God had commanded the Israelites to make numerous offerings. There were burnt offerings, grain offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings and trespass offerings. There were also daily offerings at the temple, and in Numbers 28 God told the Israelites to make additional offerings on the Sabbath: “On the Sabbath day, make an offering of two lambs a year old without defect, together with its drink offering and a grain offering of two-tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil. This is the burnt offering for every Sabbath, in addition to the regular burnt offering and its drink offering.”
The fact that there were offerings on the Sabbath (and even extra offerings on that day), meant that the priests at the temple had to work on the one day the rest of society had off. This was in spite of God’s clear mandate to observe the Sabbath, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.”
It was this very point Jesus was making when He rebuked the Pharisees for criticizing His disciples for picking some grain on the Sabbath, “…haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent?”
We don’t usually think about such things in our culture anymore. Our secular governments have all but erased the cultural habit of Sabbath. In our day, Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees has been taken as a cart blanche mandate for the erasure of the Sabbath, but both worldviews (ours today and the Pharisees back then) are mistaken. Sabbath is not a principle we can ignore, nor is it a taxing legalistic requirement by which we can judge others.
After all, it is obvious that the fact the priests technically violated the Sabbath wasn’t a problem for either the priests or for God, or He wouldn’t have commanded it to start with. The implication is likewise obvious. Sabbath is not supposed to be an inflexible religious observance so much as a regular practice that mandates a clear focus on our relationship with God.
One always has to read what God’s Word says as firstly about God, and therefore how we can emulate Him and His ways. God rested on the 7th day of creation. If God rests, His creation must rest also. If God took time to focus on His relationship (as Father, Son and Spirit), we must do so also. But that God took the 7th day of the week does not mean that Sunday needs to be Sabbath. Our particular Sabbath could be any day of the week, because God’s institution of Sabbath as the seventh day predates the concepts of Sunday or Monday or Friday. Therefore Sabbath is not about following a legal requirement for a particular day of the week. It is about making time with God a priority on a weekly and regular basis.
If you don’t take a Sabbath, something is wrong. You’re doing too much, you’re being too much in charge. You’ve got to quit, one day a week, and just watch what God is doing when you’re not doing anything.Eugene Peterson
In these days, how do you keep a weekly focus on God?