Shabbat Is No Siesta
Remember the . . . . Well, remember . . . . Oh well, forget it! Blue laws and keeping the sabbath belong to an era of early American history. Millions in sales would be forfeited in a single year, and more than half the folks on Sunday never cast a shadow over the church door anyway. If ever there were an archaic commandment, the fourth command inscribed with the Finger of God (Exodus 31:18) was seemingly a colossal mistake of Deity!
Writing in the Wall Street Journal for May 8, 2021, Sohrab Ahmari is not so sure. In a long defense of the sabbath, Ahmari summons the writings and practices of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel to prick our consciences. Rabbi Heschel departed this life in 1907, at the end of a sabbath. His daughter Susannah claimed that Jewish tradition sees death in one’s sleep as a kiss of God and death on the sabbath as a gift of God.
Now the commandment itself has two parts. The first is to remember the sabbath day, and the second addresses how that memory is to be fostered. The sabbath is to be kept holy. The sabbath is to be faithfully remembered, because God used six days to effect creation; and on the sabbath, He rested. What segment of the seven billion on our congested planet ever give a passing thought to God’s creation? Each day we drink its water, which, though essential to life, is apparently rather rare in the universe. We eat thanks to God’s creation, and we stand in awe of the universe, which is a product of God's thought! Every second of our lives, which for me is almost 80 years, is punctuated by the presence of God. Yet our reflection on His graciousness as Creator is perfunctory at best – if at all.
And remember. On the sabbath He rested. The Hebrew word shabat does not suggest a siesta. God did not rest on the seventh day because He was tuckered out. The word implies rest in the sense of ceasing one activity in order to devote oneself to another form of activity. God now devoted Himself to the care of His creation among other things.
Since creation is a calculated endowment from the largesse of the Lord, it merits our concentration as well as our memory. And, above all, creation merits the gratitude of those of us who breathe His air without charge and bask in the warmth of His sun through His general grace. One day a week is to magnify gratitude and not merely consumerism.
And, therefore, that day is to be a holy day. You shall keep it holy. The word qadosh refers primarily to that which is separate or distinct. God’s people are a holy people – set apart from all the other people who do not heed His ways. And the sabbath day is to be a day set apart from the other six. On that day we rest in the sense that we cease the effort to earn and concentrate on the giving of thanks to God. As a part of that gratitude, we devote ourselves to the study of His Word, the Bible, to prayer, to memorials such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The gathering of God’s family in our churches can happen on any occasion, but one day a week is the day everyone should know is an expected assembly to give thanks to Him.
Today, the Divided States of America no longer remember. Virtually nothing is holy. The fourth commandment seems antiquated and has little following. The result of this new posture is a divided populace. Internal mayhem has replaced wars of defense, and violence consumes the soul of America. All the diseases of the Egyptians have enveloped us, and even sexually transmitted diseases shout to the universe that nothing remains holy unto God in America. Psychological dysfunction and ceaseless focus on victimology have neutered the men of our society.
Rabbi Heschel saw it coming. Sohrab Ahmari is honest enough to tell it like it is. Now is the time to take another look! Is this antiquated commandment boasting a wisdom that is actually essential to social order? Is it conceivable that our God created a world to which He Himself was essential to enable the health and happiness of His creation?
https://www.wsj.com/articles/what-weve-lost-in-rejecting-the-sabbath-11620399624 See the Wall Street Journal Review article on May 8, 2021.