The Sabbath is the fourth of ten commandments. It ranks above " Honoring your mother and father, you shall not murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, or covet," yet as it concerns Christians, it is one of the most overlooked and discounted commands of all of them. This article will study the history of this observance and its importance for every believer.
We will look at the purpose, principle, and practical application of the Sabbath based on the spiritual insight of its observance, as shown in the Scriptures and the Hebrew letters of the word itself.
The very first mention of the root word of Sabbath (שָׁבַת shâbath) appears in the second chapter of the Bible at the culmination of creation. It is used in connection with the seventh day and occurs twice at this juncture, along with three mentions of "the seventh day."
. . . on the seventh day, God ended His work which He had done, and He rested (שָׁבַת shâbath) on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested (שָׁבַת shâbath) from all His work which God had created and made
— Genesis 2:2,3
The Sabbath's observance on the seventh day of the week should always take us back to God's fulfillment of a creation/kingdom functioning successfully and satisfactorily under His Lordship.
. . . For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
— Exodus 20:8-11
Creation and the Creator are significant themes in both ancient and modern Jewish Sabbath observances. Creation is always reminding us of who He is.
His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made.
— Romans 1:20
We would do well to "stop and smell the flowers" and hear what it is the created world has to say.
“But now ask the beasts, and they will teach you;
And the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
Or speak to the earth, and it will teach you;
And the fish of the sea will explain to you.
Who among all these does not know
That the hand of the Lord has done this,
In whose hand is the life of every living thing,
And the breath of all mankind?
— Job 12:7-10
God Creator King
In the ancient near east, when a king took his "rest' or seat upon the throne, as did God on the seventh day, it symbolized the establishment of his kingdom. It meant that his enemies had been conquered, and the domain was now functional and operational.
The seventh-day rest and reign principle, depicted in this first mention, will be the template for the rest of the Sabbath commands for humankind to also partake of this divine event in submission to our great King, who has conquered all for us.
. . . he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.
— Hebrews 4:10
Sabbath and the Exodus
The next recorded observance of the Sabbath and first mention, as it concerns God's command to humankind, occurs after God's newly created nation of people is brought out from Egypt by God's mighty "works."
. . . And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.
— Deuteronomy 5:15
Two and a half months into their journey to the promised land, not long after the bitter waters complaint, the people become restless and begin to grumble about food.
“If only we had died by the hand of Yahweh in the land of Egypt when we sat by the pots of meat when we ate bread until we were full, because you have brought us out to this desert to kill all of this assembly with hunger.”
— Exodus 16:3
There is no rest among them because there is no faith among them. They did not trust God or His promises for a land full of every nourishing sweet thing that they would ever want or need, expressed in terms of "milk and honey." They do not pray, nor do they even bother to seek God for His provision. They, instead, accuse Him and Moses of bringing them out to the desert to die.
So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey.
— Exodus 3:8
It is at this time that God provides them with the bread from heaven that was called manna. This provision of manna bread will serve as a training tool in practicing their faith in Him and His provision by obeying His command. He commanded them to gather this manna for six days, but the seventh day they were not to collect it in observance of God's instruction to rest.
“This is what the Lord has said: ‘Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord."
— Exodus 16:23
Manna Gathering Explains Eden
It is notable that the opening scene of God's interaction with human beings in Genesis and the manna scene in Exodus both concern food/provision and a seventh-day Sabbath.
The pattern reveals that Adam and Eve's disobedience was about a lack of faith in God's ability to satisfy them and their rebellious confidence in self-provision.
Christ the Manna
Manna also connects with resting/believing in Christ's rule, reign, and provision, in contrast to our toil and labor for self-preservation. In John's Gospel, a conversation concerning faith, labor, and manna/bread from heaven connects these ideas just following the feeding of the 5000.
"Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you . . . “What shall we do that we can accomplish the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God: that you believe in the one whom that one sent.”Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
Then they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always.”
And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst . . . I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.
— John 6:30-35
To rest and believe in God's work and provision is the essence of the Sabbath.
Purpose and Benefit of the Sabbath
The command to Sabbath is not to be considered drudgery. Its purpose is to benefit God's people who put their faith in Him for their provisions and progress.
The Sabbath was made for man.
— Mark 2:27
It is a gift.
For the LORD has given you the Sabbath.
— Exodus 16:29
Many times we might be tempted to think that we are doing God a favor by observing this command. The opposite is true. Although it may honor Him that we do so, it is us who benefits from this observance physically and spiritually. Our body, soul, and spirit require it.
Minnesota scientist Franz Halberg, the founder of chronobiology, discovered that the human body follows seven-day rest cycles, whether we stop to observe or not. He labeled this discovery "Circaseptan Rhythms" According to the website Vibrant Life, in an article titled "Rhythm of Life," the seven-day cycle governs our biological systems.
Research has uncovered many conditions about us humans that seem to rise and fall in seven-day cycles. They include: heartbeat, blood pressure, body temperature, hormone levels, acid content in blood, red blood cell count, oral temperature, female breast temperature, urine chemistry and volume, the ratio between two important neurotransmitters: norepinephrine and epinephrine, and the flow of several body chemicals such as the stress-coping hormone cortisol. Even the common cold is circaseptan.
Doctors have long observed that response to malaria infection and pneumonia crisis peaks at seven days. Chicken pox symptoms (a high fever and small red spots) usually appear almost exactly two weeks after exposure to the illness. A person will tend to have an increase in swelling on the seventh and then the fourteenth day after surgery.1
Fingernails, hair, and teeth also appear to follow a six-day growth and one-day rest pattern.
It would appear that being in concert with God's prescribed (six days of work and one day of rest) rhythm of life pattern is a healthy way of life.
Could it be that our minds and bodies were not designed to function at breakneck speed, non-stop, seven days a week? God has placed within us a need for rest, which is a picture of a spiritual reality that we will look at later.
“ If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, The holy day of the LORD honorable, And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor finding your own pleasure, Nor speaking your own words, Then you shall delight yourself in the LORD; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
— Isaiah 58:13-14
This verse also shows that when we Sabbath, we are giving honor to God by not doing things our way nor serving our own agendas. Real rest can only be found in honoring God and doing things His way.
In the Sabbath, we reverence God's sanctuary, which is us. We were fashioned for His presence.
You shall keep My Sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary.
— Leviticus 26:2
. . . God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple.
— I Corinthians 3:17
Wrapping up this section, it is notable that Jesus healed both bodies and minds on the Sabbath on seven occasions.
- He heals Peters mother-in-law of a fever (Mark 1:29-31)
- He heals a man with a withered hand (Mark 3:1-6)
- He heals a man born blind (John 9:1-16)
- He heals a woman who was bent over for 18 years (Luke 13:10-17)
- He heals a man with dropsy (Luke 14:1-6)
- He drives out an evil Spirit (Mark 1:21-28)
- He heals a lame man by the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-18)2
Gesenius' defines the word Sabbath/Shabbat as to rest, and cease from work
. . . he who has entered His (Christ's) rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.
— Hebrews 4:10
to sit and be still,
Be still, and know that I am God.
— Psalm 46:10
to abstain from journeying (trying to get ahead),
Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord.
— Exodus 14:13
cease or desist (military term relating to laying down arms).
. . . the battle is not yours, but God’s
— II Chronicles 20:15
end to striving
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.
— Philippians 4:6
From the above definitions and Scriptural references, we can see that the Sabbath was, and is, intended to get us to cease from our works and know that He is God. it is also to understand that our salvation comes from Him alone and that we might rest from our striving to get ahead, warring and wrestling with how to make this thing called life work out for our personal benefit. To rest our hope and faith in the one who created all things and with whom all things are possible.
Jesus said to him, If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”
— Mark 9:23
Sheen—Digest What God Has Done
The Hebrew Word Pictograph for Shabbat שבת gives us a more specific and detailed description of what that looks like in terms of purpose and practice.
The first letter is a "sheen" and thought to be a picture of teeth. It conceptualizes the idea of breaking down something and putting it back together in another form as we might picture the digestive process as doing. Our bodies chew food and break it down into digestible pieces that so our bodies can utilize the nutrients contained in the food. Remember the manna representing the Word of God that came down from heaven, was the first mention of setting aside a day of rest. God was giving us a visual of His intentions for the Sabbath.
Many Hebrew words translated as meditate, calculate, consider, insight, and understanding all begin with the letter "sheen." One of the primary purposes of the Shabbat is to "sit still" and take time to meditate to gain a more in-depth insight and understanding of God His will and His ways. Meditating helps us break down and digest the things of God (His Word/Manna) in a way that nourishes and edifies our spiritual lives.
In her book "Matters of the Heart," Juanita Bynum discusses how our brain has different wave cycles for various purposes. Faster wave cycles are used during the intensities and stresses of life, which most of us live in daily. It is in the fast lane that the more profound, more contemplative things of life are missed. It's like being a fast-moving vehicle in which you're unable to capture nor appreciate the details of the landscape. I see it from a distance but not meaningfully. Much of it is just a blur.
The slower brain waves occur when we slow down and allow ourselves to think and meditate and can listen thoughtfully. This cycle is where we can hear God's voice and see things in a way that we didn't see before.
God's voice is not always distinguishable in the noisiness and business of life. The Sabbath is a way to pull away from all the clutter, distractions and noise so we can hear His still small voice.
. . . . a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
— I Kings 19:11-12
The meditative process gives us that opportunity to really "sink our teeth" into the purposes, powers, and principles of the creator of the universe.
I will meditate on Your precepts, And contemplate Your ways.
— Psalm 119:15
The middle letter (the heart) of the word for Sabbath is "bet" and is a picture of a house. It communicates the concept of dwelling and abiding. I can't help but connect the idea of the meditative process leading us into His very presence. John, chapter 15, speaks of His Words abiding or taking up residence in us.
Trust is also attached to the symbolism of this letter. Is it possible that setting aside time with God meditating on Him and dwelling in His presence ushers into a deeper trust in Him?
Bet shows us that abiding is a necessary element of Sabbath. Apart from Him, we can accomplish nothing of eternal value.
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me . . . for without Me you can do nothing.
— John 15
Another concept associated with this particular pictograph of "bet" is that of image and reflection. As we spend time in His presence beholding Him, we become like Him.
But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
— II Corinthians 3:18
If all we ever give ourselves and time to are the things of this world and all that it worships, that is what we will become like. We become what we worship, spend the most time with and give the most attention to, and look at most intently.
Their idols are silver and gold, The work of men’s hands . . . Those who make them are like them; So is everyone who trusts in them.
— Psalm 115:4
By quietly beholding Him, we become transformed into His likeness. (2 Corinthians 3:18)
"The troubled surface of a lake will not reflect an object clearly. Wind blowing over land will keep dew from settling on the grass. Even so, the image of God is seen the clearest when we are at rest in HIm, and the refreshing of His Spirit settles on us when we quiet our souls before Him."
— Roy Lessin
Tav—Sign of the Covenant
The final letter (foundation) of this word is a "tav" It is a picture of a cross indicating a sign or a covenant.
One of the biggest things we miss in understanding the concepts and terms of relationship with God is the concept of covenant. The entire contents of the Word of God are the revealing of God's covenant relationship with humankind.
Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever.
— Exodus 30:16-17
Recalling Genesis, chapter two, once again, in the first example of a Sabbath, when God rested, we see that it was when everything was finished.
Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished.
— Genesis 2:1
Where else have we heard the phrase "It is finished"? Is it possible that God's resting in His finished work was a prophetic looking forward to the work that Christ would do on the cross in covenanting with God on behalf of us that we might find our rest in His finished work on the cross?
. . . the works were finished from the foundation of the world.
— Hebrews 4
Another thought that follows this theme is that the first two letters of the word for Sabbath/Shabbat spell an abbreviated form of the Hebrew word for "return." If we combine the word return ("sheen" and "bet") with the final letter "tav" we could read it as "return to the covenant" Isn't that what the cross of Christ was all about returning to the covenant, through the forgiveness of sins?
Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ . . .
— I Peter 1:13
In taking the time to meditate on Him, abide in Him, the Revelation of Jesus Christ and the restoration of the covenant through Him gives us rest and hope.
Tav—We Are His
The letter "tav" and the concept of a covenant also have to do with ownership.
". . . you are not your own. You were bought at a price . . ."
— I Corinthians 6:19-20
A Sabbath is much like a tithe of time. When we tithe our money, we see at as acknowledging that it all belongs to God, and it gives him that place of Lord of all that we have.
Time is even more precious than money, however, in that you can never get time back. When we give God our time, we are giving Him our most valuable commodity in this natural world and acknowledging that we truly belong to Him.
"I am the Lord" is frequently accompanied by the command. By observing the Sabbath, we give Him His rightful place in our hearts.
The Sabbath Is For All
Many have thought that the Sabbath is for the Jewish people only, yet we find that the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments.
It is something God expects us to do, along with worshiping only Him, obeying parents, not murdering, stealing, lying, committing adultery, or envying our neighbor.
In following our creator's example in resting one out of seven days we might want to reflect as He did on all the goodness of God as evidenced by all that He has created and remind ourselves that everything we are laying down and putting aside to do this is in His hands and it is He who works in our lives to bring us success and solutions and not ourselves.
Know that the LORD, He is God;It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
— Psalm 100:3
May we stop long enough to consider that in all of our striving and toil spent on life's problems and pains cannot compare to what our great God who created all things can do for us.
"‘Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and outstretched arm. There is nothing too hard for You."
— Jeremiah 32:17
And most importantly may we consider the observance of the Sabbath worship.
"In the long run, man can do more work, and do it better, in six days of a week, than he can in seven; and unless a man worships God at stated times, he is not likely to worship Him at all."
— H. Clay Trumble "The Ten Commandments As A Covenant of Love"
Credits and Sources
© 2012 Tamarajo