The Ten Commandments

The 4th Commandment

“Remember to set apart the day of rest. For six days you can toil and do all your work, but let the seventh be a rest day in respect of Yahweh your God. You must not do any work, neither your son or daughter, your manservant or maidservant, your livestock, nor a guest in your house. For Yahweh, in six days, made the sky and the earth, the sea and everything in them, and rested on the seventh day. For that reason, Yahweh blessed the seventh day and made it special.’

We should be grateful to the early Israelites. Although other peoples in the Ancient East had ‘special days’, the idea of one ‘holy day’ every week was their ‘invention’. The word “holy”, simply means ‘set apart’ to be different from other days. The key difference, nowadays, is enjoying rest and relaxation, rather than work and stress.

Now you and I might think it should be left to our common sense to decide how to use that day, but organised religions, with their hierarchical structures and clerical/laity divisions tend to think differently. Clerics need jobs to do, like formulating and overseeing rules and regulations, and hierarchies sustain themselves by exercising power and control. The danger is that we end up with detailed lists of do’s and don’ts, checkbox ticking, and spying on and reporting rule-breakers. Religion then becomes less about inward experience and more about outward observance – a bad idea! As it happens, the ancient Israelite prophets repeatedly said that in the absence of inward experience, lots of outward observance didn’t particularly impress Yahweh, the Jewish God.

You might not have noticed, but the commandment includes sons and daughters, but not wives or women. You might be an apologist, and suggest that women are automatically included in the masculine ‘you’, or a feminist and say they’re clearly part of the household bric a brac, discounted and taken for granted as usual. I’ll leave you to decide. It’s also worth noting that the word ‘servant’, equally means ‘slave’. Although there’s instruction in the Bible about how to treat slaves decently, there’s no explicit repudiation of slavery as such. Perhaps those who are toppling statues of slave traders should burn Bibles as well – just a thought.

Let’s conclude, however, by agreeing that taking regular time off, for rest and relaxation is both salutary and necessary. After all, if the ‘all powerful’ creator of the universe needed to sit down, put his feet up, and have a coffee or a G&T, then there’s no problem about us doing the same. We needn’t have a guilt trip and beat ourselves up about it. On the contrary, we should all have time to ourselves every day, as well as every week.

And finally, a reminiscence. A past generation in my family, did get the Sunday papers delivered through their letter box (tut, tut!), but made up for this by not reading them until the clock struck midnight! So that’s all right then. For every ‘thou shalt not’, there’s a workaround (although ‘work’ is perhaps not the appropriate word to use in this context)

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