Friday, August 13, 2010

Sabbath 101: Nine things you were never told about the Sabbath but should have been (version 2.0)

(Updated 5/4/12. Some of my thoughts about Sabbath observance have shifted significantly since I originally posted this blog post. While this post does not directly address whether the Sabbath is obligatory today, I have revised it to at least be neutral on the issue.)

The Sabbath is a great example of a rule that teaches tremendous things about God and heaven that most Christians miss simply because we don't feel the need to follow it, except as a convenience when we are over worked.

1) The Sabbath wasn't just a day off, it was a victory celebration. Genesis describes God as a war hero that spends six days conquering the world, then builds a garden palace, and rests from all his battles in jubilant victory celebration. This is how an ancient person would react to hearing Genesis 1-2.

2) Sabbath is not just a day, its a way to think about and divide greater and greater magnitudes of time. For example, the seventh month is a special holy month for Jews and contains a high quantity of festivals. Every seventh year there was an extra special Sabbath year. Every group of seven Sabbath years (49), an additional Sabbath year called 'jubilee' was to be observed. This concept of time divided into sevens becomes vital to the prophecies given in Daniel and Revelation.

3) The Sabbath was observed before it was made a commandment. It was not based on a law, but on God's character.

4) Sabbath law was not absolute. It had to be lawfully suspended if a greater law prevented it from being observed, like circumcision on the eight day, or saving a life, or ministry in the Temple, etc.

5) The Sabbath has ALWAYS been Saturday, never Sunday. Antisemitic church councils tried to change it (Council of Laodicea 363-364), but it's a sad history. Sabbath actually starts Friday at sunset and goes until Saturday at sunset. Early Christians could have met on what is considered by us to be Saturday night, and could have called it the first day of the week. Synagogue in the morning, Jewish revival meeting at night.

6) The Bible is only clear about forbidding three kinds of work on the Sabbath: gathering/cooking food, buying and selling, and traveling far distances. The pharisees of Jesus day took the Sabbath to abusive extremes, but Jesus' corrections of their extremes should not be taken to mean that observing the Sabbath is evil or legalistic. For example, some Jews tried to apply the Sabbath not just to humans and animals, but to inanimate objects. One rule forbade clothes from drying on a line on the Sabbath because the clothes were working. Such extremes are not necessary. 

7) Sabbath observance taught you about heaven in at least two ways. First, this weekly celebration became a foretaste of what was to come in the future in a bigger way. Basically, Sabbaths become prophetic because Sabbath is a day that God engineers to be perfect and fun. Second, because you couldn't prepare food on the Sabbath, all preparations to eat that day had to be made in advance. The discipline in observing the Sabbath taught people that you had to be ready in advance for God's day, and so also his ultimate rest, the ultimate Sabbath, heaven itself.

8) Ever feel like there's so much work and and so many responsibilities at church that some people just have to miss out on the celebration part to serve to the point of exclusion? Some churches are better at this than others. Sabbath was meant to guard work so no one would be excluded from the party. Ever notice how the nation shuts down on super-bowl Sunday in America? How it should almost be a crime to force people to work on that day? That's the spirit of the Sabbath.

9) The Sabbath is a sign, a token command with no inherent morality attached to it. Just like the covenant with Noah had a sign - the rainbow, and the covenant with Abraham had a sign - circumcision, so also the covenant that made Israel a nation under Moses had a sign - the Sabbath (Exodus 31:16-17). Breaking it was like taking off your wedding ring. Although the Sabbath was not invented by God at Sinai, it seems to have became more serious at that time for those who re-entered covenant with him. While the word itself comes from a Hebrew verb meaning 'to cease' or 'rest', it is related to word for 'oath'. If people want the blessings found in Exodus and Deuteronomy there's a sign/command attached to it. 

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