I’ve mentioned before that I keep Saturday as a Sabbath rest, but I don’t think I’ve talked about why. Not every Christian is convicted of this, but I’m seeing more and more acknowledging the value of “sabbathing.” It’s just a small step from realizing that God’s command to rest is good, to resting on the day He set aside from the beginning of creation.
Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made. (Gen. 2:1-3)
This verse tells us God chose a certain day, the seventh, as a day of rest. He gave this day a special blessing, and set it apart for sacred use. “Sanctified” in the Hebrew carries the sense of separating something from “the common or profane” and placing it in “the sphere of the sacred” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, p.1989). That’s what God did with the Sabbath day from the beginning of the world.
The only institution that pre-dates Sabbath-keeping is marriage (Gen. 1:28; 2:24). Along with obedience to His commands (Gen. 2:16-17), they are what God used as the basis of society. It is fitting, then, that the Sabbath is one of the first things God taught the Israelites about when He redeemed them from slavery in Egypt.
Even before giving the 10 Commandments at Mount Sinai, God began teaching the Israelites about His Sabbath by how He provided their food. Manna was supplied for six days, and there was a double portion available on the 6th day. They were instructed to gather enough on Friday to last through Saturday, because there would be no manna provided on the Sabbath. This was also the only time manna could be kept overnight without spoiling (Ex. 16:1-36). It was an unmistakable, weekly reminder that God expected them to take the Sabbath seriously, a fact reinforced when He spent more time on this than on any other of the 10 Commandments.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.(Ex. 20:8-11)
This emphasis continues throughout the Old Testament. Isaiah 56:1-8 speaks of Sabbath keeping as a requirement for being blessed in our walk with God. God sends Jeremiah to stand in the city gates and warn the people that they will be punished if they don’t start keeping his Sabbath again (Jer. 17:19-27). In Ezekiel 20:10-13, God calls His Sabbaths a sign of the covenant, and describes His fury at Israel’s “pollution” of His holy days. There’s more in Nehemiah 13:16-22, Isaiah 66:21-23, Ezekiel 23:38-39, 44:23-24, and 46:1-3.
When God expounds on His commands about the Sabbath in Exodus, He reinforces two key principles. One: that the Sabbath was established at creation. Two: That it will never be abolished.
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.’” (Ex. 31:12-17)
Clearly, the Sabbath was a big deal to God in the Old Testament. Since it’s impossible for God to lie about the importance of His Sabbaths (Heb. 6:17-18), and His character is unchanging (Heb 13:8), thus it follows that the Sabbath is also important today.
Throughout His ministry, the pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. We just talked about one of these accusations when we were studying John 9. Jesus did not break the Sabbath — for that would have been a sin — but He did clarify what God wants from the Sabbath day (as opposed to the additional restrictions Jewish leaders invented). He told us mercy delights Him more than legalism, and that He is Lord of the Sabbath day (Matt. 12:7-8; Luke 6:5). He told us, with His authority as Lord, that “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:12; Luke 13:14-17). He said “the Sabbath was made for man” as a gift, not a burden (Mark 2:27). He showed by His example that gathering with other believers and teaching from God’s word on the Sabbath is good (Luke 4:16).
In Leviticus 23, God outlined “the feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts” (Lev. 23:2). We often call these feast days — and the Sabbath is included — “Jewish festivals,” but God says they belong to Him.
Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law. (Rom. 3:29-31)
In the words of the “Thought For The Week” printed on the hand-out a couple Sabbaths ago at my Messianic congregation, “To say that Gentile believers are not expected to keep God’s appointed times is the same thing as saying that Gentile believers are not supposed to have any holy days or days of worship.” If we turn away from the Sabbath, Passover, Pentecost, Atonement and all the other days God calls holy, then we are neglecting the only days God commands His people to observe.
Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. (Col. 2:16-17, KJV)
As members of Christ’s body, we are not ashamed to keep the Sabbaths that He is Lord of, which point us toward good things to come. The word used here for “sabbath,” sabbaton (G4521), is the root of a word used in the verse I took as the title of this post. I’m going to close by quotting that verse with Zodhiates’ translation of sabatismos (G4520).
There remaineth therefore a keeping of a Sabbath to the people of God (Heb. 4:9)
May you have a blessed Sabbath today, and delight in the Lord’s Feast of Pentecost (Shavout) tomorrow. Shabbat Shalom, my friends.