Lesson 2 - Escape from Egypt

Living the Wrong Rhythm 

Tara identifies two key takeaways from the ordering of creation as outlined in Genesis 1–2. The first is that we’ve got a rhythm problem

What she means is this: we’ve been trying to live the wrong rhythm. More specifically, we’re trying to follow God’s pattern of work and rest. God works for six days, and then rests on the seventh (Genesis 2:2–3). Without reading the text carefully, we’ve assumed that we’re supposed to follow the same pattern, so we work for six days and then take one day off. 

But Tara shows us that, if we look more closely, whereas God’s week ends with rest, humanity’s week begins with rest. To put it in mathematical terms, we’re trying to work a 6–1–6 when we should be working a 1–6–1. Conceived in these terms, rest is the source of our work, not the reward for it. 

Even if that’s true, though, what’s the big deal? According to the Christian tradition, the abuse of time through overwork is actually a subtle form of idolatry. To try to live God’s rhythm is to put ourselves in God’s place. That’s why biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann has argued that the fourth commandment is vitally connected to the first:

The Sabbath of the fourth commandment is an act of trust in the subversive, exodus-causing God of the first commandment, an act of submission to the restful God of commandments one, two, and three.

Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance

Reflect:

  • Take a moment to think about your typical weekly routine. In what ways are you trying to live God’s rhythm instead of the rhythm human beings are supposed to live?  

  • Our culture doesn’t take the Sabbath very seriously, but there are actually grave consequences if we don’t. To ignore the Sabbath is to state, if only implicitly, that we are god because we think we can secure our own existence. In what specific ways is Sabbath-breaking actually an act of idolatry? 

Sacred Time

The very first thing in all of creation that God sanctifies—the very first thing that he calls “holy,” set apart for his purposes—is not an object, not a human being, but time: “So God blessed the seventh day and called it holy” (Genesis 2:3). 

This day of stopping is qualitatively different from all other kinds of time. Now, in our culture it is very difficult to conceptualize anything like sacred time. We see no distinction between one day and another: Sunday is just another day, like any other day, to cram full of activities—another day to pack with leisure, another day to shop and consume, another day to get caught up at the office, another day to fill with “holy” things like service projects or church functions, another day to run ourselves ragged. 

But to treat all time as the same is to pull God’s good creation out of joint. To truly flourish as God intended, we must recover a sense of the holiness of the Sabbath, and this requires us to think in terms of sacred time that is unlike ordinary time.

According to the famed Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Sabbath calls us into an “architecture of time” where we simply are with God and with others. To do this, we must recognize that the Sabbath is the time that comes from eternity:

He who wants to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil. He must go away from the speech of dissonant days, from the nervousness and fury of acquisitiveness . . . He must say farewell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of man. Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity placed in the soul.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath

Reflect: 

  • Think about your weeks, months, and years. Can you think of any periods of time you would consider sacred, or all your days pretty much the same? 

  • What does setting aside a Sabbath day, as sacred time separate from ordinary times during the week, stir up in you? How does it make you feel?  

  • What are some practices you can implement to build the new “architecture of time” it takes to recover a sense of the sacredness of the Sabbath?

Sabbath as Deliverance

Tara describes the Sabbath in beautiful terms: a day of rest when we can cease from our labors and our anxieties and enjoy God and each other in the fullness of sacred time. Who wouldn’t want more of that?

Well, Israel, for one, as Tara shows in Exodus 16. Interestingly, there is no mention of the Sabbath between Genesis 2 and Exodus 16, where Sabbath is connected to deliverance from slavery. Israel had been set free from the cruel economy of Pharaoh, where the only means to survive was by work, and they found that this new freedom made them suspicious of the Sabbath. As Tara puts it, “they didn’t know how to want it.” 

But as Tara shows, the Sabbath is most fundamentally about the relationship between work, worship, and freedom from slavery. All the way back in the Garden of Eden, humans are charged with a very special kind of work: to “keep” or “guard” creation [Hebrew shamar] and to “work” or “till” the garden [Hebrew eved]. But it’s critical to note that eved also means “to serve,” “to slave,” and even “to worship.”

This forms the background of God’s mighty act of deliverance in Exodus. Here’s what’s going on in Exodus 7:16, as Moses confronts Pharaoh in the name of Israel’s God: “Let my people go, that they may serve [eved] me in the wilderness.”

In other words: Let my people go from working [eved] for you so that they may worship [eved] me. It’s the same word in Hebrew, and it suggests that our work is vitally connected to whatever it is we worship. Sabbath is an invitation to stop worshiping Pharaoh and start worshiping the true God. 

Reflect:

  • The Exodus narrative suggests that Sabbath is God’s way of delivering us from slavery to false gods. What false gods are you enslaved to? In what ways are you in bondage to your work? 

  • What would it take to no longer live in bondage to your work? What would you change?

You Don't Have to Earn It

The Israelites had been in bondage for 400 years, enslaved in a never-ending cycle of overwork: eat, sleep, make bricks. Generations of slavery had conformed Israel—the people whom God first entrusted with the Sabbath—to the backbreaking economy of Pharaoh, so when they finally experienced true freedom, they didn’t know what to do with it.

And it must have seemed strange for God to command them to rest, since they had never known a master who would say something like that. Under Pharaoh, they had earned everything they had by work. So, when God told them they could simply have their food without earning it, they didn’t believe him. As Exodus 16:27 tells us, some of the Israelites tried to gather manna on the Sabbath, even though God told them there wouldn’t be any. They quite literally did not have a category for what God was asking them to do. 

We find this kind of grace disorienting too, since we’re so steeped in an “earn-it” culture. But that’s what distinguishes the true God of Israel from Pharaoh (and all false gods which, in one way or another, require us to work for our bread). We don’t have to earn it. We can stop now. 

This is grace, and it takes some getting used to, especially when we’ve been squashed into the patterns of Egypt. 

Reflect:

  • Overwork can come from a place of distrust. In Exodus 16, the Israelites try to gather manna on the Sabbath in part because they don’t trust that God will give it to them if they stop working for a day. What are the areas in your life where you feel like you can’t stop? How might this be a symptom of distrust of God?  

  • Why do you think our culture finds the concept of grace—getting something without working for it—so hard to accept? 

Have you ever felt a sense of angst and restlessness regarding your work? Have you ever wondered if you were doing what God has called you to do?
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