Background and theology of Nehemiah’s Sabbath Policy
Exodus 31:12-17 (esp. vs13, 17), indicates that the Sabbath is a “sign.” It marked out Israel as unique, for other peoples did not have the Sabbath. Strangely, perhaps in reaction to later legalism, there is a negative view of the Sabbath in the contemporary church. Even the Protestant church, though holding a kind of tolerance for the Sabbath, has more interest in bolstering the case for why we don’t need to adhere to the fourth commandment.
But note Exodus 20:8-11. The Sabbath is a gift because they stop work (Ex. 34:21). Only a free people does that. In Egypt they didn’t dare stop work! But when God freed them from bondage, He enabled them to cease from work – every week! The Sabbath is a sign of grace and freedom, not of bondage. Slaves work all the time, but free people have the liberty of rest: including servants, livestock and sojourners! Here is the social benefit of the command.
So, when you insist on cluttering the Sabbath with work:
It is a failure of faith, because by working and not resting, you’re saying that you can’t trust God to provide but must keep working because all your life rests on your efforts.
It is a failure of compassion, because then your dependents (family, servants, livestock) will not enjoy rest. See Deuteronomy 5:14 for this social argument.
It is a choice of bondage, for you are deifying work, subjecting yourself to a continuous treadmill which God meant to interrupt weekly. You are saying,
“No, I want to be a slave, I want to return to Egypt; I want to run, frustrated and exhausted, to Bunning’s on the Lord’s Day. I want to pay bills then, I want to complete assignments then, I want to work on my income tax. I want to be a slave! I do not want rest or quietness or solitude – I might meet God.”
God’s pattern is: work six days and stop for one day. It is a way of saying that work is not your god.
These principles remain for the people of God, even though our culture and government is non-covenantal and pays no attention to them, we do. R. D Davies.