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Leading Question: Is the Sabbath a test or a gift?

Our leading question takes us into territory not suggested by the official study guide. But it is a crucial opportunity for us at a time when many traditional Adventists are reacting against their heritage.

In our early years Adventists were gripped by the Sabbath-Sunday conflict, an issue that was thrown into bold relief by events in the last decades of the 19th century. That issue has virtually vanished from our culture in general, but still lurks in traditional Adventist blood.

So in conjunction with our leading question, we should ask two additional questions:

Question: Where in Scripture is the idea suggested that the Sabbath is a test?

Question: Where in Scripture could one find support for the idea that the Sabbath is more a gift than a test?

Comment: The three angels’ messages in Revelation 14 have been the seed bed for the idea that the Sabbath is a test. The argument goes something like this: If capitulating to Sunday worship at the end of time, one can receive the mark of beast. The counterbalancing idea is the Sabbath as the seal of God, and this is linked with the first angel’s message where worship of the creator God, judgment, and Gospel are all rolled into one:

Revelation 14:6: Then I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation and tribe and language and people. 7 He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come; and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”

The “traditional” use of this passage in Adventism triggers a number of other questions:

Question: What happens when the cultural landscape changes so radically that the issue of “sacred time” is no longer on center stage?

Question: In what other ways can the Sabbath be relevant in our day and in our cultural context?

Comment: Here is a list of possible Sabbath applications for us today:

1. The Environment. In Genesis 2:5 and 15, our modern translations use the word “till” with reference to the cultivation of the earth. But the root of the Hebrew word is the same as “serve.” In other words, humans were created for the purpose of “serving” the earth.

That idea of “serving” then links up with the task God gave humans in Genesis 1:26-31, namely, the mandate to “have dominion over” the earth:

26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

27 So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Many devout evangelicals, however, have taken that idea in the opposite direction, far from the idea of “serving” the earth. They have claimed that God has given us the earth for our use. But Scripture teaches that the Sabbath is a call to serve the earth, dominion over the earth in the sense of “serving” the earth.

2. Worker protection. In Themelios, an evangelical journal no longer published, Chris Wright wrote an editorial with the title, “Deuteronomic depression.” In fulfilling the assignment of writing a commentary on Deuteronomy, he came to some startling conclusions. He opens with this line: “Bibles should carry a government health warning: ‘Bible study can seriously damage your peace of mind.’”

A few paragraphs later, he fills out the picture with these words: “A major dimension of Deuteronomy’s economic and social concern is related to the world of work. The fourth commandment is the only commandment to have a specific purpose (as distinct from a motivation) attached, which is ‘so that your manservant and your maidservant may rest as you do’ (5:14). It was, as Harold MacMillan is reputed to have said, the first and greatest worker protection act in history.” – Themelios 19:2 (Jan. 1994), p. 3.

3. Care for the animals. Exodus 23:12 adds care for animals to the list of Sabbath beneficiaries:

“Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, so that your ox and your donkey may have relief, and your homeborn slave and the resident alien may be refreshed.”

These three ideas alone offer modern Adventists rich opportunities for making the Sabbath relevant in our day, not just as a personal spiritual blessing, but as a substantive blessing to the earth, to oppressed people, and to weary animals.

The official study guide is a good resource for exploring the personal, spiritual blessings provided by the Sabbath. But we can broaden our horizons and breathe more deeply. There are wonderful opportunities before us. The Sabbath is truly a gift, not only for spiritual growth and development, but also for service to our world and its creatures.

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