Dirt Under Your Nails

Exodus 31: 16 Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. 17 It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.

Dirt Under Your Nails

Read Exodus 31:12-18

If you have ever had to do a posting, slabbing, or mowing job in your garden after a proper days worth of work you end up with dirt underneath your nails. For some this dirt under the nails is part of the price of beautiful garden. Plato once remarked that manual labour was not worthy of humans. In fact to manual labour was seen as dehumanizing. In the Greek world work was so demeaning that slaves were often considered nothing but living tools. The respectable thing was to do mental labour.

But this is not the story of the Bible, which begins in a garden and ends in a garden. Work in no way dehumanizes us. It is precisely what makes us human, as we are made in the image of God—A workman God. Work is not a way of proving our worth.

Tim Keller once commented that the God of the Bible at the moment of creation can be found to have dirt underneath His fingernails.

What happened to us to make us fall out of love with work? Work was no longer something to be enjoyed. It would now become the main source of getting significance in the world.

Regardless of whether it is manual or mental labour, at the end of a day do we have the deep sense of contentment that God had upon finishing his labour in creation? God tells Moses in this passage, that it is possible to work and have contentment.

Work is no longer a means to an end; an incessant striving for significance. Work is delight and refreshment. It is deep cosmic rest. It is the much-needed REM sleep that rejuvenates not only our bodies, but our souls. We no longer have to prove ourselves.

The Sabbath is declaration that Jesus’ words on the cross ring true, “It is finished!”

Bishop JC Ryle once remarked of resting in this assurance of Jesus’ completed work.  “Assurance goes far to set a child of God free. It enables him to feel that the great business of life is a settled business. The great debt, a paid debt, the great disease, the healed disease, and the great works the finished work and all other business, disease, debts, and works are then by comparison small.”

Throw Your Doing Down

Ex. 23:12   “Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed.

Read Exodus 23:10-19

One of the biggest problems humans face is deep restlessness. Judith Shulevitz, famed New York Times columnist, described this deep restlessness and our need for deep peace this way:

“Most people mistakenly believe that all you have to do to stop working is not work. The inventors of the Sabbath understood that it was a much more complicated undertaking. You cannot downshift casually and easily, the way you might slip into bed at the end of a long day not only did drudgery give way to festivity, family gatherings and occasionally worship, but the machinery of self-censorship shut down, too, stilling the eternal inner murmur of self-reproach.”

When evening rolls around distracting situations vie for our attention. Often evenings can be such occasion.  The main theme of these laws, however, is not just looking at forced rest; rather it is concerned with inward peace in all situations. The approach of night, with its temptation to brood on past wrongs and present perils, only challenges us to make our faith explicit and to urge it on others, as a committal of our cause and ourselves to a faithful Creator.

The Holy Spirit, speaking through Moses, challenges us to see where we derive our sense vindication, righteousness or rest. Any other way of seeking vindication will only lead to disillusion, “on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed” (v.12) The writer of Hebrews challenges this very notion quoting this the creation story and the Sabbath Laws, Heb 4:10 “for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His.”

But what is God’s rest? If Jesus is our righteousness then we don’t have to fight for our rights. If Jesus is our vindication we do not need to prove ourselves. It is this confidence in justification that leads to true, deep rest. It is Jesus who speaks to the restlessness of our life, “Peace, Be still.”

Sabbath Laws are not a primitive taboos, but deeply theological declarations. The glory of Israel’s faith is the belief that God preserves both man and beast (Ps. 36:6) and feeds the wild animals every day (Ps. 104:21). Christ tells us that God cares for the sparrows on the roof (Matt. 10:29) and feeds the ravens (Luke 12:24).

Jesus declares, “It is finished!”

Cast your deadly “doing” down—
Down at Jesus’ feet;
Stand in Him, in Him alone,
Gloriously complete.

(Hymn, “It is Finished” by James Proctor and Ira Sankey)