The Sabbath of the Bible
Israel went down into Egypt as a family clan numbering seventy. Some 400 years later they were still there, a vast horde of uneducated, uncivilized slaves estimated to number more than three million. The kind Pharaoh who had given them land in Goshen died, and another king arose “who knew not Joseph.” Life degenerated into a round of ceaseless toil under the lash of hard-hearted taskmasters. Seven days a week they were forced to labor in the fields and brick-kilns of Egypt.
But God had decreed that they should depart, and in due time all this became history. No longer were they slaves to the Egyptians but free men and women returning to their own homeland, a homeland they had never seen.
Now they were a month into their journey, safely across the Red Sea, headed for Canaan. It was springtime, and the heat was oppressive. Their uncouth manners soon surfaced. The miraculous deliverance was far from their minds, and they murmured: “Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt,…when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Ex. 16:3).
In answer to their complaint God sent manna to feed them. Along with the giving of the manna God gave this commandment: they were to rest one day in seven. Six mornings of every seven they would find manna, and they should gather it, but on the seventh there would be none. On the sixth day they were to gather sufficient for the seventh.
Seeing the people gathering extra portions of manna, the rulers of the congregation came to Moses to inquire. “Then he [Moses] 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…Six days vou shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none….So the people rested on the seventh day” (Ex. 16:23, 26, 30).
This is the first command concerning the Sabbath in the Scriptures. The word sabbath derives from the Hebrew shabbath meaning “cessation from labor, rest.” God was commanding that they rest from their labors on the seventh day.
The same command was incorporated in the Ten Commandment Law: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Ex. 20:8-11).
These words, recognized as the Fourth Commandment, have been the basis of a long-standing controversy in religious circles. There can be no question that they were part of the law given to Moses for Israel. But were they spoken also for us of these latter days? Are they of greater import than other commands of the law? Are we under their law today? If we fail to keep the seventh-day Sabbath, are we breaking God’s law?
It is our conviction that we are not. Why do we say this? Let us study the evidence carefully.
First we will examine the arguments of some well-known seventh-day Sabbath believers and compare them with the unerring Word of God.
Present-Day Sabbath Beliefs
For most major religious bodies, Sunday is accepted as the proper day for rest and worship—not that it is kept inviolate, but it is acknowledged as proper. However, for a very vocal minority, the Sabbatarians, Sunday worship borders on heresy; it is breaking the Fourth Commandment—and this broken command, they feel, renders a man guilty before God.
Numbered among present-day Sabbatarians are most Jews, also certain Protestant groups including the adventists, the Worldwide Church of God, the Church of God (Seventh Day), and several other smaller groups.
Theories of the Sabbath
A major point of contention between seventh-day Sabbath keepers and Sunday worshipers concerns the point of the origin of the Sabbath. Seventh-day keepers claim that the Sabbath was instituted at the time of the creation of the earth and that the observance of the day can be traced from that day to this.
In Genesis 2:2–3 we read that “On the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” Here, it is claimed, God was instituting the Sabbath, setting apart the seventh day for Himself to be kept as a memorial of the creation.
We will note what some churches say concerning the origin of the Sabbath.
1. Among thirty-five reasons given by the Church of God (Seventh Day) for keeping the seventh-day Sabbath we find these statements:
— God rested from His labors on the seventh day (Gen 2:2)
—God blessed the seventh day because on it He rested from the work of creation. God not only blessed the seventh day but He also sanctified it (Gen. 2:2–3).
—God’s people kept the Sabbath before the Ten Commandments were given on Mount Sinai.
It is further stated by the Church of God that “the Ten Commandments, including the Sabbath, were a part of creation and existed before the time the tables of stones were given on Mount Sinai (Ex. 16:23, 29). God desires the worship of His people, and it is reasonable to say that He gave the Sabbath at creation for the good of mankind, that they might enjoy blessed fellowship on His holy day. Jesus referred to the Sabbath in that way when He said, ‘The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath’ (Mark 2:27).”
The belief of the Seventh Day Adventists is similar to that of the Church of God. An Adventist publication describes the Sabbath as having been “created” by God Himself, explaining that “When God finished His work of creation, He pronounced it a very good work. Then, through three distinct acts. God created the Sabbath as an eternal memorial to His creative power and His purpose for man. First, He rested when he had finished His work….He entered into a new and unique activity by taking time to enjoy that which He had created, to look with pleasure upon His perfect, finished work. Then. He blessed. The angels were able to enter into His joy that first Sabbath because God blessed the seventh day. Then, He sanctified it. God’s final act in creating the Sabbath was to sanctify it, to set it apart for holy use.”
It is further stated that “it was most fitting indeed that God should thus give this institution to our first parents. Busied as they were during the week with the work to which their Creator had assigned them, it was appropriate that they should have a day of rest in which they could turn their minds more fully to God.”
Adventists claim that God’s people had known of His Sabbath before, but during their bondage in Egypt had lost sight of it. “God did not originate the Sabbath at Sinai as some have suggested. The fourth commandment makes perfectly clear the immutable fact that God created the Sabbath at creation as a memorial for all mankind.” And in addition, they claim that the seven-day cycle has never been lost, that it has been kept continuously from the very beginning.
Theories of the Sabbath
Seventh-day Sabbath believers contend that the Sabbath was instituted at the time of the creation when God is said to have rested from all His labors. But was this “rest” the establishing of the weekly day of rest? Was the seventh day kept as a day of rest from that time to the present without a break, as claimed by some”
o God Rested on the Sabbath as a Pattern for Us?
There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that God was here establishing the Sabbath rest. Nowhere in Genesis do we find that God commanded the people to rest every seventh day. The verse states that God rested (Gen. 2:2), but it says nothing about the Sabbath, nor does the verse command anyone else to rest.
Those who use Genesis 2 for evidence of the origin of the seventh-day Sabbath accept the narrative of the creation as a literal event that took place in six 24-hour days. In the light of scientific knowledge, such a position is untenable.
The creation story of Genesis is much more meaningful when viewed not as a literal account but as an allegory. To try to pinpoint the creation as having occurred only 6,000 years ago and in six literal days is unreasonable. When we view the narrative as an allegory, it becomes understandable.
Briefly stated, the Genesis allegory outlines God’s plan for this earth. The plan began when He first called men to work for Him—in Adam’s time—and the plan continues throughout six one-thousand-year days during which God is said to “work,” taking out a people for Himself who will form the “new heavens” and “new earth,” the new rulers and subjects of His future Kingdom on earth.
On the seventh day, a type of the seventh thousand-year day of the Millennium, God is said to rest from His labors while Christ and the saints “work” or reign over the “new” earth. It is this Millennial “day” that God sanctified, or set apart for His people, and blessed. This is the greater seventh day, of which the Sabbath was a pattern (see Ex. 20:11). This is the Sabbath that will be the close of God’s long creative work on earth. (for further discussion of this subject, refer to our booklet, God’s Spiritual Creation.)
The Sabbath Kept from Adam to Moses?
Sabbatarians claim that the Sabbath was kept perpetually from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, approximately 2500 years.
Such a claim is pure speculation. The Bible record gives no evidence whatever that the Sabbath was observed by man before Israel was commanded to observe it in the wilderness. Nehemiah leaves no question as to when the Sabbath was instituted: “You came down also upon Mount Sinai, And spoke with them from heaven, And gave them just ordinances and true laws, Good statutes and commandments. You made known to them Your holy Sabbath,…By the hand of Moses Your servant” (Neh. 9:13-14). The Sabbath was given as a part of the law given to Moses for Israel.
In the words of one Bible student, “It is incredible that this great institu-tion of the Sabbath could have existed during all those centuries and there be no mention of it in the Scriptures dealing with that time…. It is impossible that the Sabbath could have been kept during this time and not once be mentioned.”
Bible history covering this period gives a reasonably complete account of the religious customs and worship of the patriarchs, Noah. Abraham. Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. It tells about circumcision, the altar and sacrifices”. tithing, etc. but never a word is said about keeping or not keeping the Sabbath. Those who claim that the Sabbath has been kept since creation make this statement without any evidence whatever from the Scripture, A careful study of the Bible gives no hint of any Sabbath observance between Adam and Moses.
o The Seven-day Cycle Never Lost?
Adventists make the claim that the seven-day cycle has never been broken, that the Sabbath has been kept by the true people of God perpetually since the beginning, and that our Saturday corresponds with the old seventh-day Sabbath.
The seventh day according to the Jewish calendar could not possibly correspond with our Saturday. Theirs was a lunar calendar with the first day of the new year being also the first day of the month Abib and the first day of the week (see Lev. 23). Since the number of days in the ycar was not evenly divisible by seven, the Sabbath days would not fall in an even sequence of seven year after year.
o The Sabbath Made by Jesus Christ?
No, neither the Sabbath nor the earth were created by Jesus Christ. To accept such a statement infers a pre-existent nature of Christ. We cannot accept such a statement because it contradicts plain teachings of the Bible. Christ was “born of a woman.” How could He have existed before the woman of whom He was born?
Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath because His law supersedes the old law and takes precedence over it. Throughout His ministry He showed His disregard of the Jewish Sabbath restrictions, demonstrating that doing good was acceptable on any day. This is why Jesus said that the “Son of man is Lord also of the Sabbath,” and “the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28). Jesus was showing his own superiority to the law of Moses. The Sabbath law was made for man’s good, for his temporal benefit, so that his life would not be one of incessant toil.
The Sabbath Law Was Part of the Law of Israel
That the Sabbath was part of the law given to the nation of Israel cannot be disputed. But was it given for all people of all time? No, it was an institution for the nation of Israel: “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” (Ex. 31:13).
The Sabbath was a special arrangement between God and the nation of Israel. “Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant” (Ex. 31:16).
The Sabbath of the Bible was given to Israel as part of their law. It was first mentioned when the manna was given, but was later included in the Ten Commandment law. The Sabbath is but a small part of the law given from Sinai, though it seems at times to have been accented above its intent. Sabbatarians view it as the most important part of the law, but it is not given special attention in the Scriptures.
The whole law was important, as is evident from these words of Moses: “The Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire….So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, even Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stones” (Deut. 4:12-13). Israel was to keep the whole law given, not just the Sabbath command.
The Sabbath was given to the Israelites as a reminder of their deliverance from bondage in Egypt. Moses frequently reminded them of the servitude from which they had been released: “And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deut. 5:15).
Ezekiel, prophet of God during time of Israel’s captivity, reminded the people of their deliverance and coupled it with the command to keep the Sabbath, showing that it was to be a sign of their faithfulness. At the behest of the Lord he also reminded them of their great deliverance, showing that future deliverance would be based on obedience to the God who had chosen them: “And I gave them my statutes, and showed them mine ordinances, which if a man do, he shall even live by them. Moreover, also, I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifieth them” (Ezek. 20:11-12, Scofield Bible). Even today a man’s spirituality may be judged by his attendance at worship services; if a man becomes slack in his attendance he is soon slack in keeping the commands.
The Biblical Sabbath
The Sabbath of the Bible was set apart by God for the nation of Israel. It being part of a national law for them, it commanded that their household servants and guests-all “within their gates” were to cease from labor on that day.
Although many activities were forbidden on that day, the day was not one without any activity. On the Sabbath the bread was renewed on the table of shewbread in the tabernacle (Lev. 24:8). A special sacrifice, one in addition to the daily sacrifice, was offered on the Sabbath (Num. 28:9-10). It was also proper to perform the rite of circumcision on the Sabbath (John 7:22). The Sabbath was also listed as one of the “feasts of the Lord” which were proclaimed to be holy convocations (Lev. 23:2-3).
When God gave His law to Israel He promised much-but He demanded much in return. Not the least of what He demanded was obedience: “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (Deut. 12:32). The command applies as much to Sabbath-keeping as to any other law. The penalty for forgetting was severe.
Prohibitions and Penalties
Present-day Sabbatarians emphasize little more than the day of worship, the major contention being between Saturday or Sunday worship. As to their manner of observing the Sabbath, there is little difference between those who keep one day or the other. But it was not so with Israel. The law specified both what they could and could not do on the Sabbath, as well as the penalties involved.
Cooking and baking were forbidden on the Sabbath.
Moses said to the people, “This is what the Lord has said: `Tomorrow is a day of sacred rest, a sabbath holy to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake now, and boil what you want to boil; put aside what remains over and keep it safe till morning”’ (Ex. 16:23, NEB).
Gathering wood or making a fire was forbidden on the Sabbath.
“Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day” (Ex. 35:3). Israel’s climate is moderate year round; this command worked no hardship on the people. The lesson was obedience.
All work was forbidden on the Sabbath …
“Work shall be done for six days, but on the seventh day shall be a holy day for you, a Sabbath of rest to the Lord, Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death” (Ex. 35:2). The penalty for breaking this law under the Mosaic arrangement was death.
…even work by servants and animals.
…In it you shall do no work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle. nor your stranger who is within your gates” (Deut. 5:13-14). Rest was provided for all slaves as a reminder that Israel had served the Egyptians before their deliverance.
The penalty for breaking the Sabbath was severe: nothing less than death. Moses received the word direct from God on the mountain and delivered the message to the people: “Whoever does any work on it [on the Sabbath] shall be put to death” (Ex. 35:2).
We find an example of a Sabbath-breaker being punished with death in Number, 15: “While the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day And those who found him… brought him to Moses and Aaron”, Moses inquired of the Lord, “Then the Lord said to Moses, The man must surely be put to death” (vs. 32-35).
The penalty was severe, but God demanded obedience to His law.
The prohibitions and penalties that accompanied the Sabbath law were as much a part of the law as the day upon which it was kept. Most present-day Sabbatarians ignore both. But Jesus said no part of the law could pass until all had been fulfilled. If the Sabbath law is still in force, the penalty must also be in force.
God knew Israel’s need when He commanded them to observe the Sabbath. Unbroken toil is monotonous and leads to stagnation in the spiritual life. One day of rest in seven breaks the monotony and provides time for spiritual renewal, for meditation and study.
When the law was given, the penalty for breaking the Sabbath was harsh and unrelenting. But in later years, all Israel turned away from God and the Sabbath was broken, along with other commands, and God punished them as a nation.
In the days of the Judges
The period of the Judges was a constant cycle of rebellion, retribution, repentance, and restoration. When Israel rebelled against the Lord and “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6), we can be sure they were not keeping the Sabbath, although it is not definitely stated.
We read in Judges 2:13 that “They forsook the Lord and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.” As a result, God allowed them to be punished by their enemies. until they repented and turned again to Him; then He raised up a deliverer for them. This cycle was repeated many times, but in between there were times when “the land had rest forty years” under a God-sent judge. At such times they were obeying the commandments, and we may safely assume that the Sabbath was being kept.
In the days of the Kings
Little is said concerning the Sabbath in the time of the kings, but Israel was guilty of frequent apostasy during this period of history. It was after one such apostasy that Joash, the “boy king,” began his reign. He repaired the temple, replaced the vessels in the Lord’s house and restored worship services. But he did not continue his good work, for we read that after the death of Jehoiada the priest, the people “left the house of the Lord God of their fathers, and served wooden images and idols; and wrath came upon [them] because of their trespass” (2 Chron. 24:8-19). God punished them as a nation for their disobedience.
Hezekiah is notable for restoring worship services in the Temple. His father, Ahaz, “sacrificed to the gods of Damascus,…and cut in pieces the articles of the house of God, shut up the doors of the house of the Lord, and made for himself altars in every corner of Jerusalem…and provoked to anger the Lord God of his fathers” (2 Chron. 28:23-25). Again it was a case of God punishing the nation for their disobedience.
After the death of Ahaz, Hezekiah his son became king and instigated a revival. He “opened the doors of the house of the Lord, and repaired them,” and cleansed the temple, restored the vessels, and called together the priests and Levites to prepare the daily sacrifices. They kept the Passover for the first time in many years, and a joyful Israel walked in the ways of the Lord once more. We may be sure the Sabbath was kept at such a time.
In the time of the Prophets
The prophets were contemporaries of the kings. God sent them to warn Israel of the consequence of turning away from Him- but they would not listen. Little is said directly about the Sabbath, but their message indicates that the Sabbath was not being kept according to His law.
Isaiah decried their insincere worship. Apparently they were keeping up a show of worship, but such worship is not acceptable: “Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me, the New Moons, the sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity. and the sacred meeting. Your New Moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates; They are a trouble to Me, I am weary of bearing them” (Isa. 1:13-14).
Sabbath-keeping, attendance at feasts or worship services, even when commanded, meant nothing to God unless it came from the heart. God is not pleased with mere form.
Other prophets also spoke out concerning Israel’s lack of devotion. Amos accused Israel of insincerity. His testimonies indicate that they were keeping the Sabbath, but only in outward form. In their heart they were saving, “When will the New Moon be past, That we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, That we may trade wheat…?” (Amos 8:5). They assembled to worship, but their mind was elsewhere. They said in their heart, “when will it be over so that we may sell our grain?” Their heart was not in their worship.
Jeremiah issued a warning “in all the gates of Jerusalem” at the behest of the Lord: “Hear the word of the Lord, you kings of Judah,…and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, who enter by these gates. Thus saith the Lord: Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; nor carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath day, nor do any work, but hallow the Sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers. But they did not obey…” (Jeremiah 17:19-23).
If they obeyed, the Lord would bless them, but if not the city would be destroyed. They failed to hearken, and God allowed the city to be destroyed as He had said.
During and after the Captivity
During the period of the captivity, the Lord moved Cyrus to allow those who desired to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple so that worship services might be restored. The majority were comfortably settled in Babylon and Assyria and had forgotten God in their prosperity. A remnant went back and repaired the temple “and the descendants of the captivity kept the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month” (Ezra 6:19). Sabbath worship was restored. but not for long. Soon they were mixing with the nations around them and had forsaken God and His laws-and neglected His worship.
Nehemiah took leave of his palace job to return to Jerusalem to repair the wall. The remnant that had returned before him had again turned away from God even after Ezra’s revival. Nehemiah supervised the rebuilding of the wall in the face of much opposition, after which the “book of the law of Moses” was, read and explained to the people and worship restored. (A review of Israel’s, history at this time showed plainly when the Sabbath law was given: “You made known to them Your holy Sabbath, And commanded them precepts, statutes, and laws, By the hand of Moses Your servant” (Neh. 9: l4 ). This text fixes beyond the shadow of doubt the time when the Sabbath was instituted.)
Israel’s memory was short. They soon turned away from God again, and when Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem the second time he found the temple being used as a residence, the worship of God neglected and the Sabbath violated.
Nehemiah was a man of action. Finding people harvesting and selling on the Sabbath. He “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?…you bring added wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath” (Neh. 13:15-18). He lost no time in ordering the traders out of the city, commanding that the city gates be closed over the Sabbath and that the day be kept according to the law-. The Sabbath was again honored, but for how long we do not know.
In the years following the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah, the scribes and the priests added to the old Sabbath law such rules as they thought necessary to preserve the sanctity of the day. Their intentions may have been good at the beginning. but their Sabbath rules and regulations became so numerous that they Obscured the true nature and purpose of the day. The Sabbath had been established as a day of rest, worship and meditation. Now it became cramped with minute rules and regulations.
The original commandment against work was meant for good, but it developed into a never-ending debate among the rabbis as to what constituted “work”. How much weight constituted a burden? Was it legal for a man to carry his wooden leg on the Sabbath? Was it all right for a man to carry out his bed should his house catch fire on the Sabbath? And with each debate another rule was added to the list until the observance of the Sabbath meant nothing more than adhering strictly to the rules of the rabbis.
Jesus and the Sabbath
Such was the state of Sabbath-keeping when Jesus began His ministry. Conflict was inevitable. “He went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, as his custom was.” writes Luke. But in all His actions, He sought to deemphasize strict Sabbath-keeping according to the law of Moses. “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27), said Jesus. Jesus’ appearances in the synagogue were to Jews who refused to believe in Him. He went there when He knew they would be assembled; He tried to show them the error of their ways and in no way upheld their Sabbath doctrine.
On several occasions Jesus contended with the Jews in regard to Sabbath rules and regulations, and the Jews sought to use these occasions to find something for which they might accuse Him.
Jesus heals on the Sabbath.
The occasion was on a visit to the synagogue where Jesus healed a man with a withered hand. “And they asked Him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?…Then he said to them, What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:10-12).
Jesus let it be known that God approved of doing good on the Sabbath.
Jesus defends His disciples concerning the Sabbath.
Jesus with His disciples went through the corn, and being hungry they picked and ate corn (Matt. 12:1). When the Jews criticized Him for this (an action forbidden by their law) He defended His disciples’ actions by quoting from the Scriptures concerning David, “how he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread,” and was not condemned for it. It was on this occasion that Jesus said, “For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day” (Matt. 12:8).
Again, however, He made no pretense of obeying their Sabbath laws: His law superseded the old law.
More healing on the Sabbath
In defiance of the Jews’ opposition, Jesus performed two more healings on their Sabbath. On one occasion He healed the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-15). Another time He healed the man born blind (John 9:1-7). On the first occasion He defended His action by calling attention to His Father: “My Father has been working until now, and I have working” (John 5:17). God’s beneficence is not suspended every seventh day, As in the previous case, He was showing that it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath and that their law could not be upheld. He used the healing of the blind man to condemn the spiritual blindness of the Jews, emphasizing that external observance of the Sabbath counts for nought.
It is notable that Jesus not once commanded anyone to observe the Sabbath, nor did He do anything to indicate that the Sabbath should be perpetuated. Rather, He was laying the groundwork for abolishing the external provisions of the Mosaic law, it having outlived its usefulness.
Paul and the Sabbath
Following the pattern of Jesus, Paul frequently went into the synagogue to preach on the Sabbath day. Also like Jesus, he took advantage of the Jews’ assemblies to attempt to convert them to Christ. The Jews to whom he preached were refusing to accept Christ, following instead the old law of Moses. Paul was not keeping their Sabbath but hoped that his preaching in the synagogue each Sabbath might convert some of the Jews. His last recorded visit to the synagogue shows clearly his purpose: “And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.…and [he] testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. But when they opposed and blasphemed, he shook his garment and said to them. Your blood be upon your own heads, I am clean, From now on I will go to the Gentiles” (Acts 18:4-6).
Paul was not keeping the old law; he was trying to free them from it. His writings show ° clearly that the law was fulfilled in Christ and no longer in force.
THE SABBATH TODAY–IS IT BINDING?
“The oldest memorial on earth is not made of stone and mortar but of time,” writes a Sabbatarian. “Out of the fabric of the universe our Creator God fashioned an ensign for eternity-the seventh day Sabbath.” And says another, the Sabbath is “an institution, which notwithstanding its demands, not only of the seventh part of all time, but of the seventh day in uninterrupted succession, was celebrated from the creation to the deluge, during the deluge, and after the deluge till the giving of the law.”
Was the Sabbath instituted as an “ensign for eternity”? Has it been kept “in uninterrupted succession” from the creation`? Must we believe that the Sabbath law was binding for all time, thus is in force today? Does the Bible support such a premise`. Is there any reference to the Sabbath being celebrated “from the creation to the deluge,” or “during the deluge”?
No, the above quotations find no support in the Bible. The Sabbath was not instituted at the creation, hence it could not have been kept “in unbroken succession” from that time forward. Nor was it to be an “ensign for eternity.” Not all of God’s laws have been permanent. Some have been given for specific people and for limited periods of time. God’s law for Noah was to build an ark for the saving of his household, but no one since has had to build an ark. He commanded the Israelites to gather manna which He promised to provide six days out of every seven-but it was not to be so forever.
As we learned above, the Sabbath law was given in connection with the commands concerning gathering manna. It was a part of the covenant He had with Israel and was for Israel only. The Bible does not substantiate the claim that the Sabbath law was to be binding forever.
The Law “Added”
Paul was a student of the law, taught at “the feet of Gamaliel” (Acts 22:3), “a Pharisee.…a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people” (Acts 5:34). In his Epistles he wrote extensively of the law and its disposition. In his letter to the Galatians he said of the law that it was “added because of transgressions” (Gal. 3:19). If it was “added” it must have been added to something. To what was it added, and for what purpose?
The Everlasting Covenant, the Law of Faith
The world was not without law until God gave the law to Moses on Sinai. From the time He first called men to serve Him, He made His laws known. These laws were not recorded and preserved as was the law of Moses, but they were known to the people at that time.
In the absence of law, there could be no sin, for there must be a standard for comparison. None could be called wicked or righteous without law, yet it is recorded that before the flood “the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5), while “Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations” (v. 9).
It was recorded that Abraham “obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws” (Gen. 26:5), proving conclusively that God had commandments, statutes and laws that were known to Abraham. At the same time, “the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord,” so much so that it was impossible to find ten righteous (Gen. 13:13; 18:32).
These people and others of their time could not have been judged by the law of Moses because it had not yet been given. Some today may contend that it was Moses’ law they were under and that it was simply repeated to Moses at a later date. However, this contention is not supported by the Scriptures.
Paul refers to Abraham’s knowledge of God’s plan: “And Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles through faith, declared the Gospel to Abraham beforehand: ‘In you all nations shall find blessing”’ (Gal. 3:8, NEB). The “gospel” given to Abraham and all others who came under covenant during the pre-Mosaic period, and by which they were judged, is what we today know as the law of faith, or the royal law.
This law is further identified in the book of James: “If you really fulfil the royal law according to the Scripture, You shall love your neighbour as yourself, you do well” (Jas. 2:8). This command, found in Leviticus 19:18, and identified by Jesus in Mark 12:31 as one of the two greatest commandments, was no part of Moses’ law. It was part of the law of faith, the law to which Moses”’ law was added, and the law that remained after Moses’ law was abolished. Failure to distinguish between these two laws is a major reason for misunderstanding the limitations of Moses’ law. The laws governing Sabbath observance formed no part of the law of faith, or royal law, hence passed out of existence with Moses’ law.
The royal law, or law of faith is also referred to in the Bible a, the “everlasting covenant.” The Adventists believe Moses’ law, including the Ten Commandments, to be part of this covenant. However, this is but a vain attempt to prove the perpetuity of the Sabbath, for the “everlasting covenant” was made with Abraham more than four hundred years before the days of Moses and Sinai. We learn from the Psalmist of this covenant: “He [God] remembered His covenant forever,…The covenant which He made with Abraham,…And confirmed it to Jacob for a statute. To Israel as an everlasting covenant” (Ps. 105:8-10). God’s covenant with His people existed long before Moses. Moses’ law, including the Sabbath. was added to that everlasting covenant, but only on a temporary basis: Moses’ law was not a permanent addition.
The Two Laws Contrasted
When God first called men to work for Him, He gave them His law. To Noah, Abraham and the patriarchs He gave the royal law, or law of faith. When He chose the nation of Israel for His own, there was need for another law. Uneducated and uncivilized, they needed a strict code to teach them the right way. It was at this time that God gave the law to Moses, adding it to the already existing law of faith. “It was added because of transgressions.” said Paul, “till the Seed [Jesus Christ] should come to whom the promise was made” (Gal. 3:19).
The two laws were markedly different in scope and in benefit. The law of Moses was primarily a civil ‘taw to civilize, while the law of faith was unending in duration and held the promise of eternal benefits.
The law of Moses applied only to Israel. In the words of Moses, “The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive” (Deut. 5:3).
The law of faith applies to all who place themselves under it. All who covenant to serve God, regardless of race, come under it. God is no respecter of persons.
Moses’ law covered only outward acts. Under it, a man had to commit the act to be guilty.
The law of faith governs the thoughts and intents of the heart, a necessary part of perfection of character. Under the law of faith, “Whoever is angry with his brother” is in danger of the judgment (Matt. 5:22).
The law of Moses could not take away sin. It was a national or civil law and could not “make those who approach perfect,” but was a “shadow of the good things to come” (Heb. 10:1).
The law of faith applied to the life of the Christian can cleanse “from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit” (2 Cor. 7:1) and prepare the doer for eternal life.
The Sabbath law was a part of the law of Moses. Keeping the Sabbath law brought temporal benefits only. It was no part of the law of faith, hence keeping the seventh-day Sabbath today does not avail to salvation.
The Sabbath Law-Moral or Ceremonial?
Adventists and other Sabbatarians in an effort to hold onto that part of the law dealing with the Sabbath attempt to prove that the law given to Israel in the time of Moses was divided into two parts, moral and ceremonial. It is their contention that only the Ten Commandment law written on the tablets of stone is moral, and that all civil laws and laws concerning other obligations to God were ceremonial. And only the moral law is binding. To them, only the Ten Commandments are the “law of God”; the balance is the “law of Moses.”
Where in the Scriptures do we find such a division? Nowhere. It is a division made by man, not God. The Bible makes no distinction between the “law of God” and the “law of Moses.” Moses’ law was given by God, hence can rightly be called God’s law. After spending forty days on the mount, “Moses gathered all the congregation of the children of Israel together, and said to them, These are the words which the Lord has commanded, you to do” (Ex. 35:1). Moses had received all the law for Israel and he was about to instruct them concerning it.
Upon receiving the law, Israel had promised: “All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient” (Ex. 24:7). They were liable for all that the Lord had said. They were morally obligated to keep the whole law. As far as they were concerned, there was but one law, and they were to obey it.
Were we to divide the law as stated above, all the laws concerning sacrifice and offerings would be classed as ceremonial. Likewise, the laws concerning the feasts would fall in the ceremonial category. But Israel was as morally bound to keep the feasts and to offer the sacrifices as to obey the Ten Commandments. “Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord God,” was the command (Ex. 23:17). To disobey this law was to break the law as much as to ignore the Sabbath was to break the law. The division between the “law of God” and the “law of Moses” and between “moral” and “ceremonial” laws is entirely man-made. There is nothing in the Scriptures to indicate such a division; it is based entirely on assumption. One part did not pass away and another remain. When God gave it, He gave the whole law; and when He removed it He removed the whole law. We are not justified in dividing it for our convenience.
THE LAW OF MOSES ABOLISHED
Like other non-permanent laws, the law given by God to Moses at Sinai was to a specific group of people and was for a limited period of time. It was given to Israel and them alone, and it was to be limited to the period of time “till the seed should come,” or in other words, until Christ (Gal. 3:19). When the law was abolished, the whole law was abolished; there is no evidence to the contrary. The Ten Commandments, being part of the Mosaic law, and the Sabbath command being one of the ten, passed away with it.
Evidence of the End of the Law
Jesus and the End of the Law
Jesus did not teach the law of Moses: He taught a law superior to it. Of Himself and the law He said: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets, I did not come to destroy but to fulfill….till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matt. 5:17-18).
Believers in the seventh-day Sabbath quote this text to support their conviction that Sabbath observance is still binding today. But Jesus said He came to “fulfill” the law. This word “fulfill” has among its many meanings, “to pass, to come to pass, to be ended, fall, be finished, pass, be performed” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance). Jesus came to “fulfill” the law, to bring its usefulness to completion-as this very chapter shows. Jesus proceeds immediately to state the “new” law with power and authority. “It was said to those of old,…but I say to you…” (See Matthew 5:21-28).
Christ came to fulfill the law and the prophets, as He Himself testified: “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses, and the Prophets, and in the Psalms concerning Me” (Luke 24:44).
Jesus came “not to destroy, but to fulfill.” And when the law of Moses had been fulfilled it was withdrawn. Its time expired and its authority ceased.
Paul stated plainly that the law was given “till the Seed should come” (Gal. 3:19). Jesus was the promised seed, hence He was “the end of the law…to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4). The Sabbath law was part of the law of Moses that Christ fulfilled or finished, hence when the law was finished, the Sabbath law was also finished.
Paul testified to the end of the law in Christ in his letter to the Colossians: “having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us, And took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;…So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come” (Col. 2:14, 16-17).
The old law with its sacrifices and new moons and sabbaths was gone; no one was to be judged by these observances any more. But seventh-day keepers try to circumvent this verse with the explanation that what Paul had reference to was the feast days and holy days of the law. A careful reading of the text shows that Paul includes all the Jewish holy days and feasts and the weekly sabbaths as well. Nor can the verse be sidestepped because the term “sabbath-days” is plural, as some would claim. Other comparable uses of the plural form -which definitely have reference to the weekly rest day-include: “My Sabbaths you shall keep” (Ex. 31:13); “Keep My Sabbaths” (Lev. 19:30): “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” (Matt. 12:10).
The word translated “sabbath-days” in Colossians 2:16 is identical with the word used sixty times in the New Testament-all of which refer to the weekly Sabbath rest day. The teaching is clear-Paul was letting them know that Jesus had ended the law and they needed no longer to be bound by it.
Paul and the End of the Law
To Paul we are indebted for much of our knowledge concerning the end of the law. Had we lived as close to the time of the end of the law as did he, we would find the subject easier to understand. By studying what Paul wrote in his various Epistles we can better ascertain his teaching.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul described the old law as a “Ministry of death, written and engraved on stones” (2 Cor. 3:7). There can be no question that his reference is to the law, for none but the Ten Commandments were ever “written and engraved in stones.” And it is also clear in the context of verses 7-11 that the law was “done away.” The text is plain. And if anyone should wonder whether the law done away was “moral” or “ceremonial,” Paul states plainly that it is the law that was “written and engraved in stones” that was done away.
Paul again talks about the law in his letter to the Galatians, emphasizing that it has been done away. From Paul’s letter it is evident that many of the Galatians brethren were still holding to the letter of the law, believing it necessary to “and monobserve days ths and seasons and years” (Gal. 4:10). They had listened to Paul and started in the way to follow Christ; now he finds them turning back to the law of Moses.
The matter was of such great importance that Paul wrote much on the subject. “O foolish Galatians!” he addresses them, “Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth,…Are you so foolish?” (Gal. 3:1-3). And again in chapter 4 he chastises them for turning away from Christ and following the old law: “How is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles’? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again’? YOU are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you. that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you…. Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good” (Gal. 4:9-17, NIV).
Nothing could be gained by turning back to an old law that was no longer in force, hence Paul pleaded with them to follow him as he followed Christ.
Again in Galatians Paul writes: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” he pleads (Gal. 5:1). Paul appeals to them to stay with Christ and remain free from the law of Moses. The old law was abolished; it had fulfilled its purpose. Salvation is available only through following Christ. Observing special days alluded to the sabbaths and feast days of the law. Are you so foolish as to return to them? asks Paul. “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5). One man may esteem one day above another, but to Paul one day was not above another. The seventh day was not above the first.
A careful study of the book of Galatians provides convincing evidence that Moses’ law was not binding on Christians, hence the Sabbath law ° was no longer in force.
Hebrews and the End of the Law
The book of Hebrews provides further evidence that the law is not still in force, hence the Sabbath is not in force. The law given to Moses was a law for Israel and for Israel only: “The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive” declared Moses in Deuteronomy 5:3. It was not a law or covenant before the nation of Israel existed, nor was it to be a covenant or law forever.
With the advent of Christ the Mosaic law became useless. It was no longer a teacher, for Jesus showed plainly that His law superseded it; it was no longer of value as a national law because Israel was no longer a nation, but a state under the laws of Rome. It had served its purpose and was now ready to disappear altogether. In the words of Paul, “The law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Gal. 3:24-25).
These words, together with his letter to the Corinthians, make plain Paul’s position concerning the law: It was now obsolete; it had come to an end. It had been a “ministration of death, written and engraven in stones” that had been “done away,” or as rendered in more modern translations of 2 Cor. 3:11, it was “fading away” (NIV); it “lasted for a while,” (TEV); it was “temporary,” (JB); it “faded away” (RSV); it “was soon to fade” (NEB).
All of these renderings leave no room for doubt that the law came to an end-and when the law ended, the Sabbath law ended with it. And we today are not under the law.
Christ, Our High Priest
The Levitical Priesthood was as much a part of the Mosaic law as was the Sabbath. Hence, if we were still bound by the law and obligated to keep the seventh-day Sabbath, we should be following the law concerning the priesthood.
The writer to the Hebrews shows clearly the end of the law through the change in the priesthood. Christ is our High Priest, not under the Mosaic law but under the royal law, God’s law that existed from the beginning. “For every high priest is taken from among men and appointed … before God, … he is called by God, as indeed Aaron was. So it is with Christ: he did not confer upon himself the glory of becoming high priest; it was granted by God, who said to him, `Thou art my Son; . . .’ as also in another place he says, `Thou art a priest for ever, in the succession of Melchizedek”’ (Heb. 5:1-6, NEB).
The writer of Hebrews continues his discussion in Chapter 7, explaining the change in the priesthood, showing clearly that we are no longer under the law (quotation is from the New English Bible): “Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for it is on this basis that the people were given the law), what further need would there have been to speak of another priest arising, in the succession of Melchizedek, instead of the succession of Aaron? For a change of priesthood must mean a change of law. And the one here spoken of belongs to a different tribe, no member of which has ever had anything to do with the altar. For it is very evident that our Lord is sprung from Judah”-a tribe which had no connection with the priesthood.
“The argument becomes still clearer, if the new priest who arises … [owes] his priesthood not to a system of earthbound rules but to the power of a life that cannot be destroyed.. . . The earlier rules are cancelled as impotent and useless. since the law brought nothing to perfection; and a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God” (vs. 15-19, New English Bible). The old law was cancelled “as impotent and useless,” or as rendered by the Revised Standard Version, it was “set aside because of its weakness and uselessness,” It had filled its place well, but it was now no longer needed.
The writer leaves no room for doubt that the old law, including the Ten Commandment,. passed away with the advent of Jesus Christ, our High Priest. He clinches the argument near the end of the chapter: “Those other priests prevented by death from continuing in office; but the priesthood which Jesus holds is perpetual, because he remains for ever. . . . The high priests made by the law are men in all their frailty, but the priest appointed by the words of the oath which supersedes the law is the Son, made perfect now for ever (Heb. 7:23-28, NEB).
The law had been superseded by Christ’s law: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of Old time, … But I say unto you …” His statements were forthright and unequivocal. His law, His commandments took the place of Moses’ law including the Ten Commandments. There was no longer a Ten Commandment law as many would have us believe, but a law that was deeper. reaching even to the thoughts and intents of the heart; broader, covering nine of the Ten and more: and wider-wide enough to reach even to us of these last days. His commandments covered everything the Ten had in the old law with one exception: Nowhere did He command us to keep the Sabbath!
The old covenant or law taken away.
Throughout his Epistle, the writer to the Hebrews contrasts the two covenants. They are described as “first” and “second,” and again as “old” and “new”. These two covenants are the same as those illustrated by Paul in his letter to the Galatians, where he proves without doubt that the old covenant or law has passed away.
Using the account of Abraham’s two wives, Hagar and Sarah, and their two son,. Ishmael and Isaac, Paul created an allegory to show the end of the old law. In his allegory, Hagar represents the covenant made on “Mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage,” and Sarah, the freewoman, represents the “truth which came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17) which makes men free. Their two sons – both sons of Abraham-represent the children of the two covenant,. whether Jew or Gentile. Paul denotes the covenant from Sinai by the “bondwoman,” while picturing the children of Sarah as “free.” The Sinai covenant (Moses’ law including the Ten Commandments) is described as bondage. and says Paul, “Be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Gal. 4:30): “Cast out the bondwoman and her son” (Gal. 4:30). The old covenant no longer needed, was “cast out,” done away forever.
The writer to the Hebrews confirms Paul’s words: “He takes away the first, that He may establish the second” (Heb. 10:9). When Christ took away the old covenant, He removed it completely. There was a complete change of the law, an entirely new divine order with Christ at its head. Why`? The old covenant, the law of Moses could not make men perfect. Outward obedience is not enough, hence the need for a new and better law, “there is the bringing in of a better hope,…through which we draw near to God” (Heb. 7:18-19). And with the removal of the old covenant, the old law, the Sabbath commandment ceased.
THE SABBATH AND US
Considering the abundant evidence in the Scriptures that the law of Moses terminated with Christ and with it the Sabbath command, the question arises: What shall we do? Should we still keep the seventh day? Or shall we observe Sunday as is customary in our land?
The arrangement as established under the law of Moses that provided for one day of rest in seven was for the benefit of man and has been followed down through the ages. Our minds and bodies need rest, and the interruption of the work-a-day schedule by one day of rest is profitable physically, spiritually and mentally. We need the spiritual uplift to be found in fellowship with others of like faith at worship services. A stimulating sermon and Bible study leaves us better prepared to face the world each Monday morning.
Why do we keep Sunday and not Saturday? First, we observe Sunday as a day of rest because there is absolutely no proof that Saturday is the seventh day of God’s week. Second, we observe Sunday because the day itself is not important. In Romans 14, Paul makes a special point that whatever day we might choose does not matter. “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord” (vs. 5-6). Paul had earlier written: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authorities except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Rom. 13:1).
In keeping with the words of Paul, who received his ministry direct from Christ (1 Tim. 1:12), we observe Sunday. This is the day set aside by our country and since it in no way conflicts with the law of God, we keep it as a day for rest and special worship and spiritual renewal.
THE SABBATH AS TYPE AND SHADOW
The law was a “shadow of the good things to come” (Heb. 10:1). What could be less permanent than a shadow? Yet the Sabbath was said to be a “sign forever” and a “perpetual covenant” (Ex. 31:16-17). How can this be?
The Sabbath law was to be “for ever” and “perpetual” in relation to the Israelite nation. Exodus 31:16 states this fact plainly: “Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.” The law was specifically for the “children of Israel”-not for all men of all nations; and it was to be observed “throughout their generations.” When the nation should cease to exist, the Sabbath law of that nation would also cease.
This same “perpetual” arrangement of Israel’s laws is mentioned concern-ing the yearly observance of the Passover, which was to be “an ordinance for ever” and “throughout your generations:” (Ex. 12:14, 24, 42). There was a “perpetual statute” concerning the clothing and consecrating of the priests (Ex. 29:9); the daily offering of incense upon the altar (Ex. 30:8); the peace offerings (Lev. 3:14-17) and meal offerings (Lev. 6:20); also the manner of eating the shewbread (Lev. 24:8-9). Certain cities in Canaan were said to belong to the Levites for “their perpetual possession” (Lev. 25:34). We understand all of these to have ceased when the nation of Israel ceased to be; so likewise the Sabbath law. In no way could a “perpetual statute” of any nation exist beyond the life of that nation. The “perpetual statutes” of Israel are not in force today, any more than those of Babylon or of Rome. They were to be for the duration of that nation only.
The Sabbath, a Type of the Rest to Come
The law of Moses was given for a specific purpose and it served that purpose well. It was not intended for all people of all time but was for the nation of Israel, and when its purpose had been fulfilled it was withdrawn in favor of a better law.
The law made extensive use of symbol, type and shadow, some of them pointing forward to aspects of God’s plan to be fulfilled many centuries after the nation of Israel ceased to exist. The tabernacle, established under the law of Moses. foreshadowed the spiritual tabernacle, a new and better order of government not yet established. The priesthood, consisting of a high priest and other subordinate priests who had charge of the tabernacle, was a type of Christ and the saints. Christ as High Priest and the faithful of the six thousand years. those made “us kings and priests to our God;…shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10). They will be in charge of the spiritual tabernacle, the new order of government.
Likewise, the Sabbath was a type or shadow. Paul’s words in Colossians 2:16-17 describe it as such: “Let no one judge you … or regarding a festival or a new moon, or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come.” The Sabbath was but a shadow of something better to come, of the great. seventh day of rest to follow the six days of toil and labor. The Mosaic arrangement of six days of work followed by a seventh day of rest foreshadowed the entire plan of God for this earth.
As shown in the Genesis allegory, God purposed to work six days and rest the seventh. These six days are six one-thousand-year days, and the seventh day. the day of rest, is the Millennium. In observing the Sabbath every seventh day. Israel was to be perpetually reminded of this better, enduring rest to come. Originally the Sabbath law served to protect laborers from incessant toil and to remind all Israel that they were no longer servants in Egypt but servants of God Almighty. Through the provision of one day’s rest in seven. God was teaching those who would fully follow His law that there was something better yet to come.
The Rest that Remains
The rest foreshadowed by the Sabbath is yet to come. “There remaines therefore a rest for the people of God” (Heb. 4:9). The context of this chapter shows that this rest has not yet been accomplished. “For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day” (Heb. 4:8). The writer was here referring to the rest given Israel when they settled in Canaan, but was reminding them of a better time to come.
This text is frequently used by seventh-day Sabbath-keepers to support their contention that the Mosaic Sabbath must be observed today, but there is nothing here to support such a claim. Concerning this rest, the writer cautions us to “fear” lest we “come short of it,” showing that it is something more than resting one day in seven. Anyone is free to rest on that day, and there is nothing to fear if they do not. But entering into the future Millennial rest depends upon our every word, thought and action-and failure is something to be feared, as the writer states at the beginning of the chapter: “Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.”
Hebrews 4 has no reference to the seventh-day Sabbath except as it is used as a type of the coming greater Sabbath. the eternal Day of rest.
A Continual Sabbath
To rest one day in seven is a God-given principle and it is a good one. But for the Christian it is not enough to give one day in seven to God. Christians are duty bound to keep a continual sabbath, the spiritual Sabbath. The Christian must rest from every evil every day—not just one in seven.
This continual Sabbath is described in Isaiah 58:13-14: “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, The holy day of the Lord honorable, and shalt honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor finding your own pleasure, Nor speaking your own words: Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, The mouth of the Lord has spoken.” We must keep this spiritual Sabbath continually by not “doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words.” This is a sabbath far deeper and more significant than the seventh-day Sabbath for which so many would contend.
“Blessed is the man…Who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, And keeps his hand from doing any evil.…For thus says the Lord…To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, And choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant, Even to them I will give in My house And within My walls a place and a name Better than of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name, That shall not be cut off” (Isa. 56:2-5).
When we keep our hands from doing any evil, when we rest from our own ways and choose the things that please God, we are keeping the spiritual Sabbath.
The Sabbath under the Mosaic arrangement provided rest for man and beast. It served as a memorial to Israel’s servitude in Egypt and pointed forward to a better rest to come. The spiritual Sabbath, which lasts through the entire Day of salvation, provides rest from sin to all who observe it and points forward to that future day of rest when all sin, sickness, and even death will be unable to touch those who rest from sin now. In that future Day of rest there will be rest for man because his warfare against sin is over; there will be rest for God because Christ and the saints will have assumed dominion over the earth; there will be rest for the earth when evil is subdued and peace reigns supreme. “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest” (Heb. 4:11).
Can You Answer These?
1. What does the Hebrew word “shabbath” mean?
2. When was the Sabbath law instituted?
3. Explain how Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath?
4. Why was the Sabbath given to the Israelites?
5. What were some of the prohibitions on the Sabbath?
6. What was the penalty for breaking the Sabbath law?
7. What was Jesus’ teaching regarding observance of the Sabbath?
8. What is the “royal law”? What is its purpose?
9. How did Christ “fulfill” the law?
10. V’hat did Paul say about the “end” of the law? What did he mean?
11. What were some of the limitations of the law of Moses?
12. Why do we observe Sunday as a day of worship today?
13. If the Sabbath was to be a “perpetual covenant,” why does it not exist today?
14. What is the future “Sabbath” which the Jewish Sabbath law typified?
15. What is the “continual” Sabbath which every Christian must observe?
(If you need assistance in answering these questions, refer to your Bible and to the pages of this lesson.)