Series: Sabbath - what it means for us today
Scripture: Deuteronomy 5:12-15 (also Exodus 3:16-20)
Sermon: Sabbath - remembrance of freedom
This version of the Commandments -- in fact, most of the Book of Deuteronomy (at least, chapters 5-28) was written in the mid-seventh century B.C.E. as part of a program of nationalist reform.
At this time the kingdom of Israel (established as a united kingdom by David around 1000 B.C.E.) is no longer what it used to be. It isn't a single kingdom any more, having divided some time before into Israel (the northern kingdom) and Judah (the southern kingdom). In 722 B.C.E. the northern kingdom was destroyed by Assyria, and by the time of Judah's King Josiah (641-610 B.C.E.) the southern kingdom is under threat as well.
In response, Josiah and Judah's leaders support a movement to reform the kingdom and restore its strength as a kingdom of God. The old traditions and laws are dusted off and adapted to the present situation, beginning with the Ten Commandments. In one way this is a return to "the old-time religion" to try to re-create "the old-time prosperity." But it is also an attempt to up-date the traditions, and to chart a way ahead that is appropriate for the needs of the day.
What kind of religious reform are people attempting today, to meet our current needs?
The wording of the Commandment in Deuteronomy 5 is interesting for the way it differs from the wording in Exodus 20 (the version of the Ten Commandments we are more familiar with). In Exodus 20, the Sabbath is related to God's rest on the seventh day in the creation of Earth in Genesis 1. In Deuteronomy 5, the Sabbath is related to God's liberation of the people from slavery -- a reference to how in the exodus-story (Ex 3:16-20) the people are set free from slavery to Egypt so they can worship God beyond Egypt's control and learn to live in the world as God's people.
It's easy to see why Josiah and Judah emphasize the liberating effect of Sabbath; they want to remain free of Assyrian domination and control of their lives. They want to be free to live as God's people in the world.
What might we need to be freed from today? How does a practice of Sabbath-rest help free us for the kind of life we are called by God to live?
In the Deuteronomy 5 version of the Commandment, more than in the Exodus 20 version, it's also emphasized that a reason we keep Sabbath-rest is so that others (our family, servants, animals, strangers, and Earth itself) can rest as well. Is this relevant to the state of the world today? Is the world today enslaved to something not completely good, and not free to be what God intends it to be?
I'll be ruminating about these things this week; I hope you will be, too. And Sunday afternoon, I'll post the preached sermon that comes of it.