They set out in small boats, carrying hundreds of people squashed into a space designed for a few dozen. Children, women, men, grandfathers, and grandmothers are all trying to make their way to a better land. They start their journeys in Iraq, Syria, Libya, South Sudan, Somalia, Congo, or wherever conflict, hunger, or persecution is part of daily life. They are on their way to Europe and are driven by hope for a better future—or plain survival.
Free at Last (Number 20)
We are saved to celebrate liberation
By Gerald A. Klingbeil
They set out in small boats, carrying hundreds of people squashed into a space designed for a few dozen. Children, women, men, grandfathers, and grandmothers are all trying to make their way to a better land. They start their journeys in Iraq, Syria, Libya, South Sudan, Somalia, Congo, or wherever conflict, hunger, or persecution is part of daily life. They are on their way to Europe and are driven by hope for a better future—or plain survival. They risk all in search of rest and freedom.
Their plight speaks to our common struggle for that elusive rest, that sense of belonging, the recognition that we are finally safe and free. When we see the boats battling the sea and overcoming all odds, we are reminded of our own journeys in search of a better place and true rest.
Created for Freedom
That’s when Sabbath becomes part of the story.
Sabbath is a weekly reminder of God’s greatest gift to humanity. In fact, it’s a gift to all creation. The seventh day of the week calls us to remember two key events in human history. First, we recognize that life had a beginning. Scripture tells us that God created this world through His word—and it was (Gen. 1). God invested six days to design and create a breathtaking environment and most wonderful creatures. Creation speaks of a God who loves vibrant colors, mind-boggling shapes, and life itself. “Remember the Sabbath day” (Ex. 20:8) connects our hearts and minds to the moment it all began. It wasn’t new theology or new light that Moses happened to include in the foundational expression of God’s character we call the Ten Commandments. It was a reminder of a perfect creation, perfect relationships, and the ability to choose.
Unfortunately, our first parents chose to distrust the Creator with whom they had met on each seventh day of the week. That’s why we need to remember: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. . . . For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (verses 9-11). We rest because He rested. We rest because we marvel at His holiness and His blessings. We rest because we have found creation rest and trust Him to make us whole. We rest because we remember.
There is, however, another important reason given for Sabbath rest. Following 40 years in the wilderness, Israel was finally ready to enter the Promised Land. A new generation stood at the threshold of a completely new life experience. Instead of living in tents, they would build permanent homes. They needed to hear again the expression of God’s explicit will and character. That’s where Deuteronomy 5 comes in. They needed to commit, individually and corporately, to the God who had led their parents out of Egypt. The biblical text of Deuteronomy 5 is very similar to the first proclamation of the Ten Commandments at the foot of Mount Sinai. Yet there is a marked difference, and it is found in the crucial Sabbath command. Instead of “remembering,” the biblical text invites us to “observe” or “guard” (verse 12). Sabbath observance is a conscious decision, not a casual happening.
The greatest surprise, however, can be found in the rationale given to observe the Sabbath. “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (verse 15).
The text really makes the implicit explicit and seeks to speak to a new generation. Creation is the foundation of the Sabbath; liberation is its most tangible expression. Every Sabbath thereafter, Israel was to remember humanity’s true condition. We are creatures who were lost but have been found; who were enslaved but have been set free; who were saved by a God who not only shapes humanity with His own hands (Gen. 2:7), but gives them freedom “with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm” (Deut. 26:8).
The Rest of the Story
No wonder Satan is so interested in destroying the Sabbath.* Instead of recognizing our created-ness and our need of salvation, he whispers self-sufficiency, self-righteousness, or independence into our ears. The eternal sign of creation and salvation has become the focus of the cosmic battle between good and evil. The past centuries, even millennia, have witnessed often-violent conflicts involving the Sabbath, reminding us that it’s not just another day. Rather, it represents the center of God’s creation care and His salvation action.
And so the conflict continues. Boats carrying desperate people in search of shelter, protection, and freedom continue to put to sea until the day when Jesus finally returns. Evil, pain, destruction, and abuse will remain the most pervasive currency in a sin-sick world where hundreds of millions are constantly on the move to find safety and refuge.
Yet every Sabbath day reminds us that we are His and that this life of drudgery and pain will not continue forever. The One who is always at work for His creation (John 5:17) will one day make an end and welcome us into His ultimate rest (Heb. 4): rest from ourselves, rest from our own feeble attempts at righteousness and holiness, and rest from the anguish and sorrow that seems to be the normal mode of our existence. Then we truly will know His Shabbat-rest. Soon, very soon.
* See, for example, Ellen G. White, Manuscript Releases (Silver Spring, Md.: Ellen G. White Estate, 1990), vol. 5, p. 88.
The gracious Creator, after the six days of Creation, rested on the seventh day and instituted the Sabbath for all people as a memorial of Creation. The fourth commandment of God’s unchangeable law requires the observance of this seventh-day Sabbath as the day of rest, worship, and ministry in harmony with the teaching and practice of Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day of delightful communion with God and one another. It is a symbol of our redemption in Christ, a sign of our sanctification, a token of our allegiance, and a foretaste of our eternal future in God’s kingdom. The Sabbath is God’s perpetual sign of His eternal covenant between Him and His people. Joyful observance of this holy time from evening to evening, sunset to sunset, is a celebration of God’s creative and redemptive acts. (Gen. 2:1-3; Ex. 20:8-11; 31:13-17; Lev. 23:32; Deut. 5:12-15; Isa. 56:5, 6; 58:13, 14; Eze. 20:12, 20; Matt. 12:1-12; Mark 1:32; Luke 4:16; Heb. 4:1-11.)