The Hebrew word Shabbat (Sabbath in English) is a gift of rest first mentioned in the creation narrative.
After God created the world in six days, Genesis 2:3 says, “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”
Did you catch that word rested?
This word in the Hebrew is the first occurrence of the word Shabbat in the Scriptures, a word simply meaning to cease from doing, to desist from labor, or to rest. At the dawn of creation, God instituted a rhythm of rest in the order of time. He knew that mankind would need the Sabbath for their health and well-being.
God valued this concept of rest so much that it was even included in the Ten Commandments. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8)
You may recall the story of Jesus discussing the topic of the Sabbath with His disciples. In Mark 2 when His disciples ask whether it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath, Jesus responds, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28)
The Sabbath was never meant to be something to strive toward. Rather, from the beginning of time the Sabbath was meant to bring freedom. God Himself rested on the seventh day after the work of His creation. The Sabbath is meant to be filled with joy, rest, and refilling.
Because the Sabbath is so valued in the Scriptures, it is a sacred practice revered by Jews to this day. If you have ever been to a Shabbat dinner on a Friday night, you may have experienced some of the traditional elements including the lighting of the candles to welcome Shabbat, as well as prayers over the wine and the bread.
These prayers are intentional and usher in the reverence of Shabbat. Though the definitive origins of these practices are debated, they may have been defined in the period following the Israelites’ return from Babylonian exile.
Lighting the candles
Shabbat is ushered in by lighting two candles. Traditionally, the female of the household lights the candles before sundown on Friday evening and says,
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the candles of Shabbat.
Prayer over the wine
Following the lighting of the candles, there are prayers over the wine and the bread to sanctify the time of Shabbat. Traditionally, the father of the household holds up the cup of wine and says,
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.
Prayer over the bread
After the blessing of the wine, the blessing over the bread is said. Traditionally, there are two loaves of challah bread, to symbolize the double portion of manna provided to the children of Israel in the wilderness for the Sabbath.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.
As followers of Jesus, do these elements of Shabbat carry significance for us?
As a matter of fact, they do! While these exact prayers are not found in the Bible, if we take a closer look at the language of these prayers, we find Jesus in each one of them.
Do you recall the seven “I am” statements made by Jesus in the gospel of John?
- “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35, 41, 48, 51)
- “I am the light of the world.” (John 8:12)
- “I am the door of the sheep.” (John 10:7,9)
- “I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:11, 14)
- “I am the resurrection and the life.” (John 11:25)
- “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)
- “I am the true vine.” (John 15:1, 5)
Take a look at these “I am” statements and read the three Shabbat prayers mentioned above over the candles, the wine, and the bread. Jesus brings fulfillment to these prayers.
He is the light of the world given so that we don’t have to walk in darkness. He is the true vine and we are the branches. Our lives are centered around Him and the gift of salvation through His shed blood on the cross. He is our provision and the bread of life that came down from heaven because those who come to Him will never hunger again. And this is just the beginning of all that Jesus fulfilled as the promised Messiah.
The same God who answered Moses from the burning bush saying, “I am who I am” is echoed in Jesus declaring in John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I am.”
There is one final element to the significance of Shabbat for believers in Jesus.
Hebrews 4:9 says, “There remains a rest for the people of God.” In the Greek, the word for rest in this verse is sabbatismos, the only occurrence of this word in the entire New Testament. Seemingly, the writer of Hebrews wants to emphasize the importance of not just rest for the people of God but a Sabbath rest, a sacred time, finding its apex in God alone.
The Sabbath is more than just a day set aside to rest following a week of work. It is more than a casual observance. It is a rhythm that ultimately points to our ultimate satisfaction and true rest in Jesus alone.
Perhaps the Lord has already been speaking to you about the rhythm of His times and seasons. Ask Him what Sabbath rest looks like for you. Remember, Sabbath is not about striving but ceasing from the work of our hands to embrace the joy of being satisfied in Him.