The Bible offers two tellings of Moses receiving the 10 Commandments. One in Exodus and another in Deuteronomy. Against a literalism, we might notice that although the Sabbath commandment is largely the same, one saying “remember” and the other “observe,” Exodus and Deuteronomy offer different supporting arguments. Let’s hear the word of God.
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 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 or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
Exodus 20:8-11 NIV
Hear the slightly different telling in Deuteronomy… “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 or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants 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.” Deuteronomy 5:13
Sabbath means “to cease- to end- to come to rest.” Through the influence of Judaism and Christianity our world has come to expect a week-end. This was not the case in the ancient world. The idea that farmers, slaves, servants, waiters or day laborers might enjoy a day of rest was laughable to the wealthy ruling class. Greeks called Jews lazy for having a holiday every 7th day. The Roman philosopher Seneca observed the Jewish Sabbath and said to do nothing every 7 days wasted a seventh of your life.
Our society appreciates the weekend …we causally say “thank god it’s Friday,” but perhaps we forget the creator. Sabbath means cease- but our culture has taken God’s good gift of a week-end and turned it into a something less than the day of rest, renewal, refocusing, remembering, rediscovery, rejoicing, and reconnecting to our God. We have made the weekend about us instead of our God who gives us our seconds, hours, days, and weeks.
Let’s listen again to the Exodus command to cease: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 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 or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Exodus 20:8-11 NIV
Why do we cease our work on the Sabbath? Because the creator rested on the seventh day. Listen to a reading rooted in The GENESIS ONE creation story.
Then the Creator looked over everything that the Creator created from nothingness: God looked at light-sky- earth- seas- stars- plants- trees-fruit- flowers- fish-whales, birds- farm animals- wild animals-and humanity! And the creator whispered: It is so good, it is so very good! It was evening, it was morning— Day Six. Heaven and Earth were finished, down to the last detail- the buzz of bees, red shades of roses, the scent of the sea, four fingers and a thumb, the ant’s antenna, the speed of the hummingbird and strength of the buffalo. By the seventh day God finished working. God stopped. On the seventh day the Creator God rested, ceasing all the work. God blessed the seventh day and made it a Holy Day, set apart and different, because on that day God rested from all the work, all the creating God had done. (Genesis 2:1-4; Genesis 1:31)
Imagine God at rest! God looking around- God delighting in the previous week’s accomplishments. God ceased laundry. God ceased checking emails, texts, and messages. GOD ceased making things, building, and being productive.
When do we cease?
When do your labors come to an end? Will you wait until it’s all done?
When do we rest, refocus, remember, rediscover, rejoice, and reconnect with God?
When do you look over, look around, enjoy your labors and God’s creation?
When does your soul rest?
When do we step out of everyday hassles into the renewing patterns of God?
When do we listen long enough to hear, “I am the Lord your God”?
When do you rediscover the love and grace of God?
Now the Sabbath commandant is not to just stop working and start playing. Many of us play so hard we come back to the workweek worn down. And if our team loses, the weekend seems lost. We adults no longer play softball or basketball or go jogging- we work out and measure the results. We can work at travel so much that we forget how to be home. We consume without being satisfied, so we go on to the next party, next event, next concert, next game, the next race, next home. We are on the go but never arrive. Do we know how to stop?
Are we Spiritual enough to enjoy our own company and our own stillness? Can we be still and know the Lord? Can we rest, refocus, remember, rediscover, rejoice, and reconnect with God, ourselves and others?
Let us consider the Sabbath commandment as told by the Deuteronomist who offers an additional perspective on the Sabbath.
“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 or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants 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.” Deuteronomy 5:13
Slaves had no power. The slaveholder determined when and how long a slave would work. The commandment says to those who abide in comfort earned by their ancestors’ revolt and escape from Egypt – remember that you were slaves. Remember those oppressive bosses who thought of nothing but their bottom line. They ascribed you value only as you related to their means of production. They did not care if you rested, lost a finger, lacked clean water, or had to take a second job to make ends meet. They did not care if you had enough straw to make your bricks… Oh but God cared … God saw the oppression and sent Moses with a terrifying display of power, bringing low the ancient super power- casting Pharaoh into the sea for greed. Friends, it grieves me when our capitalism reduces human beings made in the very image of God to commodities or means of production. Surely it is a dehumanizing sin when employers only think of the bottom line. If we think only of the bottom line, then is not the bottom line our God? The Sabbath command says let others rest and if people serve you, consider their need for Sabbath.
The Sabbath work stoppage is not just about our comfort- it is about those we employ. It is about our community- it is for sons, daughters, hired help, male or female servant, oxen, mules, animals, and any foreigners residing in your town. Let others rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. We do not just love God on Sundays, we love our neighbors as ourselves.
Our Western society, especially in its contemporary form, detests things that are inefficient or nonproductive. But not all value can be measured in physical productivity. Rabbi Guther Plaut teaches we must understand that doing nothing, being silent and open to the world, letting things happen inside can be as important- and sometime more important than- what we commonly call useful. The Sabbath is the ultimate statement that the world does not own us. (Broken Tablets)
Our Jewish friends would tell us that their Sabbath is not a special day for prayer. You see, our Jewish cousins pray three times every day. The Sabbath is a joyful day to gather together and pray together, read the scriptures together, encourage together, break bread together, and worship God together. The Sabbath is to cease- to keep the day different from all the rest.
When do we cease our labors and step into God’s world of rest, refocusing, remembering, rediscovering, rejoicing, and reconnecting with our souls, our relationships and our God?
Reading sure looks like nothing is happening. It is not obviously productive. No logs are being split- Abraham Lincoln’s father protested young Abe’s going to school for this reason. Lincoln’s step mother, who he called “my angel,” saw that books opened a new world to the teen and stood up against Lincoln’s surly father. What if Lincoln’s father had won out- saying, “go work splitting rails”? It would have been a tragic loss for us, for the world and for history.
Worshipping together, praying, journaling, wandering in the woods, playing whiffle ball, eating together after church, playing a board-game, walking around the block, doing nothing together, reading a book, calling old friends, goofing off, skipping, sitting on the porch, day dreaming, taking a nap, painting, gardening, ceasing the bells and whistles of our devices may look like we are doing nothing- but we are remaking the world. Young parent, your kids will learn more in the do-nothing-together times than in your formal talks- get rid of the devices once in a while so they can learn to be present with themselves and with you. Friendship roots deeper in regular simple conversations than fabulous trips. It is often the time together that makes the vacation fabulous more than what you see! The root word of vacation is vacate!
Now we will not recapture a Sunday where no one works. Frankly, it’s good to have a hospital, utility crews keeping things going, and maybe even preachers working, but we can practice the ethics of a sabbath, if not the letter of the OT law.
After a sermon on keeping the Sabbath Holy-a dairy farmer in my first church said “Paul, if I do not work my cows suffer.” The prohibition on Sunday work may work for the mules but not milking cows! Here is a picture of that good shepherd bringing home a calf. He would put on the coveralls and wade into the creek on a Sunday too!
Legalism lacking a relationship with God needs rules. It always steals the joy and usually ruins everything! At some point, the legalist got ahold of the fourth commandment and transformed the Sabbath day from rejoicing in our relationship with God to a day of rules and fear.
“For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a day of sabbath rest to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it is to be put to death.” (Exodus 35:2)
Legalism just ruins everything. Suddenly the Sabbath is not a day to rest, rejoice, and reconnect with God. It’s hard to enjoy a sabbath when you worry you might be arrested or stoned to death for milking a cow, bringing home a lost calf.
We might chastise the Pharisees. But friends, we have our own history of legalism. John Calvin’s Geneva had Sabbath breakers arrested and jailed for speaking of business on the Lord’s day! A friend of mine in rural Kentucky grew up hearing the preacher call her father a Sabbath breaker from the pulpit.
Listen for grace… “Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, ‘Stand up in front of everyone.’ Then Jesus asked them, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’ But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” Mark 3:1-6 NIV
Friends let us not drink the legalism that poisons our souls; no let us keep the Sabbath holy with grace- with ceasing our work and turning our minds to the things of God away from work and duty- we have six days for that.
Let us keep the day holy.
Let us worship.
Move our focus beyond the bottom line to eternal values of faith, hope, and love.
Dwell in the creation.
Keep your time holy. Time is God’s great gift to us- give 1/7 back to God.
Rest, read, refocus, remember, rediscover, rejoice, and reconnect.
The Sabbath rest is necessary for a vibrant and full human life. Treating time as sacred frees us and renews us. Rest, refocus, remember, rediscover, rejoice, and reconnect. Go home and cease working- do something to renew your soul. Amen