On Commerce And Sabbath

In this post I examine the role that public commerce plays among the people of God.

Originally drafted August 24, 2020 and last tended May 16, 2023 by Matt McElwee.
(See Revision History).

  • Certainty:


  • Completeness:


  • Mental Effort:

    Have spent considerable time reading Tanner, Brueggemann, Berry, and McCarreher and have been pining over some sort of synthesis that culminates in Sabbath rest and Revelation 18.

I was thinking about economics this past week. The thoughts were a convergence of two separate projects, the one for an ethics paper on the role of economics in the life of the Christian, and the other a short explainer piece on the Sabbath as a spiritual discipline for my Church. As I reflected on a Christian ethic of economics I came to realize how intrinsic the role of Sabbath is in our view of commerce.

In Genesis 2:2-3 we see God establish his reign over the cosmos, having completed his ordering of creation. This pattern of ordering followed by inhabiting is picked up in both Exodus 40 and 1 Kings 8 as God takes up residence in both the tabernacle and the temple, respectively.1 Of course we're familiar with the narrative following that. God sets up human beings as his image bearers to be kings and queens over creation. Then rebellion happens. Humankind aligns themselves with an enemy of God and begins a project of human experimentation bent on their own definition of right and wrong. God however sets out on a rescue plan, a plan to restore humanity from the forces of evil. God develops a relationship with a small family who eventually find themselves enslaved to an oppressive empire.

Egypt becomes a prototype for the archetypal evil empire embodied by Babylon in the minds of the Apostles. As Walter Brueggemann describes it, Egypt is the embodiment of a 24/7 culture that values production over human life.2 This culture prized economic success over human flourishing. One of the great lies of empire is that affluence is akin to flourishing. The whips of Egypt's task masters ever drove the people of Israel to produce more with less supply. Later on in Scripture the empires of the world, Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, and Rome are bundled into the cognate empire of Babylon the Great. The city is described as an economic powerhouse with exports of ranging from building materials to luxury items. But at the height of Babylon the Great's exports are human lives. Like Egypt, and the many empires the postdate the writing of Revelation, empire is built on the backs of oppressed and exploited human lives.

In the case of the Exodus narrative, the oppressed and exploited people were God's people. God is consistently in the business of hearing the voice of the martyr and oppressed, and when the cries of God's people reach heaven, he acts (cf. Gen. 4, Ps. 18, Rev. 6:10).


  1. I have largely lifted this approach to Genesis 1 from John H. Walton's excellent The Lost World of Genesis One (2009).

  2. Brueggemann, W. (2014). Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now.