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Posts Tagged “Abraham Heschel”

Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.
Exodus 20:8

In this three-part series, we first briefly looked at God’s fourth commandment – seeing that it was not only a commandment but a gift – a day set apart to rest from the curse that would later come through Adam and Eve’s sin and to enjoy and be refreshed by God. In the second blog I gave seven reasons that compel me to observe a weekly Sabbath. But I live in the real world with all the schedule struggles that each of you experience. Today’s blog is more practical in nature.

A significant key is to honor God by not being legalistic about the Sabbath while still being disciplined to abstain from working and spending time honoring God. Balancing freedom and discipline is the challenge of the Christian walk in many areas.

Sabbath Saturday, Sunday or ???
The Jewish Sabbath (or Shabbat) is from sunset Friday evening until sunset Saturday evening. There is actually a short ritual and prayer that bookend the day, setting it apart as different from all other days. I have never observed a Sabbath in the Jewish tradition, but it’s on my bucket list! It seems to me that the traditions would enhance a Sabbath observance.

Some Christian denominations observe a Saturday Sabbath, but most recognize Sunday as the Lord’s Day. Whether Saturday or Sunday, I find that observing a Sabbath on one of those days, is easiest. However, I am by no means dogmatic about what day is honored Stepping out of legalism and into freedom, I honor the spirit of the law in lieu of the letter of the law. I am somewhat legalistic about it being one day a week (because if I’m not I too easily allow many weeks go by without a Sabbath), but exercise complete freedom about which day of the week.

My husband works two jobs – part time at our business and part time at a local hospital. His hospital schedule varies and he is required to work most Sundays. Each week we look at our schedules and set aside one day for him to honor as a Sabbath to the Lord. It’s sometimes very difficult for me to not violate his Sabbath when he’s been out of our office for several days and I need his assistance on a project. But Sabbath observing is as much about disciplining ourselves not to meet the demands of this world as it is about resting and enjoying the Lord. So I try not to be one of those demanders.

Observing the Sabbath on the same day every week is ideal, and clearly what God intended, but your schedule may not make that possible. In Phil’s case, for example, sometimes ten days may go by between Sabbaths and the next week it may be only five days. It’s not ideal, but it still honors God and enables Phil to experience the blessing of observing the Sabbath.

Do’s & Don’ts
People often think of a long list of restrictions when they think of observing a Sabbath day. The only true restriction is “don’t work.” Anything else I write is simply a guideline designed to help you enter into the spirit of the day. As I wrote in my first blog in this series, as a child I was not allowed to sew on Sunday. To me sewing was a joy and I never understood the rule. I understand now that the rule was developed when sewing was just another chore required to make a household run smoothly. My great-grandmother couldn’t stop by WalMart to buy a new dress for my grandmother when she outgrew the one she’d been wearing. Great-granny had to sew a new one. Hence, sewing was something that was prohibited on a day of rest. That rule was passed down to my grandmother and my mother and eventually me. I bucked the tradition.

Space does not allow for a lengthy discussion about how Christians might observe the Sabbath, but a few suggestions might be helpful. Again, they are not meant as rules, simply suggestions to get one started on a path of honoring the Sabbath and the One who created it. One suggestion, however, as you begin to enjoy Sabbaths as days set apart for the Lord – they take a little preparation sometimes. Don’t wait until your Sabbath day each week to enjoy it. Plan ahead to take a nature walk or gather with friends. Not every week, but frequently enough to keep your Sabbaths from disintegrating into days of sitting around doing nothing!


  • Worship
  • Rest
  • Family activities that promote positive interaction
  • Fellowship with friends
  • Rest (repeated here because our natural inclination is to do something instead of do nothing)
  • Explore nature
  • Discuss God’s Word, nature, ways, etc. and what He is teaching – “discuss” means you’re gathering with family and/or friends for enjoyable times centered on God
  • Be creative – draw, sew, play an instrument, garden, write (so long as you’re not working at it!)
  • Practice peace


  • Work or discuss work
  • Discuss bothersome issues like finances and “to do” lists
  • Get lost for Sabbaths on end doing things alone – playing computer games, watching television, even reading
  • Rush – for anything or anywhere
  • Quarrel – set differences aside for a day
  • Adhere to a strict schedule

A key is to recognize the commandment, need and blessing of observing Sabbaths and making a commitment to do so. God will be honored and pleased by your efforts and you will be blessed more than you can imagine. I like what Abraham Heschel wrote in his book The Sabbath, It’s Meaning for Modern Man.

“The art of keeping the seventh day is the art of painting on the canvas of time the mysterious grandeur of the climax of creation: as He sanctified the seventh day, so shall we. The love of the Sabbath is the love of man for what he and God have in common. Our keeping the Sabbath is a paraphrase of His sanctification of the seventh day. (page 16) (bolding mine)

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Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.
Exodus 20:8

Preface: I’ve struggled about whether to make this a part of the “Let’s Be PC (Practicing Christians)” series, because there are many who believe that we have been released from any requirement to observe the Sabbath. In this series of three blogs you won’t find me citing (or refuting) the Scriptures that support their case. Rather, I look at the intent of the original commandment (part 1) and, having become convinced that it represents the heart of God, I address the tremendously positive reasons to observe a weekly Sabbath (part 2), and finally, some practical guidelines to keep us from legalism (part 3). So if you disagree that keeping a Sabbath is part of being a Practicing Christian, that’s OK. Don’t abandon the series – hang in there reading all three blogs and then let me know what you think. (Of course, feel free to leave comments on each blog. I love comments.)

“Ten Words”
The Lord spoke to the Israelites, giving them what is called the “ten words” or Decalogue. They are the only words He spoke to them directly. All other words He spoke through Moses. The content of those words is what we call the Ten Commandments. They provide instructions about the Israelites’ responsibilities toward God and toward one another. Their importance is not only underscored by being spoken directly by God, but also by their repetition, in whole or part, throughout the Old Testament.

I find it utterly amazing that in choosing to define the ten most important things that the Israelites should know and do, God chose to include a commandment to rest. Intermingled with commandments to not worship other gods, make false idols, steal, kill or commit adultery, is the commandment to rest one day each week. To our modern work ethic and independent western mindset, this makes little or no sense. To begin with, how can resting be as important as not killing or stealing? Secondly, in what way does resting honor God? We tend to think of our service to Him and others as honoring Him. Yet the fourth commandment reveals to us that resting somehow also honors God.

What a gift God gave to His people! Think about it – in the Garden of Eden, man sinned against God. His punishment was “in toil you shall eat of [the earth] all the days of your life” and “by the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:17b, 19a). Man’s punishment, in part, was that subduing the earth would now be accomplished by hard work. Yet God, in His great foreknowledge and mercy, had already established the seventh day as a day of rest and had blessed the day (Genesis 2:2-3). Before the fall of man, God laid the groundwork for the gift He would give His people – the gift that would provide a respite from the punishment they would soon bring upon themselves. What a gracious and kind God He is!

A Commandment to Remember and Rest!
The Ten Commandments were spoken by God to the Israelites and are recorded in Exodus 20:1-21. The Sabbath commandment is as follows:

8Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.
Exodus 20:8-11

Moses repeats the Ten Commandments in their entirety and with few modifications in Deuteronomy 5:1-21.

Within the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath commandment is given more attention than any of the others. With the exception of the commandment to not make and worship idols all other commandments are a single sentence and verse. The Sabbath is given 4 verses, both in Exodus and Deuteronomy.

God tells us to “remember the Sabbath.” The word “remember” doesn’t simply mean to remember what day of the week it is. It means to set it aside or mark it as different. I can’t help but be convinced that when we honor the commandment, we also mark ourselves as different – because we live in a culture that defines spending our time in the constant pursuit of gaining more and having more as the very pinnacle of success. Our very practice of observing a weekly Sabbath says “there are things that are more important in life than just getting more things.”

A Sanctified Day
I grew up being told many things that I could not do because it was Sunday. One that always irked me as a young teenager was the rule that you can’t sew on Sundays because sewing was considered work. I tried in vain to explain that sewing was enjoyment to me, not work, but it didn’t seem to matter. I was not allowed to sew on Sundays. This in a household that was not very religious.

The Jews and many Christians (although many less today than in generations gone by) spent a lot of time defining what was NOT allowed because those things violated the commandment to “not work.” For many, this negative approach caused the day to lose it’s “remembering” aspect. Perhaps we focus so much on the “not doing” simply because it’s so much easier than defining what we should be doing to honor the Sabbath. Keeping the Sabbath is really about setting aside time to rest and enjoy the wonder of God and His creation as it is about.

In his book The Sabbath, Its Meaning for Modern Man, Abraham Heschel, does a masterful job of communicating this. Referring to the physical world and things in it as “space,” he explains the difference between the Sabbath and other days:

“The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space [i.e., the physical world]; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.” (page 10)

Comedian Sam Levenson remembers understanding as a child that “through their [Sabbath] traditions [his parents] had the power to separate mundane time from sacred time, to declare one day out of seven above and beyond the slavish struggle for survival.”[1] Clearly, through traditions that might seem to outsiders to be nonsensical or annoying, the Sabbath was a day “set apart” as different from other days. Not different because we run errands or play instead of work, but different because it has spiritual significance. It is “holy” as God defined it.

As New Testament believers, we serve the same God who considered the Sabbath as important as those other commandments – thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt have no other Gods before Me. Honoring the Sabbath helps with that last one. Through these blogs, I’d like to encourage all of us to enter into that holiness in time. I am convinced that honoring God sets us apart as different from our culture (which is a good thing) and puts us in a better position to know Him and receive His blessing.

Tomorrow I’ll give you my six most compelling reasons to observe a Sabbath. Stay tuned…

[1] Sam Levenson, 1966 autobiography Everything but Money, p. 88, as quoted in the article “Fourth and Long: Presenting (and Resenting) the Sabbath” by Elliott Horowitz ; in The Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol.97, No.3 (Summer 2007) published by the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, p. 453

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