September 17, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Exodus 20:8-11 (NRSV)
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 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 word “holiday” comes from the older English phrase, “holy day.” The first holiday, therefore, was the day when God stopped working and “made holy” the seventh day. Scripture says we are to keep the sabbath holy in response to and in imitation of what God did on the seventh day. We keep the sabbath holy by ceasing from work and receiving God’s gift of rest.
Series: Unwrapping God’s Gift of Rest
When I hear the word “holiday,” my heart smiles. I expect this has to do with what I experienced as a boy. On days called holidays, I got a break from school. Summer holidays were especially long and wonderful. Then, of course, there were the festive holidays, like Thanksgiving, Easter, and, most of all, Christmas. It didn’t even bother me when folks said “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” because I loved holidays.
You probably know that the English word “holiday” comes from the older English phrase “holy day.” Originally, holidays were days with special religious significance. Folks would even refer to Sundays as holidays, that is, holy days in which people took a break from work. In time, however, the word “holiday” became associated with all sorts of non-working times whether they had religious significance or not, as in the phrase “summer holidays.”
The association of holidays with times when we don’t work has a solid biblical basis, of course. Exodus 20:8-10a, a portion of the 10 Commandments, says, “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work . . . .” What reason does Exodus give for not working on this holy day? Verse 11 explains, “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.” One Hebrew verb, qadash, is used in the command, “keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8) and in the description of God’s action, “consecrated it” (20:11). Following other translations (NIV, CEB, ESV), we could rightly say that because God “made holy” the sabbath day, therefore we are to “keep it holy.”
In general, to make something holy is to set it apart from common use and dedicate it to some special purpose. If, for example, you have fine china that you use only for special occasions, you could say that your china is holy. So, the fact that God “hallowed” or “made holy” the Sabbath shows us that God wants the day to be exceptional. In practical terms, what makes it exceptional? The fact that on the sabbath God’s people are to do no work. In the six “normal” days of the week, they work. But on the seventh, they rest by ceasing to work. In this way, they experience in real life the specialness or holiness of the sabbath. We keep the sabbath as a special day by resting from our ordinary work.
Now, I realize that for many Christians today sabbath keeping is relatively unfamiliar. Many of us really don’t know what it might mean for us to keep the sabbath today. Is Sunday our sabbath? What about Saturday? Is it necessary to keep from working for one full day? What about people who have to work on weekends? We may well feel that it would be right to stop working for a day, but, frankly, we’re not sure how we could pull it off given the various demands on our time.
There is, of course, plenty of debate among theologians about the implications of biblical teaching on the sabbath for today’s followers of Jesus. I’m not going to wade into those tumultuous waters today. We’ll get to this later in this Life for Leaders devotional series. Today, I’d like you to reflect on the following questions.
How have you experienced holidays (holy days) in your life?
Do you set apart a day each week as a restful holiday? If so, why? If not, why not?
What questions do you have about sabbath keeping as a Christian?
Talk with a wise friend or with your small group about keeping the sabbath as a holiday.
Gracious God, thank you for modeling rest for us by stopping work on the seventh day. Thank you for making it clear that we are to imitate you in making the sabbath special. Help us, we pray, to discover what this means for us. Give us a mind eager to learn and a heart ready to obey.
O Lord, may we learn how to receive your gift of sabbath! Amen.
Banner image by Vidar Nordli Mathisen on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Remember the Sabbath Day and Keep It Holy. Six Days You Shall Labor (Exodus 20:8-11).
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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.