A what? A Sabbath elevator automatically stops at every floor in the building, both going up and down, beginning on Friday evening and continuing all day Saturday, every weekend. The reason for this is that it has been determined that pushing buttons that control an electronic device like an elevator constitutes work and therefore would be a violation of the Sabbath. Thus a Sabbath elevator allows devout Jewish people to use the elevator on the Sabbath without pushing the buttons. In 2001 the Israeli government decreed that all residential and public high rise buildings with more than one elevator must dedicate one of them to Sabbath elevator duty. In the case of Pettman’s building this has created some frustration as no one uses the Sabbath elevator, for obvious reasons, causing long waits for the “Gentile” elevator on the Sabbath.
The existence of Sabbath elevators was news to me, and it gave rise to a couple of reactions. I have no desire to denigrate the beliefs of other people but honestly I find it hard to take this very seriously. I know that some people see this business of not pushing buttons on the Sabbath as a matter of real concern, but my reaction comes down to “really?” Is the God who created all that exists concerned about whether one pushes a button on an elevator? Doesn’t it seem like a holy God would have bigger fish to fry than this? It is hard for me to see how pushing a button is a great moral failing. I get the idea of keeping the Sabbath holy, but this seems to me to be an example of the tendency of religious people everywhere to focus on the trivial. Jesus described it as swallowing a camel and straining at a gnat (Matthew 23:24). Reading about this topic has challenged me to make sure I am not doing the same thing. It has caused me to make sure I’m focused on the great concerns of our Lord rather than the trivia that so often preoccupies Christians.
The bigger response to this, however, is to be thankful again for the gospel of grace. How tedious life would be if I had to be continually concerned with whether some innocuous act was a violation of the Sabbath or whether a particular food that I eat is going to make me unclean. Speaking of the rigorous stipulations of the ancient Jewish Law Paul wrote in Galatians 4:9 “Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?” I absolutely do not. Our Lord Jesus has through his own sacrifice obtained for us a great freedom. I think from now on every time I get in an elevator and push the button for the floor I want I should give thanks to God for his gospel of grace and for the freedom it has purchased for me.