Insights into the Sabbath (Lane)
Insights in the Sabbath
by Lonnie Lane
If there was one thing that Yeshua had to say to the Jerusalem leadership it was, “…you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition” (Matt 15:6) as He tried time and again to get them to rethink their positions. Evidently some did as they became His followers after His resurrection. But they sure gave Him a lot of flack about doing miracles and healing people on the Sabbath. Why? What was it about the Sabbath that made them so protective of it?
Regarding the Sabbath, God repeatedly told Israel,
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you” (Ex 20:8-11).
God’s point was that the entire community of Israel was to observe the Sabbath, even the animals, and including any non-Israelites among them.
Six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor in order that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female slave, as well as your stranger, may refresh themselves (23:12).
…You shall surely observe My Sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you [NIV, makes you holy]. Therefore you are to observe the Sabbath, for it is holy to you (31:13, 14a).
God’s mercy called for a time to rest and be refreshed. It was to be a day of celebration. But, to not celebrate it had dire consequences.
Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a Sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall surely be put to death. So the sons of Israel shall observe the Sabbath, to celebrate the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever (31:13-17).
One day, after reading some of these “keep the Sabbath or else” verses, I asked the Lord why this was so important to Him that we keep the Sabbath and specifically on the seventh day. Why such consequences to not keeping it? I felt I was to go back to the first chapter of Genesis. I read it again, then again.
“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. And by the seventh day God completed His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which God had created and made….” (Genesis 2:2,3).
I read further, “…for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor and was refreshed” (Ex 30:17). And then I saw it. An “Aha!” moment. The Sabbath is the testimony that God is the Creator of all that exists, that He is Sovereign over the universe. Everything that is, is His! He alone is God. His resting on the seventh day was a statement of His having completed everything as it should be, and that he was refreshed was not because He grew tired, but that He was satisfied that all reflected His goodness. Sabbath is a day to remember that Yahweh is God and that He is Lord over all of creation and that it is to Him that we owe our very being. Israel was to keep the Sabbath to honor Him for Who He is. In addition to that, He has given it to us as a day of rest, just as He rested, because He created us in His image, and Sabbath is a statement that He will restore us to His rest, the rest that Adam was born into, but lost.
The Lord is so adamant that this day be treated as holy by Israel because if anyone treated the Sabbath lightly, they were likely to treat God just as lightly and to do that is to play into the hand of the devil and inadvertently make him lord and not God. When God railed against any in Israel who disregarded His edict to keep the Sabbath, it was because this was a challenge to Yahweh Himself as Sovereign God over all. This act of dishonoring God exempted the person from God’s grace as such rebellion had the potential to put the entire community in jeopardy.
In order to fully understand the implications of this violation, we must consider what we call the Fall. We must remember that God has an enemy and that His adversary (Hebrew: satan, pronounced sahtahn) is always at work attempting to dispossess God of His people. So, if the Sabbath is God’s declaration that He is the Sovereign Creator-God who alone has all rights to His creation, then to dismiss the Sabbath as inconsequential is to play into satan’s attempts to dethrone God. In essence, for any Jew to disregard God’s word to them about the Sabbath, thinking there would be no consequences, was to fall for the same lie that satan told Eve: “Nothing will happen if you disregard God’s Word to you.” Observing that one day as holy unto God kept Israel in right relationship with Him.
Keeping it not only is being in agreement with God that He is Lord and King, it’s agreement that God is good, because when He finished each aspect of His creation, He declared “Tov!” It is good! But satan tried to ruin God’s creation by making Adam “ungood,” by making him distrust in God’s goodness. Remember, the issue about the tree was the knowledge of good and evil. God created Adam with awareness only of good. Satan tried to malign God’s integrity and implied to Eve that God couldn’t be trusted, that He wasn’t really good, that He was withholding good from her and therefore God couldn’t be good. The result was that both Eve and Adam came to know evil when they doubted God’s goodness. But it didn’t change the fact that God IS good!
When Israel, or even any of us today, choose to keep the Sabbath, we are, in effect, agreeing that God is good, that He is Sovereign Creator and Lord and that we love Him enough to want to honor Him on this day by setting it apart from the rest of the week in some way unto God. While it may not look like it on the human side of things, behind the scenes, the devil hates when we keep the Sabbath.
How do I know that? If you want to know what it is that God values and what is best for His people, take a look through the history of God’s dealings with mankind to see what it is that the devil has tried to remove or distort. Torah is a perfect example of that which represents God’s highest values for His people being distorted by the devil. As it’s been said, if the devil can’t get you to ignore what God said, he’ll try and get you to overdo it. He’ll try and get you to exceed what is written. And that’s exactly what happened with regard to Israel and the Sabbath.
The commandment to keep the Sabbath was, of course, a part of the Torah God gave to Moses as His instructions to Israel and His covenant with them. Torah was God’s blueprint that designed their community as the highest lifestyle of morals and religion in the world. Their social, civil and economic values, and their family lives were all defined by God to provide a society which was safe, healthy, trusting and protective of one another. This would make it a rather stress-free society if lived out as instructed. They were to be responsible to and for each other. It was designed to be an entirely egalitarian society in which no one would dominate or take advantage of anyone else, including the priesthood. Additionally, because of God’s instructions to them in Torah about food, cleanliness and taking a day of rest, they would live long and healthy lives.
The crowing glory of Torah, however, was that they were the only people in the world with a relationship with the Living Creator of the world. They knew the one true God who revealed His name – Yahweh – to them and made Himself known to them in many ways and who cared for, protected and looked after them. The Israelites, therefore, were the only people in the entire world whose religion was not useless! And the Sabbath was the day set apart to maintain that relationship between Israel and God.
We know that while Torah was perfect, mankind isn’t, including Israel and they were not able or always even willing to take full advantage of all God offered to them. Many did live righteous lives unto the Lord, though at times Israel went into complete apostasy. That did not change the fact that Torah defined a society that in every way would provide for all that would be “good” for its adherents.
As we discussed in another article (see “What Happened to My Freedom“), in order to protect themselves from assimilation and violating God’s edicts in Torah, “fences” were established, which are extra-Biblical laws that were imposed upon the Scriptures. A huge battery of such laws surrounded keeping the Sabbath, since not keeping Sabbath carried with it great risk. The day that was meant to delight yourself in God became one in which the day became more of concern with do’s and don’t’s than of truly resting in the Lord. If you do no work but are preoccupied with making sure you do no work, are you really resting in Him?
My dear grandmother of blessed memory kept the Sabbath scrupulously in every detail. I spent many Sabbaths in her home as a child. I was not allowed to write or draw, her knitting was set aside that day, the only food eaten was that which was prepared before sundown the day before, she walked wherever she would go and would take no “automobile” as a motor would be working even if she wasn’t turning the wheels herself. But I never recall her speaking about God. As close as I was with her, I don’t recall her Sabbath-keeping bringing her into closeness with God necessarily. It was about maintaining the tradition of keeping Sabbath as a Jew. As an adult, I too baked a Challah bread, lit my candles and went to shull (synagogue) on Friday night. Y’know, “Trah-dih-shun!” But I did it, even enjoying it as a cultural identification with my people, but not as unto God. He wasn’t part of the picture for me in those days. I didn’t know it then, but I had missed the whole point of why God gave us the Sabbath in the first place.
It wasn’t my intention that God not be central in my Sabbath-keeping, nor was it my grandmother’s, nor the Pharisees in their determination to keep their oral law (their how-to keep the written laws). But it was satan’s intention, I’m quite sure. I also have no doubt it was he who instigated the “fences” to exceed what God had written motivating Israel to define their lifestyle to such an extent that the fluidity and freedom of relationship with God was, for many, displaced by legalistic rituals. Laws are unnecessary for people who live by the Spirit, but Israel wasn’t living by the Spirit as we who belong to Yeshua are today. So they made laws. We have to commend them for wanting to keep God’s ways in the first place.
In all fairness, I’m sure there are many orthodox Jews who would claim that keeping oral Torah is greatly satisfying and God-focused. I don’t doubt their experience. But I do know that rituals do not bring us to salvation, nor do they bring us to the intimacy of relationship with God that faith in Yeshua does. But once we do come to Him in faith, then we can do such things as keeping the Sabbath in the grace of God with greater freedom and joy.
The original Jewish followers of Yeshua gained a right perspective on the Sabbath. Yeshua had said, “The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mtt 12:8; Mk 2:28; Luke 6:5) and so they kept the Sabbath unto Him, resting in Him in their freedom from traditions that misrepresented God’s intentions for the day. And yes, like Yeshua did, they often ministered to people on the Sabbath. Certainly bringing a person out of suffering into a new rest and gratefulness to God by healing them or setting them free from demons would be enabling them to enjoy their new-found Sabbath rest, and would, no doubt, please God in the process.
But as more and more Gentiles came into the church and they far outnumbered the Jews, it was not long before there were no Jews to teach the Gentiles any longer of how Yeshua fulfilled the Torah and the prophets. And soon enough, satan was able to convince the church that not only was the Sabbath no longer the day God intended for the Sabbath, but such Sabbath as would be maintained was moved to “Sun” day, the day the pagans worshipped the sun. The reason given was that Yeshua was resurrected on Sunday, but that is not valid. God never told them to change the Sabbath day and certainly not to mix it with pagan worship!
So to the Jews satan was able to get them to do too much, and for the church, not enough. Either way, the day of rest and refreshing got complicated. For those who might be inclined to think of Sunday as your day of rest, do you really rest on that day? Getting to church is not resting. Being at church is not necessarily resting. Especially if you’re the pastor or on the worship team, etc. You’re working, you’re not resting. Take it from one who’s been in church for 31 years, church is not the same as resting on the Sabbath.
If the Sabbath is not kept when and as God intended, but has been abducted by a pagan god, it ceases to be the Sabbath God intended. What’s more, the adversary’s seeming coup in robbing God of the worship due Him as Creator-God in a day of rest was no doubt what he, in his self-deceived mind, thought firmed up his plan to “out-god” God. I’m sure you’ll agree with me, we don’t want to give any “points” to satan but are committed to giving God all the honor and praise that’s due Him. Amen?
Today as God is restoring all things before Yeshua returns, with the importance that the Sabbath has had in His plan for Israel and for “the sojourner who stays with you,” (Ex 20:11), that is to say, the Gentiles who “stay with” Yeshua, would it not be honoring to God to consider keeping the Sabbath as He would lead? When God ordained the Sabbath He stipulated that it was to be kept, “throughout their generations… as a perpetual covenant… forever” (31:15,17). Would that not include now?
Both Jewish and Gentile Believers who endeavor to keep the Sabbath in some manner, by the Spirit, will tell you that they find that it becomes their chief delight of their week, that the rest strengthens them for the rest of the week, and their relationship with the Lord becomes sweeter. If you haven’t done so before, you might enjoy setting the day apart unto the Lord, not legalistically, but however you feel led by God in peace. If your peace goes, and you feel compulsive or like you “have to” or “must,” it’s not God. His way is “righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:7).
Here’s a few suggestions of what to do on a Sabbath: Take a walk, especially where things are growing, make it a point to look at the varied colors and listen to sounds. Chat with Him while you’re walking about what you see and thanking Him for eyes to see, the ability to walk, and how beautiful it all is. Spend time with God not asking Him for anything, just talking to Him as you would to an intimate companion. Play some music, sing to Him – even make up a song. Take what my brother calls a “prayer-nap” and let your spirit be aware of Him as you mull things over while resting. Take some time to pray for people and situations you never have time for ordinarily. Invite some friends to join you for a light meal. Share new thoughts about the Lord He may be speaking to each of you recently. Read a verse or passage in Genesis or Exodus 1-14, or King David’s life, or in the Gospels and talk about what it would have been like to have been there. Ask God what He would say to you and spend time listening.
Just be sure to do whatever you do in freedom, enjoying your day with God. You’ll be amazed at the goodness of God that will come to your awareness as He shares His goodness with you. Then “Shabbat Shalom” will be more than a greeting to you, it will become the treasured part of your week when you and God rest together.
Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, Calif. All rights reserved. Used by permission.