If you are anything like me then you find yourself working nonstop throughout the week. All the time. Go, go, go. I can be anything in this world, except one thing, unproductive. Part of this I attribute to my growing up in the United States where the ultimate goal is to achieve as much as possible, earn as much as possible, and never rest. The “American Dream,” some arbitrary goal that none of us seem to truly know but all of us seem to strive for, in and of itself is constant work. Working, striving, and constant productivity makes me tired. Weary even. However, if I should stop, I will not get to where I am going. Wherever that is…
Part of this “constantness” is evident in humanities search for the bigger, better, faster, more efficient, more profitable, and more abundant. We use these justifications to take from the land and build more. If we indeed value the “constant” then we leave no room for rest. Not a single second can be spared, no resource left untapped.
Sabbath simply defined, is rest. We see sabbath in the creation narrative of Genesis as God the Creator rests on the seventh day. God instructs the people of Israel to sabbath during the week. God instructs the people of Israel to give the land sabbath every seven years and every seven times seven years. Jesus took time for sabbath. Sabbath is life.
While there are many important implications of sabbath for the human mind and spirit, here we will focus more on sabbath for the land and humanity’s role in this kind of sabbath.
Trophime Mouiren in The Creation, says, “the creation has no meaning for man unless man takes time to give it meaning in rest and prayer: rest, in order to look at the word otherwise than simply as answering his needs; prayer, to ask God’s blessing, to offer something to God.”
Sabbath is rest, but more than that, sabbath is creating nothing, destroying nothing, and enjoying the splendor of the earth.
By creating nothing we are reminded that God is the ultimate Creator. By destroying nothing we remind ourselves that the world is not our own but God’s. By enjoying the splendor of the earth we remind ourselves that we are not responsible for its bounty but rather God is.
God tells Moses that the land must observe the sabbath to the Lord in Leviticus 25:1. The land must rest every seventh year. This means that no fields are plowed and no crops are grown. In part this is to teach the people to trust God. It is no accident that this practice has important implications for the land as well. Letting the land rest helps to restore nutrients resulting in fertile fields. Erosion can be curbed. Species persist.
The year after the seventh sabbath or the 50th year is known as the year of Jubilee. You can think of this as the “sabbath of sabbaths.” We read about this later in Leviticus 25. On this year the land was not plowed but also was returned back to its original owner. Debts were forgiven and slaves were set free. Large plots of land and money were not to stay in the hands of the rich. Slavery was not a lasting part of the history of Israel.
You might wonder how Israel would sustain itself if no one planted crops and there were no workers to tend the fields. Simple. Israel was to enjoy the splendor of the earth. They ate from the bounty of the previous year provided by God and rested.
Sabbath was made for humanity but more specifically, sabbath was made for all of creation. Humans are but a part of this creation. When we are spurred on by love and strive to live into the full image of God, we take part in the restoration of humanity to God’s image as well as the restoration of all of creation.
A dear friend and professor of mine, reflected on a parable of Jesus in the gospel of Mark. He says,
“The good of the garden happens mostly –
– without me.
It grows of its own.
I scatter, but I can not make it grow.
In the meantime, I’ll sabbath.”
We cannot make anything happen and really we cannot create much of anything without acknowledging the first Creator. Sabbath is for more than just us. Sabbath is for all of creation.
Michelson, Marty Alan. Gardening and Parables Teach Me about Sabbath, 1 Jan. 1970, sabbathandservice.blogspot.com/2011/04/gardening-and-parables-teach-me-about.html.
“Sabbath.” Redeeming Creation: the Biblical Basis for Environmental Stewardship, by Fred Van Dyke, InterVarsity Press, 1996, pp. 67–68.