courtesy image of digitaldutch.com
Those of you who regularly read my blog know that I often post as if I know what I’m talking about. Whether I do indeed know what I’m talking about aside, this post is not like those others. In my studies on Isaiah 58 (here, here, and here), I’ve come to the section on Sabbath — and I’ve got more guesses than answers. Here is Isaiah 58:13-14 directly from the NIV (because I feel that I can’t paraphrase and summarize that which I don’t fully understand):
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 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 on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.
Here is what I do know:
- This passage follows the section on fasting — which encourages fasts that promote or empower social justice and service to others. The chapter as a whole seems to disapprove of holy days for the sake of holy days and downplay seeking God for the sake of personal relationship.
- This passage begins with familiar words to not “do as we please” on the Sabbath. This is the same phrase we saw in verse 3 — “yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please.” — and was defined as exploiting others and quarreling, or simply by being disobedient to God.
- I assume, taking into account the context, that keeping the Sabbath has some meaningful relationship with social justice and service in the community — or at least in creating the kind of people who spend themselves on such.
- This is not the first time we see justice and the Sabbath in relationship. For example, just two chapters earlier (Isaiah 56), we see keeping the Sabbath as part of a definition of maintaining justice and doing what is right. Honoring the Sabbath may be used in these two chapters simply to designate what those who trust in God do and how they act — as if “keeping the Sabbath” is a phrase that could be translated “being obedient to God.”
So this is my current understanding / view of Sabbath (which is very open to discussion):
- I find Sabbath written about in a great many ways, which seem (to me) to be difficult to harmonize — so I’ve taken most of my understanding from the example set by God himself during creation. God worked for six days, creating that which was good, and then rested on the seventh day. We place a great deal of importance on the resting part (and probably have good reason to do so), but I have to at least wonder if part of the significance of Sabbath is the work itself. Perhaps the six days of creating and doing that which is good might indeed be the focus?
- I see the Sabbath as a day to rest in God AND to reflect on all the good I have done during the week (by God’s power in me, of course). God is glorified as I work to the best of my abilities, but even more so, the work I do should create an “atmosphere of good.” In God’s image, I create. I create a life of obedience to him. I create situations in which he is given glory. I create opportunities to share his goodness with others. In essence, I create worship by being obedient to God — not only my own life of worship, but others will see my good works and worship he who has changed my life.
- So the Sabbath becomes, in a way, the sign of my obedient and worshipful life. It’s not that I’ve set aside a day to worship God; it’s that I’ve set aside six days to worship God, and one to reflect on that week and take it all in. It’s not that I celebrate God one day each week; it’s that I’ve set aside that one day to celebrate all the good he’s accomplished (through me, even) during that one week.
I think this definition addresses the synonymous use of the phrases “keeping the Sabbath” and “being obedient to God.” Only if we are maintaining justice in our communities, only if we are feeding the hungry, only if we are creating good, can we truly “keep the Sabbath.”
I, too, believe these ideas speak deeply to the communal Christian life. Sunday (if that’s the day of your Christian gathering) shouldn’t be about offering God the worship of that day; but it should be a celebration of all that you’ve offered in worship that week. On Sundays we bring our lives of obedience and lay them before God as a sacrifice to him. We offer to him the fruits of our labors, the good we’ve created in his world. It wasn’t the day of rest that was called good, but the six days of work prior to that day of rest.
What are your thoughts? I truly am seeking to have a better understanding of the Sabbath, and am definitely open to ideas. What does it mean to celebrate the Sabbath? How is it related to social justice and community service?