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Losing a Bid for Stardom for the Sake of the Sabbath

Losing a Bid for Stardom for the Sake of the Sabbath

The notion that a single performance—whether on a “reality” television show or in another competition—can transform the life of an artist is one of the reasons such events are so popular. The 63-year-old Eurovision Song Contest is one of the oldest and most renowned of these, with an estimated 188 million television viewers in 2018. This year, Israel will play host to the event.

Ironically, an Israeli singing group known as the Shalva Band, whose members deal with disabilities such as blindness, autism, and Down syndrome, won’t be in the competition despite having scored highly on the country’s Rising Star music competition program.

The Shalva Band was ready and willing to compete—until Eurovision officials said they’d have to rehearse on the Sabbath. Some band members are Orthodox Jews, who honor the Sabbath day, and the group chose to support their friends and withdraw from the competition. Instead, the Israel Broadcasting Corporation will air a segment featuring the group during an intermission in the Eurovision event.

A Remarkable Journey of Faith

In a statement reported by Religion News Service (RNS), the performers focused on their achievements and not their disappointment: “We could not be prouder of the remarkable journey that the Shalva Band has traveled; a journey that has just begun. When we look back at the past few months, we are astounded by the unbelievable impact that the Shalva Band has made, in Israel and all around the world,” they said.

The band has drawn praise in some quarters for their principled stand, a move that recalled the 1924 Olympics decision by Scottish athlete Eric Liddell, a son of missionary parents who would later go to China as a missionary himself, dying there during the Japanese occupation.

Liddell’s story, made famous in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire, involved his being unwilling to run a 100-meter Olympic race on Sunday, which he understood to be the day of rest. Instead, he competed in a more difficult race, the 400 meters, on another day and won the gold medal. While the athlete didn’t observe the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week, Liddell’s commitment to obeying God as he understood was admirable.

The fact that the Eurovision contest is taking place in Israel and will include a Sabbath-day rehearsal, along with the Shalva Band’s dilemma, has sparked discussion about the nature and practice of Sabbath—Shabbat in Hebrew—observance. While commerce in the nation of Israel largely shuts down on the Sabbath, there are growing pockets of resistance. Some stores are open, mostly in secular neighborhoods, and many Israelis see the Sabbath as a day to go to the beach, as opposed to participating in worship.

The RNS article quoted Shuki Friedman, director of the Center for Religion, Nation and State at the Israel Democracy Institute as saying this is part of a decades-old discussion: “Will Shabbat be observed in merely a symbolic way, but with a special character, where people can do what they want and have the ability to do it? Or will Shabbat be observed in a more religious manner?”

A Day to "Remember"

For all who take the Bible Sabbath seriously, however, there’s little option: We are supposed to do what God commands for the day, and not to do what He prohibits.

In Exodus 20:8–11, we read: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”

God’s blessing and sanctifying (“hallowing”) the Sabbath day draws a bright line around that spot on the weekly calendar. The day is separate from the rest of the week, and it should be treated as such by those who believe.

Whatever other individuals choose to do, whether in a predominately Sabbathkeeping nation such as Israel or in more secular Western society, the task of the Christian believer is to be faithful to their calling, which includes keeping the Sabbath day holy.

How can you do that? Check out this two-part series on the Sabbath called Seize the Day. In the first part, you'll see why it’s important to honor the day; in part two, you'll get tips for how to honor it. If you haven’t considered the role of the Sabbath in your life, or if you’re looking for a “refresher course,” you’ll find these articles vital and informative!