MISHPATIM | WEEK 18
By Wayne & Bonnie Wilks
Ex 21:1 – 24:18
One important thing mentioned in this week’s portion is the theme of Sabbath. More sacred than the Day of Atonement, Sabbath celebration eclipses all Jewish holy days and feasts. It is a day of exceeding beauty and holiness. Mystics, rabbis, and observers through ages have written about its ethereal quality, wonder, reward, and miracle. My first Erev Shabbat experience occurred in Israel in my early twenties. That evening shone like a shaft of light piercing through a dark cloud with radiance and enduring beauty that have captivated my heart until this day.
As we walked into Kibbutz Einat’s dining room with the local Israelis, candles flickered on the tables covered with white cloths. Stark against their everyday casual style, many of the women wore dresses; and the men dressed in jeans and white shirts. The atmosphere rang of celebration, and an enticing smell of baked chicken and onion gravy permeated the dining room.
As a non-Jew, a deep sense of belonging and longing at the same time engulfed me. I had discovered a missing puzzle-piece in life, whose unexpected emergence suddenly bridged unexplained gaps and unanswered questions that had nagged me daily. On that Sabbath twilight—just one special evening of an ordinary week—all of the scattered components of my life paled in comparison to the soothing sanctuary of rest that had been offered.
My heart let go of its worry and settled into peace, the kind of tranquility that is promised those who eat of the fruit of observance. Sabbath came serendipitously and miraculously as a gift from God. I relished the sense of shelter that warm fellowship afforded me during that delightful evening meal. I reveled in a clear break from the workday world. The Sabbath’s eternal order carried me through the quiet calm of the next day of relaxation and prepared me for the upcoming week. And, in a real way, it prepared me for my life’s calling.
Since then my family has enjoyed many such days of Sabbath peace and respite. Some have been in crude and unrefined places, and others have been in luxury and opulence. I have vivid memories of cold Erev Shabbat meals in Odessa, Ukraine, where our teeth chattered as we lifted our glasses to bless the God of Israel. Our hearts flooded with joy as we ushered in the hallowed evening in an austere Ukrainian home with no heat and little food, and we sensed God’s eternal purposes.
Once we observed the Sabbath in a six-star hotel in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which was in stark contrast to the poverty on the streets, just outside the door. We have celebrated in countries like Israel, Argentina, Ukraine, Russia, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Brazil, Cyprus, Hungary, and the United States with Jews, Christians, Catholics, Orthodox and Messianic Jews alike. And in each place no matter the physical surroundings, rich ingredients of love, peace, rest, brotherhood, family, and harmony have greeted us every time. The true Spirit of the Sabbath does not disappoint or delay. Those early impressions of keeping the Sabbath holy have never left me and continue to enrich my life as I endeavor to follow hard after God by the setting aside of a day especially for Him.
The offering of peace that comes from the One True God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still draws Jewish people, Arabs, Christians, and all nations today. There is a great revival in relearning or learning anew the Sabbath’s old remedies. Universally many are discovering its restorative attributes and applying it to frenzied lifestyles. The God of Israel demonstrated the value of Shabbat thousands of years ago. Today, He continues to offer dry and weary souls a refreshing fountain, bubbling up for those who will take the time required to drink of Sabbath rest.
Originally, I approached the subject of Sabbath keeping as a casual observer. Having lived on a kibbutz in my early twenties, a deep love and respect sprang up in my heart for the separated day of rest. In the last 20 years, I have become a serious partaker in the restorative power that comes with honoring this holy day.
I discovered that the benefits of Sabbath practice cannot be fully realized by just keeping one or two days a year. The complete therapeutic profit yields a full-strength dose of physical and mental well-being through habitual remembrance and observance. It is a discipline, and its reward rebounds through faithful practice. The true joy of exercise is found through the constancy of it rather than the sporadic attempt, and so it is with the honoring of the Sabbath day.
It is amazing to imagine that Sabbath respite sprang out of creation. Most think of the Ten Commandments as being the original law denoting the importance of keeping the Sabbath holy. But God declared a day of rest at the end of six days of creating. It is beyond our finite imagination that the omniscient and omnipresent Creator took a day of rest. This is the ultimate example in Scripture of why it is vital to rest. If God, Who is the Supreme Being in the known universe, saw value in a period of rest at the end of a six-day work period, then how much more should we frail humans need to follow His example?
This also implies that a day of rest is good for all mankind, not just the Jewish people. Adam and Eve weren’t Jewish. They were born years before Abraham, the father of Judaism. The Genesis account of creation account is persuasive: God intended Sabbath keeping to be a gift for all of His glorious creation. He commanded a time of holiness that was set apart from all other days to the first people on earth. They were to be examples of how men and women should live on earth to all generations who would follow after them. That makes Sabbath decree as old as creation and beneficial for all humankind and worthy of serious consideration.
(This article was excerpted from Bonnie Saul Wilks’ book, Sabbath: A Gift of Time.)
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About the Author
Wayne Wilks Jr. is the Executive Pastor of Jewish Ministries at Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas. He had the privilege of growing up in ministry with Pastor Robert Morris (founding senior pastor of Gateway Church) at Shady Grove Church during the time that the “to the Jew first” conviction emerged from their Bible study. In 1996, the eldership sent Bonnie and him out as their first elder and family to serve overseas “to the Jew first.” Working with several ministries and congregations, Wayne and Bonnie together pioneered the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute (MJBI) in Odessa, Ukraine, and Wayne serves now as President Emeritus. Wayne and Bonnie have one wonderful daughter, Julia. Bonnie’s book, Sabbath: A Gift of Time, is available in both English and French and can be ordered at the Gateway Church bookstores or Amazon.
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