Jon Stephens's Reviews > The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man

The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel
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Aug 01, 11


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Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) was a scholar, author, activist, and Jewish theologian. While browsing on amazon.com for books on the sabbath I came across this one. Let me say from the start that although Heschel comes from a fairly different point of view when it comes to God and the Bible, and uses extra-biblical sources to build his theology on sabbath, I took a great deal from this book.

From the start Heschel pushes his readers to take their eyes off of ‘space’ (things, possessions, the created), and focus on time and the Creator. He says we’ve become (written 60 years ago) so focused on what we do and what we ‘have’ (things) that we take no time to stop and we miss what God has commanded and what our world needs to survive – rich, meaningful, restoring, intentional time in the presence of our Creator.

Here are a few quotes from the book that really grabbed me:

“We are all infatuated with the splendor of space, with the grandeur of things of space. Thing is a category that lies heavy on our minds, tyrannizing all our thoughts…In our daily lives we attend primarily to what the senses are spelling out for us: to what the eyes perceive, to what the fingers touch. Reality to us is thinghood…The result of our thinginess is our blindness to all reality that fails to identify itself as a thing.”

“Is the joy of possession an antidote to the terror of time which grows to be a dread of inevitable death? Things, when magnified, are forgeries of happiness, they are a threat to our very lives; we are more harassed than supported by the Frankensteins of spatial things.”

“The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments.”

“Spiritual life begins to decay when we fail to sense the grandeur of what is eternal in time.”

“He who wants to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil…He must say farewell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of man…on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone else.”

Genesis 2:2-3 (NASB) says: “By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified (set apart, consecrated, dedicated) it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”

Exodus 20:8-10 (NASB) says: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy (set apart, consecrated, dedicated). Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God…”

As I was thinking through how we “do church”, whether it be in Canada, the US, or even Zambia, I wonder if we are experiencing the fullness of sabbath? Are we following God’s lead, not just tradition or law or Christian culture when it comes to sabbath? I really do think we can experience true sabbath as a community of believers in a ‘church setting’, but I think we have to be far more intentional about it.

Heschel stresses that Sabbath is for much more than just relaxing or shutting off your brain. Sabbath is for the restoration of both body and spirit, but it’s not just a mini-vacation, it’s more of an ‘encounter’. What does God want to do in us on the sabbath? Are we missing out on the ‘more’ of sabbath? Am I stopping and experiencing God in a ‘fuller’ way on the sabbath than I do in the craziness of life the other six days of the week?

Overall I am glad I read ‘The Sabbath’. There were parts of the book based on legend and traditional Jewish stories that I wouldn’t use to form my theology of the sabbath, but there is some great thinking in this book. The book reminded me of how little I focus on and really understand one of the Ten Commandments.
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