When we are asked by leaders in our congregations to do something or to believe something in regards to Scripture, we should always be like the Bereans and test everything against Scripture itself (Acts 17:11)... the whole of Scripture (2 Tim 3:16-17). If a person feels "led by the spirit" to speak, behave, or believe a certain way, they should test that spirit (1 John 4:1) and see whether what that spirit is telling them to do agrees or disagrees with Scripture.
Let us take a journey together through Scripture and see what it says about the matter of the Sabbath... a "walk in the Word" so to speak. As we take this walk, may we say, believe, and do what is right, be merciful in our speech and actions, and walk humbly with the Lord (Micah 6:8).
If you find a verse that is not referenced regarding the Sabbath and think it should be, please contact the author.
Scriptural quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) unless otherwise noted. Bolded text or other emphases in the Scriptural references are the author's.
If you have not done so already, you may want to read the introduction to this study.
Let's start with the first reference in Scripture to the Sabbath:
Now on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, then he said to them, "This is what the LORD meant: Tomorrow is a sabbath observance, a holy sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning." So they put it aside until morning, as Moses had ordered, and it did not become foul nor was there any worm in it. Moses said, "Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. "Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the sabbath, there will be none." It came about on the seventh day that some of the people went out to gather, but they found none. Then the LORD said to Moses, "How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My instructions? "See, the LORD has given you the sabbath; therefore He gives you bread for two days on the sixth day. Remain every man in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day." So the people rested on the seventh day.
This is where we start our Sabbath fact list:
Sabbath Fact List:
- The first reference to the Sabbath day for Israel is found in Exodus 16.
- The Israelites were given the Sabbath prior to the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai.
- The Sabbath day was on the seventh day of the week. (Exodus 16:22-23, 30)
- The Sabbath day was a holy day. (Exodus 16:22-23)
- G-d provided a double portion on the sixth day in preparation for the Sabbath. (Exodus 16:29)
- Food preparation should be performed on the sixth day in advance of the Sabbath. (Exodus 16:23)
- There was no provision of manna on the seventh day. (Exodus 16:25)
- Everyone should remain "in his place" on the seventh day. (Exodus 16:29)
We see in Exodus 12:18 and Leviticus 23:5 that Pesach [Passover] is on the 14th day of the first month. That marked the day the Israelites fled from Egypt in haste. Shavuot [Pentecost] is 50 days later (Leviticus 23:15-16). It is traditionally held that the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai occurred on Shavuot… seven weeks after the exodus from Egypt. This means the Israelites were celebrating the Sabbath for several weeks prior to the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai. It is there that we find the next reference to the Sabbath:
"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy."
Sabbath Fact List:
- G-d commanded:
- Israel should remember the Sabbath day. (Exodus 20:8)
- Israel should keep the Sabbath day holy. (Exodus 20:8)
- Israel should labor for six days (Exodus 20:9) but not do any work on the seventh day. (Exodus 20:10)
- Israel's children, servants, animals, or visitors should not work on the seventh day. (Exodus 20:10)
- The reason that Israel is to honor a specific day is because G-d made all of creation in six days and ceased from his work of creating on the seventh day and made that day holy.
- G-d blessed the seventh day. (Exodus 20:11)
- G-d made the seventh day holy. (Exodus 20:11)
The commandment regarding the Sabbath has three parts:
- remember it
- keep it holy
- do no work on it
The American Heritage® Dictionary provides this definition for "remember":
- To recall to the mind; think of again.
- To recall to the mind with effort: finally remembered the address.
- To retain in the memory: Remember your appointment.
- To keep (someone) in mind as worthy of consideration or recognition. 1
The Hebrew word translated as "remember" in this verse is zakar (Strong's #2142). It encapsulates all of the definitions above… especially the fourth definition: to keep in mind as worthy of consideration or recognition. Here are the first five instances in Scripture where this word is used:
- G-d remembers Noah (Genesis 8:1)
- G-d remembers the covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:15-16)
- G-d remembers Abraham during the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:29)
- G-d remembers Rachel and opens her womb (Genesis 30:22)
Keep it holy
The Hebrew word translated as "holy" in Exodus 20:8 is qadash (Strong's #6942). It is the verb form of a word which means "apartness", "sacredness", or "consecrated". If something is sacred or consecrated then it is set apart for a special purpose. If a person has silverware that is only used for a special day each year then that silverware is qadash for that day. If a person has a certain shirt they wear for special occasions then that shirt is qadash for that special occasion. You wouldn't work in the garden with that shirt or wear it to change the oil in your car. It is a special shirt and you would take care to keep it from becoming dirty or suffering any damage.
The oppose of holy is unholy. Many people think that unholy means "evil" or "wicked". It does not. The opposite of holy is "common"… something that is not consecrated or sanctified. Things that we use every day are common. They are not wicked… they are just not holy or sanctified for any specific purpose. When we treat something in a special way that is not common (like our special shirt above) then it is consecrated.
In an even greater manner, the Sabbath is to be treated in as special to make sure it is not treated as common. It is sanctified not for our purposes but for G-d's purposes. When we treat the Sabbath day like every other day (by doing the things we might normally do), then we profane the Sabbath day and violate G-d's commandment. The Sabbath is a day of remembering G-d's work of creation and setting it apart as special. Part of that special treatment is ceasing from our labors.
You shall not do any work
The Hebrew word in Exodus 20:10 translated into English as "work" is melakhah (Strong's #4399, plural melakhot). What is this "work" that we should stop doing? Is it our professional employment? What if a person works in an accounting office during the week, ceases from his accounting work on the Sabbath and then changes the oil in his car or mows the lawn? Is he obeying the commandment? Scripture does not explicitly answer these examples.
The Exodus passage gives us a reason why we should cease from our labors:
For [because] in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.
This is a reference back to Genesis-
Genesis 2:2 (YLT)
and God completed by the seventh day His work [melakhah] which He had made, and ceased by the seventh day from all His work [melakhah] which He had made.
This passage speaks of G-d's work of creating and G-d's ceasing ("shabbat-ing" if you will) from that work. Part of the traditional understanding of work/melakhah is that it has to do with creating or exercising control or dominion over one's environment. G-d provided the example for us on the seventh day of creation and ceased creating and exercising control over the universe He had just created. We should note, however, that He did not cease to sustain it.
"But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. 'Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, 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. 'For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death. 'So the sons of Israel shall observe the sabbath, to celebrate the sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.'
Let's update our fact list:
Sabbath Fact List:
- The Sabbath is a sign between G-d and Israel throughout their generations. (Exodus 31:13)
- The Sabbath serves to inform Israel that it is the LORD who sanctifies them. (Exodus 31:13)
- The Sabbath is holy to the Israelites. (Exodus 31:14)
- The Sabbath is the seventh day. (Exodus 31:15)
- Everyone who profanes the Sabbath shall be put to death and cut off from among his people. (Exodus 31:15)
- The Sabbath is a perpetual [eternal] covenant for Israel. (Exodus 31:16)
The Hebrew word translated as "sign" in this passage is ot [pronounced with a long "o" like boat]. Strong's concordance lists it as #226 and provides this definition:
a signal (literally or figuratively), as a flag, beacon, monument, omen, prodigy, evidence, etc.: - mark, miracle, (en-) sign, token.
Ot is first used in Genesis chapter 1:
Then God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth"; and it was so.
The stars in heaven are "a sign"? That is quite a sign!
NASA estimates that there are 1021 (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 !!!) stars in the universe [http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/ask_astro/answers/970115.html]. Most of them are much larger and much more powerful than our own sun. The sense of "sign" is not something insignificant like a street sign or a billboard. This is a huge, flashing, blinking, neon-lit, attention-grabbing kind of sign taking up the entire night sky and filling the universe!
Given the powerful nature of this sign, it appears that G-d does not want the message it is sending to be distorted in any way. Thus He commands that anyone who profanes the Sabbath should be put to death and his message-distorting activities should be ceased.
The Sabbath is called "a perpetual covenant" in Exodus 31:16. It is a special gift bestowed upon Israel before the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai and thus stands on its own.
For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a holy day, a sabbath of complete rest to the LORD; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings on the sabbath day."
Sabbath Fact List:
- The Sabbath is the seventh day. (Exodus 35:2)
- The Sabbath is a holy day. (Exodus 35:2)
- The Sabbath is a complete rest to the LORD. (Exodus 35:2)
- Whoever does any work [melakhah] on it shall be put to death. (Exodus 35:2)
- Fires should not be kindled in any of the Israelite dwellings on the Sabbath day. (Exodus 35:3)
The book of Exodus has quite a bit to say about the Sabbath! Let's move on to Leviticus...