Observing the Sabbath
SABBATH -- the practice of observing one day in seven as a time for rest and worship. This practice apparently originated in creation, because God created the universe in six days and rested on the seventh (Genesis 1-2:3). By this act, God ordained a pattern for living-- that man should work six days each week and should rest one day a week. This is the understanding of the creation set forth by Moses in Exodus 20:8-11, when he wrote the Ten Commandments at God's direction. God hallowed the Sabbath for a sign between He and man that God truly ruled Israel (Exodus 31:13). To break His Sabbath law was to rebel against Him, an action meriting death (Ex. 31:14,15).
How do we observe the Sabbath in our day and time?
To understand how to observe the Sabbath today, we must first understand it from the time of its inception through the time of Jesus' ministry. The Sabbath began at the time of the creation of the world in which God worked six days and then rested on the seventh day. In Exodus 31:17, it says God rested and was refreshed. These two words are the keys to understanding our duty in observance of the Sabbath. The Hebrew word for 'rested' is 'shabath' which means to cease. God ceased from His works of creation after the sixth day. He did not do any further work. He was done with creation and stopped to enjoy and observe all the creation. This rest day also had another purpose. God hallowed the seventh day and made it a holy day unto Him (Ex. 20:11). To hallow [qadash (kaw-dash')] is to consecrate or observe something or someone as sacred or holy. Thus, God made the seventh day a day to observe Him as sacred and holy. This was originally done by the hosts of heaven, then later also by man.
As rested did not mean to relax, God being refreshed does not mean He was overcome with His work and needed time to recuperate. We know this is not so because God does not get tired. This would show weakness in Him. Instead, 'refreshed' pertains to what God received when He proclaimed the Sabbath and hallowed (Exodus 20:11) or sanctified (Gen. 2:3) this day unto Him. God looked upon His creation, saw that it was good, and was pleased with it. Then, by hallowing the Sabbath and making it holy unto Him, He was honored and credited as the wonderful supreme ruler by the hosts of Heaven. This was a renewing and establishment of God as the supreme being, the creator, and the ruler of the newly created world. Later, all creation, and man in particular, would honor God in this way. The hallowing or honoring and the rememberance of God is the refreshing He receives. It is glorification of God for all things or anything from the creation to the present. Thus, the primary purpose of observing the Sabbath is to honor, praise, and glorify God. We must cease from our works to be able to do this. Otherwise, we will not have a chance for quality observance and glorification of God.
There were certain stipulations to be obesrved on the Sabbaths. In Isaiah 58:13, we see that the people were not to seek their own pleasure without any thought or submission to God. All activities should be in line with God's moral law. In Deut. 5:14-15, all the people in Israel were to rest and think about what God had done for them in bringing them out of the land of Egypt. Sabbath rest then was a time for God's people to rest, enjoy, and to think about what God had accomplished for them. In Exodus 34:21, we see that the people were to do no work on the Sabbath during plowing time or harvest time. This caused the people to trust in God for all their needs. In Nehemiah, we find that no trading, buying, or selling could take place on the Sabbath. Society was not to seek advancement in gain or wealth on this day. The Sabbath was not to be just any other day. It was to have other priorities. Anyone who sought gain or profit on the Sabbath was not hallowing the day to God. His god would be the money and gain he could make that day. Moving forward to the time of Jesus, we see that He healed many of the sick and afflicted on the Sabbath (Mark 1:21-34) and taught us in John 7:23, Matthew 12:5,11-12, and Mark 3:4 that it is okay to do necessary work and good deeds on the Sabbath. If you need to prepare something to eat then do it. If someone is sick, nurse them. If your animals need water, give it to them. In Acts 13:42, we see that the teachings of the word of God took place every Sabbath. This was a time to worship God through the reading of His word. It is very important to be reminded regularly of God and His principles so we can live pleasing to Him. We should have regularly scheduled times of worship and Bible study. To summarize the principles in these verses, we can see that all works for gain or wealth are forbidden on the Sabbath while rest, keeping God's ways in all you do, and all acts of mercy, necessity, and worship are allowed.
To understand how the Sabbath works in our day we can look at two key scripture verses. In Mark 2:27-28, Jesus tells us that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. This tells us that the Sabbath was for our benefit and we can choose how and what to do this day. During the time of Jesus the Pharisees and scribes had progressively turned the Sabbath into a day of legalistic duties and restrictions. Jesus showed them that the Sabbath was meant to give rest or a cessation of work for man while still keeping God in heart and mind. We are permitted to do anything that God allows as long as we do not neglect God through worship, praise, or glorification and, we keep our activities holy and in the will of God. We are not to become occupied with any work that is done for gain or wealth. A second key verse is Colossians 2:16. Paul tells us not to let our service and worship to God be judged by what holy days or Sabbaths we keep. These former traditions were only a shadow of what was to come. Now, we are of Christ and worship God through Christ. He is the way, the truth, and the life. As long as we are in Christ living as He lived, in righteousness and in the will of the Father, we fulfill all the law and the commandments including the celebrations, holy days, and the Sabbaths. The law is fulfilled every day in our hearts, our minds, and our actions. Does this mean we do not keep the Sabbath any longer? No, the Sabbath must be kept. However, by this teaching we are able to honor the Sabbath spiritually any day of the week. We are not restricted by laws that dictate when to observe the Sabbath. This means we can make any day a Sabbath day.
To hold the Sabbath on another day other than the traditional Sunday works well in our day and time. Many people who wish to worship God may and do work on Sunday. Some who work on Sundays are in jobs in which it is necessary to the community, environment, and the world that someone must be there. Jobs in hospitals, police departments, emergency fields, and utilities are good examples of necessary jobs. They require someone everyday of the week and even around the clock. Without them we could not function as we do now. The people who work these jobs may feel guilty that they do not have time to worship regularly. Worse though is the fact they may not remain close to the Lord or grow in the Spirit. With the understanding of Colossians 2:16, these fears and risks can be put away. Opportunity exists for all believers to observe a Sabbath. Those in the jobs that require them to work irregular schedules can and should honor the Sabbath. They are permitted by Paul's teaching to use another day. Likely, it will be on their scheduled day off which may fall during the week. All believers should be able to find one day in seven to honor the Sabbath, even if they must worship by themselves. This is fine. One can get filled with the Spirit by themselves as well, if not sometimes better, as in a group with other believers. The church is not a building. The true church and body of Christ is made up of individual heart driven followers of Christ - wherever they may be. God will bless your time with Him no matter where you worship. If you want to share your time with others, God can and may provide someone to worship with you. He will fulfill your needs. There is no end to the growth and quality of time you may experience. You are required only to be faithful and sincere.
God made the Sabbath a perpetual covenant (Exodus 31:16). This means it is forever or ongoing. The Sabbath is something we must keep until the Christ returns for us. By applying the understanding of Col. 2:16 and Mk. 2:27-28, there can be no excuses for not worshiping God and hallowing Him on the Sabbath. Therefore, we must observe the Sabbath and if necessary make another day our Sabbath. We must cease from pursuing gain or wealth on that day and make time to hallow God and worship Him. We are allowed to do things that are relaxing, fun, or even necessary. Yet, we must keep God and His ways on our mind in all the activities we may involve ourselves. Furthermore, we should call to mind and express ourselves thankfully to God for all His creation and for what He has given us and allowed us personally. Of course we are not limited in our thankfulness. Whatever blessings we have or glorifying of God we wish to express can be done. The important thing to do is to prioritize a Sabbath to hallow and glorify God. By this He will be refreshed.
Neh 10:31; 13:15-21