Hebrews chapter 4 is a commentary on Psalm 95. It is also key to understanding the meaning of sabbath. Psalm 95 is a reminder of Moses’ generation who, by their lack of faith, were condemned to wander in the wilderness for 40 years without enter the Promised Land.
Did Moses’ generation “observed” sabbath? Yes, kind of – they were eating manna, which mandated that they follow a strict sabbatical schedule.
Did they have “Rest”? They definitely did not! They could not enter the Promised Land as explained in Hebrews 4. So there is still an outstanding “Today” – a genuine eternal Sabbath. (See my previous post on the seventh day of creation.)
Space-time duality is not a sci-fi concept from Star Trek. Sabbath day (time) is in duality with Promised Land (space). Both are God’s gift to us, both require us to demonstrate our faith in God for us to enter.
Those of us who work seven days a week because we are “too busy”. Are we demonstrating faith in God’s provision or is our faith placed on our bank account?
For those of us who are observing sabbath. Is our sabbath a legalistic mandate which we “observed” like Moses’ generation of Israelite or like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time? Or are we genuinely enjoying sabbath by dwelling by faith in God’s Promised Land of salvation in Jesus Christ our savior?
The Sabbath commandment is the fourth of the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments was recorded twice in the Old Testament. Once in Exodus chapter 20; and a second time Deuteronomy chapter 5. Let us compare the two rendering of the Sabbath commandments:
Exodus 20:8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
Deuteronomy 5:12 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.
The observance part of the two renderings are largely the same. But the motivation behind keeping the sabbath is quite different. In Exodus, we are reminded of creation; In Deuteronomy, we are reminded of redemption.
Why such difference? The main difference was in the audience. In Exodus, the audience were former slaves whom Moses had recently led out of Egypt. Sabbath was a completely foreign concept to them – which Egyptian slave owner would give his slave a day off every seven days? Deuteronomy on the other hand happened 40 years later, where the audience were the decedents of the Israelite of the Exodus. These generation grew up eating manna from heaven, which God has divinely scheduled its delivery according to a sabbath friendly schedule (Exodus 16). For them, sabbath was a familiar reality. What they need to be reminded of was to continue to keep sabbath after they enter the prosperity of the Promised Land.
Doesn’t these two renderings of the Sabbath Commandment fit our Christian calling? We are first of all called to be living images of God and then we are to be benefactors of our neighbors. True holiness is not just personal holiness but a holiness that outflows to benefit those around us – especially those who are less fortunate.
My daughter is down with a sore throat. Went to see the doctor. Not strap throat. Will catch up on this blog either later this afternoon or maybe tomorrow.
What day is today? According to the Gregorian calendar today is Friday, the 21st of September, 2012 C.E. But I am asking a theological question, not a slot in your appointment book.
Another question that I like to ask my Sunday school students is, “What did God do on the eighth day of creation?”
Let us look at the seventh day of creation:
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
Something missing? There is not “and there was evening, and there was morning.” on the seventh day. The seventh day never ended. The Sabbath day is an eternal day. The eighth day of creation never existed.
God’s work is complete. And complete means complete = no more work to be done. God did not wake up on the eighth day and say, “let me do something else…”
On the Cross, Jesus completed the work of salvation. “It is finished” he declared. If we read the book of Hebrews, especially chapters 3 and 4, we understand that those of us who accept by faith this salvation enters the Sabbath rest. There is no more work for us to do.
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion.”
(Hebrews 3:15/Psalm 95:7)
So what day is “Today” for you personally?
Next time you eat out with your friends can you do some science for curiosity’s sake? Watch your friends eat and count the number of time they chew before they swallow their food. A study done by Harbin Medical University in China says that over-weight people chew less than their skinny friends. This was pointed out to me by one of my friends – I practically inhale food without chewing. (http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/01/us-chewing-weightloss-idUSTRE76S6OU20110801)
Now that I have ruined your eating habit and possibly your social life, let’s get back to studying Genesis. God created the universe, and after he is done he did not say “what am I going to do next?” He stopped and enjoyed his work. He took the first Sabbath.
Contrary to God, we are always in haste because we always want more. We don’t slow down enough to chew our food and savoy the its taste before we take our next bite. When we are done with one project, we start another. We are afraid that if we slow down, we will lose out.
I have a uncle who was a multimillionaire real estate developer. He had enough money to feed himself and his family for many generations. What did he do after he discovered he had cancer? He went back to work. What was he doing on his death bed? Telling his sons which piece of real estate to buy to make more profit.
According to the richest man in the history, King Solomon, what is the gift of God to mankind? “Each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.” (Ecclesiastes 3:13) As image bearers of God, we work hard and we create for six days, and we should also find satisfaction in our toil, just like God did on the seventh day.
Chew your food. Savoy its taste. Find satisfaction.An insatiable appetite is a sign of a Godless life.
11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. – Ecclesiastes 3:11
Another formula that any reader of Genesis 1 will not miss is the distinct “And there was evening, and there was morning…” pattern. Many theologians use this to argue that creation happened in six 24 hour periods. I am not going into that debate. Instead I ask this question, “What did this night-day pattern mean to the Israelite of Moses’ time?”
Israelite had been enslaved in Egypt for 400 years. For 400 years they must have cried out many times “God save us NOW!” – with special emphasis on the “now” part. And God had heard their cry (Exodus 3:7). But God not only had his plan, but he also had his timing. His timing was already announced to Abraham in Genesis 15:13-16. God waited as an act of mercy to the Amorites.
Even in the creation of the heavens and the earth, arguably God’s biggest project, God was not rushed. There were evenings at every day of creation, when God apparently was not active.God makes everything beautiful in His time.
God is eternal, he has complete control over time. When we read the Bible, how can we discern whether a biblical event is an act of God? We discern by looking at prophecies. Only God can have control over time and history to fulfill His prophecies.
What is idolatry? Idolatry is letting something else take the place of God. Expedience is our Idol. God’s timing flies in the face of our “instant-everything” world. Our motto in business is ASAP. The deadline for your project is always “yesterday”. My second grade daughter is learning fourth grade math.
Sooner or later our children will become mature responsible adults. Sooner or later the harvest will be ready. Sooner or later your project will be done. Beautiful things are worth waiting for. God is worth waiting for. There will be morning – He promised.
One of the tragedies of theology is when we read the creation story, we are drawn into the creation vs. evolution debate. The creation story was written thousands of years before the theory of evolution. It would be extremely unlikely that Moses’ intention in writing this story is to debate against Darwin. It is tragic that modern Christians often completely missed the wonderful teachings contained in this story in order to engage in a debate that never existed.
Traditionally the phrase “each according to its kind” in Genesis is interpreted as “each species is different from other species” – often as a polemic statement against Darwinistic evolution theory. But there is a grammatically simpler understanding of this phrase – each animal/plant are created according to its “God-assigned” kind.
The corollary of this simple understanding is powerful. “Each according to its kind” means that there are – by God’s design – many kinds of creatures living among each other. Every creature in creation have a God given purpose in its ecosystem. God has provided means for it to survive, and its survival is intricately and complexly linked to the well being of others. A single species cannot form a sustainable ecosystem. A healthy ecosystem is a diverse ecosystem.
“Each according to its kind” also means that God controls the population of each kind. If there are too many wolves, there would not be any sheep left. If there are too few wolves, the sheep population will boom and the grass will be eaten up and the grassland will turn into a desert. A healthy ecosystem is a balanced ecosystem.
The common misconception is that the most successful technology start-ups are formed by putting a bunch of young, smart, energetic, ivy-league educated people together. The reality is that such companies usually fail. Successful companies know how to incorporate the seasoned business veterans, the cautious “slow-movers”, the “soft-and-gentle” peacemakers, etc. The young and energetic can get a company started but to successfully run and grow a company need a diverse and balanced workforce.
Similarly, next time you walk into a church, look around. If the church is filled with young, well-educated, white-collar, professionals – and is missing the poor, the elderly, the minorities – stop and ask: “Is this what God wants?”
Those of us who came from China know Asian carp (鯉魚) as a delicacy. They were introduced to the US in the 1970s as mosquito control. But some escaped and became an invasive species. The Asian carp has now invaded the Mississippi river and many of the lakes. A number of native fresh water species are driven toward extinction.
(Here is an animal channel video: http://animal.discovery.com/tv-shows/weird-true-and-freaky/videos/asian-carp-invasion.htm)
Read through Genesis 1 and the phrase “each according to its kind” appears many times. The most distinct act of God’s creation is the drawing of boundaries. God drew the boundaries between day and night, between the sky and the sea, between the sea and dry land, and among species of plants and animals.
Israel needed to be separated. She needed to separate herself from Egypt, and from the Canaanite tribes. Otherwise this nation will never be free and be able to fulfill God’s plan.
In our workplace, we also need to set and respect boundaries. We have seen how the violation of boundaries has ruined our financial systems in 2008. When different areas of financial services (credit, insurance, banking, investment banking, bond rating) ceased to be “each according to its kind”, the result was a confusing monstrous system which boomed fast and collapsed even faster.
On a personal level, the most violated boundary is the boundary between our work life and our personal/family life. We all began to take our work home. No job is 9 to 5 anymore. We carry our blackberries/iPhone/Androids everywhere, bedroom included.
Respect of boundaries is an integral part of creativity – turn off your smart phone.
The key to understanding Genesis 1 is to put it in its context – Genesis 1 is the rally cry for Israelite leaving Egypt to enter the Promised Land.
When we read through Genesis 1, it is easy to pick out that when God created the heavens and the earth, he did it with ABUNDANCE.
- “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.”
- “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”
- “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds”
- “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
God’s creation is ALIVE. Healthy living beings are naturally productive. The land will produce, the sea will produce, plants will produce, animals will produce, human will produce.
There are two ways to make our workplace productive: organically or artificially.
We can make our workplace productive by enslaving people – “work hard or you will lose your job”; or we can enslave people by enticing them with high pay. To be artificially productive, we drive people by money (or lack thereof).
To be organically productive, we rely on God’s gifts. We let our workers grow. We let our workers share in our vision. We are motivated by believing that our products and services will make the world a better place. To be organically productive is to drive people by love – God’s love for us and our love for our neighbors.
The Promise Land is “flowing with milk and honey”, not an enslaving sweat shop.
After a long layoff in summer. Back blogging.