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Jubilee's Roots:
Sabbath Rest

by Ross and Gloria Kinsler

Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. . . . For 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.  (Ex. 20:8-11)

Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy. . . . Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.  (Deut. 5:12-15)

In his critical study, Sabbath and Jubilee (Chalice Press, 2000), Richard Lowery writes (106):  “The Sabbath law occupies a pivotal position in both versions of the Decalogue (Ten Commandments), standing at the crux of theology and ethics.  The verses before the Sabbath law address Israel’s relationship with God, and the laws that follow regulate social relationships within and between households.  Sabbath grounds all those relationships in the identity of God as creator of the world and liberator of Israel.”  The seventh day is to be kept holy by rest to protect and restore the life of all the household, from sons and daughters to male and female slaves, all the animals, and resident aliens.  This mandate is so serious that its violation could, according to Ex. 35:2-3, merit the death penalty.   

Tragically, Israel itself reduced the Sabbath mandate to ritualistic legalism to be used not for the poor, not for justice, but the contrary.

Here this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the Sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale?  We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”  (Am. 8:4-6)

Lowery summarizes his exposition of “Sabbath and Household Hospitality”:  “Sabbath justice begins in the household in just relationships between male and female, old and young, subordinates and ‘bosses.’  Sabbath rest is, above all, relief for the household’s most vulnerable members.  The household ethic at the root of Sabbath is the foundation of a broader social-economic ethic expressed in prophetic condemnations of the royal political economy, such as those found in Amos.  This prophetic critique makes clear that Sabbath has a distinctively economic dimension.  It is a matter of justice, not simply a pious holiday.  In fact, the failure to attend to the needs of the vulnerable negates the value of ‘technical’ observances of Sabbath-day rest.  Sabbath without justice is blasphemy.”  (121)

-from Jubilee Workbook #4 (unpublished), "Biblical Faith" section

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