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Recapturing Sabbath Rest

We live in a world where observing the seventh-day Sabbath is seen as outdated and impractical. Many people feel that keeping the Sabbath is an inconvenience, or at best, a great idea but feels at odds with reality. Adventists remain unmoved in their view that the God-ordained day of rest and the seal of God marks salvation. In a post-pandemic era, we have reached a point where the traditional arguments for keeping the Sabbath get less traction and presenting the day as a reward for weekly fatigue ,or a way to impress God, is repulsive.

Over years of emphasis, we have loaded the day with very religion-centric concerns. Consequently, this has resulted in a few dangers: embracing the day as a way to gain God’s favor and cultivating alienating attitudes towards other religious groups. If we are not careful, we will rob the Sabbath of its beauty. We face a difficult question, how to recapture the beauty of the Sabbath in ways that speak to modern day anxieties?

A Cry From Egypt

To understand the significance of the Sabbath, we need to understand the context of the Exodus account. As Walter Brueggemann suggests, the God of the burning bush erupts into this system of hopeless weariness (Exodus 3:16). God says that He heard the despairing fatigue of the enslaved people in Exodus 2:23-25, and resolved to use Moses to liberate them from the exploitative system Pharaoh was employing. Later on in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:12), God introduces Himself as a liberating God who freed the Israelites from Pharaoh. The Sabbath commandment is presented as a radical act to people who lived their whole lives in slavery. Pharaoh was depicted as a cruel master, not even giving the Israelites the straw to make bricks. They had to gather the straw themselves while keeping to the same daily quota. They normalized endless labor, and work became survival. 

Later on in Deuteronomy, Moses reflects on their journey. He equates the Sabbath with liberation and equality. “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: 6,15). From this verse, we see Sabbath-keeping as an opportunity to remember who we are and to whom we belong. This day of rest presents us with a God who, instead of demanding more work from us, insists that we take time to rest. God himself, lead by example. “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.”

The Sabbath and Hustle Culture

Today, we exist in a hustle economy built upon profit-making and an insatiable appetite for more. We are shackled to a culture full of relentless productivity, consumerism, and constant push notifications coming through our phones causing stress and anxiety. We end up becoming our own Pharaohs, pushing ourselves to do more and hold ourselves guilty when we rest. In contrast, the Sabbath puts forth the belief that we are not what we produce. Observing that day of rest becomes a powerful statement saying, “I am going to make time and space in my life that I will use to be instead of do. I will use this time to connect with people and God.” This gives us a taste of the world as it could be. A life of trusting in God as our provider, not in bondage to anyone. 

Regardless of who you are, the Sabbath is for all of God’s creatures. William Black points out that the Sabbath as described in Exodus had a democratizing effect. It was not enough that your family rested, but also livestock, slaves, even strangers. Through resting on Saturday, slaves would regain their dignity and the anxiety of labor would be paused.

The Sabbath is a Radical Act

The Sabbath is best presented as a protest against commodification, materialism, greed, exploitation, and discrimination. The rise of the hustle economy where people must work multiple jobs with little time to rest provides a strong case for the day. Work follows us wherever we go, demanding that we do something with our time. Here comes the blessed Sabbath, saving us from ourselves and pivoting us to God.

The right to rest and do nothing is universal and as holy as the right to work. With this liberty, the blessedness of the Sabbath leads us to give freely to the poor and open our homes to the homeless without worrying that there will be nothing left for us. More importantly, the obsession over analyzing granular tasks, wondering if it is lawful to do on the Sabbath, becomes shallow once we grasp the spirit and beauty of it. The Sabbath is not a ticket into heaven but a decisive act of liberation in this life. It offers a practice of mindfulness in which we put away our to-do list to show up each moment and connect with humanity.

Having this day of rest resists the prevailing culture that deceives us into thinking good only comes from endless determination, legalism, tireless effort, and constantly being plugged in. We are to put aside our designs and surrender our plans to listen for God’s call in our lives. Even the beasts of Revelation are not a motivation to keep the Sabbath. Rather we resonate with the words of Ahad Ha’am, a Hebrew essayist: “More than Israel has kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept Israel.”

About the author

Admiral Ncube is an Adventist Zimbabwean writing from Gaborone, Botswana, where he is a humanitarian and development professional. More from Admiral Ncube.
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