The Holy Sabbath

Returning to the Ten Commandments, today we consider keeping the Sabbath.  Here’s the command from Exodus, and then we’ll explore what it is about.

“Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy. 9 You have six days in which to do your work, 10 but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to me. On that day no one is to work—neither you, your children, your slaves, your animals, nor the foreigners who live in your country. 11 In six days I, the Lord, made the earth, the sky, the seas, and everything in them, but on the seventh day I rested. That is why I, the Lord, blessed the Sabbath and made it holy.

Exodus 20:8-11 (GNT)

The Sabbath day occurs at the end of the Jewish week. It is celebrated from sunset on Friday evening through to sunset on the Saturday evening. As described above, it is intended to be a day of rest and dedicated to the Lord.

What does it mean to “observe” the Sabbath? And how do we keep it holy?

For the people of Israel hearing this for the first time, they would have literally ceased from all work on the Saturday. This did not just mean not doing their usual form of work, but any type of work at all.

In modern day Israel where the Sabbath is still recognised, Jewish people will not attend their places of work or even do household work of any kind. There are many things which constitute work, and you will see some lifts (UK) or elevators (for the rest) which stop at each floor of a building so that buttons do not have to be pressed. Such button pushing could be considered work to some.

I suppose there are varying degrees of observing the Sabbath, but the point is that people took this command very seriously – as we all should. So how does it apply to Christians today? Should we strictly observe the day as well?

The principle is one of rest. We should rest regularly. In the Law given to the people of Israel, there are laws for people, animals and even the land to “rest” and it is an ongoing principle. We all need proper rest.

At the end of Mark chapter 2, Jesus encounters the teachers of the Law and has a debate with them about the Sabbath. The teachers had caught the disciples picking and eating ears of grain as they walked along. The teachers had accused them of “working” on the Sabbath.

Jesus argued that King David had done something similar when he was in need, and eating the special bread reserved for the priests. His argument is simply that the needs of people outweighed the commands of the Law.

And Jesus concluded, “The Sabbath was made for the good of human beings; they were not made for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:27-28 (GNT)

Jesus is essentially saying that the command to observe the Sabbath day was a gift to humanity, not a restrictive law.

For us then, the point is that we enjoy the rest God has given to us. We rest regularly to regenerate our bodies, but also our minds and spirits. The working week may be hard on the body of course, but it can be stressful on the minds and emotions too.

So, we as Christians, should (rather than must) observe the Sabbath by taking a day’s worth of rest each week. But must we do so on a Saturday? Or can we do so on a Sunday? Or must it be a full day at all?

In Romans 14, Paul points out that some will observe special days and some will not. A Jewish Christian convert may still feel they need or want to observe the Sabbath rest. A Gentile (non-Jewish) Christian will have no tradition of keeping the Sabbath anyway so may have no inclination to do so now. As long as they both rest.

Some people think that a certain day is more important than other days, while others think that all days are the same. We each should firmly make up our own minds. 6 Those who think highly of a certain day do so in honor of the Lord; those who will eat anything do so in honor of the Lord, because they give thanks to God for the food. Those who refuse to eat certain things do so in honor of the Lord, and they give thanks to God. 7 We do not live for ourselves only, and we do not die for ourselves only.

Romans 14:5-7 (GNT)

So we are free to observe the Sabbath on a Saturday or a Sunday, as we wish, or in other ways. For you, it may not be possible to dedicate an entire day once a week for many reasons. The point is that we need to take time to rest and recover. You can do that over the course of a week in chunks, half-days or whole days. The choice is yours!

We have discussed observing the Sabbath, but what about keeping it holy?

Something is holy when it is set apart for God. Imagine a special set of fine china or crockery. Perhaps you have a special set at home you reserve for celebrations such as Christmas. You might say that this tableware is “set apart” for special purposes. In a similar way, we are to “set aside” special times or days of the week and dedicate them to God.

We might do that in any number of ways. Primarily though, we are talking about focusing the time on Jesus. You might do that through times of prayer and worship, through reading and studying the Bible or by listening to sound Bible teaching or meditating on Scripture.

The commandment to observe the Sabbath day is intended for you. Use it to enjoy God’s creation but more importantly the Creator Himself. Give yourself time to recover, recharge the batteries and be ready to serve Jesus again.

How will you observe the Sabbath this week? Feel free to share your ideas and comments below.

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