Sabbath for clergy?

Today’s OT reading mentions sabbath repeatedly. 

Ezekiel 20.1-20

In the seventh year, in the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month, certain elders of Israel came to consult the Lord, and sat down before me. And the word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, speak to the elders of Israel, and say to them: Thus says the Lord God: Why are you coming? To consult me? As I live, says the Lord God, I will not be consulted by you. Will you judge them, mortal, will you judge them? Then let them know the abominations of their ancestors, and say to them: Thus says the Lord God: On the day when I chose Israel, I swore to the offspring of the house of Jacob—making myself known to them in the land of Egypt—I swore to them, saying, I am the Lord your God. On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands. And I said to them, Cast away the detestable things your eyes feast on, every one of you, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the Lord your God. But they rebelled against me and would not listen to me; not one of them cast away the detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt.

Then I thought I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt. But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made myself known to them in bringing them out of the land of Egypt. So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them my statutes and showed them my ordinances, by whose observance everyone shall live. Moreover, I gave them my sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, so that they might know that I the Lord sanctify them. But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness; they did not observe my statutes but rejected my ordinances, by whose observance everyone shall live; and my sabbaths they greatly profaned.

Then I thought I would pour out my wrath upon them in the wilderness, to make an end of them. But I acted for the sake of my name, so that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out. Moreover, I swore to them in the wilderness that I would not bring them into the land that I had given them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands, because they rejected my ordinances and did not observe my statutes, and profaned my sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols. Nevertheless, my eye spared them, and I did not destroy them or make an end of them in the wilderness.

I said to their children in the wilderness, Do not follow the statutes of your parents, nor observe their ordinances, nor defile yourselves with their idols. I the Lord am your God; follow my statutes, and be careful to observe my ordinances, and hallow my sabbaths that they may be a sign between me and you, so that you may know that I the Lord am your God


  1. Sabbath was an antidote to a life of 24/7 slavery
  2. Sabbath can be profaned 
  3. Sabbath can be hallowed 
  4. It is on a par with the statutes and ordinances 
  5. Failure to keep it breaks relationship with God. 

In the NT there ‘remains a sabbath day of rest for all God’s people’, while legalism arising from sabbath is offset by ‘my Father is always working’, parables about rescuing a donkey from a well and deliberate miracles on the Sabbath that might have been seen as work. 

But it’s hard to argue that we don’t need the weekly reset of a day without distractions to give ourselves back over to God. 

Clergy days off are notoriously hard to protect/ poorly protected. Sometimes it’s because we haven’t worked out what the BIG YES is that we are saying to God (and our own sanity/spiritual health and thus our relationships, ministry etc) when we put down the iphones, block out appointments and prioritise God for a day – not as a boss, but as a friend to hang out with. 

But reading this passage it makes me wonder if the ‘clergy day off’ with chores, child care, frenetic activity to sort out regular existence out is anything like sabbath at all. 

That day is utterly necessary of course. But perhaps the sabbath day imagined translates better into another 24 hour period in our week? An evening and a day with no appointments, no iPhone, no Face Book, no TV, maybe catching up on personal Bible reading plan, enjoying intercessory prayer, walking with God in the countryside, breathing again, some time perhaps with friends and family, but certainly some time on our own. 

I wonder what we would be saying a BIG YES to if we said enough smaller NOs to make that day happen? 


2 thoughts on “Sabbath for clergy?

  1. Great post, Richard. I’m challenged by how the sabbath resonates with the story of creation where each day involves taking time to notice the good that is around us. In this way perhaps the sabbath is like worship: it benefits from practice each day. See you at the DThM summer school.

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