Do you keep God’s Sabbath holy? Do you find the Sabbath a real delight and joy? Or is it a day of “bondage” or question to you? How often have you wondered if you have broken the Sabbath by a particular act or thought? How many times have you felt condemned about the Sabbath?
Should you attend a funeral, a wedding, a movie on the Sabbath? How do you take care of unconverted relatives who drop in unexpectedly on the Sabbath? Is it okay to have a family outing on the Sabbath? How many dishes should you wash? This is just a sampling of some of the many questions asked regularly about the Sabbath.
Since God’s Sabbath is special HOLY time set aside by God, you need to understand it, know its purpose and meaning to you as a true Christian. Too often, the tendency is to the two extremes — either treating the Sabbath too lightly as the world does, or becoming completely Pharisaical — afraid to move on the Sabbath.
Because of the many supposed complications in keeping the Sabbath, men have excused themselves from keeping it — saying it is too difficult. Of course, these are only their puny excuses to keep from obeying God, but many of the questions which come up are derived from these petty arguments. You need to understand them. Once they are cleared up completely in your mind, you will be ready to understand how to keep the Sabbath as God intended!
Fire on the Sabbath
They say you cannot build a fire on the Sabbath according to Exodus 35:2. Then what about people who live in cold climates? Won’t they freeze to death? If this is true, then God made the Sabbath too harsh, and it should not be kept — according to the rebellious, carnal mind!
Notice Exodus 35:2 with the context around it. Verse three says, “Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations on the Sabbath day.” From the original Hebrew, this word, “kindle,” means a consuming flame, a flame that would devour — that is, a great, roaring fire! The question is why would you need such a fire on the Sabbath? Read the rest of Chapter 35 and you will see. They were building the tabernacle and needed a fire large enough to work metal!
Haven’t you ever looked out on the Sabbath day and noticed some trimming you would like to get done on your lawn, or have a job you would like to get finished — and catch yourself wanting to get it done in spite of the Sabbath? This is exactly what the Israelites were doing. They were so zealous for the tabernacle that Moses even had to tell them to stop bringing materials. God knew that if He did not stop them, they would work right through the Sabbath on the Tabernacle.
This was not a cooking or household heating fire! It was an industrial fire. The same principle holds true today. There should be no industrial fires kindled on the Sabbath. On the other hand, fires of the proper type were commanded by God to be kept burning! Notice Leviticus 6:13: “The fire shall be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out.” Hence a sacrificial fire (from which the Israelites cooked their meat and grain) remained burning on the Sabbath! God was not even discussing a cooking, sacrificial or personal heating fire — but a fire which is used for work that should be done only on one of the other six days provided for that purpose.
Sabbath Day’s Journey
The Sabbath day’s journey question seems to stipulate that a true believer should travel no more than the distance from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem (Acts 1:12) about 2,000 cubits or approximately seven-eighths of a mile. But yet almost all the Sabbath keeping people who attend church around the world travel many times that distance each Sabbath! Does this mean they are breaking the Sabbath each week by attending church?
If you will check carefully, you will find that this reference is the only place in the entire Bible a “Sabbath day’s journey” is mentioned. This was a common expression of the Jews at that time, but was never employed by Christ and his disciples. It was derived as a custom by the legalistic Jews from Exodus 16:29: “…let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.”
The explanation of this is found in Peloubet’s Bible Dictionary, page 573, under “Sabbath day’s journey”: Acts 1:12. The law as regards travel on the Sabbath is found in Ex. 16:29. As some departure from a man’s own place was unavoidable, it was thought necessary to determine the allowable amount, which was fixed at 2,000 cubits or about 1,000 yards, from the wall of the city. The permitted distance seems to have been grounded on the space to be kept between the ark and the people, Joshua 3:4, in the wilderness, which tradition said was that between the ark and the tents. We find the same distance given as the circumference outside the walls of the Levitical cities to be counted as their suburbs. Num. 35:5. The terminus a quo was thus not a man’s own house, but the wall of the city where he dwelt.
Notice it is not a law of God, but simply a tradition of the Jews! Since God required attendance at Sabbath services, they had to leave their homes or tents and travel to the tent of meeting. It just happened that the distance from the fringe tents to the center of the encampment where the tent of meeting was, measured about 2,000 cubits. Rather than strive to understand and obey the principle of the Sabbath, they punctiliously set about on their own to draw up definite physical limits for Sabbath observance.
God has never set on his people a “Sabbath day’s journey”!
Ox in the Ditch
Christ said, “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?” (Luke 14:5.) From this, many have argued that their job was an ox in the ditch because it requires them to work, or they work at a job which has “regular emergencies” requiring work on the Sabbath.
They reason that God surely would not want the men to lose their jobs which provides for their families and also enables them to continue to give offerings to God’s Work. Some have gone so far as to work on the Sabbath, then give that whole day’s pay as an offering, to avoid losing their jobs. But these persons have not known that God says, “Hath the Eternal as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Eternal? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice…” (I Sam. 15:22).
God is not interested in sacrifices or offerings at the expense of disobedience to His laws!
But what about the ox or ass in the ditch? How often should you expect it to happen, and what does it really mean and how does it apply today to people who don’t own oxen and asses?
First, you need to understand literally what an “ox in the ditch” means. Since the ox and the ass are rather sure-footed creatures, the odds against them regularly being stuck in a ditch are quite high. When you add the fact that the Sabbath is only one day out of a total of seven, the odds go even higher. Normally, in order to have an ox in the ditch, you have to have the following factors: It must be Sabbath, you must have some kind of severely inclement weather (snowstorm, rainstorm, etc.), and you need a clumsy ox!
Rest assured that if the ox is in the ditch on the Sabbath, Christ makes it very clear you should pull it out. But an ox in the ditch on the Sabbath is a very rare occurrence — that is, a genuine emergency. Normally, a farmer can go through a whole lifetime and be able to count on one hand the number of oxen (cattle) or asses he has pulled out of a bog or ditch — and the odds are seven to one against it being on the Sabbath.
The principle of the ox in the ditch obviously includes such genuine emergencies as personal injuries, burning houses, power failures, accidents and other occurrences which would entail injury, loss of life or personal property.
The principle does not include, however, the person who “pushes his own ox into the ditch” by acquiring or keeping a job where he knows he will be required to work on the Sabbath each week, or by “putting off” work which should have been done during the week. Nor does it include harvesting or plowing on the Sabbath — even if there has been bad weather or machinery breakdowns during the week. God says, “Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing [better translated, “plowing” — see Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance #2758} time and in harvest thou shalt rest” (Exodus 34:21).
Jewish Ritualism — Pagan Permissiveness
By their strict adherence to certain physical limitations they (not God) placed on the law, the Jews consistently broke the spirit of the law. One story is told of how the Pharisees, to prohibit a profit from milking on the Sabbath, decreed that the cows should be milked on a rock so the milk would not be gathered in a bucket and sold. This apparently worked fine until one enterprising person began milking his cow on a rock — which had been placed in the bottom of a bucket!
Christ scorched them with the truth, “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers” (Mat. 23:4). They were totally carnal and could not see nor understand the principles behind the law.
On the other hand, the pagans have rejected completely God’s laws, thinking they could make up for it with self-flagellation, pilgrimages, enforced fasts, assuming that is what God wants. They have completely forgotten what God is like.
Our so-called “Judeo-Christian” society has inherited a strange mixture of this ill-conceived “marriage.” This is what the people of God must come out of! We have grown up being too lax in some things — thinking we had to be punished for nonsensical things — and too strict and legalistic in others. We must come out of this and strive to learn the right balance of living and keeping the Sabbath from God!
From the Beginning
God ordered the Israelites at Mount Sinai to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy! (Ex. 20:8.) They were to remember how the Sabbath began and what it was all about from the beginning. Genesis 2 describes the Sabbath as the day God hallowed by resting. He rested the seventh day after working six — thereby setting the perfect example.
It was done for man — for his well-being and benefit. It is not nearly as complicated as some think! “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath,” states Christ (Mark 2:27). It was created after man for his good and physical and spiritual health — not before man with a long list of stringent requirements and harsh bondage!
FIRST a Day of Rest and a SIGN!
It is a day of rest for God and man! God set us a positive example by taking extra pains to set aside this special space of time — holy to Him — as His time, belonging to Him, It was so important to Him that He set it up as a special sign to man, to be observed throughout his generations.
Notice Exodus 31:12-17: “… Verily my Sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations…. Ye shall keep the Sabbath…for it is holy unto you… It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel FOREVER: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.”
A sign is an identifying mark, or brand. God’s people were to have been identified throughout their generations by the keeping of God’s Sabbath. A mark or brand shows ownership. God “bought” the children of Israel out of the bondage of abject slavery to the Egyptians. His token of ownership became the Sabbath Day! “Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual COVENANT” (Ex. 31:16).
Why would His people be different, strange and even “peculiar”? Because of this covenant! “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,” says God! (Ex. 19:5.) He continues, “For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto Himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth” (Deut. 14:2).
In an evil world fraught with wretchedness, misunderstanding, and separation from God the Almighty Creator, only His people, Israel, would have His sign, His identifying mark or brand of the Sabbath day. The world lost sight of the Creation and the True God because they did not have His sign of Creation, the Sabbath!
God worked six days creating physical masterpieces on earth, and rested the seventh, creating the spiritual masterpiece — the everlasting sign and symbol of creation with Him as Master of creation! When rebellious man lost sight of that sign of creation, he lost sight of God!
When Israel later lost sight of the Sabbath, they too lost sight of God with disastrous results! Notice Jer. 17:27, “But if ye will not hearken unto Me to hallow the Sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched!” The result was the sacking and destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans (See Jer. 52:12-30). God’s people lost His protection!
Type of the Millennium
God’s people today still are to have this sign and covenant with their Creator! “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God” (Heb. 4:9). The original Greek word for “rest” here is “Sabbatismos” which means a literal Sabbath observance! It denotes a literal cessation from labor as a type of the far more important meaning of the Sabbath.
But notice Heb. 4:5: “… As I have sworn in My wrath, if they shall enter into My rest [Gr. “Katapausin“]” — and again, “And God did rest [“Katapausin”] the seventh day from all His works” (verse 4). In addition to a Sabbath observance, “Katapausin” literally means “the act of giving rest; a state of settled or final rest” (The Analytical Greek Lexicon by Bagster). It can also mean a place of rest, place of abode, dwelling, habitation.
“For if Jesus [Joshua] had given them rest [i.e., final rest or habitation], then would he not afterward have spoken of another day?” This is the millennial rest, a time of final settling down, cessation from the 6,000-year struggle of man in a sin sick world. “For he that is entered into His [God’s] rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His” (verse 10). A day with God is as a thousand years (II Pet. 3:8), and this represents that final SEVENTH-thousand-year rule of peace and rest under Jesus Christ!
The Personal Application
Theologists have for years argued the technical “meanings” of the Sabbath, but how does it apply to you, personally? How does it affect your weekly life? You cannot understand the ultimate meaning of the Sabbath without first knowing and applying the Sabbath properly in your own life!
It is a time of relief and relaxation from your regular daily work and cares. God did not intend man to slave his life away seven days a week. He made man to need a day of rest and recuperation from a vigorous, work-filled week. Far from a day of bondage, it is a day of freedom — freedom from daily cares and problems; freedom from the stress and frustration you have already endured for six long days.
Notice God’s positive instruction on the Sabbath: “If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on My holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour Him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord” (Isa. 58:13-14). Here are three important facets to keeping the Sabbath.
Let’s analyze them:
1. YOUR ways. This means course of life, mode of action — that is, your employment, enterprises, finances, the more serious business of making a livelihood. You should not involve yourself in doing what you normally do during the week — those things by which you feed, clothe and care for yourself physically. This includes working at your job or business, working around the house, sewing, cleaning, washing the car — all the things that pertain to your physical maintenance during the normal course of the week.
This is the day to be about God’s ways! You rest from doing your ways. Devote this time to God’s business of eternal life. The Sabbath gives you extra time to study and meditate about God’s course of eternal life, His principles and mode of action. You will need all the knowledge about God’s business you can acquire if you hope to be an active and living part of it one day!
2. YOUR pleasure. Your desire, delight, that which you take extra pleasure in doing — hunting, fishing, golfing, swimming, cards, movies, boating — those things which take up the majority of your “leisure” time. This would also include the many time-consuming hobbies such as the “ham” radio operator, woodworking shop, stamp collecting, etc. Of course, it would be impossible to list all the hobbies and activities available, but you know what yours is. Whatever your pleasure, or leisure-time activity is, you should not engage in it on the Sabbath.
You should engage in God’s pleasure on the Sabbath. What is God’s pleasure? It is His creation — planning, working and building for the future of eternity! “… for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11). Just as you have or may have had an absorbing interest in your hobby or leisure-time interest and all of its interesting facets and details, God has an absolutely absorbing interest in His creation and all its myriad facets! He gives us the Sabbath to learn to have an interest and pleasure in His creation. His pleasure — the true and lasting pleasure — is to become our pleasure!
3. YOUR words. This is the spiritual application of the first two principles. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” We talk about what we are thinking. Our words show what is going on in our minds and hearts. This is obviously the most difficult of all! We may cease our ways and our pleasures, but it is much more difficult to cease thinking or talking about them!
Really, it is no problem just to rest and do no physical exertion on the Sabbath. Some people regularly do this seven days a week! You must serve God with your mind. Those who can’t or don’t control their minds call the Sabbath bondage, because they can’t wait ’til sunset to be about their ways and pleasures which they have been thinking about all day anyway!
Once you are able to get your mind and thoughts on God’s pleasure and God’s ways on the Sabbath, you will find out what real delight and joy in the Sabbath is! “Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord” (Isa. 58:14).
How do you accomplish this? Devote your Sabbath time to Sabbath service, extra Bible study, extra prayer and especially extra meditation! This is your one time in the week when you don’t have to worry about getting to the job, making payments, working out schedules, cleaning house and all the other things you find that takes away from your study, prayer and meditation during the week. This is free time — free from all your daily cares and worries — free to be completely absorbed in God and His word.
However, there is one more basic element necessary to make all this possible — that is preparation.
Preparation for the Sabbath
Many do not or cannot properly observe the Sabbath because they have not understood when or how to prepare for it. On the Sixth Day of the week— Friday to us—God said, “Tomorrow is the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the Lord; bake that which ye will bake today, and seethe (boil) that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning.” (Ex. 16:23).
The preparation day is the time to get everything ready for the Sabbath so you won’t even be tempted to do it on the Sabbath. Specifically mentioned are baking and boiling — or, the heavier cooking and household duties. The principle here includes everything which can be done before the Sabbath begins such as cooking a roast, baking a cake or pie, cleaning house, getting chores done, etc.
Obviously, there are some things which cannot be done before the appointed time on the Sabbath. Common sense will tell you which would be easier, to fry an egg on Friday, store it in the deep freeze, thaw it out the next morning and eat it, or to simply wait until Sabbath morning to cook and eat. But the items which will keep for a period of time such as roasts, bread, etc. should be prepared ahead of time.
Keep a Checklist
Many find themselves run “ragged” on Friday trying to frantically get everything done only to collapse in a heap Friday night to discover something they forgot to get done! This can all easily be avoided if each member of the family will make a checklist of everything he must get done to prepare for the Sabbath. Then, each week, all he has to do is run down the list in a rapid, organized manner to get everything done.
But remember, the preparation day is only one day. Don’t make the mistake of leaving everything — house-cleaning, baking, cooking, grocery shopping, car washing, etc. — until that day! Do this and you will find the Sabbath a day of total collapse rather than a peaceful day of rest and relaxation with enough energy to communicate with God! It is to be a day to prepare for the Sabbath, not a day to catch up on what you should have been doing all week.
Plan to have everything in readiness to truly greet God’s Sabbath — making sure there are no other things pressing on your mind or schedule. Only when you have everything done and out of the way can you really become absorbed in the Sabbath as you should. Plan it this way and you will be amazed at how much more you delight in the Sabbath. You don’t have to go to work, nor worry about the endless trivia which clutters up every normal week. This is the day to completely put all that away from you!
A good checklist will help you accomplish this. Just sit down and think it over carefully. Then prepare a list you can use every Friday, and you will be amazed at how much easier and more simple your preparation becomes.
What About the Many Questions ?
The main reason God has never “listed” in the Bible any “do’s and don’ts” for the Sabbath is that He wants us, as individuals, to learn to think, be personally responsible and use the principles He has given us. It is too easy to lose sight of the goal when you have a myriad of legalistic lines drawn up for you. But once you know and can apply the principles, you will be able to almost automatically answer your own questions.
Just remember some very basic questions to ask yourself: “Is this in God’s service? Is this a genuine emergency, or can I put it off till tomorrow? Should I have already done this as a part of preparation? Have I prayed about this and thoroughly gone over the principles in my mind?” If you find there is some question which still bothers you after thoroughly studying it out, you should seek advice from one who should know more about the principles of Sabbath-keeping — your local minister.
Apply these principles and you will soon find that God’s Sabbath is one of His greatest gifts to mankind — a gift for rest, peace, knowledge and true delight!
Source: The Good News, 1968