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About the Episode

Did you know that when God gave the Israelites the command to observe Sabbath, he didn’t give them an extensive list of dos and don’ts? The “rules” that we typically think of when we think of Sabbath were the result of well-meaning Jewish religious leaders attempting to define “work” so as to not break the Sabbath. So, what dos and don’ts are actually in scripture? That’s what we’re talking about today.



Click for Transcript

You’re listening to episode 19 of the Simply Sabbath podcast.

Rest doesn’t have to be a four-letter word. If you feel like you’re about to break from exhaustion. Let me invite you to Simply Sabbath, a podcast for the burnt-out Christian mom, who longs to get back to the core of who she is and to reclaim the deep joy and stabilizing peace Jesus has for her in her every day– without the mom guilt that often accompanies self-care practices.

Hi, my name is Rachel Fahrenbach and I help busy moms just like you add a simple restful family Sabbath to their week. So they can experience a refueling that gives them exactly what they need to live the life that God has called them to. I’m so glad you’ve joined me today. Let’s get to it.

Did you know that when God gave the Israelites the command to observe Sabbath, he didn’t give them an extensive list of dos and don’ts. I know it’s surprised me too. When I first started practicing Sabbath, I wanted to approach it with intentionality and respect.

And even though I understood I was saved by grace and I didn’t want to revert to legalism, I also knew I wanted to be very respectful and intentional with the day. And so I thought I would just start with the list of rules that God had given the Israelites. I figured that was a really good place to start and that I would kind of navigate it from there. So it was a little surprising when I got to the scripture and I realized there was no do’s and don’ts for Sabbath, in fact, other than Exodus 35, verse three, where it talks about not to kindle a fire on the Sabbath, there really is not a prohibited list. There’s really no structure for how to celebrate the Sabbath. There are pieces throughout scripture that allude to a defining of what work is or defining of how we should approach the Sabbath, but there’s really not a like set-in-stone way to observe Sabbath.

I think that surprised me because not having practiced Sabbath in my church, not having practiced Sabbath within my culture. I just came to this concept of Sabbath with the understanding that Jesus pushed back against the religious leaders of his day and the rules that they had burdened Sabbath with.

I knew that according to their law, there were a lot of different rules surrounding Sabbath. I assumed these were laws given in scripture, given in Exodus and Leviticus and all those things. But I was wrong.

What has happened over the years is that the religious leaders, in a very sincere desire to not want to break the Sabbath, defined 39 categories of work and defined different tasks and routines within those categories and put regulation on it. They essentially defined what they thought work was and what you should or should not do on Sabbath to keep yourself from breaking the command to take a rest.

They also throughout the centuries have established these beautiful, lovely traditions of a way in which to engage welcoming in the Sabbath and then welcoming in the workweek. Very beautiful traditions, but that’s just what they are. These rituals are traditions, things that they have established as a rhythm for their culture to observe Sabbath.

So when I was looking at Exodus and Leviticus, I actually had to go further into the Old Testament to see these passages that allude to a defining of what work is. Before I get into what those are and how we might approach them ourselves, I wanted to take a moment to point out a couple of things that jumped out at me as I was studying these scriptures. The first thing that I wanted to note is that Sabbath appears to exist outside of the Law. And now you might say, well, yeah, in Genesis chapter one talks about the seven day, how we’re supposed to keep it holy blah, blah, blah. And yes, that’s true. But it’s also in Exodus chapter 16.

In Exodus chapter 16, we have the story of how God provided manna to the Israelites. And he asked them to practice Sabbath in that provision. He says, he’ll give them a double portion on the six day so that they have leftovers for the seventh.

And that, that is tied to this idea of Sabbath keeping, of acknowledging that God is provider ultimately, and that we trust Him by not working. And He actually says to Moses in Exodus chapter 16, verses 28 through 29, he says, “how long will these people refuse to obey my commands and instructions? They must realize that the Sabbath is the Lord’s gift to you.”

I think that’s really a beautiful thing that even before God gives them the law, even before Moses goes up on Mount Sinai and God gives him the 10 commandments and all the other things that he wanted for Israel, before He even gets there, He is gifting them the Sabbath. He is gifting them this moment of rest. And it’s like, He’s saying to them: You have been in Egypt for so long. You have forgotten this original design that I gave you. You have forgotten the fact that I established a six day work week and a seventh day of rest. And I need to remind you of that because ultimately it is my gift to you. It is a reminder you are no longer slaves. You are no longer required to work all the time. I have freed you. I will provide for you. I am showing you my love and my compassion towards you. I am showing you my goodness and my faithfulness to you. Receive it as a gift.

Throughout the rest of the scripture, we see the Lord reminding the Israelites “remember my Sabbath.” Remember my Sabbath. And I think that we often equate this idea of Sabbath keeping as a law that was given to the Israelites. But first it was given to them as a gift. It exists outside of the law.

It is something that God asked them to engage in on a relational level, not just a covenantal one. I think this idea that Sabbath exists outside the mosaic law lends itself to the fact that Sabbath is included in the moral laws of the 10 commandments. It’s all about loving God and loving your neighbor. And Sabbath is a center point on which those two things hinge.

When we practice Sabbath, we connect with God. We remember he is ultimately our provider, but Sabbath at its heart is a communal thing. One of the to-dos that God does allude to in scripture is to Sabbath as a community. Sabbath, as a whole. Sabbath as your household and the servants who are with you in the stranger. Those of your home are to Sabbath together.

It’s not an individualistic thing. It’s a very communal thing. There is a component to that in that we have to stop as individuals in our work, but Sabbath is this community piece.

In Leviticus, chapter 23, he says “six days, you have to do your ordinary work, but on the seventh day, when it arrives, it is a Sabbath and must be a day of complete rest at time for sacred assembly, no work is allowed. Wherever you live, celebrate the Sabbath in my honor.”

If you practice Sabbath in the way that it was intended, you’re going to love God and you’re going to love your neighbor.

Sabbath was not given to the nation of Israel as a way in which to establish their culture and their nation in the promised land. Sabbath was something that Israel was invited into to show them that God had made a covenant with them. And to set them apart from every other nation around them so that people could see the Israelites and see what God was doing and the work that he would do on the cross. The Israelites were gifted the privilege of stewarding the Sabbath. Not only were they invited into his rest. They were also invited into this privilege of stewarding the Sabbath. And I think that those of us who are Christians being adopted into this family of God are also given the privilege of stewardship of the Sabbath.

It’s an attitude of trusting God as provider, remembering that we are freed and we are no longer slaves, and that we long for a day when there’s a new heaven and a new earth, all things are restored and put right. That’s what Sabbath keeping is about. And I think that’s at the heart of it. That’s what truly, when we strip it all away, that’s what it is about.

So Sabbath is something that the Israelites are invited into even before the law is given to them. It is something that exists outside the law. It is an attitude more than a to-do or to-don’t list. A gift that they’re given in the form of a command.

So what does the scripture say not to do on the Sabbath? Because there are a couple places where there is, um, moments that allude to a defining of what is work and what you should not do on the Sabbath. Moments where in Exodus, you know, with the story of the manna, there’s, there’s an understanding that you’re not supposed to prepare meals on the Sabbath.

There’s an understanding you’re not supposed to kindle a fire. I think those two probably go hand in hand. There’s an understanding you’re not supposed to travel. It says your family should observe Sabbath and don’t leave your houses. Stay where you’re at type of a thing. There’s a couple of different prophets that chastise the Israelites for buying and selling on the Sabbath. And there’s moments throughout scripture where these stories show up. There’s a spot where people are in the wine press using the winepress. Carrying heavy burdens to and from the marketplace.

And, um, I think what’s important to note with all of these, they all boil down to this principle of not trusting God as a provider. There’s a principle here that if my productivity stops, God’s faithful provision will continue. When we practice Sabbath, we’re saying, yes, we trust you, Lord. And what all of these stories pointed to, were moments in which people distrusted God’s provision, they trusted in their own productivity, in their own striving.

I think it’s also important to note that these incidences happened over many, many, many years. It’s not all in the same passage. It’s not even the same writer. It’s not even the same prophet. It’s all of these different little instances over the years. And I think that’s important to note because when Moses is first saying to the Israelites “Do not work. Take the Sabbath. Stay in your home, stay in your dwelling, places, stay in your areas.” I think it’s really important to note that they were a nomadic people at the time, they didn’t have a town, they didn’t have stability. Their whole lives were about hunting and gathering. And they were always on the move and they were always looking for the next place that would provide for them. And so what God is saying to them in this moment, if put a pause on that and trust me that even if you don’t to a new spot today, I still am going to provide for you. Later on when Israel becomes this established nation that has riches and wealth and they have businesses and stability and they’re trading, their work becomes different. It becomes more about the transaction. It becomes more about the land that they’re cultivating and the businesses that they’re growing.

So you see these statements about acts of business. I think the fact that Sabbath doesn’t have these rigid rituals or a list of do’s and don’ts allows for that growth and that evolution of what is work.

Work looks different for nomadic tribe wandering in the desert than it does for a city that has stability and growth. It’s different. And it looks different today when we are in a world that conducts its business over the internet and on a global scale. It’s just a totally different workspace, a totally different work environment. When Moses is telling the Israelites not to leave their homes, because for one day they’re not supposed to wander. It’s not the same for us who don’t ever leave our homes because we’re all working from home now, right? It’s a different time in a different environment, but the principle of it, the principle of the don’t, the principle of Sabbath is to remember that God has saved you from your slavery. He has freed you. He will be a provider to you. He is compassionate and loving towards you. He is a good father towards you. Practice Sabbath in a way that it reminds you of that and it says, yes, I’m trusting you Lord!

So I want to point out one more thing before we go. I want to point out Jesus’s response to the religious leader. Now, if you remember, he was healing on the Sabbath and it was creating this, um, conflict between he and the religious leaders. They considered healing work. And so they were saying that he was doing work on the Sabbath and it was unlawful. And Jesus actually says to them in Matthew chapter, 12 verse 12. He says “how much more of value is a person than a sheep?” If you remember in verse 11, he talks about if a sheep falls into a pit, you’re going to pull it out, right? “How much more valuable is the person than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

He shares a couple more examples before that and after that, but at the core of it, he’s saying you have created a list of don’ts for the Sabbath, but I’m telling you it’s more about the dos. It is good, it is lawful, to do good on the Sabbath. And it got me thinking, okay, well, what does that mean?

What does it mean to do good? And as I was asking myself, this question, Micah 6:8 came to mind. It says: ” he has told you, oh man, what is good. And what does the Lord require you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” The Message version puts it this way: “but he has already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple. Do what is fair and just to your neighbor. Be compassionate and loyal in your love. And don’t take yourself too seriously. Take God seriously.”

Walking humbly with God, taking God seriously, sounds a lot like Sabbath, right? An acknowledgement that you are not God, that you are not the one in control, he is. He is our provider. He is the one that is loving and gracious towards us. He is the one on which we depend. That’s humility. That Sabbath.

Jesus said that all the laws and the prophets could be summed up in this phrase: love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Sabbath is that command to do good; it’s to love God, love our neighbors. It’s to do justice and love kindness is to walk humbly with our God. It’s all those things and more.

That’s the do’s and the don’ts of Sabbath.

So I’ll leave you with this question: what work do you need to stop in order to receive this gift that’s wrapped up in a command? This gift of Sabbath? I’ll see you next week.

Hey, I just want to say thank you for joining me for today’s conversation. I know many things demand your attention. I don’t take lightly the privilege it is to share your time. I want to make things as easy and simple for you. So I’ve linked to all the resources mentioned in the episode in the show notes, and you can always find the link and more helpful information on my website, www.simplysabbath.com.

As we say our goodbyes, let me remind you that what we’re talking about in this podcast is not just another thing to add to your to-do list. This is not another expectation for you to live up to. It is a gift out stretched from the hand of your creator. An invitation to press pause on walking alongside Jesus in all the things He’s called you to do. And instead the down, across from Him and just be with Him.

It is an invitation to Simply Sabbath.



BibleProject Sabbath Series


Scriptures Referenced
Exodus 16:28-29 | Exodus 20:8-11
Exodus 31:13-14, 16 | Exodus 35:3 
Leviticus 23:3 | Nehemiah 10:28-31  Isaiah 58:13 | Jeremiah 17:20-27
Ezekiel 20:12-13, 20 | Micah 6:8
​​​Matthew 12:11-12 | Luke 13:10-16

Now What?

Ask yourself this question: What work do I need to stop in order to receive this gift that’s wrapped up in a command? This gift of Sabbath?

Want to practice Sabbath but don’t know where to start? Grab this free guide: The Busy Mom’s Guide to a Simple Family Sabbath


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Hey! I'm Rachel and I'm so glad you're here today!
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Hey! I'm Rachel and I'm so glad you're here today!

I help busy moms add a simple, rest-filled family Sabbath to their week. If that sounds like something you want for your week, but don’t know where to start, grab this free how-to resource: The Busy Mom’s Guide to a Simple Family Sabbath.

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