“If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot From doing your own pleasure on My holy day, And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, And honor it, desisting from your own ways, From seeking your own pleasure And speaking your own word, Then you will take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Isaiah 58.13,14 NASBThis week I would like to address a very misunderstood verse that has come to my attention once again. Many, especially within my own Christian-Sabbatarian culture, have mistaken what Isaiah’s intent in this verse really is. It has too often robbed those who are sincere and honest from truly entering into what God originally intended the gift of the Sabbath to be. The misunderstanding is simple and actually has a deep history in Sabbatarianism, whether Christian or Jewish.
In the verse above, Isaiah is quoting the Lord’s admonishment not to “seek our own pleasure” on the Sabbath day. Keeping the Sabbath “holy” has, through a misunderstanding of Isaiah 58, been taken to mean that anything of a pleasurable nature is forbidden. Not only has work been strictly forbidden, but anything pleasurable has too often been forbidden as well. (The Sabbath has such a history of restrictions that the Essenes, whom Josephus considered to be the strictest in their Sabbath observance, even refrained from defecation during the Sabbath hours. [OM. Prob. Lib. 81; cf. Vit. Contempl. 30f.] Wow! The lengths to which we will take our misunderstandings.)
A careful study of the Sabbath in the scriptures reveals that only one thing was really ever forbidden on the Sabbath: work to gain a livelihood. The verse under consideration seems to be the only exception to this rule, but “seems” is the right word; it truly is not an exception. The Hebrew word translated here as “seeking your own pleasure” is only translated this way in this one instance. In all other instances, the word used here for pleasure is indicative of “that in which one takes delight, his business, one’s own business affairs.” (Brown, Driver & Briggs, Hebrew-English Lexicon, p. 343, reference 4)
You see, even here in Isaiah, God is simply repeating what He has stated consistently about the Sabbath everywhere else. We are to cease from the pleasure of making money, and call the Sabbath a pleasure or a delight! God, on this day, desires us to cease from our business affairs to focus our energy on something else.
But this begs the question: Focus on what? Why does God desire for us to cease from our labors on this day and on what are we to expend that energy now? The answer is found in Nehemiah, where one discovers the Biblical meaning of “keeping a day holy.” What does “a day’s holiness” mean for Nehemiah?
Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is holy to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.” Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them. (Nehemiah 8.9-12)
The idea here is that the Sabbath was intended to be what we in our modern culture call a “holiday.” A day where we don’t work, but instead CELEBRATE! Eating the fat! Drinking the sweet! But what are we to be CELEBRATING?
Over and over again, the answer is clear.
Exodus 16.23 – “. . . holy sabbath to the LORD.”
Exodus 16.25 – “. . . today is a sabbath to the LORD.”
Exodus 20.10 – “. . . a sabbath to the LORD your God.”
Exodus 31.15 – “. . . holy to the LORD.”
Exodus 35.2 – “. . . a day of sabbath rest to the LORD.”
Deuteronomy 5.14 – “. . . is a sabbath to the LORD your God.”
We are to be celebrating HIM! With choice foods and sweet drinks (sounds like Thanksgiving, doesn’t it?) we are to remember and celebrate what our Lord and Savior has done for us, not only on that Friday evening during the creation week but also on that Friday evening in the PASSION week as well. Our Savior, again, on the sixth day cried out, “It is Finished,” and then on the Seventh rested from the work He had accomplished. Truly this day is hallowed and blessed, not simply by the events surrounding creation, but by the events surrounding our redemption as well.
This weekend, beginning on Friday night, set time aside to celebrate our Lord and the generously extravagant love He has poured out on each one of us. Take time to make HIS day special. Set off some fireworks! Have a super special meal! Give presents to the kids in your family! Do something, do anything that celebrates the unfathomable, radical, self-sacrificial, other-centered love of our God! (It’s also interesting to note that nowhere in the scriptures does the Bible tell us how to celebrate the Sabbath; it simply calls us to do it. This should speak volumes to us.)
Remember, love like the rain, love like the sun, and go enlarge the kingdom!
I wish you God’s best this week.