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In the Center of it All Sabbath as Hidden Treasure

Do you remember the Mad Magazine “Fold-Ins?” If so, you are a senior citizen like me. If not, this satirical piece — drawn by legendary artist Al Jaffee was always on the inside back cover, featuring a single picture with a question on top and text on the bottom. There were also two arrows labeled “A” and “B,” and when you folded the cover so that these two points touched, the remaining  text underneath the picture became the answer to the question, and the picture itself transformed into a new image as the center of the drawing vanished. For example, a 1969 Fold-In asked, “What is the one thing protest marches have greatly improved?” The illustration depicted a crowd of angry, sign-carrying marchers, but when folded properly, the image turned into the underside of a well-worn sole and the answer, “SHOE SALES.”

Genesis 1 contains a fold-in, of sorts. It’s a literary device called a chiasm, sometimes called a chiasmus. The idea is pretty simple: the author presents an idea and later inverts it with similar wording.  Matthew 6:24 is such an example.  If we were English teachers, this is what we would sketch on the chalkboard:

              A. No one can serve two masters.

             B. For either he will hate the one

  C. And love the other,

           X

                C. or he will be devoted to one

                    B. And despise the other.

                       A. You cannot serve God and wealth.

You can see how the points in A, B and C and C, B and A mirror each other with the “X” being the pivot point between the two sets of similar ideas. But you don’t have to go all the way to the Gospels to find a chiasm in the Bible. Genesis 1 contains a beautiful example as God goes through his creative work. You can read verses on light, waters and dry land that are mirrored later in the chapter.

Marty Solomon at the Bema Podcast points out that many chiastic structures contain hidden treasure in the center. Genesis 1 is no exception. Once you “fold in” the parallel pronouncements of light, separation and filling of the waters, and filling of the earth and skies, you discover the Hebrew word “moad” in the middle of it all. The basic meaning of “moad” is “appointed.” In Genesis 1:14, it means an “appointed time” or “sacred season.” In His infinite wisdom, God has assigned a fixed center to the craziness of life: moad. In the Bible, moad covers spiritual observances of all kinds, from the solemn to the restful. “If you’ve ever wondered why the concept of sabbath is so important to the Jewish people,” Solomon explains, “it’s because the Bible begins with a massive poem about shabbat.” Indeed, the finale of Genesis 1 winds down to the theme of rest, as God Himself desists from His work and views it all as “very good” (Genesis 1:31).

Now, as then, it is crucial to define ourselves by who we are – not what we do. The latter is not unimportant, but it can lead to pride if we feel our accomplishments outmatch others or, if our jobs dry up and skills wane, depression because we can no longer produce. That’s why it is so important to regularly stop, give our hands and feet a break, and listen for the soothing voice of God, who loves us quite apart from what we generate in the marketplace.

As it’s often been said, we are human beings, not human doings. We have been given divine permission for reflective rest, times of refreshment with one another and our Creator. Jesus Himself declared that sabbath was created for humanity, not humanity for sabbath (Mark 2:27). God made moad for our benefit.  Abraham Heschel expresses this idea well: “The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of the Sabbath. [The Sabbath] is not an interlude but the climax of living.”

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