Tuesday, May 20, 2014
The Gift of the Sabbath
After God forms humanity and pronounces creation “very good” God rests. How many of us rest? Modern life is filled with complex and multiple demands. Yet the Bible begins by asserting that Sabbath rest is the climax of the Creation. Life is not designed to be endless toil. Even the most life affirming activities must cease for Sabbath. God’s work of creation moved the universe from emptiness (1:2) to very goodness (1:31) to Sabbath rest (2:1-3). Sabbath is God’s final gift to the creation.
Sabbath and God
God works. God rests. This establishes a key rhythm for understanding life. Ponder this: our Creator rests. This is a radically different world from the one we find today. Most of us race daily from one activity to another. We are tired. Some of us work longer hours often for less pay than previously. Others are exhausted due to weight of un/underemployment and the financial challenges that come with it.
Yet Genesis 2:1–3 offers us a portrait of abundance. God rests. Moreover God blesses this day of rest and makes it holy (2:3). This means that God has set apart a sacred space and time for rest. Profoundly, God shares this rest with us by extending Sabbath to all creation. Sabbath serves as a principle for establishing justice and good in the world. Unlike other ancient creation stories such as the Babylonian Atrahasis where humans exist merely to serve as slaves for the gods, the LORD demonstrates his ultimate goodness with the gift of Sabbath. Jesus will remind us of this reality in the New Testament: “The Sabbath was made for people, not people for the Sabbath” (Mark 1:27)
Sabbath and Life
Sabbath is an integrating principle for our spiritual, personal, and social lives. It connects us with the world around us. Later in the Old Testament, God’s Sabbath will be the key commandment for linking love for God with love for neighbor. In the Ten Commandments (Exod 20:1–17 and Deut 5:6-21), the command to honor and keep Sabbath is the longest and most detailed of the commands. It serves as the bridge between the commandments focusing on our relationship with God (no other gods, no idols, no dishonoring of God’s name) and the commandments rooted in our relating with others (honoring parents, no stealing, no murder, no adultery, no false witness, no coveting). Sabbath has all creation in view. Humanity stops its work and rests. This rest includes all of one’s family, all of one’s employees or servants, and even all of one’s animals. Sabbath is a community practice. There is no solitary sabbath in the Scripture. God rests and so does his creation.
Sabbath in the Old Testament
In the rest of the Old Testament, the sabbath pattern of six days of work and a seventh day of rest repeats and foreshadows God’s abundant future. In Exodus and Leviticus, the sabbath principle establishes protections for humanity and creation. Slavery is regulated so that slaves are released after six years of service (Exod 21:1-11). Agricultural lands receive a sabbath rest every seventh year (Exod 23:10-11). These regulations point to God’s broader vision for justice in his world. Obviously, slaves were among the most marginalized populations in the ancient world. Most slaves in the ancient Israel became slaves as a means of paying off debts in an economy lacking modern bankruptcy protection. It is profound that the Bible confronted this tragic reality directly by offering real protections for persons forced into slavery. Likewise resting fields involved more than crop rotation. The sabbath rest for the fields served to provide food for the poor and for the animal world. The book of Leviticus includes a bold vision for a once-in-a-generation economic reboot (Lev 25). After seven cycles of seven years, God expected God’s people to celebrate the year of Jubilee. In Jubilee, creditors forgave all debts, sold property returned to its original owners, and slave holders released slaves. Jubilee demonstrated God’s justice and goodness. Thus, Sabbath points to the good life. We may find ourselves is difficult circumstances and trying times, but God’s rest awaits.
Living the Sabbath Today
Sabbath is a radical concept. We live in a 24/7 world. Sabbath challenges the busy-ness of life. What if the most profound act you could do is to be fully present and do nothing? Rest is not a means to some end; rest is the end. God moves creation from emptiness to very goodness and then rests. God doesn’t rest so that he can work. God works so that he can rest. Rest is the final word. This signals something profound about life. The meaning of life cannot simply be reduced to what we do. Work is valuable. Mission is important. Community is critical. Holiness is necessary. Yet the climax of creation is a time carved out for rest in communion with God. Think about the witness that such a bold and daring time of inaction would offer to a world trapped in endless cycles of busy-ness and the chaos of over-commitment. Sabbath is a declaration of faith that our present and future does not depend on our actions but on God’s. As we read the Bible together, we will continue to talk about our role in God’s mission. But the challenge of Sabbath is that God rested and so must we. The Jesus who calls us to serve as a missional community also invites us to Sabbath: “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28)
What does it mean that God desires you to rest? How would you need to change in order to embrace a real sabbath as a way of life?