No Shopping on Sundays

Amy Julia Becker describes how the Sabbath rest helps her care for others.

We went to the grocery store after church because we were out of milk. And bacon. And bananas. And a whole long list of other items. While we were at it, I remembered all the things I had been meaning to buy at Target. So my husband Peter put Penny, our four-year old, in one cart, and I put William, our one-year old, in another. We divided and conquered and came home an hour later, trunk full.

It felt great to get it all done—until I remembered that whole “resting on Sunday” thing. I started to feel bad, not only because we had accomplished so much on the Sabbath, but also because I had implicitly asked a host of other people—all the employees at both stores—to work on my behalf. I’ve always known that the Sabbath should include rest, but only recently have I learned that expecting other people to work for me is a violation of the Sabbath commands.

Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The Sabbath is meant to be a gift from God, not a burden or a list of things we aren’t allowed to do one day a week. The idea first comes up in the Bible when God gives Moses the Ten Commandments, which are listed in two different places, Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. For the most part, those lists are identical. In fact, each command is exactly the same—except for command number four, the one about keeping the Sabbath.


In Exodus 20, God commands rest in recognition of the work of creation: “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). Observing the Sabbath, here, is an act of worship. It is an invitation to remember God as Creator.

But in Deuteronomy 5, the commandment emphasizes that on the Sabbath day no one is to do any work—not the Israelites, of course, but also not their animals, not the people who work for them, and not even the foreigners who live nearby. The reason given for this community-wide rest is that they—the workers, the foreigners, the “other people”—should be able to rest “as you do.” Here, the Sabbath is an invitation to the outsiders and the servants to participate in the blessings of life with God.

This version of the command concludes, "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. 5:15). Here again, as in the Exodus account, the Sabbath is an act of remembrance, but it is an act of remembrance that extends outwards. It is an invitation to care for other people.

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