Today’s Passages: Isaiah 1:11-17, 56:1-7, 58:13-14
There are three sections of Isaiah that discuss the Sabbath, and there are three lessons we can learn from them. Actually, there are probably a lot more than three, but I dug up an insight from each of the three passages today, so that’s what I’m sharing. Isaiah’s Sabbath lessons relate to rejecting empty rituals and practicing religion meaningfully, keeping Sabbath inclusively, and honoring God first in one’s rest.
Isaiah first teaches us that God can’t stand merely keeping the letter of the Sabbath. God calls Israel’s offerings “worthless” and an “abomination” (1:13), and dismisses their religious observances, like Sabbath, as odious to him. God could care less that you observe a day of rest when you spend the other six neck-deep in “the evil of your deeds” (1:16). He admonishes the people: “Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (1:17). Sabbath only takes on meaning in the context of a life invested in the benefit of one’s neighbors, particularly the powerless. Resting together with those in our community is only one way that we love God and other humans–and if we just follow the rules without actually bothering to care for people, God actually hates our rule-following.
Second, Isaiah teaches that the Sabbath is an open invitation to everyone. The Torah contains this prohibition: “No one who is emasculated or has his male organ cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord” (Deut. 23:1). But Isaiah says: God’s got a place for the eunuchs. He delivers the word of the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths,
And choose what pleases Me,
And hold fast My covenant,
To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial,
And a name better than that of sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off. (56:4-5)
You don’t need the hardware to please God! Moreover, you don’t need to be a Jew to please God! The message goes on: “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord…every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath and holds fast My covenant…those I will bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer” (56:6-7). Remember how the original commandment extended even to strangers and travelers staying in your household? The Sabbath is about resting communally. It extends even to foreigners and eunuchs, to people you would expect to be excluded. The Sabbath is open arms.
Finally, Isaiah teaches that the Sabbath isn’t about just having fun or doing whatever you want. Speaking for God, he says,
If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot
From doing your own pleasure on My holy day,
And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable,
And honor it, desisting from your own ways,
From seeking your own pleasure
And speaking your own word…
I will make you ride on the heights of the earth. (58:13-14)
See that phrase, “turn from your own pleasure?” The Sabbath isn’t “me time,” it’s not an excuse to play video games all day in your pajamas. It’s the day you set aside to rest with God and the people you live your life with. And maybe God wants to chill out with you while you play video games in your pajamas, but maybe he wants to take a walk with you and look at some trees, or maybe he wants you to go to a Friday night service at a Messianic Jewish temple and sing some songs to him with some folks. Look, I don’t know what God wants to do with you on Sabbath. The point is you gotta honor it. You gotta listen to God and ask him what the plan is. It’s his thing, and you get to join him in it.
Sabbath’s comin’ up, fam. How you gonna spend it?