What is the Sabbath?

You yourself are to speak to the Israelites, ‘You shall surely keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, given in order that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. 

Exodus 31:13

Dear members and friends, 

In the Bible, we find at least two different explanations for what we know as the “sabbath.” One is found in Genesis, where the word “shabath”is used for the first time. Here, shabath is a verb meaning “to cease, desist, rest.” In Genesis 2:3, it is written, “God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.” This verse could mean that God took a day of rest after working hard on creating everything. Or this verse could also mean that God ceased the work of creation, because it was complete. There is a simple but significant difference between these two meanings, because the former indicates taking a break after hard work, while the later indicates the absence of work due to completion. Certainly, the true meaning of Genesis 2:3 could stay a mystery as are most of the ancient Scriptures. However, one thing that is true in Genesis is that the word shabath only appears in Genesis 2. 

In Exodus, we read that Moses strongly emphasized the observance of holy Sabbath. Here, the Hebrew word is “shabbath,” which is a noun, and means Sabbath as we know it. In Exodus the word Sabbath is mentioned 16 times, and the penalty of breaking Sabbath was death. What we sense here is that Sabbath meant more than just taking a day of rest for the Israelites. Keeping Sabbath, according to Moses, meant keeping the tribal identity of the Israelites, which was at the core of bonding the chosen people of the living God. This was crucially important to the Israelites, who just escaped Egypt after 400 years, because without such a strong tribal identity they might disperse and cease to exist as a tribe. This is probably why Jesus proclaims in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the Sabbath.” 

My brothers and sisters in God, let us take a moment of reflection today. Let us contemplate on what the Creator truly desires humans to do to each other. If it is love and peace, perhaps we should begin by filling our own hearts with love and peace from God.   

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee