The title of our article today is taken from Isaiah 58: 13-14a – “If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: 14 Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD.”
The Bible tells us that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh: “And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made” (Gen 2: 1-3). The word for “rested” in the original is “shabath” – from which our English word “Sabbath” is derived. “Sabbath” therefore signifies a day of rest from toil and labour. This means that the Sabbath is to be a day of solemn rest and rejoicing in God’s blessings upon His people. God has “sanctified it”, that is, He has set it apart from secular work and consecrated it for His worship and service.
This command is reflected clearly in the Westminster Confession of Faith (Question 60): “How is the Sabbath to be sanctified? Answer: The Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting all that day, even from such worldly employments and recreations as are lawful on other days; and spending the whole time in the public and private exercises of God’s worship, except so much as is to be taken up in the works of necessity and mercy.”
God has commanded us to “remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Ex 20: 8). We are to keep the day in mind as a non-negotiable obligation and commitment. Hence we must manage our time so that the day is available for the Lord. Note that we are “to keep it holy”. Here reference is not made to a few mere hours for church attendance. One entire day in a week is to be set aside from ordinary use and be devoted to the Lord – to worship and serve Him.
As God’s people, we must observe the Sabbath by spending it in sacred worship and service. To use the Sabbath day for our own pleasure or amusement, for worldly business or for work which is not necessary or merciful is to rob God of that which belongs to Him. May we not steal from God that which He has ordained for Himself.
During His earthly ministry, the Lord Jesus Christ was accused of breaking the Sabbath when He healed the sick, lame and blind (Mk 3: 1; Lk 13: 13-14; Jn 5: 8-9; 9: 14), and when His disciples picked grains of corn for food (Matt 12: 1-2). The Lord responded by laying down a vital principle: “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2: 27). This means that the Sabbath was designed not to be a burden to man, but for his good – that he might rest from his labours and find time for spiritual and physical refreshment. This is clear from the creation account which tells us that man was made first, followed by the Sabbath which God ordained for man’s well-being (Gen 2: 1-3).
There is great benefit and happiness for those who keep the day holy. Albert Barnes elaborates on the blessings of keeping the Sabbath:
“It was a kind provision for man that he might refresh his body by relaxing his labours; that he might have undisturbed time to seek the consolations of religion to cheer him in the anxieties and sorrows of a troubled world; and that he might render to God that homage which is most justly due to him as the Creator, Preserver, Benefactor, and Redeemer of the world. … Where there is no Sabbath, there is ignorance, vice, disorder, and crime. … Where that day is observed in any manner as it should be, order prevails, morals are promoted, the poor are elevated in their condition, vice flies away, and the community puts on the appearance of neatness, industry, morality, and religion. The Sabbath was, therefore, pre-eminently intended for man’s welfare, and the best interests of mankind demand that it should be sacredly regarded as an appointment of merciful heaven, intended for our best good; and, where improved aright, infallibly resulting in our temporal and eternal peace.”
Brethren, the Sabbath day belongs to God. Do we devote this sacred day to Him each week? Is the Sabbath a delight or a burden to us? May we resolve to honour the Lord by keeping the Sabbath holy. Spend the day quietly and meaningfully by drawing nigh to the Lord in worship and praise with His people. Then will we be able to “call the Sabbath a delight”. Amen.