Sunday, January 08, 2012
“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey, or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.”
The Sabbath is the center of the Ten Words as they are known in Deuteronomy. It forms a bridge from the first half to the second half of the our covenant responsibilities to God and to our fellow creatures. The Sabbath word connects love for God with our love for our neighbor. In other words it deals with our relationship with our Redeemer and our responsibility to our neighbor. Thus it forms the gracious center of the Decalogue.
The Sabbath Word is the only word that is significantly different here in the Deuteronomy than the parallel passage than in Exodus 20. Those differences should not be slighted or passed over in silence but taken in light of the purpose of these respective books.
From even a casual reading of the Ten Words it becomes apparent that God spends more time (and space) on the Sabbath than any of the other words. In this section God gives one explanation as to WHY Israel is to keep this wondrous word. At its root the Sabbath is the most humanitarian and gracious of all God’s commandments. It is vitally important to see the Hebrew perspective on the Sabbath to understand Jesus’ attitude toward it. The Sabbath is the ground of the Second Commandment, the outline of Luke’s presentation of Jesus’ ministry and many other important themes in Scripture. Sabbath should bring, if our minds are shaped by the Story of God, images of grace and love in our mind.
In Exodus the Sabbath is based on creation. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. In Deuteronomy, however, there is no reference to creation at all, instead the Sabbath is rooted and grounded in the mighty redemptive act of Yahweh of rescuing Israel from slavery . . . this is the Hebrew Bible Gospel. According to Deuteronomy we accomplish two things by honoring the Sabbath: 1) we “remember” the work of God in redeeming us; 2)we provide rest for the slaves, aliens and even animals in our care. . . . and ourselves. Redemption and Community!
What this Word Expects from Us
This Word wants those in the believing community to:
1) on a regular basis set aside our normal routine and work activities to gain respite and refreshment. This gives us freedom to relax from the daily grind;
2) that time we take out on a routine basis is set aside in God’s honor, to worship and to simply enjoy what he has done. This is an important aspect of “rest” in Deuteronomy;
3) on that day we are to recall the creating and redeeming work of God. In short we are to remember grace and love;
4) We show grace to others in gratitude for the rest and salvation that Yahweh has granted to the believing community. Toil is not our lot in life . . . the Sabbath reminds us of that.
We in Churches of Christ have had drilled into our heads that the First Day is the Lord’s Day, not the Sabbath. The First Day is Resurrection Day, this is true, but we have, perhaps, allowed a shallow understanding of what the Sabbath was all about to rob us of the grace in this word from God. I have said before, and I will say it again, it is methodologically wrong to read Paul’s debates with legalists and Jesus’ debates with Pharisees back into the Hebrew Bible. Pharisees did not exist in Moses’ day and there were no legalists in his day either . . . this is very important to remember.
The Sabbath is a gift from God to man. Jesus said that God made the Sabbath for man. The Lord’s blessing of a Sabbath is a provision to rise above mere existence. It was meant to bless us . . . not condemn us. Perversion turned it into something it was never intended to be.
As a gift of grace the primary character of the Sabbath is rest and joy. Rest from work and toil. It places in the cycle of life a provision for freedom from tyranny and the oppression of unrelenting labors. It places a check on our own driveness and increased pressure of unceasing demand to get ahead. It calls us to trust in the God who redeems.
The Sabbath looks backwards to the grace of God in the Exodus . . . the single greatest miracle in history until the Incarnation of the Word. In breaking from our slavery to work (and dependence upon self), we will be reminded of God’s breaking you free . . . without your working contribution and the greater bondage to sin.
The Sabbath looks forward to our promised Rest with God. This theme is vital our understanding our promise of heaven. The writer of Hebrews states, that we Christians still honor the Sabbath, our goal is the real Sabbath . . . resting in God’s Presence (Hebrews 4).
The Year of Jubilee is an extension of the Sabbath. And this provides the food for thinking about heavenly rest in Hebrews 4. There is an old rabbinic legend that says,
“At on time when God was giving the Torah to Israel, He said to them:
‘My Children! If you accept the Torah and observe my mitvot [i.e. commands] I will give you for all eternity a thing most precious that I have in my possession.’
‘And what,’ asked Israel, ‘ is that precious thing which Thou wilt give us if we obey Thy Torah?’
‘The world to come!’
‘Show us in this world an example of the world to come,’ asked Israel.
‘The Sabbath,’ said the LORD, ‘is the example of the world to come.’”
(Quoted in Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath, p. 73)
"The World to come . . ." I think the Hebrews’ Preacher would nod in approval.
Regularly setting apart time for the Lord inhibits the human inclination to justify oneself by job or work. The Sabbath is a concrete symbol of God’s saving grace that redeems human life rather than humans saving themselves by work and effort. The Sabbath is a regular time to STOP striving, to STOP trying to keep up with the Jones’, to STOP trying to gain approval by our success. The Sabbath is a chance to GIVE love, time and rest . . . in the name of him who grants us gracious rest.
The Sabbath is the great equalizer, for that day is a fore taste of the Kingdom when all – great or small – are reckoned to be exactly the same and equal. There are no masters and slaves on that day . . . only Family!
There are many texts in the Hebrew Bible related to the Sabbath, find them and relish the images God puts in your mind’s eye. The Sabbath is that picture of the way a community redeemed by the blood will live both in relation to God and to each other. So I encourage us all to cultivate the spiritual discipline of taking a sabbath rest ... the Bridge Between the Commandments to Love our God and Our Fellow Creatures.
Revised Update 1/09/12
This morning I had two emails asking if I could recommend a book or two on the Sabbath day. I will recommend three in descending.
1) The first book I would read on the Sabbath is Abraham J. Heschel's The Sabbath. Heschel was a very insightful Jewish biblical scholar. His small classic on the Sabbath simply changed the way I understood what this day was all about. Read this before anything.
2) Anything by Marva J. Dawn will challenge you and bless your heart and your mind. Keeping the Sabbath Wholly is no exception. She makes a nice compliment to Heschel.
3) Wayne Muller writes in a way that reminds me of Henri J. M. Nouwen and is a feast for the heart. His Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest I have found to be a wonderful guide to spiritual thinking.