Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Then God spoke all these words: I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, "You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die." Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin."
Reflection Before he died Moses preached this sermon instructing the people how they should live and worship God. We call it the Ten Commandments, the Law of Moses. The fourth law is, “Remember the Sabbath, and keep it holy.”
Another version of the fourth law is, “Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy… Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work - you or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there … therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the sabbath.” (Deut 5.12-15)
This was outrageous; Moses insisting everyone should benefit from the law. Everyone knew Israelite women, children and slaves had no status and no rights, but under the Law of Moses everyone without exception was equal in the eyes of God and should benefit with a day of rest. This was an enormous step in the evolution of human consciousness. Everyone is equal in the eyes of God and everyone should benefit with a day of rest.
No sooner did they receive Moses’ law than the ancient religious authorities set to work definng what constituted work and therefore what exactly people were not supposed to do on the sabbath. It began with no collecting manna, then no lighting of fires. Eventually regulations became so strict that observant Jews would allow themselves to be killed rather than defend themselves on the sabbath. By the time we get to Christian or New Testament times we find Jesus violating the sabbath regulations by healing a man with a withered hand and allowing his disciples to pluck heads of grain to eat.
It seems Jesus’ understanding of keeping the sabbath was different than the keepers of Moses’ Law. According to Jesus, “’The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath…” (Mark 2.27) The essence of sabbath is a time set aside to promote our humanity and return to God. We do this by breaking our routine, whatever it is we do six days a week, and doing something else that truly nurtures us. This we each must discover for ourselves. If we sit at a desk working all week, sabbath might include time outside, moving the body, experiencing God in the theatre of creation. On the other hand, if our work is gardening, landscaping, building bridges or putting roofs on buildings, then our sabbath might be staying home, putting up our feet and resting in God.
Remember the sabbath day ... means, remember to take your day off, and be sure your employees have one too! And, keep the sabbath day holy means, througout that day direct your attention to God, let your work be finding God in all things. This is the way of promoting humanity and equal benefit for all.
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