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The Sabbath Command


Why have a web site devoted to the Sabbath? Is there anything about the Sabbath command that has relevance for Christians today? Did God only intend for the Jews to keep the Sabbath? Was the Sabbath day changed under the new covenant? Its vitally important for you to know the answers to these questions.

A Brief History of Holy Time

The Sabbath Day has existed from creation. God created the Sabbath by resting on the seventh day. Later, at Mount Sinai, God commanded Israel to remember and observe the Sabbath by resting from the work of the other six days.

Exodus 20:8 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

During their wanderings in the Sinai peninsula,God impressed on the Israelites the importance of observing the Sabbath. For forty years, He miraculously provided them with bread, which they called "Manna" six days a week.

Exodus 16:35 And the children of Israel did eat manna forty years, until they came to a land inhabited; they did eat manna, until they came unto the borders of the land of Canaan.

On the seventh day, the Sabbath, they were not permitted to gather the food that supernaturally appeared on the ground in the night. in fact, no manna was provided on the Sabbath.

EXODUS 16:25-26 And Moses said, Eat that to day; for to day is a sabbath unto the LORD: to day ye shall not find it in the field. Six days ye shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is the sabbath, in it there shall be none.

Throughout their history, Israel's record of Sabbath keeping was so poor that God eventually dispossessed them of their land for Sabbath breaking and idolatry, as He had warned them in the Sinai desert that He would:

Ezekiel 20:23 I lifted up mine hand unto them also in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the heathen, and disperse them through the countries; 24 Because they had not executed my judgments, but had despised my statutes, and had polluted my sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers' idols.

In the sixth century BC, after having been patient with them for centuries, God punished Israel severely for chronic failure to keep His Sabbath holy. From the period of about 603 to 586 BC, they were subjugated and finally conquered by the Babylonian Empire under Nebuchadnezzar. The Jews were exiled in Babylon for decades. Would it not be inconsistent and capricious of God to bring a people to the brink of destruction for disobedience to a law and later, disannul the law as if it had absolutely no significance?

When the Jews returned from their captivity in Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem's wall and the temple, Sabbath keeping was still a problem for them.

NEHEMIAH 13:16-19 There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, What evil thing is this that ye do, and profane the sabbath day? Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet ye bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the sabbath. And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day.

In the period between the Jew's return to Judah and the coming of Christ, Sabbath observance was codified in civil law and enforced, but there was a problem. In an attempt to define the absolute boundaries of Sabbath keeping and other aspects of obedience to God, the Jews added many restrictions and regulations to Sabbath observance and to worship in general . A complicated and burdensome set of rules was added to Sabbath observance. The Sabbath day was made onerous and trying, rather than the delight God intended it to be (Isaiah 58:13). The following passage from Matthew's gospel describes an argument between Christ and the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the time, over how the Sabbath should be kept:

MATTHEW 12:-8 At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day. But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless? But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.

The Pharisees contended that plucking a few ears of grain was "harvesting" and constituted a breach of the Sabbath command. Jesus told them that they were misapplying the law. Since He was the Lord of the Sabbath, the One who had rested from His creative efforts on the first Sabbath, He said He should be the one to interpret the command.

Christ complained to the Pharissees that they had misunderstood, misapplied and nullified the intent of the law of God. They had substituted superfluous human legislation and vain tradition for the commands of God.

MARK 7:6-7 He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

Verse 9 And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.

Verse 13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.

It was humanly devised law, contrary to God's law, that Christ objected to, not the Ten Commandments. Christ warned us not to presume that He had come to abolish any part of the law:

MATTHEW 5:17- 19 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Through out His ministry, Christ carefully kept God's law and taught His disciples to follow His example. He never broke the Sabbath command, except by the interpretation of the religious authorities. Here is another example of their error in interpretation of the law:

LUKE 14:2-6 And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy. And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? And they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go; And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day? And they could not answer him again to these things.

Christ did not demonstrate that the Sabbath law had been abolished, but that the Pharisees and lawyers had misinterpreted and abused the law. He showed that it was lawful to heal and to do good to those in need on the Sabbath and did not violate God's intent in the fourth command.

Christ kept the Sabbath day. It was a part of His weekly routine.

LUKE 4:16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.

After Christ's death, his followers continued to observe the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week. Why should they not? There had never been any command to discontinue Sabbath observance. There had never been a demonstration equal to that in
Exodus 19:18-19 to de-emphasize the importance of the command. There had not been a miracle like the forty years of manna to show that the Sabbath had been changed or abolished. Christ had said that man must live by every word of God, and Exodus 20:8 had not been expunged from God's word. For generations after the death of Christ, Christians continued to observe the Sabbath day. The book of Acts is replete with examples:

ACTS 13:13-14 Now when Paul and his company loosed from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia: and John departing from them returned to Jerusalem. But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down.

ACTS 13:44 And the next sabbath day came almost the whole city together to hear the word of God.

ACTS 16:12 -13And from thence to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days. And on the sabbath we went out of the city by a river side, where prayer was wont to be made; and we sat down, and spake unto the women which resorted thither.

ACTS 17:2 And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures...

ACTS 18:4 And he [Paul] reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded the Jews and the Greeks.

Paul never took the opportunity to redirect Christians, Jew or Gentile, to the first day of the week as the correct day to observe as holy time. If Christians were to observe the first day, rather than the seventh as the Sabbath, why did that instruction never come from Christ or Paul or any of Christ's apostles? On the contrary, we read in Colossians that Paul instructs Gentile Christians in that city not to be concerned that they were being criticized for keeping the Sabbath day.

COLOSSIANS 2:16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, [eating or drinking] or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:

It is apparent that the Colossians were being condemned for keeping Sabbaths and Holy Days that their pagan and gnostic neighbors did not understand. If they had not been keeping the Sabbath, there would have been no judgment to deal with (the criticism was coming from Gentile ascetics, not from Jews). Christ taught that the Sabbath was made for humankind, not just the Jews. When He was contending with the Pharisees over the issue of plucking grain on the Sabbath, He said, "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath." (Mark 2:27).

How did Sunday come to be observed as the Sabbath instead of the seventh day? Is there any command in the Bible, or any indication whatever about Sunday observance? Cardinal J. Gibbons (1834-1921), only the second American to be made a Cardinal in the Catholic Church, asserted that the Bible was silent with respect to Sunday observance. In his his book, "Faith of Our Fathers: A Plain Exposition and Vindication of the Church Founded by Our Lord, Jesus Christ", he writes:

"But you may read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and you will not find a single line authorizing the sanctification of Sunday. The Scriptures enforce the religious observance of Saturday, a day which we never sanctify."

That statement is completely accurate. The word of God never sanctified Sunday. Sunday was never set apart by God for holy purposes. Sunday was not blessed by God, at creation or any other time. Sunday was never commanded by God to be a day of rest, worship or special observance, yet the majority of Christians believe that Sunday is the day which is holy. How did that come to be?

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All content is Copyright 2007 Hugh Buchanan unless otherwise cited.