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Thursday, April 24, 2014

"Christ in the Sabbath" (Rich Robinson)

TITLE: Christ in the Sabbath
AUTHOR: Rich Robinson
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014, (272 pages).

What is the Sabbath? What are the differences between shavat, shabbat, and "shabbat shabbaton?" What is the Old Testament understanding of Sabbath and what is the purpose of the Sabbath? Rich Robinson looks at all of these in a survey of Sabbath according to the Bible. For senior researcher and Scholar-in-Residence for Jews for Jesus, Dr Robinson, the essence of the Sabbath is about the "condition characterizing life in Eden." It is a gift. It comes with a purpose. It is a place where one enjoys life with God. For Israel in the Old Testament, Sabbath keeping is more about cultivating trust in a God who provides, imitating God, and to share God's goodness with neighbours. Robinson highlights the many messages of the Sabbath through the Old Testament, the New Testament, as well as the inter-testament times. He studies the complex situation of war, and how Jews grapple with rest and needing to keep security for the people. Even then, different groups observe the Sabbath rather differently. For some, self-defense is permitted on the Sabbath. For others, the conviction to stop work and war even on the Sabbath had lead to massacres of their people by enemies. With so much confusion with the different Jewish groups, in comes Jesus in the New Testament, who teaches and preaches the Word of God in wisdom and with authority. Without being tied by the Jewish rules for the Sabbath, Jesus shines a new perspective on the meaning of the Sabbath.  Sabbath for Jesus is about restoration of God's reign on earth. It is about glimpsing the Divine. It is about replacing the erroneous human interpretations with God's interpretation. It is about preservation of life that God intended, that the Sabbath frees us, not enslaves us. While the gospels highlight the Sabbath as surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus, Acts and the letters focus on the proclamation of the gospel. The book of Hebrews show the future glory where Jews and Gentiles come together in worship on the Sabbath. Chapter 7 is a brief history of biblical rest which describes Sabbath as a eye to a future glory.

The last few chapters touch on the meaning of Sabbath for the Jews, and compares the Sabbath with Sundays. Robinson describes the relevance of the Sabbath for Christians today to give some guidance on what we are to do with the Sabbath. He touches on some theological debates surrounding the many interpretations of the Sabbath by theologians through the centuries. Robinson points out three broad views before asserting his own five principles, that claim the New Covenant superceding Mosaic laws.

  1. Sabbath keeping is not just ceremonial
  2. Sabbath keeping includes a moral component
  3. While many laws are time-bound or culture-specific, the Sabbath is also people-specific
  4. Many of the moral laws already precede the Mosaic laws
  5. Like several other Mosaic laws, Sabbath is no longer binding on the Christian.

Robinson thus believes that the Saturday Sabbath is no longer binding. Sundays are not replacement days for Sabbath but a day in which people can meet and worship together. It is not a mandated law for Christians to have Sunday worship. He believes that the principles of the Sabbath is more relevant for now. He urges us to have regular Sabbath keeping according to the rhythms that God had intended for us. It is meant to cultivate meaningful relationships in our busy world. It is an opportunity to do all the good we can once a week in reaction to the six days a week we work for our own needs. Finally, Robinson concludes that the Sabbath is a way to look back with thanks and to look forward with hope.

Sabbath keeping is a much cherished and observed tradition in Jewish culture. As a general survey, this book covers many ground. It gives us a good overview of the history of the Sabbath among various groups. What it lacks for in depth, it makes up for it in breadth of coverage. I especially appreciate the clear manner in which the different viewpoints of the Sabbath were laid out. Unfortunately, I feel that more need to be said, especially on the interpretation of the New Covenant over the keeping of the Mosaic laws. This alone can mean many more volumes need to be published. I recognize that this book is meant more for the layperson for which it will suffice for the most part. For others who want to know more, Abraham Heschel's book on the Sabbath remains a primary reference point. For those interested to know more about the different views, try reading John Donato's "Perspectives on the Sabbath: Four Views." A more recent book by Walter Brueggemann deserves a look too. You can read my review here.

Overall, this book is a reasonable read but if you are not a New Covenant believer, you may find it the history more acceptable than the theological orientation Robinson points to.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Moody Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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