The rest-less economy and Sabbath resistance

“It is clear that in this system there can be no Sabbath rest,” writes Walter Bruggemann of Pharaoh’s economic system (Book of Exodus 5:5-19) in which “cheap labor is a footnote.” Into “the grind of endless production” appears the God of the burning bush who opposes the system of weariness and endless toil.

If you’re looking for a book that stands the global economic system on its head, Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann’s Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now (Westminster John Knox Press, 2014) may be for you.

If you’re looking for something deeper than the mindless slogans about “the free market” and globalization, Sabbath as Resistance will take you to a different place – deep into the economic mandate of the Fourth Commandment (Exodus 20:-8-14).

If you’ve concluded that the Old Testament, i.e, Hebrew Bible, is a barbaric killing field and that “the 10 Commandments” are the pious weapons of the Religious Right, Sabbath as Resistance will blow your mind.

If you think the Fourth Commandment is about Blue Laws, think again. Pick up a copy or download Brueggemann’s masterful treatise on the relation between labor and rest, labor and management, humankind and all of nature, a just and peaceful economy hinted at by the Sabbath Command for everything to stop. To rest.

If you think minimum wage is a latecomer issue, read this book. The exploitation of labor goes directly to the heart of God, the Nameless One (YHWH) whose exodus people set free from economic bondage are summoned to resist all new renditions of the Pharaohic economic system.

Among Biblical scholars, Walter Brueggemann is as good as they come. He reads the Bible with the newspaper in his other hand, and when he’s reading the newspaper, he reads the news through the lens of the central biblical themes that have become his eyes.

Some of us have been waiting for this book for years. We’ve thought some of Brueggemann’s thoughts along the way, but we could not articulate them or argue them so clearly as Brueggemann does in this cogent little masterpiece.

Years ago the late Stirling Professor of Church History at Yale, Jaroslav Pelikan, met a young American seminary student in a rathskeller in Prague. When the discussion turned to the contentious debates about curriculum change at the student’s seminary, Professor Pelikan frowned. Three chapters from the Epistle to the Romans is all Luther needed he said. It’s about how deeply you learn to read a text, not about the curriculum. Anything can be the curriculum if it’s well taught.

Had Professor Pelikan lived to read Sabbath as Resistance, I wonder whether he might add it as the second text for anyone serious about faith and justice, faith and life, faith and nature, faith and global warming, faith and poverty, faith and wealth, faith and violence, and faithful Sabbath resistance in the culture and economy of greed and sorrow.