ART & ENTERTAINMENT 03 – Sabbath Rest

Word Study 'Rest' or 'Sabbath' in the OT and NT

H7673       שָׁבַת                        shâbath                             71x in the OT

Meaning: to repose, to desist from exertion (figuratively or specifically), to cause to cease, to let cease, to make to cease, to celebrate, to cause to fail, to keep sabbath, to lack, to leave, to put away, to put down, to make to rest, to rid, to still, to take away.

H7676       שַׁבָּת                        shabbâth                           11x in the OT

The intensive from of H7673, meaning an intermission, the Sabbath

H7677       שַׁבָּתוֹן                       shabbâthôn                      11x in the OT

From H7676: a sabbath, rest, special holiday.

G4521        σάββατον              shabbaton                         68x in the NT

From Hebrew H7676: the Sabbath, a day of weekly repose from vocations, week.

G4520        σαββατισμός        sabbatismos                    1x in the NT


From Hebrew H7676 and G4521: Sabbath, figuratively the repose of Christianity (as a type of heaven), rest.

H7674        שֶׁבֶת                        shebeth                              3x in the OT

From Hebrew H7673: rest, interruption, cessation, to cease, to sit still, loss of time.

H5117         נוּחַ                         nûach                                  144x in the OT

Meaning: to rest, to settle down (used in great variety, literally & figuratively), to dwell, to stay, to let fall, place, to let alone, to withdraw, to give comfort, to ceas

H4496        מְנֻחָה מְנוּחָה            menûchâh menûchâh       21x in the OT

Meaning: to repose, peacefully; consolation (figuratively, also matrimony), an abode, place of comfort, ease, quiet, rest, being still.

H4494         מָנוֹחַ                        mânôach                           7x in the OT

From Hebrew 5117: quiet, a settled spot, figuratively a home, a place of rest.

H8252         שָׁקַט                         shâqaṭ                               41x in the OT

Meaning: to repose (usually figuratively), to appease, idleness, to be quiet, to be at quiet, quietness, to be at rest, to give rest, to take a rest, to settle, to be still.

G373           ἀναπαύω                anapauō                            12x in the NT

Meaning: to repose (literally or figuratively, to be exempt, to remain, to refresh, to give rest, to take rest.

G372           ἀνάπαυσις             anapausis                          5x in the NT

From Greek G373: intermission, recreation, rest.

G2664        καταπαύω              katapauō                           4x in the NT

Meaning: to settle down, to colonize, (figuratively) to desist, to cease, to give rest.

G2663         κατάπαυσις          katapausis                       9x in the NT

From Greek 2664: reposing down, abode, rest.

G2681         κατασκηνόω          kataskēnoō                      4x in the NT

Meaning: to camp down, to haunt; (figuratively) to remain, to lodge, to rest.

G425          ἄνεσις                    anesis                                5x in the NT

From Greek 447: relaxation, (figuratively) relief, ease, eased, liberty, rest.

Some observations upfront

  • Though the word ‘rest’ is also used in the common sense of ‘settling down, abiding, living somewhere’, it still is striking how many occurrences there are (417x in this count). If further words (like ‘sleep’, etc.) were included in the study, this number would be far higher still.
  • It is noteworthy that the Old and New Testament, though much importance is given to human calling, work, leadership and a high work ethic is shown, still ‘rest’ is a given very clear attention.
  • The word ‘rest’ is used frequently in its literal and in its figurative (spiritual) meaning; as a matter of fact the literal and spiritual meanings seem to be always connected: It’s by resting on the Sabbath day, by being in relationship with God and at peace with him that longevity in the land is achieved. And no Hebrew concept of ‘shalom’ would be complete in only the spiritual realm. Unless there are secure borders, a stable government, good relationships, peace and everybody ‘living under their fig tree’, no ‘shalom’ is really complete.

Gen 2:1-3             God established and keeps the sabbath

‘And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. 3 And God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.’

  • The practice of the Sabbath Rest, as one day in seven set aside, it prominently established and followed by God himself, from the very beginning of the world.
  • God keeps the Sabbath, so should we. God thinks this important enough to spend time on it, so should we.
  • This is heightened in importance since God doesn’t need physical rest like we do, he is not limited in strength, he is not tired (Psa 121:4 ‘He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep’, Isa 40:28 ‘He does not faint of grow weary’).
  • Also God is described as the Giver of rest in many Bible verses: Isa 40:29-31 ‘He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint’. Mth 11:18 ‘Come to me you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest’. He is not in need of rest, he is the Source of Rest.
  • Yet God keeps this Sabbath rest. Sabbath rest must be important for other reasons beside physical restoration, though that is definitely also a function of the Sabbath essential to humans.
  • Note also that sabbath rest is instituted before the fall, which means that it is not a consequence of sin, nor is it primarily given as a remedy because of the fallenness of creation. So Sabbath rest was needed even when work was not yet toil, as it does become due to sin: Gen 3:17, 19 ‘In toil you shall eat it (the ground) all the days of your life … By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread’. Even in paradise (in unbroken relationship to creation) Sabbath rest was instituted, showing that physical restoration is only part of the reason, not the sole reason.

What are the reasons God keeps and institutes the Sabbath?

  • To enjoy the work of his hands (all he created the last 6 days).
  • To evaluate the work of his hands (further, he already did).
  • To enjoy and celebrate the beauty and quality of creation.
  • To affirm both work and rest, both fruitfulness and enjoyment, both doing and being, both achievement and letting things sit.
  • To set a model for our sake so that we – who are in his image – may and will do alike (though he may not strictly need it, we humans do).
  • To rest means to cease to / desist from work, exertion, effort, striving. It is a picture of grace in the New Testament.
  • For why would I not rest? To not rest means to keep working, to accept too much pressure, to think myself the answer and solution, to be legalistic, to try to live up to every one’s expectations, to fear men, to try to prove, to not be at peace with myself nor with God, to not trust God, to lack faith, to rather trust in one’s own strength.
  • Sabbath is also a picture of Salvation: The author of Hebrews uses the metaphor of ‘God’s rest’ (In Greek: ‘katapausis’ and ‘sabbatismos’) about Israel receiving the promised land, clearly linking the concept of Sabbath rest to ‘receiving the land’, ‘receiving an inheritance’. But he then declares that that was not yet the ultimate: ‘So, then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God’ (Heb 4:9). He explains this to be the salvation come through Jesus and urges his readers: ‘Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest’ (Heb 4:11).
  • Sabbath rest is therefore a type of salvation, to desist from human effort but rather joyfully accept the done work. It’s a picture of sonship.
  • But Sabbath is not just ‘spiritual’, it is a wholehearted affirmation of creation, that is to be enjoyed and celebrated, and it is an affirmation of the physical world, in which humans do tire when they labor, and therefore need rest, recreation and beauty.
  • Quote of Loren Cunningham: ‘To rest is to trust God with our unfinished work’.
  • To rest means to not take myself too important, to take God important instead.
  • Parallel of tithing and resting: There is a temptation not to do it, thinking that if I keep more I’ll have more. In the same way I ‘steal time’, yet am far less effective.
  • God keeps the balance of production and production capacity, of work and relationships, of doing and being.
  • Sabbath rest in one more way in which God’s character of generosity and goodness towards us humans is revealed: He actually commands rest, ease, comfort, recreation, joy and fellowship. God is lavish. We are not primarily his workforce.
  • Sabbath is a universal reality. The whole world in one way or other is on a seven day rhythm. Attempts to change the week to 10 days or 12 days (Communism, Napoleon) have failed. It is interesting that a 7 day rhythm is even visible in natural constants, like the moon cycle or the female menstrual cycle.
  • How does rest look? It is not only sleeping or not working, it can include enjoying nature, enjoying the work of our hands, changes of routine, not having a schedule, enjoying beauty, having time for God and people, staying at home, movement, music, being quiet, play … What is rest for you?
  • What is rest for God? In Isa 66:1-2 God says: ‘What is the house that you would build for me, and what is my resting place? … But this is the one to whom I will look, to the humble and contrite in spirit, who trembles at my word’. It seems from these verse that a humble and willing human heart is ‘God’s resting place’ :-).
  • The Sabbath day is to the week, what the daily morning quiet time (or personal devotion) is to the day, a moment to focus on God, to get his perspective, to re-adjust our thinking, a chance to hear his voice and fellowship with Him.

Exo 20:8-11, Deu 5:12-15                   4th commandment: Sabbath day rest
“Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male and female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.”

  • The ten commandment are the centerpiece and anchor of the Law of Moses. It is significant that the keeping of the Sabbath rest is here commanded with such prominence as a central law. It’s the longest of the 10 commandments, complete with detailed instruction and Genesis reference.
  • The basis for the Sabbath law is Gen 2:1-3: God himself keeps the Sabbath.
  • Note also that the command to rest extends to all: foreigners, children, employees (You must give your workers one day rest a week!) and working animals.
  • Today we treat rest as an individual affair, but in old Israel it was an ‘entire society together event’.
  • This must be put in context, legalism is a danger in Jesus’ time and in ours. Jesus says in Mth 12:5: ‘have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless?’. He also asserts ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath’ (Mrk 2:27-28). Jesus defends himself against the overstrict Sabbath interpretations of his time (that had become a burden and distracted the worshipers from the real thing) and rather asserts that this was meant to be joy and celebration, rather than burden. He takes them back to the origin and real purpose of the sabbath.
  • Yet today we have no strong concept or practice of a rest day, nor of the joy intended.
  • Practical aspects: to not cook or clean on rest days frees up a lot of time.

Why is the Sabbath so important?

  • It safeguards the relationship and fellowship with God, time with him, prayer, spiritual restoration, reflection, evaluation, inquiry, seeking God, re-direction, correction …
  • It allows for physical recreation, sleep, restoration, free from pressure and schedule.
  • Sabbath is holy, meaning set aside, set apart, different, hallowed, sanctified, … in that sense it is a picture of what humans need to be … as well as one practical way in which they can be that.
  • Showing us that God is not harsh but caring, desiring relationship with us. We are not slaves but sons (Gal 4:7).
  • to enjoy God, family, people, creation and the work of our hands
  • To have time for others (family, believes, church)

Multiple Reminders of the Sabbath Law

Exo 31:12-17              Sabbath law restated

  • Death penalty for the breaking of the Sabbath is pronounced.
  • The Sabbath is called ‘a sign between me and you throughout your generations.’ Then is adds ‘It is a sign … that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth’.
  • The purpose of the Sabbath is given as ‘in order that you may know the I, the LORD sanctify you.’
  • The utter importance of the Sabbath is stated. It is to be obeyed by Israel as a people, it is to set them apart, to sanctify them, it is to be a sign. The language is almost as strong as circumcision, the sign of the covenant with Abraham (Gen 17).
  • In the New Testament we see Jews for whom circumcision, Sabbath adherence and clean-unclean laws have become a major point of identity, the Jewish rallying call and the adherence to these is seen as the answer to every problem. Jesus opposes that understanding of these signs and pleads for the Jews to rather return to what these signs meant in the first place.

Exo 35:2-3         Sabbath law restated
Lev 16:31           Day of atonement is a Sabbath of complete rest & fasting
Lev 23:3             Sabbath law restated
Lev 23:11, 15    First fruit festival – elevation of sheaf a day after sabbath
Lev 23:24          Festival of trumpets, observe a day of complete rest
Lev 23:32          Day of atonement – observe a day of complete rest & fast
Lev 23:39          Festival of booths – observe a day of complete rest
Lev 24:8            Every sabbath show bread is being renewed
Num 28:9-10   Offerings on sabbath day > 2 male lambs
Deu 5:12-15     Sabbath law restated

Reinforcing events

Num 15:32-36            Stick gathering on sabbath > death by stoning

  • A case where the death penalty on the offense of Sabbath breaking is actually implemented. This is the only occurrence of a sabbath death penalty mentioned in Scripture. It seems later this law was no longer implemented. Nehemiah when trying to clamp down on Sabbath trade threatens the traders with consequences, possibly arrest, rather than death penalty: ‘If you do so again I will lay hands on you’ (Neh 13:21).

Sabbath concept extended to land

Lev 25:1-7             Land shall observe sabbath year
“the land shall observe a sabbath for the LORD. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield, but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land… You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not harvest the after growth.”

  • The Sabbath concept is not only for every Jew, children, employees, slaves and working animals but also for the land.
  • The way this is practically done is parallel to the weekly sabbath: 6 years land is cultivated, 1 year the land is to lay fallow.
  • The command is to ensure a recuperation of the soil, a replenishment of minerals by rain, the maintenance of land’s fertility.
  • The adherence of this law is also treated with importance as the following Scripture shows. When in 586 BC Judah is exiled for its sin to Babylon, the length of the exile (70 years) is determined by how many times the land did not receive its sabbath year rest!

2 Chr 36:21          exile 70 years according to missed sabbath years

“He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia… until the land had made up for its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept sabbath, to fulfill 70 years.”

Some other occasions where the Sabbath is mentioned in the New Testament

2 Kin 4:23        people went to prophets on sabbaths or new moons
2 Kin 11:4-12, 2 Chr 23:4-11conspiracy against Attaliah on sabbath day
2 Kin 16:18      covered portal used on sabbaths
1 Chr 9:32       Kohathites looking after show bread every sabbath
Neh 9:14          Nehemiah’s prayer: how Law was given (also sabbath)
Neh 10:31       Nehemiah’s covenant: no buying and selling on sabbath
Neh 13:15        Nehemiah testifying against those working on a sabbath
Neh 13:15-22  Nehemiah prohibiting markets to open on the sabbath
Psa 92:1           a Psalm or Song for the sabbath day
Isa 56:2           Blessed those keeping the sabbath, not profaning it
Isa 56:6           If a foreigner joins…keeping the sabbath > I will make them joyful
Isa 58:13        ‘If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, pursuing your own interests on my holy day, calling it a delight, honorable … I will make you ride upon the heights’
Isa 66:23        from sabbath to sabbath all flesh will come to worship God
Jer 17:21-27  bear no burden on sabbath. If obey > blessing, is disobey > fire
Eze 46:1         Vision of temple: gate of inner court shut except on sabbath
Eze 46:4         Vision of the temple: prince’s burnt offerings on sabbath days
Eze 46:12        On Sabbath open the gate for prince to give sacrifice
Amo  8:5        When is the Sabbath over, so we may trade / cheat?

A final word

  • Rather than fighting over the exact day of observance of the rest day, let us be serious about setting time aside personal time for God.