The Sabbath and The Sacrifice

This is the final post in our series on “The Sabbath.”  In the preceding posts, we’ve traced the Sabbath from it’s beginning in God’s creation rest, through it’s inclusion in the Mosaic Covenant God made with Israel to remind them continually of their rescue from Egyptian slavery and their singular privilege as God’s people, through their dismal record of disobedience to it, ending with the Lord Jesus’ absolute honoring of it.  This, however, as we saw in the 12 incidents that the Gospels record, wasn’t in accord with what the religious leaders taught, but according to His own deity and authority.  Since the Lord ministered for more than three years, these 12 occurrences are just a drop in the bucket compared to what must have happened dozens of time, indeed, probably every Sabbath.

There are those who stop right there and say, “All right.  Since the Lord kept the Sabbath, we have to keep it as well.”  However, Scripture doesn’t end with the Crucifixion or even the Resurrection.  Luke refers to all that Jesus began to do and teach, Acts 1:1.  Though absent physically from His people, He is still active through the Spirit in His people.  However, this activity is in agreement with the Word of God as it was revealed to and through the first two generations of the church.  There is no new revelation, nor has there been since the giving of the last book of the New Testament, the Book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ.

So what does the rest of the New Testament have to say about the Sabbath?  You might be surprised.

There are 109 references to the Sabbath, by name, in the Old Testament.  There are 50 references in the Gospels.  That’s 159 references total.

In the rest of the New Testament, starting with the Book of Acts, there are –



Nine of those are in Acts.

Acts 1:12 tells of the disciples returning to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, where the Lord Jesus had just left them, returning to heaven, but giving them  their last instructions before doing so.  The “Sabbath day’s journey” was the distance the Rabbis had decided was the distance someone could travel on the Sabbath without breaking it. Perhaps based on their interpretation of Exodus 16:29 and Numbers 35:5, this was said to be 2000 cubits, or 3000 feet, about 3/5 of a mile.

The four references in Acts 13:14, 27, 42, 44 refer to about two weeks of Paul’s ministry in Antioch of Pisidia.  In v. 14, he and his party visited the Synagogue on the Sabbath and were given the opportunity to “exhort” the people, v. 15.  Vs. 16-41 give us Paul’s remarks to the people there, a wonderful summary of Israel’s history, finishing with David and God’s promise of a Savior coming from his line, vs. 23.  Then there’s the application to the Lord Jesus as the fulfillment of that promise, through His crucifying as fulfillment of prophecies read every Sabbath in synagogues, but not understood by those reading or hearing them.  Also promised, Jesus rose from the dead, as witnessed by his disciples, v. 31.  Paul closed with a warning to heed what he was saying.

As a result of his teaching, v. 42, the Gentiles begged to hear more the next Sabbath.  A lot of people followed Paul and Barnabas after the service, and they encouraged these people to continue in the grace of God, v. 43.  The next week, nearly the whole city turned out to hear Paul.  This aroused the enmity of the Jews, and they chased Paul out of the city.

Acts 15:21 is part of the account of the Jerusalem Council given in Acts 15, which convened as a result of opposition to Paul’s teaching by those who insisted that Gentile converts had to be circumcised according to the custom of Moses, without which you cannot be saved, v. 1, and to command them to keep the law of Moses, v. 5.

Peter answered these assertions by pointing out that Gentiles had been saved through his ministry without the necessity of becoming or acting like Jews.  This referred to the salvation of Cornelius, his family and friends, Acts 10.  By the way, Acts 10 also has something to say to those who insist that one can’t be saved without baptism.

Note carefully the decision of the council in Acts 15:24-29.  First, they had never sent out anyone insisting that keeping the Law was necessary for salvation.  What the Holy Spirit and they did want for Gentile converts were that they abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality, vs. 28, 29. Not a single reference to keeping the Sabbath for these Gentile believers.

Acts 16:13 tells of Paul’s meeting in Philippi with Lydia and other women.

Acts 17:2 tells us of the three Sabbath Paul spent in a synagogue in Thessalonica, reasoning from the Scriptures, and seeking to persuade them that this Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ, that is, the Messiah.  Notice that Paul reasoned FROM the Scriptures.  There a lot of people who try to reason TO the Scriptures, that is, they think that if you can present enough “evidence,” people will receive Christ.  However, the Pharisees had all the “evidence” in the world about the Lord Jesus, but, with very few exceptions, all of them rejected Him.  The same is true of the Sadducees and Herodians, though there is no record of any of these ever being saved.

Acts 18:4 tells us of a man named Aquila, who reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.

With the exception of Acts 16:13, these accounts all concern Jews and their required observance of the Sabbath.  But even in Philippi, I think we see Jewish influence because these women gathered together on the Sabbath.  Evidently there was no synagogue, which by Jewish law required ten men to start.

Peter and Paul and the others went to synagogue because they were Jews, yes, but also that they might witness through the prophets the truth about the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no evidence anywhere in Scripture that Gentiles were or are required to observe the Sabbath.  Many Gentiles did go to the synagogue because it was through the Jewish nation that one came to God.  However, as soon as opposition arose, the Gentiles and those Jews who believed Paul and the others separated themselves.

We mentioned the Holy Spirit.  Since we believe that the New Testament writings were inspired in their giving by the Holy Spirit, what does He have to say in the rest of the New Testament about the the Sabbath?

In the twenty-two remaining books of the NT, Romans – Revelation, containing about 3,146 verses, there is –

1 verse –


which mentions the Sabbath.  That verse is,

Colossians 2:16, So let no man judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths. 

Not a ringing endorsement of Sabbath-keeping.  Instead of being concerned that these believers weren’t observing the Sabbath, he worries that they were.  This verse is the conclusion of a section in which Paul tells us that Christ supercedes Moses, that it is through His death on the Cross that we’ve been made alive spiritually, not through keeping the rituals and requirements of Moses.  The writer of Hebrews makes the same point.

Hebrews was apparently written to Jews who were being tempted, perhaps by persecution and hardship, to return to their old way of doing things, that is, to the Temple worship and sacrifices.  Hebrews is a book of warning against doing that.  The theme of the book may be summarized by Colossians 1:18, that in all things He might have the preeminence.  In the first three chapters, the writer compares and contrasts the Lord Jesus with the Old Testament prophets, with angels and to Moses and Aaron.  In view of this superiority, the writer warns against “drifting away,” that is, not holding fast to His words, because He is God, but being influenced by the things they were experiencing.  Faithfulness in following the Lord Jesus is the evidence we are truly His, not legalism or formal ritualism.

Then, in 3:7-16, the writer turns to a familiar OT story, the failure of Israel to enter the land and the consequent 38 years wandering in the wilderness.  Because of their rebellion, God said, “They shall not enter My rest.”  See also 4:3.

It might be objected that the writer never refers to the Sabbath as such.  That’s true.  But Israel never achieved the “rest” the Sabbath foreshadowed.  They never achieved the completion, the “success,” if you will, of God’s creation rest.  In the wilderness, in the land, out of the land, returning to the land, being defeated as a nation in AD 70, spending centuries scattered among the nations, being recognized again as a nation in 1948, fighting with her enemies now in 2014 – Israel has never achieved that state of peace and perfection typified in the perfection and completion of creation.  They have never entered that rest.  Indeed, dark, dark days are ahead for her, Zechariah 14:1, 2.

Furthermore, as part of the Mosaic Law, the Sabbath was a only a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, Hebrews 10:1.  Though it was called “a rest,” it was always only temporary;  Israel always had to go “back to work.” They could never “cease” because they were never done.  Though they offered sacrifices for centuries, they never achieved the righteousness which would have allowed them to “be done”.  Redemption was never achieved.

In contrast, the writer speaks of the ONE sacrifice of the Lord Jesus by which sin was purged, 1:3.  No other sacrifice is needed. Sin has been paid for, redemption has been accomplished.  In contrast to Israel, the writer says that we who have believed do enter that rest, 4:3.   There is a rest for the people of God, 4:9.  Hebrews 4:8-10 tells us that our “rest” isn’t found in a day of the week, but in a Person, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Mark 16:9 tells us that Jesus rose early on the first day of the week.  John 20:19, that same first day of the week, Jesus appeared to the eleven as they huddled in fear in a closed room with a locked door.  Acts 20:7 tells us that the disciples came together to break bread, that is, to observe the Lord’s Supper, not just to “fellowship.”  In 1 Corinthians 16:2, Paul refers to the first day of the week as the time to prepare for a certain offering which was to be taken up.  The disciples met together on Sunday because that is the day the Lord Jesus arose, not because of some church edict.

Beyond these few references, there is no emphasis on a particular day of the week.  I believe that, if necessary, believers could decide to meet together on a Thursday morning at 3 AM and still please God with their worship.  It’s not a DAY, but a DEATH that brings us to God.

Those who worship on the Sabbath in effect say that redemption has still to be accomplished, sin has still to be paid for, God’s justice has still to be satisfied.  But redemption has been accomplished, sin has been paid for, God’s justice has been satisfied.

There is much more that could be said on all the subject we’ve written about in this series.  We hope that what we have written at least gives you something to think about.

He is not here,” said the angel on that first day of the week, “He is risen!”

That’s why we meet on Sunday.

The Sabbath has been realized.



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.

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” – 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.