As we all know the Ten commandments are the foundation that we, as believers in The Bible, adhere to. It is these basic moral principles that guide us through life safely and unite us as a people with a common understanding of what a good moral foundation of values is. Among these commandments is one that I am going to single out and discuss in more depth. This commandment being, “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it Holy”. Previously I have posted a two-part Sabbath Day study that overviews what exactly is the Sabbath Day and when it is to be observed. In this study I will be analyzing what it means to remember and how we are to keep it according to Biblical sources.
There are a few words in this commandment that we must dissect before delving further into the Bible for examples of how this day can be kept holy. The first is the word remember, and the second is the word holy. If you read my first two studies on the Sabbath Day then you already know what the Sabbath Day is and when it occurs, if you have not, I encourage you to go back and read it before reading this study to prime yourself with basic information that could prevent confusion if you are not already familiar with this topic. First, we will look at the word remember, what does it mean to remember something and more particularly, what does it mean in cultural context to remember something.
The word remember, in English, is a simple enough action to call something to mind, to recall an awareness of something or someone. Although this is part of what we are called to do in this commandment it is not a complete understanding of what this word is indicating. The word remember in Hebrew is derived from a 3-letter root word that means to mark so as to be recognized. The idea behind memory comes from the image of implanting or inserting firmly in something. With this picture we can puzzle together a deeper understanding of this word remember. Including calling the Sabbath Day to mind and recalling the event of God resting on the 7th day, we are also called to deeply implant this into memory and insert it firmly in our hearts and minds making it a part of our identity as a people. To truly remember something is to have it become a part of who you are, and have it made known to others so that it may live on forever. Three parts to remembering: recall it, internalize it, and make mention of it so that others may also recognize it.
The other word that is important to analyze in this verse is the word holy. What does it mean to be holy and how can we keep a day holy? In the English language the word holy carries with it an unspoken asterisk that indicates an extremely difficult level of spiritual achievement that one cannot not attain without supernatural intervention. Often one thinks of the word holy and can be overwhelmed with feelings of stress as if it is an impossible task. One might have a misconception that seclusion and self-denial are the only ways to achieve this status. We picture a monk, or a priest on some mountain sitting in solemn silence with their legs crossed humming to themselves and meditating for half a day on the simple sound of a whisper. Though one can achieve holiness through these feats, these are, however, extremes and often misguided uses of the word in this context. Holy in this context is to denote a complete dedication to, an absolute respect for, and to set-apart as sacred. What does this mean? It means that we are to completely dedicate this day to God. We are called to have an absolute respect for this day above others, specifically for the fact that it is dedicated to God and His personal relationship with oneself. We are to set it apart as different than any of the other six weekdays where one typically works, creates, and does their own bidding. The Sabbath Day should be different, like the topshelf china in your cupboards, they are still, in fact, just plates, but they serve a higher purpose than your everyday plates, these are for special events and guests in your home. You don’t just whip out the good plates for your average corn dog and mac and cheese. It is the same with The Sabbath Day, the other six days are good and proper to study or worship, but The Sabbath is a day when we can deeply connect with our creator while resting from our everyday jobs, worries and concerns that plague us. It is a specific time that he has set apart once a week where we can remember that this life is not all for naught, and His plan for His people is an everlasting blessing. There is a higher purpose and he has reached up to the top shelf in His proverbial cupboard and invited us in as a special guest to join Him. I don’t know about you but when I’m given a choice I’m not choosing cheesy pasta and deep-fried weenies on a stick, personally.
After examining a few keywords in this scripture, we will now turn our attention towards the remainder of text surrounding this commandment and address some common questions and concerns I hear when discussing this topic. In Exodus 20:8-11 we are given a basic instruction of what to do and a basic reason why. We are to labor six days and do all our work and the seventh is a Sabbath (rest or cease) day to Yehovah. It goes on further to explicitly mention that neither you or your children along with servants you may employ, guests, and/or animals you may own, can do work either. The reason it gives is simple, God worked six days and blessed the seventh day and made it holy. You should as well.
This is where observance of the Sabbath day can get a bit meticulous among many believers and confusing to others. Some might argue that work is subjective and what one person deems as work is different than that of another’s opinion on the matter. The most important fact is what does God consider as work, and what do His scriptures say about this subject? This is where we will find the answers. I often am presented with many hypothetical theories when discussing this topic with people who believe the “old testament” has been done away with and nailed to the cross. Their concerns are mainly based on opinion and rarely ever backed up in scripture. On the rare occasion that one might have a bible verse handy to back it up it is usually one of two views.
The first is found a few times in the “new testament” when Yeshua is responding to an accusation of his followers breaking the Sabbath day because they had picked a few kernels of grain while walking through a field. His response is that the Sabbath Day was made for Man and not Man for the Sabbath Day. Many people use this verse to inaccurately determine that The Sabbath Day is done away with and no longer relevant and they can work on Saturdays because after all, Yeshua’s disciples did it. What he was truly revealing to these traditional followers of the Judaic faith was that The Sabbath Day is intended to help mankind and not burden them. He was suggesting to them that they were confusing the act of plucking a grain and tasting it with the work of harvesting a field, which are not at all the same. The Judaic religion has a lot of legislation that is not at all written in The Bible but rather observed over the centuries as tradition and deemed as law within their own faith. He also proceeded to give an example of how their own revered Messiah, David, had once experienced this same dilemma and reminded them of this day’s original intent.
The second example is also found in the “new testament”, and again, occurs with Yeshua being accused of breaking Sabbath according to Pharisaic law. People who suggest the Sabbath Day is no longer relevant, incorrectly use this example to promote their agenda. Yeshua is found to have healed a man and accused for breaking traditional “non-biblical” rules added to the Sabbath Day commandment. When confronted with this allegation he responds with the reasoning that it is better to do good than to do evil. Here he is implying that being able to heal a person and not doing so is evil and to forbid someone to help another is also evil, but to show mercy to someone and help someone in need regardless of man-made rules, is good and not work or labor. In this case, Yeshua did not do away with The Sabbath but gave an example of how one can help in a practical matter and still be keeping The Sabbath Day holy. He revealed the common misguided teachings of that time as hindering but did not disavow the commandment. He is not suggesting you sign up for a Saturday shift at the local Hospital but rather if an opportunity presents itself where someone needs medical assistance during a Sabbath Day and you happen to be a doctor, engage in the act of healing, it is not a sin.
Now that we have cleared up the common misconceptions about laboring on the Sabbath we can clear the way to discuss what the scriptures permit and don’t allow concerning the Sabbath. In Exodus we are told that gathering food on the Sabbath Day is not permitted. It explicitly says to prepare for your house, on the eve of The Sabbath Day, a double portion of food to and to not go out to gather food to eat. This is how the Yisraelites were eating at the time of this commandment,they were going out early in the morning and gathering food for the day. Since it was done every day it was commanded not to be done on the seventh day but rather to gather double the day before and store it for the Sabbath, so that one would not have to labor to gather food on this holy day. A modern approach to this commandment is simple, don’t grocery shop on Saturday. Meal prep on Friday enough for your household to eat on Saturday without having to cook or prepare anything. For me and my household this results in morning cereal, sliced meat and cheese with crackers at lunch, a full basket of fresh fruit for snacks, and a late dinner usually consisting of a pre-made soup that can be warmed up quickly after sun down. Low stress, easy clean up. My personal favorite is tortilla chips and pico de gallo. I eat that all day sometimes as a mono-meal and nothing else. A Guacamaya where you substitute the chicharron with tortilla chips hits the spot! Bomb!
Another commandment in Exodus regarding the Sabbath does not allow the kindling of a fire throughout their (Yisraelite’s) habitations. In modern times some see this as a reason to not turn on a heater, start their car, turn on a stove, or even use electricity. I see it for what it explicitly states and that is simply, to not kindle a fire where you live. Does that mean you can’t read the new e-book you downloaded on your Kindle Fire tablet grandma bought you over the holidays? Not quite. To me this has come to be obvious; you are not to light a fire, kindle a fire, ignite a fire, set on fire, put a match to, or spark a fire in the place you live. Simple. That is all that is said about that commandment. Do I fully understand this? Not really, but I can do it, and so I do. Some go so far as to say the secret meaning behind this is that you are not supposed to arouse any emotion in another human being on this day. Specifically, negative emotion or feelings of anger. You are to keep the peace and turn your cheek on this day, refraining from arguing with others or getting angry yourself. I find no scripture in the Torah that backs this up. In fact, I believe it was Yeshua who was so passionately angry with some people, precisely for not keeping the Sabbath Day holy, that he turned over their tables and chastised them. Once again showing us that God’s word is what is to be obeyed and man-made rules do not apply when you are using His righteous ruling, regardless of whatever emotions are kindled and however closely they metaphorically resemble occurrences of the natural elements (fire relating to anger symbolically).
A few other prohibitions that have become a popular reason to accuse a brother of not keeping Shabbat are the prohibitions of selling goods and bearing burdens. Some have been known to break fellowship over these issues. These examples are found in the books of the prophets Nehemiah and Jeremiah. It is not a commandment from God as it states in the Torah, so I don’t count this as relevant concerning the Sabbath Day, but it is interesting to note how men set themselves apart from others to keep the Sabbath Day holy, as it were. In the book of Nehemiah some of the Jewish people were selling goods and working on the Sabbath and the prophet and others saw this a decided that they were going to form an alliance and not sell goods or work because the Torah says so. That’s basically it. Some take these verses and twist them to mean other things, creating their own regulations concerning the use of money finding yet another reason to condemn one another, but the Bible is very open about this and it isn’t as confusing as some make it out to be. I believe this is its own historical study, so I won’t get to far into detail as to why these families decided the way they did, but I will say that it is interesting and should be read by anyone who feels convicted on the issue of money and Sabbath. Another prohibition comes from the book of Jeremiah where it states that you are not to bear burden on Sabbath. Again, another verse that gets taken out of context for whatever metaphorical reasons one can weave together to preach a clever sermon, but it is obvious as to what had happened and what it means. No mysticism, no magic, no counting numbers and looking for signs. What happened was there were some Jews that were “bearing loads”, as in, working. Carrying cargo, or freight shipments into the gates of the city. This is clearly labor and work. Clear cut disobedience of the commandments, not just plucking a grain to taste but full-blown work. They were warned, and God made a commandment about this specific type of work just to make it clear, but basically repeated to do no work and keep Sabbath holy.
If there were a modern-day prophet he would probably have to write a new commandment given from God stating to not work on the computer, and still someone would argue that computer work is not work since it is not labor. The fact remains that if it is your job or your source of income, regardless of the physical action taking place, it is considered work. A lot of modern-day work is not considered labor and therefore some might suggest it can still be done on Sabbath Day. This could not be further from the truth. To truly keep The Sabbath Day holy in our time one must not engage in work but rather engage in an active relationship with Yehovah, the creator of the universe. Do not light a fire in your home, and meal prep your Saturday feedings in advanced. There are no prayers you have to say, and no candles you must light. You don’t have to put your shoes on a certain way or bless bread or drink wine. Although I do find some of these traditions practical and kind of cool that these practices have been going on for thousands of years (the history nerd in me, deep down in me) your obedience is not pendant on these actions. You must simply rest from your work and seek God. If you do these things you will surely be remembering and keeping The Sabbath Day holy.
The Sabbath is not a burden it is a blessing. Many find the legalism created by Judaic tradition as a turn-off and a reason to not follow the commandments of God, but I see it as motivation to reveal to the world that I still remember The Sabbath Day. Some suggest it was done away with and others say it is an antiquated and outdated law that is no longer relevant in modern times. No matter what obstacles stand in the path of truth, I will always remember. I will always keep it set-apart from the nonsense and gossip and when discussion arouses concerning The Sabbath Day. I will take it to the scriptures and keep the Sabbath Day holy, guarding it with the defenses of truth backed by Torah. I will mention it to all people when I am walking by the way and teach my children to do the same. I will implant it deeply into my family’s core values and insert it firmly into the identity of our existence, it will become a part of who we are. Generation after generation, my children’s children will still observe this day the way their grandfather did and will teach their grandsons the same, never allowing it to be forgotten and respecting it in their hearts as a prized possession and an inherited blessing for all eternity.
I pray the words of Yehovah be placed in your heart that you receive my study in a loving light. I pray that Yehovah bless you and make His face shine His light upon you.
-The NorthWest Hebrew