What is the Sabbath day? What is the commandment concerning the Sabbath day? How did it originate? When is the Sabbath day? These questions and many more are at the heart of a long-standing debate concerning the Sabbath day. From Judaism to Christianity we will look at the different perspectives on this holy day of rest and its proper observance according to biblical scripture. Honoring the Sabbath day is imperative in the worship of the God of the bible. It is a practice that has been engulfed in controversy throughout history and yet a fundamental need-to-know if one is to follow the God of the bible in a manner that pleases him.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. This is a verse that all are familiar with. Discussing the Sabbath day will take us back to creation, to understand its root and its purpose. First, he created the heavens, planet Earth, and water. Then he spoke and created light and separated it from darkness. He called light “day” and dark “night”. There was evening and morning, one day. This is a pattern that continues throughout the creation narrative, “there was evening then morning…”, followed by the day He created. Next, he spoke and gave creation to the “expanse” commonly understood as the atmosphere. This separated the waters above from the waters below, he called it “sky”. There was evening and morning, a second day. After every creation the narrative repeats this saying. He called for the waters under the sky to gather in one place and for dry land to appear. He called for grass to grow on earth, that herbs yielding seed and fruit trees bearing fruit after their kind, with its seed in it, to grow. There was evening and morning, a third day. On the fourth day the lights in the sky were created. The stars, Sun and Moon were created for light, the telling of time and for signs and seasons. They were to separate the day from the night and divide light from darkness. There was evening and there was morning, a fourth day. All species of birds and water creatures of all kinds were created next. They were commanded to be fruitful and multiply on the earth and seas. There was evening and there was morning, a fifth day. The next creation would be of living creatures of the earth. Each after their kind from insects to mammals all species to exist under the classifications of living things were created. Mankind was created in the likeness and image of God, male and female both were created. He blessed them and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it. They were given dominion over the fish, birds and all living creatures. Explicit instructions were given on the proper diet, for man and beast, that was to be consumed. There was evening and there was morning, a sixth day. After finishing his creation, on the seventh day, God rested from all his work. He blessed the seventh day and separated it from the other days because He rested in it from all His work. This seventh day has come to be called the Sabbath day, in English. It is because God rested from all his work that the Sabbath was created as a day of rest, but it wasn’t until the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt that the Sabbath day would become a national identity.
If we look at each day in the creation narrative, at the end of each verse, it is described that there was evening and then morning in that order. Because of the order presented in each verse this has led to the common understanding, in Eastern thought, that the beginning of every new day begins when the sun goes down and evening is upon us. This is opposed to Western thought where in the day begins when the sun rises but more specifically at 12:00 AM. This is relevant in the remembrance of the Sabbath day because it is God who made the Sabbath and it is He who tells us when it is. He does this through the great lights and has clearly dictated when a day is to begin and when it is to end, for the purposes of our keeping time according to his. Although the creation of a man made civil calendar is convenient for business purposes, it is imperative to note that our creator has a plan and a calendar of his own that we are to observe if we truly wish to receive his blessing. It might seem as only a minor detail, but it is important to note when discussing the proper observance of the Sabbath day.
We read in the book of Exodus, in chapter 20, of the ten commandments. A moral code to live by for every Israelite. This was to bring peace and civility to the citizens of Israel and establish a people of righteous behaviors following hundreds of years of being in slavery to the Egyptian empire. In this chapter we find the command to remember the Sabbath day and to keep it holy. It says for six days you shall labor and do work but on the seventh day you are to rest. It is the Sabbath of God and you shall do no work, nor your sons or daughters, nor your servants, your animals, or guests within your household. These “Ten Commandments” are the foundation of all moral behavior that practitioners of religious disciplines place their stock in, including the two most prominent: Christianity and Judaism. There is so much debate among the two on how the observance of this commandment is to be exercised. All other commandments are straight forward and, for the most part, agreed upon how one is to interpret them; do not steal, kill, bear false witness, covet, engage in adultery, do not worship idols, do not swear falsely by God’s holy name, have no other Gods and honor your parents. It is only the commandment concerning the Sabbath day that causes so much controversy within all denominations of Christianity.
When one knows what the Sabbath day is, to begin talking about its observance one should know when the Sabbath day is. If one is to keep a day holy they should know firstly when that day occurs and secondly how to go about keeping it holy as it were. To find this out one must understand how time is kept in our modern society in contrast to how time was kept in biblical times when the command was given. In today’s day and age, a civil system is used that was introduced in October 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII. It is referred to as the “Gregorian Calendar” and is based on the earth’s revolution around the sun, which takes approximately 365 days to complete. Once this revolution is complete the calendar resets and begins anew. Since it does not take exactly 365 days to make its journey, one day is added to the calendar once every four years and is labeled a “leap year”. This accounts for the extra time and prevents a drift in the calendar with respect to the equinoxes (a time when the sun is directly over the earth’s equator, which occurs twice a year). It is not 100% accurate but it provides adjustments to acclimate its lackings. It is important to note that when this calendar was implemented, the observance of the Sabbath day had already been taking place for thousands of years prior. Although this is the civil calendar of the modern era, in biblical times the tracking of days was marked by the skies, and the beginning of a new month was marked by the sighting of the first sliver of the new moon, which occurred approximately once every 30 days. This is how the people observed time according to their ancestral inheritance and based on the instructions given from God on the fourth day of creation. This minute detail is crucial when considering when the Sabbath day occurs and adhering to its proper observance according to the commandments and instructions in the bible.
With the understanding of our modern calendar system one can now begin to ask the crucial question, when is the Sabbath day? Many Christians will claim the Sabbath day is on Sunday. Others, like the Seventh Day Adventists, a denomination of Christianity that claims observing Sabbath should take place on Saturday, offer a different opinion. Other claims vary in perspective having the Sabbath occurring on Tuesday and calling it the lunar Sabbath. Each has their own reasons and logic but ultimately only one can be correct.
The “lunar sabbath”, as it is called, is based on the sighting of the new moon of each Hebrew month, incrementally at intervals of seven days. This means that when each new moon is sighted then a new counting of seven days begins which would have the Sabbath occurring on the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th of each month for some who observe in this way and the 8th, 15th, 22nd, and 29th for others. Lunar Sabbath followers defend their belief in this system by loosely interpreting Genesis 1:14, the fourth day of creation, and claiming that the moon is to be a sign for the observance of the Sabbath. With a closer look at the text one can see that it is six days you are to work and rest on the seventh day. Having that in mind, the lunar Sabbath theory does not meet the requirement as the distance between one Sabbath and the next can sometimes vary from 8 to 10 days depending when the new moon is spotted. One might argue that this is not only an incorrect method to observe the Sabbath day but also that it is has been specifically alluded to in the book of the prophet Isaiah as an abomination and being hated by God.
Next on the list of available options for a Sabbath observance is Sunday. “Good Sunday” as a Christian might call it. All Christians attend church on this day and worship and set aside work for religious activities, so this must be the seventh day. Although it is a kind and loving practice to do these things, Sunday has become a sabbath to many not because it is the seventh day but because it was a popular marketing campaign to attract non-Christians to the religion. Traditionally the sun god of Rome, having been previously introduced to the culture by Egyptians, was worshipped on Sunday. For the Christian church to appeal to these pagans, they incorporated many of the pagan customs into their ceremonies. A Sunday celebration was widely accepted by most Christians. At the time the Christian church was seeking to separate themselves from Jews and Judaism. Christians saw Jews as blind followers and hated them for their rejection of the Christ Jesus. By the end of the second century repeated traditions caused many to believe working on Sunday to be a sin. To further solidify this idea of Sunday worship, the Roman Emperor Constantine, a previous sun-worshiper, made a political move and named himself Bishop of the Catholic church. He decriminalized Christianity and ceased the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. This ensured his popularity within the growing dominant religious force of Catholicism. In 321 AD he legislated that the venerable day of the sun (Sunday) was the day of rest for all the people. He also declared that all workshops be closed and conveniently allowed for agricultural work to continue to take place on this day if it was not suitable to be done another day. Over the years more decrees and legislation were passed through the church and other leaders, concealing these acts and normalizing the worship of God on Sunday. It is also important to assert that there is nothing wrong with choosing to worship God on any day but as it relates to the Sabbath observance, a Sunday observance is incorrect and misguided.
The last available option for celebrating the Sabbath day is reserved for, what is referred to in English as Saturday. In Hebrew, however, it is still called the Sabbath, or, “Shabbat”, a word that means to end, cease and/or rest. All other days are titles by their number, but the Sabbath is set apart from those and called “Rest Day”. The Hebrew Language indicates its days by number, calling them day one, day two, day three, etc. The Hebrew calendar has never lost track of the days from the inception of its recording, it has remained constant throughout history. Historical documents coincide with biblical accounts and match up to dates that refer to the Sabbath day. This is how we know Saturday to be the true Sabbath day. Before Constantine changed Christian worship to Sunday it was well known and documented that the Sabbath day coincided with the evening of Friday to the evening of Saturday. Judaic traditions spanning back to antiquity, when the ten commandments were given at Mount Sinai, also confirm this fact. The tradition has been passed down generation after generation ensuring that the day being observed as the Sabbath has always fallen on what is now called Saturday. Although it has changed by name from each language, the Hebrew has always remained constant. In some languages the remnant of what was known in the old days remain, for instance, in Spanish Saturday is called Sabado. With a clear allusion and derivation of the word Sabbath, or, “Shabbat” in Hebrew.
After a quick examination of the three most popular observances of the Sabbath day it is clear to see which one stands tall and which one’s wilt under scrutiny, as in the parable of the wheat and the chaff. If it isn’t enough to follow the oldest traditions of the observance of this holy day, let us look at a more pragmatic, simple approach. The Sabbath day is the 7th day, God created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th. All parties can agree on this. When one is taught the days of the week as a child they begin with Sunday. Whether it is done in song form or chanted along with some rhythm, it begins with Sunday. If you can count to 7 you will find that Saturday is the 7th day of the week. Although this is a simple comparison lacking deep examination, it is a simple and accurate way to show one how to count the days of the week.
If you ask any Christian if they follow the ten commandments they will, likely, say yes. If you ask them if they honor the Sabbath day, nine out of ten will either not know how to respond or claim the Sabbath day is on Sunday. Some might even suggest that they are no longer required to obey this command because their messiah was martyred, and this somehow released them from God’s everlasting commandments (a topic I will discuss in detail in Part 2 of this study). The truth is, that over the years this command has been buried in politics and controversy and allowed to be nearly obsolete among the Christian faith. Polarized opinions and different explanations have been offered resulting in confusion among believers of the bible. Ultimately this has led those men and women astray, causing them to, inadvertently, disobey the commandments of God.
Sabbath day adherence is a commandment of God. It is one of the Ten Commandments and holds no lesser value than the other 9. Remembering the Sabbath day begins on the evening of Friday and ends at the evening of Saturday. It is a 24-hour period in which we are to remember the creation of Yehovah and set it apart from all other work days by resting. It is a blessing to all mankind and is to be practiced with joy and love in our hearts and minds. It is a legacy of Yehovah’s creation and of our people, let it never be forgotten but always remembered. Blessings to all, praise Yehovah, and may He make His face shine light upon you.
-The NorthWest Hebrew