Partly inspired by my Hebrew studies, I’m writing 12 poems inspired by 12 Hebrew verbs.
I was feeling particularly groggy this weekend (hence this post is late), so I thought I’d look at the verb to rest. It’s an easy one, being שׁבת / shavat, andsharing the same root as the word ‘Sabbath’.
As you may well already know, the Old Testament traces the origins of the Sabbath back to the creation story. God made the heavens and the earth in six days, and on the seventh day he rested. Hence, the seventh day is holy and the generations to come were commanded to rest on the Sabbath and to keep it holy.
So there was I looking through the Old Testament to find other instances of rest being described with the same verb. Except that there aren’t any.
The verb occurs 65 times, a number of which relate to the Sabbath — whether that’s in the creation story, the commandments, or in Jeremiah’s account of how the land would enjoy all its accumulated Sabbath years whilst the people were in exile.
But most instances aren’t about the Sabbath or about rest. They’re about something ceasing or God causing to cease. For example:
- The provision of manna stops (Joshua 5:12),
- Josiah removes the pagan priests and idols (2 Kings 23:5,11)
- In various oracles, Isaiah prophesies that God will end the pride of the insolent, joyful shouts, fortified cities, and the sound of the tambourine and the harp (yes, these are quite gloomy prophecies) (Isaiah 13:11, 16:10, 17:3, 24:8)
- Ezekiel also says a number of times that God will end the nation’s wicked practices (e.g. Ezekiel 16:41, 23:27) and that he’ll end the saying that ‘days go by and every vision comes to nothing (Ezekiel 12:23).
As you might imagine, I realised that this verb is far less about rest (and refreshment) and more about ceasing some kind of activity. And if you ask me, one of the best uses of the word is in Psalm 46:7:
He brings an end to wars throughout the earth;NET
I was also reminded Hebrews 4:9, where the author says that a Sabbath rest remains for the people of God. It’s a reference to the ultimate hope that we have and for me conjures the idea of the era of peace. The time when we cease from all our strivings.
So that’s what I thought about as I wrote today’s poem.
All poems in this series are listed here.
In pictures – Extinction Rebellion
I’ll share a few notes on the pictures I chose for this poem (in April 2023).
The poem is a fast one. It’s loaded with crisp alliteration around the letter C. It’s not a restful poem, it’s a song of action and impetus, of calling on God with frustrated vigour but also the hope that he will come and make and end of death itself.
My mind was drawn to protest imagery and then to protests organised by Extinction Rebellion. The climate crisis needs no introduction and is possibly the single biggest justice issue this planet faces.
I may not support the method of every protest, but Extinction Rebellion have recently made a point of trying to be less disruptive, whilst getting their message across and appealing to as many people as possible. They’ve been protesting in London over this weekend, but they’ve also been guarding the London Marathon from disruption from protests. The Guardian covered the story here.
That being the case, it seemed the right time to compile this picture poem. (I also found I edited the words slightly as I chose the pictures for it.)
Some of the photos I’ve used are from the Extinction Rebellion September 2020 Protests for the launch of the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill. Others are from the Fridays For Future protest in September 2019 in Bonn (Germany). Others are from Belgium, Guildford (UK), Birmingham (UK), and Stockholm (Sweden). The originals are all in a collection on Unsplash here.
The God who ceases
Cup the chaos and quell it,
Command the commotion to quiet.
Cast your canopy over the squall,
Confront the conflict’s callous crawl.
Contain the clutter that clatters and clouds,
Constrain the clamour and columns of crowds.
Count the calendar you have curated,
Claim the completion of all you created.
Come crowned with comfort and consolation,
Call ceasing to its culmination.
Photo by Abhishek Koli on Unsplash
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