When reviewing information about a biblical topic, especially topics as far reaching as this one, a good place to start is to determine what the definitions of the Hebrew words actually mean. Below are the definitions of the word transliterated as “sabbath” from the Strong’s dictionary:
H7676 – shabbâth pronounced: shab-bawth’
Intensive from H7673; intermission, that is, (specifically) the Sabbath: – (+ every) sabbath.H7673 – shâbath
A primitive root; to repose, that is, desist from exertion; used in many implied relations (causatively, figuratively or specifically): – (cause to, let, make to) cease, celebrate, cause (make) to fail, keep (sabbath), suffer to be lacking, leave, put away (down), (make to) rest, rid, still, take away.
A universal pattern is established
While most people think the weekly sabbath was instituted on Mt. Sinai when Moses received the ten commandments, scripture actually reveals that a day of rest and worship has been established since Creation:
Gen 2:1-3 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
We can learn several key things about the seventh day from this short passage:
- First of all, the word sabbath is not used here, but it is designated simply as the seventh day. We don’t find the actual word sabbath occuring until later in Exodus 16, between the Hebrew slaves leaving Egypt and arriving at Mt. Sinai. More on this in a bit.
- We also learn that this unique day is the seventh day of any given week, and not just any day of our choosing. It is a universal pattern that is being established for all of mankind, not just for the Israelites or the Hebrew people.
- We learn further that God rested from his work setting this pattern for us to follow.
- We also learn that God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it.
Understanding that it is the seventh day of the week, and resting on this day are both easy enough to understand, but what about this concept of blessing and sanctification?
The Hebrew term underlying the word blessed means “to kneel; by implication to bless God (as an act of adoration), and (vice-versa) man (as a benefit).” This day is a day for us to honor and adore God and, in a reciprocal fashion, man is to derive a benefit from God by resting and worshiping him.
Similarly, the Hebrew term underlying the word sanctified in this verse is the root word that we get our English word “holy” from. It means “to pronounce or observe as ceremonially clean, to consecrate, dedicate or sanctify (set apart for a specific use).” The blessing that God has pronounced on this seventh day, then, is to make this day unique from all of the other days of the week, as a day that is set apart uniquely to adore him, and for us to receive a benefit from worshiping him and resting from our work. It can be quickly seen that the significance God has placed on this day is not to be taken lightly, or as a matter of mere personal preference.
God’s gift of holy rest
The next time in the biblical narrative that we specifically see a specific reference to the seventh-day is during the early days of the Exodus, after the people have left Egypt but have not yet reached Sinai (Exo 16). It is here in the context of regulations regarding the gathering of the manna in the wilderness that this day is specifically referred to by Moses as the sabbath, or intermission.
Exo 16:23-30 And he said unto them, This is that which the LORD hath said, To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto the LORD: bake that which ye will bake to day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning. 24 And they laid it up till the morning, as Moses bade: and it did not stink, neither was there any worm therein.
25 And Moses said, Eat that to day; for to day is a sabbath unto the LORD: to day ye shall not find it in the field. 26 Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none. 27 And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none.
28 And the LORD said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws? 29 See, for that the LORD hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.
While many more details can be drawn from this passage, three primary lessons are evident:
- Moses is giving them instructions about sabbath at a time prior to Mt. Sinai and the ten commandments.
- It is designated as “a rest unto the LORD” (v. 23), not just a rest for doing nothing
- The sabbath is specifically the seventh day (v. 26).
- Moses says the sabbath is something given to them by God (v. 29).
This idea of the sabbath being a gift from God is echoed by Yeshua many years later when some of the Pharisees were arguing with him about the nature of this special day:
Mar 2:27-28 And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: 28 Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.
Certainly, as a believer in Yeshua as the Anointed One (Messiah), I believe Yeshua was uniquely qualified to clarify the original intent of the sabbath day. Notice the universal application of this day, as Yeshua does not say the sabbath was made for Jews (or Israelites, or Hebrews, for that matter), but for man. He hearkens back to the Genesis blessing that all men could receive by keeping the day set as apart to God, resting from their regular work, and not complicating it with the traditions and rules of men.
The Sabbath is further refined for us in the context of the ten commandments that Moses received from God.
Exo 20:8-11 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10 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: 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
Three immediate points come to our attention:
- We see that this is not the first instance the sabbath is conveyed to the Hebrews, as verse 11 says to remember the sabbath, as a command that had already been in place (as we saw in Exodus 16 above).
- Additionally, we learn of the universal application of this ‘intermission” command that extends to children, servants, strangers (non-Hebrews), and even the farming animals. God apparently intends this intermission for all, as mentioned earlier.
- We also see that one of the significant meanings God has intended is that the weekly sabbath would serve as a memorial of the six days of the creation of all things, in honor of the Creator.
A sign and an enduring covenant
Exo 31:12 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, 13 Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you…16 Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. 17 It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.
Interestingly, there is an English word used here: sign. The underlying Hebrew is H226, oth: “a signal (literally or figuratively), as a flag, beacon, monument, omen, prodigy, evidence, mark, miracle, (en-) sign, token.” Obviously, the sabbath is meant as an identifying evidence of some kind, that would serve several purposes:
- “that ye may know that I am the LORD that doth sanctify you.” Strong’s defines sanctify as “be, make, pronounce or observe as clean (ceremonially or morally).” This would serve as a designation of the uniqueness of his people from all others.
- “for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth.” This is another indication that the sabbath is a memorial of Creation (and, hence, the Creator).
- “and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.” This reaffirms the sabbath as a memorial of God’s seventh-day rest, a pattern for us to follow, as well.
The sabbath, then, in addition to the benefit of rest, appears to be a representative mark or designation of those in whom God is working to set apart as his own. Through observance of the seventh day sabbath, those who do so are demonstrating their recognition of, obedience to, and love for their Creator.
Additionally, the sabbath is described in enduring terms: “throughout your generations,” “a perpetual covenant,” “forever.” There is no scriptural evidence that I am aware of that at some point in the future the seventh day rest would be done away with, or superseded by another day of the week. In fact, many, including myself, believe that the seventh day is an eternal statute, as implied by Isaiah:
Isa 66:22-23 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. 23 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 the LORD.
Sabbath observance was the custom of Yeshua
We see in the apostolic writings the evidence that our Master, being a Jew himself, faithfully observed and kept the sabbath holy.
Mark 1:21-22 And they went into Capernaum; and straightway on the sabbath day he entered into the synagogue, and taught. 22 And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.
Luk 4:16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.
Many other passages could be brought to bear on this truth; however, most readers tend to focus on the disagreements Yeshua had with the Jewish religious leaders over what was acceptable conduct on the sabbath. Nevertheless, the apostolic writings are clear that Yeshua knew the Torah, and could not be disobedient to it.
While many could say that Yeshua had to obey it as a condition of the Old Covenant, certainly the fact that he did not abide by the traditionalist interpretation helps us see the true purpose of the day was not something to be legalistic about, but receptive to as a gift of God.
Paul and the early believers honored the sabbath
Act 17:2 And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,
Act 18:4 And he [Paul] reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.
Again, there are many references to Paul attending the synagogues throughout his ministry. This makes sense, as what we call the early church, even up to this point (a decade or so after the resurrection of Messiah) was made up almost exclusively of Jewish believers.
In fact, the Messiah believers were so closely aligned with the scriptural practices of the Hebrew people that they were considered “a sect of the Jews” by others. Even many years later, Tertullus, attempting to bring charges against Paul, said, “For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes,” Acts 24:5. Later, when Paul was taken to Rome, and discussing the Messiah with the local Jewish leaders, they said, “But we desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest: for as concerning this sect, we know that every where it is spoken against,” Acts 28:22. Therefore, being considered a sect within Judaism could only come about if sabbath observance, along with Torah observance in general, was still in place with the believers.
A review of what we have learned about the seventh day sabbath is listed below:
- The seventh day is unique from all of the other days of the week, established at Creation, not just at Sinai.
- It is a day that is set apart uniquely to honor God as the Creator, and serves as an enduring memorial of Creation.
- Man also receives a unique benefit (blessing) from worshiping God and resting from his/her work on this day.
- It is a gift from God to all of mankind, not just the Jews, as it was in place at Creation, many thousands of years before Mt. Sinai.
- The sabbath is a sign, an identifying evidence, of those who are desiring to be set apart to their Creator and obedient to him out of love.
- Yeshua, our supreme example, honored the day as a day made for man’s benefit (and not in the manner of the religious traditionalists within Judaism).
- The early Messiah believers also continued the practice well beyond the day of Pentecost in Acts.
- The sabbath is perpetual and enduring. There is no scriptural mandate that the uniqueness of this day was ever changed to the first day of the week, even in the context of the New Covenant.
May YHVH provide his gracious blessing upon you as you reflect on these passages and consider the truth of his word.