When Saturday comes – is a two day weekend sinful?

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I got asked this the other day in response to my articles on Sabbath observance. The person concerned had picked up on focus on the bit about “on the seventh day you shall rest” that we miss the bit about “six days shall you labour….”  “Have we forgotten the first part of the commandment?” he asked?

Here is the command in full again.

“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. You have six days each week for your ordinary work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.”[1]

Notice that the command is not about working for six days. In fact, it isn’t specifically about rest (certainly in terms of how we understand it). Rather the command is

“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”

The rest of the text is explanation telling us how to observe the commandment.  Now from this follows two things. First I don’t think that the bit about work is an instruction, although there is clear evidence throughout Scripture that we are under obligation to work (going back to the creation mandate). Rather, those words highlight the uniqueness of the Sabbath.  They are pointing out that the day is special because we have the other six to do everything else we need to do. In stricter times for example, if I failed to do my homework before bedtime on Saturday then I was going to have to face the wrath of my teachers on Monday (unless I got up early before school and sorted it). Their argument was that I had all of the rest of the week to get my school work done.  Sunday was not for that. Now as it happens I probably wouldn’t go with that approach today  because to be honest a day when you know your homework is still left undone is certainly not restful or particularly focused on the Lord. However, you get the point.

Another factor to consider is my emphasis on sabbath rest not being merely or particularly focused on a day off for sleep and recreation. The rest here is a break from the normal (secular if you like) week for the sacred. It is about setting aside a day to enjoy God’s goodness and the fruit of our labours together.

That being so, the usual British Saturday is not sabbath rest. We use it for housework, DIY, shopping, yes recreation (since when was watching Bradford City restful) and taking the kids to see castles after band practice. These are all aspects of our weekly household responsibilities. Remember that Israelite life would not have been divided between work and office.

So, I do not think that having Saturday off as well as a Sunday sabbath is breaking a command to work.

[1] Exodus 20:8-11.

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