The fourth commandment is often unheeded by today’s Christians because of our understanding that we are free from Jewish laws. Yet I wonder if we aren’t missing something vital to our well-being by ignoring it. Why is it listed with the other “essential rules for living” if it has no purpose? I have read many books through the years that have given me an appreciation for the gift of the Sabbath day, but probably none has been more influential than Abraham Heschel’s The Sabbath.
Heschel does not set out to explain why one should keep the Sabbath as much as he seeks to write a love song to a day that he calls “the queen.” It is a poetic tribute to her glory:
Time is like a wasteland. It has grandeur but no beauty. Its strange, frightful power is always feared but rarely cheered. Then we arrive at the seventh day, and the Sabbath is endowed with a felicity which enraptures the soul, which glides into our thoughts with a healing sympathy. It is a day on which hours do not oust one another. It is a day that can soothe all sadness away. (p. 20)
The Sabbath as a day of rest, as a day of abstaining from toil, is not for the purpose of recovering one’s lost strength and becoming fit for the forthcoming labor. The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life. Man is not a beast of burden, and the Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of work…. The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of the Sabbath. It is not an interlude but the climax of living. (p. 14)
In the tempestuous ocean of time and toil there are islands of stillness where man may enter a harbor and reclaim his dignity. The island is the seventh day, the Sabbath, a day of detachment from things, instruments and practical affairs as well as of attachment to the spirit. (p. 29)
I particularly liked Heschel’s idea that keeping the Sabbath gives one a taste of eternity. If you are even slightly interested in the subject of Sabbath keeping, this seminal book is for you.
Another man who deeply loved the Sabbath was George Herbert (1593-1633). He wrote:
Thou art a day of mirth:
And where the week days trail on the ground,
thy flight is higher, as thy birth.
O let me take thee at a bound,
leaping with thee from sev'n to sev'n,
Till that we both, being tossed from earth
fly hand in hand to heaven!
The entire poem can be found here.