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Notes on the Bible and Religion

A Column Appearing in the Newspapers of Coastal Bend Publishing

I welcome questions for possible comment in my column.

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A Journey of Labor and Rest

We recently celebrated Labor Day, a federal holiday recognizing the social and economic achievements of American workers. For many, it is a day off work.

In an initial proposal for the holiday, there was a call for a street parade followed by recreation and entertainment for workers and their families. As this was in the 1800s, the parade would be comprised of horse-drawn wagons and such. It got me thinking about another parade of wagons for which a day of rest was called: a wagon train on the Oregon Trail led by Reverend Gustavus Hines.

The Oregon Trail is the name given to a wagon trail opening about 1840 and connecting the Midwest to the Oregon Territory. Reverend Hines insisted that there would be no travelling on Sunday, the Christian Sabbath, because the Bible calls for the Sabbath to be a day of rest (e.g., Exodus 20:8-11).


The trail was over 2000 miles in length. Many travelers walked alongside family wagons pulled by oxen. Travelling maybe fifteen miles per day, the journey could take over four months. And that’s if things went well! Stopping every Sunday might add weeks to the journey. 

Understandably, some in Hines’ wagon train were upset when they learned that their leader would not allow travel on Sunday. One family left that train and moved on ahead with another.

Those in Hines’ wagon train spent Sundays with a time of worship followed by hours of rest, leisurely meals, and play. The Bible is not against wholesome entertainments. Jesus attended a party or two (John 2:1-12; Matthew 14:13). Proverbs 17:22 suggests that entertainment can be helpful: “A cheerful heart is good medicine.”  

Pioneer Phoebe Judson was in Hines’ wagon train. She noticed that when people share times of joy with one another, they work more cooperatively in hard labor. She also noticed what happened to the beasts that were pressed on relentlessly: dead oxen and horses were seen bloated along the trail.

Later, the family that had broken off to get ahead with a train that would not stop for the Sabbath straggled up to Hines’ wagon train. They were behind—not ahead! And they asked to rejoin Hines’ wagon train of both labor and important rest.   

At its destination in Oregon, Hines’ train wasn’t behind all the others. A weekly day of rest and cheerful fellowship made the six weekly days of hard work more productive. And of the 50 head of cattle in the train, only two died. God’s call for a day of rest extends even to cattle (Exodus 20:10)!

I leave with a fun fact: according to the US Department of Labor, it was the State of Oregon that first passed a law establishing Labor Day. I bet that gave Phoebe Judson joy. She lived to see it.

And so, a hard-working body that takes its rest performs as well or better than an unrested one. Work hard and take your rest. The Bible says so.

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