SHOULD WE KEEP SABBATH?
Leslie M. John
“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy”. (Exodus 20:8)
The fourth commandment of the Ten Commandments given to the children of Israel was in controversy for a very long time in the history of Christianity. It was a question as to whether Sabbath needs to be observed or not, and if observed whether it is to be observed on Saturday or on Sunday. There are few facts to be considered while dealing with the Sabbath Command.
To whom was the fourth command (that is to keep Sabbath) was given
Was the fourth command there in existence before it was given
What was to be done or not to be done on the day of Sabbath
What the punishment was if there is disobedience shown to the commandment.
Before we deal with the subject of Sabbath it is essential that we go back to Genesis Chapter 2 where the details about rest are mentioned. Genesis Chapter 2:2-3 read:
“And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made”.
In Genesis Chapter 1:28-31 the creation account of the sixth day is narrated. On the sixth day God created man in his own image. He created male and female on the same day although details as to how He created are given in the next chapter. There are few explicit commands given by God to man; some of them are permissive and one was highly restrictive.
The permissive commands were not optional that man can give up on them nor did the restrictive one was there for him to disobey. God gave those commands to man to surely obey. God is the creator and He has the authority to give commands. It is not for man to say why God had given such commands to man. Man and the whole creation is God’s possession.
God blessed man and woman and said to them to be fruitful, multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it. God gave authority to them to have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the fowl of the air, and over every living creature that moves on the earth. God gave them every herb bearing seed, every tree which bears fruit that yields seed as meat for them to eat. When the sixth day came to an end the creation was fully done by God and he said everything that he had made was very good.
GOD RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY
From Genesis 2:4-7 it is evident that the man lived on the earth in perfect conditions. There was no rain but there went up a mist from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground that helped every plant of the field and every herb of the field to grow. “The LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul”.
There was perfect rest for the man to enjoy in the presence of the LORD and have fellowship with Him. The creation of heavens and the earth and all the host of them by the God ended on the sixth day and God rested. It was God’s Sabbath and not man’s. It was God who rested and not man.
It is not because God was tired that He rested on the seventh day but because his creation was complete. The creation was completed in six days and on the seventh day God rested. Notice that God created and His creation was complete and He rested. It was His act and He completed it and after that He rested because there was nothing to be created after sixth day. God rested from all His work which He had made and blessed the seventh day and sanctified it.
In the commands God gave to man He has not included that man should rest on the seventh day nor did he make it as an example for man to follow. God did not tell Adam or any of his posterity until the law was given during the period of Moses. There is not a single reference in Genesis that Noah, or Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob or his children observed seventh day as rest day before the law was given.
In Abraham was a chosen generation who came from the loins of his grand son Jacob and whom God called as “my people”. (Genesis 12:7, Exodus 3:7) Abraham’s son was Isaac and Isaac’s son was Jacob and Jacob’s sons went into Egypt as a result of famine in the land of Canaan. (Genesis 37:1) The children of Israelites were under the bondage of slavery under Pharaoh for four hundred and thirty years. (Exodus 12:40) They cried and suffered under Pharaoh and the LORD heard their prayers. The LORD saw the affliction of His people who were in Egypt and knew their sorrows (Exodus 3:7). Therefore, the LORD delivered them from the bondage of slavery under Pharaoh and made a covenant with them (Exodus 12:51).
After delivering the children of Israel from the slavery under Pharaoh God led them through wilderness to Canaan. While they were on their journey God gave them Ten Commandments to follow. Along with the Ten Commandments God also gave them promises such as:
“And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee”. (Exodus 15:26)
“Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine” (Exodus 19:5).
That was the essence of the Old Covenant. God spoke to Moses and said to him to give instructions to the children of Israel to keep the Ten Commandments and if they obeyed His voice and kept all His commandments none of the diseases that Egyptians suffered would come on them and they will be a peculiar treasure unto God above all people. Abraham obeyed God’s voice even before the Ten Commandments were given to the children of Israel. God blessed Abraham (Genesis 26:5). God did not include the Sabbath Command in the days of Abraham. This commandment was given to the children of Israel much later in the days of Moses (Exodus 20:1-17).
God said to the children of Israel through Moses that He would show mercy unto thousands of them that love Him and keep His commandments (Exodus 20:6). One such commandment, which was fourth one of the Ten Commandments, was:
“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy”. (Exodus 20:8)
The LORD reiterated about Sabbath in Leviticus 23:1-3
“And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, Concerning the feasts of the LORD, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts. Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein: it is the sabbath of the LORD in all your dwellings”
Obviously the Ten Commandments were given to the children of Israel and the fourth Command to keep Sabbath as holy was also to them. There is not one single reference which shows that the Gentiles were asked to keep the fourth commandment.
THE PUNISHMENT FOR NOT KEEPIG SABBATH
God not only gave the commandment of Sabbath to the Nation Israel but He also detailed the punishment for not keeping the Sabbath. Exodus Ch. 31:12-18 say that the LORD spoke to Moses saying to him that he should speak to the children of Israel and affirming that truly they should keep the Sabbaths that He commanded them to keep. The LORD said that it is a sign between Him and the Nation Israel throughout their generations. The demand from God that they should keep the Sabbaths was given because they were chosen generation and they are sanctified as the people of the LORD.
They were asked to keep the Sabbath as it was holy unto them and the consequence of violation of the commandment from God was that they shall not only be cut off from among His people, but shall be put to death. God said that every one of the Nation Israel who defiles the Sabbath shall surely die.
They were asked to take perfect rest on the day of Sabbath. Six days they shall work, as commanded by God, and on the seventh day they shall do no servile work therein. God made heaven and earth and on the seventh day He rested and this pattern was to be followed by every one of the children of Israel. It was given as a perpetual commandment along with other commandments after communing with Moses on the Mount Sinai. God wrote the Ten Commandments with his finger on the two tables of stone that became the testimony. Later, these two tables containing The Ten Commandments were kept in the Ark of the Testimony in the most Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle as a testimony for remembrance perpetually.
DID ISRAELITES KEEP SABBATH?
“Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the LORD: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death”. (Exodus 35:2)
Note the severity of the punishment God detailed for not keeping the Sabbath. God said whoever violated His commandment shall be cut off from His people and shall be put to death. Neither they nor their sons, or their daughters, or manservant, or their maidservants, or their ox, or their donkeys, or any of their cattle or the strangers who became proselytes by showing allegiance to them and their God were allowed to do any work on the seventh day. The demand from The LORD that they should keep Sabbath was given to them because He brought them out from Egypt with a mighty hand and outstretched arm (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).
God provided the children of Israel “manna” from heaven to eat six days a week and on the seventh day they were commanded not to go out to gather the “manna”. They were asked to gather the heavenly bread “manna” on the sixth day for the seventh day also and nothing more. But some of them went out and gathered on the sixth day more than what is required for sixth day and seventh day and some went out on the seventh day to gather the food for them. He, who gathered more, did not have extra food, nor did the one who went out to gather on the seventh day found any food. This shows that the children of Israel disobeyed God and tried to do work on seventh day. (Exodus 16:25-31)
“Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day” (Exodus 35:3)
A specific incident is pointed out Numbers 15:32-36 where a case of a man who violated Sabbath is mentioned. While the children of Israel were in the wilderness they found a man who violated the fourth commandment about Sabbath. The man was gathering sticks on the day of Sabbath. It might appear to be trivial but the violation deserved punishment according to the law. They brought the man to Moses and Aaron and before the entire congregation. Even though law was known to Moses and Aaron, they depended on God to receive a decision about the course of action to be taken and until the time God gave instruction the man was put in a ward. The LORD said to Moses that the man should be surely put to death and the entire congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp. In obedience to the instructions received from the LORD they took him outside the camp and stoned him unto death.
The only permitted work on the Sabbath day was that which helps in eating food (Exodus 12:16). The very essence of the law was to point the guilt of a man and condemn him unto punishment he deserved for violating the law. The Mosaic Law provided only for the covering of sin and did not provide any solution for complete removal of sin. It was only through the blood of Lord Jesus Christ shed on the cross that a man’s sin can be completely removed. Salvation is by grace through faith in Lord Jesus Christ. No amount of good works or keeping any of the provisions of Mosaic Law could earn salvation for any body. The sacrifices and offerings detailed in the book of Leviticus could only provide temporary remedy for the sin of man. Every one failed to keep one commandment or the other of the Ten Commandments given by the LORD. It is, therefore, insisting on keeping any of the Ten Commandments to earn salvation or be justified before the Law cannot be considered right. Lord Jesus died once and for all for our sins, and was buried and rose from the dead without seeing any corruption of His body. Sabbath was made for man and it is not vice versa. Jesus said He was the Lord of the Sabbath.
“And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27)
“For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day” (Matthew 12:8)
It is very clear in the present dispensation that it is impossible to keep Sabbath on Saturday for the simple reason that if we fail to keep Sabbath on Saturday we have to offer either sacrifice to cover our sin or get stoned unto death. As written in Hebrews 10:26 there remains no more sacrifice for us except for the sacrifice offered once and for all by our Lord Jesus Christ by offering Himself on the cross for our sins. Surpassing our bad works with our good works is not the solution detailed in the Scripture for violating the Sabbath.
WHY DO WE WORSHIP AND TAKE REST ON SUNDAY?
Sabbath is never changed from seventh day to eighth day but then when Jesus was crucified on the cross the veil in the temple was rent into two from top to bottom signifying that in Jesus the Mosaic Law was fulfilled and we are free from that Law. It is the resurrection day, which is Sunday that we take rest on. Man surely needs rest one day at least in a seven day period and it is good that we take rest. It is on the seventh day rest could be taken and not particularly on Saturday. Apostle Paul says:
“Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days” (Colossians 2:16).
In addition we see in Acts 20:7 the disciples came together on the first day of the week and broke bread. In 1 Corinthians 16:2 we see that on the first day the collections were taken and they gave as God prospered them. As we read in Acts 15th Chapter certain men came down from Judea and misled brethren that unless they are circumcised there is no salvation for them, but then Paul and Barnabas took severe exception to this demand and in the Jerusalem Peter spoke about the yoke of Mosaic Law that they were willingly taking up again on themselves in spite of redemption from it was gained through the sacrifice of Lord Jesus Christ. It is, therefore, evident that the Church does not need to observe Sabbath.