[On Sabbath] Keeping the Stabbath (Ezekiel 20:10-26, 22:8, 22:26, 23:38)

Bible opened to Ezekiel 20 with Green and Black's Organic Mint Dark Chocolate on green plate

Today’s Chocolate: Green & Black’s Organic Mint Dark Chocolate

Today’s PassagesEzekiel 20:10-26, 22:8, 22:26, 23:38

Like Jeremiah, the prophet Ezekiel is a man with a message from the Lord. God’s judgment on the Jewish people is a primary theme in his prophecy; in one of the most bizarre pieces of performance art inside or outside the Bible, he lays siege to a model of Jerusalem and bakes bread over a fire fueled by human feces (Ezekiel 4:1-17). And as Ezekiel relates, one of the many things for which God is judging his people is neglecting the Sabbath.

Ezekiel first mentions the Sabbath as he tells the story, in God’s words, of God choosing his people and liberating them from Egyptian enslavement. The Sabbath is meant as a cultural signifier, identifying the Jewish people as set apart by and for God. “Also I gave them My sabbaths to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them” (20:12), God states. Sabbath is for the Jews! Of course, it’s also for “your male or your female servant…or your sojourner who stays with you” (Exodus 20:10). But it’s first for the Jews–and it’s a sign of their holiness when they extend the hospitality of rest together to the travelers both native and foreign who stay with them on the Sabbath.

But ancient Israel has a history of failure to be holy. The first generation out of Egypt failed to keep the Sabbath, and even when God told their children not to follow in their fathers’ footsteps, the children also failed to keep the Sabbath. Four times in chapter 20, God levels the charge at his people: “They profaned My sabbaths” (vv.13, 16, 21, 24). The Hebrew word for “profane,” chalal, is not one I’ve studied before, and Strong’s reveals a variety of possible translations depending on the verb’s form and context, so I hesitate to speculate too much. But in its simplest form, chalal’s root meaning is “to pierce,” and I can’t help but imagine the people piercing the Sabbath through, crucifying it. Perhaps there’s a connection there. Perhaps not. I’m no Hebrew scholar, I just play one on this blog.

Throughout the rest of the book, Ezekiel returns to God’s indictment of Israel for profaning his Sabbaths. Ezekiel 22:8 and 23:38 reiterate Israel’s crimes, adding that the people have despised God’s holy things and defiled God’s sanctuary. And even the priests have failed to keep themselves holy: “Her priests have done violence to My law…they have not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they hide their eyes from My sabbaths” (22:26). You might expect the priests at least to rise above the lay people and set a good example, but they’re apparently leading the charge to stab the Sabbath through!

What can we take away from these passages? What can we learn about the Sabbath? If there’s one thing I see in there, it’s that the Sabbath was God’s mark on his chosen people, his designation of them as a holy nation. In the times when they historically failed to keep the Sabbath, they profaned that mark–polluted it, pierced it through. And if I’m honest with myself, I’ve taken God’s gift of holiness to me and polluted it by failing to do any number of good things. The ancient Hebrews aren’t unique in failing to measure up to God’s standard. It’s something we humans do even to this day.

 

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