Book Review: The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel

The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:1-3 ESV)

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11 ESV)

In his book, The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel emphasizes the importance of a word that describes the Sabbath day in both these passages: the Sabbath day is a holy day. I read this book upon a recommendation from Eugene Peterson, in his memoir The Pastor (a book I have not yet reviewed, but I hope to write one soon). The Sabbath is a short but incredibly insightful look, from a Jewish perspective, into the day on which God rested from his work.

I have been discovering that time and rest mean something entirely different for me as a pastor than any other occupation I have had. I am not paid by the hour. Nor am I paid to accomplish a certain amount of work each day or week. Prior to becoming a pastor, rest meant a break from school work, design work, sales work, physical work, and so on. A day of rest was truly a break from my daily responsibilities. However, how does one rest from relationship? For, relationship is my primary occupation. Relationship with God and with people.

Heschel has provided me with a grasp of the meaning of sabbath that is helpful in my role as a pastor. In one of the most powerful statements, he describes the sabbath as a sampling of eternal life. It is time made holy, set apart unto God. Observing the sabbath is about the recognition that we are citizens of a holy kingdom, a realm that is superior to the physical world. By observing the sabbath, we declare that we are eternally and ultimately dependant on God, not our things or our work.

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