The ‘Sabbath’ is mentioned over 100 times in the Old Testament and over 60 times in the New Testament. This day (sunset Friday to sunset Saturday) was set apart by God for man to rest from their busy, stressy, daily activities. Though it is an important topic in the Bible, our society and churches do not talk about it anymore. Is that for good reason, or are many overlooking something God wants us to look into?
The origin of the Sabbath
At Mount Sinai
Most people when hearing about the Sabbath think about the ten commandments. And this is true that God spoke the Sabbath and wrote it down with His own finger on the tablets of stones as the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8-11, Deuteronomy 5:12-15). But it might surprise you, we do not find the origin of the Sabbath at Mount Sinai. The Sabbath commandment starts with the word “remember”, which in itself tells us that God gave the Sabbath earlier than that.
Manna on all days, but one
Months before the Israelites reached Mount Sinai, they passed through the wilderness making their way out of Egypt (Exodus 16:1). To provide them with food, God rained down manna from heaven on all days, but one; the Sabbath day (Exodus 16:26). There was a reason behind this. “Then said the Lord unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no.” Exodus 16:4 KJV. The law given at Sinai was still future for them, yet already a law was apparently in place. God proved them with the bread (manna) to see whether they would keep it or not.
The manna would appear in the morning from Sunday to Friday and the Israelites would gather it. But God said that on the Sabbath day there would be no manna. He instructed the people to not even look for it, but rest (Exodus 16:30). When some disobeyed and still looked for manna on the Sabbath day, “the Lord said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws?” Exodus 16:28 KJV. Here it tells us that the laws that were already in place before mount Sinai, apparently already included the Sabbath commandment.
The manna needed to be eaten the very same day, else it would get moldy before the next day (Exodus 16:19-21). This was to teach the people to rely only on God for their daily bread. However, since God did not rain down manna on the Sabbath day, He did something special. To make it possible for the Israelites to rest on the Sabbath and still be able to eat, God worked a weekly miracle. Twice as much food would appear on Friday, and they were to save some for the Sabbath. And unlike every other day of the week, God made sure that the food did not mold that day (Exodus 16:24)!
So through His miracles, the people still depended on God for their daily bread and could keep the Sabbath day. Months before they received the law at Mount Sinai, the Israelites already observed the Sabbath day. But still, this is not the origin of the Sabbath. For that, we need to go all the way back to the beginning.
The seventh day of creation
God created everything in the world in six days and everything was “very good” Genesis 1:31 KJV. But rather than instituting a six-day week, He added one additional day, making it the seventh day of the week. On this day God rested from His creative works and blessed and sanctified the seventh day. In a perfect world, without sin, exactly according to His perfect design and purpose He found it necessary to institute the Sabbath day. In the same way as a painter puts his signature on his finished canvas, so God made the Sabbath a His signature of His creation. Here we find the origin of the Sabbath. The very word, Sabbath, means ‘to rest or to cease’. The very name of it points to its origin in creation week.
The purpose of the Sabbath
Mine or His?
Did God get exhausted and tired from His creative works? No, “He will not grow tired or weary” Isaiah 40:28 KJV. Then why did He make a day to rest? To answer that question, we need to take a few steps back and walk through it together.
In Hebrews 1:8-10, God the Father speaks to His Son and declares that Jesus was the One who did the creating. So we know that Jesus, the Son of God created all things (Hebrews 1:2, John 1:10, John 1:3, Colossians 1:16). Because He created everything, He too created the Sabbath and therefore He could say, “the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath” Mark 2:28 KJV. Now that we know who made it, we can ask its creator who He made the Sabbath for. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man” Mark 2:27 KJV.
The Sabbath was made for man. Notice here, that it does not say that it therefore is man’s day. The Sabbath is still God’s day (Exodus 20:10, Isaiah 58:13, Ezekiel 20:12, Leviticus 23:38), but it was made for the sake of mankind.
Man-made doctrines vs. God’s Word
Unfortunately, the Sabbath has a bit of a bad reputation, because of what the Jews back then had turned it into. When Jesus walked the earth the Jews had made the Sabbath into a burden with all their man-made doctrines and Jesus overthrew these rules and regulations. However, we cannot overlook the fact that God too has set boundaries for that day. For example, to not work, in the same way as God also rested from His works, and to not do our own pleasure or speak our own words (Isaiah 58:13).
To our 21st century mindset that generally does not like being told what to do or not do, even God’s word here might have us jump back a little. It almost sounds like something we want to avoid. But once you place God’s word in perspective, you will see that the boundaries are not against us, but for us and are perfectly in harmony with its purpose that it is for the sake of mankind.
The Bible tells us that His commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3, Matthew 11:30). Not only that, it even says that keeping the commandments, which includes the Sabbath, is the way we love Jesus (John 14:15; 14:21; 14:23, 1 John 2:3, 2 John 1:6). We don’t want to make light of God’s Sabbath commandment. The Sabbath is a serious thing to God, and it should be to us. It comes with certain boundaries and instructions that God has placed on it, that we as Christians should obey. But friends, this day is not just something we need to endure every week to keep God satisfied. Oh far from it!
God knows what is best for us, which is exactly why He made the Sabbath in the first place. The Sabbath is for our good! But only by obeying God’s word, will we experience the fullness of the Sabbath gift and live in its purpose. To seek how God wants us to spend that day, to embrace its boundaries and enjoy its liberty, is therefore not burdensome, but the path to experience the blessing.
Legalism vs. righteousness by faith
The things we are instructed ‘not to do’ are not the purpose of the day. To abstain from certain things simply make the path clear for being able to experience the real purpose. In the commandment, we find two reasons why this day was made for us: to remember God as Creator and as Redeemer.
It is very important for us today, to contemplate on God as our Creator. To appreciate His creative work and the beauty that He has surrounded us with. Observing the Sabbath is an act of grateful acknowledgment that God is the Creator and that He alone is the source of life.
Also, the Sabbath day is to be a continuous reminder for us in which we acknowledge that only God is our Redeemer. In the same way as God led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt through Moses, so has He led us out of slavery to sin through Jesus (Galatians 1:4, Colossians 1:13, Deuteronomy 18:18).
We are quick to forget, drowned in the worries and activities of daily life, caught up in our own interests and pursuits. By setting those aside we can without stress or distractions give the Sabbath day fully to the Lord. Observing the Sabbath is far from legalism. We do not keep the Sabbath order to be saved, but because we are saved! By observing the Sabbath we acknowledge that we had no share at all in our personal creation or the creation as a whole. It was without our help, advice or support that God created everything. That is one. Two, we acknowledge that in the plan of redemption, for us to be able to go from death to life, we had no part whatsoever. It was without our endeavors that He freed us from bondage and slavery.
By resting from our day-to-day life and honoring His day, we recognize by faith that God did it all. We had no share in it, it all comes from Him (James 1:17). Keeping His Sabbath day is therefore the ultimate symbol of righteousness by faith (Ezekiel 20:12).
The keeping of the Sabbath
Sunset to sunset
In more than 100 languages spoken today, the Saturday is called the Sabbath (or a derivation thereof). All throughout history, even dating back to one of the oldest languages, Babylonian, the seventh day Saturday is called the ‘rest day’ (sa-ba-tu). See here for more languages. In none of any other language is any day of the week called ‘rest day’. On top of that, the Jewish people have kept the Sabbath all throughout history. And all over the world is the Saturday observed by the Jews as the Sabbath. Without a shadow of a doubt, we know that the Sabbath day, the seventh day of the week, is Saturday. Even the changing of the calendar from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar does not change this. Only the dates changed, but the weekly cycle was untouched (Tuesday still came after Monday et cetera).
In creation week, we can see that the days actually do not start at midnight as we count it today, but at sunset (Genesis 1:5, Leviticus 23:32). The Sabbath day starts therefore when the sun sets on Friday until the sun sets on Saturday. It is important to celebrate the Sabbath on the day that God has appointed for it. Not only because He said so, which in itself should be enough, but also since it is a memorial day of creation. We rest, like He rested. And He rested on the Sabbath day, therefore so do we.
We are not just called to keep the Sabbath, but to keep it ‘holy’. What does holy mean? This means ‘to set apart’. The Sabbath day is to be different than the other six days. For us to be able to treat it holy, Friday (until the sun sets) is used as ‘preparation day’ (Mark 15:42, Luke 23:54, John 19:31). We prepare practically, mentally and spiritually, so that nothing will stand in our way for us to obey and enjoy the fullness Sabbath commandment.
A personal blessing
Here I want to inject a personal note. I grew up in a church that kept the Sabbath. But I focused on the things I was “not allowed to do”, so it often felt like a burden to me. I was not willing to see the purpose behind the boundaries, and I left the Sabbath teaching as a result. But as I matured, I began to see the incredible blessings of this day. Without needing to give excuses or feel guilty, we let go of the daily stuff. No paying bills, doing groceries or laundry, or even talk about things of the week. How awesome is that!
We are always busy, overworked, stressed, burned-out, but God says “rest”. A day to unapologetically focus on God in everything that we do or say. This day truly brings healing to body, mind, and soul. The more I discover the blessing of the Sabbath, the more I can testify, what a gift indeed for mankind!
Gathering of believers
The Lord has assigned the Saturday, Sabbath day (not the Sunday), to be the day of worship (Leviticus 23:3). Believers come together to give glory to God and worship Him. The assembled body hears the word of God preached and is build up in faith and has the opportunity for socializing with brothers and sisters. In almost every country in the world, there are churches that keep the Sabbath day as the day of worship (click here to find one in your area).
Blessing to others
The Sabbath commandment does not only speak about ourselves but it includes others too. No one was to work on the Sabbath, not your family, servants or even animals (the Sabbath was even to be a blessing for the animals!). And here’s another amazing thing, even the stranger within their gates (Exodus 20:8-11, Deuteronomy 5:12-15).
In other words, we don’t want to place others around us, in as far as we can control, in a position where they work and cannot keep the Sabbath. When we go to a restaurant or do groceries, we put people in a position where they need to work for us. But the Sabbath day is not to be a selfish day, this day is also to be a blessing for others. By not placing others, even strangers, in the position to need to work for us or in other ways break the Sabbath, we demonstrate God’s love towards them by our willingness for them to experience the Sabbath too.
The call to respond
The only commandment that starts with the word “remember”, is the one that today is forgotten by many. Yet, the Bible is clear that God wants the Christians today to keep the Sabbath day holy. The Sabbath was instituted in creation week, according to God’s perfect plan, the Israelites kept it, the animals kept it, Jesus kept it, the apostles kept it, the early churches kept it and we will keep it in the new Jerusalem for eternity (Isaiah 66:23). It might require changes in your life, which in the beginning can cause some practical issues. But please do not let this stand in the way of obeying God. Remember that Jesus did not make the Sabbath to make life hard for us, but for us to experience the abundant life (John 10:10). Let’s make the changes necessary and fully embrace this wonderful gift and commandment!