Taking stock of sabbath1
“Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.”So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. … They made their lives bitter with harsh labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their harsh labor the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly.
- Exodus 1:9-11, 14
The people to whom the Lord gave the command to remember the Sabbath grew up in harsh situations. They grew up facing ethnic hatred and what we today would call “racism.” They were labeled as foreigners in the land of their birth and mistreated. Entire systems of oppression weighed in against them. Economic. Vocational. Relational. The pressure would have been immense.
Then, all of the sudden, they’re liberated. They don’t have a government that’s afraid of them. They don’t have slave masters oppressing them. They don’t have the ruthless structure provided by forced labor.
But sudden change can be difficult. So, the Lord provided them with non-condescending support, with guidance, and with structure. With Sabbath.
Few of us come from backgrounds as extreme as this, but none of us come from places with perfect relationships with work and rest. We all need help in this area. And we’re all tempted to dismiss this help.
No commandment (except, perhaps, the Tenth) is more commonly disregarded in modern society than the command to Sabbath. God offers us a structure that provides both productive and restorative activity. Work 6 days. Celebrate a Sabbath day. Start over. But it isn’t that easy.
The Sabbath challenges us to take a whole day off from our work.
The Sabbath challenges us to give those who work for us a whole day off from work.
The Sabbath challenges us to do productive work six days per week.
How does this play out in always-on corporations? With retirement? With wealth or unemployment? With seasonal work? Do hobbies count as productive work or as restorative work? Does Sabbath have to be “spiritual?”
Take a few minutes to take stock of your current perspective on Sabbath and your current practice. What comes to mind when you think of Sabbath? What emotions do you feel?