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Relevant Verses: Exod. 16:16-18; 20:8-11; Deut. 5:12-15

Leading Question: How can we transform the Sabbath from a day which tells us what we can’t do, to a day that liberates us?

Comment: In some ways, the Deuteronomic version of the Sabbath command is more focused on the needs of “the least of these” than the one in Exodus. In Deuteronomy, as noted by Evangelical author, Chris Wright, “The fourth command is the only commandment to have a specific purpose (as distinct from a motivation) attached, which is ‘so that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as you do’ (Deut. 5:14). Wright goes on to say “that it was intended specifically for the benefit of the working population.” He then refers to Harold MacMillan, British Prime Minister from 1957-1963), who is reputed to have called this command “the first and greatest worker protection act in history” (Chris Wright, Themelios 19:2 [Jan. 1994], p. 3).

Question: The “official” memory text for this lesson on the Sabbath is Mark 2:27. But if we add the next verse, it offers us some tantalizing possibilities for interpretation:

Mark 2:27 Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” (NLT).

The passage emphasizes that the Sabbath is intended to benefit all humankind. But does the Aramaic phrase translated “Son of Man” (bar nasha) suggest an even more anthropocentric perspective? Bar nasha, in Aramaic simply means “human being.” Would it be too radical to translate the Gospel passage as “Therefore the human being is lord of the Sabbath”?

Sabbath as a gift insuring equality: The Manna. Exodus 16:16-18 tells us that everyone who collected manna received the same amount, regardless of how much they picked up. In other words, the gift of the manna was the great equalizer. In 2 Cor. 8:10-15, Paul, quotes from the manna story: “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little” (NRSV).

Question: Is the gift of the manna just one more way of showing Israel that the Sabbath was an equalizing gift for the whole community?

Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5: Two reasons for keeping the Sabbath. In Exodus 20, the rationale for keeping the Sabbath is clearly stated: We honor God as the Creator. In Deuteronomy 5: We honor God as Redeemer, the Deliverer of Israel from Egyptian bondage. That much is clearly stated. But does the larger setting of the Exodus narrative, allow us to link redemption to the Sabbath command in the Exodus 20 account as well? The prologue to the Decalogue places the whole in the setting of “redemption”: “I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exod. 20:2, NRSV).

Day of Rest for the Vulnerable. The Sabbath command in both Exodus 20 and Deut. 5 stresses that it is a day of rest for the most vulnerable members of society: male and female slave, livestock, and resident alien. Deuteronomy is especially pointed: “so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you” (Deut. 5:14, NRSV).

Question: How should the principle of equality in Sabbath keeping apply in our modern world?

Day for Healing. John Brunt’s insightful book, Day for Healing, focuses on the five Sabbath miracles of Jesus that seem to make the point that the Sabbath was really made for healing:

  1. The healing of the man with the withered hand (Matt. 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11).
  2. Healing of the stooped woman (Luke 13:10-17).
  3. Healing of the man with dropsy (Luke 14:1-6).
  4. Healing of the man at the pool (John 5).
  5. Healing of the man born blind (John 9).

Question: To what extent does Jesus’ healing ministry guide our Sabbath-keeping today?

Sabbath for the land: In Leviticus 25:1-7 we read of God’s plan for a Sabbath for the land:

1 The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, saying: 2 Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When you enter the land that I am giving you, the land shall observe a sabbath for the Lord. 3 Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather in their yield; 4 but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land, a sabbath for the Lord: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. 5 You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your unpruned vine: it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. 6 You may eat what the land yields during its sabbath – you, your male and female slaves, your hired and your bound laborers who live with you; 7 for your livestock also, and for the wild animals in your land all its yield shall be for food.

Question: Does the plan for a 7-year sabbatical for the land suggest that we could or should adopt a Sabbath-approach to all of life?

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