Exodus 20:8-11 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9For six days you shall labour and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
We have previously looked at this passage in terms of the place of the Sabbath Day, Year and Jubilee within an overall framework of justice and equality in the Hebrew Bible. It was pointed out that the reasoning for the Sabbath was rest for slaves, aliens, livestock and the land. I would like to look at two other aspects of this foundational commandment: Remembering and Resting.
The initial command is not to cease from working, but to remember. This is important. Elsewhere the law is said to be based on Israel’s memory, their remembrance, of God’s past action for them in history. (anyone industrious enough to look up this reference for me?) It was the retelling of stories, particularly the Exodus from Egypt, that was the foundation of their continued covenant with YHWH and practice of the law in community. More than just a retelling of a nice story, the Passover is a reenactment of the story as the faithful place themselves within the story. “When we were in Egypt…”
So in the same way “Remembering the sabbath” is a retelling of the creation story and a reenactment of that story as we place ourselves within it. Sabbath is about grounding ourselves and our lives in the creation story. We are part of a wonderfully complex ecological system that God created. In one sense the story tells us that creation does not depend on us for either its creation or sustenance. At the same time, it reminds us of the power of dominion and the responsibility of stewardship that have been uniquely given as creatures with the possibility to manipulate and destroy the very system that sustains us.
We reenact the Sabbath by resting from work, just as God did. This rest is an embodiment of the truth we are remembering. You cannot remember the Sabbath without acting on the truth revealed in the remembrance. Likewise, the action of resting from work reveals to us the truth that we are not the Creator, but also have immense responsibility as stewards.
Over the centuries rabbis have written countless pages trying to unpack what it meant to “rest from work.” Is it okay to use electricity? What about scissors? Hopefully, we see that this is putting the cart before the horse. The purpose of resting is remembering. We enter into God’s story of creation when, by imitating God, we recall our place within tat creation narrative.