The Biblical Sabbath

Sabbath

“On six days work will get done; but the seventh day is Shabbat, for complete rest, set apart for the LORD…. The people of Israel are to keep the Shabbat, to observe Shabbat through all their generations as a perpetual covenant.” (Exodus 31:15-16)

There is a lot of confusion today about the Sabbath.  Some people believe that it was done away with when Yeshua died on the cross.  Other people believe that the day was changed from the seventh day to the first.   Still others say that all but the fourth commandment are in force because it was not reiterated in the New Testament.  Some even go further and say there are no longer any real commandments we have to obey because we’ve been ‘set free from the law’.

In the Beginning

The first mention of Sabbath is Genesis 2:1-2:  “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.  By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.  And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

In the beginning, God created a day to honor ‘ceasing from his creative work.’   He made it holy or set it apart from the rest of the week.  This is the foundation for the seventh-day rest known as the  Sabbath.   

In Hebrew the word for  Sabbath is Shabbat and its root is the word sheva meaning ‘seven’.  This gives witness to the Sabbath day being the seventh day of the week.

The letters in the Hebrew alphabet or aleph-bet have word pictures.  When the individual letter pictures are joined together, a word picture develops that gives insight into the word.  Below are the Hebrew letter pictures for the Sabbath:

Shabbat  שבת

Shin ש – A Tooth means ‘consumed or Shekinah,  ‘the Divine Presence of God’

Bet ב – A House means ‘home, family’

Tau ת – A Sign means ‘covenant’

The Hebrew word picture for shabbat:

The covenant sign of God’s divine presence in the home or family.

Sabbath Instructions

The next time Sabbath is mentioned is in the wilderness after Israel had spent  400 years in slavery never getting a day of rest.  God gave the Sabbath rest to this mixed multitude of people with specific guidelines about gathering manna:

“I will rain down bread from heaven for you.  The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day.  In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.  On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days. …Keep in mind that the LORD has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days.  Everyone is to stay where he is on the seventh day; no one is to go out.  So the people rested on the seventh day” (Exodus 16:4-5,29).

Sabbath was a test of faith.  God wanted to see if His newly formed nation would simply follow His instructions.  It was no different than Adam and Eve in the Garden.  If they would just simply obey His Word and prepare for the Sabbath by gathering enough manna on the sixth day, they could stay in their tents and rest on the Sabbath.  Some, however, did not listen to God’s Word and their disobedience brought maggots and stench to the community!

“… Some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it [the mann] until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell” (Exodus 16:20).

The Ten Commandments

God includes the Sabbath in the Ten Commandments, part of His instructions  to the holy nation of Israel.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a  Sabbath to the LORD your God.  On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.  For in six days the LORD made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:8).

The commandment about Sabbath begins with the word remember.     ‘Remember’ that only a couple of chapters earlier the Israelites were tested regarding to the Sabbath day and some of them paid no attention. To begin this commandment with remember suggests it will be the one most likely forgotten.  The Sabbath was not only to be a weekly reminder that God was the Provider for Israel’s sustenance and life, but that He was the Creator. 

To ignore the  Sabbath is to lose the picture of God’s cycle of working for six days and resting on the seventh.  The modern-day result of forgetting the Sabbath,  along with work-aholism,  is the acceptance of evolution within the Body of Messiah.  Some pastors teach there is evolutionary creation with each day being 1000 or even 1 million years.   Such thinking negates the sign of Jonah that Yeshua gave for his time in the grave:  three days and three nights as the Hebrew word, yom, is used for each day of creation as well as the three days Yeshua was in the grave.  Each yom of creation was identified numerically from one to seven, ‘evening to morning’ defining a 24-hour day within a 7-day weekly cycle culminating with the Sabbath.

Appointed Time

Sabbath is also given to God’s people as the first of  the ‘appointed times’.

“There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a  Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly.  You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the LORD” (Leviticus 23:3).

From previous instructions given by God for the Sabbath along with this one,  families were to assemble in their tents in a sacred manner to remember their Creator and rest from their labors. It was to be remembered whether they lived in the wilderness, the Promised Land, or the dispersion.

Sabbath Regulations

God gives more regulations to His people regarding the Sabbath in the Torah and through the Prophets. These guidelines defined what He considered work so that Israel would rest and remember Him and not fall back into a lifestyle of bondage. 

“Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest” (Exodus 34:21).

“Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day” (Exodus 35:3, Leviticus 26:2, and Deuteronomy 5:12).

“While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day.   …Then YHVH said to Moses, the man must die” (Numbers 15:32).

“When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day” (Nehemiah 10:31).

“When evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I ordered the doors to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over.  I stationed some of my own men at the gates so that no load could be brought in on the Sabbath day” (Nehemiah 13:19).

From these Scriptures came the following Sabbath instructions: Do not kindle a fire, do not gather wood, do not buy or sell, do not carry a load, rest in season and out, and a Sabbath’s day ‘walk’.   None of the regulations resulted in harsh punishment except once because God never killed anyone for random disobedience.  After watching His people live in slavery for 400 years, He had to show them that He was serious about ceasing from work.  He knew that one rebellious person would cause everyone else to be disobedient.

Yeshua

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that had been made” (John 1:1-3).

In these two verses, Yeshua refers to the beginning when Sabbath was created.  He was there in the beginning with his Father when  He spoke the seventh-day into existence.  As the spoken word of God, Yeshua was an integral part of creating the Sabbath.

Yeshua did give one ordinance for the Sabbath when he was accused of disobeying man’s traditions.   He made it lawful to do good.  He demonstrated what was good by healing the sick and feeding his disciples.  He wanted to show the people that that they were to live  by the Torah and not die by it. 

“How much more valuable is a man than a sheep!  Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:12).

“Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath” (John 7:23).

“One Sabbath Yeshua was going going through the grain fields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels.  Some of the Pharisees asked, ‘Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?’  Yeshua answered them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?  He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat.  And he also gave some to his companions.’  Then Yeshua said to them, ‘The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath’ (Luke 6:1-5).

On the Sabbath, Yeshua went into the synagogue and taught his brothers and sisters, the lost sheep of the House of Israel.   He read Scriptures according to the Sabbath custom, he he healed people and he cast out evil spirits.   Not only were the Jewish people amazed, they believed in him.

“When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed” (Mark 6:2).

“Even as he spoke, many [Jews] believed in him” (John 8:30).

Throughout the centuries rabbis and other leaders compiled their own interpretations to the instructions given through the prophets which added great burdens on the people.  This was not God’s purpose for the Sabbath so Yeshua untwisted men’s interpretations showing that the Sabbath was made for mankind and not men’s rules.

“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” (Mark 2:27-28).

As the Son of God, Yeshua has authority over Sabbath.  Though man can enjoy the day, determine how he will spend the day in rest, he  has no authority to change it, remove it, add to it or take anything away from it.  No man, except Yeshua, would have had this authority and he never took it. 

Only for the Jews

Many people still believe, in spite of all the Biblical evidence, that the seventh-day Sabbath is only for the Jewish people.  When Yeshua stated that Sabbath was created for man, he spoke in a broader sense than just Jewish or even Israelite men and women.  After all, Sabbath was created ‘in the beginning’ before there was ever a Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Tribe of Judah.  There was only Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and Sabbath was created for them to fellowship with their Creator. 

Though Yeshua never spoke Greek, it is important to note that the Greek word anthropos translated “man”  in Mark 2:27 literally means “man-faced”.  According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words, the primary definition of anthropos is, “a human being, whether male or female, without reference to sex or nationality, to include all human beings.”  This means that Yeshua knew and understood that Sabbath was created for all human beings, not just his Jewish brothers and sisters.

Yeshua never taught that the Sabbath was abolished or would ever be.   In fact, he taught just the opposite when he says that nothing will disappear from the Torah until heaven and earth pass away.     Just because he angered the leaders didn’t mean he was in any way breaking the Sabbath as God intended; he was challenging their manmade rules that had become so steeped in tradition that they were blinded to the commands of God (Mark 7:8).

These Scriptures in the Gospels, spoken and lived out by Yeshua, confirm that Sabbath was re-iterated in the New Testament. Yeshua, the one who was with the Father at the creation of the Sabbath day, kept the day holy as it was meant to be and called himself the Lord of the Sabbath for all men everywhere who would come to him and put their faith in God.    

After the Resurrection

“Then they returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a  Sabbath day’s walk (or 3/4 miles) from the city” (Acts 1:12).

The Apostles and the early church remained faithful to the Sabbath. This short walk shows that the disciples didn’t break the Sabbath.  Even with the resurrected Messiah, they still respected the allowable travel distance given to Israel.

Paul reasoned in the synagogues and spoke the gospel on the Sabbath.

“On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the LORD …” (Acts 13:44).

“Saul [Paul] spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Yeshua is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20)

“On the Sabbath they [Paul and his companions] entered the synagogue and sat down.  After the reading from the Law [Torah] and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak” (Acts 13:15-19).

“As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath” (Acts 13:32).

“Instead we should write to them [the gentiles], telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.   For the Torah of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath” (Acts 15:20-21).

Nothing changed regarding the seventh-day Sabbath after Yeshua’s resurrection.  Jews and gentiles who wanted to know God and hear the Word of the Lord gathered in the synagogues on the Sabbath.

Prophetic Signs and Promises

“I am the LORD your God; follow my decrees and be careful to keep my Torah.  Keep my Sabbaths holy, that they may be a sign between us.  Then you will know that I AM the LORD your God” (Ezekiel 20:19-20).

The prophet Ezekiel reminds the Israelites of the continued importance of Sabbath as a sign between God and His people.  No matter where they lived,  Sabbath was the sign they were in covenant relationship with Yahweh, the King of the Universe.  By keeping the Sabbath, they remained in the center of God’s promises and divine will.

“Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD who makes you holy” (Exodus 31:13).

The Nations and the Sabbath

Isaiah prophesied blessings for those from the nations who keep the Sabbath.  Foreigners or gentiles who are joined to God (through faith in Yeshua), who serve Him, love His Name and worship Him, may enjoy all the Sabbath blessings included in the covenant and promises He made with Israel.  They are no longer excluded and strangers. They can worship God together with Israel on His holy hill and receive joy in His house of prayer.

“Let no foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, the LORD will surely exclude me from His people.’   And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD, to serve Him, to love the name of the LORD and to worship Him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant – these will I bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer” (Isaiah 56:7).

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the LORD and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob” (Isaiah 58:13-14).

Just like the Jewish people, the nations are to enter into the Sabbath and focus on the God of Israel.  They are to take delight in the Sabbath and honor it by staying home and resting, not doing their own thing.   Their blessing is finding joy in the LORD and feasting on the inheritance given to Jacob.

Eternal Sabbath

“As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,’ declares the LORD, ‘so will your name and descendants endure.  From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,’ says the LORD.  And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind’” (Isaiah 66:22-24).

These words of Isaiah prophesy of the time after Yeshua’s Millennial Kingdom, the time of the new heavens and earth.  They also speak of mankind.   The word mankind means everyone regardless of nationality, gender, religious affiliation or doctrinal views of the Sabbath.  There will be mankind who will obey and worship Yahweh and there will also be mankind who do not.  Just like in the wilderness, the consequence for disobedience is that their worm will not die (maggots) and they will be loathsome.

When God created the Sabbath,  He never said, “There was evening and morning, the seventh day.” Sabbath was supposed to be eternal fellowship between God and his glorious creation: mankind.  Adam and Eve and all of their descendants were to live in the Garden of Eden forever, but sin ended that eternal fellowship.  In order that mankind would not forget God’s promise of redemption, He commanded remembering the weekly Sabbath as a memorial to the Garden of Eden and a foretaste of the future.   As it was ‘in the beginning‘ so it will be again when there is a new heavens and a new earth.   The New Jerusalem will down out of heaven and Yahweh will once again make His dwelling with mankind (Revelation 21, 22).  It is with this vision and hope of the eternal Sabbath and everlasting fellowship with our Father that we should remember the weekly Sabbath ‘appointed time’  with joy and delight. 

©1997 Tent Stake Ministries (For hard copy and more teachings like this one, read Journey with Jeremiah: Nourishment for the Wild Olive.)

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