Is taking a day off really so important to God that a person should be put to death for violating the command? Apparently it is. The real question is: why? The answer is a little complex, but we have to start by remembering that God never gives us commands for the sake of Himself. The commands He gives us are for our benefit – not for His.
By forcing His people to take a day off, God was forcing them to understand that they did not live by their work. This is an important lesson for Americans to learn, too. In a society where life is about work, and "I owe, I owe, so off to work I go," we must gain the perspective that work is not an end in itself. Our value as people is not equated in the things that we accomplish or in the stuff that we own. If such were the case, then the wealthy, materialistic, workaholics would be the most valued people in our culture. But when you attend one of their funerals, nobody typically has anything good to say. God wanted His people to remember that He gave them value and that they needed to look to Him as their source of provision. Sure, there is a human aspect wherein we work to earn money for food, but God is ultimately the One who gives us the ability to work and who provides everything for us.
Secondly, and very practically, taking a day to rest has health advantages. People who are constantly tired and worn down have weakened immune systems and are more likely to get sick than those who are well rested and not being pushed to their limits. They also are not mentally drained all the time because they give their minds time to rest. Our bodies were not created to run non-stop – they need time off. In His loving-kindness, God commanded us to take a day off each week to be reminded that He is the ultimate provider and to enable us to rest so we might be refreshed.
Are you taking a day off each week? If not, you are being held in bondage by work, but thankfully, freedom can come by taking a day to rest.