The Savior and the Sabbath.

And as His custom was, [Jesus] went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read, Luke 4:16 (NKJV).

“His custom”.

One of the websites I visited while researching this series based its whole evidence for the continued priority of the seventh-day Sabbath on the custom of Jesus to which Luke refers.  The implication of this site is that since Jesus kept the Sabbath, so must we.

There was nothing else to be expected of our Lord.  Galatians 4:4 reminds us that Jesus was born under the law, and as such was required to keep the Sabbath.  Our last posts have seen that.  But there was more to what our Lord did than just go to synagogue on Saturday.  By the way, the Jewish Sabbath was, and is, from Friday evening through Saturday afternoon, not all day Saturday.

There are 50 references to the Sabbath in the Gospels.  Their emphasis isn’t just on Jesus’ attendance in the synagogue on the Sabbath, but His attitude toward it and what He did during it.  These 50 references tell of 12 separate incidents in the life and ministry of the Lord, although 6 of the references refer either to what happened immediately after His death or after His resurrection.  Further, several of the incidents are recorded by more than one Gospel.  Some of the parallel accounts don’t specifically mention the Sabbath.  We usually haven’t included them in this post.

His attitude and His actions were what got the Lord Jesus in trouble with the religious leaders of the day, that and His claims about who He was.  As we briefly look at these 12 incidents in the life of our Lord, in the order the first reference appears in the Gospels, we see this quite clearly.

1.  Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-27; Luke 6:1-3:  Picking grain to eat.

This is the record of Jesus and His disciples traveling through some fields of grain one Sabbath day.  The disciples got hungry, picked some of the heads of wheat and ate them, cf. Deuteronomy 23:25.  This upset the Pharisees, who labelled this as “harvesting,” that is, “work,” on the Sabbath. They claimed that what the disciples were doing wasn’t “lawful.”

By the example of David eating the showbread in the Tabernacle is a time of great need and by quoting Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” the Lord showed that sometimes “mercy” takes precedence over rigid legalism like the Pharisees practiced.

Then He made a couple of astonishing statements: “Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the Temple….  For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath,”  Matthew 12:6, 8.  In other words, the Lord Jesus was claiming authority even over the Sabbath and didn’t need the “approval” of the religious authorities for what He did.   I’m sure this didn’t go over well with the Pharisees.

2.  Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11:  healing the man with a disabled hand.

This event seems to follow immediately after the first one, though Luke shows it differently.  The Gospels often don’t follow what we would understand as chronology, but are concerned with connection.  This was true of the literature of the ancient world.  It is a mistake to expect ancient writings to follow modern ideas.  Regardless, Jesus was in a synagogue where there was a disabled man.  Continuing the argument about “legality,” the Pharisees asked Jesus if it were “lawful to heal on the Sabbath”  …that they might accuse Him.  The Pharisees never actually looked at what the Lord did, only that He violated what they thought was right and proper.

The Lord showed their hypocrisy in that they would rescue one of their animals from danger on the Sabbath; by implication, shouldn’t He rescue this man from his disability?  To answer their question – “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Instead of bringing them to repentance, this episode just deepened their rebellion. They resolved to figure out how to destroy Him.

3.  Matthew 24:20:  pray not to have to flee on the Sabbath.

Though Mark and Luke also record this discourse, Matthew is the only one who mentions the Sabbath.  Jesus told His disciples to pray that they wouldn’t have to escape from Jerusalem on the Sabbath because the Sabbath was of primary importance to the Jews, and it would be unusually difficult to escape from the coming judgment on that day.

4.  Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1,9:  Christ rises on the first day of the week.

These are accounts of the women’s discovery of the empty tomb and the resurrection of the Lord.  Both accounts mention that this happened the first day of the week, and Mark 16:9 specifically says that He arose early on the first day of the week.  One could say that His body was indeed “resting” on the Sabbath.  Thankfully, that’s not the end of the story.  John 20:10 also mentions the first day of the week, though there is no mention of the Sabbath.

5.  Mark 1:21; Luke 4:31:  the Lord declares and demonstrates His authority.

This account of the early ministry of the Lord shows the difference between His teaching and that of the rabbis and scribes, an example of which we see in Matthew 5-7, with the same result, Matthew 7:28.  It also shows His authority over the spirit world, as He casts out a demon.  Both of these incidents, following each other closely, asserted and emphasized the authority, the uniqueness, of the Lord Jesus.

6.  Mark 6:2; Luke 4:16:  the Lord rejected in His hometown.

This seems to be the first Sabbath episode in our Lord’s “official” ministry in His hometown, though He’d ministered elsewhere, Luke 4:23.   Luke gives more detail as to what happened.  Growing up, He’d been in regular attendance with His parents and family, but this time was different.  Perhaps He’d done the reading before, but this time He applied it to Himself.  Pay attention in Luke 4:18, 19 where He stopped reading from Isaiah 61:1, 2.  His teaching didn’t set well with those who knew Him, or thought they did, and they wound up trying to kill Him, Luke 4:28-30.

7.  Mark 15:42; Luke 23:54, 56; John 19:31:  Jesus buried in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb.

People assume that “the Sabbath” mentioned was the ordinary weekly Sabbath, so this means that Christ was crucified on Friday.  It’s not our purpose to get into the discussion about where that’s true or not.  However, the Sabbath to which the Gospels refer was the Passover, which, as we’ve seen, could happen any day of the week.  John refers to that Sabbath as a high day, John 19:31,something which he probably wouldn’t have done if it were just another Saturday.  And, as we’ve seen, Matthew 28:1 in the original language refers to “Sabbaths,” plural, as being over.

However, the real point of Mark, Luke and John was to verify that Jesus actually died, and not just fainted or faked it, as some falsely teach.  Remember, Pilate was amazed that Jesus could have died so soon, victims of crucifixion often lingering for several days.  So he asked a centurion, who was well-acquainted with death, if Jesus had indeed died.  This centurion would have forfeited his own life, if he had lied about it, and knew when one was dead, no doubt having seen many dead bodies, in contrast to modern skeptics who may have never seen one dead body, let alone a crucifixion!

What one sees on TV programs as dead people don’t look like dead people.  I had a fellow worker die on the job and he looked entirely different than what’s on TV.  Besides, if you watch closely, those who “die” on TV catch themselves as they hit the floor or ground.

Jesus was dead.

8.  Luke 13:10-16:  healing of the woman with a spirit of infirmity. 

We see again the contrast between the Pharisees and the Lord.  The Pharisees complained that there were six other days to come and be healed, so don’t interrupt the service to do so.  Our Lord again pointed out the hypocrisy as these complainers would have themselves untied their own animals to take them to water; why shouldn’t this daughter of Abraham be similarly untied and freed from her burden?

9.  Luke 14:1-5:  healing of the man with dropsy.

Though this happened in a house, it was still the Sabbath. Luke says, they watched Him closely because there was someone present who had an ailment.  Our Lord asked them, as He had others, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”  They wouldn’t answer, so the Lord healed the man.  Then he asked another question:  which of them having a child or an animal fall into a pit on the Sabbath wouldn’t rescue him, thus exposing their hypocrisy once again.

10.  John 5:  healing a man at the pool of Bethesda.

The healing itself isn’t the issue, at least to start with, but the fact that the man was carrying his bed on the Sabbath, v. 9.  Notice a couple of things just in passing:  the man had no “faith to be healed,” but began to point out difficulties when the Lord asked him if he wanted to be healed, v. 7.  The Lord healed him, anyway. Further, there was a “great multitude” of folks waiting to be healed, but the Lord singled out this one man and healed him, when He saw HIM (emphasis added).

What really frosted the Pharisees, though, was the fact that Jesus claimed equality with God, vs. 16-18.  There are many who say that Jesus never claimed to be God, but those who heard Him  knew that was exactly what He was claiming on more than one occasion.  It’s part of why they crucified Him, Matthew 27:43.  See also John 8:58:  The Jews understood full well what Jesus meant when He said, …before Abraham was, I AM.”

11.   John 7:  Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles.

Though you really need to read the whole chapter, we’re looking at vs. 21-23.  Here the discussion once again centers around the fact that the priests themselves “violated” the Sabbath sometimes in circumcising an infant on the eighth day.  What Jesus did was no different and no more a violation of the Sabbath than what they did.

12.  John 9:  healing of the man born blind.

Again, the whole chapter bears on this, and probably through 10:21, but 9:14-16 tells us it was on the Sabbath, which, as always, was what really upset the Pharisees, 9:16.

 

Thus, briefly, we’ve looked at the 12 incidents of confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees which happened because of His actions on and attitude toward the Sabbath.  As we mentioned above, Jesus was born under the Law, and so was required with every other Jew to observe it.  What got Him into trouble was the fact that He wouldn’t do it like He was supposed to.

What does the rest of the New Testament tell us about Sabbath-keeping?  That’s our next post.

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The Sabbath and the Prophets

In this fourth post, we continue our look at what the Old Testament says about “the Sabbath”.  We saw it’s origin in the “rest” that God took when He was finished with creation.  This rest, as we noted, wasn’t because He was tired or at an impasse, but because He was finished; there was nothing more to be done or that needed to be done.  Creation was complete and successful.

Then we saw that the Sabbath was incorporated into the Mosaic Covenant, the covenant which God made with Israel at Mount Sinai by which they became a nation.  Emphasis was placed on the Sabbath as being a sign to Israel of their redemption from Egyptian slavery and of their unique relationship with God.

In our last post, we looked at how well Israel obeyed God in the keeping of the Law, especially their observance of the Sabbath.  We found that even after the 70-year Captivity and their return to the land under Nehemiah and Ezra, Israel didn’t do a very good job of it.

In this post, we want to look at what God had to say about all this.  He spoke mainly through Isaiah, before the Captivity, and Ezekiel, during the Captivity, though there are some other references as well.

  • Isaiah 1:13, “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.”

Not only were men like Nehemiah and Ezra angered by the people’s unfaithfulness, God was angered as well.  Isaiah began his prophecy with a long list of Israel’s sins and what would happen to her as a result.  True, there are wonderful prophecies of renewal and restoration, but Israel will still suffer because of what she has done.  Even those things which they did in supposed obedience to God were rejected by Him.  Quoting from a different portion of Isaiah, the Lord Jesus put it like this, “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, but their heart is far from Me.  And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men,” Matthew 15:8, 9.

This is a solemn warning to us, as well.  In our service, in our worship, do we do it “from the heart,” or is it just “routine”? Do we come into the presence of God forgiven and cleansed because of the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, or do we come with our hands, as it were, dripping with the blood of our own “futile sacrifices”?

  • Isaiah 56:2, 4, 6, “…who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.  …  to the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me…  …  “Everyone who keeps from defiling My Sabbaths, and holds fast My covenant…”  

Even “eunuchs,” who for whatever reason were unable to father children, and so would seem to be kept from blessing, and the “son of the foreigner,” who had no inherent right to blessing, even these men, if they held fast to “the covenant,” as exemplified by the Sabbath, would be blessed.  As we mentioned above, though, the NT has further teaching on “keeping the Sabbath.”

Notice here, too, that it wasn’t to be just a matter of “keeping the Sabbath”.  One was to “keep his hand from doing any evil,” to “choose what pleases Me,” to “hold fast My covenant.”  One day of the week, whether it’s Saturday or Sunday, doesn’t mean anything if the other six days of the week don’t mean anything.  Serving and worshiping God is a seven-days-of-the-week thing, not just one day of the week.  And “worship” isn’t about having the right kind of music during one part of a “service,” it’s about having the right kind of heart.

  • Isaiah 58:13, “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day….”  

Isaiah 58 is a chapter which, like others, lists God’s complaints against Israel.  You really ought to read the whole chapter.  Apparently, Israel couldn’t understand why God wasn’t blessing them as they thought He should, vs. 1-3.  After all, they were doing a good job – in their own minds – of serving Him.  They fasted.  They wanted to know “the ordinances of justice.”  They sought Him every day, and “delighted” to know His ways.  They “afflicted their souls.”  And they asked God why He “took no notice.”

However, God pointed out to them that even in their fasting, they “found pleasure” and “exploited those who worked for them”.  V. 13 is just one of several in which God gave them the remedy for their problems.  Keeping the Sabbath as more than just another day of the week was only part of it.

  • Isaiah 66:22, 23, “For as the new heavens and the new earth which I make shall remain before Me,” says the LORD, “so shall your descendants and your name remain.  And it shall come to pass that from one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh shall come to worship before Me,” says the LORD.

We included v. 22 to give a little context to v. 23.  Actually, you should read the whole chapter.  In the first part, God again lists the sins of Israel and the judgments on those sins.  From v. 7-10, God indicates a sudden and unexpected change in the nation, which He describes more fully in vs. 11-21.  V. 15 may be further described by Zechariah 14:3, 4 and the rest of Zechariah 14 ties in with Isaiah 66:23.

There is so much more here that we don’t really have space to develop beyond a couple of comments.  “The new heavens and the new earth” may lead some to conclude that this is talking about eternity.  The phrase also occurs in Revelation 21:1.  However, Isaiah 65:17 mentions the phrase first, and the rest of Isaiah 65 describes it.  For now, we focus on v. 20, No more shall an infant from there live but a few days, nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days. In his book, “What Is The Gospel,” Greg Gilbert comments on this, “Never again will any of God’s people suffer death, and never again will tears burn our eyes at a graveside.  Never again will an infant live but a few days and then die.  Never again will we mourn, or hurt, or weep.”  (Greg Gilbert, “What Is The Gospel?”  Wheaton, Illinois:  Crossway, 2010.  121 pp.)

What he says is true, and the Christian looks forward with great longing for that time.  However, I’ve always wondered why Gilbert didn’t finish v. 20:  For the child shall die one hundred years old, but the sinner being one hundred years old shall be accursed. 

Either there’s a contradiction in Scripture, which I deny, or there are two different renewals of creation.  Isaiah and Zechariah refer to what is known as “The Millennium,” a period of time ending this earth’s history in which the Lord Jesus will rule over this planet from Jerusalem.  Reformed scholars throw up their hands in horror or ridicule at this idea, but if words have any meaning at all, more is required of what the Old Testament says about a worldwide time of righteousness, peace and prosperity than some sort of “spiritual kingdom” in the church.  While we agree that the Lord Jesus “rules” in the hearts of His people, that idea is found in the OT as well:  God ruling in the hearts of His people.

  •  Jeremiah 17:19-27.

In this portion, God, speaking through Jeremiah, warns the people to observe and honor the Sabbath, promising them great blessing if they do, and great calamity if they don’t.

  • Lamentations 2:6, The LORD has caused the appointed feasts and Sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion.

The 5 lamentations in this book all come from Jeremiah’s broken heart at the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of his people.  The verse we quoted simply reminded the people that what happened to them wasn’t just some “accident of history;” it was God’s judgment on their sins.

The KJV has another occurrence of “Sabbath” in Lamentations 1:7, but that’s a different word in the Hebrew, and the NKJV translates it as “downfall.”

  • Ezekiel 20:12-24.

In this portion, God mentions the Sabbath six times, emphasizing to Israel that even from her very beginning, she had disregarded and profaned the Sabbath, which had been given to her as a special sign of her relationship with God and her redemption from Egyptian slavery.

  • Ezekiel 22:8, 26.

These two verses regard the same thing, the profaning of the Sabbath.  Verse 8 speaks of the princes of Israel, and v. 26 of the priests.  These leaders were responsible to guide Israel in a right way, according to God’s Word, but they were at the forefront of her apostasy.

  • Ezekiel 23:38.

Ezekiel 23 is about two harlot sisters, Jerusalem and Samaria, both capitals of their respective kingdoms.  After the division of Israel into two kingdoms, the northern kingdom, Samaria, had been led away from the true God by Jeroboam, who is ever  afterwards remembered for that act of apostasy.  The Lord’s point in Ezekiel is that Judah, the southern kingdom, had become no better than her “sister” to the north, even though she still supposedly held to the true God.  They both defiled and profaned the sanctuary and the Sabbath.  They both were guilty of terrible idolatry, yet Judah would still come to the Temple and think she was worshiping God.  God would have none of it, and in just a few years that Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar.

  • Ezekiel 44:24; 45:17; 46:1-4, 12.

We’ve listed these verses together, which have 6 references to the Sabbath, because they’re all part of a controversial portion of Ezekiel.  Ezekiel 40-48 describes in great detail the building of a Temple, the worship there, descriptions of a city and a land with incredible productivity.

What we might call fundamental or evangelical Christians have difficulty with this portion because of its references to animal sacrifice.  This seems to them to deny the sacrifice of Christ.  Others view these chapters as merely symbolic.  Or, as a church bulletin quoted a Reformed scholar as saying, these chapters were “fulfilled in Jesus,” because of the references to “water” and other things.  In any event, actual things and events are said not to be expected.

These 9 chapters have 270 verses of minute detail, down to the length of a priest’s hair and whom he could or could not marry.  It seems to me that this is a great deal of trouble for a few symbols, or to dismiss it all as “fulfilled in Jesus.”

As far the animal sacrifices, I confess that I don’t fully understand them.  At the same time, without meaning to be irreverent or flippant, since God instructed Ezekiel to “look with your eyes and hear with your ears, and fix your mind on everything I show you; for you were brought here so that I might show them to you.  Declare to the house of Israel everything you see,” Ezekiel 40:4, I can say that it’s God’s problem.  He told Ezekiel to pay attention to it.  He will take care of it.

The point is, there is coming a time – not yet – when the Sabbath will be restored to its proper place and it will be observed and celebrated as it was supposed to be.  Isaiah 65 and Zechariah 14 refer to this same time.

  •  Hosea 2:11, God says, “I will cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her New Moons, her Sabbaths – all her appointed feasts.”

This in the middle of a lengthy list of consequences for Israel’s sin.

  • Amos 8:4, 5, Hear this, you who swallow up the needy, and make the poor of the land fail, saying, “When will the New Moon be past, that we may sell grain?  And the Sabbath, that we may trade wheat?” 

This just shows the attitude that was in the land prior to its destruction:  impatience for the feast days, including the Sabbath, to be over so that they could get back to the important business of making money.

 

The Sabbath and Israel

In our first two posts, we looked at the origin of the Sabbath, although it was simply called “the seventh day” at creation, and at it’s incorporation into the Mosaic Covenant as “the Sabbath”.  It was given to Israel as a reminder not only that God had delivered them from Egyptian slavery, but that He was the same God who had created everything to begin with.

In this post, we’ll see how well Israel paid attention to what God said through Moses.  In all this, remember that the NT has a further word about the Sabbath.

  • 2 Kings 4:23, So he said, “Why are you going to him today?  It is neither new moon nor the Sabbath.”

For the story around this, read 2 Kings 4.  Our focus is only on the husband’s confusion as to why his wife would want to visit Elisha the prophet on a different day than usual, cf. 1 Samuel 1:3.  It shows there was an established custom for the observance of the Sabbath and the festivals, or “feasts,” though not everyone followed it, as we’ll see.

  • 2 Kings 11:5-9; 2 Chronicles 23:4, 8.

These references are together because they record the same story:  the overthrow of the wicked Queen, Athaliah, who had murdered all the legitimate heirs to the throne of David, except one providentially hidden by God through one of his nurses.  The full story is in 2 Kings 11 and 2 Chronicles 22:10 through 23:25.  The verses we referenced simply tell some of the preparation for that overthrow:  those soldiers who went off duty for the Sabbath would stay on with those who came on duty in order to have plenty of protection for the new King.

  • 2 Kings 16:18, Also he removed the Sabbath pavilion which they had built in the Temple.

This is part of the story of wicked king Ahaz and his foolish and sinful joining together of idolatrous worship with the true worship of Jehovah, though he certainly wasn’t the first who did this.  There is no other reference to “the Sabbath pavilion” which he dismantled.

  • 1 Chronicles 9:32, And some of their brethren of the sons of Kohath were in charge of preparing the showbread for every Sabbath.

This refers back to the instructions given in Leviticus 24:5-9.

  • 1 Chronicles 23:31, and at every presentation of a burnt offering to the LORD on the Sabbaths….

This is part of the elaborate preparations David had for the service of the Tabernacle, and then the Temple which was to be built by Solomon.

  • 2 Chronicles 2:4; 8:13, …the Sabbaths, 

The first reference is part of Solomon’s request to Hiram, king of Tyre, for the things necessary to build the Temple.  The second reference is to Solomon’s activity after the Temple was built.  As you read through the first eight chapters of 2 Chronicles, notice the repeated references to David’s plans and preparations for the Temple.  Solomon did fine as long as the Temple was being built, and his own dwelling, but after the twenty years it took for all this, he soon fell into things the Law strictly forbade.  We wonder how much of the building of the Temple was really Solomon and how much of it was just left over, so to speak, from his father.  How often we see this, children getting away from the influence of godly parents, for whatever reason, and going their own way.  How we need to pray that God would be with our kids when we are no longer with them, either by distance or by death!

  • 2 Chronicles 31:3, The king also appointed a portion of his possessions for…the burnt offerings for the Sabbaths…. 

2 Chronicles 29-31 takes us near the end of Israel’s independent existence and the reforms under Hezekiah, who was the last “good” king of Israel.

  • 2 Chronicles 36:21, …to fulfill 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 fulfill seventy years. 

2 Chronicles 36:11-21 describes the final overthrown of Israel and the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar.  V. 21 refers to Jeremiah 25:11 and 29:10.  See also Daniel 9:2.  What Israel would not do willingly, Leviticus 25:1-6, she would do unwillingly.

  • Nehemiah 9:14, “You made known to them Your holy Sabbath,” 

Nehemiah was one of the books written after the 70-year Captivity was over and some of the people had returned to the land.  However, Nehemiah and the others record that Israel really hadn’t learned much and more or less fell back into the ways which had gotten her into trouble in the first place.  Granted, there were tremendous difficulties and obstacles facing the returnees.  Nevertheless, Nehemiah and the others show the error of those who believe that the Return fulfilled all the promises God made through Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel and others.

Chapter 9 records one of the times of repentance and reformation brought by the ministry of Nehemiah, Ezra and others.  V. 14 is part of a prayer which listed the blessings which God had bestowed on Israel.  The Sabbath was one of those blessings.

There’s something else here, too, though it has nothing to do with the Sabbath.  Several times in Scripture the history of Israel is recounted to show all the blessings God had bestowed on her, cf. Psalms 105 – 107.  They also show Israel’s failure fully to understand those blessings and to act in accord with them.

The thing is, Israel knew her history.  Granted, it was written down for them.  But I wonder how many Christians know their history.  There might be some familiarity with the rise of Romanism, the Reformation, Constantine, the abandonment of Greek, the language of the New Testament and the adoption of Latin, the language of pagan Rome, Martin Luther and a few others, but there’s a whole litany of names of people hunted down and slaughtered in their tens of thousands by Rome and then the Reformers, who are pretty much unknown to us: Montanists, Novatians, Paulicians, Waldenses, Albigenses, Anabaptists, to name just a few.  These people were not perfect, to be sure – their enemies are quick to point that out, but then neither are we.  They just wanted to remain true to the New Testament and so refused to follow the “official” church, which they believed had departed from New Testament teaching.  For this, they suffered and died.  “The church” has not grown through the favor of the world-system and it’s governments, as Constantine and his followers apparently thought, and think, but rather has been watered by the blood of believers.  It’s history is written in red.  There is more to it than that, of course, how one interprets the Old Testament, for instance, but there’s more to “church history” than might be commonly believed.

  •  Nehemiah 10:31, 33.

Nehemiah 10 shows the results of Nehemiah’s intercession in ch. 9.  V. 31 records the people’s promise not to engage in commerce on the Sabbath, or on any holy day, even if the opportunity presented itself.  They would honor the year of release.  V. 33 shows their determination to supply things necessary for the service of the house of our God. 

  • Nehemiah 13:15-19, 21, 22.

Nehemiah 13 happens after an absence by Nehemiah in which he returned to his duties with the king, v. 6.  After a time, he was permitted to return to Israel, where he found, to his dismay and anger, that things were not going well, to put it mildly.  One of the reforms he started involved the Sabbath and it’s nonobservance by the people and others.

We’re going to have to bring this post to an end.  We’d hoped to get all that the Old Testament says on the Sabbath, but there’s just too much material.  We’ll finish it tomorrow, Lord willing.

The Sabbath and Moses

We began our study last time by looking at the origin of the Sabbath and then began to trace its incorporation into the Mosaic Covenant.  We saw that God “rested” after He finished creation.  He was done.  It was all “very good.”  Then, though “tithing” is mentioned before the giving of the Law, there is no mention of the Sabbath at all, even in the book of Job, which predates Sinai and Moses’ writings.

As for its incorporation into the Mosaic Covenant, we pointed out that the fourth commandment served as a “hinge,” or “bridge,” if you will, between the first three commandments and the rest of them.  The first three dealt with Israel’s relationship with God.  Five through 10 dealt with Israel’s relationship with each other.  The fourth one connected them all.  Israel was to believe certain things about God, but, as a result of that belief, and that relationship with God, was to behave in a certain way.  The fourth commandment is a bridge between “theory,” if you will, and “practice.”

“Faith” which isn’t accompanied by “practice” is no better than “demonic” faith, James 2:19.

We continue our study in the books of Moses.

  • Exodus 23:10-12:  More than just a day of the week.

Exodus 23:10 expands the idea of a weekly Sabbath and rest for the people into a year-long Sabbath every seventh year and rest for the land.  There was to be no sowing or harvesting.  The land was to lie fallow and “rest.”  Whatever grew of itself was for the poor of the land to harvest and for the beasts of the field to eat.  “The poor” were to be taken care of in Israel, but they weren’t to sit at home and expect to be hand-fed.  In this case, they were to go out and gather the food.  Indeed, in every harvest season, the rule was that there was to be no “gleaning,” that is, going back and picking up what was missed the first time.  This was to be left for the poor, Leviticus 19:9, 10, Deuteronomy 24:19-21.  There is an example of this in Ruth 2:1-3.  There was no “welfare-state” mentality in Israel.

There’s something else in these verses.  Many unbelievers and skeptics don’t like the idea that the Bible doesn’t condemn slavery, but seems to encourage it.  However, for nearly all of human history, including today in 2014, slavery has been and is a fact of life.  There are people, right now, as I write this, who are slaves.  And probably all of us, when it comes right down to it, are “descendants of slaves,” because every nation at one time or another has been conquered by other people and their citizens forced into subjection.  It is a sad fact of life and history, those for whom it’s become political fodder notwithstanding, who act as if their people were the only people ever to suffer this indignity.  The Bible simply regulates and mitigates slavery.  There’s an example of this in v. 12 in the reference to the son of your female servant and the stranger may be refreshed.  Even though they were in servitude, they were still to have time for their families.

Many people don’t like the Old Testament because it seems too stern and unyielding. But there’s a great deal more common sense and understanding of human nature in its pages, for all the things which may seem strange to us, than in any of the “social programs” devised in our day.  In fact, it seems to me that most of these programs, in their attempt to do good, fly in the face of Biblical wisdom and wind up doing evil.

Speaking of “stern and unyielding,” in Exodus 23:13 God says, “And in all that I have said to you, be circumspect,….”   Israel got into trouble because they didn’t pay any attention to this command, as we’ll see.

The world says, “Be tolerant.”  God says, “Be circumspect [narrow].”  And if someone should say, “Well, yes, but that’s Old Testament,” there is Ephesians 5:15, See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise.   “Walk” is in the context of walking as “children of light,” v. 8, having no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, v. 11, which are shameful even to mention, v. 12.  The Greek word translated “circumspectly” means, “be exact,” and is a superlative, which means that it is something always to be carried out as closely as possible to a standard, not just sporadically, casually or superficially.  That standard is the Word of God.  Not current social or religious viewpoints.

  • Exodus 31:12-17:  The People of the Sabbath.

In Exodus 31:17, God told Israel, [The Sabbath] “is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever.” The Sabbath was never given to “mankind” as such.  Neither, for that matter, was the Mosaic Covenant.  Contrary to a popular school of thought, there was never a “dispensation of the Law.”  There has never been a requirement that Gentiles keep the Sabbath.  It was given to Israel and ONLY to Israel,  It’s not mentioned in Acts 15, especially vs. 15 and 29, which settled, once and for all, what responsibilities Gentiles have toward the Mosaic Covenant, “the Law,” namely, none.  See also Acts 21:17-25.

The Mosaic Covenant was the Moral Law applied to a specific people in a specific historical context.  What is the “Moral Law”?  Simply put, it’s the requirement of a holy, righteous and just God for mankind, to which and for which it is responsible.  That law is indeed universal.  It’s presence is shown in the fact that in every human being there is a sense of “right” and “wrong.”  There might be some disagreement as to what exactly these are, but the idea is still there.

The Sabbath was given to Israel, not simply as a health matter, but that they might remember the Lord God Who delivered them out of Egyptian slavery, the same Lord God Who also created the heavens and the earth.

Israel was God’s object lesson for the rest of us to show how miserably we fail in living as we should.  Also, to show us that there’s no way that we can atone for our failings – our sins.  The sacrificial system showed that, but that’s another post.

It was also a death-penalty sin to violate the Sabbath.  This is mentioned twice in 2 verses.  “The Sabbath” was serious business.  I remember a Reformed pastor saying something to the effect that “if you have to work on Sunday, we understand.”  The Law didn’t.

  • Exodus 34:21:  The Preeminence of the Sabbath.

Six days you shall work, but on the seventh you shall rest; in plowing time and in harvest you shall rest (emphasis added).  The two times of the year where an agricultural people would think nothing could be more important:  sowing and harvesting, yet God says, “No, not even then may you work on the seventh day; even then you rest.”

  • Exodus 35:2-3:  The Proclamation of the Sabbath.

The Sabbath was the first thing Moses mentioned when he came down from the Mount the second time – after the Golden Calf incident.  There was to be no work on the Sabbath, even to the kindling of a fire.  Once again, the death penalty is mentioned for violation of this commandment.

That’s all the references to the Sabbath in Exodus.

  • Leviticus 16:31, It is a sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls.  

This verse is in a chapter of instructions about the Day of Atonement, the most important day of the year.  It was during the sacrifices offered on that day that the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the LORD.  This chapter is the one referred to in Hebrews 9 and 10.  We’ll have a lot to say about all this when we get to Hebrews.

Note that this “Sabbath” was always on the 10th day of the seventh month.  This means that it could fall on any day of the week, not just the “seventh day.”  This is true of any of the “feasts.”  This leads me to Matthew 28:1, where the word translated “sabbath” is actually plural: “sabbaths”. There seems to have been more than one “sabbath” during the week of our Lord’s crucifixion.  But, like many of the things we mention, that’s another post.

  • Leviticus 19:3, 30, Every one of you shall revere his father and his mother, and keep My Sabbaths:  I am the LORD your God. … You shall keep My Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary:  I am the LORD. 

These two verses seem just sort of stuck in there, but they both have important messages:  reverence not only for the Sabbath, but for Mom and Dad, and for the sanctuary itself.  I think this speaks to the continuous lessening of respect for parents, and for the continual increasing of demand for respect for “the State,” whose “interests” are often seen to be more important than those of the parents.  “Honor” and “respect” for parents are two words which have been lost in society.  As for the “sanctuary,” I admit I have some difficulty with the casual attitude and atmosphere in the contemporary church.  While I freely admit that a suit and tie are no guarantee of spirituality, I think that shorts and flip-flops have perhaps gone too far the other way.  As for after the service, our own children were never permitted to use the sanctuary as a playground.  Nor did they ever attend “children’s church,” when that was available.  It is through the preaching of the Word that the Spirit calls believers to the Lord Jesus, and there is no evidence in Scripture that the message was ever “brought down” to children’s levels.  Children are capable of learning far more than we give them credit for.

  • Leviticus 23:3, 8, 11, 15, 16, 24, 25, 32, 38, 39.

This chapter gives us instructions about the Sabbath itself, as well as the various “feasts” which were to be held at specified times during the year.  There are some things of interest, however, in what many look at as just dry ritual.  For example, in v. 11, in one case, the “feast of firstfruits,” there was something to be done on the day after the Sabbath.  The priest was to take a sheaf of wheat from the harvest and “wave” it before the Lord as the “firstfruits” of the harvest.  This was to remind the people where the harvest came from ultimately, and to show, in a way, that there was more where that came from.  None of the harvest was to be eaten until this had been done, v. 14.  The Lord indeed got “the firstfruits” of the harvest.

Without wanting to get too deeply into what might be the symbolism or typology of these feasts, or seeking to find some “spiritual” meaning in what were plainly actual events in Israel, remember that in 1 Corinthians 15:20, 23, the Lord is called “the firstfruits” of the resurrection.

In v. 20, there is a second reference to “firstfruits.”  This occurred 50 days after the ceremony with the firstfruits of the harvest.  The New Testament knows this feast as Pentecost.  James 1:18 says that Christians are a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.   In other words, Christians portray the ultimate restoration of all creation.  Cf. Romans 8:19-23.  We did a post on “Firstfruits” which goes into this a little more.

  • Leviticus 24:8, 9.

These verses gives instructions for the weekly replacing of the Showbread in the Tabernacle, as well as what it was to be used for.  This was part of the care of the Tabernacle.

  • Leviticus 25:1-17.

This portion introduces two unique ideas: the sabbatical year andThe Year of Jubilee.  This latter was the year after the seventh cycle of seven years, or the 50th year.  See Deuteronomy 15:1-11, in which debts were to be forgiven every seventh year – the sabbatical year – in the cycle.  Debt wasn’t to be a lifestyle in Israel.  There weren’t any “30-year mortgages,” either.  And I don’t think credit cards would have been permitted.  Just sayin’.

In case there was a question about what the people would eat because there was no sowing or reaping, God said He had that covered, vs. 20-22.  Just as the sixth day produced double manna to take care of the Sabbath, so the sixth year would be bountiful enough to cover not only the seventh year, but also into the eighth year until harvest.

  • Leviticus 26:2.

Here is another mention of the requirement for respect for the Sabbath and for the sanctuary.

  • Leviticus 26:34, 35.

Actually, the entire 26th chapter should be read to get the context of these verses.  The chapter is a series of promises of blessing for obedience and curses for disobedience. It’s instructive that there are twice as many verses promising curses as promising blessing.  Yet the last 17 verses of the chapter promise restoration.  Verses 34 and 35 indicate that the length of time of the curses will depend on Israel’s faithfulness in following the 7th year Sabbath for the land.  Cf. 2 Chronicles 36:21.

These are all the references in Leviticus.  More could be said about any of these references, here or in other books.

There are only three references in Moses left.

  • Number 15:32-36.

This incident actually happened before the giving of the Law at Sinai.  Numbers is a catalog of the wilderness travels of Israel on their way to Sinai.  This incident happened during those travels.

I’ve done a post entitled “Sticks” which examines this incident in detail, so will just make a couple of remarks here.  Even though the Law itself hadn’t yet been given, the precedent of resting on the Sabbath had been given in the instructions about gathering manna.

Since there were no detailed instructions yet, the man was put “under guard” until it could be found out what should be done to him.  When those instructions came, even such a “minor” thing as gathering sticks on the Sabbath was found to be a death-penalty sin.  For more on this, see the post mentioned above.

  • Numbers 28:9-10.

These were just instructions about some offerings which were to be given on every Sabbath day.

  • Deuteronomy 5:12-15.

Deuteronomy isn’t just a repetition of the Law.  It’s the refreshing, if you will, of the collective memory of the people of the next generation after those who actually received the Law.  Deuteronomy is the explanation, the application, of that law to Israel. Perhaps it’s based in part on Moses’ experience of nearly forty years of explaining and applying the Law as situations arose in the camp, Exodus 18:13-15.  The fourth commandment as given here is the summation of that experience.  This doesn’t deny the inspiration of the original text.  God used people as they were, not puppets or robots.

 

“The Sabbath” – Required, Routine or Realized?

There’s a lot of discussion is some circles about the Sabbath, sometimes quite vehement.  But what is the Sabbath really all about?  Is it just about a certain day of the week, or might there something else as well?  Something more?  What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3.

First, some introductory thoughts.  This is a very controversial subject.  In other venues, my comments on it have brought out a lot of venom.  I’m sorry about that.  My goal is never to offend someone or to be controversial simply for the sake of controversy.  I learned a long time ago that it doesn’t matter what you believe the Bible says about a certain subject, someone will disagree with it.  My goal is always to answer the question at the end of the first paragraph:  what does the Scripture say?

Second.  I accept only Scripture (that is, the 66 books commonly accepted as Scripture) as authoritative on all matters of faith and practice.  The writings of human authors may be useful and helpful, but they have no authority in determining what is true or false.    If you follow such a writing, then you probably won’t agree with me. The same is true of confessions of faith and catechisms.  Nevertheless, I hope you will hear me out and be like those of Berea, who searched the Scripture…to find out whether these things are so, Acts 16:11.

Third.  Because this subject is so complex, and controversial, we’re going to have to divide it into several posts.  We will look at the origin of the Sabbath and it’s incorporation into the Mosaic Covenant.  This will cover the books of Moses.  Then we’ll look at Israel’s compliance, or not, with her responsibilities concerning the Sabbath.  This will cover the rest of the Old Testament.  Finally, we’ll cover the New Testament, including Jesus and the Sabbath, as well as the Book of Acts and the other NT books.  I hope you will read all the posts.  I had originally hoped to limit it to just three posts, but that just didn’t seem possible.  We’ll publish them daily, one after the other.

Fourth, I do welcome your comments.  But, please, no venom.

Fifth, “routine” in the title simply means that there are some people who worship on a particular day, Saturday or Sunday, because that’s just how they always done it. They’ve never really given any thought to the subject, but have gone with the flow, so to speak.

Finally, it has been the habit of some to refer to Sunday as “the Christian Sabbath.”  It seems to me that this just confuses the issue.  The Sabbath was given to Israel as a commemoration of her deliverance from Egypt.  Regardless of what application may be made about deliverance from sin, the Sabbath looks back to that event.  On the other hand, Sunday commemorates the resurrection of our Lord. Without that, there would be no deliverance from sin.

Worship on Sunday has been characterized by some as the mark of the beast.  Other scorn the idea of “New Covenant Christianity,” insisting that we must continue to keep the Old Covenant Law.  In order fully to understand this topic, we need to look at what the Bible actually says about the Sabbath, or “the seventh day”.

Note:  Even though we realize it’s largely fallen out of favor, we used the listings for “sabbath” and “sabbaths” found in Strong’s Concordance for the KJV.

Moses and the Sabbath.

  • Creation and the Sabbath.

The very first mention of the “seventh day” is found in the Creation account in Genesis 2:1-3 (NKJV):

Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished.  And 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 had rested from all His Work which God had created and made.

We read in these verses that God “rested” on the seventh day.  Meaning no disrespect, did He rest because He was tired?  He just took a day off?  Perhaps He needed to figure out what to do next – He had arrived at an impasse.  Or perhaps He had run out of material with which to build and needed to resupply.  These are all common things that happen in the plans and building of men.  However, we are talking about God.  The failings, limitations, and imperfections of men may never in any way or for any reason or at any time be attributed to Him.  He is God.

It’s clear that God “rested” because He was finished with creation.  Nothing remained to be done.  It was complete.  May we suggest that the Creation Sabbath speaks of an accomplished work – a finished work – a completed work – a successful work, if you will.  “Rest” in this case means a ceasing of work because there is nothing more that needs to be done, not just a temporary relaxing from it.  There were no “bugs” to be fixed, no kinks to be worked out.  It needed no upgrades or “patches”.  It was all very good.  Adam and Eve thought they could improve on it, and look at the mess they made.

It’s interesting that there is no mention of the Sabbath, any Sabbath, for several hundred years after Creation.  Though “tithing” is mentioned twice, the Sabbath is not seen again until Israel has left Egypt and is on her way to the Promised Land.

  • “Complaining” and the Sabbath.

(There are about 17 occasions in Exodus where God, through Moses, talks about the Sabbath.  Because I have been accused of “cherry-picking” references on this subject in other venues, we’re going to look at all of them.  I’m sorry for the length of some of these posts, but it can’t be helped.  The study of God’s Word shouldn’t have “word-count” restrictions, anyway.)

Exodus 16 gives us the next occurrence of the word “Sabbath”.  There were probably a couple million men, women and children moving through a wilderness area.  Since they were on the move, there were no farms or stores, and what they could find in passing was probably pretty sparse.  As was their custom in almost everything, they soon began to complain, this time about being hungry.

God’s solution was to provide for them supernaturally, with what they called “manna” (literally, “what is it?”) in the morning and quails in the evening.  There were some instructions given as to what was to be done about these provisions.  In particular, the manna was to be gathered and eaten every day, with nothing stored up.  Some of the Israelites were negligent about this, and discovered that the left-over manna bred worms and stank, Exodus 16:20.  Though Moses was angry about this lapse, nothing happened to the offenders.

There was one exception to this daily gathering of manna.  On the sixth day, they were to gather twice as much as on the other days, Exodus 16:22.  On the seventh day, Moses said of this extra manna, “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 16:25, 26.

However, Israel being Israel, some of the people went out on the Sabbath to gather manna, anyway, and found none.  The LORD was angry at this refusal of Israel to obey His Word, but there was still no other judgment.  A pot of manna was to be gathered and kept for future generations to see.  Manna was supplied to the people for forty years, until Israel was in the Promised Land, Joshua 5:1-12.

To me, it seems that this provision for rest on the seventh day speaks of the sufficiency of the provision.  There was to be no gathering because there was no need.  The people were supplied.  We’ll have much more to say about this as we go along.

  • Sinai and the Sabbath.

Exodus 20 gives us the next mention of the Sabbath.   It is here that the Sabbath was included in the Mosaic Covenant as part of the Constitution and by-laws, if you will, of the newly-formed nation of Israel.  Israel wasn’t made a nation in 1948, but hundreds of years before Christ.

The fourth commandment – it isn’t the first one or the only one, as some seem to treat it – the fourth commandment served as a bridge between the the first three commandments about how Israel was to view and respond to their God, and the rest of the commandments, which deal with how they were to view and respond to their society, beginning with their own parents.  The Sabbath Day brought what might have simply deteriorated into “belief” into focus as to how it was to affect everything else every other day of the week, not just that one day.  There were to be no “Saturday Israelites.”

God said to “Remember” the Sabbath because the nation had already been given it, 40 years earlier.

We’ll conclude this portion of the study tomorrow, Lord willing.