Posted by: mikenicholsblog | March 11, 2010

sabbath (שבת)

In any endeavor to read through the Bible, it is universally accepted that the book of Leviticus presents one of the most significant potential roadblocks to success.  I am certain that many of the strongest resolves were broken before the reader reached the final verse of its final chapter.  Leviticus is a book where the epic tension of the two R’s (rules vs. relationship) seems reduced to an open and shut case of, “the rules have it!”

As I began the daily reading Tuesday, I got only a single verse into it before I skidded to a stop.  For a reason I am not fully aware of even now, I paused after reading the first few words of the second verse of Leviticus chapter 26.  It reads …

Observe my Sabbaths …”

And as I sat and allowed those few words to echo in meditation, I “saw” the assumedly wide chasm between the two R’s all but completely disappear.  Now, there is no arguing that “Remember the Sabbath” is a rule.  It is number 4 on the “Top Ten” list.  But inherent in this command from the great I AM, is a priority on relationship.  God first modeled this “rule” for us, in choosing on the seventh day of creation to rest.  The creator of the universe, the source of all energy, the possessor of omnipotent power, rested.  Did he need to?  The obvious answer to that question is, “No”.  Well then, there must have been a reason why he rested.  And then at a pivotal moment in the history of his people, why he commanded that his day of rest be remembered in their individual lives.

Sabbath, or “shabat” in Hebrew, is literally translated as “rest” or the “cessation of work”.  On the seventh day of creation, God stopped working and rested.  Not from a place of fatigue, but rather of “finished”.  Creation was complete, and God stopped.  And I also believe that during this cessation, he rested and communed with his creation.  And from these literal translations, it is not difficult to conclude why he commanded the remembrance of this in the lives of his people.  It was a delineation between the work they did in, and of themselves, and the true source of all the fruits of their labor.  And a proper silence in which to worship their God, and commune with Him.  It was a rest that produced peace, and nurtured and grew relationship.  And I love the early picture of God’s provision for his people in the desert.  Each day God would provide manna.  And each day there would be just enough for that day.  Except on the sixth day, when God provided enough for two days.  He was true in supplying their need to live in obedience to his command.  How amazing is that!

It is so easy, isn’t it, to fill our lives with the “stuff” of work, and family and service.  Things that in their proper context can be very good.  But also things which can rather quickly crowd our lives and attentions, and create a barrier between us and the Creator in who’s image we were created.  Take the time to “cease work” and “rest”.

The ancients certainly did, and today, we can also take relationship activities and shroud them in rules.  Flee from that, and pursue instead the opportunity to “cease work” and “rest” once a week, and commune with your Creator.  He so desires a close relationship with you.  One that is not defined by the practice and particulars of a ritual, but rather time and presence given in love, motivated by what He has done for us.


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