By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from the work of creating he had done. – Genesis 2:2
Quick notes from the study:
- The Sabbath was a command from God given to the Israelites because He loves them. This was something they were to obey, God took it seriously. It was a command from God that was to give them rest and renewal.
- As Christians, we should partake in the Sabbath every day through Jesus.
To fully understand the work and creating He had done, I encourage you to go back and read Genesis 1 from start to finish. It’s a well-known passage, but the first Sabbath is the culmination of this creating.
What do we learn about God in this passage?
He is a creator. He is the Creator. It is not “the universe” who guides us, not “positive energy” that nurtures us, we did not come from an impersonal explosion of dust particles. God, Yaweh, Elohim is the Creator who created us out of overflowing love.
The first Sabbath was a rest that God took following his work. This was not for Adam. Adam did not partake in this Sabbath as far as we know although he had already been created. Based on what God had just done in creating the Heavens and the Earth, I imagine He rested by watching his creation. Observing how the animals, moved, explored and interacted. Perhaps this was a day to just talk with Adam.
The Sabbath came following the culmination of great work. He created and then He stopped. He is a God who knows when to stop. Creation was now perfect. One more brush stroke and it would be overworked and overdone.
Did you notice there is no evening in the Sabbath? The first Sabbath is an ongoing day. There was morning and there was evening the first six days. On the seventh day there is no evening. God is not running around trying to fix anything. He is in control. He is resting but not in the sense that we would by lying on the couch after Thanksgiving. He isn’t checked out, He hasn’t forgotten us. He sees, He cares, He hears, He responds. He’s in control and it does not require exertion or help from a different, higher being to make it happen.
So what is the Sabbath? Deuteronomy 5:12 gives us the fourth commandment saying:
Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or your daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest as you do. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.
God calls the Sabbath holy, sanctified, blessed. The day had purpose and it was part of God’s sovereign law.
Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people. For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any word on the Sabbath day must be put to death. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he abstained from work and rest. – Exodus 31:14-18
Anyone who does not observe the Sabbath must be put to death. This is really intense and probably one scripture someone could use to say the God of the Old Testament is different than the loving God we read about in the New Testament. But this actually gives us an opportunity to understand Him better. In Exodus 16 we read about God giving people manna and quail from the sky so they may have food in the wilderness after the exodus from Egypt. He is caring for them, teaching them how to live, transitioning them from a mindset of slavery to one of freedom and love within his ways. In case you are missing it, this is a great parallel to the exodus of sin we have through the freedom and love Jesus gives us through the reconciliation of his sacrifice. God gives them twice as much food on the sixth day so they will have no need of collecting food on the seventh day and may keep the Sabbath. However in Exodus 16, we read,
Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. Then the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions? Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where he is on the seventh day; no one is to go out.” So the people rested on the seventh day.-Exodus 16:27-30
The Lord does not strike them down with his ruthless anger. God grants grace to his people as they learn how to live in accordance with His ways. But there is more we can learn. In Numbers 15 we see that God keeps his promises and His consequence had to be carried forth:
While the Israelites were in the desert, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath day. Those who found him gathering wood brought him to Moses and Aaron and the whole assembly, and they kept him in custody, because it was not clear what should be done to him. Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must die. The whole assembly must stone him outside the camp. So the assembly took him outside the camp and stoned him to death, as the Lord commanded Moses. – Numbers 15:32-36
Upon a first reading, the punishment seems overly excessive. However the verses directly preceding this passage address anyone who sins defiantly, who despises the Lord’s word and breaks his command. It is believed that the man intended to get a jump on his regular weekly routine, his daily work. The account of this incident is part of the narrative.
I want to tell you about how God’s Sabbath was for animals, foreigners and even the land but I really, really want to tell you about Jesus. I encourage you to study out Leviticus 15:1-5 to understand how the Sabbath applies to the land. Check out Leviticus 26:27-45 for prophecy on the Babylonian captivity and how it pertains to the Sabbath for the land followed by 2 Chronicles 36:21 which shows the fulfillment of this prediction.
God set His people apart from other cultures on purpose, the Sabbath was just one of the ways he did so.
Here are some ways the Israelites kept the Sabbath:
- Make all meals for Saturday on Friday. There is typically a large family meal held on Saturday, so this would be a lot of cooking on Friday. (Exodus 16, “Tomorrow is the Sabbath, so bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil).
- Light candles on Friday night. (Exodus 35:3 Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day.)
- Stay home. (Exodus 16:29b Everyone is to stay where he is on the seventh day; no one is to go out.
- Do no regular (or every day) work.
If you have read any of the Gospels in the New Testament, you will know that the religious leaders had expanded the laws God laid forth concerning the Sabbath turning it from a holy day of rest to a set of rules. The rules included not just regular work but how much and how little one could do.
How did Jesus keep the Sabbath? According to the traditions of the Pharisees, he actually broke the Sabbath a lot. In John 5:1-18 we read of Jesus healing a man who has been invalid for 38 years. Jesus commands him to get up, pick up his mat and walk and the man obey . In doing so, the man broke one of the traditions of the Sabbath without breaking the Law of the Sabbath. God never said you can’t carry a mat. It’s true, the Old Testament shows where God warns the Israelites against carrying loads:
This is what the Lord says: Be careful not to carry a load on the Sabbath day or bring it through the gates of Jerusalem. Do not bring a load out of your houses or day any work on the Sabbath, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your forefathers. – Jeremiah 17:21-22
Another interesting reference is in Nehemiah 13:15-18 where God rebukes the people for carrying loads in and out of the city gates and for doing business.
The Pharisees were comparing the miraculous healing of a man who hadn’t walked for 38 years to breaking the Sabbath by bringing goods to sell in and out of the city gates. They ignored the miracle and found sin.
What does the heart of the Sabbath look like? Jesus showed us over and over again:
John 9 Jesus heals a blind man
Mark 1:21-34 Jesus heals a man possessed by an evil spirit and Simon’s mother-in-law
Mark 3:1-6 Jesus heals a man’s shriveled hand
John 5:1-18 Jesus heals a lame man by the pool
Luke 13:10-17 Jesus heals the crippled woman
Luke 14:1-6 Jesus heals a man with dropsy
The heart of the Sabbath looks like healing. I encourage you to read each of those passages. There’s healing that happens there. But not just healing, there’s teaching. Jesus didn’t come just to make you well, but to teach us how to live and call us to repentance. He healed the invalid in John 5 and then came back to see him and told him to stop sinning.
The first reference in John 9 starts with Jesus explaining that,
As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world. – John 9:4-5
So sure, stay home with your family, nurture the ones God gave you, give rest to the people in your lives. That is good. We must also look for the good work God is putting in our path and be intentional with our time. Our Sabbath is not one of navel gazing and #selfcare! He has already cared for you! He has done every piece of work that must be done.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. – Matthew 11:28-30
Jesus is our living, breathing Sabbath. He has called us to rest in Him seven-days-a-week. He has brought healing and continues to do so. It is still day and He is still the light of the world. The Sabbath day began so many years ago and continues because He is our rest. He calls to him, to take his yoke upon us and learn from Him. Jesus says his yoke is easy, He’s not trying to trick us in to a new religion where he is just another slave driver. But he is still the one in control. We must adhere to His ways and not ours.
Put your trust in God each day. Relax and rest in Jesus. He has done all the work that must be done. Continue in his ways and look for the good work He calls us to do in His name. Teach others, love others and worship Him always.