Shabbat, as you probably have already surmised, is the Hebrew word for what most Christians commonly know as the Sabbath.
The practice began with God's command to the children of Israel when they were in the wilderness after being delivered from their bondage of slavery in Egypt. It is at this time that God provides them with the bread from heaven (Manna/Picture of Jesus our bread from heaven) He commands them to gather for 6 days but the 7th day they are not to gather in observance of the command to rest.
Later it was given as a commandment for the purpose of remembering their slavery, deliverance, and more importantly their deliverer. This might also be a picture of what a Shabbat should mean to us in remembering our bondage to sin, Jesus our deliverer, and the rest we find in Him.
In this article, I would like to look at the purpose, principle and practical application of the Shabbat based on the spiritual insight of its observance as shown in the Scriptures and the Hebrew letters of the word itself.
One of the most surprising points to some is that the Shabbat was made for man.
The Sabbath was made for man ~ Mark 2:27
It is actually a gift.
For the LORD has given you the Sabbath ~ Exodus 16:29
Purpose and Benefit of the Sabbath
Many times we might be tempted to think that we are doing God a favor by attending church or abstaining from usual activity on a day we set aside to do so but quite the opposite is true. Although it may honor Him that we do so It is us who really benefits from this observance physically and spiritually. Our body, soul, and spirit have need of it.
Jesus did many healings on the Shabbat which connects with the healing and restoration there is in rest itself.
Could it be that our minds and bodies were not designed to function at break neck speed, non-stop, 7 days a week? God has placed within us a need for rest which is a picture of a spiritual reality 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 Shabbat we are also giving honor to God by not doing things our own way nor serving our own agendas. True rest can only be found in honoring God and doing things His way.
In the Shabbat, we reverence God's sanctuary...us. we are not only a created being 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
Creation and the Creator are major themes in both ancient and modern Jewish Shabbat observances. Creation is always declaring who He is. We would do well to "stop and smell the flowers" and learn of Who He is and what He is saying in all that He has made.
His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made
— Romans 1:20
Gesenius' defines the word Shabbat as to rest, and cease from work
...he who has entered His 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 and desist (military term relating to laying down arms)
...the battle is not yours, but God’s
— II Chronicles 20:15
end to striving (*parenthesis mine)
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 Shabbat was and is intended to get us to cease from our own works and know that He is God. To also understand that our salvation comes from Him alone. That we might rest from our striving to get ahead and warring and wrestling with how to make this thing called life work out for our personal benefit. To rest our hope in faith in the one who created all things.
The Hebrew Word Pictograph שבת gives us a more specific and detailed description of what that looks like in terms of purpose and practice.
"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"
Sheen—Digest What God Has Done
The first letter of Shabbat is a "sheen" and is thought to be a picture of teeth and 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 and was eaten, was the first mention of setting aside a day of rest. God was giving us a visual of His intentions for Shabbat.
Many Hebrew words translated as meditate, calculate, consider, insight and understanding all begin with the letter sheen. We might "consider" that one of the main purposes of the Shabbat is to "sit still" and take the time to meditate, calculate, and consider in order to gain deeper insight and understanding of God Himself His will and His ways that we might 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 different purposes. Faster cycles of brain waves are used during the intensities and stresses of life which most of us live in on a daily basis and where much of the deeper things of life are missed. We are getting stuff done! I think of being in a fast moving vehicle in which I am 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 are able to thoughtfully listen. This is where we can hear God's voice. This is where we see things we didn't see before.
...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
God's voice is not always distinguishable in the noisiness and business of life. The Shabbat is away to pull away from all the clutter, distractions and noise so we can hear His still small voice.
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 first example of a Shabbat is given by God Himself in the second chapter of Genesis. I don't think that God required rest but as a good Father of His creation, He set the example that would figuratively and prophetically look forward to a necessary spiritual rest.
...on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested 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 from all His work which God had created and made.
— Genesis 2:2-3
In following our creators example in resting one out of 7 days we might want to reflect as He did on all the goodness of God as evidenced by and in 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, energy, and toil given to 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
The middle letter (the heart) of the word for Shabbat 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 Shabbat. 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
Tav—Sign of the Covenant
The final letter (foundation) of this word is a "tav" It is actually a picture of cross indicating a sign or a covenant. How fascinating considering a cross for punishment had not yet been invented at the time the Hebrew Aleph Bet was being used at this point in history.
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 is the revealing of God's covenant relationship with man.
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
If we turn back to Genesis chapter two in the first example of Shabbat 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 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 may the Revelation of Jesus Christ and the restoration of the covenant through Him give us rest and hope.
Tav and the concept of covenant also have to do with ownership.
"...you are not your own. You were bought at a price..."
— I Corinthians 6:19-20
A Shabbat is like a tithe on 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 precious commodity in this natural world and acknowledging that we truly belong to Him and we give Him that rightful place of Lord over all of our being, time, and existence. In studying the verses about Shabbat I see that "I am the Lord" is frequently accompanied with the command to observe the Shabbat. By observing the Shabbat we give Him his rightful place as Lord.
I conclude with an excerpt from Psalm 23 depicting what a Shabbat might look like.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul;
— Psalm 23
A few more side notes:
Many have thought that the Shabbat or Sabbath is for the Jewish people only yet we find that the Shabbat is one of the Ten Commandments which we consider to be applied to all people.
"Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy"
— Deuteronomy 5:1
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. We are not saved by the obeying of this law for that is what Jesus did for us in that we could not do for ourselves but we are now free to obey this law for the glory of God and our own benefit.
There are many arguments as to what day is the Shabbat, either Saturday or Sunday, to which I have found no suitable answer. It is my understanding that the Hebrew calendar was based on moon cycles which were why the days of the week were numbered and not named.
Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years
— Genesis 1:14
Each new moon would have been the beginning of a new cycle and the days of the week would have been counted from there which would cause modern calculations of the Shabbat to fall on random days of our modern Gregorian calendar. This makes arguing about "Saturday" and "Sunday" a pointless debate to me and not the purpose of this article. I personally choose a day of the week that seems to work best and set aside for the study of His word, prayer, and rest.
"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
© 2012 Tamarajo