Blessed and Hallowed
Let me “open with Torah,” as the Rabbis say it: “For in six days Yah made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore Yah blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it.” (Exodus 20:11) This is a repetition, almost exactly, of the end of the Creation week, which reads, “And Elohim blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it He had rested from all His work which Elohim created and made,” (Genesis 2:3) and is found in the fourth commandment of the Decalogue. Over the past few months, I have had several people ask me the question, “So how DO you keep the Sabbath anyway?” The motives behind the question have been diverse – some are genuinely curious, others are seeking to demonstrate to me that I am in bondage to a “dead form,” still others have been awakened to the beauty of this vital symbol and desire to know more about this special day.
For this reason, I have undertaken to examine the Biblical “how” the Sabbath is kept, as well as a brief introduction into “why” it is kept. I have covered the question of why rather extensively in the “Sabbath Rest Principle” essays, and various others, so I will not go into great detail there. I would, however, like to expand a bit upon the two primary reasons for Sabbath observance, which are really one reason: Yah commanded it, and Christ obeyed it. Indeed, the Lawgiver came and fulfilled His own Law, despite the accusations of the Pharisees in His day, and the accusations of many church doctrines in our day.
At the same time, it is important to add that the Sabbath, just like any other Law, is our servant, and not our master. This will become more important in the second part of this article (the issue of HOW it is kept), but is also a most essential aspect to remember in the WHY segment. Many are quick to label the Sabbathkeeper a legalist, seeking justification by the Law; and whereas there may truly be many who keep the 7th Day as a way to be “right with God,” this is not the genuine example of a Sabbathkeeper, or even, dare I say, a Christian. A Christian will agree with Paul when he wrote, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” (Gal 3:24,25) A Christian will follow Christ, who said, “For the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath day.” (Mat 12:8)
Mark’s Gospel expands on this concept: “And He said unto them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath.’” (Mark 2:27,28) As with all of Yah’s laws, the 4th Commandment was given for our benefit. To not kill, not steal, not commit adultery, not covet our neighbor’s possessions, certainly to love and have respect for Yah and His name... all of these are for our best good, and these we will do, naturally, if our faith is rooted in Christ the Redeemer. So also was the Sabbath given to us for our blessing. It is a weekly reminder of four very important concepts: 1) Yah created all things, including us. 2) Yah brought us out of sin as surely as He brought the Israelites out of Egypt 3) Yah is not appeased by works and legalism, therefore we cease from our worldly works and rest in His provisions 4) We are always in a state of spiritual rest, since even our attempts to justify ourselves to Heaven have ceased, and we await the coming of the true eternal rest in the Kingdom. Concepts three and four are very similar, and indeed reflect the “letter” and the “spirit” of the law respectively.
When we combine these two last, the Sabbath becomes a symbol of the Victory over this world, and the looking-for of life everlasting in the world to come. In fact, if we do not understand these concepts, can we truly even say we are keeping the Sabbath at all? We may stop working for 24 hours of a week, but unless we keep the day as a reminder that we worship the Creator, having been released from the land of bondage, justified by faith rather than works and, fourthly, at peace now and forever more – unless we have the Victory, our Sabbathkeeping is verily a “dead form.” But when we do keep the day with these four things in mind we “may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the  breadth, and  length, and  depth, and  height” of Yah.” (Eph 3:18) Truly a “fourth” commandment.
We keep the Sabbath because Christ kept it. He is our ultimate, perfect and complete example. Some have said that Christ kept the Sabbath “as His custom was” (Luke 4:16) because He was a Jew. Well, perhaps, but He was also baptized according to the teachings of John (not a recognized Rabbi) and purposely rose from the dead in deliberate defiance to the Sadducean teaching that there was no resurrection. Yahshua the Messiah was OUR example.
The Pharisees, as stated above, accused Yahshua on several occasions of breaking the Sabbath. Was this true? Well, yes and no. A certain Rabbi Jonathan estimates that under the Judaic system of Christ’s day, there were 1,521 “derivative laws” added to the core specifications given in the Old Testament. These “derivative laws” Christ willfully disregarded, and rightly so, as we will cover in the second part of this article. Our Messiah always did those things which pleased His Father (John 8:29), and it is worthy of note that the Jewish authorities accused Christ of sedition (Mat 26:61) and blasphemy at His trial (Mat 26:65), not with breaking the religious law. Even the false witnesses did not accuse Him of this.
The reason for the Pharisees and Sadducees’ accusations was because Christ was breaking their laws by healing the sick, preparing the most basic of meals and so on during the 7th Day. Much of Christ’s ministry was done on the Sabbath. In fact, Yahshua’s public 3 1/2 year mission both began on a Sabbath (Luke 4:16-18), and ended with a Sabbath rest. (Mat 28:1) In all He did, He kept the Law of His Father (as opposed to the traditions of men) – even as we are to do – but He kept it as Lord of the Law, just as we are to do as His followers. The Law is our “schoolteacher,” our servant for education and growth, not our master.
Unfortunately, the churches of today have taken this a step further. We are free OF the Law (i.e., it’s penalty for all mankind), and we are free IN the Law (ie. we have the ability and grace to do whatever Christ commands us), but they will say that we are also free FROM the Law. This was never a teaching of the Messiah. Consider that while Christ broke the traditions of men by healing on the Sabbath but kept the Law of Yah, the accusing Sadducees kept the traditions of men by observing as best they could the 1,521 customary additions, but had already thrown off the Law of Yah by plotting the very death of the Messiah on that day! (Mark 3:6) No wonder Christ responded in this way when they accused Him: “And He saith unto them, ‘Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill?’ But they held their peace.” (Mark 3:4) Of course they held their peace, Christ knew well what they would do – they had already broken the true Sabbath, the very crime they were accusing Him of.
The reason why the law teachers had truly accused Christ of breaking their Law (and it was THEIR Law they were worried about) was because the Messiah had come to “make the crooked places straight,” (Isa 44:2) and that meant sweeping reforms. For every commandment, Yahshua had an expanded, fulfilled version. One need only read Matthew 5:21-48 to see this. Hatred is murder, lust is adultery, swearing by Heaven is as bad as using Yah’s name in vain and so on... and about the Sabbath, there is a similar teaching: “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that is entered into His rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.” (Heb 4:9-11) Some have said this refers ONLY to the “spiritual rest” in Christ. This is not so, however. First of all, consider that this was the letter to the Hebrews, Jewish converts, keeping the laws of Christ and His Father as did all Christians in those days.
Secondly, looking at the Greek we find that the writer employs two words for “rest” here. Using these, we find the passage reads: “There remaineth therefore a sabbatismos to the people of God. For he that is entered into His katapausis, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his. Let us labor therefore to enter into that katapausis, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.” (Heb 4:9-11) The word for “rest” in terms of ceasing from labor physically and “coming to rest” spiritually is that second term “katapausis.” The author here clearly describes the rest spoken of as a “sabbatismos,” a word whose primary meaning is “a keeping of the Sabbath day,” according to Strong’s and various other sources. The “expansion” of the Sabbath commandment is therefore this: when we keep the physical “7th day of rest” we ALSO (note the word “also” in Heb 4:10) enter into that state of spiritual rest and an eager expectation of the eternal rest to come in Creation made new.
The spirit of the Sabbath is “contentment,” but just as the other physical applications of the law were not made void by Christ’s death (we cannot allow jealousy into our thinking, but we must not actually STEAL either), so should we also have respect to both the letter and spirit of the Sabbath law. This is why we keep it, because our Messiah did “as was His custom,” and, in its spiritual application, on every day of His life – not because He was a Jew, but because He was the Son of Yah. He certainly expected the day to be kept even after His death.
In speaking of the destruction to come upon His followers, He said, “But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day.” (Mat 24:20) There are various interpretations as to why this would be such an obstacle, and even whether or not this is speaking of the time of trouble at the end of the world or merely the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, but this remains: whichever destruction He was predicting, and whatever the reason He wanted them to pray they would not have to flee on the Sabbath – even the most strict and literal reading of this passage indicates that the Sabbath Day would be a very real institution at least 40 years after His resurrection.
At the conclusion of Christ’s reforms to the Decalogue in Matthew 5, which were sorely needed because of the Pharisaic tampering with Yah’s Holy Words, He says this, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Mat 5:48) Was He asking us to do something impossible? Or was this rather a blessed promise that He would give us sufficient grace to accomplish what His word said? To believe the first is to call Yahshua a liar. To believe the second is life eternal. If we follow His teachings, we show that we have the true faith that comes from Him, and we abide forever in the House of Yah. The way to receive that grace is simple: Keep the 10 Commandments in both letter and spirit (yes, ALL 10 of them, and yes on THE day that Yah said to), and have faith in Christ our Redeemer. (Rev 14:12)
So this remains, then: what were the reforms made to the Sabbath? I think we will find that all Christ did was to restore the Sabbath blessing back to it’s original glory, and to remove the heavy yoke that the Pharisees and Sadducees had twisted it into. In short, the Sabbath as it was found in Exodus, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Nehemiah and so on is the same as that found in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and James. Let us look now at the HOW of keeping the Sabbath as outlined in the Holy Word’s two Testaments.
“And Elohim blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it He had rested from all His work which Elohim created and made.” (Genesis 2:3) The first mention we have of the 7th day being set apart (sanctified) is here, and from the beginning it was told that it is a day of “rest.” Adam, made just before, enjoyed the Sabbath as the first complete day spent with his Creator. As with all things, to get at the true and holy meaning of a divine revelation, we need to go back to the very beginning and see it in its true setting – the perfect paradise that was our earth before sin entered in.
Because of the repeated infidelities of Yah’s people, Israel was eventually brought captive into Egypt. During their slavery, conditions were made increasingly difficult for the chosen nation to retain even the forms of their religion, and eventually, their cries for freedom reached Heaven, “And the LORD spake unto Moses, ‘Go unto Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Let my people go, that they may serve me.’” (Exo 8:1) After that eventual liberation from the heathen lands, Israel now had two reasons to “remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy.” First of all, they were Yah’s people, created by Him, (Exo 20:11) and then they were redeemed by Him also, from their lives of slavery and toil. (Deu 5:15)
How it was kept then is the same way that Christ commands His followers to keep it now. It was never a system of following minute regulations, but all that the Sabbath involved is summed up in a single sentence: “How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.” (Mat 12:12) Concerning the first part of that, Christ was rebuking the Pharisees, who held the rules that they added to the 4th Commandment to be much more important than the helping of a man in pain, or in need of care. This is a worthy saying to keep in mind for the rest of this article, and is certainly to be remembered as an eternal principle – that the basis, the very core of every commandment of our Holy Father is love.
Now, just as with the commandments themselves, some guidelines were introduced to teach the people of Yah just what it meant to keep the day holy. Strenuous preparation of food (for example) would take away from the hours of rest, so Moses declares that longer procedures such as baking (probably indicating the entire process) had best be done before. (Exo 16:23) Some have taken this a bit far, declaring that all food preparation should be done away with. Christ’s example, however, sets this doctrine aright: “And it came to pass on the second Sabbath after the first, that He went through the corn fields; and His disciples plucked the ears of corn, and did eat, rubbing them in their hands.” (Luke 6:1) This, to the legalists of the day, was a form of “threshing,” and probably considered a part of the “baking” process that Moses told them to avoid. “And certain of the Pharisees said unto them, ‘Why do ye that which is not lawful to do on the Sabbath days?’” (6:2) As with all of the added traditions, Christ was quick to point out the fact that even the Old Testament held principle to be higher than tradition – at least in cases of human need.
“And Jesus answering them said, ‘Have ye not read so much as this, what David did, when himself was an hungered, and they which were with him; How he went into the house of God, and did take and eat the shewbread, and gave also to them that were with him; which it is not lawful to eat but for the priests alone? And he said unto them, That the Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath.’” (Luke 6:3-5) Christ declared Himself to be the Lawgiver, and He certainly had the authority to set aside the man-made additions, and to restore the Sabbath to it’s true meaning – as stated from the beginning; the Sabbath, as with all the commandments, is for our benefit, to teach us what sin is, so that we can put it away, and be Holy before the face of the Father.
Of course, the example of major projects of food preparation is just that, an example – that detail and many others is covered in the overall picture we get of the Day as it is recorded by Moses anyway: “But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates.” (Exo 20:10) Now, we could split hairs over what the term “work” here means, but it should be obvious from the references to servants and animals that it refers primarily to secular work – working for wages (the servants) and/or heavy labor (the “beasts of burden”).
This is a good time to explain something very important about the Old Testament methods of dealing with sin. Here is a verse: “Ye shall keep the Sabbath therefore; for it [is] holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth [any] work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.” (Exo 31:14) Pretty serious, isn’t it? And the same harsh medicine was prescribed for those who willfully committed adultery, killed another person and so on. Concerning the Sabbath specifically, we actually have an example where this sentence was carried out.
“And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the Sabbath day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him. And the LORD said unto Moses, ‘The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.’ And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the LORD commanded Moses.” (Num 15:32-36) Now, it didn’t at first seem obvious what the Israelites were to do with the man, but according to Yah’s decision, it appeared as if he were found guilty of “working” under the precept found in Exodus 35:3, “Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the Sabbath day.”
As with the baking, this “kindling” of the fire seems to have included the entire process, including gathering the wood. But it should not be thought that this was some kind of an arbitrary execution of someone caught in a sin “by accident.” It should be remembered that the visible presence of Yah was right there in the camp of the children of Israel. “And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night.” (Exo 13:21) Moreover, the regulations concerning Sabbaths were spoken of often among the people, (at the very least ON the actual day once a week), and the fact that so many of the Israelites were disturbed by the man’s actions is heavy evidence that he was well aware that he was acting in an inappropriate manner.
As with Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, however, this man sinned right in the full presence of the Father – although we are told no real details about the incident other than this – and what new knowledge could change his mind? The fact that they had to restrain him, “And they put him in ward,” shows that gathering sticks may have just been the beginning of problems in this case. The individual was in rebellion, as surely as if he had unrepentantly slain his fellow, and for the greater good of the community, he was removed.
All down through the ages of the prophets and kings, the Sabbath was kept as a memorial throughout all of Israel. Verses such as 2 Kings 4:23 and 1 Chronicles 9:34 give ample testimony of this; Psalm 92 is named, “A Song for the Sabbath Day.” The sad thing is that modern Christianity has not yet learned from the past. According to the prophet Jeremiah, forsaking the Sabbath was one of the primary reasons why Jerusalem was invaded and destroyed: “But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the Sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.” (Jer 17:27) Reading the rest of that book tells us that this is exactly what did befall the capital of Judah. “The Sabbath was done away with,” some Christians say. Others say, “It’s not so important how it’s kept, or even what DAY it is you choose to be your Sabbath.” As if we could keep OUR Sabbath; we don’t have one... we have to keep Yah’s.
Must Jeremiah come forth to weep in front of them again?
Satan has done a very good job of convincing people that the Sabbath was a bondage. Misunderstandings of stories like that above, concerning the man gathering firewood, have served to underline this false notion. Many ceremonies in Israel were called “solemn” gatherings. This does NOT mean “sad gatherings,” and it does not mean an occasion for sorrow or anxiety. “Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months [ie. the New Moon], ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; that they may be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the LORD your God.” (Num 10:10) Notice that both in the days of solemnity and celebration, the trumpet was blown. A victory, a rest was remembered. The Sabbath likewise is this way: it is a day of “solemnity” to a certain extent, in that it is a special day, and holy – however it is not a day of mourning or restriction, but of thanksgiving and peace.
Even the Old Testament portrays the true spirit of Sabbath – “If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.” (Isa 58:13,14)
Some have said, “Doesn’t this sound a bit restrictive? The prophet is saying we are not to have pleasure that day.” Well, that’s not quite what it says. Isaiah said, “from doing THY pleasure on my holy day.” He does not leave it there either, for he says right afterwards that you, as a Sabbathkeeper, will “delight thyself in the Lord.” I can demonstrate the difference this way: I have heard it said, “I still do some pretty active labor around the house (or even at my job) on Sabbaths, but it’s fun for me, so it’s not really work.” Isaiah doesn’t say not to enjoy the day – in fact, the idea is to call the day a delight – but if your concept of a “delight” conflicts with the principle itself, can we be said to be getting the full benefit of the day?
Our delight that day should be in resting from routine labors, in honoring our Father, and giving thanks for the Son. If we don’t see how this can be a “pleasure” to us, we have a bigger problem in our Christianity than keeping a day holy.
And going back to Jeremiah’s warnings, what happened after Judah was returned from captivity? As in the coming days of the Messiah, reforms were made to many aspects of Jewish life, including the Sabbath. The reformer at this time was a man named Nehemiah, and he, realizing the great importance that honoring Yah held, was quite... energetic in his reform techniques.
“In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals. There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the Sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the Sabbath day? Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the Sabbath. And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the Sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the Sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the Sabbath day. So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice. Then I testified against them, and said unto them, Why lodge ye about the wall? if ye do so again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no more on the Sabbath. And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should come and keep the gates, to sanctify the Sabbath day. Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of thy mercy.” (Neh 13:15-22)
If we are not to work for wages on the Sabbath, how then can we pay the wages of our servants in that way? Both selling and buying seem to fall under the principles of Exodus 20:10 (yes, even food [verses 15,16] – that is what “preparation day” [John 19:31] is for), which declares that neither we, nor our servants who are in our employ should do secular work. Even in the last days, the much speculated-upon mark of the beast will have to do with trade, with buying and selling. (Rev 13:17) From the beginning of Creation until the end of earth’s history, the issue is a “Sabbath” one, not so much about actions themselves – but about this: Will man worship the Creator or not? Will he pay Him the respect necessary to have that saving relationship with Him?
Nehemiah’s reforms seem to have held for a time, but as with so many other principles of Spirituality, if Satan cannot get us to fall again into the same hole out of which Yah raises us, he tries to lead us into the ditch on the other side of the road. Rather than with the irreverence of the former days, the post-exilic Israel took another extreme approach concerning the 7th day, and made it too much of a “solemn” occasion. It was into this situation that our Redeemer was born.
As the few examples given at the beginning of this article demonstrate, Christ was ever careful to put the needs of man before all else. Sweeping aside the post-captivity mindset concerning the Sabbath, Yahshua restored to the 7th Day its original dignity, common sense and yes... importance. Much of his visible ministry, especially as recorded by Luke (in his gospel to the Gentiles, by the way), took place on the Sabbath. Healing, teaching in the Synagogues and so on. It is lawful to do well on the Sabbath, the Gospels teach.
Of course, breaking out of man-made traditions for the sake of true religion is never easy. “Therefore said some of the Pharisees, ‘This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the Sabbath day.’ Others said, ‘How can a man that is a sinner do such miracles?’ And there was a division among them.” (John 9:16) The Pharisees could not see past their own legalistic mindsets, for Christ had never broken the Law of His Father. Those who were willing to receive the reforms became Yahshua’s disciples, and the rest, as they say, is history – the history of His Church.
Today, we have the perfect example of the Messiah – we don’t have any excuse for falling into either of those two “ditches” on the sides of the straight-and-narrow road to Heaven. We have seen the disaster that disregarding the day will have on a people, from the pre-exilic Israel; and we have seen what happens when we add our own man-made restrictions to the Sabbath, as exemplified in Christ’s controversies with the “teachers of the Law” in His day. He gave us the true example. The Sabbath is not a day for labor (Deu 5:14) or merely a day of idleness (Acts 17:2, 18:4). It is a day of both earnest dedication (Jer 17:22) and release from suffering (Luke 13:16). It is a day of rest from our own works, a reminder that Christ has redeemed us, and we are saved by grace and faith, rather than our own efforts (“There remaineth therefore a sabbatismos to the people of God,” Heb 4:9), and above all, it is a day of rejoicing in our hearts made new. (Isa 58:13,14) This is a celebration that will last forever: “For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith Yah.” (Isa 66:22,23)
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