Read: Nehemiah 13
Our culture is addicted to productivity.
The sheer number of books and blogs dedicated to productivity testify to the fact that productivity is an idol in our age. So, sometimes I want to blame society for the fact that I struggle to keep the Sabbath.
Of the Ten Commandments, I’m most guilty of breaking this one:
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy: You are to labor six days and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. You must not do any work — you, your son or daughter, your male or female servant, your livestock, or the resident alien who is within your city gates. For the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)
To obey God’s Word and honor the Sabbath, I am forced to put away the idol of productivity. Because I can’t be productive if I can’t work!
And yet, when we read the Bible, we see that productivity — and earning money! — was just as much a temptation back in biblical times as it is for us today.
It’s not a culture thing; it’s a human thing.
After the city of Jerusalem was rebuilt and repopulated, Nehemiah returned to his post by the king’s side. Several years later, he returned to Jerusalem, and he was unhappy with what he found. In Nehemiah 13, he records a few of the ways the Israelites were not following God’s Word.
One of the ways they were not following God’s Word was that they were buying and selling products in the city on the Sabbath. In other words, they were working on the Sabbath.
Jerusalem was a city where trade and commerce took place. But none of that was supposed to be happening on the Sabbath. So Nehemiah rebuked the leaders in the city who were allowing this to happen. And he set guards at each city gate to keep the gates closed on the Sabbath. That way no buying or selling could take place.
To work on the Sabbath is to say we don’t trust God to provide for us. And it’s disobedience.
Now, I don’t think the Sabbath has to be observed only on Sunday. My pastor says his Sabbath day of rest is always on Mondays, because he works on Sundays!
The final chapter in Nehemiah is a good reminder to me that I need to honor the Sabbath. I need to set aside one day a week for rest.
The last chapter also highlights how sinful we are as people. Just a few years after the big town meeting where they listened to Ezra read God’s Word and confessed their sin and made a vow, some of the people had slid back into old habits.
We must be diligent in our pursuit of God and his holy ways. We won’t become more like Christ by accident. Sanctification requires intention, which is why I’m so grateful for communities like this one.
Together, we pursue God through his Word.
And it’s through his Word, we know him better and become more like him — all by his grace.
In a journal or notebook, write Nehemiah 13:22.
“Then I instructed the Levites to purify themselves and guard the city gates in order to keep the Sabbath day holy.”
“Remember me for this also, my God, and look on me with compassion according to the abundance of your faithful love.”
Or write any passage from today’s reading that stands out to you.
Thank you, Lord, that you give us permission to rest. You want us to work hard six days a week, but on the seventh day, you want us to rest. Help me to honor the Sabbath. Remind me that when I honor the Sabbath, I am trusting you to provide for my family. Honoring the Sabbath is a way of saying, “I trust you.” Help me to grow in this area, trusting you to provide. In your name I pray, amen.