ShePonders: Sabbath

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” … God made space to stop and admire, bless and feel the very pulse of creation.”

By Kelley Nikondeha | Twitter: @knikondeha


“Keep the Sabbath day holy!” yelled the boisterous and candy-hungry third graders in answer to the pirate’s final trivia question. Apparently they were going through the Ten Commands in Sunday School. (Pretty sure pirate ships were not part of the Egyptian landscape, but my guess is they were taking some creative license with it all.)

Over lunch I asked my son what “Sabbath” meant.

“It is when we take time to rest so we can go to church and worship God,” he responded.

That is what the pirate taught him. But the good captain was wrong.

When we think “Sabbath,” the four-letter word that comes to mind should not be “rest,” but rather “stop.”  

Sabbath first debuted when God stopped. God worked for six days creating, well, everything. Then God stopped. Some translations say God rested–but God was not tired. Translations closer to the original text reveal more: God ceased working, He abstained from work.

God stopped.

Let’s change the setting from tablets of stone and pirate ships to the cultic practices of Mesopotamia. The people who populated this region obeyed a Sabbath of sorts, based on the phases of the moon. About every week they would cease from work. Why? Because the lunar activity made the day unlucky. Nobody wanted to embark on a journey or host a party or sign a treaty or do anything on such an unlucky day; it would be fated to fail. People rested not for relaxation, but to avoid calamity.

When the Hebrews wandered into the region, they recognized there was a natural rhythm which included both work and “not work,” but they understood it differently. Sabbath was rooted in God, who worked and then “not worked.” On the seventh day, “He stopped doing all that He had been doing and accomplishing” is the essence of the Hebrew here. And when God stopped, He blessed the seventh day and made it holy.

Contrary to their neighbors, the Hebrews believed this day without work was a good day.

But good for what? My son learned it is good for going to church and worshipping God. I know people who think if you do anything else on Sunday you displease God, which sounds like something more out of Mesopotamia than the Bible. Did God stop in order to teach us to stop and go to church?

As I have been mulling over this passage this past week, I’ve wondered anew what God did once He stopped. What did He do after the blessing? I think God took time to admire His handiwork. I imagine God marveled at all the creative accomplishments. So good, indeed! He could have kept working; certainly God never runs out of energy or is without fresh ideas. But God made space to stop and admire, bless and feel the very pulse of creation.

Then it dawned on me: God trusted creation to continue even when He stopped. He fashioned nature with the capacity to carry on in fruitful motion. Even God would not strive to keep the world spinning; even the One who sustains the universe and holds it all together would stop. God stepped back, marveled and blessed, but also surrendered, to the rhythm of creation itself somehow.

So, then it is no surprise that God intends us to have the same freedom from incessant striving. God invites us to trust in His sustaining work, but also in the competence of His creation to hold together when we stop working. The sun will shine, tree roots burrow down, colored petals open, breezes blow, waves crash, birds sing and gravity will hold.

We can trust God. We can trust creation.

Sabbath is an order to stop working. Period. Just stop. When we put down the blackberry, refuse to check email from home and leave the stack of reports and proposals unread in our messenger bag, we have obeyed Sabbath.

In our world of constant motion and frenetic energy, stopping says something. To cease working says that we don’t need to work 24/7 in order to guarantee our security.  Further, we can confess that we cannot self-secure. True security comes from God’s ability to sustain us. To abstain from work says we will not give our allegiance to the market, the economy, our 401K or our boss. The pharaonic forces of this world will not enslave us yet again with non-stop production demands and endless brick quotas. Our loyalty is to God who works–and then stops. Our God is no taskmaster, but a shepherd leading us with an easy yoke to green pastures.

So, let’s tell our children that Sabbath=stop! When we want to lean into Sabbath, we simply begin by stopping.

What next? Look around and admire the goodness. Remember that God when sustains, even creation does its part. Reflect on the truth that we are connected to creation (from dust … ) and to God (as image-bearer).  In that moment, we have sabbathed well.

P.S. There is more, much more, to unpack about Sabbath. There are words about worship and honor and even rest.  We can go there. But first things first–let’s stop.

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My dear SheLoves friends,

  • Does it make a difference to you whether Sabbath is about “resting” or “stopping?”
  • What keeps you from stopping?
  • Any other thoughts or comments?

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About Kelley:

Kelley Johnson Nikondeha is co-director of Amahoro Africa and international staff member of Community of Faith with her husband Claude. She’s a thinker, connector, advocate, avid reader and mother of two beautiful children. Kelley lives between Arizona and Burundi. She loves handwritten letters, homemade pesto and anything written by Walter Brueggemann. She blogs at kelleynikondeha.com

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