“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). The fourth commandment was instituted by God when He gave the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. It set apart Saturday, the last day of the week, as a sacred day of worship under the Old Testament. God’s people were to work six days but the seventh day was ordained of God to be a day of rest with no work or labor.
Origin of the Sabbath
The first recorded observance of the Sabbath as a day of rest was when God sent manna to feed the children of Israel in the wilderness after they had fled Egypt. The people gathered twice as much bread on Friday, for God did not send the manna on Saturday, as it was “the rest of the holy sabbath unto the Lord” (Exodus 16:22-30). This observance was quickly solidified by God’s covenant of the Ten Commandments where He blessed and hallowed the Sabbath day (Exodus 20:11).
Not Observed Before Moses
There is no record or history of the godly patriarchs observing the Sabbath prior to the Mosaic law. There were 2500 years of history before Moses where there is no distinct evidence of the Sabbath as a formal ordinance being regarded. Noah and Abraham walked by faith and found grace in God’s eyes without keeping Saturday as a holy day. While God rested on the seventh day after creation (Genesis 2:3), it was not sanctified until a much later date. The holy Sabbath was made known to the children of Israel “by the hand of Moses” (Nehemiah 9:14) and was commanded after the children of Israel were delivered from the land of Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).
Purpose of the Sabbath
The Sabbath, or intermission, was a day God instituted under the Old Covenant for multiple reasons and purposes. It was to be a day of rest and recuperation for both man and animal. “Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed” (Exodus 23:12). It was a day to especially remember the Creator of the earth (Exodus 20:11); it was also a memorial for the children of Israel to “remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out…” (Deuteronomy 5:15). The Sabbath was a special appointed time to worship in the sanctuary. On this day without work, there was to be a “holy convocation” or assembly, for worship to the Lord (Leviticus 23:3-8).
The keeping of the Sabbath by the Jews was not just a suggestion by God but a plain and positive commandment; hence, the penal law of the Sabbath was severe. It was to be kept holy and “every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death….whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death” (Exodus 31:14-15). In part, this harsh sentence was pronounced by God because the Israelites were to build the tabernacle. He did not want them getting so busy working on it that they failed to keep the Sabbath. The children of Israel were also forbidden to kindle fire for the purpose of doing work and cooking (Exodus 35:2-3). It was understood by the Jews that they could maintain fire for light and heat.
While in the wilderness, the children of Israel found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath. The man was brought to Moses and Aaron. The Lord told Moses that the man should be stoned to death outside of the camp, and so it was (Numbers 15:32-36). His sin was not in ignorance but was a clear, known transgression of God’s law. Behold the severity of God.
The Sabbath Profaned
In later years, the nobles of Judah profaned the Sabbath day. The gates to Jerusalem were left open for travel and commerce (Nehemiah 13:17-19). Nehemiah had the gates shut in an attempt to stop commerce on the Sabbath. The merchants set up booths outside the walls of the city until the governor stopped it in an effort to once more sanctify the Sabbath day. When people stopped keeping the Sabbath, they stopped worshiping God and evil abounded. Work for worldly gain was clearly prohibited on this sacred day in the law dispensation. The spirit of the Sabbath was not to be one of bondage but one of joy, refreshment, mercy, remembrance, and worship.
Belonged to the Old Covenant
The law of the Sabbath was in effect until that covenant was replaced with a new and living way. As prophesied in Jeremiah 31:31-32 and reiterated in Hebrews 8:8-9, 13: “Behold the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers…. A new covenant, he that made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away.”
Christ Brought Soul Rest
With the coming of Jesus Christ, the Old Covenant law was no longer in effect. “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). No longer were people under the bondage of the law but were in freedom of the spirit, “For ye are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). Under the Old Covenant, the Jews were justified through fleshly rituals and observances. In the New Covenant dispensation, justification is through grace by faith in Jesus Christ. “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse…. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God…. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law” (Galatians 3:10-13). Sabbath keeping was not reinstituted in the New Testament (Acts 15:5, 24-29) and God’s children live free from that bondage.
Sabbath Not Reiterated by Christ
In all of Christ’s teaching, He never reiterated the law of the Sabbath, even when He reinstated some of the other commandments (Mark 10:19). He Himself was accused by the Pharisees when He allowed His disciples to pick corn and eat (Matthew 12:1). Jesus healed on the Sabbath and justified doing good things on that day (Matthew 12:9-14). He instructed a sick man to take up his bed and walk on the Sabbath (John 5:8-11). Jesus addressed these issues by saying: “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). Christ, as the mediator and Son of God, had the authority to alter and change the observances of that day.
Clinging to the Old Law
Many people are holding the doctrine of Sabbath keeping sacred still today. The scripture clearly teaches that God’s people are not under that law. “After that ye have known God…how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? Ye observe days, and months, and times and years” (Galatians 4:9-10). The Word of God further teaches that no man is to judge in “meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come” (Colossians 2:16-17).
Christ Is Our Sabbath
Sabbath keeping was not a moral issue but an issue of observance. In the New Testament, the sacrifices, rituals, incense, temple worship, etc. are passed away and fulfilled though Jesus Christ. The keeping of the literal Sabbath as a holy day of rest was a type of the marvelous, spiritual rest that is found in Jesus Christ. Christ is our Sabbath and His rest far surpasses the fleshly day of worship of one day a week. Hebrews 4:1-11 wonderfully shares the truth of the true rest to God’s people who cease from their own fleshly endeavors to be justified before God and enter into God’s rest through faith. The literal Sabbath keeping was a shadow of the glorious, perpetual, spiritual rest in the dispensation of grace; hence, the invitation of Christ to all people: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
True Sabbath Rest of the Soul
The physical observance of a holy day to worship God gave way to the ability and power through Christ to live holy every day. “That we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life” (Luke 1:74-75).
The true Christian Sabbath in the New Testament dispensation is one of peace, rest, spiritual worship, and holy living every day of the week. Every day is sacred and reserved for devotion and remembrance of the deliverance from sin through Jesus Christ. Thank God for this wonderful Sabbath experience!
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