Today we will talk about a topic which may turn some heads, as today’s topic will explore one of God’s main commandments; the Saturday, originally called Sabbath. Firstly, we should ask the following questions:
- What is the purpose of Saturday?
- Was it only given to the Jews?
- Did this change over the years?
- Did Jesus change or abolish this law?
- Do we have to fulfil it?
So, the first question is:
What is the purpose of Saturday?
There are a lot of misunderstandings around Saturday, just like God’s other commandments, due to human thoughts and feelings getting in the way. Without wasting more time on human theories, I could also say: who cares what we think, the only thing that matters is God’s opinion. So let’s bring forth God’s Word:
“Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy. “‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.’”
We can see from God’s Word, that this was given as a sign between God and mankind, as the way God rested on the seventh day, so must mankind rest too. In other words, because we are related to our Creator! Let’s look at another speech of God, where he pours out His soul to us:
“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
This is God’s desire regarding Saturday. Not to deal with our own matters (pastimes, working), but with God! Brothers and sisters in Christ, by fulfilling these we can also break Saturday, let’s pay attention to the rest of this verse:
“if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it”
This commandment of God can also be broken by being tied to a chair in an empty room. Because making it holy doesn’t only mean that we don’t deal with our own matters, but to pay attention to the matters of God! Therefore we aren’t only talking about what we don’t do, but more importantly: what we do! In many places, the Word refers to Saturday as the day of peace. Firstly, we have to understand what is the peace within it? It is that while we are working on Earth throughout 6 days, it is God, who cares for us.
“When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.’” The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed. Then Moses said to them, “No one is to keep any of it until morning.” However, some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. So Moses was angry with them. Each morning everyone gathered as much as they needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away. On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much—two omers for each person—and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. He said to them, “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’” So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. “Eat it today,” Moses said, “because today is a sabbath to the Lord. You will not find any of it on the ground today. Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will not be any.” Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. Then the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions? Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where they are on the seventh day; no one is to go out.” So the people rested on the seventh day.”
Would it have been such a big effort to go outside and pick enough for Saturday too? God even ensured this, so that the people of Israel would not have to deal with it. He showed us His caring in this, so that they wouldn’t focus on worldly things and spend the day with Him instead. God understands that we have to work, to earn money; he knows that we have to care for our families, and he understands that we have many problems and activities to deal with. However, what He doesn’t accept is if His commandments are broken due to these worldly activities. We can see this in the story of a man who gathered wood on Saturday, which is why he was stoned to death (Numbers 15, 32-36).
We can see definite prohibitions in the Word, which weren’t allowed on Saturdays. One of these was lighting a fire:
“For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a day of sabbath rest to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it is to be put to death. Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.”
Why would God order them not to light a fire on Saturday? Perhaps the fire marks something? That’s not what it’s about, but the thing that comes with lighting a fire: work! This primarily meant cooking, which is why they lit a fire on a Friday afternoon, and the food cooked until the next day’s morning, which stayed warm. This is why the prohibition of lighting fires was given, so that they wouldn’t pay attention to their stomach, but to be in the presence of God. We could also say that we are not to focus on physical food, but on the spiritual food!
“On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much—two omers for each person—and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. He said to them, “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’””
Let’s carry on; we can see the prohibition of buying in the book of Nehemiah:
“all these now join their fellow Israelites the nobles, and bind themselves with a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God given through Moses the servant of God and to obey carefully all the commands, regulations and decrees of the Lord our Lord. “We promise not to give our daughters in marriage to the peoples around us or take their daughters for our sons. “When the neighboring peoples bring merchandise or grain to sell on the Sabbath, we will not buy from them on the Sabbath or on any holy day. Every seventh year we will forgo working the land and will cancel all debts.”
The story is only complete if we know that while they promised they would not buy, they still didn’t do as they promised; hence why Nehemiah didn’t let in the merchants, to protect the people of Israel from breaking Saturday.
“In those days I saw people in Judah treading winepresses on the Sabbath and bringing in grain and loading it on donkeys, together with wine, grapes, figs and all other kinds of loads. And they were bringing all this into Jerusalem on the Sabbath. Therefore I warned them against selling food on that day. People from Tyre who lived in Jerusalem were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise and selling them in Jerusalem on the Sabbath to the people of Judah. I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this wicked thing you are doing—desecrating the Sabbath day? Didn’t your ancestors do the same things, so that our God brought all this calamity on us and on this city? Now you are stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath.” When evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I ordered the doors to be shut and not opened until the Sabbath was over. I stationed some of my own men at the gates so that no load could be brought in on the Sabbath day.”
Why would people buy things? To care for themselves, but let’s not forget that on the day of Saturday, God cares for us!
In a nutshell, the purpose of Saturday is to be in the presence of God, only spending time with Him. Let’s move onto the second question:
Was it only given to the Jews?
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 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.”
Foreigner? Let’s not forget my brothers and sisters in Christ, that during the Exodus, many people of different nations followed the nation of Israel:
“The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Sukkoth. There were about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. Many other people went up with them, and also large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds.”
These nations were grafted into the nation of Israel, just like how the Gentile converts were among the Jewish believers (Romans 11:16-24). This is why we don’t see in the Word that a different law was given to the foreigners living among the nation of Israel, as their law was the exact same:
“The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you.”
Without being grafted, we cannot get to salvation, because God only has one nation, which ethnically is made up of Jews as well as not Jews.
“I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”
The grafting wasn’t only a spiritual direction, but as the mixed people were grafted among the nation of Israel, that is how God will graft us as well:
“One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”
The wife of the Lamb, namely the Church of Jesus! We will go through these gates too, as there isn’t a thirteenth gate, where the ones from different nations will enter.
We did not have to run many circles to be convinced about Sabbath not being given solely to the Jews, but to the foreigners living among them as well. Just to confirm, let’s take a look at a few more verses:
“This is what the Lord says: “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed. Blessed is the one who does this—the person who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keeps their hands from doing any evil.” Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.” And let no eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” For this is what the Lord says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant— to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure forever. And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant—“
God wasn’t only the God of Jews, but the foreigners’ who repented to Him as well. Their repentance, in other words our grafting occurred through fulfilling God’s commandments.
But does this apply to us as well? Soon, we will find the answer.
Did this change over the years?
“Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever.”
God gave this to the Israelites as a covenant forever. However, we have already been convinced that God did not only give His covenant to Israel (Jacob) forever, but to everyone who committed to following God, including the foreigners who lived among them. The ones who weren’t Israelites by blood and flesh came out of Egypt following God’s order!
A covenant forever, is in fact a covenant forever, and God did not change His mind. Sabbath can be seen being observed throughout the Tanakh (Old Testament) as a living and everlasting commandment, but is it relevant in our current times? Soon, we will get an answer to this too.
We need to devote more attention to the fact that the commandment of Sabbath was not put onto the stone tablet accidentally. The Lord wrote 5-5 commandments onto both stone tablets, these were the laws regarding our relation to God, and the laws regarding how to treat our fellowmen. If the Ten Commandments are still relevant, then this law is just as important to God as not worshipping other Gods. We cannot cherry pick from God’s Word, it’s all or nothing:
“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.”
So if we have to follow the Ten Commandments, then we have to observe the Sabbath too, because it is one of the Ten Commandments. There are some people, who think that Jesus came to free us from God’s laws. The ones who say similar things did not recognize Jesus, they worship some other god, which these people named Jesus. But to carry on this thought, let’s move onto the next question.
Did Jesus change or abolish this law?
We can see in the gospels that Jesus was accused many times, that He did not observe the Sabbath. But this does not mean that this was the case. Let’s look at these stories:
“At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.””
The rabbinic teachings divided working into 39 groups, and these included harvesting and threshing too. These count as working indeed, but we need to realise that in the case of the disciplines this did not count as work. What the disciples did counts as working as much as unwrapping a chocolate bar does today. But here is something else, which was left unnoticed by the pharisees:
“Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here.”
The disciplines were with Jesus, in other words they were in community of the Lord! If there were anyone who truly observed the Sabbath, they were the disciplines. So neither Jesus, nor his disciplines broke the commandment of Sabbath. Let’s see another story:
“Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.”
According to the pharisees, it was forbidden to heal during Sabbath, but we don't even see a mention in the Bible, that God ever forbade it. This was also a human regulation (just like when the disciples were on the grain field), which was abolished by Jesus. We read about this in more detail within these verses:
“Jesus said to them, “I did one miracle, and you are all amazed. Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a boy on the Sabbath. Now if a boy can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath? Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”
Jesus' service was to preach God's Word genuinely to the people, cleansing God's Word from every human regulation.
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;”
A huge part of Christians in our time think that Jesus' teachings overwrote God's commandments, which is a massive misconception. Jesus came to abolish only one thing, which is not God's Word, but the human teachings.
”In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;” - This is what the pharisees of that era did not like, and today it's not liked by many people either.
Do we have to observe this?
What do you think, is it still a question that we have to observe this? It is part of the truth that God gave us freedom in this. We don't have to observe the Sabbath, just as we don't have to observe the law of not worshipping other gods (one of the stone tablets' commandments!). So, the question goes as the following: are you obediently following God's will or not? Asking this question will give you an answer, whether or not you observe Sabbath.
But let's take a look at Paul's teaching, because many people are taken captive by these verses, to be exempted from being under God's commandments:
“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
Many people like to interpret these verses to their hearts' desire, drawing a conclusion along the lines of “don't judge me for not observing Sabbath”. However, this is not what's written in the Word. It's quite the opposite, saying “let no one judge you for Sabbath”! The ones who have absolutely no intentions of observing Sabbath forget that this is God's commandment too, which is very crucial as it is one of the Ten Commandments. Pay attention to the recently read verses' beginning:
“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”
Paul mentioned the elemental (meaning elementary, not elemental as we know it today) teachings of the world, which is what they judge Sabbath by! Paul was not encouraging the Colossians to the exemption of God's commandments, but to the world's teachings:
“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?”
Regarding Sabbath, the religious people think about what we're forbidden to do, while the true followers of God only focus on one thing: being with God, and then nothing else matters, and there will be no time left for anything else. Just like how Moses was in the presence of God on Mount Sinai for 40 days, he didn't even eat or drink during that time. But we also have to add, that while many people are libertine even towards obedience; the real followers of God will observe God's commandments too. What I'm referring to is not to be libertine regarding Sabbath, as God is the potter, and we are the clay.
I would like to mention that while God forbade working on Sabbath, the pharisees and the scribes mixed God's commandments with human regulations, making it stricter so that no one will trespass God's commandments for sure. Jesus had a major problem with this. The interesting thing in this is that after Jesus' life on earth, Christians don't enforce God's commandments, but do the opposite; they preach that we don't have to bother with them. This is why the scribes and pharisees of those times were more noble spirited than many of the Christians today who practice and preach disobedience.
What makes me think is that while Sabbath appears to be a nuisance and a burden for people nowadays, this is why people don't want to even hear about it; while the real purpose of Sabbath is to be in the presence of God. God expects us to think of Sabbath like so:
“…and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable;”
The purpose of Sabbath is based on two points:
- to separate ourselves from Earthly matters
- to be in company with the Creator
“Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God's commands is what counts.”
Author: Antal Farkas