For the past few months we have observed the Sabbath, or Shabbat, on Saturdays. We are not Jewish (although we are technically ‘grafted onto’ the vine that is Isra’el). We are not Seventh Day Adventists. We are just people searching for the way, the truth, and the life.
People ask us why. Why not observe the Sabbath on a Sunday like the rest of Christendom? The answer is fairly simply really. Sunday never was the Sabbath. It was always Saturday, the seventh day of the week. Just as God said it should be. A lasting ordnance, for all generations. It’s quite funny that when you look at the Ten Commandments, we tend to observe them all with exception of the one about the Sabbath. I mean, even if it were a Sunday (and it is not), we still don’t observe it the way the Lord said we should.
I want to take you on a journey – a Sabbath day’s journey, if you like – through the pages of the Bible, in search of the evidence about Shabbat. You see, there is nothing in the entire Bible to support Shabbat being changed from Saturday to Sunday. Nor is there anything that says it has been made obsolete. In fact, the contrary is there by the bucket load. And let me say, from the outset, that this isn’t about ritual. Observing the Sabbath is all about a practical aspect for living full lives. I am not advocating a return to Judaism; I am just trying to follow the example of our Lord. But before we look at what Y’shua (Jesus) did on Shabbat and what is recorded in the New Testament, let us go back to the start.
The principle of resting every seven days is built into the very fabric of the universe. God created the heavens and the earth in six days and rested on the seventh. He created man on the sixth day, which means that man’s first full day of existence was spent taking it easy with God. Family time, if you like.
“On the seventh day God was finished with his work which he made, so he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. God blessed the seventh day and separated it as holy; because on that day God rested from all his work which he had created, so that it itself could produce.” [B’resheet (Genesis) 2:2-3 CJB]
So, from the very beginning of creation itself we see this basic principle at work. God worked for six days and then on the seventh, He rested. And not only that, He blessed the seventh day and made it holy. The word holy literally means to set apart. In other words, God made the seventh day special. It marks the creation of the universe, and because He rested after working on it for six days, He showed us the example we should follow. To get the most out of life we need to enjoy His blessing wherever we can. You will see the significance of this particular blessing as we continue on through our journey.
The word ‘Shabbat’ first appears in scripture in the book of the Exodus. It is easy to assume that during the intervening period between the fall of Adam and Eve and their banishment from the Garden, right through to the Hebrew’s captivity in Egypt that Shabbat wasn’t observed because there is no mention of it. However, as with all assumptions, we must tread carefully around this subject. What we know is that there were priests, such as Malki-Tzedek (Melchizedek) and Yitro (Jethro). We also know that animal sacrifice was part of the Hebrew ritual right from as far back as when God made garments out of animal skins to cover Adam and Eve’s nakedness. Perhaps the better assumption to make is that God taught all manner of ‘rules for living’ back in the Garden, including that of resting every seven days.
The word itself, Shabbat, actually means ‘to cease’. Years ago, when I worked in a factory, it would get to a certain time on a Friday afternoon and the whistle would sound across the factory and it signalled the end of work until Monday. Shabbat is God’s whistle to us. Stop work, down tools, take some time out. Here’s what the Torah says the first time the word is mentioned:
“And so it was, on the sixth day, that they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. And all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning.’ “
So they laid it up till morning, as Moses commanded; and it did not stink, nor were there any worms in it.
Then Moses said, “Eat that today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none.” ” [Exodus 16:22-26 NKJV]
Firstly, as always, let us get some context to this. Too often these days are verses snatched from the page with all context removed in order for a point to be made. It is this practice that has ultimately led there to there being almost 40,000 different denominations beneath the umbrella of Christianity.
Moshe (Moses) has led the Hebrews out of Egypt into the wilderness of Sinai. They have seen God’s hand at work before their very eyes when He parted the sea for them so that they might cross over on dry land. They were free, and heading for a new land, promised by God. But soon they were distracted. They got to thinking not about the journey ahead but, instead, about what they had left behind in Egypt. They complained to Moshe and Aharon (Aaron) about the lack of food.
God provided food for them in the shape of manna. In Deuteronomy chapter 8 God explains to Moshe that He led them to a place of hunger so that they could learn to rely upon Him. This is important to this context of Shabbat because God is constantly teaching us. Every day. God provided for them the manna for six days. There was always enough, never too little, just the right amount for a day. On the sixth day of each week God provided twice as much so that on His Sabbath, on His day, they would do no work, including the collection of food. From the moment that God instituted the Sabbath, He intended for people to observe it. In fact, from the start, He made it so that no work, including the gathering of food, should be done on the day that He had set aside for rest.
Now, it is clear that a great deal of the 613 commandments in the Torah are specific to certain circumstances. For example, a great many relate to either the Tabernacle or the Temple. More still to the priesthood. As there is not currently a physical temple and no official priesthood, it is safe to consider this much of the Law to be, at least, suspended. Likewise with a good deal of the commandments that related to the forty years spent wandering around the wilderness. But there are some commandments that God placed a special emphasis upon. Keeping Shabbat is one of those. Not only is it one of the Ten Commandments, but God singles it out for special consideration.
“And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you. You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. Work shall be done for six days but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath, he shall be surely put to death. Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh He rested and was refreshed.’ ” ” [Exodus 31:12-17 NKJV]
I don’t believe that God ever makes mistakes. I cannot accept that He would say this to Moshe and then change His mind later on. Note that God says that Israel are to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations. He emphasises it by using the word forever. And then says it to be a ‘perpetual covenant‘. Pretty clear really. In case you are not convinced, the Hebrew word from which the translators rendered ‘perpetual‘ is olam. It means vanishing point, or until the end of time. Clearly, we haven’t reached the end of time yet.
But, hold on! Surely we Christians are off the hook? Surely God was only talking to the children of Isra’el?
Well, it is true that God was talking to the children of Isra’el. And it is equally true that observing Shabbat is still a fundamental part of Judaism. And, as I said earlier, I am certainly not advocating a return to Judaism or any other ritualistic man-made religion. I am only interested in following Y’shua. That means following His example and the examples of His apostles. I think it is best, at this point, to discuss who we Christians or Gentiles truly are. For if God isn’t talking to us about Shabbat, then we need not continue.
Before Y’shua manifested as a man and fulfilled parts of the Torah, Gentiles were called strangers or aliens. Goyim in Hebrew. They were subject to the Law exactly as the Hebrews were. Not only were they subject to the curses for breaking Torah, they were also included in any blessings due for observing the Law. That Law or Torah is now referred to as the Old Covenant. The New Covenant is not yet fully here. We stand between the fading light of the Torah and the coming light of the New Covenant. But, what is abundantly clear is that we Gentiles have been ‘grafted’ into the nation of Isra’el as co-heirs and are called children of God. This appears to have been somewhat forgotten by much of today’s church – that we are grafted into the vine, and not the vine itself. Read Romans chapter 11 to verify this. Or take a read of an earlier post on this site entitled ‘Who Do You Think You Are?‘
So, if we accept that we, as followers of Y’shua, are subject to the same Torah as the Hebrews are today, then we must start to look at everything differently. But remember this: Christ didn’t come to do away with the Law and the Prophets. He came to perform them as they should have been. He showed us how to live by God’s rules without the burden of man-made religion, and then said ‘now you try it.’ He came to take on the Law makers and show that the burdens that they placed upon people wasn’t what God had intended. All of God’s rules were there to help us live with the consequences of the fall of man. Y’shua became a man to show us how to live righteous lives. And, whilst we await the fulfilment of His kingdom and the full coming of the New Covenant, he did away with the need for constant blood sacrifices as atonement for our failures by becoming the one sacrifice, once and for all. This much you already know.
The New Covenant was prophesied in Jeremiah 31. Clearly, it is not yet here. Christ came to ratify the New Covenant with His blood. That is to say, the new way of doing things will come fully into force when He returns to the earth to take up the fullness of His kingdom. That’s not happened yet, but He left us His Holy Spirit as our guarantee that it will. In the meantime we are to follow His example. His example as a man. He taught it to His disciples. Those disciples became the Apostles and taught others. Today we benefit from that tradition. But I fear we have returned to a man-made religion that is no different to that which Y’shua faced up against in His daily life on earth.
Before we look at just how Y’shua taught His disciples how to observe God’s rules without becoming legalistic and dominated by man-made religion, I felt that we should examine a little more closely the importance of observing Shabbat. When you start to trawl through the pages of the Tanakh (Old Testament), you start to see just how much emphasis God placed upon keeping Shabbat holy.
If you were to trace your way through the Tanakh and count up how many references to keeping the Sabbath Holy, you would count around fifty instances. Not that many really. Maybe. But when you look at the impact for not keeping the Sabbath, only one example should be enough. In Jeremiah 17, God warns the people of Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) that if they continue to break His Shabbat that He will see to it that their city will be burnt to the ground. They chose not to listen to Yirmeyah (Jeremiah) and, as a direct result, God raised up N’vukhadnetzar (Nebuchadnezzar) to lay siege to the city and take into exile its people. For seventy years the people were exiled in Bavel (Babylon). If you are in any doubt about the reason for their exile, I wish to direct you to the second book of Chronicles and chapter 36:
“…to fulfil the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths. As long as she lay desolate she kept Sabbath, to fulfil seventy years.” [2 Chronicles 36:21 NKJV]
Makes for interesting reading doesn’t it? Some explanation is required.
The Sabbath wasn’t only observed by the people each and every week on the seventh day (and also at various festivals throughout the year), but also the land itself was subject to rest as prescribed by God.
In Genesis chapter 2 we can see that after God had created everything, He rested. But the need for rest wasn’t just for Him.
“God blessed the seventh day and separated it as holy; because on that day God rested from all His work which He had created, so that it itself could produce.” [B’resheet (Genesis) 2:3 CJB My Italics]
To paraphrase, God rested and allowed His creation to rest, in order for it to produce. And that makes a great deal of sense when we look at God’s other rules for Sabbaths, such as letting the land lie fallow in each seventh year in order for it to rest and restore itself. Which means that the seventy years rest that Yerushalayim enjoyed was in fact what she was owed because the Hebrews had stopped observing Sabbath practices. But don’t take my word for it. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you the truth in your heart. After all, without His conviction, all that I write here are just words.
Whilst we are still dealing with the Tanakh, it is also worth mentioning Nehemiah chapter 13. After their exile in Bavel, the Hebrews return to Yerushalayim to, firstly, rebuild the Temple and then the city itself. When Nechemyah (Nehemiah) realised that they were breaking the Shabbat, he took immediate action. I will leave you to read the whole account but, as a way of confirmation for the reasons why the Hebrews were exiled in the first place, here’s a little snippet:
“Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said to them, “What evil thing is this that you do, by which you profane the Sabbath day? Did not your fathers do thus, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and this city?” ” [Nehemiah 13:17-18a NKJV]
With that established, we should take note of the Sabbath. What is clear is that God gave the command as a lasting ordnance for all generations; that because the Hebrews failed to observe it correctly, he exiled them; and they then started to observe it as it was intended.
There is one last item that I would draw your attention to; in the book of Ezekiel, the Lord reveals to the prophet the future Temple – the one we see in the book of Revelation. It shows what the new Temple will be like when Y’shua’s reign on earth is in force. The Shabbat is observed. See Ezekiel 46.
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When we look at the life of Y’shua, it is clear that he followed Torah. His parents observed Torah and taught the young man to do the same. The Law didn’t pass away with His crucifixion. He said that not a single letter will pass away until all has been fulfilled. Clearly that hasn’t happened. I suspect that the Law cannot pass away until after the judgement of the earth – those who lived and died between Moshe and Y’shua’s ministry will be judged according to the Law, and so it is still required.
It is as if we are between two covenants. A period of transition. Some has faded already and some is still in force. One day, the New Covenant will be the only covenant. And when Y’shua walked the earth, He came to show that religion and man-made doctrines are not and have never been part of God’s plan for the reconciliation of mankind.
Y’shua observed the Sabbath. True, He did upset the law makers of the day – the religious leaders, in much the same way that I am quite sure I upset today’s pastors and self-appointed apostles. He didn’t follow the Sabbath as they had prescribed. But He did keep it just as God had intended from the very beginning.
A great many of Y’shua’s interactions with the religious leaders of the day revolved around their understanding of Torah. Frequently Y’shua would start saying ‘you have heard it said’. Each time He did this it was a response to the religious leader’s man-made rules and laws. This hasn’t stopped. Today’s leaders are constantly taking single verses from scripture and making law from it. They dress it up nice but ultimately it is exactly the same as what the Pharisees and Sadducees of Y’shua’s day were doing. Like then, Y’shua comes today to offer us freedom from the Law. He wants us to live by the Spirit of the Law and not the letter of the Law. Y’shua challenged legalism at every opportunity. If you are a follower of Christ then you need to do the same. That’s what following Him means.
Take a good look at Matthew chapter 12. The Pharisees couldn’t wait to judge Y’shua and His disciples on matters of Torah. But it was their oral Torah which they tried to use to trap Him. Men’s words…not God’s.
God gave us rules to help us; to make life as bearable for everyone as possible. But man wants to be God and make his own rules and manage himself. Man wants to define what sin is or is not. When we stop listening to what God has said and start listening to what man is saying, we become religious and legalistic.
Y’shua observed the Sabbath. He did it the way it should be observed. He spent it with those He called His family. He spent it reading and teaching from God’s word. He spent it in the synagogues and the Temple and He taught His disciples to do the same. He did only God’s work on the Sabbath. just as the priests of old were exempt when serving God on the Sabbath, Y’shua showed us all that we are too.
Take a look through the book of Acts. Read Chapter 13, and 15, and 16, and 17, and 18…the disciples and apostles didn’t give up meeting on a Sabbath. It was always on the seventh day. The Sunday thing only came when the church split after the apostles had all died. What started as a Hebrew church was divided by the Gentiles. We talk today of Messianic Jews as if they are a new thing. Wrong! It was Messianic Jews who were the original church.
If you want to follow Y’shua you need to study how He lived His life. You need to stop trying to please men and focus entirely on pleasing God. He sent us His Holy Spirit to show us how. Y’shua is The Way. That means He is our path, the way we should go. Read the gospels again and see just how often He and his disciples were observing the Sabbath as God intended.
We have been doing it for a while now. Nothing more than coming together to praise God and thank Him for the things He has done for us. No ritual, no religion, just encouraging each other. It is most refreshing. Of course, the temptation to make it into a law or ritual is ever present, but we make sure that the Holy Spirit is always present to help and guide us in all we do.
We talk about the early church as if it started with Pentecost. It didn’t. It started with Y’shua and His disciples. They met anywhere and everywhere. That was church. Sometimes in a boat, often on a mountain. They had everything in common and loved one another. It’s not that hard to do. All you need is a willing heart. God will do the rest.
If this has stirred an interest in you, I would like to encourage you to take a look at a website that I had found most helpful of late. You can find it here: Voice of One Calling. It needs no introduction, as God has clearly already spoken to the author.