Needing a Sabbath

“The Lord will get his Sabbath, one way or another.”

That’s an older proverb I unexpectedly heard someone quote the other day.  I say older when I mean archaic.  Because you’d have to know what a Sabbath is first.  Then you’d have to know both who The Lord is and that he commanded one.  And it would probably help to understand that this Lord had a bunch of fights in his own day about the Sabbath.  All things which are no longer common knowledge. But it struck me that ears might be deaf to exactly the wisdom they need to hear.

The first thing I always ask when I hear a proverb is “Is it True?” In this world that is on something of a sliding scale and it often depends upon the context. There are rock solid proverbs – “A fool and his money are soon parted.”  There are marginal ones – “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” As long as you are content with marginal returns, accepting what the universe gives you, this is great advice (and holding an MBA and CFA exactly what I’d tell 98% of people), but it is terrible advice to anyone who is after excellence. Financially, you wanted all your eggs on Amazon at almost any time in the past 25 years. If you want to make the Big Leagues, that better be what you are doing all the time. In asking “Is it True?” one of the big helps I find is asking, “Is it biblical?” “Cleanliness is next to godliness” is not, neither is “God helps those who help themselves.” What about this one?

It is not directly a biblical Proverb. You won’t find it attributed to Solomon. Neither does Peter, James or Paul mouth it.  But there is a deep way in which “The Lord will get his Sabbath, one way or another” is biblical.  When the Israelites took the land of Canaan, God gave them larger Sabbath commands. Every 7 years they were to allow the land to lie fallow. Every 50 years, the completion of seven sevens, was the Jubilee year. All slaves were manumitted, all debts forgiven, any land sold reverted to the family who owned it originally. The Jubilee turned everything Israel thought they owned into a stewardship arrangement. You never actually bought a field, you stewarded it for at most 49 years. Of course there is no actual record of a Jubilee ever actually happening. The Sabbath of Sabbaths was not taken.  And no farmer let his field go fallow every seven years, are you crazy!?! What is God going to do, send manna? 2 Chronicles 36:20-21 tells us the 70 years of exile were 1 year for each missed Sabbath.  The Lord would get his Sabbath, one way or another.

The second thing I ask when I hear a proverb is “how is it used?” When would someone quote this proverb. The most logical time to quote this is to the work-a-holic. The point being that you should take a rest.  The implied threat being that if you don’t willingly take a rest, your body will probably fail in some way forcing a rest. But there is a second time it might be quoted.  When someone has put all their eggs in the basket of the world, you might quote this to them.  The intention being something like “don’t forget the sacred or the spiritual.” It would be akin to “man does not live by bread alone.” And that is where I wonder if we have become deaf.

Luther’s explanation of the Sabbath commandment is nothing about a seventh day, but about the deeper recognition of the Sabbath.  As the Lord of the Sabbath said, “it was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” And that deeper recognition is that we should not despise preaching and the Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. Keeping the Sabbath day is about maintaining a proper reverence for the Word of God.  It is by the Word we were created.  It is by the Word that we have been saved. And it is by that same Word that we live in the promise of the resurrection. That day is coming when “every knee shall bow and every tongue confess (Isa 45:23).” The Lord will have his Sabbath, one way or another.  The question is: Is your Sabbath one of grace or compulsion and exile? Today we are invited to a Sabbath of grace made for us, but the Lord will have his Sabbath.

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