When I was growing up, Sunday dinner was a big deal. My mom usually made a roast with all the fixings – potatoes, several kinds of vegetables, homemade rolls and a big cake or pie. I’m sure she prepared some of it ahead of time, but when we got home from church we all ran around helping her get it ready to serve, setting the table, and cleaning up afterwards. It was so much work that on Sunday night we had what we called Sunday Supper. Mother put out sandwich makings and chips and we all helped ourselves so she wouldn’t have to cook another meal.
There were also times when we travelled into the city for church and then we went to a hotel for dinner afterwards. We felt so important sitting in a fancy dining room, being waited on by men in tuxedos. On those days Sunday dinner was still a big deal, but Mother didn’t have to do the work. But somebody was cooking our food, bringing it to us and cleaning up afterwards. Somebody was working to earn a living.
Keeping the Sabbath is a tricky thing. God made it clear in the Old Testament how He wanted the Israelites to keep it. But what does He expect from His people in the New Covenant? Jesus had a lot to say about the Sabbath but I don’t have room here to examine the whole teaching. One thing He said that stands out because it’s a theme I’ve seen as I’ve read different scriptures about the Sabbath is ““The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27 NLT)
God made the Sabbath for me. Keeping it is not just another rule I have to follow. So keeping it holy is good for me. It was good for the men of Judah too, so when they broke it they not only disobeyed God, they trampled His gift and lost out on the blessing He wanted to give them.
What they did was to work to earn a living. They made wine, loaded their produce on donkeys and brought it into Jerusalem to sell. They brought fish and all kinds of merchandise into Jerusalem to sell. They treated the Sabbath like any other day and didn’t rest. They didn’t take any time away from their regular lives to think about God. Nehemiah, who put a stop to it, held the nobles of Judah responsible. It was not only an accepted practice, it was approved by the government.
But it was wrong. It was the sort of thing their ancestors did that brought trouble on them in the first place.
We also live in a society that approves people working on the Sabbath. In fact, most people don’t think about the Sabbath at all. So how should I respond in this culture? What does God expect from me?
What pleases God is to honor the Sabbath rest He has given His people. I should enjoy the gift He has given me; a day to focus on Him.
What pleases God is to for His people to remember the evil deeds of those before us and not to repeat them. The men of Judah were more concerned about making money than worshipping God. I should seek God’s kingdom first and trust God’s provision for me.
What pleases God is to do what I can to stop the evil that I see being done around me. When Nehemiah stopped the Sabbath commerce, he called it a good deed. He saw the disobedience of the people and put a stop to it. I may not be able stop the Sunday commerce in my city but I should look for ways to help others enjoy God’s gift of holy rest.