Remember the Sabbath day

Of all Ten Commandments, it is the fourth which to me seems the most nebulous. Granted, the language is very clear. The problem I run into is what exactly is the Sabbath. In our culture, it has traditionally been Sunday. It’s the day we have always gone to church. Jewish custom places the Sabbath on a different day of the week. But one thing is common: the Sabbath repeats every seventh day. Indeed, the book of Exodus is explicit:

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.

But Scripture here does not define which day of the week is the Sabbath. It just says the seventh day is a sabbath. Which day is the seventh? Does it really matter, as long as we rest on that seventh day? Does it have to be Sunday? Can it be Wednesday? Does it have to be the same day every week?

I ask these questions because I have never had a traditional Monday-Friday job. I work shifts, which means I sometimes have to work on Sunday. But I have never had a moral issue with this. I still get two days off a week. One of those days I try to get all my chores done at home so that the other day can be reserved for nothing. It could be a Monday. It could be a Thursday. And it’s not that I sit around thinking about getting in my sabbath for the week. It’s just that I’m wired that way. Perhaps it’s because God created us with that built-in instinct. I need that one day when I don’t do any work.

But then, what is work? Jewish scholars before the time of Christ went to great effort to define exactly what constituted work, so much so that by the time Christ walked the earth, the Pharisees went so far as to criticize the Messiah for healing on the Sabbath. But this only serves to illustrate that hundreds of years of scholarly endeavor served only to pervert the original meaning of the Sabbath.

Sometimes the Sabbath for me does fall on Sunday. It’s a day reserved for church and family. I wish every Sunday could be that way for me, but it has never been so. Thus, purely on instinct, I find myself planning those two days a week I am not in the office, shuffling duties and chores so that one day each week is reserved for rest. It’s a shame that our culture places so much emphasis on productivity. Granted, productivity is not a bad thing. It helps to define how well we do on the job. But too often we lament being unproductive at home, as though our productivity on our own turf is somehow a measure of worth to ourselves and our families. But it’s okay on that one day to be unproductive. We’ll say something like, “Well, I was totally unproductive today,” but one day a week we are meant to be unproductive. We are made to work and find value in it, but we are also made to reserve time to rest. This is why God instituted the Sabbath.


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