Keith Hunt - Divine Rest - Page Nine   Restitution of All Things

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Divine Rest for Human Restlessness #9

The Pattern of Work and Rest


                         PATTERN OF WORK AND REST

Continued from previous page:

to develop one's creative abilities and reflect the image of the
ever-active Creator. If work was needed before the fall to
enhance human life with rewarding activities, how much more
needed it is today when idleness lures people into all sorts of
vices and crimes!
     It must be said, however, that the many mechanical and
monotonous jobs which people have to perform nowdays to earn a
livelihood contribute little to personal, growth and fulfill
ment. On the contrary they tend to dehumanize. Fortunately,
however, shorter work weeks today provide increasing oppor-
tunity to work at personal projects that give greater
enrichments, satisfaction and pleasure.

2. Rest as God's care

     All work, whether it be compulsory or voluntary, if it is
not balanced by rest, can become an oppressive and unrelenting
master: Unrelenting work patterns can degrade human personality,
can destroy the equilibrium between body and spirit and turn a
person into a brute. This was true in the ancient agricultural
societies where dependent workers were often oppressed and
exploited by unscrupulous masters, but it also applies to today's
technological society where machines often tend to annihilate
personal individuality. In some instances it is insatiable
greediness that drives people to work uninterruptedly, thus
becoming slaves of greater gain.
     God was well aware of human vulnerability to lucrative
ambitions. Hence, in His concern to protect both employers and
employees from the senselessness of uninterrupted work, through
the Sabbath commandment, God ordained not only work but rest
also. Subsequent chapters will consider various vital functions
of the Sabbath rest. Presently attention will be given to the
liberation the Sabbath provides to human beings.

Rest as freedom from work. 

     The Sabbath rest spells freedom from work for the master,
the servants and the animals (Ex.20:10; 23:12; Deut.5:14). Why
are even "dumb beasts" included in the Sabbath rest? Because
God's compassion extends also to unintelligent and defenseless
creatures. Could this allinclusiveness of the Sabbath rest reveal
God's concern for the restoration of total harmony between man
and nature? Moreover, why are "the son of your bondmaid, and the
alien" (Ex.23:12) specifically singled out? Obviously, because
these had no recourse or protection against the commands and
exploitation of others. The Sabbath rest then reveals God's
concern especially for the human rights of the defenseless of our
     What about the "workaholics" of our society? Is not the
Sabbath rest a divine remedy to aid those who seek to find
ultimate fulfillment in their work? The Sabbath rest teaches that
the chief end of life is not, as advocated by Marxism, to work to
transform nature, but to rest to enjoy God's presence and
creation. The Sabbath rest teaches also freedom from things. One
of the most difficult lessons to learn is how to have things
without becoming addicted to them; how to live with people
without losing one's independence. On the Sabbath, by abstaining
from the production or purchase of goods, one learns detachment
and independence from matter and attachment to and dependence on
the Spirit.

     The Sabbath rest promotes freedom from greed. In order to
keep up with the Joneses, some Christians today, like the
Israelites of old, choose to moonlight on the Sabbath (Ex.
16:27), hoping to secure added income and goods. But the
Scripture points to the senselessness of such an effort, when it
pointedly says "they found none" (Ex.16:27). That is to say, one
misses obtaining both the material and the spiritual manna and
consequently finds oneself restless and dissatisfied. The Sabbath
teaches the greedy heart to stop for one looking for more, and
start instead gratefully to acknowledge the blessings received. A
person who learns gratitude experiences inner peace, inasmuch as
a grateful heart is the abiding place of Christ and of His peace.

Rest as freedom for God. 

     The Sabbath rest signifies freedom for God. By making
Himself tatally available to His creatures on the seventh day,
God manifested the greatness of love to them. In a similar way,
human beings are invited to respond to God's love by making
themselves avaiable to Him: This is why the Commandment enjoins
to do all the work in six days in order to be free to devote the
seventh day "to the Lord your God" (Ex.20:10). The purpose of the
Sabbath rest is not merely humanitarian, that is, to, provide
needed physical refreshment. If this were its only function, its
value for modern persons would be dubious and questionable, since
most people today already have at their disposal two or three
weekly days for leisure. Moreover, is there anything more
depressing than having nothing to do, waiting for the Sabbath
hours to pass away in order to resume some meaningful activity?
If this were the sole purpose of the Sabbath rest, then other
rational plans could readily be devised to achieve such an
objective. Perhaps it is this misconception of the Sabbath rest
that leads so many to seek "refreshment" on this day through
motorized or unmotorized flights to distant scenes, sporting
events, alcohol and flirtation. Such activities relieve human
beings of none of their burdens, but only lay new ones upon them.

     In the Scripture, however, the Sabbath rest is qualified. It
is not a frivolous good time but "solemn rest, holy to the Lord"
(Ex.31:15; 16:23-25; 20:10; Lev.23:3). While the Sabbath is given
to mankind (Ex.16:29; Mark 2:27), yet it belongs to Yahweh (Ex.
16:23,25; Is.56:4; 58:13; Mark 2:28). Therefore, human rest on
the Sabbath is not a self-centered (anthropocentric) relaxation
when all wishes and desires can be fulfilled without restraint,
but rather a divine-centered (theocentric) rest when, freed from
the care of work, a person becomes free for God Himself. In this
new freedom he finds genuine refreshment. As emphatically stated
by Karl Barth, "to observe the holy day means also to keep
oneself free for participation in the praise and worship and
witness and proclamation of God in His congregation, in common
thanksgiving and intercession. And the blessing and profit of the
holy day definitely depends also on the positive use of this
     God summons His people on the Sabbath to be free from work
in order to be free before Him and to listen to His voice. The
Sabbath rest; to use Aquinas' happy expression, is an invitation
to have "a day of vacation with God."--ad vacandum divinis. How
sour the weekdays would be without the Sabbath vacation with God
and fellow beings! The weeks would be as tasteless as spaghetti
without sauce or as food without salt. As a spicy sauce gives
gusto to spaghetti, so a joyful Sabbath radiates a festive gleam
to the work-days. A happy rhyme expresses this truth, saying:

A Sabbath, well spent  
Brings a week of content 
With joy for the toils of tomorrow; 
A Sabbath profaned
Whatever is gained
Is a sure forerunner of sorrow.

     What an amazing divine concern the Sabbath rest reveals! It
epitomizes God's care and plan for human freedom: freedom from
the tyranny of work; freedom from pitiless human exploitation;
freedom from over-attachment to things and people; freedom from
insatiable greediness; freedom to enjoy God's blessings on the
Sabbath in order to be sent forth into a new week with renewed
zest and strength.

Divine perspective. 

     Another aspect of God's care signified by the pattern of
work and rest is seen in the divine perspective that such a
pattern provides for human work and rest. The concept and
experience of work and rest are human, yet the Scripture applies
them to God first. Why? Is it not astonishing that the Almighty
God, who in one moment could have spoken this world into
existence, should have chosen to accomplish this creation in six
days and then rest on the seventh? Why did God use the very time
cycle established for His creatures? Does this not indicate His
concern to give a divine perspective to all human work and rest?
     One of the greatest satisfactions that comes to human beings
is that of imitating a great master, whether such a master be a
musician, a painter, a scientist, a teacher, a businessman, a
statesman, or a spiritual leader. It is amusing sometimes to
watch young fans imitating their "idol" in their hairdo,
clothing, gestures, singing, or even in their choice of a perfume
scent. This lesson was brought home to me some time ago when I
built a wall-to-wall bookshelf in my study. Gianluca, my seven-
year-old boy, offered to help but ended up helping himself to the
pieces of redwood I sawed off. What did he do with them? He
nailed them together and then asked with a sense of pride, "Dad,
do you like my shelf?" It looked like anything but a shelf, but
he was proud of it. Why? Because he was doing on a small scale
what his father had done on a larger scale.  Similarly, a
Sabbathkeeper can find satisfaction and fulfillment in his work
and rest, because the Sabbath assures him that he is doing on a
small scale what God has done and is doing on an infinitely
larger scale.
     Does this mean that a Sabbathkeeper should view all his work
as a divine calling or vocation? It is easy for a minister who
binds broken hearts to answer "yes," but what about a mechanic
who repairs burnt-out clutches? Can he be equally sure that his
profession is a divine calling? Paul was a tentmaker by
profession, but he never says that God called him to make or to
patch up tents. On the contrary he states unequivocally that he
was "called to be an apostle" (Rom.1:1). Many of the jobs people
must do hardly reflect what they regard as their calling. But the
Sabbath commandment enjoins to "do all your work" (Ex.20:9; Deut.
5:13). Obviously this includes the pleasant and the unpleasant,
the glamorous and the menial, the sacred and the secular tasks.
     The Sabbath summons the believer to view all his work, not
necessarily as a specific divine calling, but as a reflection of
the work and rest of God; as a participation in the divine
restoration of this world (John 9:4). This divine perspective
provides the spiritual resources needed to perform even menial
tasks not grudgingly but joyfully. It gives validity and meaning
both to the work of the six days and to the rest of the seventh
day. The believer who, through the Sabbath, views his work and
rest as a holy partnership with God will find fulfilment not by
escaping from the realities and obligations of life, but by
gladly assuming his responsibilities in the likeness of His

     The conclusion, then, that emerges from these reflections is
that the pattern of six days for work and the seventh for rest,
which God established at creation through His personal
participation, constitutes a sublime revelation and reminder of
His concern for man's physical, social and spiritual well-being.



     What an amazing divine concern this institution expresses
for human well-being! The day effectively epitomizes the promise
of God's blessings through His divine presence. What should be
the human response to this divine manifestation of concern? How
is a believer to celebrate and experience on the Sabbath the
blessings of God's sanctifying presence? The Fourth Commandment
offers two significant proposals: (1) Remember the Sabbath day,
(2) Work six days and rest on the seventh.

l. Remember the Seventh Day

     In its opening directive the Fourth Commandment says,
"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Ex.20:8). What does
the act of remembering the Sabbath mean? Are the "remembering"
and the "keeping holy" of the Sabbath related? Is the
"remembering," perhaps, a necessary prerequisite to experiencing
the holiness of the Sabbath? Dates play an important role in
personal and national life. People celebrate birthdays, wedding
anniversaries, Mother's and Father's days, national independence
day, and the like. The significance of any date is determined by
the events associated with it. On Mother's Day, for example, you
take time to remember not merely the day mother brought you into
this world, but especially her incessant care. Similarly the
Sabbath is a time to remember God not only for His original
perfect creation, but also for His constant care for this world
and all its human beings. It means to remember God's saving acts,
such as creation, manna, Exodus, redemption, and final


To be continued

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