Should We Keep The Sabbath Day Holy?: Part 1

(This is the first part of a three-part article regarding whether Christians should observe the Old Testament Sabbath holy day.  Part 2 can be found here, and Part 3 can be found here.)

Evolutionists can claim otherwise, but it is a fact that God created this world and this universe in six literal days, and then rested on the seventh day (Gen. 2:1-2).  Then, at some later point, God blessed the seventh day and set it apart from the other days (Gen. 2:3).  “But Jon,” you might be saying, “didn’t God make the seventh day holy right then on the seventh day?  After all, we read of it happening right there in the beginning of Genesis.”  This article is going to explore whether that is true, but for now let’s talk a little more about that seventh day.

The seventh day later became known as “the Sabbath Day.”  “Sabbath” is transliterated from the Hebrew word shabbath, which means “to rest from labor.”  The Greek word is sabbaton, and joins the English word “Sabbath” as a transliteration of the Hebrew shabbath.  That’s why it now means something slightly different from what it originally meant in Hebrew.  Today, “Sabbath” means “the day of rest,” but it originally meant “to rest from labor,” with no reference to a day.

A lot of questions come up in religious circles about the Sabbath Day, especially if you are having a religious discussion with someone from the religious sect known as the Seventh-Day Adventists.  The first question which usually arises has to do with determining which day of the week was the Sabbath Day.  Was it Saturday or Sunday?  This question is the simplest one to answer.  In the Old Testament, the Sabbath was a day of rest after six days of work (Gen. 2:1-3; Ex. 20:8-11).  The Jews began their days at sunset rather than sunrise, so the seventh day began at sunset on the day we call Friday and ended at sunset on the day we call Saturday.  Therefore, “the Sabbath” generally refers to Saturday in the Bible…with one major exception.

This exception has to do with other questions about the Sabbath which are generally raised.  For example, we know that in the Old Testament the Jews were required to observe the Sabbath Day.  However, are Christians who live under the New Testament (Heb. 8:7-13; cf. Jer. 31:31-34) supposed to keep the Sabbath?  If that’s the case, then does “the Sabbath” still take place on Saturdays…or is it now on Sundays since that is the day when Christians go to church?

What Does The Old Testament Say About The Sabbath?

To find a biblical answer to these questions, let’s first consider what the Old Testament says about the Sabbath.  We’ve seen already the first mention of the Sabbath Day in the Old Testament (Gen. 2:1-3), but interestingly enough there is no further mention of it from Genesis 2:4 all the way up to Exodus 15.  Think about what this means for a second.  We never read of the many righteous men throughout Genesis who pleased God (Adam, Abel, Enoch, Lot, Noah Melchizedek, Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, Joseph, etc.) observing the Sabbath Day as holy or a day of rest.

But what about Genesis 2:3, where it says that God blessed the seventh day and made it holy because he rested on that day?  Since we read about God blessing the seventh day right when we read about the creation, doesn’t that mean that Adam, Abel, Noah, Abraham, and all the others in Genesis must have observed it just like Moses and the Jews did?

The children of Israel gathering manna

Not necessarily.  Go to Exodus 16:22-30, the first place since Genesis 2:1-3 where we read of the seventh day as being the Sabbath, a day of rest.  This passage tells us about the instructions God gave the nation of Israel concerning how to collect the manna that he rained down on them from heaven for their food while in the wilderness, shortly after they were delivered from Egyptian slavery and before they got to Mount Sinai where they received the Law of Moses.  Did you notice that they had to be specifically told (twice) not to gather the manna on the seventh day (Ex. 16:23, 29)?  However, they went out on the seventh day prepared to gather the manna anyway.  What does that tell us?  They weren’t used to taking the seventh day off from work.

Why?  Nehemiah tells us why when he wrote that the Lord “made known” to Israel the holy Sabbath at Mount Sinai (Neh. 9:13-14).  Since God made it known to them at Mount Sinai, that means they did not know about it previously.  That is why they had to be told twice not to work gathering manna on the seventh day, because putting the seventh day aside as a day of rest was something unknown to them.

With this in mind, look at Exodus 20:8-11.  This passage is part of the Ten Commandments which God gave to the Israelites at Mount Sinai.  This is when the Sabbath became a part of the Law of Moses.  Did you notice where God explains why he is giving them a commandment to keep the Sabbath Day holy (Ex. 20:11)?  The reason cited here is because he had created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, which is almost identical to the reason given in Genesis 2:3.  (More on that in a second…)

There were other reasons God commanded the Sabbath Day to be holy in the Law of Moses.  It was a weekly reminder of how he had delivered Israel from Egyptian slavery (Deut. 5:15).  It was also a sign between him and Israel to show that they were his special people (Ex. 31:13-17).  This brings to mind the interesting fact that God never commanded Gentiles (non-Jews) to observe the Sabbath.  All the commands regarding the Sabbath in the Old Testament were directed towards Israel and no other nation.  The only exception was “the stranger who is within your gates” (Ex. 20:10), so that the Israelites would not be influenced by their visitor Gentiles to disobey God’s law concerning the Sabbath (cf. Neh. 13:15-21).  Other than that, it is noteworthy that God intended the Sabbath to be something special only between him and Israel while the Law of Moses was still in effect (Ex. 31:13, 16-17; Ezek. 20:12, 20).

Keeping all of the above in mind, why did Moses, the author of Genesis, mention the Sabbath while he was writing about what happened way back at creation (Gen. 2:1-3)?  Well, who were the very first readers of Genesis?  That would be the Israelites, Moses’ traveling companions who had just been commanded by God at Mount Sinai to do something that they were not used to doing: keeping the seventh day of the week as a holy day of rest.  Remember that Moses was writing Genesis while the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness for forty years, right after God had given them the command to keep the seventh day holy and  a day of rest.  So when writing about the seventh day of this creation’s existence, the day on which God rested, the Holy Spirit inspired Moses to write Genesis 2:3 as something similar to a parenthetical statement, a relevant reminder of why God gave them that particular commandment at Mount Sinai (Ex. 20:8-11).  Basically, God was telling Moses, “When you write about how I rested on the seventh day, remind Israel that I blessed this day and made it holy for them back at Mount Sinai.”

(Part 2 of this article can be found here, and Part 3 can be found here.)

What Does It Mean To Love God?

Let’s say that a survey taker decided to make it his goal to stand outside of every church building  in America each Sunday and ask every person who left the building if they loved God.  How many do you think would answer in the negative?  My guess would be that the overwhelming majority of churchgoers would gladly and sincerely profess their love for God, and I am thankful for that.  It is due to their love of God that they are attending church in the first place.  It’s because of their love of God that they own a Bible and peruse through it from time to time.  Their love of God is a major reason why they love others and help others in their time of need.  Professing a love of God is an important first step.

“’First step’?” you might ask.  “What do you mean, ‘first step’?  I thought loving God is the ultimate, the pinnacle, the highest we can achieve!”  That is true, but consider this.  We say that we love God…but does God agree?  Does God think we love him?  Does God define us loving him the same way that we define loving him?  We might be tempted to assume that he does, but God’s Word suggests otherwise (Is. 55:8-9).  In fact, Jesus said that there would be religious people who call him “Lord” and are involved in many good works who would still be condemned at judgment (Matt. 7:21-23).  Obviously, those who call Jesus “Lord” and do many good things in his name would also gladly say that they love him…so why are they being condemned?

The more Beth and I come to know and understand each other, the deeper our love grows. That’s how it is with our love for God as well.

The answer lies in finding out how God defines our love for him, and the way to do that is to go to his Word.  This makes sense when you think about it.  Consider your spouse and your closest friends and the love you have for them.  When you think about it, the love you have for them and they have for you is based upon your mutual knowledge of each other.  You know each other well, you understand each other, and that’s what causes your love for each other to grow more and more.  It’s the same with our relationship with God.  The more we come to know God, the more we will love him…especially when we grow in our understanding of just how much he loves us!  (John 3:16; 1 John 3:16).

The Scriptures contain the revealed mind of God. Only through deep study and obedience of his Word can we come to truly know him and love him.

But how do we come to know God?  The only way that will happen is by going to his Holy Spirit-inspired Word (2 Pet. 1:19-21; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).  After all, no one knows the mind of God except the Spirit (2 Cor. 2:9-11), and the Spirit revealed the mind of God to the writers of Scripture (John 16:12-15; 1 Cor. 2:9-13; Eph. 3:3-5; 2 Pet. 2:19-21).  When we study and meditate upon God’s Word day and night (Ps. 1:1-3), we grow in our knowledge of God and how he looks at things.  We also grow in our knowledge and understanding of how God defines our love for him.

So just how does God define loving him?  Over and over again, the Scriptures correlate love of God with obeying God (John 14:15, 21, 23-24; 1 John 5:3).  In fact, obeying God is how we come to know him as well as to love him (1 John 2:3-5).  Even in the Old Testament, God always defined the concepts of loving him and obeying him interchangeably (Deut. 6:4-5; 7:9; 10:12-13; 11:1).  So if you obey God, you love him.  If you choose to unrepentantly disobey God, you don’t love him.  If you love him, you obey him.  If you don’t love him, you will not obey him.  It’s that simple.

With this in mind, go back to Matthew 7:21-23.  Why did Jesus condemn some even though they called him “Lord” and did many good things in his name?  He tells us why.  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  They weren’t doing the Father’s will.  Perhaps they were doing some of it, but they weren’t obeying him in all areas of their lives.  That’s why he called them “workers of lawlessness.”

Abraham was willing to obey God even if it meant sacrificing his own son. By being willing to do even that, he passed the test and proved that he truly loved God.

Do we love God?  Sure, we might say we do.  We might sincerely think that we do, and perhaps in some areas of our lives we do.  All of that is good and shouldn’t be ignored.  Like I said earlier, it’s an important first step.  However, ask yourselves this.  How well do you know God?  How well do you know the Bible?  How often do you go out of your way to study his Word in depth?  Furthermore, are you obeying his Word?  Are you doing so as best you can in all areas of your life?  Are you willing to obey God even if his revealed will in the Scriptures goes against your most cherished belief?  Are you willing to put God above even family, even above self?  When you disobey him, are you willing to repent?  Are you willing to obey him no matter what?

That, and that alone, shows how much we truly love God.