Sabbath Insights from the Non-Christian

As we share a significant portion of the biblical canon, it is helpful for Christians to read in the Jewish tradition to gain insights into the text of scripture. Though not written for Christians, Francine Klagsburn’s book would qualify as instructive for them. Entitled “The Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day,” [1] Klagsburn uses scripture and Jewish tradition to present a compelling case for a contemporary sabbath.

Obviously Christians will have many disagreements with her, particularly over Christ’s role in the Sabbath (Hebrews 4) and the change in the day,[2] but many of her insights are clearly applicable to the scriptural concept or essence of the day.  I offer a few for your edification.

Sabbath and freedom

Is the sabbath a burden or is it a blessing? It is not just our attitude that determines the answer to this question. God has given the sabbath unto man (Mark 2:27) and, as such, he meant it to be a blessing (Genesis 2:3 cf. Exodus 20:10). By observing a day of rest and worship, we put off the constraints and burdens of our daily life and responsibilities. The sabbath is freedom.

“The concept of freedom dominates Shabbath despite prohibitions and restrictions, and some might say because of them. The freedom of Shabbat comes from the potential it holds to control time, perhaps the most far-reaching form of freedom anyone can experience… Oppressed by unrelenting demands, many of us feel incapable of controlling our time (“Time is my enemy,” I lament as deadlines and obligations crush down on me.) Shabbat offers such control. It offers a day when instead of fighting time, we may luxuriate in it. Instead of feeling chained to routine, we may break loose and breathe freely.” (page 38-39)

Sabbath and dignity

It is often overlooked that the sabbath is not just a command about rest and worship but about work. Such work was given by God in the original creation (Genesis 2:15) and, as such, was never a burden. However, work has become a burden through the curse (Genesis 3:17-19) and so it is all the more important in a fallen world for us to realise that we not merely workers (slaves to labour) but servants of God through the sabbath rest he has provided.

“[The Sabbath] altered the way human beings regarded themselves, giving them the dignity of knowing that their lives are not defined by their labor alone – a lesson many of us are still learning.” (page 55)

Sabbath and control

The sabbath does not only grant us a weekly respite from daily life and work, but also frees us from the desire to control our world. Man is a finite creature, and the sabbath invites him to live happily in the world that God has created and rules.

“On the seventh day, as in the seventh year, we release the world from our grasp and release ourselves from its grasp. In so doing we symbolically acknowledge that we do not – cannot – control everything in that world. We also acknowledge, as the laws of the sabbatical and jubilee do, that it is not ours to control at all times.” (page 64)

Sabbath and perfection

“There be many that say, Who will shew us any good?” Psalm 4:6 Is there goodness in this life? Is it possible that there could be more than there is now? The sabbath reminds us of the past (Exodus 20:11) so that we can believe that goodness is possible (again) because God made the world that way.

“In portraying the majesty of the universe as it unfolds over the course of six days, the Bible holds out the hope that the perfection and goodness which the cosmos began can be recaptured. The seventh-day Sabbath testifies to the perfection and the hope. It is a sign of creation and a sign of belonging to a people that sees itself as upholding its covenant with God by striving for perfection once again.” (page 73)

Sabbath and the future

The sabbath reminds us that God has intended that we experience something greater than what we have in this life. In eternity, there will always be a sabbath rest.

“the future world takes its source from the Sabbath and is therefore just an offshoot of it. Over millenia, Jews who lived in poverty and under the constant spectre of prejudice and persecution could take comfort in finding within their one unique day of rest intimations of a better life in a messianic period to come.” (page 234)

1. Klagsburn, Francine. “The Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day.” New York, New York: Harmony Books, 2002.
Westminster Confession of Faith 21.7As it is of the law of nature that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him:[a] which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week,[b] which in Scripture is called the Lord’s day,[c] and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.[d]”

a. Exodus 20:8, Exodus 20:10–11, Isaiah 56:2, Isaiah 56:4, Isaiah 56:6–7
b. Genesis 2:2–3, Acts 20:7, 1 Corinthians 16:1–2
c. Revelation 1:10
d. Exodus 20:8, Exodus 20:10, Matthew 5:17–18

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