Thursday, September 24, 2009

Work and Sabbath rest

A rabbit trail off of the Leisure discussion.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
Genesis 2:1-3

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
Exodus 20:8-11

I've spent so much time thinking about issues raised the first chapter that I've only read the first page or so of the second chapter. I need to plow ahead, but in order to do that I've got to get this settled first. I'm sure Pieper is going to define what he means by "servile work" in his book, so I want to clarify where I am right now before proceeding.

Mike and I didn't grow up in a Sabbath-keeping tradition so when we decided we needed to do something to make Sunday a more special day -- to remember it and keep it holy -- one of the things we did was excuse the family from certain chores on Sunday: making beds and doing laundry, for instance. (There were "positive" things too, but in this post I'm only focussing on "negative" things we did since I'm trying to get at the nature of work.)

Then, three and a half years ago we got dairy goats. Dairy animals have to be milked, fed, and watered twice a day every day, and the barn has to be cleaned every day in cold weather, which is the only time we keep them indoors.

Also, we're trying to grow more of our food, but that's a different story -- the garden doesn't have to be plowed, planted, weeded and watered, nor the crops harvested every day, but only at certain appropriate times. The first thing you come to realize when gardening is that you don't have to set out plants or build new beds on Sunday -- those are things that properly belong to the "six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work" part of the commandment.

So what does it mean to work six days and rest one when there's so much work that has to be done every single day?

The younger children and I have spent the better part of the past year memorizing the creation week from Genesis 1:1 to 2:3, and it's been such a blessing. One thing it did was make very clear the kind of work God was doing on those six days -- the work of creation. He has entered his eternal Sabbath, as Hebrews 4 says, so he is no longer doing the work of creation, but obviously he is working every day to sustain that creation.

That, then, is the model that we use in our family. We've had to redefine work into two categories: work proper, and chores. Chores are the things that have to be done every day in order to sustain life. Work is productive in nature, and is the kind of thing that can be rested from on Sunday in order to enjoy the blessings of that rest.


  1. And now that I've got that written down I can see that it's not really as clear as I'd thought it was. There's an awful lot of routine work (pulling weeds, cutting grass, mopping floors, dusting, and all that general housework) that's not productive per se, but it's still "work" by my earlier definition, i.e. it's stuff that doesn't have to be done every day to sustain life.

    Hm. Guess I need to think about it more.

  2. That's a great distinction! There's a lot to think on here....

    Thank you!

  3. I just discovered your blog via Rick Saenz's blog. Very enjoyable!

  4. Thank you! I'm afraid I'm terribly inconsistent.


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