Mark 2:23 - 3:6
A decree He declared it for Israel
when He sallied forth against Egypt’s land--
a language I knew not, I heard.
“I delivered his shoulder from the burden
his palms were loosed from the hod.
From the straits you called and I set you free.
I answered you from thunder’s hiding place.”
-Psalm 81:5-7 (Robert Alter’s translation, 2007)
If you haven’t heard the commandment to “Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy,” you must not have been paying attention in church, for a lifetime! Among the Ten Commandments, it’s the fourth.
Take a look at the version of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:8-11, and the version in Deuteronomy 5:12-15. Do you see the difference? In Exodus, Moses tells us that our sabbath rest is because God rested after the six days of Creation. In Deuteronomy, Moses explains that our sabbath rest is commanded because God gave them rest from their slavery in Egypt.
Psalm 81 urges God’s people to get excited and relax and celebrate the New Moon festival. The New Moon festivals in ancient Israel were days off from work, like extra sabbaths, when the people were invited to leave off work and enjoy life and praise God. The psalmist reminds the people that God sent the plagues upon the Egyptians in order to set them free from Pharaoh’s brick-making plantations. (The “hod” was the basket for bricks.)
In early 2012, the beloved Old Testament scholar, Dr. Walter Brueggemann spoke to us at the School for Leadership training at Eastern Mennonite Seminary. The first night, he spoke about the anxiety that we learn by striving (for old Pharaoh) to accumulate wealth for ourselves in the daily scramble of making a living.
On the second night, he talked with us about the attitude of astonished gratitude that we develop when we truly believe that God loves us and will meet our deepest needs. Jesus fed the crowds with a very small amount of bread and fish: “Do not worry, what you will eat.”
Finally, on the third night, Dr. Brueggemann laid out God’s way to get from our current anxious condition to the state of being blessed:
keeping God’s Sabbath.
Dr. Brueggemann said that the first Ten Commandments in the book of Exodus were Pharaoh’s Ten Commandments: “Make more bricks! You are lazy! Make more bricks! Make more bricks without straw! You are lazy! Gather your own straw and make more bricks!... Lazy! Lazy! ...’
(“You can get ten out of that!”).
By contrast, God gives His people those OTHER Ten Commandments to be an alternative lifestyle, to get us out of being slaves to the rat-race of always trying to make more “bricks”
God commands us to keep one out of every seven days as a sacred day to do no work (Exodus 16:22-30; 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-14).
† Observing Sabbath reminds us that God takes care of us, supplying our needs.
† When we keep Sabbath, we imitate God, who rested on the seventh day and enjoyed what He had already created.
† When we practice Sabbath faithfully, we take time to share whatever we have with our neighbors, erasing this anxious old world’s distinctions of class and clan. We people of God do these things to show that we have left behind Pharaoh’s accumulation anxiety.
Am I myself good at keeping sabbath?
No, I am not. But that is why even the preacher needs to come to grips with the Scriptures: to get a grip on God’s good reality and surrender the phony story this world tells— that if we would just work harder, 24 / 7 / 365, we would have it made.
In God’s good reality, “the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh.”
- 2 Corinthians 4:11