Sabbath Hedonism

If you turn back your foot from the sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure or talking idly;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

How can you “delight” in the sabbath day and not seek your “pleasure” on it? In one sense you can’t. It’s like saying, “Delight yourself in this meal but don’t seek your pleasure in it.” Or, “Delight yourself in this concert but don’t seek your pleasure in it.”

But then why does God say that seeking your pleasure on the sabbath and taking delight in the sabbath are opposites? It’s not because the word “pleasure” is low and “delight” is high. That same word “pleasure” (Hebrew hēphes) is used in Psalm 1:2 (the law is his pleasure) and Psalm 16:3 (the saints are his pleasure) and Isaiah 46:10 (God does all his pleasure). “Delight” and “pleasure” are virtually synonyms.

So why does God contrast “seeking your pleasure” and “delighting in the sabbath”? Evidently because “your pleasure” is not the sabbath. When what the sabbath stands for is not “your pleasure” then there is a huge contrast between seeking your pleasure and delighting in the sabbath. But if we are the kind of people who love the holiness of God then there will be no contrast between seeking our pleasure and delighting in God’s holy day.

Christians by and large set aside one day in seven to honor the Creator, but celebrate it on the first day instead of the seventh to honor the risen Redeemer. We have pretty much lost the rigors of sabbath-keeping. That is partly good, since the day is to be a delight not a dread.

But are we perhaps starved for an experience of holiness? Could it be that some of our pursuit of pleasure on the weekend is the faint echo of a deep quest for reverence? Ayn Rand said that admiring something great is the rarest of pleasures. But most of what excites us is trivial.

God appointed one day in seven to be “holy to the Lord.” It is designed to provide a weekly meal of reverence for our shriveling souls. Sunday should not be trivial. It should be holy—set apart for God. A day in which we delight ourselves in the Lord in ways we can’t on other busy days. Many innocent and good things should probably be replaced with deeper things on the Lord’s day.

But not as a burden! The text says, “Call the sabbath day a delight.” When we become the kind of people who delight in weekly encounters with a day of reverence then we will “ride on the high places of the earth…for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

In love with Sunday,

Pastor John

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