20 April 2012

Exodus 16:27-36

"See! The Lord has given you the Sabbath ... So the people rested on the seventh day." (vv. 29-30)


The centrality of the Shabbat (the Sabbath) to the people of Israel is emphasised in this passage. At the heart of the Jewish tradition is the practice of Shabbat. The Jewish Prayer book, The Siddhur, says there are three reasons for celebrating Shabbat:

  • to remember the liberation from slavery and God's command and provision that allows the people to rest in the desert as seen in this passage;
  • to remember the creation by God of the universe and that God rested on the seventh day;
  • to have a foretaste of the age to come.

At the root of Shabbat practice is a drawing closer to God and a spirituality that celebrates the blessing that God has placed upon the people Israel and the hope of the transformation of the world through the age to come.

There is also a vision of equality at the heart of Shabbat practice as no one must work and all are required to rest: hence its connection to the hope of the age to come when God's kingdom will be seen on earth. The practices recommended by the rabbis for Shabbat are interesting in that they emphasise not only study and spiritual practice, but also family and relationship. It is an opportunity not to escape from this life but to nourish and cherish all that is truly important in our lives - our relationship with the divine and our relationships with one another.

Christians of course celebrate the day of Resurrection on the first day of the week. But we need to learn from Judaism about the importance of the spiritual practice of Sabbath living. As Marva Dawn has written in Keeping the Sabbath Wholly (Eerdmans, 1989):

"Sabbath ceasing means to cease not only from work itself, but also from the need to accomplish and be productive, from the worry and tension that accompany our modern criterion of efficiency, from our efforts to be in control of our lives as if we were God, from our possessiveness and our enculturation, and finally, from the humdrum and meaninglessness that result when life is pursued without the Lord at the center of it all."


To Ponder

How do you live Shabbat in your life?

Bible notes author

Ray Gaston and Annie Heppenstall

Ray Gaston is inter faith tutor and enabler for The Queen's Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education and the Birmingham Methodist. Prior to that he was in parish ministry in inner city Leeds for 12 years.