest from their work and remember the Sabbath day as an indication of God’s covenant
towards his people. Exodus 19:5,6 says that, “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed,
and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the
earth is mine”.
Main Body
A central component of God’s covenant with His people was the observation of the
Sabbath day of rest. As expressed in Exod. 31:16, God commanded Israel to “celebrate Sabbath
for the generations to come as a lasting covenant”. In Hebrew Scripture, the observance of the
Sabbath was a reminder for Israel to be in right accord with God, people, and God’s creation.
God set aside the seventh day, the Sabbath day, and blessed it (Gen. 2:3), and called it
holy (Gen. 2:3; Exod. 20:11). The Hebrew word Shabbat means to rest, to cease or stop work; a
time in which work finds its culmination (Gen. 2:2; Exod. 20:11; 31:17). The Sabbath refers to
one day a week, and one year out of seven that the Hebrew people were ordained by God to no
longer work (Exod. 23:12). As the fourth commandment in the Decalogue (Exod. 20:8-11), the
Sabbath stands in blunt contrast to the enslaved lives and hectic work pace of the Israelites while
in Egypt. Miller (2009) notes, it is “Pharaoh’s exploitation of human life and human work that
triggers God’s gift of the Sabbath” (p. 130). In addition, he suggests that the fourth
commandment stands as a bridge between the Ten Commandments established by God through
Moses (Deut. 5:12-14), the first through third command centering on right relationship with God,
and the fifth through tenth command highlighting right relationship with humankind (p. 117).
Brueggemann expands upon Miller’s insight, noting that within the first three commands God is
at rest and in the following commands the neighbor is at rest, with none “driven by excessive
desire” (Pattinson, 2014). He suggests:
In our own contemporary context of the rat race of anxiety, the celebration of Sabbath is an act
of both resistance and alternative. It is resistance because it is a visible insistence that our lives
are not defined by the production and consumption of commodity goods…The alternative on
offer is the awareness and practice of the claim that we are situated on the receiving end of the
gifts of God. (Pattinson, 2014, p. xiii)
Isaiah 58:13-14 gives Israel God’s command and His promise:
If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if
you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not
going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your
joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the
inheritance of your father Jacob. The mouth of the Lord has spoken.
The Sabbath is considered a blessed rest from toil and troubles; it is an engagement in the work
of God, and a matter of obedience.
Sabbath rest invites the followers of Yahweh into His presence (Exod. 33:14; Heb. 4:9; Matt.
11:28) and gives perspective to the larger work of God in the world. Dederen (1982) asserts,
“Christians will never understand what it really means to keep the Sabbath until they try it—and
try it not merely as a day of rest, but on the level of its full God-centered potential for divinehuman fellowship” (p. 302). In slowing down and stopping work, individuals provide sacred
space for the Triune God to be at work in their lives.
The example of Jesus’ life, ministry, and work is central to discerning a complete theology of
rest. The covenant promises God made with the people of Israel find their fulfillment in Christ
(Matt. 5:17). As Jeremiah prophesied, “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will
make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah…I will put my law
in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Jer.
31:31-33). The covenant relationship that God initiated with the people of Israel is now offered
to all nations through the eternal covenant rooted and established in Christ. In this new covenant,
Sabbath practice takes on a renewed form.
Jesus uniquely addresses the Jewish traditions surrounding the Sabbath by bringing grace and
truth to the practice of Sabbath rest (John 1:17). Christ approached Sabbath in freedom, noting
that the Sabbath is created for people, not as a system of oppression and rules (Mark 2:27-28).
The yoke, or teaching that Jesus offers, is easy and the burden light, and in fulfilling the Sabbath
(Matt. 11:29-30), Jesus becomes our Sabbath rest. Considering the new covenant in Christ some
scholars have asserted that Sabbath keeping is no longer necessary, or even a rejection of Christ
(Riggle, 1928; Rordorf, 1968). However, this is a simplification of the Sabbath practice, which is
much more than one day, but rather, a God-oriented approach to all life. In the same way that
Jesus radically, invited Mary to sit at His feet (Lk. 10:38-42), Jesus also invites His followers to
a place of learning and of rest.
In Sabbath practice, individuals engage in loving God, themselves, and others. Jesus’ ministry
attracted large crowds and His work was ongoing, yet still, Jesus sought God and His rest.
Sabbath habits of Jesus included teaching (Mark 1:27-28), attending the synagogue (Lk. 4:16;
Mark 6:1-2; 15:42; 16:1), gathering food for daily nourishment (Mark 2:23-38), and relieving the
oppressed and healing the sick (John 5:5; 9:1-12; Lk. 13:10-17; 14:1-6; Mark 3:1-6). As
evidenced in Jesus’ actions, “true Sabbath observance joins God in the work of redemption,
relieving the burdens of the oppressed, in which He is always engaged” (MacCarty, 2011, p. 65).
Jewett (1971) notes that Jesus’ healing miracles on the Sabbath were “not only acts of love,
compassion and mercy; but true sabbatical acts” showing “that the Messianic Sabbath had
broken into the world” (p. 42). In acts of mercy and compassion, Christ highlights a new Sabbath
purpose, drawing together the broken and vulnerable into a new community of believers.
Despite incredible healing and ministry opportunities, even Christ was faced with demands from
family and crowds, and was impacted by stress and overwork. In Mark 6:31, Jesus and the
disciples were so busy that “they did not even have a chance to eat.” Christ’s response, however,
is instructive. Jesus told His disciples “come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some
rest” (Mark 6:31). Throughout His ministry, Jesus continually turns to a rhythm of God’s
Sabbath rest, taking time for solitude and prayer (Lk. 5:15-16; 6:12-13, Mark 1:12; 1:35-36;
1:45; 3:7, 13; 6:31-32, 46; 9:2; 14:32; Matt. 14:13, 23). The Sabbath rest that Christ practiced
saturated His ministry and life, and offers Christians a clear example to emulate.
In practicing rest, Christians develop greater trust in Jesus, acknowledging the work that
Christ has already done (1 Cor. 15:3-6; John 3:14-18). Muller (1999) remarks:
Sabbath requires surrender. If we only stop when we are finished with all our work, we will
never stop—because our work is never completely done…If we refuse rest until we are finished,
we will never rest until we die. Sabbath dissolves the artificial urgency of our days, because it
liberates us from the need to be finished. (pp. 82–83)
The Sabbath promotes this right ordering of rest and work, providing space for God to impact the
lives of His people. Instead of pursuing lives of overwork and eventual burnout, Christians are
called to the counter-cultural practice of Sabbath rest. As followers of Christ, ministers are to
live out a Sabbath rhythm of rest by casting their cares on God (Prov. 3:5-6) and allowing the
peace of Christ to rule in their hearts (Col. 3:15). Sabbath rest provides God’s people with an
opportunity to set their hopes on something far greater than their work. It provides space for
Christians to worship God in the realization that one’s pursuit of work is subject to the will of
God. Sabbath is counter-cultural in that it invites individuals and communities to orient their
hearts towards what is of lasting value, a vital and healthy relationship with the living God.
1. Dederen, R. (1982). Reflections on a theology of the Sabbath. In Strand, K. A.
(Ed.), The Sabbath in Scripture and history (pp. 295–307). Washington, DC:
Herald Publishing.
2. Jewett, P. K. (1971). The Lord’s day: A theological guide to the Christian day of
worship. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
3. MacCarty, S. (2011). The seventh-day Sabbath. In Donato, C. J. (Ed.),
Perspectives on the Sabbath: 4 views (pp. 9–72). Nashville, TN: B & H
4. Miller, P. (2009). The Ten Commandments: Interpretation. Louisville, KY:
Westminster John Knox.
5. Muller, W. (1999). Sabbath: Finding rest, renewal, and delight in our busy lives.
New York, NY: Bantam Books.
6. Pattinson, J. (2014). Sabbath as resistance: An interview with Walter
7. Riggle, H. M. (1928). The Sabbath and the Lord’s day (6th ed.). Anderson, IN:
Gospel Trumpet.