As I write this e-mail I have the privilege of being in Jerusalem again.
Being in this city is unique because it is probably the most Sabbath-aware and Sabbath-friendly city in the world. On Fridays, most businesses shut down in the early afternoon, and by sundown buses stop running, traffic is very light, and the taxis are almost all Arab-driven because the Jewish drivers and the rest of their Jewish brethren are at home or in the synagogue celebrating the beginning of Shabbat.
Truly it is refreshing to be where so many people are experiencing the benefits of taking this command seriously. In fact, this is one of the laws that the Israelites really seemed to get hold of once they returned from captivity, and some of them have been quite faithful to keep it ever since. It’s inconvenient to have no bus service, inconvenient that most stores and shops are closed, and there are other things about the day that cross our natural desires and cause a bit of inconvenience. But once you get your mind into the “slow down and rest” gear, there is the huge benefit of having the time to focus on other things besides normal work and distractions, and of allowing your body, soul, and spirit to rest and recalibrate.
There’s a passage in Isaiah that takes Sabbath-keeping beyond the law, and even the idea of physical rest. At first blush, it may seem downright oppressive, but while it contains some do’s and don’ts, it also provides a beautiful insight into the heart of God’s ways.
Paraphrased, Isaiah 58:13-13 says:
“If you pay attention to the Sabbath, My holy day, and [here’s the potentially oppressive-sounding part] turn aside from doing your own pleasure, speaking your own words and doing your own thing [you mean God doesn’t want us to have any pleasure on the Sabbath?] and call it honorable, a delight, and honor it,” what happens?
What happens appears in verse 14. This is the real story, where God shows His heart. As a reward for trusting Him and doing things His way, He says that we will “delight ourselves in Him”! I think that’s by far the best part of the reward, but He adds more on top of that: we will “ride on the high places of the earth and be fed from the heritage of Jacob” [the Land of Israel]. Our life here on earth will be an exciting ride with Him, and we will be provided for. (See Psalm 37 for more detail about what this “delighting ourselves in Him” means.)
I believe this passage is the key to much more than just Sabbath keeping. It’s a key to our whole relationship to God. It’s also an insight into living the spirit of the Law. All through the Bible, God asks us to do or not do various things (the letter of the law), some of which may not make sense to us, and some that can even upset us. However, His message to us is always, “Trust Me and do things My way, and you will delight yourselves in Me. Live life with Me, in Me. If you let go of your way, He says, “I am holding out something infinitely better – Myself and all the added benefits that come from living life on this earth in a way that actually works out as I’ve told you it will.”
We really do not know, nor have we even imagined all He is and what He has for us, not just in the world to come, but in the here and now. Those who trust and obey Him from the heart are the ones who will find out what this passage means by actual experience, rather than just by mental understanding. Let’s try it this Sabbath!
Blessings from God’s capital city,