Sabbath is for celebration, but on this wearisome day, only a few dark-eyed exiles gather. They cry for mercy.
They survived the siege of Jerusalem. For months, the sealed city died a slow death. Cut off from the outside, they had no food, no supplies, and no hope. Forced to rot in their waste, the people starved.
Then the end came. The temple desecrated. The city burned. The nation defeated. Survivors were molested, humiliated and stripped of their land.
The Babylonian gods conquered Yahweh. Now the Hebrew exiles live in a land that’s not their land and dream of a home they will not see again.
Even in the land of mourning, Sabbath comes. Above the murmur of anguished hearts, a single voice chants the liturgy:*
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without
form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was
hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there
was light. And God saw the light, that it was good” (Genesis 1:1-4, NKJV)
Before Babylon, before Judah, before the world or anything in it, there is the Supreme God who is and was and who is to come. Unlike the Babylonian idols that destroy and overpower the weak, the Supreme God is not a destroyer but a Creator.
The world and everything in it exists because the Supreme Creator, in His good will, desired it.
The world-weary exiles look up to behold the Spirit of the Creator rushing over waters of chaos and speaking light into the darkness. Surely even the dark waters of Babylon are not beyond His creative light.
The cantor continues to proclaim the miracle of creation. Each new day the Creator reveals more and more wonders. Each new day the world expands in a symphonic harmony. Finally, in a crescendo of unparalleled glory, the Creator forms His own image into the red earth, “adam.”
Light from above embraces the exiles. Through the veil of their torment, they see—and remember. They remember a precious truth lost long before their present captivity. Distracted by the false images and ideas of surrounding cultures, the Hebrew people lost their vision. They looked for the glory of God in carved images and demeaning rituals like those of the Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians.
But now they remember: God created humans in His image. All graven images are forbidden. The only image God will have of Himself on earth is the human, the “adam.” Now they remember. They were created to reveal God’s glory upon this earth. Only they have the voice to proclaim His praises.
Even in the midst of exile, they can live and rejoice and proclaim God’s glory. The darkness of Babylon cannot choke out the light of His glory in their midst.
In the Sabbath rest, the weary exiles rediscover the glory of their God and the high calling of their lives.
[* The idea for this meditation comes from Walter Brueggemann’s commentary on Genesis.]
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