The last chapter ended with Jesus reassuring Peter that the sacrifice of discipleship is worth it. In the age to come, he promises, the disciples “shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (19:28), and anyone who has to leave their family and their world for him is stepping into a bigger family and a bigger world. So, today’s chapter turns to matters of the kingdom of heaven, and it opens with a parable in the vein of chapter 13’s.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve chucked the intro for today’s post. What’s worth saying? What words are going to be of actual benefit to you, the reader, and what words are just vacuous self-indulgence? Why even bother? I don’t know. Due to logistical necessities, we are back in the God’s Little Deconstruction Book series, and there’s nothing to do but move forward.
Some mentions of the Sabbath in the Bible won’t tell you much of anything about how to keep the Sabbath because they’re too literal. Remember all those times the Sabbath comes up in Acts that we skipped over because it’s just “on the Sabbath this thing happened?” Well, the fourth chapter of Hebrews is almost on the opposite side of the spectrum: you’ll barely find any guidelines or pointers on keeping the Sabbath because the chapter’s so metaphorical. …Or will you?
Leviticus! Everyone’s favorite book of the Bible, next to Ecclesiastes! Seriously, though, ever since I read through it during the summer after my sophomore year of high school, I’ve found Leviticus interesting. Which laws are meant to be distinguishing marks for the ancient Hebrews as God’s chosen nation? Which laws constitute moral principles that all of us benefit from following? Which laws are oriented toward ancient agrarian culture and are of little concern to us in the 21st century because, for example, we don’t own any oxen? Sorting out what the laws say and what they mean for us today takes work, but I’ve found that it’s worth tackling.
In our study on the Sabbath today, like yesterday, we’re looking at a letter-for-letter appearance not of the English word “Sabbath,” but of the Hebrew word shabath, “to rest.” When Moses and Aaron are pushing for Pharaoh to let the enslaved Hebrews celebrate a feast to the Lord, Pharaoh uses the word when he denies their request. He repudiates Moses and Aaron: “Look, the people of the land are now many, and you would have them cease from their labors!” (Exodus 5:5). The word translated “cease” here is shabath. Pharaoh forbids them from stopping: not only are they denied a weekend, they are denied a vacation. Welcome to Egypt, the No-Sabbath Zone, the Labor Hole.
To continue our study of the Sabbath, we’re going to backtrack to the first two chapters of Genesis. You won’t actually find the word “Sabbath” in here, not in English. But if you look at Genesis 2:2, “[God] rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done,” in Hebrew? You’ll find that “rested” is the verb shabath.
Today is Labor Day, that paradoxical day when we in America celebrate hard work by taking a day off. Well, most of us. Here at Chocolate Book, we, in the words of nerdcore rappers Mega Ran and Adam WarRock, “never take a day off, not even bank holidays.” Okay, not literally, but I wanted to share a link to their music because it’s excellent, and also because I wanted to raise the questions: how do you strike a balance between work and rest? How much work is a recipe for burnout? How much rest is just being lazy?