Purpose of Sabbath Rest

Purpose of Sabbath Rest


Robert Shaw, D.Min.

Excerpt from the book, “Created for Purpose”


“So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. . . strive to enter that rest” – Hebrews 4:9, 11

Today, we all seemingly want to be happy, entertained, filled, and pleasured.  But at what cost?  With our world moving at such a great rate of speed, we want to enjoy life at the same pace.  That comes with a cost in a fast-paced environment.  The cost is that we will pay whatever it takes to be happy more often and for the experience to last longer.  The problem is that such drivenness is unsustainable.  The result is discouragement, depression, and breakdown.  Our purpose becomes derailed and confused.  Contentment is overpowered by the pursuit of happiness.  As a result, there is little or no rest.  We do not know how to recover.  We do not take the time to rest and re-charge ourselves.

God designed us to be at rest regularly.  Yet, rest is foreign to our lifestyles.  Our medical, emotional, and mental health will take a beating and we may experience physical exhaustion and breakdown.  Many medical conditions emerge as a result and they become a distraction to our purpose.

When we do not rest, there are many consequences and our purpose can be curtailed.  For example, sleep is increasingly recognized as important to public health, with sleep insufficiency linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational errors (Institute of Medicine, 2006).  Individuals who experience a lack of sleep are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity (Institute of Medicine, 2006).  The National Institutes of Health suggests that school-age children need at least 10 hours of sleep daily, teens need 9-10 hours, and adults need 7-8 hours. However, because of demanding work schedules, 24-hour television and constant access to electronic technologies, most individuals are getting far less than what is needed to rest and be replenished.

So what is the answer?  Does God have a plan to slow us down?  He rested too, didn’t He?  What was that really all about?

Once God completed His creation, the Bible says, “And by the seventh day God completed His work which he had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that he had done” (Gen. 2:2).  You may ask, “Why would an omnipotent God need to rest after creating the universe?” I mean, God said “Let there be. . .” and it was done.  How much possible energy or effort did that take?  Those are fair questions.  Especially since elsewhere in the Bible we read that our Creator God does not get weary or tired (Isa. 40:28).

Genesis 2:3 states, “Then God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all his work which God created and made.” The Hebrew word, “shabath” translated “rest” does not refer to a requirement to sleep or take a break due to weariness.  In the vast majority of verses in the Bible (NASV) the word is translated as some form of “stopping” or “ceasing” from work or a task.  In only 7 out of 68 instances is the word translated “rest” or “rested.”  (There are other Hebrew words that are used to describe a physical rest).  For example, Exodus 23:12 says,

“Six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease (shabath) from labor in order that your ox and your donkey may rest (nuach), and the son of your female slave, as well as your stranger, may refresh (naphash) themselves.”

The Hebrew word sabbath literally means “to cease.” Just as God “ceased” from His creation work, we too are to “cease” from our day-to-day occupations and refocus on what’s really important. It’s a day to push the reset button. Taking a Sabbath rest is an act of faith; it’s a reminder that no matter what we do, God is in control. When we cease from pursuing our material goals for one day each week, we’re saying, “God, I trust You to maintain control while I spend this day focusing on You. I trust You to provide for my needs seven days a week even if I only work for six of them. Regardless of how much money I could earn today, or how much remains on my to-do list from last week, today I’m going to rest my mind and body and bask in Your presence.” The more we work, the less we focus on God.  The more we are distracted, the less we acknowledge God.  We are created to be in His presence and be at rest in order to continue to understand our purpose.

However, Adam fell. He ruined everything, including the Sabbath. Instead of walking with God, he hid from God (Gen. 3:8). It was the Sabbath, Father’s Day, but God had to look for him!  This new context helps us to understand the significance of the fourth commandment. It was given to fallen man — that is why it contains a “you shall not.” He was not to work, but to rest. Externally, that meant ceasing from his ordinary tasks in order to meet with God.  Internally, it involved ceasing from all self-sufficiency in order to rest in God’s grace.

Considering this, what difference did the coming of Jesus make to the Sabbath day? In Christ crucified and risen, we find eternal rest (Matt. 11:28–30), and we are restored to communion with God (Matt. 11:25–30). The lost treasures of the Sabbath are restored. We rest in Christ from our labor of self-sufficiency, and we have access to the Father (Eph. 2:18). As we meet with Him, He shows us Himself, His ways, His world, His purposes, His glory.

The Sabbath does not celebrate God’s creation, but celebrates God Himself.  The Sabbath is a preview of heaven, where we will cease from labor, striving, and languishing and where we will forever enter into God’s rest. So, the author of Hebrews encourages us to enter into God’s rest rather than falling into disobedience.

The true meaning behind Genesis 2:3 is, God stopped creating after the sixth day – not that God needed to take a break. When God ceased His creation, the Bible indicates how he felt about His work.  On several occasions, “God saw it was good” (Gen. 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25).  After human beings were created, God looked upon all His creation and declared “it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).  God was able to rest because what He did was a direct extension of who He is!

When the Lord ceased from His work, He found rest in the expression of Himself as Creator.  When creation was complete, God found pleasure in it.  God’s purpose is a direct manifestation and reflection of who He is.  When God expresses who He is, He is at rest.  Likewise, when we live out our purpose, we can be at rest.  True rest is ceasing from labor, reflecting upon God’s goodness to us, and resting in the fruit of our labor when we know it is an expression of who we are.

Imagine being a musician who just recorded a musical CD.  After recording track after track, voice after voice, note after note, we cease the work on the project.  We then place headphones over our ears and listen to the finished work.  If we are satisfied, we would lean back in the chair, take several deep breaths, and feel a sense of pleasure over what we finished.  It is, after all, an expression of who we are and what we wanted to communicate in our music.  The restful sigh we may experience would be a sign that we completed something we are proud of and which is an acceptable representation of who we are.

Finally, we know that this day of devotion and rest is designed to ensure that we do not get too far away from God’s pattern.  If one out of every seven days we are anchored by our focus on Him, we are less likely to drift from Him.  Since the middle 1970’s, our nation has changed to no longer consider a Sabbath.  Stores, businesses, banks, etc., were typically closed on Sundays and most families went to church together.  As a result, our nation had an awareness of God in their lives. Most neighborhoods and relationships experienced peace and respect as a result.

Today, most stores and many businesses are open seven days a week.  Whether your tradition is to celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday or Sunday, the point is that we keep it holy – keep it set apart.  Many people work jobs that require they be at work on Saturdays and Sundays, not allowing for a Sabbath rest and contemplation.  Take another day, rest and honor God with it.  Our mental and physical health, as well as our spiritual health, is at stake.

Media has become so extensive and intrusive today that it is easy to find distractions from the focus on God.  We live on our cell phones; TV is always on – with hundreds of channels.  We are even requiring that church “entertains” us.  Worship music is often too loud, and as a result, to distracting for worship. Whatever happened to resting in the presence of God?  Contemplative prayer is a lost practice and is viewed as only for those who live in a monastery. The Sabbath rest is so lacking that we as a culture have put God further and further away from our considerations, if we think of Him at all.

When we know our purpose is to take time to rest, our labor ceases in the sense that it becomes easy to express who we are.  Our purpose, as well as our rest, begins with knowing Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  When we do not know our purpose, we will often be tormented by the lack of peace and contentment.  As a result, our lives may be comprised of striving for happiness only, self-seeking pleasures, and experiencing disobedience, failure, and disappointment.

Thus Sabbath is about more than external rest of the body; it is about inner rest of the soul. We need rest from the anxiety and strain of our overwork, which is really an attempt to justify ourselves—to gain the money or the status or the reputation we think we have to have. Avoiding overwork requires deep rest in Christ’s finished work for our salvation (Hebrews 4:1–10). Only then will we be able to “walk away” regularly from our vocational work and rest.

Sabbath is the key to getting this balance, and Jesus identifies himself as the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27– 28)—the Lord of Rest! Jesus urges us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28–29). One of the great blessings of the gospel is that he gives you rest that no one else will.



Institute of Medicine. 2006.  Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation: An Unmet Public Health Problem. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.



Robert B. Shaw, D.Min., M.A., M.Div.,  is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor (LPCS) in NC and VA.  He serves as the Director of Credentialing and Membership Divisions of the AACC and is an adjunct professor at Liberty University.  He is a published author, of a series of books on human core longings, the “Created for” series, which can be obtained through Amazon, or through Dr. Shaw’s website, www.rbshaw.net.