Saturday, August 18, 2012

On the sabbath

Our church is studying Deuteronomy at the moment. 

A couple of weeks ago, when we were looking at the ten commandments in chapter 5, a penny dropped. Read this:

12 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 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 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. 15 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.

When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they never got a break. They never had a holiday. The point of the Sabbath is that they are no longer slaves - they have days off now! Free time! Public holidays to sit in the sun, sipping their honey flavoured milk...

Centuries later, the Pharisees had completely missed the point. All of the rules they set up made people slaves to the Sabbath, you can't do this, you can't do that. But the Sabbath was given for them to enjoy. It was meant as a sign of their freedom. They should revell in it! Sit back, relax and bludge! You are not a slave, so don't act like one.

So what about this commandment and us? Two things:
1. We're not Jews. It was never given to us. 
2. We were slaves to sin but we've been freed from that. We can show our freedom by not sinning. 


  1. I'm not convinced that the Lord was saying "remember you were slaves" to make a contrast with the fact that they can now have days off due to the Sabbath. I don't think the contrast is between slavery and the rest itself. I think it's between slavery and being bought as God's own people. The resting is then an act of obedience in response to God's great salvation. They were slaves, and now they belong to God as his own people. As his own people, they are to honour God by resting on the Sabbath.

    I think the bigger question is does God's law as summarized in the 10 commandments still apply to us, or do we belong to a different covenant? I am one of Abraham's children - born not by human will but grafted in through Christ. In that sense, just saying "I'm not a Jew" is not enough, because I am now part of the people of God. So the question becomes how do God's people relate to the law in the New Covenant?

    I find the debate very tricky because I see the rest of the 10 commandments as obvious standards for Christian living. Why remove the Sabbath? On the other hand, I understand the argument that the law was fulfilled for us in Christ and the ceremonial law certainly no longer applies because it was a shadow that pointed to Christ. I'm also influenced by Colossians 2 were we are told "Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.".

    On the other hand, I've heard good arguments for the Sabbath as having been present from before the fall and therefore not part of the ceremonial law but part of the moral will of God.

    And on the other hand (have I run out of hands?) I also think that godly wisdom would suggest that rest is something we need, that God has institute the pattern of rest in Scripture for our good and that the protection of that day from normal work ensures that we will have sufficient time to meet with God's people and spend time in worship and learning.

  2. Hi Simone, I think it's a good point that you make that Sabbath is a good thing. It's a rest, it's something that humans (in their true, non-sinful human state) enjoy and benefit from. Isn't it odd that so many people these days don't want to "sabbath" (whether on Sunday or any other day). We're just too busy - but it should be something we love to do!

  3. I think that's a really good point - I never understood why that bit was there at the end and this is a good way of making sense of it. It also fits with Jesus' comment - "the Sabbath was made for man, man was not made for the Sabbath" when he and his disciples were criticised for picking and eating ears of grain. It's also interesting that their slaves were also given a sabbath - they were allowed to have slaves but not mistreat them (assuming slavery is not mistreatement in itself!).

    I'm not convinced about the link to being freed from sin though. It's a little circular - in order to obey the commandment we must obey the commandment. Although a regular holiday from sinning would be nice.