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Yes … There’s a Business Case for the Sabbath!

Yes … There’s a Business Case for the Sabbath!

It’s one thing to hear of workers asking for more time off. Such requests often figure into job negotiations, either by individual candidates or in collective bargaining talks. And sometimes, a tight job market will convince employers to offer extra days off.

But it’s rare to see a business magazine come out in favor of a weekly Sabbath. Especially in a 24/7 economy such as the one we know today, populated by “gig” workers who often can only dream of the benefits their parents and grandparents considered standard.

Yet that’s the position Fast Company magazine’s website took on September 14, when, under the category “World Changing Ideas,” it published this article: “Let’s bring back the Sabbath as a radical act against the always-on economy,” written by William R. Black, a visiting instructor at Western Kentucky University and a historian of American religion and culture.

According to Black, “In place of an economy built upon the profit motive—the ever-present need for more, in fact the need for there to never be enough—the Sabbath puts forward an economy built upon the belief that there is enough.”

His argument is built on an interesting theory: that the Sabbath arose “a manifesto against the regime that [the Israelites] had recently escaped.” Instead of a pharaoh who was never satisfied with the work of his Hebrew slaves (see Exodus 5:1–23), we find in the Sabbath commandment a God who insists on rest, Black explains.

He writes, “The Sabbath, as described in Exodus and other passages in the Torah, had a democratizing effect. Yahweh’s example—not forcing others to labor while Yahweh rested—was one anybody in power was to imitate. It was not enough for you to rest; your children, slaves, livestock, and even the ‘aliens’ in your towns were to rest as well. The Sabbath wasn’t just a time for personal reflection and rejuvenation. It wasn’t self-care. It was for everyone.”

Black also observes, “The Sabbath was desacralized into the weekend, and this desacralization paved the way for the disappearance of the weekend altogether.” Anyone who’s seen the effect of so-called “gig” jobs knows what that’s like: If someone wants to earn money, or needs to, they may have to be on call at almost any hour. Or as Black puts it, “We are expected to compete with each other for our own labor, so that we each become our own taskmaster, our own pharaoh.”

The “gig economy,” of course, isn’t the first attempt in history to obliterate the Sabbath. In fact, the history of the last 200 years or so reports two significant attempts.

The so-called “French Republican Calendar,” implemented in France from 1793 to 1805, was part of an effort to “decimalize” the nation and remove religious influences. Workers complained that the new “10-day weeks,” or décades in French, obliterated the opportunity for a weekly day of worship.

Productivity suffered, and three years before this new calendar was entirely abandoned, the décades were dropped. People recognized the value of a seven-day work week and a weekly day of rest. (Even if the French people were, by and large, unaware of the seventh-day Sabbath, they knew that a ten-day workweek was just too much.)

Following the 1917 October Revolution that brought communism to power in Russia, various calendar reforms were implemented. In 1929, the nation began a system of “continuous production weeks,” which meant that Sundays and other religious holy days became regular work days. Varying lengths of work and rest were tried, with the longest being 30 days of work followed by seven days of rest.

By 1931, Soviet leader Josef Stalin condemned the idea of the “continuous production week,” saying workers should toil for six days and rest on the following day. Even the revolutionaries of the era realized that there was a seven-day cycle for good reason, although they vehemently denied the God who created it.

Indeed, historian Black, in his argument for bringing back the Sabbath seems to sidestep the actual origin of the day of rest, which is found in Genesis 2: “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”

The Sabbath, your Bible reveals, originated not as a rebellion against Egyptian overlords, but rather as a provision by a loving God for His creation. And it’s a day to show our respect and reverence for our Creator God. You can learn more about this from our article “Sabbath Observance Honors the Creator."