Sabbath Requirements As Per Tanakh (The Old Testament)

Sabbath Requirements As Per Tanakh

By: William and Danielle Jackson (thank you for all your help and input on this article, Danielle).

Isaiah 56:2 tells us “not to desecrate or profane the Sabbath”. The Hebrew word that could mean either desecrate or profane is “chalal” which means to pierce. So we need to protect the Sabbath from those things that would depreciate it. When each of us started off on our faith journey, we usually followed those that had been doing it longer. “Why not, right?” they seem to know more. But; we all need to get to the point in our walk that we look to His answers in Torah/Tanakh on our own; rather than always depending on what others tell us His word says. One reason to do this is, if we are to protect the Sabbath, we must know the rules outlined in Torah/Tanakh for keeping the Sabbath, for ourselves – personally.

Sabbath, one sunset to the next sunset?

In Genesis 1:5 it states, “there was evening, and there was morning, one day.” Basically, HaShem’s day begins when the preceding day closes, at sunset (1). This is confirmed in Leviticus 23:32.


We should always prepare for Sabbath. Like getting ready for a date, or an important meeting, everything needs to be ready. We don’t want distractions during our Sabbath rest, like not having groceries, or getting telephone calls, a lawn that needs mowing, or a house that’s not kept, and anything else that would prevent us from enjoying His holy day and being able to rest in Him. A good example would be in (Exodus 16:22-23,29-30), where we’re told to make sure we’ve prepared food in advance. 

Let’s explore more instructions for Sabbath Day:

1. Do not work: Ex. 20:9-10, 34:21, Leviticus 23:3, Numbers 15:32-36, Deuteronomy 5:13-14

Exceptions are as follows: 

a. Financial Reasons:

Ancient Israel was an agricultural society (2). Thus sowing seed and harvesting would have been critical to their culture. So when Exodus 34:21 tells us to rest in spite of “plowing time and harvest season” it says a lot. As a farmer, by resting on planting and harvesting day, you would have to have a lot of trust YHVH.

b. Self Preservation:

When it comes to national defense there are exceptions for observing the Sabbath in History and the Tanakh. One example is Jehoiada, the Temples chief priest around 841 BCE (3). He put a third of the priest and Levites on guard duty during Sabbath (2 Kings 11:6, 2 Chronicles 23:4). Also, about 700 years after that (during the Maccabean rebellion), Jews not defending themselves against Syrian attacks on the Sabbath were killed and greatly defeated. This changed in 1 Maccabees 2:39-41 where Mattathias, a Jewish priest, and his friends decided to defend themselves against attacks during the Sabbath (4). It appears only situations on preserving human life would allow us to violate the Sabbath.

2. Do not make anyone else labor: Exodus 23:12, Deuteronomy 5:14

3. Do not do business: Nehemiah 10:32, 13:15-21

4. Do not kindle a fire: Exodus 35:3

5. As mentioned above, do not prepare food: Exodus 16:22-23,29-30

6. Do not pursue or speak about your own interests: Isaiah 58:13

7. Rest: Exodus 16:29-30, 23:12, 31:15,17, 35:2, Leviticus 23:3

8. Sing and Praise YHVH: Psalm 92

9. Although some might say “Do not leave your home” quoting from Exodus 16:29.  If you read all of Exodus 16 you will find out that Moses was telling people not to leave their homes to gather manna.  Likewise, this was a guideline before the commandment to observe the Sabbath was actually issued (Exodus 20:10).  

10. Read His word: In Leviticus 23:3 it states we are to have a “holy convocation or assembly. What does that mean? Holy Convocation is made up of two Hebrew words; “qodesh” which is apartness or sacredness and “miqra” which is a convocation or a reading. Studying Torah would meet this requirement.


For those that keep the Sabbath,

Isaiah 56:7 I will bring them to my holy mountain

and make them joyful in my house of prayer;

their burnt offerings and sacrifices

will be accepted on my altar;

for my house will be called

a house of prayer for all peoples.”

Shabbat Shalom.


(1) By Emily Thomsen, When Does It Start?

(2) By Jenny Phillips, ANCIENT ISRAELITES AND AGRICULTURE, American Bible Society

(3) JEHOIADA, Jewish Virtual Library

(4) SABBATH, The unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia,