The Sabbath in Context—Portraits of a Sabbath Attitude

By Gaspar F. Colón

Are there times when, while reading along in the Bible, you find a familiar passage and think, “Wow, I know that passage, but what is it doing here?” You see, for years I have given Bible studies about the Sabbath and flipped to various passages that make the point. One of those Sabbath passages was Isaiah 58:13, 14. It reads,

“’If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath

and from doing as you please on my holy day,

if you call the Sabbath a delight

and the Lord’s holy day honorable,

and if you honor it by not going your own way

and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,

then you will find your joy in the Lord,

and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land

and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.’

The mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Self-serving Worship

A great habit to get into when studying the bible is to look at its context. What precedes the passage? How is it connected to the passage? Does the reading of the surrounding verses add to your understanding? Here’s what I discovered.

A great habit to get into when studying the bible is to look at its context.

Isaiah 58 begins with a call to the Prophet Isaiah to shout out a message to the people of God and to not hold back. It is a message intended to show God’s people their transgression and sin. Obviously God is upset with His people and He wants to point them in the right direction.

God’s people are failing, but they are failing while seeking God; while wanting to do God’s will; while desiring to do what is right; while eager to keep the commandments of God; while seeking just decisions; and yearning to come near to God (verse 2). They seem to desire all the right things, but there is something wrong.

In verse 3-5 we begin to capture what it is about God’s people that is causing God to call His prophet to correct them. They fast in order to be seen. They humble themselves in order to be noticed. Their fasting doesn’t make way for worship or service. Instead it makes way for self-centeredness (doing as they please). Self-centered worship leads to exploitation of those around us to be and to do what we think they should be or do. Self-centered worship leads to quarrels with anyone who does not conform to my likings. Such attitudes lead God to proclaim, “You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high” (vs. 4b).

Self-sacrifice for Compassionate Service (or Sacrifice for a Glorious Cause)

God defines the true fast in verses 6-8. The fast that God calls to is self-sacrifice that takes the attention away from ourselves. It prevents us from seeing ourselves in chains of obedience to God, like struggling captives. Instead, it turns our focus outward to loose the chains of injustice around us and to set those who are oppressed free. This fast takes the food we are fasting from and shares it with the hungry. It offers shelter to the poor wanderer and clothing to the naked. It doesn’t turn away from those close to us.

When we enter the sacred hours of the Sabbath, what baggage do we bring into it?

The Lord does not expect for us to fast from food and have our thoughts focused on our own hunger. He does not expect us to be dying sacrifices (see Romans 12:1) whimpering through life with the excessive burden of going through the motions of worship and devotion. God’s desire for his people is that they experience the joy of being instruments of peace and love; worshipping Him through service to those He places in our path.

Healing Comes Through Selfless Surrender

The result of freedom from self-centered service and worship reveals itself in 1) our light shining forth like the dawn, 2) healing from the disfigurement of self-worship, 3) righteousness leading the way, 4) knowing that God has our back when we serve Him with all our heart, 5) God’s eagerness to answer your unselfish prayers with the words—“Here I Am,” 6) God’s continual guidance, 7) the satisfaction of our needs, and 8) the strengthening of our bodies. God wants us to be “like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail” (verses 9-11).

Selfless Sabbath Worship

When we arrive at the last two verses of Isaiah 58 God continues His message, seeking to turn the hearts of his people from self-service and self-centered worship. While much of the chapter applies to daily living, the Lord applies the counsel to Sabbath worship. A healed selfless attitude of other-centeredness is what motivates God’s people to celebrate the lordship of God in their lives through the Sabbath (vss. 13, 14).

In this portion of the chapter God provides His people with three “Ifs” and three “thens” that specifically apply to Sabbath worship. This provides a review of the lesson that God has called His prophet to deliver. Here we see three conditions and three blessings.

  • IF—you keep from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please (self-service), verses 3-5.
  • IF—you call the Sabbath a delight and honor it (other-centered attitude) verses 5-8
  • IF—you honor the Sabbath by not straying toward self-worship or speaking idle words that take away from God’s purpose for our lives (verse 9)
  • THEN—you will find joy in the Lord
  • THEN—God will lift you out of the valleys of grudging service
  • THEN—you will feast on Jacob’s inheritance

When we enter the sacred hours of the Sabbath, what baggage do we bring into it? What attitudes remain in the forefront of our minds? Is there anything in our daily outlook that spoils our approach to the Sabbath? Sabbath worship doesn’t begin at sundown Friday evening, it begins with the preparation of our hearts in anticipation of a day God has set aside to celebrate His finished work of creation and redemption. Those who are redeemed have chosen joyfully to invite Jesus to be Lord of our lives and reflect the love that He has for us back to Him in worship and service.

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