In my life I have often been reminded of the importance of sleep. As a high school student in the IB program, I was a bit careless about my sleeping habits, staying up far too late, wasting far too much time, and not being sufficiently aware of the consequences. By the time I recognized my need for rest, I had reached the point where I had a hard time sleeping deeply and comfortably, and had wasted a great deal of my energy and reserves in the meantime. Later on, I recognized that not getting sleep hurt my abilities to think well, and reminded me of the limitations of even those gifts that I most appreciate.
Why does God command that we rest? The simplest reason is that if it were not commanded, some of us would not do it. Some of us are so concerned about the short-term and immediate aspects of life that we simply do not see the value of resting ourselves. And if we are slow about resting for ourselves, even knowing our need to keep our body’s recuperative facilities in good shape, we are even slower in providing rest to others, seeing as the labor of others is often required for our convenience and profit, and seeing as we are likely to be more interested in our own short-term profits than the longer-term results of running people down (to say nothing of land or equipment). And any long-term plan requires rest as well as a certain degree of patience and investment in the well-being of land, people, and capital equipment.
We ought to think of the command to rest (weekly rest for people, once ever seven years for the land) as evidence of God’s focus on the long-term rather than the short-term. This perspective has always cut against the grain of our culture and mindset, but it seems as if few civilizations have been so relentlessly focused on the short-term at the exclusion of long-term interests as our own. Few civilizations have relentlessly eaten up their seed-corn and the seed-corn of others as our own, with so little concern for the well-being of ourselves and others. Small wonder then that we should know so little what it means to rest, nor appreciate its worth in our lives.
As is often the case, our life is built on cycles within cycles, all of which deserve attention and concern. On a day-to-day level we need enough rest and fuel to be at our best, and though we can overcome deficits for a while, eventually the day of reckoning comes where we have to face the results of our folly. Then there are weekly and monthly and yearly and multi-year cycles that move from the short-term to the medium-term and then to the long-term, providing periodic renewals and rests and resets to keep our lives and our societies from getting too far out of balance, allowing a fresh start free of the mistakes of the past. And considering that God deals so mercifully with us, perhaps we ought to be encouraged to be just as merciful to others, and ourselves.