Okay, definition first:
Loophole – “an ambiguity, omission, etc, as in a law, by which one can avoid a penalty or responsibility”1
Probably, most of us don’t think about loopholes very often. If we think of them
at all, it’s in the context of rich people trying to get out of paying taxes or a criminal avoiding jail time.
I’d like to suggest, though, that when it comes to the Ten Commandments, almost every one of us has succumbed to the search for a loophole that would give us “permission” to do something we knew we really were not supposed to do.
Remember when we were little and our parent would give us a directive of some kind – for example, “You are not to take one step out of this room until you have finished your homework.”
Now, even as children we knew what they meant, right? They meant we were to finish our homework before we were to do anything else, right? But, because we really didn’t want to finish our homework, we would think of loopholes. We would consider things like crawling, because that doesn’t involve taking any steps. Or we might keep our feet at the door of the room and then lie down on the floor and stretch our bodies as far as we could out of the room.
If the instructions were to clean the floor of the bedroom, we might decide to pick up everything on the floor and lay it on our bed. You can probably think of other ways you got around the rules at your house.
The point is, that many of us, even as adults, feel like if something is not specifically spelled out as prohibited, it is allowed.
Many of us who were raised in Sabbath-keeping homes, might remember spending a goodly amount of time trying to think of ways around what we thought of as Sabbath restrictions. We concluded that wading did not qualify as swimming and so was okay; if the TV show or movies was non-fiction and/or educational, we were cool; that games like Monopoly or Life were out, but Pictionary was okay as long as we limited the content; and, of course, we kept a very close eye on the clock so that we could switch modes the instant Sabbath was over.
We were masters at finding the loopholes. We weren’t any different than the Pharisees who carefully spelled out 39 categories of activities that were prohibited on the Sabbath. Their motivation was very different – they originally wanted to make sure they didn’t do anything that would compromise the Sabbath – but people being people and sinful, they started looking for loopholes in all 39 categories.
I’m going to include a few examples so that you can understand the mindset that I believe Jesus was trying to expand.
Plowing – “Promotion of substrate in readiness for plant growth, be it soil, water for hydroponics, etc. Included in this prohibition is any preparation or improvement of land for agricultural use. This includes dragging chair legs in soft soil thereby unintentionally making furrows. Pouring water on arable land that is not saturated. Making a hole in the soil would provide protection for a seed placed there from rain and runoff; even if no seed is ever placed there, the soil is now enhanced for the process of planting.”
Reaping – “Severing a plant from its source of growth. Removing all or part of a plant from its source of growth is reaping. Rabbinically it is forbidden to climb a tree, for fear this may lead to one tearing off a branch. It is also forbidden rabbinically to ride an animal, as one may unthinkingly detach a stick to hit the animal with.”
Sorting/Purification – “Removal of undesirable from desirable from a mixture of types. … For example, if there is a bowl of mixed peanuts & raisins and one desires the raisins and dislikes the peanuts: Removing … the peanuts from the bowl, leaving a ‘purified’ pile of raisins free from unwanted peanuts, … [is prohibited] However, removing the desirable raisins from the peanuts does not purify the mixture, as one’s left with undesirable peanuts … and is thus permissible.” (emphasis mine)2
My purpose here is not to condemn or judge these rules in anyway, because I am equally guilty. My point is that God never intended any of the Ten Commandments to be kept around loopholes.
Loopholes are human ways to legitimize breaking a rule. We know what we’re doing is wrong because we’re using the loophole. That’s why I believe sometimes Jesus went out of His way to push the Jewish perceptions of law-keeping. He was trying to get them to see that keeping Sabbath is more than making sure we don’t drag a chair through the dirt or accidentally tear off a branch of a tree or making sure we pick what we like out of the trail mix and not what we don’t like.
That’s why Jesus told the Pharisees, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” Mark 2:27-28
Jesus wanted us to know that making more and more guidelines for keeping the Sabbath would never bring anyone into a closer relationship with Him. The last thing in the universe Jesus wants is for anyone to keep the Sabbath by following a list. He wants us to keep the Sabbath (and the other nine commandments) because we love Him. And why do we love Him? Because He first loved us.
“For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.
“For God did not send the Son into the world in order to judge (to reject, to condemn, to pass sentence on) the world, but that the world might find salvation and be made safe and sound through Him.” John 3:16 AMP
It’s time we quit looking for loopholes around the Sabbath and start looking for Jesus in the Sabbath. He’s longing for us to come away from our worldly lives and spend 24 uninterrupted hours falling in love with Him.