Part of the way God educates His people through Moses is the institution of feasts, celebrations, and above all the Sabbath. Moses is known as the Lawgiver, but he was responsible for bringing order and purpose to the children of Israel. It is really incredible if you think about it. Imagine organizing an entire nation from scratch. Or imagine waking up one day and there’s someone new in charge who completely changes the way your community and society does things. Moses received abundant revelations from God about how to do this, and what to tell the people to do, but it is really incredible. Moses sets them on a journey to become the people they truly are, their sense of identity is being drawn out of them by all the new things they have to do and observe. Moses reminds them, “remember your fathers Abraham, Isaac, Jacob,” they all had the Lord as their God. Now, Moses says, the Lord wants to make you His people.
Part of this education or training – living out their new identity – is a different way of being on vacation. All these feast days and celebrations are built in relation to the Sabbath – the day God Himself rested (or perhaps we should say, the day of God’s rest). As a people in forced labor – slavery – the Israelites are given a day of rest as part of their new identity. That rest – contrasting with the slavery they endured – is symbolic of a deeper rest God wants them to have. “Whoever commits sin is a slave to sin.” The Sabbath can only be fully enjoyed fully when our conscience itself is free from the burden of sin. In that way, we understand that the Sabbath – the day of rest – is the moment we receive forgiveness – liberation from sin. The peace of a pure conscience is the freedom Jesus has won for us. Let us enter into the rest of God frequently by receiving His mercy, and may our vacations be occasions to remember that we are not slaves, but sons and daughters of God.
The sabbath was given to the Jews to be observed literally, like other things, as rites symbolically signifying something deeper. A particular kind of vacation, you see, was enjoined on them. Take care to carry out what that vacation signifies. A spiritual vacation, I mean, is tranquility of heart; but tranquility of heart issues from the serenity of a good conscience. So the person who really observes the sabbath is the one who doesn’t sin. This, after all, is the way the command was given to those who were commanded to observe the sabbath: “You shall perform no servile work.” “Everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.”1