Posts Tagged ‘Sabbath’

The Impossibility of No Sabbath

The Sabbath was a holy sign of the covenant bond between God and His people. It was as much a part of the order of creation as was creative labor, and in being obedience in the work and rest, Israel would demonstrate its total allegiance to God.

As the Sabbath (like work and marriage) is rooted in the nature of creation, it is certain that the Sabbath (like work and marriage) was part of the cultural expression of Eden. While we have no explicit mention of human observance of the Sabbath in the first chapters of Genesis, the arguments made in passages such as Exodus 31 about the nature of the Sabbath indicate that God’s sanctifying of it (Genesis 2:2ff.) was from then on part of how creation functioned. The intimate fellowship between God and man in the Garden presupposes that man would honor what God had established as holy. Since the Fall is the first occurrence of human disobedience to the divine order established in creation, it is impossible that man would not have observed the Sabbath in the original culture of Eden. – Ken Myers, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes

What The Sabbath Looks Like in the New Covenant

“So we see that the sabbath can be broken, not only by those who walk away from it in contempt, but also by those who swing it around in such a way as to bloody the noses of others. The problem of sabbatarian sabbath-breaking can begin very subtly. It has taken hold when the first question asked is, ‘What am I not allowed to do on Sunday?’ The desire for such direction is a very natural one, but if we are not careful, the end result will be a rabbinical ruling on whether it is lawful to shoot hoop in the driveway, or push buttons on the microwave. Of course, we will at some point choose to avoid certain things on the Lord’s Day, but we must ensure that it is the natural result of what we have embraced — the sabbath is a positive ordinance” – Doug Wilson, A Primer on Worship and Reformation, p. 66

Calvin on the Sabbath

Remember the day of rest in order to sanctify it. Six days thou shalt work and in them do all thy work; the seventh, however, is the rest of the Lord thy God. On it thou shalt not do any work, neither thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maid, nor thy animals, nor the foreigner who is within thy doors. For, in six days God made the heavens, the earth and all the things that are within them, and on the seventh day he rested: hence he blessed the day of rest and has sanctified it.

We see that there were three reason for giving this commandment: First, with the seventh day of rest the Lord wished to give to the people of Israel an image of spiritual rest, whereby believers must cease from their own works in order to let the Lord work in them. Secondly, he wished that there be an established day in which believers might assemble in order to hear his Law and worship him. Thirdly, he willed that one day of rest be granted to servants and to those who live under the power of others so that they might have a relaxation from their labor. The latter, however, is rather an inferred than a principle reason.

As to the first reason, there is no doubt that it ceased in Christ; because he is the truth by the presence of which all images vanish. He is the reality at whose advent all shadows are abandoned. Hence St. Paul (Col 2:17) affirms that the sabbath has been a shadow of reality yet to be. And he declares elsewhere its truth when in the letter to the Romans, ch. 6:8, he teaches us that we are buried with Christ in order that by his death we may die to the corruption of the flesh. And this is not done in one day, but during all the course of our life, until altogether dead in our own selves, we may be filled with the life of God. Hence, superstitious observance of days must remain far from Christians.

The two last reasons, however, must not be numbered among the shadows of the old. Rather, they are equally valid for all ages. Hence, though the sabbath is abrogated, it so happens among us that we still convene on certain days in order to hear the word of God, to break the [mystic] bread of the Supper, and to offer public prayers; and, moreover, in order that some relaxation from their toil be given to servants and workingmen. As our human weakness does not allow such assemblies to meet every day, the day observed by the Jews has been taken away (as a good device for eliminating superstition) and another day has been destined to this use. This was necessary for securing and maintaining order and peace in the Church.

As the truth therefore was given to the Jews under a figure, so to us on the contrary truth is shown without shadows in order, first of all, that we mediate all our life on a perpetual sabbath from our works so that the Lord may operate in us by his spirit; secondly, in order that we observe the legitimate order of the Church for listening to the word of God, for administering the sacraments, and for public prayers; thirdly in order that we do not oppress inhumanly with work those who are subject to us. – Calvin, Instruction in Faith (1537), 31-32

A Sabbath Life

This weekend I heard part of a This American Life episode. I think it was about competitions or something. The segment I heard was from a Jewish guy telling about a “Blessing Bee” he was in when he attended an Orthodox Jewish school. What was fascinating to me was to hear him talk about the Sabbath at his house. I don’t remember all the details but I remember him repeating a few times that his father would get drunk and sing Sabbath songs. He also detailed what the Rabbis had determined was appropriate to do on the Sabbath. You couldn’t turn on a light because the filament got hot and that was kindling a fire and that was work. The list of do’s and don’t’s went on from there.

When I was first introduced to Reformed Christianity, one of the issues I had to wrestle with was the Sabbath. The Reformed hermeneutic is that if a command is not repealed, it is still binding. The Ten Commandments are viewed as the moral law that is written on everyone’s heart and is applicable to Christians today. Including the Sabbath. But the Sabbath comes to us not from Moses but through Christ and so it isn’t the Jewish Saturday Sabbath but a celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus on Sunday. We also call it “the Lord’s day.” The question I had to wrestle with was what the Sabbath looks like in the New Covenant. As I discussed it with other Reformed Christians, there were a variety of opinions on it.

What the two paragraphs above have in common is their focus on what we can and cannot do on the Sabbath. In this post, I’m not going to defend the perpetuity of the Sabbath. What I want to look at is more of the Bible passages that speaks to the Sabbath than just what work we may or may not do on it. It is surprising study.

Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed. – Exodus 23:12

We could easily do what many others (myself included) have done and focus so strongly on the first half of this verse, trying to decide what constitutes “work” and “rest” (can I play flag football or run on the Sabbath?), that we forget the last half.  Notice who also is to be refreshed by our ceasing from labor; the son of the servant woman and the alien. Essentially, the “least of these.” It isn’t entirely about you. Yes, you rest, but you don’t do nothing, you do justice. Think I’m reading too much into this? Consider Isaiah:

Thus says the Lord:
“Keep justice, and do righteousness,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my deliverance be revealed.
Blessed is the man who does this,
and the son of man who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it,
and keeps his hand from doing any evil.” – Isaiah 56:1-2

Did you notice what is said about keeping the Sabbath? “Blessed is the man who does this…who keeps the Sabbath…[keeping] his hand from doing any evil.” And don’t abandon the context when you read this either. We can focus on ‘righteousness’ and think about obeying the law and then we’re back in the rut of “can I cook on the Sabbath?”. That’s not an unworthy question but what about the first thing commanded “keep justice”? That isn’t about watching football rather than taking a nap, it is about caring for the poor and needy. It is about defending the widow and the orphan. That is part of Sabbath keeping too. Go and read the rest of that chapter and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Or consider the context of Isaiah 58’s injunction to “call the Sabbath a delight.” Right before it true fasting is tied to abandoning wickedness and letting the oppressed go free. In the next chapter God chides Israel for their evil and bloodshed. The Sabbath is not only what we can and cannot do on Sunday, it is about a life lived resting in God and not performing evil. We cannot go about abusing or ignoring the needs of the poor on six days and then rest on Sunday and think we’re pleasing Jesus. A “Sabbath life” includes refreshing the servant and alien as well as our own resting.

This is why Jesus had such little tolerance for the Pharisees and their quibbles about the Sabbath.  In Matthew 12 he shows how disinterested he was in whether it was ‘work’ to heal on the Sabbath. Healing the poor man was what it was all about! It wasn’t Jesus showing that he could ignore the Sabbath or that he was on the spot rewriting the rules. He was fulfilling the Sabbath by doing what the Sabbath called for: mercy to the poor.

That doesn’t mean that we should go work in a soup kitchen every Sunday, but I think it does mean that if we are concerned for the Sabbath, we should be concerned for the poor, that they may be refreshed as well.