By Blake Silverstein
What precisely is the Sabbath? If you ask Google, it spits out about 63,600,000 results (give or take a few thousand) and an interesting definition at the top of the page from Oxford. It states the following;
sab·bath /ˈsabəTH/ noun
- a day of religious observance and abstinence from work, kept by Jews from Friday evening to Saturday evening, and by most Christians on Sunday.
Type it in for yourself and see. Some of the first couple of web pages listed are, “Sabbath – Wikipedia”, “Sabbath Truth: What day is the Sabbath and does it matter?”, and “Sabbath | Judaism | Britannica”. Not one website on the first page of results references the delight the Sabbath day is—only arguments.
I jumped over to YouTube and typed in “Sabbath” and it was even more pronounced. The top results were all proponents of the Sabbath day being on Saturday, (which is good) but again they seem to only focus on the Saturday vs. Sunday argument. One such page, “Hope Through Prophecy”, stated, “Many sincere Christians have been deceived into accepting a false Sabbath that was never endorsed by the Bible”. The man goes on at some length to make the point that anyone who doesn’t “keep the right day” will not enter the Kingdom. Whether you agree or not, to declare someone will not inherit the Kingdom of God for any reason not specifically identified in Scripture (1Co 6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Gal 5:21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.) smacks of breaking the third commandment.
This isn’t an article on what day the Sabbath is or how it was or wasn’t changed. Smarter minds than mine have unequivocally answered that question in the form of big books, doctoral theses, and ecumenical conferences. This is an article about how we go about sharing it and its purposefully subjective nature.
I’ll start by asking you one simple question: Why do you keep the Sabbath? Besides the standard reply of, “Because it is commanded”, I am curious as to the deeper meaning of why we keep the Sabbath holy. People give some of the most interesting and revealing answers to this question. They range from, “I keep the Sabbath because I am made in the image of God” to “Because the creator of the universe set aside that day to be holy and set apart for rest and worship, picturing the ultimate rest of His kingdom.” One of my favorite answers was, “I keep the Sabbath because it’s an anchor for my life and helps to keep the flow of my life intact.”
I love how poetic people become when describing the Sabbath. Their eyes light up and the language they use conveys emotion through allusions, analogies and metaphors. You can feel how much the Sabbath means to them. It’s important to them not only because it’s a commandment, but because of reasons that are unique to them. Their Sabbath is something personal and sometimes its meaning can only be put into words via poetic language—not prose.
There are some interesting ideas about the Sabbath revealed in Isaiah 58:13-14,
“If you keep from desecrating the Sabbath, from doing whatever you want on my holy day; if you call the Sabbath a delight, and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, seeking your own pleasure, or talking business; 14 then you will delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride over the heights of the land, and let you enjoy the heritage of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
The first Hebrew word for “delight” used here is, “ʿōneg”, and it also means pleasant. Please tell me what is delightful or pleasant? I venture the answers to this question are myriad and yet singular to the individual. What is delightful or pleasant to you might not be the same for your brother or sister. I’m reminded of the aphorism, “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.” Paradoxically, although this relativistic look at the Sabbath permits considerable moral latitude in how to comply with keeping the Sabbath, it also makes it more precise and binding—not my pleasure, but yet still must be a pleasure and delight. We, His children, must determine how we are to make it a delight.
What’s interesting about the second “delight” in verse 14(ʿānag) is its meaning—which means “to be soft or pliable”. Keeping the Sabbath makes you pliable to the Lord. I find that to be fascinating. The Sabbath is supposed to assist God in changing what we find a delight—”to delight in the Lord” and not just in other things.
There are some pretty clear-cut guidelines as to what the Sabbath is not. It’s described in Deuteronomy 5:14 (KJV), “But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work.”
As clear as this is, there is still some play in it. For instance, one fine Sabbath morning I was setting up for services at our church. One of the early birds was talking with me about a new power tool he just purchased. This power tool got me thinking about my business and how I could use one to do more work in less time, improving our bottom line. I told my friend, “I better stop thinking about this, because now I’m working”. He replied, “How is thinking about work, working?” To which I quipped, “You kidding me? Thinking is some of my best work!”
We both laughed, and got back to laboriously moving chairs and tables for services. This is why I chuckle at red-faced legalists who argue with brethren on the specifics of Sabbath-keeping. The only thing we seemed to really have nailed down is when it starts, and even that has come into question lately (sunset v. dark). So forgive me if I tread lightly when explaining the Sabbath to the curious.
To those interested in drawing lines, remember what Jesus said to the Pharisees about the disciples breaching the Sabbath? You can find it in Matthew 12:1-8. In verses 5-8 he states,
“Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless? But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple. But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.”
Jesus is telling them that technically the priests are “breaking the Sabbath” yet are blameless. I am reading into this account that Jesus looks into the heart of the individual, then judges whether they are complying with his commandment. He sees you making a judgment call on how to call the Sabbath a delight, and I have good news for you; He wants mercy not sacrifice. The One greater than the temple has last say in the matter and states in Mark 2:27, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.”
When I am in a situation that is questionable in regards to Sabbath-keeping (or anything for that matter) I pray for wisdom and guidance—immediately. I think taking the time to quickly call out to God not only proves your sincerity, but is literally one of the only things you can do.
It is one thing to provide scripture (meekly) that helps support individuals to see their behavior as destructive or against what is written in the Bible, but too often I find individuals hatefully attacking well-meaning Christians about the “truth of the Sabbath”. This attack is usually a half-baked history lesson containing Constantine, the Council of Nicaea, and some references to vagaries in the church through history. Both usually walk away confused and in disbelief—one, why the other couldn’t understand something so simple; the other, why some place so much importance on the day they choose to worship God.
The more we try to objectify the Sabbath, the more we miss its point. This could be a test commandment to see how we internalize this highly subjective law.
I hope you don’t think I’m trying to be clever or cute about keeping the Fourth Commandment. To be clear, I am not advocating to keep the Sabbath any other time (it’s sunset Friday to sunset Saturday), or day (it’s the seventh day, Saturday), and its a holy day, we are to rest-not work. I only mean to point out the more we try to objectify the Sabbath, the more we seem to miss its’ higher purpose. This could be a test commandment to see how we internalize this highly subjective law. I believe by you choosing to adopt His ways as your ways is the best demonstration of your love for Him (John 14:15).
If our ultimate aim is to lead others to Christ, we must consider how we deliver our communications. As Ron Dart said, “Christianity isn’t an argument. It’s a way of life”. Describe to people your way of life—how much peace you feel keeping the Sabbath and the joy you experience from honoring His ways. Let your eyes light up and your enthusiasm spilleth over until they ask themselves the question, “I wonder if they’re for real?” They might just chase that question into a seat at your local congregation.
My name is Blake Silverstein. I am the acting Chief Operating Officer for Christian Educational Ministries. I hope to be a servant leader for the Church of God at large contributing in the way of writing and leading sermons and presentations. I am a proud husband of Tracy and father to Jeremiah Silverstein.
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