The Sabbath - Everything You Ever Wanted To Know
The New Covenant Sabbath
In our review of the scriptures, we learned that the Sabbath was created for the benefit of humanity. We also learned that it was observed under the Old Covenant, it was observed by the early church, and will be observed after Christ returns to rule the earth. Therefore, there are two primary questions which need to be answered for those who desire to worship God the Father and follow the example of Jesus Christ in this present age:
How does one observe the Sabbath in today's world in a way that is pleasing to God the Father?
How does one observe the Sabbath in order to receive its benefits?
In order to find accurate, logical, and helpful answers to the above questions, we need to explore the four main themes of Sabbath observance:
Remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy.
Resting from one's normal everyday work by which one earns a living or increases wealth.
Celebrating the Sabbath day by rejoicing before God.
Coming before God to worship him and fellowship with him and his people.
REMEMBRANCE AND SACREDNESS
"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Ex.20:8 KJV).
The human mind was made with a tremendous ability to store and recall information, and this mental process is structured so that some information is automatically prioritized and used for our physical survival, while other information is dependent upon a conscious effort on our part to keep it current and accessible. The latter case is the way we deal with information that pertains to our spiritual walk with God.
The English word 'remember' in verse 20 is the Hebrew word 'zakar', which means 'to think (about)', 'meditate (upon)', 'pay attention (to)', 'remember', 'recollect', 'mention', 'declare', 'recite', 'proclaim', and 'invoke'. The very nature of the Hebrew word 'zakar' demands that action be taken and effort be expended toward being aware of the Sabbath and its importance.
King David who diligently sought after the way of God (Acts 13: 22) reveals to us an easy and effective way to keep the important things of God in the forefront of the mind:
"Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law does he meditate day and night" (Psa.1:1-2 KJV).
"O how love I your law! it is my meditation all the day" (Psa.119:97 KJV).
Keep It Holy
The English word translated 'holy' in Exodus 20:8 is from the Hebrew 'qadash', which connotes the state that belongs to the sphere of the sacred.
Remember that only God can make a thing holy, and because the Sabbath is holy time, it belongs to God. No thought, action, or desire of any individual can make the Sabbath any holier than it already is. The instruction is to keep the Sabbath holy, but how does one keep something holy?
In the book of the law and the prophets, there are many examples of how the priesthood were to keep themselves and the things of God holy. One of these instructions had to do with their personal behavior and mental alertness while they officiated in the tabernacle:
"Do not drink wine nor strong drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest you die: it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations: And that you may put a difference between holy and unholy, and between clean and unclean" (Lev.10:9-10). See also Lev.11:43-47; 20:25-26.
Alcoholic beverages alone are not evil; however, even a small amount can affect one's judgment and physical performance. The performance of the priesthood's duties required that they be mentally alert as well as physically fit. It was a gross error in judgment concerning holy and unholy things that led to the pollution of the tabernacle and the death of Nadab and Abihu (Lev.10:1-12).
Nadab and Abihu polluted the holy things of God with their lack of respect for his law; they did not keep holy things holy, and they did not make a difference between the holy and the unholy. See also Lev.6:14-23; 21:6-23; Mal.1:6-7.
Pollution Of The Sabbath
The prophet Ezekiel records the process by which one is able to keep the Sabbath holy and the process by which it can be polluted:
"And I gave them my statutes, and showed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall live in them. Moreover I also gave them my Sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctifies them. But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; and my Sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I will pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, and consume them" (Ezk.20:11-13 KJV).
It is rebellion against God and a refusal to do as he has instructed that constitutes the pollution of his sacred time.
"There is a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst thereof, like a roaring lion ravening the prey; they have devoured souls; they have taken the treasure and precious things; they have made her many widows in the midst thereof. Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned my holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they showed the difference between the clean and unclean, and have hid their eyes from my Sabbaths, and I am profaned among them!" (Ezk.22:25-26 KJV).
Because it is the violation of God's law that is the root cause of polluting things that are holy, logic tells us that in order to keep the Sabbath holy, one must follow God's instructions concerning how to keep it holy.
Remembering the Sabbath not only means being conscious of the day of the week on which the Sabbath occurs but also bringing to mind all that the Sabbath is: understanding its creation, its purpose for humanity, and its symbolic, contemporary, and prophetic meanings.
In order to keep the Sabbath holy, one must observe it with a proper attitude along with obedience to God's instruction pertaining to its observance.
"You shall keep the Sabbath therefore; for it is holy to you: every one that defiles it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever does any work therein, shall be cut off from among his people. Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord: whosoever does any work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death" (Ex.31:14-15 KJV).
God instructs that the first six days of the week may be devoted to one's personal work; however, the Sabbath day is holy time, which belongs to God. On the Sabbath day one's personal work is prohibited. Notice that this pollution of the holy Sabbath is a capital crime that is punishable by death.
The prophet Jeremiah records that working on the Sabbath pollutes the sacredness of this holy time.
Jeremiah 17:19-24; 27, Good News Bible
"The Lord said to me, Jeremiah, go and announce my message at the People's Gate, through which the kings of Judah enter and leave the city; then go to all the other gates of Jerusalem. Tell the kings and all the people of Judah and everyone who lives in Jerusalem and enters these gates, to listen to what I say" (vs.19-20).
"Tell them that if they love their lives, they must not carry any load on the Sabbath: they must not carry anything in through the gates of Jerusalem, or carry anything out of their houses on the Sabbath. They must not work on the Sabbath; they must observe it as a sacred day, as I commanded their ancestors. Their ancestors did not listen to me or pay any attention. Instead, they became stubborn; they would not obey me or learn from me" (vs.21-23).
"Tell these people that they must obey all my commands. They must not carry any load in through the gates of this city on the Sabbath. They must observe the Sabbath as a sacred day and must not do any work at all" (v24).
"They must obey me and observe the Sabbath as a sacred day. They must not carry any load through the gates of Jerusalem on that day; for if they do, I will set the gates of Jerusalem on fire. Fire will burn down the palaces of Jerusalem, and no one will be able to put it out" (v27).
What Is Work?
Because ceasing one's work is a major aspect of keeping the Sabbath holy (Ex.20:9-10; 31:14-15), it is important to understand exactly what kind of work God prohibits on his Sabbath day.
In the purest sense, physical work is defined as expending physical energy in order to cause an action to take place in this physical dimension of existence.
What one does to earn a living, including a person's occupation, trade or profession, or what one does to increase one's wealth is defined as work in scripture, and it is prohibited on the Sabbath. However, as we will see, under certain circumstances physical work may be considered spiritual work if it is done for a righteous reason.
In the purest sense, spiritual work is work that is done using spirit energy for spiritual reasons. There is no prohibition against the performance of spiritual work on the Sabbath or the annual observances. As we will see, spiritual work is not only allowed on the Sabbath, it may be required under some circumstances in order to keep the Sabbath holy.
HARVESTING ON THE SABBATH
"One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, 'Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?" (Mk.2:23-24 NIV).
It is important to note that there is no law that prohibits a person from eating on the Sabbath. The law that the Pharisees referred to is their law, not God's law. What the Pharisees accused Jesus and his disciples of was harvesting on the Sabbath (i.e., working on the Sabbath), and harvesting on the Sabbath does violate the Sabbath.
Christ answered the Pharisees with the example of David going into the house of God and eating the consecrated bread that was only lawful for priests to eat (Mk.2:25-26). Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath" (Mk.2:27-28 NIV).
There are at least four things that can be learned from this account in Mark 2:23-27:
Human rules can never alter, replace, or supersede the law of God.
Christ and the disciples were not harvesting; they were not working in order to earn a living or increase their wealth. They merely picked the grain because they wanted something to eat. Eating on the Sabbath is permissible and it is not considered work.
It is permissible to set aside certain rules in order to take care of human needs. David and the High priest both understood this principle; therefore, David and his men were given bread from the tabernacle. See 1.Sam.21:1-6.
Jesus who is the Creator of the Sabbath knew how to keep the Sabbath holy, and he has the authority to say what can and cannot be done on this day.
Emergencies And Humanitarian Work
The religious leaders of Christ's day were constantly criticizing Jesus for healing people on the Sabbath. In reply to this criticism, he often admonished them for their hard-heartedness and he sometimes said that they were kinder to animals than they were to their fellow men:
"You hypocrite, does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?" (Lk.13:15-16 KJV).
"And behold , there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy. And Jesus spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day? . . . And he took him, and healed him. . . Which one of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightaway pull him out on the Sabbath day?" (Lk.14:2-5 KJV).
There are a number of basic principles that can be learned from these two accounts:
is permissible to perform work when there is an emergency that
threatens life, limb, or property on the Sabbath.
Was Jesus working on the Sabbath when he healed people? Yes, Jesus was working on the Sabbath when he performed these acts of compassion (Jn.5:17; 10:32). However, he was not performing the kind of work that was prohibited (i.e., earning a living or gaining physical wealth). Jesus was doing spiritual work, which is lawful to do on the Sabbath.
Physical Or Spiritual Work?
When does physical work become spiritual work? Physical work becomes spiritual work when it is done for a righteous reason. The basis for these righteous reasons can be found in the two great commands of the law:
"Then one of them which was a lawyer, asked . . . Master which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like to it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matt.22:35-40 KJV).
The law to love God includes the way one should conduct their entire life in relationship to God and man. If we love God, we will also love our neighbors. Therefore, performing work in order to help a fellow human in the event of a real emergency or an extreme need is a part of spiritual work and worship on the Sabbath.
CELEBRATE THE SABBATH
God intended that the Sabbath be a festive day on which one would come before him and rejoice because of their relationship with him:
"And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, Concerning the feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts. Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; you shall do no work therein: it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings" (Lev.23:1-3 KJV).
Just because one is commanded to cease from one's labor on this day does not mean that the day is to be one of total inactivity. God intended just the opposite. This day is holy time, which God has specifically set aside for humanity's enjoyment and benefit.
Over the centuries, many have taught that Isaiah 58:13-14 says that no personal pleasure, entertainment, or strenuous physical activity is allowed on the Sabbath; however, this is not true.
Isaiah 58:13-14 KJV
"If you will turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your own pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable; and shall honor him, not doing your own ways, not finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words: Then shall you delight yourself in the Lord; and I will cause you to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it."
If the King James translation of verses 13-14 is correct, the logic of this text is flawed, because it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to call the Sabbath a 'delight' if one could do nothing pleasurable or delightful on it. However, the Bible is a very logical book without any contradictions; therefore, there must be an error in the King James translation.
The first verse of Isaiah 58 shows the context of the whole chapter to be a condemnation of Israel for their rebellion against God and their violation of his law, including the breaking of the Sabbath:
"Cry aloud, spare not, lift up your voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins" (Isa.58:1 Para.).
The problem in understanding what Isaiah recorded comes from a mistranslation of the Hebrew word 'hepes', which is rendered 'pleasure' in the King James translation. The word 'hepes' can also be translated 'desire, purpose, or will', as in Isaiah 44:28: He says of Cyrus, he is my shepherd; and he will fulfill my will. See also Isa.46:10.
The Jewish translation of Isaiah 58:13 says, "If you turn away your foot because of the Sabbath, from pursuing your business on My holy day. . . nor pursuing your business, nor speaking thereof."
The New English Bible says, "If you cease to tread the Sabbath underfoot, and keep my holy day free from your own affairs, if you call the Sabbath a day of joy. . ..if you honor it by not plying your trade, not seeking your own interest or attending to your own affairs."
The Hebrew word 'hepes', which is translated 'pleasure' in the King James version of the Bible, should be rendered 'will' or 'purpose' in verse 13, because the word 'hepes' has nothing to do with a celebration, entertainment, or recreation. The admonition is to refrain from doing one's own will or purpose on the Sabbath day. In verses 2 and 3 of this chapter, we see that, even in fasting, these people are pursuing their own selfish interests and business. See Isa.58:2-3.
The instruction in verse 14 is to make the Sabbath a delight and a pleasurable experience by turning one's attention toward God and his great and awesome purpose for humanity. When a person observes the Sabbath the way God intended, they will reap tremendous blessings.
Isaiah 56:1-2, 4-6 KJV
"Thus says the Lord, Keep your judgment and do justice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed. Blessed is the man that does this, and the son of man that lays hold on it: that keeps the Sabbath from polluting it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil" (vs.1-2).
Here, God speaks of his plan of salvation and says that those who take hold of the Sabbath and observe it correctly will be blessed. As we have noted already, the opposite of polluting the Sabbath is observing it the way God has instructed it to be observed.
"For thus says the Lord to the eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant. Even to them will I give in my house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off" (vs.4-5). See also Rev.2:17; 3:12.
This part of the prophecy is directed at the elect of God who have made a conscious decision to keep the Sabbath holy and do the things that please God. Obviously, if one takes pleasure in the Sabbath and rejoices in it, this pleases God:
"Also to the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the Lord, to serve him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be his servants, every one that keeps the Sabbath from polluting it, and takes hold of my covenant" (v6).
Part of one's love for God is expressed in how one observes the Sabbath, which was made for mankind to enjoy and to receive spiritual and physical benefits from its observance.
Isaiah 58:13-14 has nothing to do with prohibiting pleasure, entertainment, or recreation on the Sabbath. The admonition is to refrain from violating the Sabbath by working and/or having one's thoughts focused on one's occupation, trade, profession, or whatever one does to earn a living or increase one's wealth. We should instead make the Sabbath a delight by observing it as God intended.
Pleasure And The Sabbath
Because God says to rejoice on the Sabbath, does it mean we should fill our whole day with the pleasures of this life? God's instruction to rejoice on the Sabbath does not cancel one's responsibility to keep the Sabbath holy and commune with him on this day.
In addition to the worship of God on the Sabbath, there are many other things that one can do on the Sabbath that will help make it a delightful day. For example, there is no prohibition against swimming, tennis, fishing, gardening, sewing, artwork, picnicking, barbecuing, playing ball, or fellow-shipping with friends and neighbors.
The Sabbath should be a delight for ourselves, our family, and our friends. It should have no more restrictions than on any other day, except those things specifically prohibited by the Sabbath law. It would seem that if some type of pleasure is sin on the Sabbath, it is also sin on any other day of the week. God intended the Sabbath day to be the happiest day of the week for humanity.
Christ came to teach us the spiritual things of the law. A converted mind seeks the wisdom of the spirit of the law (Jms.1:5) and not the letter of the law. A truly converted person should not need a long list of things that are and are not permitted on the Sabbath, because the basic theme of the Sabbath is to worship God, fellowship with other people, and enjoy life:
WORSHIP AND FELLOWSHIP
"And the Lord spoke to Moses saying, Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, Concerning the feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts . . . but the seventh day is the Sabbath of rest, an holy convocation;. . ." (Lev.23:1-3 KJV).
Not only is the Sabbath to be a day of festivity but also a day on which people assemble together to worship God. It is a day of holy convocation and a commanded assembly. God, the Creator of time, made this specific period of time holy and proclaims that it is his and is to be used for his divine purpose. See also Num.chp.28;29; Deut.ch.16.
Why is an assembly commanded? One of the major reasons for the commanded assembly was so that people could attend the formal worship at the temple in order to commune with God through the sacrificial system. Because a child of God under the New Covenant is a temple of God where the presence of God's holy spirit dwells, there is no need to assemble at a specific location in order to worship God. However, there are still many benefits from assembling together on the Sabbath as noted by the writer to the Hebrews:
"Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful who promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke to love and good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as some is; but exhorting one another: and so much more, as you see the day approaching" (Heb.10:23-25 KJV). See also Mal.3:16-18.
A major factor that should contribute to one's enjoyment and spiritual growth is that of being with others whom God has called to salvation:
"Iron sharpens Iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend" (Pro.27:17 KJV).
Assembling together to share experiences, build friendships, sing praises to God, and learn his truth and ways in a formal, structured setting can be extremely enjoyable and rewarding.
First Things First:
On the Sabbath, one should set one's mind to think about God, his love, and his plan and purpose for humanity. One should plan to speak to him in prayer, study his word, and examine one's spiritual condition while seeking to please him with one's spiritual growth and development. If one does these things, one will be keeping the spirit of the Sabbath.
Finding The Balance
If one places their energy and thoughts selfishly toward their own business, entertainment, and recreation, above the spiritual intent of the Sabbath, they are missing the blessings of the Sabbath.
One should be at peace in their mind on God's holy Sabbath day. Remember that the law of God is not a law of bondage; it is the law of liberty that brings true freedom.
The Sabbath should be a positive experience, both physically and spiritually. One should work hard at making the Sabbath day the happiest day of the week. When the Sabbath day ends, one should be both spiritually and physically refreshed and ready to meet the challenges of another week.
The Sabbath is a day to rejuvenate both one's physical and spiritual life. Remember that the commandment is not to cease from all workit is to stop making your living on the Sabbath day.
The key to enjoying the Sabbath is to balance physical and spiritual activities, so that the Sabbath is truly a beneficial and uplifting experience.
The fact that there is a problem finding a balance is the very reason the Pharisees felt they had to legislate many restrictive rules concerning Sabbath observance. These people did not have God's spirit to give them the wisdom they needed to make judgments about what was right and what was not, but a child of God does have this ability; it only needs to be exercised to accomplish a positive outcome. See 1.Cor.4:10; 10:14-15; 12:7-8; Jms.1:5.
PREPARATION FOR THE SABBATH
In order to receive the maximum benefit from the Sabbath, one should prioritize their activities for the day. The Sabbath is holy time; therefore, the first priority should be things that are spiritual in nature: Commune with God, pray, study, and attend formal Sabbath services if possible. If these things are our priorities, we will be observing the Sabbath as God intended.
From the few instructions given in scripture concerning how to observe the Sabbath, it is clear that this day should be prepared for in order to eliminate or at least minimize activities that would tend to distract one from the intended purpose of the Sabbath.
The first indication that one should prepare for the Sabbath is recorded in Exodus 16:4-5; 23-30 where the children of Israel were instructed on gathering manna in preparation for the Sabbath day.
In the New Testament account of the crucifixion of Jesus, we see a number of references that show that, at the time of Christ, the sixth day of the week was being used to prepare for the Sabbath (Mk.15:42-46; Lk.23:53-54).
Preparation for the Sabbath is an important part of being able to make the day enjoyable and beneficial, both physically and spiritually. If one plans for the Sabbath by taking care of normal everyday chores on Friday, one will be free to pursue activities that rejuvenate the body and mind on the Sabbath.
Obviously there were many aspects of the Sabbath that were not covered in this short study; however, any aspects that were not covered can be understood through diligent prayer and Bible study.
Because Sabbath observance is an individual as well as a collective matter, each person must decide what constitutes proper behavior on the Sabbath. Not only should one consider their own relationship with God, one should also consider how their behavior affects others. Using the word of God as a guide, each person can and must make their own decision as to what constitutes proper Sabbath observance.
By B. L. Cocherell
P.O. Box 612440
San Jose, CA 95161
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