And foreigners who bind 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 without desecrating it
and who hold fast to my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.

Isaiah 56:6-7

 

A dog looking at a person resting in a hammock.Throughout Isaiah we see God’s vision not only for the people of Israel but also for all peoples. Though salvation is focused upon Israel, it is not for Israel alone. Isaiah 56 reiterates the Lord’s concern for the nations. They too can be numbered among God’s holy people if they “bind themselves to the LORD” and “love the name of the LORD” (56:6).

All of this fits comfortably into our understanding of how we relate to God as Christians. But then Isaiah adds that Gentiles who keep God’s covenant must “keep the Sabbath without desecrating it” (56:6). How are we to make sense of this as Christians? Is the Sabbath for us too? Didn’t Jesus free us from keeping the Sabbath?

As I have worked on these questions for many years, I have become convinced that the Sabbath is a gift from God given to all people, not just to the Jews. It’s also for those of us who are, to use the biblical term, Gentiles. We see this most clearly in the creation account in Genesis. There, after creating for six days, God “blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done” (Genesis 2:3). God not only rested on the seventh day but also made it holy, that is, set it apart to be a special day, and day for rest (see, for example, Exodus 20:9-11).

Scripture reveals that God created us with a need for weekly rest. We live most fully when we imitate him by setting aside a day each week for rest and refreshment. But a legalistic approach to Sabbath is inconsistent with the grace of God in Christ. Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, invites us into the joy of his rest. Sabbath is not so much a requirement as it is a gift. Through rest, we are renewed in our relationship with the Lord and find we are strengthened to serve him in our daily work.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

What do you think of the Sabbath?

Do you set aside time each week for rest and renewal?

If so, why do you do this? If not, why not?

How do you feel about devoting a regular time each week to rest?

PRAYER:

Gracious God, first of all, I thank you for including the Gentiles among your people. How blessed I am to be numbered among your sons and daughters, even though I am not a literal descendant of Abraham and Sarah.

You know, Lord, how the idea of Sabbath can be a perplexing one to those of us who belong to you through Christ. We want to be faithful to you in all things. We want to receive the fullness of your goodness. Sabbath intrigues us. The thought of resting with you beckons to us. Yet we fear the legalism that so often attaches itself to the Sabbath, even among Christians. We wonder if we can really get all of our work done in six days. Help us, Lord, to have a right understanding of the Sabbath and its role in our lives. Teach us how to rest in a way that honors you and your grace. Amen.

 

Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentaryIs a Weekly Sabbath Observance Expected of Christians?