"Call The Day A Delight"
(Delivered Sunday, September 21, 2003 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version.)
We are continuing our look this morning at the Ten Commandments - and specifically at the fourth of the ten. In Exodus 20, God Himself says,
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested in the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it (Ex. 20:8-11).
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The Bible tells us a very important story of Jesus' encounter with the Pharisees regarding the Sabbath day. On this particular Sabbath, Jesus and His disciples were travelling through the grainfields; and as people often did, they began to pluck off heads of grain, grind them in their hands to rub off the husks, and munch on the grain. And as they were doing so - from out of nowhere, it seems - the Pharisees came upon the scene. They pointed angry and accusatory fingers, and said, "Look, why do they do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?" (Mark 2:23-24).
What did the Pharisees mean by "what is not lawful"? Certainly, it wasn't that Jesus and His disciples were taking grain from another man's field; because the Scriptures plainly allowed them to do so. The Scriptures say, "When you come into your neighbor's standing grain, you may pluck the heads with your hand ..." (Deut. 23:25). Rather, the problem was that Jesus and His disciples where doing this on the Sabbath day; and so, the accusation of the Pharisees was that Jesus and His disciples were working - specifically, that they were harvesting grain - on the Sabbath. (Incidentally, this story marks the beginning of a running battle Jesus had with the Pharisees - who were continually calling Him a Sabbath-breaker.)
Now; I believe that one of the things this story does for us is that it illustrates a particular danger we face whenever we talk about the Sabbath. God has told us, in a general sense, what He does not want us to do on the Sabbath day. He commands us to cease from our ordinary labors on that day - the work we normally do to make a living or to maintain our lives. And we are to refrain from such work because we are commanded to "remember" the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. We are to follow God's own example - who completed His work of creation in six days, and then rested from His labors on the seventh. We are to hallow that day, as He Himself hallowed it.
But God doesn't go into specific details in giving this command. He doesn't give us a list of what not to do, or what to do instead. And it's tempting to respond to this by, ourselves, creating the list of "do's" and "don'ts" that God didn't give. Many people have set out to keep other people in line by hedging them in with man-made rules that regulate the Sabbath day. And as a result, they turn God's day of rest - a day God meant to be a great delight - into a legalistic burden of prohibitions. This is what the Pharisees did. And if we're honest, we'll have to admit that this is a tendency that's found in all of us to some degree.
But another thing this story teaches us is found in Jesus' response to this accusation from the Pharisees. We need to pay attention to what He said, because it teaches us a basic principle regarding the fourth commandment.
First, He responded by pointing out an example from the Scripture. He said to them,
'Have you not read what David did when he was in need and hungry, he and those with him: how he went into the house of God in the days of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the showbread, which is not lawful to eat except for the priests, and also gave some to those who were with him?'
Jesus here tells of how King David - the great king that all the Jews loved and esteemed - was on the run from the murderous plans of King Saul. He had to flee in such a hurry that he had no time to collect weapons or food for his men. And as a result, he and his men were hungry. When they came to the tabernacle, the only bread available to them was the bread that had been removed from the table in the holy place (1 Sam. 21:1-6). And though this bread was intended in the Scriptures to be eaten by the priests (Lev. 24:5-9), the greater matter of mercy prevailed; and the bread was given as food to David and his hungry men.
Jesus pointed to this story because it stressed a principle that He taught elsewhere: "... It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath" (Matthew 9-14). And so, He told the Pharisees, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27-28).
And the thing that I want you to notice most of all is that important phrase, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath." God did not give the Sabbath day commandment to us to bind us up and confine us under a needless and pointless rule. He did not give us a commandment that actually works in contradiction to our best interests, and that ends up actually making life harder for us. Rather, He gave it to us because we need it as a crucial aspect of who we are. It was made for us - not we for it. It was made for our good - not we for its maintenance. And when we keep it, our life goes better - not harder.
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Now; I'm sharing all this with you this morning as a way to introduce you to a very important Old Testament passage regarding the Sabbath. I believe that this particular portion of Scripture gives us the clearest description we could ask for of what God wants us to do on the Sabbath day. And as you'll see, the principle that runs through this passage is that the Sabbath is meant by God for our good. He gave us the fourth commandment because He loves us and wants us to enjoy His riches blessings to the fullest degree possible; and this passage teaches us that remembering and honoring His holy day, in His way, will lead to blessedness and fulfillment in our lives. This passage is found in the 58th chapter of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah.
In this portion of Isaiah, God speaks through the prophet to His disobedient people. He rebukes them because they were living in a condition of sin; and yet were wondering why it was that God didn't seem to respond to all the religious ceremonies and rituals they were performing. They prayed, "Why have we fasted ... and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?" (Isa. 58:3).
And God answers and tells them that the outward performance of a religious ritual is pointless if it is done with a sinful heart. He told them, "In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and exploit all your laborers. Indeed you fast for strife and debate, and to strike with the fist of wickedness. You will not fast as you do this day, to make your voice heard on high" (vv. 3-4).
They thought that God would be impressed by their outward expressions of humility through their mere refusal to eat food. But that was not what God was looking for from them. He was looking for the kind of "fast" before Him that comes from a heart that is right with Him. He tells them;
"Is not this the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light will break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, 'Here I am'.
You see; the mere, external ceremony of fasting wasn't what God was looking for from His people. He wasn't looking for an outward conformity to a mere list of foods not to be eaten. He was looking for people who truly loved Him and who fasted from the depths of the soul - people whose "fast" was an expression of a heart that was truly right with Him, and that was truly concerned with the things that touched His own heart. He was looking for those to whom a "fast" means the feeding of the hungry. And when He finds such people, He pours His riches blessings out on them in the keeping of their fast.
Now you may be thinking, "Why are we talking about fasting? I thought we were going to talk about the Sabbath?" Well; the reason is because this same principle in this passage also applies to Sabbath-keeping. God is not looking for people who merely conform to an external list of activities to be avoided on the Sabbath - while the whole time ignoring the things that truly touch His heart. He is looking for people whose Sabbath-keeping is an expression of a heart that's in conformity with His own - whose Sabbath-keeping is an expression of a desire to put aside common activities and pursuits, and to seek instead that which pleases Him. And when He finds such a person, He richly blessed their Sabbath-keeping.
In this same passage - and in keeping with this same general theme - God goes on to say to His people;
"If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your own pleasure on My holy Day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the LORD; and I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the LORD has spoken" (vv. 13-14).
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Now, look carefully at these two verses. Can you see that they describe a "cause/effect" relationship? The "effect" is in verse 14; and it's this: You will end up delighting yourself in the LORD. God will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth. He will feed you with the rich heritage of Jacob. God is describing a life of great blessedness and fulfillment in these words.
But it's important to notice that they are an effect of something else. They come from keeping God's holy day in a way that pleases Him, as this is described in verse 13. The Lord of the Sabbath blesses those who keep His holy day in His way. And how thankful we should be! - He tells us here what it means to keep His day in a manner that pleases Him.
This passage is going to be a disappointment if you were hoping to come away with a detailed list of things you may or may not do on God's holy day. You're not going to find the answer to every specific question you might have about the Sabbath in this passage. God certainly could have given us a list in the Scriptures of specific do's and don'ts; but He has chosen not to do so. He isn't concerned so much with the externals as much as with the condition of the heart. Instead of a list of details, what He gives us here is a list of the things that get to the real heart of the matter - things that guide you and me toward the keeping of His holy day in a way that draws our hearts into closer conformity to His own; and that then result in His blessings.
So then; let's first consider the "cause" in the "cause/effect" relationship. Let's consider what this passage teaches us about ...
1. WHAT IT MEANS TO KEEP HIS HOLY DAY (v. 13).
The causal relationship is indicated by that first word "If ..." And we see that God says, "If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day ..."
There are a couple of figures of speech being used in these words. The "foot", for example, is being used as a figure of speech for the practical choices a person makes with respect to conduct and behavior. If he points his foot in one direction, it's because he has chosen to go there; and if he turns his foot around and points it in another direction, it's because he has changed the place he intended to go. And so, symbolically, if his foot is pointed in one direction, and he turns it from that direction to another, he has chosen to change his intended behavior and do something different than he originally intended to do.
Another figure of speech is found in the words "your own pleasure". The Hebrew word here is used as a figure for one's own personal affairs; one's own daily business. And if we put these two figures together we have a picture of someone whose practical activities were oriented, as it were, in the direction of his own concerns, his own desires, and his own daily business; and he turned his orientation around from the direction of his own concerns to that of God's concerns. He is not pictured as a man with feet pointing in two opposite directions - as if he could pursue both God's concerns and his own at the same time; but rather, he's pictured as a man whose entire orientation has changed - as man who has made a deliberate, self-conscious choice to turn away from His own concerns and to turn instead to God's concerns.
And the reason that's given for his having done so is because of God's Sabbath. In fact, the New American Standard Version translates this in this way: "If because of the Sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day ..."
Here, then, is the first broad statement of what we are to do to keep God's holy day. We are to recognize that we have a natural orientation to our own concerns and pursuits - a natural, normal, completely proper inclination to work, to make a living, and to maintain our lives and homes. We are to operate in this orientation six days a week. But because of God's holy day, we are to turn our feet around and completely change our orientation. We are not to try to give God a little bit of our time during that day, while keeping our feet oriented toward our own pursuits and concerns; but are rather to completely change our orientation, and are to give that day over to God's concerns.
There's a story in the Old Testament that, I think, exemplifies this kind of resolve. The people of Israel had been in exile for seventy years - in part because they had refused to honor God's holy day. But after they were brought back to the city of Jerusalem, the great Old Testament hero Nehemiah had led them to rebuild the city wall, and to restore Israel's social life. And after these things were done, we read these words from Nehemiah:
In those days I saw people in Judah treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and loading donkeys with wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them about the day on which they were selling provisions. Men of Tyre dwelt there also, who brought in fish and all kinds of goods, and sold them on the Sabbath to the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said to them, "What evil thing is this that you do, by which you profane the Sabbath day? Did not your fathers do thus, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Yet you bring added wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath ."
That's sort of commitment to cease from our daily business is what God wants from us. And to do so, we almost need to hang a sign over the "front door" of our lives on God's holy day, that says, "Closed for business." We must turn our foot from doing our own pleasures and pursuing our own affairs on God's holy day.
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In a second causal statement, God says, "If you ... call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable ..."
In the first statement, we're called to turn from our own "pleasures"; and instead, we're here called upon to call the Sabbath day "a delight". The word translated "delight" is a completely different word than is used in the first phrase, however. This second word refers to an exquisite delight - a very precious and wonderful and desirable thing. And we're also to call the holy day of the Lord "honorable" - something worthy of esteem.
This has to do with the attitude with which we greet that day and enter into it. God rebuked Israel because she would sometimes sigh at the idea pursuing God's concerns. This was symptomatic of a contempt for Him! "... You have not called upon Me, O Jacob", God says; "and you have been weary of Me, O Israel" (Isaiah 43:22). He said that they profaned His name, "in that you say, 'The table of the LORD is defiled; and its fruit, its food, is contemptible.' You also say, 'Oh, what a weariness!' and you sneer at it" (Mal. 1:12-13).
God wants us to have a certain attitude toward His holy day We're to cease being resentful toward giving Him a day that forces us to stop working. We're to cease seeing this day as an inconvenient interruption to our schedule. Rather, He wants us to greet this day for what it truly is - the very best and most delightful day of the week! - the most honorable day the seven! We're to see it as a delightful and honorable day, because it is His hallowed day of rest; and in it, we are to gladly set everything else aside and devote our attention to Him!
Marva Dawn has written a book titled, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly1; and in it she suggests some ideas that expand our sense of what makes this day such a great delight. Let me take a cue from some of her chapter titles; and suggest that this day is - among other things;
A day of "ceasing":
A day of "resting":
A day of "embracing":
A day of "feasting":
We should call such a day a great delight; don't you agree? When you wake up on Sunday morning, you should declare to God, "Dear Father; this is Your day! What a great day this is!! I thank You that You have given me six days to pursue my own affairs and tend to my own business; but today, I especially thank You that You call me to completely cease from such a pursuits and take a rest from them. Thank You that You call me today to join my brothers and sisters, as together we embrace eternal things and feast on Your goodness to us. Thank You, O Lord, for this best of all days; and today, I gladly turn my feet away from my own pursuits, and give my full attention to You!"
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A third causal statement is this: "If you ... shall honor Him [or, as some translations have it, "honor it" - that is, the day itself], not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words ..."
First, you'll notice that we're to honor God by "not doing our own way". Literally, we're not to "do" our own "road" or "path". We don't honor God's day when we use it as a day to engage in activities the only purpose of which is to gratify our own self-interests. We're to cease from our own way for that day - to "step off that road" - and concern ourselves with God's concerns. Second, you'll notice that we're to honor God by not finding our own "pleasure"; and this, again is that word that refers to our own affairs and business. And thirdly, we're to honor God by - literally - not "speaking speech"; and the idea here is that of not taking the day up in idle gossip or "shop-talk". We're to not only cease from our own ways on that day; but we're not to sit around and talk about it either.
If you look carefully at those three explanations of what it means to honor God's day, you'll see that they encompass the whole of life. Your "ways" speaks of the course of your activities; your "pleasures" speaks of your internal desires. Your "words" has to do with your communication to others. And thus, the whole of our being is involved in honoring God's day. We're to take a total break from it all - in action, in attitude and in thoughts and words.
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That is the "cause" portion of this "cause/effect" passage. Now, very briefly, let's the "effect". Here is where it becomes greatly motivating to "remember the Sabbath day". Let's consider ...
2. WHAT RESULTS FROM KEEPING GOD'S DAY IN HIS WAY (v. 14).
First, God says, "Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD ..." The first effect mentioned is that you will grow in a personal sense of the exquisite delightfulness of God's own Person! You will grow in your love for Him; and you will grow to find knowing Him to be your heart's greatest pleasure.
As a pastor, I have often been saddened to see how some people seem completely disinterested in growing in a deeper relationship with the Savior. It's as if, having asked Him for salvation, that's all they really want from Him. They seem indifferent to the idea of growing in the depths of that relationship and realizing the fullness of His love for them. Their relationship with the Lord seems largely intellectual - not heartfelt and emotional as well. They're satisfied with where they are. They remind me, spiritually, of small children in an impoverished third-world country - so malnourished and weakened with starvation that they no longer even feel hunger for food and become completely disinterested in eating!
And here, perhaps, we can see at least one reason why this happens to them. This verse is saying that, if we will invest ourselves as we should in God's holy day - if we will turn from our own affairs on His day, call His day a delight and an honor, and actively seek to honor His day - then the Lord Himself will grow increasingly to be our delight! God says,
Do not let the son of the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD speak, saying, "The LORD has utterly separated me from His people"; nor let the eunuch say, "Here I am, a dry tree." For thus says the LORD: "To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant, even to them I will give in My house and within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off" (Isa. 56:3-5).
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A second result is that God Himself says, "And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth ..." This is saying that the one who keeps God's holy day in His way - honoring it as he should - will find that God Himself exalts and prospers him.
People often say that they don't have time to give a day to God. They're too busy trying to make ends meet and get ahead. But this verse is telling us that, if we give Him His day as we should, He Himself will give us, through honoring Him, what we're trying to get without honoring Him. He Himself will exalt and prosper us. God told Israel,
"And it shall be, if you heed Me carefully," says the LORD, "to bring no burden through the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but hallow the Sabbath day, to do no work in it, then shall enter the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, accompanied by the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: and this city shall remain forever. And they shall come from the cities of Judah and from the places around Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin and from the lowland, from the mountains and from the South, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings and incense, bringing sacrifices of praise to the house of the LORD" (Jer. 17:24-26).
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And finally, a third result is that, as God says, "And I will ... feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father." Jacob was the patriarch in the Old Testament through whom the promises of God were passed. He was the father of the twelve tribes who inherited the land God had promised their grandfather Abraham. This is a promise that, to the one who honors His day in His way, God Himself will grant fulfillment and satisfaction in His blessings.
There's such a thing as having an abundance of wealth and the riches of this world, and yet having leanness of soul. One can have it all; and yet enjoy nothing. There is an internal emptiness and dissatisfaction that the things of this world cannot satisfy. And yet, God promises that the one who truly loves Him and honors His day from the heart will be granted satisfaction and fullness in the blessings of God. Such a one can pray, as King David prayed, "Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever" (Psalm 73;25-26).
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These are not empty promises, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. God Himself closes these words with this affirmation: "The mouth of the LORD has spoken." The "cause" is that of honoring God's holy day as we should; and the "effect" is God's blessings in our life. And so, as you can see, the commandment to remember God' Sabbath day is for our good. The Sabbath truly was made for man.
Having confidence in God's word, let me then lay this cause/effect passage to you in the form of a challenge. Pray and ask God to help you begin now to honor His day. Do as He says - turn your foot from your own pursuits on His day, treat His day as a delight, and honor His day as you should. Be faithful in it for a year.
Then look back at the end of the year, and see how different your life has become. At the end of the year, you'll find that you've grown much closer to God and are far more in love with Him that you have ever been. You'll find that you are further ahead and more prosperous in six days of work and one of honoring God, than you could have ever been in seven days of work. You'll find that you are more satisfied in your soul and more fulfilled in your sense of God's blessings on your life, than you could have ever been if you had simply pursued your own self-interests.
Blessings come, dear brothers and sisters, when we - from the heart - call God's day a delight!
1Marva J. Dawn, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1989.
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