The Sabbath

Introduction

One of our Congregation’s most important observances is the Sabbath. The Sabbath is the weekly day of rest and worship observed by adherents of Judaism and some Christian groups. According to the Bible, the Sabbath was instituted at Creation. The story of Creation (Genesis 1:1-2:3) closes with an account of God’s hallowing of the seventh day, because He rested from His creative labors on this day. The Sabbath is also the only religious festival mentioned in the Ten Commandments.

Old Testament Background

The Sabbath is the time between sunset* on the sixth day of the week, or Friday, and sunset on the seventh day of the week, or Saturday. (*The reason that the Sabbath does not begin at 12 midnight is that unlike today, days during Biblical times did not begin at midnight but at sunset or even. See Leviticus 23:32 and Genesis 1:5 for clarification). Exodus 20:8-10 points out which day of the week is the Sabbath:

“Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work; But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant….”

Although the Ten Commandments explicitly state what the Sabbath is, who instituted the Sabbath? We learn from Genesis 2:1-3 that the first Sabbath was kept by God Himself.

“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished and all the host of them. And on the seventh day, God ended his work which He had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which He had made; and God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it….”

There are several scriptural references in the Torah (first five books) which detail the significance of the Sabbath and why it should be observed. Beginning with Exodus 16:4-5, 12-15, 19-30, we learn that the Sabbath was a day of rest for the Israelites. In the Wilderness of Sin, before the Israelites reached Mt. Sinai, God gave them a double supply of manna on the sixth day of the week in order that the Sabbath be kept as a day of rest. (See Exodus 20:11; 34:21; and 35:1-2 for other explanations of the Sabbath as a day of rest and memorial of creation). Also within Exodus, the Israelites were instructed to keep the Sabbath as a sign and perpetual covenant between God and them (Exodus 31:12-17). Finally, in Deuteronomy 5:6,12-15, Moses reminded the Israelites of God’s command to observe the Sabbath and told them that they were under a special obligation to keep it, because God had delivered them from bondage in Egypt. In this reference, the Israelites are also commanded to keep the Sabbath throughout their generations.

Outside of the wealth of information detailing the observance of the Sabbath in the Torah, substantial information is also available to show that this practice continued throughout Old Testament times. The following scriptures attest to this. The ones marked by an asterisk are particularly relevant:

  I  Chronicles 23:31       II Chronicles 2:4  
  II Chronicles 8:12,13     Nehemiah 9:13-14**
  Nehemiah 10:33-34         Nehemiah 13:15-22**

There is also proof that the ancient prophets observed the Sabbath and in some cases admonished the Israelites for not keeping it as well:

  Isaiah 56:1-8**         Isaiah 58:13,14**
  Isaiah 66:23**          Jeremiah 17:19-27**
  Ezekiel 20:11-24**      Ezekiel 22:8,26
  Ezekiel 23:38           Ezekiel 44:23-24**
  Ezekiel 46:1-4**        Amos 8:4-5 

Was It Changed In The New Testament?

It is a common misconception that the Sabbath (the seventh day) was changed in the New Testament and more specifically that Jesus changed the day. In his own words, however, Jesus refutes this notion that he changed the Law (Matthew 5:17). Instead Jesus, like the former prophets, worshipped on the Sabbath (Mark 1:14-17,21,22; Luke 4:14-20; Luke 4:31-37). While Sunday, the first day of the week, is mentioned in the Bible, it is not distinguished as a day of worship in the Bible. See the references listed below:

  Matthew 28:1    Acts 20:7-8
  Mark 16:2,9     I Corinthians 16:2
  Luke 24:1       Revelation 1:10**

The Bible also records that Paul kept the Sabbath as a day of rest:

  Acts 13:14-16,27,42-44       Acts 15:21
  Acts 16:12-15                Acts 18:1-4
  Hebrews 4:4-11

From thoroughly reviewing the New Testament, one will find that there is no dispute between Jews and early Christians on which day was the Sabbath. The Sabbath is mentioned 59 times in the New Testament, and it bears the same name “Sabbath” that it bore in the Old Testament. No where in the New Testament is the Sabbath abolished or changed.

So we continue to observe the Sabbath on the seventh day (Saturday) because a commandment was given by God to the Israelites.

How Is It To Be Observed Traditionally

Adherents of Judaism observe the Sabbath in different ways: Some will not light a candle, work, exchange money, or engage in any financial activity on the Sabbath. Many go to the tabernacle or synagogue on Friday evening and Saturday as a reprieve from the hustle of the world to worship God and fellowship with their brothers and sisters. The Sabbath is a time for physical relaxation from work and spiritual renewal. One is to refrain from the following:

  • Earning one’s livelihood, engaging in business or transactions, and shopping (Nehemiah 13:13-14, Jeremiah 17:21-22).
  • Performing strenuous exertion, and carrying burdensome objects from one place to another (Numbers 15:32-36).
  • Changing the world by repairing, cooking, constructing or destroying.
  • Allowing oneself to be pre-occupied, distracted, angry, hateful, or despaired.
  • Defiling, profaning, or cheapening the day by deed, word, or thought.

The above activities should be done on other days or on the Day of Preparation (Friday). See Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54,56.

Conclusion

The Sabbath Day was instituted by God at Creation as a day of rest. The Israelites were commanded to keep it as a day of rest throughout their generations. The ancient Israelites kept it, the Old Testament Prophets kept it, Jesus kept it, and the early Christians kept it. All who observe the Sabbath according to the Ten Commandments and Biblical teachings should feel
assured of doing the right thing!!