Keeping the Sabbath, revisited

D5-2 RestAreaExitDirI’ve spent the last few weeks rereading the book of Isaiah. As so often happens when I read the Bible, certain passages jump off the page at me. I feel as if the Holy Spirit is underlining them, saying, “Pay attention! This is especially for you right now.” I typically underline the verses, then include them in my prayer time. God, what are you telling me here? (This is one reason I get a new Bible after reading it through a few times—I want to see the passages as fresh and new, and not get distracted by what God pointed out in previous times.)

So, I was reading along near the end of Isaiah and the Holy Spirit highlighted the following verses:

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
then you will find your joy in the Lord,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 58:12-14)

My first thought was, wait a moment. I’ve studied the idea of a Sabbath. I have it all figured out. (See my post on “Rest from two years ago.”) Don’t I take Thursdays off every week? (Well, most weeks, at least.) Don’t I spend the day resting? (Emptying moving boxes is restful, sort of.) Sure, I cook dinner, but we often have leftovers. And I might go birding, or putter in the garden, but only if I really feel like it. I try to do things that aren’t stressful. After all,  I don’t want to sit around all day reading the Bible and praying. I can’t concentrate that long! I want to observe the Sabbath, but I don’t want to be legalistic about it!

Then I re-read the passage. “… if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words….”

I have to admit, I go my own way and do what I please on Thursdays. Only rarely do I even think to ask God what He wants to do with me that day—and if I do ask, do I always put aside my preferences and defer to Him? No, not always.

So, how do we keep the Sabbath without making it into a bunch of rules?

The Pharisees never did figure that out, compiling endless laws that would ensure compliance. In fact, it’s still an issue. Our new oven came with a “Sabbath setting”! (The ovens work, but make no sounds, and the clock will not display.)

For the most part, God is silent on how we are to observe the Sabbath. We’re told a few things not to do: carry burdens, especially through the gates of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 17:21), light a fire in our home (Exodus 35:3), or work (Leviticus 23:3). Treading wine is considered work, and the prohibition on carrying burdens applies to animals as well as people (Nehemiah 13:15). We’re not to go shopping, either (Nehemiah 10:31)—a challenge in our culture!

There are even fewer things we are to do: attend a “sacred assembly” (Leviticus 23:3), which may include music (Psalm 92:1). Deny ourselves (Leviticus 16:31). Rest (Deuteronomy 5:14).

Currently, I call Thursday my Sabbath. I’m not aware of any churches that hold worship services on Thursdays, so immediately I have a dilemma. I could make Sunday my day of rest, except I volunteer in our church’s café that morning. Pete and I get up at 4:30 a.m. to go cook breakfast for the congregation. I might cut up fruit salad, assemble breakfast burritos and chicken quesadillas, or grill paninis. Sometimes I spend several hours running pots and pans through our commercial dishwasher. We carry loads. We “light fires” to cook the eggs and bacon. We sell food. And we most definitely do not rest.

When we finally get home, after our 9 a.m. Sunday school class and 11 a.m. worship service, I start on my job. Weekends are my busiest time, as people are out in their gardens; I usually have a pile of plants to identify waiting in my inbox. I have a deadline—we’re only given so many hours in which we must reply to our clients—so I can’t put it off until Monday. You can see that a Sunday Sabbath is not a viable option at this point. And our church doesn’t hold services on Saturday, so that’s out as well.

If we want to get more legalistic, the questions start flooding in. Is it all right to exercise on our day of rest? How about heating leftovers in the microwave? Are we allowed to drive, or do laundry, or do we give our machines a day off too? And what did Jesus mean when he proclaimed Himself “Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8)?

I’m going to stop here and let you ponder this for a bit. We’ll pick it up next week. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear what you think.

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One thought on “Keeping the Sabbath, revisited

  1. There are a couple of interesting thoughts from the Isaiah passage — firstly it doesn’t say you must do such and such, it merely says ‘if you do… then…’ Secondly, what happens if you do such and such and the then clause doesn’t happen? So you try harder with that list and it still doesn’t happen?

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