In the first part of the book of Jeremiah, the prophet has been warning God’s people of his coming judgment because of their sin. He’s warned them of the impending threat from Babylon, the imminent destruction of Jerusalem, and the unavoidable exile coming for the people of Judah. Judah is guilty of worshipping local gods, building temples to these false gods, and worshipping in despicable ways, including practices like child sacrifice. God has been giving Jeremiah message after message to deliver to the people, pleading with them to repent. But in Jeremiah 17, the message God gives to Jeremiah is surprising.
“Thus says the Lord: Take care for the sake of your lives, and do not bear a burden on the Sabbath day or bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem. And do not carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath or do any work, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your fathers (Jeremiah 17:21-22).”
After all the ways Judah turned from God, worshipped idols, and ignored the warnings from the prophet, the one command God implored them to follow was this: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy (Exodus 20:8).” Not only does God remind the people of this command, but he also makes a promise and gives a warning: “But if you listen to me, declares the Lord, and bring in no burden by the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but keep the Sabbath day holy and do no work on it, then there shall enter by the gates of this city kings and princes who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their officials, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And this city shall be inhabited forever...But if you do not listen to me, to keep the Sabbath day holy, and not to bear a burden and enter by the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem and shall not be quenched (Jeremiah 17: 24-25, 27).”
Of all the commandments Judah had broken, why would God choose to remind the people of this one?
It would make sense for the Lord to remind his people of the first, second, or third commandments, given their recent activity: You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. Judah was in direct violation of every single one of these commandments. But that’s not what the Lord speaks to them about. He chooses instead to call them to observe the Sabbath, to keep it holy, to stop and rest and remember.
When I was younger, I can remember understanding the 4th commandment to mean that you shouldn’t miss a Sunday church service, and I figured I’d better show up on Sunday nights and Wednesday youth group and quarterly potlucks too, just to be safe. But the command to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy is much more than just a call for good attendance; it’s a spiritual practice that reorients us to God as our Father and provider. Sabbath rest forces us to hit reset on the frantic pace of our lives and requires us to lift our eyes to our Creator and Father.
When we practice Sabbath rest, we stop work, we rest, we delight in the Lord and enjoy his gifts, and we worship him. Imagine a day spent this way: no emails, no laundry, eating good food, spending time alone with God, spending time with the people you love, praying together, napping, laughing, meditating on scripture, spending time in nature, doing things that bring you joy, and thanking God for it all. How healthy would a day like this be for our hearts? Now imagine doing this once every week! We were not made to put our heads down and grind it out day after day with no stopping to acknowledge the Lord.
When we make time for Sabbath rest, we’re actually creating pathways for obedience to the first three commandments. When we are regularly seeking the Lord in Sabbath rest, we are checking our hearts to make sure we have no other gods before Him. When we have healthy rhythms of Sabbath rest, we can prevent ourselves from making our own idols. When we are stopping each week to turn wholly to the Lord, we can learn to treat the Lord with fear and reverence, honoring his name in all that we do. Sabbath rest actually helps us keep the greatest commandment, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Not only does Sabbath rest help us love God, but it also prepares us to love our neighbors. We cannot give what we do not have; the refreshment that happens during Sabbath rest actually empowers us to love others. So Sabbath rest helps us keep the first three commandments, but it also helps us keep the last 6, which are summed up this way: Love your neighbor as yourself.
A day of Sabbath rest will look a little different for everyone, but ideally, it will consist of four parts, adapted from Peter Scazzero’s The Emotionally Healthy Leader:
Stopping work. For my family, this means blocking off a 24-hour period, usually starting on Friday at dinner and ending on Saturday at dinner. During this time, we stop all work for our jobs and have all housework finished before our Sabbath dinner on Friday night. This doesn’t happen if we don’t plan ahead; we plan our meals, make sure everyone has clean clothes, pay bills, send any final emails, and finish any work that needs to be done by dinnertime on Friday. Now, of course, we’ll have to clean up a spill at dinner or put away Monopoly when we’re done playing, but by and large, we do not work during this 24 hour time.
Rest. Sometimes, when God smiles on us and the children comply, this means actually napping. Sometimes it means watching a movie together or sitting out in the backyard. As a general tone for the day, we take it slow; we linger in bed, soaking up snuggles with the kids. We don’t rush through meals or conversations. We intentionally slow our pace.
Delight. This positions us to delight in the Lord and to enjoy his gifts. For each person in my family, this looks a little different. One of my daughters loves to have her nails painted and dress up fancy. My other daughter loves going for bike rides and shooting baskets at the park. My son wants to read the same truck book over and over and over, and my husband wants to play golf. I’d be happiest sitting outside with a good book and a cold Topo Chico. We also take time to enjoy one another; we listen, laugh, and give each other our attention. Another way we practice delighting in the Lord on the Sabbath is by feasting. Our Friday night Sabbath dinner is the best meal we eat each week, and there’s always dessert! As we do things we love and eat delicious food and laugh and talk together, we are reminded of the goodness of the Lord.
Worship. To start the Sabbath, we usually read Psalm 23 and pray a prayer of gratitude together. Over the course of Sabbath, we spend time reading scripture, sitting in silence with the Lord, meditating on his word, and listening to worship music. We take time to acknowledge that we are weak and needy and limited, but God is powerful, self-sufficient, and infinite.
During the Sabbath, our kids still fight with each other, my husband and I still get frustrated, we get texts that stress us out, or other things come up. Some weeks we skip the Sabbath altogether. But we feel it in our bones when we are regularly practicing Sabbath rest. My weak heart needs regular prompting to stop, rest, delight, and worship. The goal of the Sabbath is not to appear super holy. Rather, the goal of the Sabbath is to reorient our hearts to Jesus Christ, reminding us that he is the true source of rest, that he is our true Sabbath.
For further reading on the Sabbath, try these resources:
The Emotionally Healthy Leader by Peter Scazzero
The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer