The Sabbath & The Old Testament

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The Sabbath & The Old Testament

Are Church age Saints to worship on the Sabbath? Are Church age Saints to keep the Sabbath? Before you quickly answer this question you ought to step back and look at the various views and definitions involved in this long standing debate. As we consider this question let us first define what keeping the Sabbath means from a Biblical stand point.

The Definition of the Sabbath: The Sabbath is not Sunday. Many Christians have added confusion to the debate by referring to Sunday as the Sabbath however Sunday worship has never involved keeping the Sabbath. The Sabbath as it was given and practiced began at 6:00 PM on Friday Evening and ended 24 hours later on Saturday Evening at 6:00 PM. This was based on the Jewish day which did not begin at midnight but rather at 6:00 PM in the evening. This may seem foreign to us Westerners but it was and still is the way the Sabbath is kept by the Jewish people. Even in secular Israel today many of the regular every day activities and services come to an abrupt halt during this time period. Jesus predicted that this practice would be adopted by a restored Israel when He addressed the Jew’s future flight from the wrath of both the Antichrist and Satan during the Tribulation:

Matt 24:20-21, “And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.” NKJV

If the flight our Lord is referring to takes place on a Sabbath it would make the flight significantly more difficult as many services such as public transportation will not be running on the weekly Sabbath.

The Practice of the Sabbath: Now that we have established when the Sabbath was to take place let us now explore how it was to be kept. God gives specific details as to how the Sabbath was to be observed. The Sabbath day was to be separated (“holy or sanctified”) from the other 6 days of the week in the fact that it was a day of rest for labor. 

Ex 20:8-11, “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.” NKJV

Ex 31:14-16, “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.” NKJV

Ex 35:2-3, “Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh day shall be a holy day for you, a Sabbath of rest to the Lord . Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire throughout your dwellings on the Sabbath day." NKJV

Deut 5:12-15, “'Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 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 ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.” NKJV

What did God have in mind when He says “no work?” God was not saying that there could be no work done on the Sabbath. He would permit necessary work like watering and feeding one’s animals rescuing one’s animal if it falls into a pit or providing needed care or assistance. What God had in mind was that no Saint was to work on the Sabbath as he would any other day. The Saint was to rest from all unnecessary labor to keep the Sabbath day unique from the other six days of the week.

We know this was the intention of God’s when we consider the words of Jesus. By the time of our Lord’s First Coming, the Jewish religious leaders had added to the Sabbatical law 39 categories of forbidden activities which must be avoided on the Sabbath. Each of these 39 categories had 39 subdivisions equally a total of 1521 forbidden Sabbath activities. Such a rigid system was never the intention of God. In fact we find that there are only three specific tasks that God says were forbidden on the Sabbath.

1) Kindling a fire (Ex. 35:3)

2) No gathering of sticks (Num. 15:32-36)

3) No causing someone else to work (Ex. 20:10)

Jesus points this out when He healed and when his disciples gleaned enough wheat for a meal on the Sabbath. 

Luke 6:7-9, “So the scribes and Pharisees watched Him closely, whether He would heal on the Sabbath, that they might find an accusation against Him. But He knew their thoughts, and said to the man who had the withered hand, "Arise and stand here." And he arose and stood. Then Jesus said to them, "I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy?" NKJV

Luke 13:15-17, “The Lord then answered him and said, "Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound — think of it — for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?" NKJV

Luke 14:2-6, “And behold, there was a certain man before Him who had dropsy. And Jesus, answering, spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" But they kept silent. And He took him and healed him, and let him go. Then He answered them, saying, "Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?" NKJV

John 7:21-24, “Jesus answered and said to them, "I did one work, and you all marvel. Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the law of Moses should not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath?” NKJV

It is clear from Jesus words that God never intended that keeping the Sabbath be a burden to man but rather it was to be a blessing. Something that would profit and serve the needs of every man and woman.

Mark 2:27-28, And He said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” NKJV

The enforcement of the Sabbath: God was not lax about the observance of the Sabbath. God intended that the Sabbath be followed by all and to show He meant business, God gave a penalty for breaking the Sabbath. Anyone found not keeping the Sabbath was to be put to death (Ex 31:14-16; Ex 35:2-3; Num. 15:32-36). Usually the means of death was stoning making the penalty even more severe. Such a stiff penalty indicates how serious God was that man take one day out of seven to rest.

The recipients of the Sabbath: The Sabbath was given to a particular people, the chosen people of Israel. No Sabbatical law or command is given prior to the time of Moses. In fact the first mention of keeping the Sabbath is in Exodus 16:23. From the time of Adam and Eve to the time of Moses some 2600 years had passed without any mention of the Sabbath or a Sabbatical law. The closest that we come to this is the statement in Gen 2:1-3.

Gen 2:1-3, “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.” NKJV

In the Genesis account all we are told is that God set aside the seventh day because He rested or ceased His work of Creation. It declares that God “blessed” (or praised) the day and He “sanctified” (set it a part) from the other days of the week. By doing this God set an example to man to set aside one day out the cycle of seven to rest from his labors. This day was to be “praised” or “considered something desirable” as man set it aside to rest from his normal labors. There is no command in this passage to keep the Sabbath nor is man given instructions as to how the Sabbath is to be kept. Likewise there is no penalty associated with the breaking of the Law of the Sabbath. The Bible is absolutely silent about this matter for the next 64 chapters and nothing is mentioned about it being kept by Adam, Able, Seth, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, or even Moses in the first 80 years of his life. It is only when Israel has formed as a nation and has left its slavery in Egypt that God gives a Sabbatical Law specifically to Israel.

In Exodus 16:23-29, the Jews wandering in the wilderness were commanded of God to rest on the seventh day. They were to make special provisions on the sixth day lest they go without food on the seventh day for on the seventh day the Lord did not provide manna. In other words, since God was going to rest from His work of providing manna so should the chosen people rest from gathering it.

In Exodus 20:8-11, in giving of the Ten Commandments, God tells the people of Israel to rest on the Seventh Day for He had established such a pattern in His work of Creation. Though many have seen the Ten Commandments as being given to all generations of Saints, both Old Testament and New Testament alike, the context of the commandments indicates something totally different. As Moses prepares to give the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1-2) he indicates these ten commandments as a unit, in form and content, are being given to a specific group of people. 

Ex 20:1-2, “And God spoke all these words, saying: "I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” NKJV

It is clear from this introduction that God was giving these commandments not to Saints in general but to the Chosen People, the nation of Israel. This is seen when He speaks of those he “brought out of the land of Egypt.” To say that these laws were given to the Gentiles or to the Saints of the Church age is to violate the basis of biblical interpretation. The context must always be taken into consideration when determining the meaning of any passage. Yes, some of these commandments God will give to the Church Saints through the Apostles but not in this unique form nor in its totality. This list of 10 as a unit was intended for the Jew only. 

In Exodus 31, Moses further indicates that these 10 commandments as a unit (“stone tablets given to Moses”) were given to and binding upon the people of Israel. Note the underlined sections in this passage that speak specifically to the Chosen people, Israel.

Ex 31:12-18, “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.'" And when He had made an end of speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God.” NKJV

God clearly indicates that He gave the Sabbatical law as a “sign between me (God) and you (Israel) throughout your generations.” It was to be a sign of the fact that God had “sanctified” or “set” the people of Israel a part from all other nations. God further drives this home when He says, “the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath. . . as a perpetual covenant.” “It is a sign between Me (God) and the children of Israel forever.” In other words the Sabbatical law was given as a sign of the Covenant that God had made with Israel forever. 

If further proof is needed we can appeal to Deut. 5:1-22. In this passage Moses reviews the Ten Commandments with Israel. He makes it very clear in the introduction to the commandments that they as a unit were not only given to Israel but are a part of the covenant that Israel entered into with God.

Deut 5:1-5, “And Moses called all Israel, and said to them: "Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your hearing today, that you may learn them and be careful to observe them. The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive. The Lord talked with you face to face on the mountain from the midst of the fire. I stood between the Lord and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the Lord; for you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up the mountain.”

There are other passages that bring out this unique connection between Israel and the Sabbatical Law

Lev 16:31, “It is a Sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls. It is a statute forever.” NKJV

Deut 5:12-15, “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 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 ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” NKJV

It is clear that from these statements that the Ten Commandments as a unit in form and content were given only to the Nation of Israel. God did so because of His unique covenant relationship with the Jewish people. With Christ’s death much of the law given by Moses died with Him. Only those OT laws reissued in the NT Epistles and given directly to the Church are to be followed by the Saints of this present age. Since the Sabbath Law is not given directly to the Church in the NT Epistles we are to conclude that it was not God’s intention for the Church to follow it. This was in the mind of the Apostle Paul when he writes that the Sabbatical Law was a shadow of the things to come and was fulfilled in Christ.

Col 2:16-18, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” NKJV