If you know anything about Dr. Scott Hahn, you know he is all about covenants. I believe I heard him say in one of his recorded talks that scripture really came alive for him when he realized that there is a theme of God covenanting Himself to us in ever more far-reaching ways throughout the story of salvation. No doubt many other scripture scholars have caught on to this idea of covenant, but Dr. Hahn was the first I heard explain the scriptures in this way. It had a big impact on my understanding of the salvation narrative and it deepened my love for reading the Old Testament.
Here is something interesting: of the six covenants, the first one, the very first, is symbolized by the Sabbath – the seventh day – the day of rest.
I was reminded of this in The Great Adventure bible study by Jeff Cavins. In one of the lessons he points out the connection between the Hebrew sheva (seven), shaba (to swear an oath), and Shabbat (Sabbath). I can’t open scripture to you the way Scott Hahn and Jeff Cavins can, but the gist of it is this: God covenanted Himself to us, or ‘sevened’ Himself to us, and the Sabbath, the seventh day, is the sign of that covenant.
The covenant of the Sabbath establishes family, its role and purpose – that it will be fruitful, and they will people the earth. (There are promises and consequences involved in each covenant, but I leave the explaining of those to the experts.)
So not only is the Sabbath a day of rest, it is meant to be a reminder that God covenanted Himself to the family. He did not forsake us or abandon us, but draws us into ever deeper relationship with Himself.
The day is significant enough that it gets a commandment – the third: Keep holy the Sabbath Day. Not only does God in His love and wisdom know we need a day of rest, but He is also reminding us that we have been set free. Free from slavery in Egypt (Deut. 5:15), and free from death (through the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.)
There are several reasons the Sabbath observance is important in Christian life:
- Obedience. God has asked it of us.
- Corporate worship as the body of Christ.
- Rest, which is necessary for mental and spiritual well-being.
- It’s about family, like the first covenant reminds us.
- Tithe of time. It is good to give the best portion of time back to God.
I know how difficult it is to ‘keep holy the Sabbath’ so I’m not about to ‘should’ you about it. We live in a crazy, frenetic world with ever more and more demands on our time, not to mention that some have an economic need to work on Sunday. Instead, I’d like to share about my neighours, in whom I see an example of faithful observance of the Lord’s Day.
This is an elderly couple, very upright and devout. They go to Church in their Sunday best (he is always in a suit and tie, even in the heat of summer, with his hair slicked in place.) They make on Saturday they have what they need for Sunday – supplies for the family meal, pressed clothing, cleaned shoes, etc. In that alone, they are already placing a great deal of importance on the day. Every Sunday they get together with family, children and grandchildren, rotating homes each week. They always visit, even if only for a few minutes. Meals are taken at home; they don’t eat out, they don’t pick up milk, they don’t go for coffee. They’re ‘voting with their dollar’ by not spending it in the marketplace, which sends a message of support for Sunday openings. (By the way, I just heard that Tim Hortons and McDonald’s are going to be open Christmas Day this year. Doesn’t that send a ray of warmth to your heart?)
Again, let me say I am not ‘shoulding’ you. Whether any of us is properly obeying the Third Commandment is a matter for God. I wanted to share a few thoughts because I was reminded last night at The Great Adventure bible study how very beautiful and meaningful the Seventh Day is. As Jesus tell us, “The Sabbath was made for man…” (Mark 2;27). I think sometimes we overlook the gift we’ve been given.