Book Review – Sabbath as Resistance

Sabbath as Resistance by Walter Brueggemann

Westminster John Knox Press, 2014

Since seminary days, I’ve maintained a Wish List on Amazon.com. As I have books recommended to me, I add them to this list.  I’ve accumulated a pretty substantial wish list that I don’t visit very often as my discretionary book-buying funds are limited.  But from time to time I revisit it because I need to add a purchase to something else I’m buying to qualify for free 2-day shipping with Amazon Prime.

So it is that I recently purchased Sabbath as Resistance.  Its position on my wish list tells me that it was a relatively recent add, but I can’t remember who suggested it or how I heard about it.  All I know is that I was disappointed with it.

I bought it because the sabbath fascinates me, all the more so since, as a 20th/21st century American the sabbath has lost a lot of practical importance in the culture around me and this bleeds into my own belief and practice as well.  I imagine, based on myself, that preaching and teaching about the sabbath probably ranks lowest in comparison to any of the other Ten Commandments.  I can’t help but think that this is not a good thing, certainly based on human nature and human history and Scriptural descriptions of how these impact sabbath observance.

Unfortunately, this book was not very helpful in considering the sabbath.  Brueggemann has written a tract against capitalism and a culture of acquisition.  That’s all well and good, and there certainly are aspects of the sabbath that incorporate this theme.  But this is the only theme that Brueggemann wants to deal with, and at times he has to stretch pretty far to try and accomplish it, so that the sabbath for large stretches largely gets ignored or given lip service.

The stretch also affects Brueggemann’s exegesis at times.  For example, he repeatedly blasts Solomon’s Temple as evidence of a culture of acquisition that had taken hold in Israel, so that the Temple could only be conceived of in terms of lavish grandeur and splendor.  Yet Brueggemann pointedly avoids any mention of the Tabernacle God instructed Moses and the Israelites to build for him – a Tabernacle that is highly ornate and gold-laden, and he avoids the implication that these God-given Tabernacle specifications were themselves the basis for Solomon’s Temple design.

In chapter 6 he talks about the sabbath in relationship to the Tenth Commandment against coveting, which I think is in and of itself an interesting link to make.  But he overlooks the fuller meaning of some of the passages in his effort to create a constant dichotomy of the wealthy/influential against the poor.  For instance he seems to apply Jeremiah 6:13 selectively, to a certain subset of the Israelites (the economic elite) who abuse the largely innocent lower classes.  But Jeremiah 6:13 specifically says that ALL of Israel was guilty of this sin of greed.  The rich may be better in achieving their economic goals through exploitation, but there is no economic or social class of people that is immune to the siren-song of greed and the culture of acquisition – an important note to bring out in a discussion of this sort, but one which certainly complicates overly-simplified calls for social justice.

This is a short read and very accessible.  Our culture of 24/7 production and consumption does deserve constant review in light of Scripture.  The sabbath does figure into this, but this book feels like Brueggemann’s heart was really in another arena, so that ultimately the emphasis on the sabbath gets lost in the shuffle.

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