Let’s start with the basics: what is Shabbat? Shabbat or the Sabbath, is derived from the Hebrew word shevet, meaning “to dwell,” and also relates to sheva, the number seven.
The simplest meaning of shalom is peace, or “the absence of war.” Its context and origins communicate an inner completeness and wholeness. But there is actually a lot more to it. To dive in its historical meaning, click here.
When you combine these two words and overlay their meanings, the image of “Shabbat Shalom” begins to emerge: May you dwell in peace/ completeness/ wholeness on the seventh day.
In other words, as you take time to rest and honor the Lord, I pray you experience true peace and become whole again. Shabbat is an invitation to come and worship, in a beautiful exchange that revives and strengthens our souls.
A weekly rhythm
Many of us grew up in households where Saturday is still a semi work day. You wake up early to clean the house, do laundry and cut the lawn. Then, Sunday morning was for church, afternoon was for naps, and evenings were for family gatherings.
It seems like a Godly-enough pattern of living. However, this system doesn’t actually provide much of a feeling of rest! There is a sense of play and a break from routine, but it does not give much room to recuperate… as if we needed a Sabbath.
Often, our default belief is that the Sabbath was a rigid religious requirement and by grace we were set free from it. That understanding is far more limited than Jesus.’ Instead of recognizing God’s love in our lives on this day, we fall into obligation.
However, Shabbat is a declaration of trust which we demonstrate with our time. God designed it to remind us of our dependence on Him and not on our own ability to provide. No more working, earning, or striving. On this day, we get to rest in His love. Clocked out, mask off.
Israel entering the Sabbath
In Israel, the rush and noise that filled six days of the week are hushed by the stillness of Shabbat (the Sabbath). Which begins on Friday at sundown and concludes at sundown on Saturday.
On Friday evening at sundown in Jerusalem a horn echoes for two minutes announcing the arrival of Shabbat. There is nothing like it in the world! You literally can feel a collective sigh go throughout the town as it grinds to a halt.
As people get in their last minute shopping they wish each other the simple yet profound: “Shabbat Shalom!”
Public transportation stops, cars find their parking spots, and families find their homes. Many men rush to their homes with a bouquet for their wife or mother. The last meal of the week has been set: Shabbat Dinner. Everyone is preparing to rest.
Very few things are open the next day; many people refrain from driving; even public transportation stops in honor of God’s Shabbat. For the most part, the whole country rests. It is a day of peace and quiet.
What does God mean by it?
Let’s look into the origins of this God-ordained “vacation day.” Shabbat, or the Sabbath, is one of the first things we ever learn about God’s character. Immediately after creating Man in His image, He rested.
“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all His work that He had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:1-3)
At the outset of history, the Lord rested from His work, setting the day apart and calling it holy. That first day of rest established a basic truth about God: He desires dedicated rest.
The actual institution of the Sabbath when God’s people were commanded to set it apart as a holy day is nestled among the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 20:8-11). Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the Lord gave further instructions on how to observe it lawfully.
Likewise, various Jewish traditions have evolved over millennia which have become beloved staples. Just like the Friday night Shabbat dinner mentioned above. However, the goal or essence of Shabbat remains the same. It is to be a day that is set apart for rest and for fellowship with Him.
Shabbat in the New Testament
There are Christians who would say that under the New Covenant there is no longer any requirement to keep the Sabbath. “We are no longer under law but under grace,” many would say.
But let’s try to flip this approach. Instead of seeing the Sabbath as a “requirement”, consider it… a reward. What if it was not a legal restriction, but an element of God’s grace?
Yeshua Himself observed the Sabbath. However, He was not shy to correct those who had turned Shabbat into a complicated minefield of rules and regulations (Luke 4:16, Mark 2:23-28). He was determined to refocus it once again on the true source of rest and celebration: GOD HIMSELF!
Yeshua invited all men to come to Him to find rest (Matthew 11:28-30). Shabbat is a God-given weekly reminder that we need rest, and that our rest is found in Him. Even more profoundly, it is a compelling reminder that our entire lives revolve around Him!
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