Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Jesus is the Son of God, who also is God in the flesh; as it is written,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made (John 1:1-3).
And yet, when he came to earth and talked the people, he constantly came into conflict with the Pharisees (the religious ruling class of the time) – largely over matters regarding the Law, which are the commands the Lord gave to Moses. Let’s take a look at one of these laws, the Law of the Sabbath, and learn where the communication breakdown occurred.
As far as the religious leaders were concerned, Jesus frequently broke the Sabbath Law. His crew picked grain, which is considered manual labor:
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:1-2).
He also healed on the Sabbath, which as a “healer” could count as a work. History records,
On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, ‘Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So he got up and stood there.
Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”
He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored. But they were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus (Luke 6:6-11).
But wait, why were the Pharisees so angry? None of these things really seem like that big of a deal. Well, it all tracks back to the Law of the Sabbath day; it’s actually one of the Ten Commandments. The Law states:
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Exodus 20:8-110.
God was really serious about this commandment, so it comes up frequently in the Bible, often with stronger notes attached to it; like when he made working on the Sabbath a capital offense:
Moses assembled the whole Israelite community and said to them, “These are the things the Lord has commanded you to do: For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it must be put to death. Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day (Exodus 34:3).
Wait, we can’t even light a fire on the Sabbath and it’s punishable by the death penalty? Holy crap Jesus, what have you done by working on the Sabbath!?
I prayed about these passages because it feels like God’s Law is in conflict with Jesus’ actions. Christ seemed to naturally carry on as normal on the Sabbath day, even though the Law commanded that we rest- on the penalty of death. The Holy Spirit reminded me though that the Lord is not double-minded; rather, it’s just really hard to get people to stop working. The old I get and the more responsibilities that pile up, the more I realize how hard it is to take a breather. But God is all about us resting and letting him handle everything. For example, when God gave the Israelites Manna (bread from heaven) he tried to train them to take a day off from foraging for it. The Bible tells us,
He said to them, “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’”
So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded and it did not stink or get maggots in it. “Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a Sabbath to the Lord. You will not find any of it on the ground today. Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any” (Exodus 16:23-26).
…But some people tried to forage on the Sabbath anyway,
Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. Then the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions? Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where he is on the seventh day; no one is to go out.” So the people rested on the seventh day (Exodus 16:27-30).
The Lord wanted people to take a rest. He still does for Christians too; for it is written,
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters god’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience (Hebrews 4:9-11).
Jesus explained this to the people of his day as well, “Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath’” (Mark 2:27). This means that the Sabbath is a day made specifically for us, in order for us to take a break and let God handle everything.
…And it makes some of us crazy. We have busy lives, stressful lives, and tons of responsibilities pile on our shoulders. We have people to provide for and never enough time and resources to do a proper job of it; and then God has the gall to tell us to take a day off every week? Doesn’t he understand!? Actually, according to the Bible, he understands perfectly: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). But God also knows that if we only look at our troubles and try to handle it all ourselves we’ll never see the light of Christ. During the explanation of one of his parables, Jesus noted,
Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful (Mark 4:18-19).
God wants us to be fruitful, therefore we need to take a step back and realize that we have the creator of the universe on our side; a Creator who is more than capable of handling our pithy issues at least once a week (if not every day). The Bible states, “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work” (Genesis 2:1-2). If even the Lord took a break, what is your excuse?
…But it’s hard. Even after the reading of the Law, fixing Jerusalem, and a mass repenting; Nehemiah still had to put armed guards at the doors of Jerusalem just to keep people from doing business on the day of rest. Check this out:
When evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I ordered the doors to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over. I stationed some of my own men at the gate so that no load could be brought in on the Sabbath day. Once or twice the merchants and sellers of all kinds of goods spent the night outside of Jerusalem. But I warned them and said, “Why do you spend the night by the wall? If you do this again, I will lay hands on you.” From that time on they no longer came on the Sabbath. Then I commanded the Levites to purify themselves and to go and guard the gates in order to keep the Sabbath day holy (Nehemiah 13:19-22).
The lesson from this? We basically need a gun to our heads to get us to stop moving. So that’s what God did by making it a capital offensive for the Israelites, and just so that we would pay attention to it, he made sure Moses threw the book at someone as an example:
While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp.” So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the Lord commanded Moses (Numbers 15:32-36).
The Lord is just that serous about us taking a break.
Therefore, my friend, take a day off once a week. Pick a day (probably on a weekend) and take a break, you and your family. For most Christians, it’s Sunday, but if that doesn’t work then find the day that does; and relax a little- let Jesus take the wheel for a bit.