In the Old Testament God gave his people what we call “the ten commandments”.
We probably all know some of them, particularly the more obvious ones such as “Do not murder” or “Do not steal”.
One of the less well known ones, and probably the hardest to make sense of today, is the fourth commandment:
“Remember the Sabbath day to set it apart as holy. For six days you may 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, you, or your son, or your daughter, or your male servant, or your female servant, or your cattle, or the resident foreigner who is in your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them, and he rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy” (Exodus 20:8-11).
For one day a week they couldn’t work or buy or sell or conduct any sort of business.
Why did God think it so important his people take one day in seven off work that he made it a legal requirement?
One reason was to give them a regular opportunity to free their minds from the concerns of daily work and organisation and instead to focus on the things God had promised he would do for them if they were to trust in him.
The people who first received the ten commandments had been slaves in the land of Egypt and for them the weekly break from work was a reminder that God had rescued them from a life where there was never any rest from work at all.
They knew very little about God at this point and had no natural inclination to take time off their daily concerns to think about anything beyond the next day. By making it a legal requirement, God’s intention was to train them into making this part of their natural thought patterns.
What about us?
We are living at a time when most of us cannot work, either because we cannot physically travel to our place of work or because there is no work available for us to do.
We can no longer enjoy the things that would usually fill our spare time, whether it be meeting up with friends, watching or playing sports, shopping or whatever else.
This is a challenging time for all of us. We are all struggling perhaps with financial worries, with the risk of infection, or the impact on our mental health of being stuck in the house almost all of the time.
While I am not suggesting that this is something God has deliberately brought about, it does bear some similarities to those people who were forced to take time off on the Sabbath.
It puts us in a position where many of the things that would normally fill up our time and our minds are now off limits.
What are we doing with our time?
There are many things to take up our time in the house as well: TV, Internet, video games, radio, etc. Is that what we’re filling our time and our minds with now?
Or are we taking this opportunity to re-direct and re-prioritise our time and our energy towards God and towards care for others while we don’t have the distractions and pleasures of what was once normal life getting in the way?