How can we know when the Sabbath is? (Part 1 of 2)

How can we know when the Sabbath is? (Part 1 of 2)

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

One of the lingering questions regarding the Sabbath is: How can we know when it is?

This is a great question. To answer it, we must start with how the Bible defines a day. Biblical days begin and end at sunset.

Genesis 1:5b reads, “…And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.” Sunset is the beginning of one day and the ending of another day. Below I have listed a few more examples in the Bible:

Leviticus 23:32b – referring to the Day of Atonement

“From the evening of the ninth day of the month until the following evening you are to observe your sabbath.”

Deut. 24:14-15

14 Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether that worker is a fellow Israelite or a foreigner residing in one of your towns. 15 Pay them their wages each day before sunset, because they are poor and are counting on it.

2 Samuel 3:35

35 Then they all came and urged David to eat something while it was still day; but David took an oath, saying, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if I taste bread or anything else before the sun sets!”

We can see from these examples that a day in the Bible begins and ends at sunset. Night time is the beginning portion of a day and day time is the concluding portion. Perhaps God did this to show us that He brings our lives out of darkness and into His marvelous light. This helps us define a Biblical day.

As far as which day of the week is the Sabbath, we again want to start with the beginning of the Bible.

In Genesis chapters 1 and 2, we learn about the creation of the heavens and the earth. In six days, God formed the face of the earth and fashioned it with animals and other living creatures. During these six days He created. On the seventh day, He rested.

This seven-day cycle was established and later spread throughout the whole world. One evidence of this is that Noah understood the seven-day cycle established at creation. “10 He waited yet another seven days; and again he sent the dove out of the ship. 11 The dove came back to him at evening and, behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf. So Noah knew that the waters were abated from the earth. 12 He waited yet another seven days, and sent out the dove; and she didn’t return to him any more.” (Gen. 8:10-12).

Later in Genesis, we learn something very important about Abraham. The Bible tells us that Abraham “…obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Genesis 26:5). The Sabbath is listed as a commandment in Exodus 16:28, Exodus 20:8-11, and other places. By inference, we can learn that Abraham kept the commandments of God; this means he kept the Sabbath as well! He did so without having a Bible. He just trusted God and obedience was the result.

When the Israelites went down to Egypt, they lost the Sabbath. The Egyptians had a ten-day work week (Fagan, 202). After God brought them out of Egypt in Exodus chapters 12-14, one of His first acts in the desert was to reveal to them the true Sabbath.

In Exodus 16, the Bible records the miraculous giving of the manna from Heaven. God told the Israelites to gather manna for five days and on the sixth day to gather twice as much. On the seventh day, they were not to gather any. He even said in Exodus 16:29, “Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days.” Many people have heard the story of the manna in the desert. Very few know that the entire lesson of the manna was to show them the true Sabbath day!

We will continue this conversation next time by showing which day of the week is the Sabbath!


Fagan, Brian M. ed. The Oxford Companion to Archaeology. Oxford University Press. New York, 1996. Page 202.

Kelly is the President of the BSA and an Evangelist with Hungry Hearts Ministries.


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