Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sabbath Musings

I've been puzzling a great deal about the Sabbath. I've found it extraordinarily difficult to sort out what this commandment is all about, what it means and what it doesn't mean. So I thought I'd blog about it, so as to order my thoughts about it better, as well as perhaps get some feedback. 

Where to start? Well, the Bible is always the Christian's epistemology: the Holy Spirit persuades us the Bible is true. So here are some relevant passages (all in ESV):

Exodus 20:8-11

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy."

Deuteronomy 5:12-15

12 Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God 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, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

Isaiah 58:13-14

13 If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
    from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
    and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
    or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
14 then you shall take delight in the Lord,
    and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

 Also of interest: Matthew 12, Mark 2 and 3, Luke 6, 13, and 14. There are plenty of places in the Bible where the Sabbath is mentioned - especially in the Pentateuch. 

So, what can we say from all this data? First, let me define some terms. The "Sabbath" is the one day in seven that God has set aside for rest and public worship. Until the Resurrection of Christ, this was on the last day of the week: Saturday, to reflect the original creation. But, since the Resurrection, the Christian Sabbath has been on Sunday, to reflect the new creation we have in Christ.

  1. I think it is fairly clear that the Sabbath has been around since the Creation. See the Exodus 20 passage, and the reason for the Sabbath commandment. Since it's a creation ordinance, I see no reason why we should stop observing the Sabbath. Jesus did not abolish the law in the NT, He fulfilled it. And when He was "breaking" the Sabbath, if you read those passages in context, I think you would rather say that He was restoring the Sabbath back to what it should have been. The Pharisees had put up all kinds of additional commandments around the Sabbath, ostensibly to prevent themselves from actually breaking the Sabbath. But these burdensome commandments had obscured the true meaning of the Sabbath. 
  2. We are not to obey this commandment in order to earn salvation. That's impossible. We are to obey this commandment, because loving God and obeying God are the same thing, and God has loved us first. We are to obey it because we are grateful for the tremendous salvation God has given us. This is the third use of the law: to inform the life of the believer. Furthermore, to say that someone who is serious about trying to keep the Sabbath must be a legalist is nonsense. Would you say that a believer who is doing his best not to murder someone or commit adultery is being a "legalist"? Give the Sabbatarians a break, here! Because of this, I think it is definitely worthwhile to think about just what this commandment means. 
  3. The gist of the Exodus and Deuteronomy commandments seems to be this: cease doing your work that you need to do in order to have food on the table, a roof over your head, and clothes on your body; devote the day to resting and to God. Delighting in God seems a major theme, when you consider the Isaiah passage. This should not be a drudgery, as Laura Ingalls Wilder portrayed it in her Little House series. We should want to worship God on this day. 
  4. The Isaiah 58 passage is challenging. To me, the debate hinges on the meaning of the word translated "pleasure", in verse 13. If you look this word up in Strong's (it's translated "pleasure" in the KJV as well), you can find the exact word used. Then, if you look that word up in the Concise Hebrew-Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (CHALOT), you find that this word has four meanings: 1. Joy, pleasure. 2. Wish. 3. Costly jewels. 4. Affair, business. CHALOT quotes Isaiah 58:13 has having the fourth meaning: affair or business. I think you can see that this meaning (that of "affair" or "business") has a more restricted meaning than "pleasure", at least for the purposes of this passage. If we take this word in the fourth sense, then Isaiah is not adding anything to the meaning already present in Exodus and Deuteronomy. Here's the passage in "Keister Standard Version":

    13 If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
        from doing your business on my holy day,
    and call the Sabbath a delight
        and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
    if you honor it, not going your own ways,
        or seeking your own business, or talking idly;
    14 then you shall take delight in the Lord,
        and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
    I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
        for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (Emphasis added.)

    Wonderful promises! If we needed more incentives to keep the Sabbath, here are some great ones! Probably you can see what I'm getting at here: Isaiah 58:13-14 is the only passage that the strict Sabbatarians (Puritan view, Westminster Standards view, bless them!) can muster to support their view that recreations lawful on other days of the week are not lawful on the Sabbath. Here's an imaginary conversation between a strict Sabbatarian and a Continentalist:
    Strict Sabbatarian: Isaiah 58:13-14!!!
    Continentalist: You keep using that verse. I do not think it means what you think it means. 

    So I do not hold to the strict Sabbatarian view, or the Puritan view, of the Sabbath. I have respect for it, and I do think that the Westminster Standards teach the Puritan view. So, this has to be my one exception (or "quibble", as we say in the OPC!) with the Westminster Standards.

  5. Where does the rubber hit the road? When you decide what you will actually do and not do on the Sabbath. How can you decide what that will be? Well, I propose this grid for determining what is lawful on the Sabbath (and here I have to make exceptions for pastors, doctors, police, etc., who have to work on Sunday. For them, they should simply celebrate the Sabbath on a different day.): whatever is necessary for you to do in order to put food on the table, a roof over your head, and clothes on your body, is, generally, what you should not do on the Sabbath. Exceptions: when your ox is in the ditch, so to speak, you get it out. What does that mean? It means that if something happens that would severely interfere with your ability to put food on the table, etc., then you deal with it when you need to. If that's on the Sabbath, that's ok. You can think of it as a work of necessity. Examples: normal chores that simply have to be done, like dishes. Or if, through no fault of your own, you've found out something at work has to be dealt with asap, then you do that. I think this is predicated on having prepared for the Sabbath. If you find yourself getting oxes out of ditches pretty much every Sabbath, then you should ask yourself whether you've prepared for the Sabbath adequately! Another exception is works of mercy. Jesus healed on the Sabbath, and we should do likewise. I think lawful recreations are perfectly fine on the Sabbath. You need to rest your body on the Sabbath, so that Sunday afternoon nap is a great idea! You should worship on Sunday as well. I particularly like morning and evening worship on Sundays, but a lot of churches don't have that any more, alas. 
  6. So here's what I would recommend when you are thinking about whether something is lawful to do on the Sabbath or not: ask yourself if it's necessary for you to do in order to put food on the table, or a roof over your head, or clothes on your body. If so, you should not do it unless your ox is in the ditch. If not, then ask yourself if it will be relaxing, or stressful. If it will be stressful, then think twice about doing it! If relaxing, then it's probably fine. However, whatever it is shouldn't get in the way of public worship, which is the single most important thing you do all week. It also shouldn't get in the way of works of mercy and necessity. I doubt this little rubric will cover all possibilities, so I'm open to suggestions. What are your thoughts? 

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At 2/20/2014 03:10:00 PM , Blogger Susan said...

A few thoughts, not terribly well-developed:

(1) When a word has multiple meanings, the Biblical principle of interpretation is to look at context to determine which meaning applies to a "contested" passage. The Hebrew word "yom" for day, for example, can mean many things, not limited to a 24-hour period. But looking at the context of the first few chapters of Genesis, and noticing that the days of creation are mentioned in successive numberings and in conjunction with the words "evening" and "morning" makes a good case for the idea that the creation days are 24 hours, because every other place in scripture where this is the case is a clear case of a 24-hour day.

Applying that to the Isaiah Sabbath passage, seems to me either the Puritans or the Concise Lexicon could be accused of possibly choosing their "favorite" meaning, that fit into what they already perceived to be the meaning. That is, unless either can make a good case for using their definition. And actually, looking at the end of v. 13, "talking idly," makes me wonder if the Puritans had some decent notions after all. But then, what does it mean to talk idly? That's what I'm curious to know. I have a hard time believing it means everything spoken on the Sabbath must be religious in nature or a necessity, such as "let's get in the car to go to church." So I don't know what that would look like, just what it would not look like (sitting cheerlessly on backless benches in silence all afternoon, a la Farmer Boy). However, the idea of not talking idly gives credence to the Puritan view, I think.

(2) Laura really didn't harp on the drudgery bit of the Sabbath, imo. It came across to me more as a brief portrayal of how people really did observe the Sabbath "back then." I didn't take it as condemnation or as any more than historical observation, really.

(3) I think people define "works of necessity" in a vastly loose way when it comes to the Sabbath. For example, I remember a conversation with a pastor in which he related the ongoing "debate" his two grown children have regarding the Sabbath. His son holds a "strict" view of not going to any place of business on Sunday, and therefore refuses to eat out on Sunday. Whereas his daughter counters that with the classic "you're just saying that because you're a guy and don't have to cook a nice Sunday meal" argument. Um, hello. False bifurcation here. There is absolutely no scriptural basis for the idea that a "nice Sunday meal" is either necessary or even desirable. Goodness, the Israelites ate leftover manna on Sabbaths. Hardly gourmet. What about a middle-of-the-road position, wherein the family eats foods that are easy to prep the day before? (Thinking crockpot, leftovers, freezer meals) Or do "snacky suppers" like fruit and cheese, buttered bread, sandwiches, popcorn, etc.

Same with dishes. You say that dishes "need" to be done on Sunday, but really, that's a narrow definition of need. (Said with fear and trembling, as my wonderful-hubby-aka-You does dishes for me on Sunday) Your wife might have a nervous breakdown every Monday morning, but there are drugs for that. . . kidding! But really, I think we should be slower to declare dishes a "work of necessity." I've seen many many people also claim test studying as a work of necessity on Sundays too, but you and I have both proven that one can indeed survive a college degree (even graduate!) without studying on Sunday. So a lot of need is perceived.

At 2/20/2014 03:11:00 PM , Blogger Susan said...

And apparently I'm too long-winded for my whole comment to be published at once, so here's the rest:

(4) One important caveat in the Exodus passage that many people (not you - others) forget to include in their Sabbath philosophy is the requirement that the alien in our gates is also not to do work. I think that means that even those who are not believers should not be encouraged and certainly not forced to work on Sunday (barring medical jobs, etc.). So excusing going out to eat with "but I'M not working, and the waitress isn't forced to work. She's not a Christian and doesn't mind working today" is kind of lame, imo :-D. I think this also has application for traveling on Sunday. Unless you're going a short distance, you'll be stopping for gas. And many people also use airlines and/or hotels in travel.


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