By Elizabeth Schmucker
“‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” Deuteronomy 5:12-15.
This year, for only the fourth time in the rich 139-year history of Wimbledon, players competed on the middle Sunday of the tennis tournament. Due to recurring rain delays, officials decided that on the middle Sunday, a day traditionally reserved as a rest day, play would continue in order to finish the tournament on time.
One may see this day off on the middle Sunday as just another way Wimbledon clings to past traditions, with its all-white attire, grass courts, and strawberries and cream. Yet in a different way, Wimbledon’s day off reminds us that rest is an integral part of humanity. It’s something our bodies, as well as our minds, require. Just ask the players! It is necessary for physical recuperation during a two week seven round tournament of long matches. Rest of the mind is necessary too; although we may desire to devote all our time to studying, we find that our brains burn out and we must take a break. We often find we work best when we take time to go outside and rejuvenate ourselves through leisure activities. Rest is not optional; without it, we would not survive. More importantly, rest is not just necessary, it is also good.
The goodness of rest, in Christianity, is something beyond the physical or the mental. It lies beyond recuperating in order to work better the next day. Christianity, instead, affirms a unique spiritual goodness to rest. One specific way Christians rest is through Sabbath rest, which is a day of rest stemming from both God’s precedent and his commandment. In the Sabbath, Christians see rest as something established by God for humanity as something innately good for human flourishing.
We can understand the goodness of rest through understanding both the Sabbath in God’s Old Testament commandment and also the precedent he set in creation. Let us first examine the precedent God himself set by resting on the seventh day of creation. After creating the world in six days, God rested and declared the seventh day holy.1 Although God called the other days of creation “good,” he only declared the seventh day, his day of rest, as holy. Although people often understand holy simply as referring to something vaguely good or religious, to be holy means to be “set apart” from that which is common. Especially throughout the Old Testament, holiness is used extensively to show something set apart for God. For example, the room containing the ark of the covenant was set apart and declared holy because it was where the Lord made himself present to his people.2 Therefore, by calling a day of rest holy, God set it apart as something sacred. The Sabbath day is not meant to be treated like every other day; it carries special significance.
One may wonder why the Sabbath is set apart and made holy. In understanding the purpose of the Sabbath day we can know of its goodness in being made holy. Following his precedent, God also commanded the Sabbath rest to his people, the Israelites.3 Instead of normal work, the Israelites were to use the Sabbath for explicit worship and enjoyment of God. This commandment is one of the Ten Commandments God gives to the Israelites after he delivered them from slavery in Egypt. Before giving the Israelites the Commandments, God first recalls to their memory how he saved them. In so doing, God shows that his commandments give a means by which his people can respond to how he saved them; it outlines how people can worship God.
The Sabbath is good primarily because it centers on God and worshipping him for his goodness. When we rest on the Sabbath, we remember God’s goodness in both his character and in how he brings us salvation. Rest is good because God made it good. We also remember that God found it good to rest himself and to enjoy his creation; in resting ourselves, we can enjoy life in a way God does.
When we see that God created rest as something good he himself does in order to enjoy the creation he made, we begin to understand the goodness of rest. Furthermore, we see that God commanded rest as well as part of the Ten Commandments. These commands, although technically a list of rules, actually outline how people can best thrive. Through teaching what is right and wrong, these commandments not only reveal how man can respond to God’s saving him, but also teach us how humans can best live. Though it may seem obvious that human society flourishes best without murder or coveting, the Fourth Commandment reminds us that humans also thrive best when they rest in addition to their work. Although rest may just be a day off in the middle of a tennis tournament, it reminds us of the good rest God set apart for his people. I urge you, therefore, to rest, for in doing so, we can feel the fullness of the good life we have been given.
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- Genesis 2:1-3
- Sproul, R. C. “The Meaning of Holiness.”Ligonier Ministries. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 July 2016. <http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/meaning-of-holiness/>.
- Deuteronomy 5:13-15