Everything you are about to read in this article is extremely counter-cultural – counterintuitive, even. But if you persevere and make it to the end, applying the lessons God reveals, I promise you that your tired life will be changed forever.
Let’s look at Exodus 14: The Israelites stood before the Red Sea with a massive Egyptian army – led by Pharaoh himself – hot on their heels. Despite all the miracles they’d seen so far – though the pillars of cloud and fire were right above their heads – they were still grumbling to Moses.
They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” (Exodus 14:11-12)
But the Lord saved them in spectacular fashion. The Israelites erupted into songs of praise – thanking God for His protection and provision for them.
But the rapturous mood quickly dissipates.
By Chapter 15, we see that after three days of tramping in the wilderness, the Israelites were grumbling again after discovering that the only water available at Marah was bitter. After sweetening their water by having Moses throw a log into the water, God brings them to the lush oasis of Elim where there’s water, shade and rest abundantly. Then they set off again.
Yet some time into the journey, they start grumbling again. “Did you bring us out here that we may starve?” they complained to Moses and Aaron. God shows up again in miraculous ways: Manna (bread) falls from the sky at dawn, and quail at dusk!
But this time, it’s also a test of sorts. The Israelites were told to collect just what they needed for the day – an omer (about two litres) per person. On the sixth day, it’s twice the usual portion – enough for two days. Then rest on the seventh day.
The Sabbath observer says this: “My God fights for me, provides for me, and is enough for me.”
Sounds simple enough, right? Yet the Israelites didn’t listen; in anxiety they gathered beyond the day’s needs – only to discover that any manna kept overnight went bad and grew worms.
But could we blame them? These people were slaves, fighting for every crumb that fell from the table of their masters. And now they were supposed to collect just what they needed for one day?
But another miracle occurs on top of the miracle of manna and quail: Unlike the manna on the first five days, the extra portion gathered on the sixth day was perfectly preserved for consumption on the seventh day. Here Moses dedicated that day to God as a holy Sabbath, one of solemn rest.
Rest! In the midst of a hard and undignified life forcing folk to fight tooth and claw for scraps, the Sabbath is supremely counter-cultural. The Sabbath observer says this: “My God fights for me, provides for me, and is enough for me.”
You see, a freed slave can still struggle to live as free person. His soul has been deeply wounded, scorched with the branding iron of a society that demands output and beats people into submission until the muzzle and saddle fit.
Without a name or inheritance, slaves live for nothing but survival: Breadcrumbs to fill a stomach, shelter in the storm, the warmth of a fire.
And even in the face of grace, a slave grasps frantically for all he can get, failing to see the Giver. He’s kiasu and trusts no one, because people have only poured suffering into the cup he drinks from. And he remembers every bitter, boiling drop he’s swallowed.
Even when the rains falls in a valley of dry bones, when rivers flow in a desert, slaves cling on to the same habits that saw them through the previous rounds of natural selection. There’s no time for delight or wonder in an anxious mind.
But let’s not forget the slave-drivers they served under. The Egyptians were power-hungry and enslaved the Israelites (whose numbers were swelling) as part of their civil expansion strategy. Slaves were used to build grand feats of architecture, some of which still stand today.
Much of this desire to build stemmed from their system of organised religion. Mummification ensured immortality; the privileged dead were sent off with precious stones and goods for a comfortable afterlife. Such slave-masters were themselves enslaved by the ideals of immortality, so that much of their life was about preserving themselves for the afterlife.
But such a sense of control was only an illusion. The Egyptians were blinded by it, to the point where even witnessing the devastating power of God wasn’t enough for their hardened hearts.
Times have changed, but we have not. Take away the sand and the eye liner and tell me – are we really any different? What are you fighting for?
Slave or slave-driver, God wants to break your chains and set you free.
Think about the Israelites, tested to gather just enough manna and quail.
God was saying, “I am here. I hear you. You need just to be still. Gather what you need, and don’t worry about tomorrow.” He’s still saying that to us today.
He wants our trust and for us not to doubt His goodness. To live in the conviction that His mercies abound … To have faith in a God who can part the sea.
He says rest. He will bless you with more than enough. If you trust the Provider, then you don’t have to gather all the time. Stop chasing every penny to put food on table. You’ve worked hard for the week – now rest for a day.
If you truly believe that God provides, protects and loves you – you’ll see the Sabbath as less of a test, and more as an expression of trust.
If you truly believe that God provides, protects and loves you – you’ll see the Sabbath as less of a test, and more as an expression of trust. And when you trust God wholeheartedly, you are no longer a slave to fear or anxiety. Your priorities and schedule are shaped by a love for a good God who first loved you and freed you.
Our trust in God becomes unconditional – standing independently of how the day is going. We remain free to experience the simple delight and wonder of each passing day, and life becomes joyful. The shackles come off, replaced by new and clean robes. We can sing of God’s goodness in the storms of life, knowing He is with us through it all.
The Sabbath takes us beyond ourselves, helping us not to see people as enemies – but fellow travellers.
If we aren’t self-centred, we will truly see that each human life is an important character. That means the Sabbath is important for others as well, and it becomes our mission to make rest possible for them too.
Feeding the poor, clothing the hungry, fighting for justice and campaigning to preserve the environment directly serve human needs. Artists, writers and performers can bring love, joy, peace and hope into the lives of their audiences.
God helps us to make sure that nobody is left behind in this journey we call life. As we drink from the fountain of life, our cup overflows, and we naturally fill the cups of those around us. Let go of the slave mindset and enter into God’s rest made possible by Jesus.
“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:11)
Whatever your mission, struggle or cry is: Fight for your Sabbath. It will show you how to live restfully as free sons and daughters of the Most High. God hears you, and calls you to stillness.
Our hearts may grow overwhelmed by the challenges of this life. Our identity, convictions, and relationships are constantly being put through the fire, but the Sabbath is there to remind us that “struggle” is not the overarching theme of our time here.
Sabbath breaks the default mode of striving, and reminds us that it is possible to live in the confidence that the past, present and future are in God’s hands. As we honour the Sabbath, we express trust in God for provision – acknowledging His presence in the miry muck of our anxiety, pain and struggle.
Breathe in a little more grace. If you plan your life around God’s divine rhythms of work and rest, slavery in its spirit and mindset will struggle to rear its head again.
Now pause for a moment, and let that sink in. Rejoice in your freedom. Today and forevermore, enter into God’s Sabbath rest for you.