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Sabbath in ancient Israel is about justice and liberation. The cessation of work on Sabbath is not meaningless ritual required to pad a divine ego. Rather, it is a lesson to humanity on how to live in community with fellow beings in ways that facilitate liberation. This becomes evident as one observes that in the Hebrew Bible, Sabbath is not only about the seventh day. It is also the seventh year, and the seven-times-seventh year. After six years of planting, the land must rest. After six years of service, the slave must be emancipated and given enough provisions to start over. Jubilee comes at the end of seven cycles of sabbatical years falling on the fiftieth year. According to Leviticus 25:10, the fiftieth year is sacred—it is a time of freedom and of celebration when everyone receives back foreclosed property, slaves return home to their families, and the land rests.
Sabbath is a lesson that beyond the hurry scurry of everyday life, above the many attempts to identify ourselves as individual persons, classes, groups and species, there is only One in which we are all bounded through grace; and the more we become conscious of this reality, the less unfree we become. Outside of this understanding of Sabbath, a seventh-day observance amounts to mere idolatry.
Reading - Commandment - Exodus - Deuteronomy - Versions
Close reading of the fourth commandment in both the Exodus 20:8–11 and Deuteronomy 5:12–15 versions indicates that Sabbath is about solidarity in community. Everyone must rest, including the livestock and the slave. The Exodus version reminds Israel that all creation comes from One. And the Deuteronomy version reminds Israel that they were slaves in Egypt—they were once outcasts on the margins of society. It is a comprehensive call for solidarity to do to others as you would have them do to you.
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