If you have been flipping back and forth between Exodus 20 (the Ten Commandments) and Deuteronomy 5 (Moses’ retelling of the Ten Commandments at his farewell speech), then you have noticed that the first three commandments are almost identical. However, today as we look at the commandment on the Sabbath and the application to Jewish life in our reading, there is a noticeable divergence at the end of the command. Consider:
For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. — Exodus 20:11
Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. — Deut. 6:15
Why the change? In the Exodus passage, the reason for the law was grounded in the character and example of God. In the Deuteronomy passage, the reason for the law was grounded in the provision and grace of God. So Exodus gave the model of Sabbath rest and Deuteronomy gave the motivation for Sabbath rest.
But in today’s reading we find a further reason why God would bring up Egypt when talking about the Sabbath. You see, the Jews not only recognized Sabbath days, they also recognized Sabbath years. And a Sabbath year was not just about rest for the land by not farming it.
The Sabbath year was about freedom.
Every seven years, debtors were released from their debts and servants from their slavery. And, according to the writer of Hebrews, in a very real and profound sense, the Old Testament Sabbath is just a shadow of something greater to come in the New Covenant in Christ:
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.
— Hebrews 4:9, 10
So to the one who does not work but trusts God, there is rest. There is freedom. There is a release from debts. There is an end to slavery. There is true Sabbath.
1. What is your first reaction at reading that all debts are canceled in the Sabbath year? Would that work in our society today? Why or why not?
2. Do you find it easy to detach and step back from all your work and responsibilities for a day every week?
3. Read Mark 2:23-28. How does this influence your view of the Sabbath?