Summary: God empowers our work by enabling our rest.
For those listening to a recording, it might help to know that our service this morning focused on the fourth commandment. Much debate about this law centers on the definition of the “work” in Exodus 20.10: “the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work.” The ancient Jewish commentary on Old Testament law, The Mishnah, forbids thirty-nine acts of labor, things like: sowing, ploughing, reaping, threshing, grinding, kneading, and baking; shearing wool, spinning thread; tying or untying a knot; sewing; hunting, slaughtering, skinning, salting; writing two letters, erasing in order to write two letters; kindling fire, and extinguishing fire.
We might suppose the Jewish “Shabbat” easy for us to obey since we do not live in an agrarian society like the one to which these interpretations are obviously intended. However, rabbis also apply these rules to our day, so that, for example, Rabbi Eli Pick, Guide to Sabbath Observance (1975, 6:114), explains that using a stapler falls under the prohibition of sewing, as it joins two objects together. Gluing and taping similarly are violations of God’s law.
“Taping” – what about the tape that holds diapers together? Rabbi Gersion Appel, The Concise Code of Jewish Law: [Hilkhot Shabat], p. 178: “Disposable diapers that are made to be secured with adhesive tape may be used on the Sabbath…. The protective covering on the tape should be removed before the Sabbath.”
You will also be interested to know that “Vaseline or other ointment may be applied… on a baby to relieve or prevent diaper rash. This should be done without rubbing or smearing it on. The Vaseline or ointment can be applied to gauze before the Sabbath and then placed on the affected part on the Sabbath. Baby oil may be applied, but not with cotton or a cloth” (368). Since a baby’s bottom is not the only thing which can dry out, Appel adds, it is also “permitted if necessary to apply oil or some other liquid lotion, but not Chapstick and the like, to dry, cracked lips or hands if the condition causes some pain.”
Our first reaction may be to snicker at such strictures. But many Christians also lament the disregarding of Sabbath day as evidenced by the demise of the “Blue Laws.”
Nor are the Jews the only ones to supplement the commands of the Bible with specific applications. Our church does not allow fried chicken to be purchased on Sundays. You may buy and refrigerate it on Saturday for transporting to church and reheating and serving on Sunday, but you may not purchase it on Sabbath. Some Christians say you must not get gasoline on Sunday, or fly in an airplane, or read the paper, or watch NFL games. Some prohibit team sports, but allow personal and non-competitive games. I have a friend who, when he has an out of town meeting on Monday morning, travels on Saturday to avoid flying on Sunday. Of course, that means he must sometimes stay in a hotel on Sunday, so he packs sack meals for the whole day so that he does eat at the restaurant.
Some believe the way through the confusion is to avoid activities which make others work on Sunday. But in our 24-7 global economy, the meal you eat at a restaurant on Monday was prepped by workers on Sunday. The groceries we buy on Tuesday were shipped by truck on Sunday. The books you order Wednesday were stocked at Amazon by workers on Sunday. And, of course, people work today so that we can debate the meaning of rest.
So difficult is a solution, that (in my experience) most pastors avoid the topic, especially since parishioners typically allotted little grace when they expect their view to be vindicated from the pulpit. As a result, the sermons that are preached usually denounce those “sinners” who skip church altogether.
As hopeless as I may imagine the chances of surviving today, our study of beginnings demands that we consider the beginning of rest. We have two texts: Genesis 1 to introduce God’s day of rest, and Hebrews 4 to apply the principle to the spiritual rest available to all through (and only through) trusting in the work of Christ.
One man challenged another to a wood chopping contest. The challenger worked very hard, stopping only for a brief lunch break. The other man had a leisurely lunch and took several breaks during the day. At the end of the day, the challenger was annoyed that the other fellow chopped more wood than he had.
“I don’t get it,” he said. “Every time I checked, you were taking a rest, yet you chopped more wood than I did.”
The winning woodsman said: “You noticed correctly that I took several breaks. But you failed to notice that whenever I sat down to rest, I sharpened my ax.”