Words often have interesting roots that we take for granted.
For example, in English, think of denim jeans. Have you ever wondered the origin? I just found this out: the first denim in the world was produced in Genoa, Italy and Nimes, France.
The French word for Genoa is Gênes … and when that is English-ized, we get “jeans.”
Similarly, “denim” likely comes from de Nimes, meaning “from Nimes.”
Kind of cool, right?
There are many fun roots we see in important Greek words in the New Testament. For example, the word for church is ecclesia, which originally meant “gathering.” Its root is from the Greek word, kaleo, meaning to call. So, a gathering was a “calling” together of people. Etymologically, that’s as far as that root goes in terms of meaning. But if we look back at it, there can be meaning added to it from our perspective. Put all it together, what is the church if not a gathering of people called together by God?
Now, you can probably tell by now that I’m going to tie this into rest. Well done.
The Hebrew word for Sabbath is shabbat. Hebrew is a language where words are created and morphed from three consonants. Originally, Hebrew did not contain vowels (and I believe modern Hebrew does not either). So the root for shabbat is sh-b-t. Can you guess the original meaning of the root? Look back at the title of this article.
The origin of Sabbath is the word for “stop.”
I love that. Because even the etymology of the word teaches us the movement we should model in our lives. It goes from stop to rest to Sabbath. In other words, it starts at “stop” and ends with the Fourth Commandment. Once God commanded the Sabbath day to be observed, the meaning of the word evolved. But it starts with stop.
And so does our rest. In order to observe the Sabbath, in order to rest, we need to stop.
Stop working. Stop that chore or task if it’s not life-giving. Stop worrying about the future or the past. Just stop. You need to stop before you can rest.
Let’s say your Sabbath day is Sunday. If you go through the motions of rest (worship, relaxing, taking a nap, enjoying a good meal, however you do it), without stopping first, those motions will not lead to rest. If while sitting down to a meal with your family you’re worried about the tasks that are waiting for you at work the next day, you won’t be able to rest or to be fully present to the moment. So, stop.
Theologically, Sabbath teaches us that when we stop, God continues to sustain the world and provide for us. When we stop, we realize that life will go on if we take a break. For many in our culture – a culture that rewards go more than stop, produce more than rest – we can’t quite believe this. You might think, “If I stop, x, y, and z will happen!” Or, “If I stop, x, y, and z won’t happen – and they need to happen!!!”
Observe the Sabbath.
Find a time to stop this week. Slowly over time, begin implementing patterns and actions to remind you to stop. If you sabbath on Sundays, start your day – or even end your Saturday night – with something that marks the time of stopping. In Jewish tradition, Sabbath starts at sundown on Friday. To mark that, a candle is lit. That candle reminds them to stop.
Remember to stop this week, so that you can rest and observe the Sabbath.