October 2, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Isaiah 56:1-2, 6-7 (NRSV)
Thus says the Lord:
Maintain justice, and do what is right,
for soon my salvation will come
and my deliverance be revealed.
Happy is the mortal who does this,
the one who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it,
and refrains from doing any evil.
Biblical passages like Isaiah 56 show us that the gift of sabbath is not something God intends only for the Jewish people. Though it is central to their particular covenant with the Lord, sabbath is something God intends for all human beings. Moreover, Isaiah 56 adds something that we have not seen before, the connection between sabbath-keeping and happiness or joy (56:2, 7).
Series: Unwrapping God’s Gift of Rest
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion based on Isaiah 1, we saw that God is not pleased by the sabbath-keeping of the Israelites unless they also live rightly with others, especially seeking justice for the oppressed, orphans, and widows. Another prophecy from Isaiah, this time in chapter 56, reiterates that point while offering a new promise.
Isaiah 56 begins with a familiar prophetic exhortation: “Maintain justice, and do what is right” (56:1). Yet this is joined with a promise, “for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed” (56:1). The coming of God’s salvation and deliverance motivates God’s people to act with justice and righteousness in the present day. The one who does this will be “happy,” or as more traditional translations put it, “blessed” (56:2). Notice that verse 2 associates the happiness of seeking justice and righteousness with keeping the sabbath, reiterating what we learned in Isaiah 1.
In verse 3 Isaiah’s prophecy takes an unexpected turn, addressing the “foreigner” or “immigrant” (CEB) who might feel excluded from God’s promise. As we read in verses 6-7,
“And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar.”
Once again, we see the centrality of sabbath-keeping to God’s design for all human lives. It is linked here with joining, ministering to, loving, serving the Lord, and holding on to the covenant. Those who are in relationship with God and do what God has commanded will be invited into God’s presence. They will experience joy and their offerings to God will be welcomed.
Then comes an additional surprise. For those who abide by God’s law and live in relationship with God, the temple in Jerusalem “shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (56:7). The temple is not just for the Jewish people, but for everyone. Here we catch a glimpse of the inclusiveness of God’s plan and promise, that which we will see more clearly in the ministry of Jesus and the subsequent outpouring of the Holy Spirit on “all flesh” (Acts 2:17).
Biblical passages like Isaiah 56 show us that the gift of sabbath is not something God intends only for the Jews. Though it is central to their particular covenant with the Lord, regular rest is something God intends for all human beings.
Moreover, Isaiah 56 adds something that we have not seen before, the connection between sabbath-keeping and happiness or joy (56:2, 7). It’s not uncommon for people unfamiliar with sabbath-keeping to assume it is a drudgery, a heavy obligation from demanding God. But if you’ve ever known people who keep the sabbath faithfully, you have probably seen a different reality played out week after week.
In tomorrow’s Life for Leaders devotion, I’ll pursue further this connection between sabbath-keeping and happiness. For now, let me encourage you to consider the following questions.
What are your feelings about sabbath keeping? Where do those feelings come from?
Can you imagine setting aside time for regular rest as something that produces happiness and joy in you? If so, why? If not, why not?
If you are not devoting time each week for regular rest, set aside time this next week in which you will not work. During that time, pay attention to what you’re experiencing and feeling.
Gracious God, help us, we pray, to know the joy that comes from living life as you designed it to be. Help us to discover the happiness that comes from stopping work in order to rest. As we rest, may our souls enjoy the quiet of being with you. Amen.
Banner image by Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Sabbath for Gentiles.
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.