Series: Thru the Bible
By Request: To Sabbath or not to Sabbath?
So tonight we are going to learn what the Bible says to us regarding the Sabbath under the New Covenant.
I will tell you that I initially did not look forward to this for several reasons. Primary among them is not wanting to discover something in my studies which would seem as if it is placing a burden on you. In today’s world, many people identify such things as “burdens” as inconsistent with Christ and the Gospel.
This of course is nonsense since Paul warns in nearly every letter that burdens, difficulties, persecutions, sufferings and such are part and parcel with the Christian faith.
Of course I knew my concern was unwarranted, whatever the result of my studies were, because the most dangerous thing ANYONE could do is walk contrary to God’s will and ways.
Let me also say that this study was not without its difficulties.
While the New Testament clearly lays down as a matter of doctrine the necessity for adherence and obedience to the commandments, it does fail to specifically mention the requirement of the 4th commandment which is to “remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.”
All other 9 commandments are clearly illustrated in the body of the New Testament as incumbent upon believers under the New Covenant.
So that seems like an argument against the need to observe it, right?
Well perhaps but, that IS an assumptive argument based upon silence which is very shaky indeed. Doctrine cannot be established from the absence of addressing it and we will close the evening with examining that passage.
Now many modern Christians are double minded about the obligation to observe and obey the 10 commandments. They believe because it is part of the law, we are freed from it, even though Paul literally goes OUT OF HIS WAY to clarify that what we are freed from in regard to the law is attempting to obtain righteousness, justification and the Spirit by the works of it. He NEVER even implies that the Christian is freed from the morality of living out the Ten Commandments.
Besides we would know this on MANY other grounds for James talks about the need to obey the law, by which he meant the 10 commandments as did Jesus and Paul himself.
Consider this rather all inclusive passage in Romans penned by Paul…
Romans 13:8-10, “(8) Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (9) The commandments: You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet, and if there is any other commandment–all are summed up by this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. (10) Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law.”
Why would we care if we were fulfilling the law if it was no longer necessary? What a ridiculous argument!
So yes, we are to obey the moral law given by God through Moses.
Now I know that some will object because we are Gentile Christians and the counsel of Apostles and Elders in Jerusalem by the Spirit told the Gentile believers that no further burden was to be placed upon them other than these necessary things –
“(28) For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision–and ours–to put no greater burden on you than these necessary things: (29) that you abstain from food offered to idols, from blood, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these things, you will do well. Farewell.” – Acts 15:28-29
None of that mentions the other 9 commandments, only the one about sexual purity.
Now, I taught you all in our church a long time ago that such was a style of writing back then – where an entire body of writing was suggested by the mention of one of its parts.
Such is the case here.
Sexual immorality was the one commandment mentioned out of the 10 because it was the single most likely command which the Gentiles would be inclined to break without thinking about it for they had done so all their lives.
Nevertheless, I figured I’d prove the need to observe and obey the commandments right here at the beginning by showing them mentioned as obligations to the church in the writings of the New Testament.
#1 No other Gods before me:
1Cor. 8:3-7, “(3) But if someone loves God, he is known by God. (4) With regard then to eating food sacrificed to idols, we know that “an idol in this world is nothing,” and that “there is no God but one.” (5) If after all there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), (6) yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we live, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we live. (7) But this knowledge is not shared by all. And some, by being accustomed to idols in former times, eat this food as an idol sacrifice, and their conscience, because it is weak, is defiled.”
#2 No Idol worship
Acts 17:29-30, “(29) So since we are God’s offspring, we should not think the deity is like gold or silver or stone, an image made by human skill and imagination. (30) Therefore, although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent,”
#3 Don’t take God’s name to no avail (meaning do not call yourself an Israelite and be circumcised into the covenant and then live as if you did not know God)
Matthew 6:9-10, “(9) So pray this way: Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored, (10) may your kingdom come, may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
1Timothy 6:1, “Those who are under the yoke as slaves must regard their own masters as deserving of full respect. This will prevent the name of God and Christian teaching from being discredited.”
1Peter 1:14-17, “(14) Like obedient children, do not comply with the evil urges you used to follow in your ignorance, (15) but, like the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in all of your conduct, (16) for it is written, “You shall be holy, because I am holy.” (17) And if you address as Father the one who impartially judges according to each one’s work, live out the time of your temporary residence here in reverence.”
#4 Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy
Jesus did this throughout His ministry, but then again Jesus was living under and fulfilling the law and the Old Covenant. But Paul also observed the Sabbath. So far as we know, he did not do tent making on the Sabbath, but only preached and taught. We will examine this in detail in a moment.
#5 Honor your parents
Ephesians 6:1-4, “(1) Children, obey your parents in the Lord, because this is right. (2) Honor your father and mother–which is the first commandment with a promise– (3) that it may go well with you and that you may have a long life in the land. (4) And fathers, don’t stir up anger in your children, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”
#6 Do not murder (which Jesus further defined as even hating)
1Jn. 3:15, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.”
#7 do not commit adultery
Of course that was addressed in the letter sent to the Gentiles from the Apostles and elders in Jerusalem which we just quoted a moment ago. Nevertheless, here is another…
1Cor. 6:9-10 & 18-20, “(9) Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: no sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals, (10) thieves, greedy people, drunkards, revilers, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom.
(18) Flee from sexual immorality! “Every sin a person can commit is outside the body,” but the person who is sexually immoral sins against his own body. (19) Do you not know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, (20) for you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”
#8 Do not Steal
Ephesians 4:28, “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.”
#9 Don’t bear false testimony (don’t slander)
James 4:11, “Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.”
#10 Don’t covet
Romans 7:7, “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “YOU SHALL NOT COVET.”
Col. 3:5-6, “(5) Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (6) Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience,”
So the New Testament is clear on the keeping of 9 of the 10 commandments, but it is bereft of any specific obligation in regard to the 4th commandment.
It does however, as I just mentioned, offer some examples of how Paul and those with him spent their Sabbaths so we will look at a token sample of some of those examples.
So far as we know, Paul did not do tent making on the Sabbath, but only preached and taught. Now this too is an argument from silence because the New Testament does not say Paul never worked at tentmaking on the Sabbath, only that it was his custom to attend and teach at synagogues on the Sabbath.
What I want you to understand is that in the absence of a specific command to keep the Sabbath, what we have to do is examine the whole of the New Testament and see if there is more to support the idea that the Sabbath was to be observed or more against it.
Now I am deliberately limiting our search to New Testament examples AFTER the establishment of the church since even though Jesus did teach the New Covenant and the Kingdom of God, He practiced and lived under the restraints of the Old Covenant so for that reason ONLY, in this case, any examples of what Jesus did would be inadmissible as evidence towards theological proofs regarding Sabbath.
I WILL however point to our Lord Jesus later where His life testimony IS most certainly relevant even here.
There are a total of 8 references which cover exactly 6 separate incidents in the life and ministry of Paul which tells us of his treating the sabbath differently than other days.
I will leave a comprehensive list of them on the website for this message, but only cover a few of them here.
It is important to note that two of the passages will not appear to be relevant since the word “Sabbath” is not used.
In those two cases the one word “sabbath” in the Greek is translated as “day of the week”. It is a strange business which leads to a separate yet related topic so we will not use those passages.
Not surprisingly the lion’s share of these references are found in the historical writings of Luke which, in addition to other things, cover much of the ministry of Paul and therefore examples of how he lived his life.
- Acts 13:14-15, “(14) Moving on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. (15) After the reading from the law and the prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent them a message, saying, “Brothers, if you have any message of exhortation for the people, speak it.”
- Acts 13:27
- Acts 13:42-44, “(42) As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people were urging them to speak about these things on the next Sabbath. (43) When the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who were speaking with them and were persuading them to continue in the grace of God. (44) On the next Sabbath almost the whole city assembled together to hear the word of the Lord.”
- Acts 16:13, “On the Sabbath day we went outside the city gate to the side of the river, where we thought there would be a place of prayer, and we sat down and began to speak to the women who had assembled there.”
- Acts 17:1-3, “(1) After they traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. (2) Paul went to the Jews in the synagogue, as he customarily did, and on three Sabbath days he addressed them from the scriptures, (3) explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and to rise from the dead, saying, “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.”
- Acts 18:1-4, “(1) After this Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth. (2) There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to depart from Rome. Paul approached them, (3) and because he worked at the same trade, he stayed with them and worked with them (for they were tentmakers by trade). (4) He addressed both Jews and Greeks in the synagogue every Sabbath, attempting to persuade them.”
- Acts 20:7 – “day of the week” = Sabbath
- 1Cor. 16:2 – “day of the week” = Sabbath
- Col. 2:16
So we see that Paul had a tradition or custom of attending Synagogue every Sabbath and either hearing or more likely teaching the Word of God.
This is where I will sneak in one of many examples of our Lord Jesus Who also had the same custom.
Luke 4:16, “Now Jesus came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was His custom. He stood up to read,”
This is a great place to dispel a myth and point out something regarding Sabbath.
Ironically, though both Jesus and Paul shared the same tradition of hearing and teaching the Word of God in Synagogue on the Sabbath – that is NOT part of what the Law required regarding Sabbath.
It BECAME a tradition over time, which is why it is called a “tradition” or “custom” but what it is NOT is a law.
One example of this is sighted in Acts…
Acts 15:21, – “For Moses has had those who proclaim him in every town from ancient times, because he is read aloud in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
Notice NONE of these examples say “since the law was given” or “according to the Law” they say it was a tradition and they say it began in ancient times.
So while it is not breaking the law of the Sabbath to attend synagogue and read, hear, teach & study the Word of God, it was NOT part of the command.
Actually, the entire idea of meeting in a building to hear God’s word taught was MAN’s idea – not God’s. God DID upon occasion require all of Israel to attend public readings of the law, but it was NOT a command for every Sabbath nor was the location designated as the Synagogue.
Synagogue was man’s idea.
According to a simple search I conducted, the oldest dated evidence of synagogue is around the 3rd century B.C..
Now I assumed that it may have developed during captivity or shortly thereafter – either that of the Babylonian captivity of which we are very familiar from our recent studies on Wednesday, ‘Thru the Bible’, OR during the time and rule of Egypt over that part of the world beginning with Alexander the Great in 336B.C..
As it turns out I am not alone in my assumptions. Evidently some scholars think that the destruction of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem precipitated the institution of the first synagogues. Others think it may have happened during the rule of Egypt in the 3rd century B.C. when the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament scriptures was made.
In either case, Synagogue was a late development and had no bearing on the law of the Sabbath.
We will see later why this is SO important.
For now, just remember that keeping Sabbath does NOT require Synagogue or church attendance.
Assembling as believers around the Word of God, under the leadership and teaching of elders, enjoys a rich and biblically based history in the New Testament to be sure. It however, has NO bearing on the Sabbath.
The fact that the Sabbath was a favorite day on which to assemble was a free-will choice of man which God has honored. We know God honored it in that Jesus and Paul agreed to it and participated in it regularly.
So what IS the law of the Sabbath? Well, the entirety of the command regarding Sabbath is “remember the sabbath day to KEEP it holy.”
Now after saying this, the law then offers examples of how that is done – ALL OF WHICH point to “ceasing” work on God’s holy day. None of it points to attending gatherings for hearing the Word of God read or taught.
The word sabbath does NOT mean 7th day, but rather the root word שָׁבַת shavat, means “to cease, desist, rest”. The actual word Sabbath focuses more on the notion of “ceasing” from something, than on “resting”.
The Law makes it clear that what they were to “cease” from was their normal occupations and do no common work.
This is clear especially in its first usage in the bible.
Now, I had already done so, but when discussing the unique challenges of studying this topic with Teri (my wife) she asked, “Well what does Genesis say? I mean, if we want to know original intent like you always say – go back to Genesis.” Well said!
So let’s look at Genesis 2:1-3,
“(1) The heavens and the earth were completed with everything that was in them. (2) By the seventh day God finished the work that He had been doing, and He ceased on the seventh day all the work that He had been doing. (3) God blessed the seventh day and made it holy BECAUSE on it He ceased all the work that He had been doing in creation.”
So the first time this “ceasing” was mentioned is when God “ceased” working following the last day of creation. Then God MADE it holy.
So thousands of years later, when God told Israel to observe Sabbath. He did not tell them to MAKE it holy – for it already was. He simply commanded them to remember that it IS holy and act accordingly.
THAT is tremendously important to this study!
Let’s read the place where God commanded its observance by His people, which actually predates His giving of the Law, which is ALSO important!!!
“(23) He said to them, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Tomorrow is a time of cessation from work, a holy Sabbath to the LORD.
Whatever you want to bake, bake today;
whatever you want to boil, boil today;
whatever is left put aside for yourselves to be kept until morning.’”
(24) So they put it aside until the morning, just as Moses had commanded, and it did not stink, nor were there any worms in it.
(25) Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is “A” Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the area.
(26) Six days you will gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.”
(27) On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather it, but they found nothing.
(28) So the LORD said to Moses, “How long do you refuse to obey My commandments and My instructions? (29) See, because the LORD has given you the Sabbath, that is why He is giving you food for two days on the sixth day.
Each of you stay where you are; let no one go out of his place on the seventh day.”
(30) So the people rested on the seventh day.”
Another passage says the same things but adds a little more to our understanding of it. It is found in Exodus 20:8-11.
Let’s examine the whys and wherefores of the sabbath within this passage.
“(8) Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”
- Remember means – to acknowledge, call to mind, to think about.
- Keep it holy is all one word – The verb, in the simple stem, declares the act of setting apart, being holy as withdrawing from profane or ordinary use. “Other than”.
Why did God tell His people to “remember and keep” the sabbath and how were they to do this?
Here we again see the pattern we’ve witnessed throughout scripture. God ALWAYS tells His people – regardless of what covenant they are in, that their reason for doing something is because it is what He does or has done.
We are to be LIKE HIM! So THAT is PRIMARILY the reason for the command!
This command is in the intensive stem, meaning to pronounce or to make holy, to consecrate. The Lord pronounced the Sabbath day HOLY so He commands that we do the same.
Continuing on in Exodus 20…
“(9) Six days you shall labor and do all your work, (10) 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 male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.
(11) For in six days the LORD made the heavens 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.”
This is a lot of words, but it boils down to something very simple.
The command is to follow in our Creator’s footsteps.
He worked for 6 days and then rested on the 7th.
That there is more to it than simple physical rest (at least as it is used in the types and shadows of Jesus Messiah) is very clear. In fact, as I pointed out to you – the word Sabbath is focused MORE on the “ceasing” than it is on the “resting”.
Additionally. we have to consider that it didn’t have to be this way.
God could simply have made the week last 6 days so that the day after His last creative work would have been the beginning of week 2 in Creation… but He deliberately did not do this!
The idea of “ceasing” and “resting”, does NOT include the notion of being tired – only of stopping what one was doing.
The idea of “holy” means that this seventh day was NOT to be viewed or used like the other days. It was therefore UNCOMMON rather than common.
The command is essentially to NOT do on the Sabbath, what you do on all the other days.
Stop what you typically do!
That God has made general declarations of what we should be doing on the common days is also true.
He says, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, (10) but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work”
Six days to labor is NOT to be understood as a command. Literally this means that we have 6 days in which to get done all we need and want to do in any given week. IT does NOT mean that we are required to have a 6 day work week.
It also means we DO NOT have the 7th day to do this! The 7th day was NOT given to us to use as we please, it is both special and holy!
Also of note is, God upon His Own “ceasing” and declaring it different and uncommon – He GAVE the Sabbath to us.
The seventh day of “ceasing” and “resting” from labor – was a command – but like all of God’s commands, it was a provision FOR us, not a restriction to harm us.
This intention is proven true in the words of Jesus.
“(1) Jesus was going through the grain fields on a Sabbath, and His disciples picked some heads of wheat, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. (2) But some of the Pharisees said,
“Why are you doing what is against the law on the Sabbath?”
(3) Jesus answered them, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry – (4) how he entered the house of God, took and ate the sacred bread, which is not lawful for any to eat but the priests alone, and gave it to his companions?”
(5) Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
Mark’s account of this encounter adds this little nugget –
“Then He told them, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.” – Mark 2:27
The Sabbath was MADE for people, not people for the sabbath!
So it is only a command because man’s hearts are evil and by default we look at every instruction as a rule to keep us from freedom, but the truth of God’s commands is of course the complete opposite!
All of God’s laws ultimately work for our good.
The lines are our friends, so to speak!
God knows mankind, that they needed a day for a break from the mundane and everyday. A day to enjoy and reflect on what both God and they themselves have created. A day to “cease” from labor.
So, is Jesus here saying that because it was made for mankind, we can choose to ignore it?
When stated this way, I was inclined to say absolutely not!!!
However, when asked if it is still required now that we are under the New Covenant, I found myself uncertain.
I mean the principle doesn’t change, only my openness to consider other interpretations when worded in different ways. SO I had to determine to focus my attention on the commands and their intentions rather than allowing the words to direct the flow of my thoughts.
I mean, Paul did say to the Colossians, “Let no man judge you in regard to new moons and Sabbaths which are just a shadow of things to come.”
But, is THE SABBATH day really what Paul was talking about and was God’s “ceasing” from His labors in Creation simply intended as a type and shadow of Christ?
Is that even hinted at in Genesis when God hallowed it?
Do the scriptures say anywhere that the 7th day being hallowed before the fall of man or the giving of the law, was simply to serve as a shadow or a type which would be fulfilled in Christ or in God’s future kingdom?
The answer from the Old Testament is NO!
The answer from the New Testament is… maybe and that maybe is partly connected to that verse I just quoted from Colossians. We will look at that later.
My first thought regarding if it is still applicable under the New Covenant would be absolutely – since the creation of the day and the reason for keeping it – had nothing to do with the fall of man nor the giving of the Mosaic law and so it seems to logically follow that it also predates the institution of the old covenant!
God did not say to Israel that they were to keep the Sabbath due to sin or because of the fall.
And think about it…
Can you think of a commandment which WAS given, which was only required of man BECAUSE they fell?
Are not all of them based upon the unchanging character of God and therefore were and should be ALWAYS the standard for what is right and wrong?
God did not tell Israel to keep the Sabbath holy because of the fall anymore than He told them to not steal, lie or kill because of the fall.
All of these laws were true FROM THE BEGINNING – BEFORE the fall.
Let’s read what God said again… [Exodus 20]
“(8) Remember the Sabbath day BY keeping it holy.
“(9) Six days you shall labor and do all your work, (10) 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 male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.
(11) For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested (or ceased) on the seventh day.
THEREFORE the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and MADE IT HOLY.”
So God’s reason for us keeping the sabbath were these…
- Because it is a day of “ceasing” to the Lord our God.
- Has this changed? No!
- God worked on creation for 6 days and rested on the seventh.
- Does the New Covenant change the fact that God rested on the seventh day? No!
- Because He blessed the 7th day and declared it to be holy.
- Has that changed? No!
So on the surface, it seems as if all the reasons why God made the Sabbath Holy and gave the Sabbath to mankind predate the law AND that neither these reasons for doings so NOR the fall itself changed the rightness of it – nor the command of it. Not in the old nor in the new covenant.
There is another interesting reason stated in scripture for why God gave Israel the Sabbath but IT does NOT negate the other more important reasons.
In Deuteronomy 5:15 Moses reminds the second generation of Israelites in the wilderness… “Recall that you were slaves in the land of Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there by strength and power. That is why the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.”
This is a true statement, but is also an additional connection beyond the one God gave at the giving of the command initially in Exodus.
Though God began His declaration of the commandments with the fact that He had brought them out of Egypt out of the house of bondage or slavery, His subsequent words did not imply that such was WHY these commands were given. Moses, later upon recounting to the second generations of Israelites the events in Exodus simply offers that as one of the reasons why God told them to cease their labors as because He called and delivered them from the house of forced labor.
Now, knowing that Jesus kept the law, but TAUGHT the kingdom – let’s take another look at what He said about the Sabbath. This time the account is taken from Matthew.
“(1) At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on a Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pick heads of wheat and eat them. (2) But when the Pharisees saw this they said to Him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is against the law to do on the Sabbath.” (3) He said to them, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry – (4) how he entered the house of God and they ate the sacred bread, which was against the law for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests? (5) Or have you not read in the law that the priests in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are not guilty?
(6) I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. (7) If you had known what this means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.
(8) For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
(9) Then Jesus left that place and entered their synagogue. (10) A man was there who had a withered hand. And they asked Jesus, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” so that they could accuse Him.
(11) He said to them, “Would not any one of you, if he had one sheep that fell into a pit on the Sabbath, take hold of it and lift it out? (12) How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
(13) Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out and it was restored, as healthy as the other.
(14) But the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, as to how they could assassinate Him.”
Two things here…
Picking grain and ministers ministering on the Sabbath.
We learn here that those who are called to minister are exempt from the guilt of participating in their normal work even though they are in fact breaking the Sabbath in their spiritual labor.
So this “ceasing” from work seems to apply to everyone except those who minister on that day and to those who are doing good.
There is NO day in which doing good to and for your neighbor (or animal) is wrong.
Consider another example in the life and teachings of Jesus which speaks directly to this,
“(10) Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath, (11) and a woman was there who had been disabled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten herself up completely.
(12) When Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.”
(13) Then He placed His hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
(14) But the president of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the crowd,
There are six days on which work should be done! So come and be healed on those days, and not on the Sabbath day.”
(15) Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from its stall, and lead it to water? (16) Then shouldn’t this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom satan bound for eighteen long years, be released from this imprisonment on the Sabbath day?”
(17) When He said this all His adversaries were humiliated, but the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things He was doing.”
So it is not wrong to do good on the Sabbath. Neither is it wrong to minister to people in regard to spiritual matters.
The next point made in these passages from the life and ministry of Jesus is that the disciples were picking grain on the Sabbath and eating it.
On the surface one would think it was a breaking of the Sabbath because when God first mentioned the Sabbath to the Israelites in the wilderness it was in the immediate context of gathering manna. An activity one does on the other 6 days of the week.
Israel was told to prepare for the day of “ceasing” and “rest” by gathering and preparing extra provisions of manna on the sixth day.
So on the surface of it, it seems like gathering wheat and eating it was pretty close to breaking what God ordained.
A similar issue is recorded in Numbers and it was treated entirely differently.
“(32) When the Israelites were in the wilderness they found a man gathering wood on the Sabbath day.
(33) Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and to the whole community.
(34) They put him in custody, because there was no clear instruction about what should be done to him.
(35) Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must surely be put to death; the whole community must stone him with stones outside the camp.”
(36) So the whole community took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, just as the LORD commanded Moses.”
Now from the outside looking in, this doesn’t appear much different than picking grain on the Sabbath – so what is the difference?
Well, there isn’t enough to go on to be 100% certain, but with the disciples – they were not gathering grain to mill and bake bread, there was in fact no preparation of the grain at all. They were simply taking handfuls, “rubbed them in their hands” [Luke 6:1] and then popped the grain freed from their husks into their mouths. That is almost the same thing as picking up bread baked the day before Sabbath and putting it into your mouth.
Eating – was not considered labor, whereas preparation of food seemed to be.
The man in Numbers was gathering wood.
No purpose is stated, only his actions and his location. He was not placing wood back in a pile which had fallen over outside his house. He was in the wilderness gathering wood. This was presumably to be used for fire or construction.
Either way it was a breaking of the Sabbath.
He had the same 6 days on which to gather wood for fire or construction as everyone else in Israel, but on the Sabbath he was to rest – “ceasing” from that type of common, daily activity.
You might think, “Well I thought that the Sabbath was made for the man not man for the Sabbath. Why then could he not gather wood? How are those two things consistent with each other?”
Well, obedience towards God and honoring Him as our God and Creator is the healthiest thing a human can do. It is the environment for which we were created.
The Sabbath facilitates unity with God through emulating His behavior and by enjoying a day of rest as He provided it for us.
When this man broke this it was an act of open disobedience. The fact that he was in the wilderness when he was caught doing so suggests a desire to be in seclusion so as to not get caught – though that cannot be known for sure.
Now, there is yet another issue to address.
There are many days of ceasing in the Old Covenant, but only one was a weekly command.
Each of the feasts and festivals of Israel contained days of “ceasing” and they were called sabbaths which were to be observed and which would incur the guilt of sin if they did not. But breaking THE Sabbath was a primary command to be observed every week.
A brief summary of what we have learned so far is:
- Sabbath means “to cease” or “ceasing”.
- God was deliberate in making the week 7 days long. He was purposeful in creating our world to have a day of ceasing from the beginning rather than ending one 6 day week of labor, only to begin another 6 day week of labor the day after with no ceasing in between.
- We learned that God commanded Israel to keep the Sabbath regarding manna BEFORE He ever gave the 10 commandments to them through Moses.
- We learned that like all the other commandments, this command was entirely based upon the person, character and actions of God. It had NOTHING to do with the fall of man or man’s sinfulness. It was not even instituted as a lesson for fallen nor redeemed mankind. Genesis is very clear that on the 7th day God ceased from all His labor and as a sovereign decree of His Own power declared the day itself as holy FROM THE BEGINNING.
- We learned that the way to keep it holy was to observe no common labor on the 7th day. To honor God by remembering what He did on the 7th day and doing likewise, this includes the idea of observing with appreciation and delight all He and we have made in our days of labor.
- We learned that Sabbath and the commands regarding it NEVER had ANYTHING to do with gathering together in fellowship or hearing God’s word. That such was a contrivance of the Jews in the creation of synagogue probably towards the end of the 5th or 3rd century B.C..
- We learned that even though it was not “officially” part of the command, attending synagogue and hearing the word was the practice of Jesus.
Upon turning our attention to the New Testament we learned…
- We learned that even though it was not “officially” part of the command, attending synagogue and hearing the word was also the practice of Paul and the early church, including both Jews and Gentiles.
- We learned that even though all of the other 10 commandments enjoy a favorable mention in the New Testament as being incumbent upon ALL New Covenant believers – Jews and Gentiles alike, the 4th commandment regarding the Sabbath is never directly mentioned.
- We learned that Jesus, Paul and James all indirectly assert the need for believers to observe the Sabbath by mentioning the need to keep the commandments as a whole. When they do so they NEVER once mention excluding the Sabbath.
… and with that we will end this week’s study and pick back up here next week.