In Deuteronomy 5 the 10 commandments are given again. There the command to keep the Sabbath is connected to Israel’s exodus from the land of Egypt. So the Sabbath is to be kept to remind the people that they were once slaves but were redeemed by their mighty God.
The connection between the Sabbath and redemption is an interesting one and is expounded on in the New Testament.
But before it can be properly explained, it must be properly understood. That’s where Jesus comes in. He spent a lot of time with the Pharisees, trying to correct their distorted interpretations of the Law. In a couple different episodes, Jesus is confronted/confronts the Pharisees about how they viewed the Sabbath.
In the first, His disciples pass through a field and pluck some grain to eat…which would be fine if it weren’t the Sabbath. The Pharisees take offense at this, but Jesus points to an Old Testament example of David falling outside the normal lines of law and then drives His point home with a brilliant quote: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
He sets them straight by showing how they’ve turned a law meant for their good into a legalistic slave driver. In the very next episode, Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath but first puts a hard question to them: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save a life or to kill?”
If you found the first quote a little enigmatic, that second one should help clear the water a little. There’s a principle, I think Jesus is saying, behind the Sabbath. Yes, the Pharisees should remember the Sabbath, but not to the point of ignoring those in need.
Thus, I think we can look at the principle behind the Sabbath (forcing man to rest, mirroring God’s rest during creation) as a good thing not to be abused or mistreated, not to be used as an excuse to not do good or help someone out. Now that our view of the Sabbath is fixed, we can now look at the Sabbath idea in the New Testament.
I really only have one section to examine. It comes from Hebrews and deals not so much with the Sabbath as with the overall idea of rest. Quoting from a Psalm, the writer dives into a lengthy argument as to why the believers he’s writing to should avoid turning away from the gospel and having “unbelieving hearts.” He notes that the end of those who go that route is that they won’t enter God’s rest.
As I noted at the beginning, the Sabbath was connected to redemption. And the New Testament seems to take that and point it to ultimate redemption and rest in Christ. The author of Hebrews urges us to “strive to enter that rest.” We should acknowledge that all rest from our labor that we find here on earth is temporary. But the eternal rest that every Christian hopes and longs for is found only in Christ.
So this Labor Day, take time to rest, but also realize that if you’re a Christian, your final rest is yet coming, and if you’re not a Christian, I urge you to consider the great rest that Christ offers. It is a rest that is for your good, and is available to any who believe.