By: William J Jackson
Do we still observe the weekly Sabbath? God did say that it was a sign between Him and His people (Exodus 31:13). Also, many bible interpretations claim that it is an ordinance that will stand forever (Exodus 31:17). Nonetheless, can that privilege be taken away? Think about it. If God took away Israel’s land for a period (1 Chronicles 9:1, Jeremiah 52:14-15, Daniel 1:2) and halted the Levitical priesthood out of disobedience (Ezekiel 44:10, Malachi 2:7-9, Nehemiah 13:29), could He remove the Sabbath for the same reasons? Studying the events in the Tanakh by following its timeline, we will chart our current day relationship to the Sabbath.
The Gift of the Sabbath:
Many might say that the concept of the Sabbath appeared in the creation of the world. This is when God took a rest on the seventh day after completing His masterpiece, earth and its inhabitance (Genesis 2:1–3). A couple millenniums later, He would issue the Sabbath as a decree to a worthy people (Exodus 20:8-11). This would be known as a day of complete rest (Exodus 20:10, 31:15, 34:21, 35:2, Leviticus 23:3). Even the word Shabbat, which comes from the root Shin-Beit-Tav, means to cease, to end, or to rest1. As we study verse 10 of Exodus 20 we see that this day was established as a Holy Day, long before Moses.
Now let us flash forward seven centuries, beyond the time of the Judges, after King David, well past King Solomon. This sacred day would eventually become tarnished by the people. God actually says that Israel cannot wait for the Sabbath to be over so they can go back to cheating (Amos 8:4-6). The prophet Hosea, who likens Israel to a prostitute, claims because of her whoring ways, God will take away her Festivals and the Sabbath (Hosea 2:13). In Isaiah 1:11-15 God talks about how His people are hypocrites, and how He doesn’t honor their Festivals and Sabbaths anymore. Both in Amos and Isaiah God warns the people that their disobedience will cause their Sabbath to be taken from them (Amos 8:7-14 and Isaiah 1:20-25). Still all the while begging Israel to reform (Isaiah 1:16-19 ). What these three prophets (Hosea, Amos and Isaiah) had in common, aside from speaking the same message, was their position in Israel’s history. They spoke these warnings around the 7th century BCE. This was a prequel to the Babylonian captivity. Two centuries later Babylonian’s defeat of Israel would be the punishment promised by God (Jeremiah 1:15, 25: 8-11, 43:10). Jeremiah provides for us the vision of Babylon’s destruction while it happened. He talks of the Temple destruction and removal of the Festivals and Shabbat, all as a result of Israel’s disobedience (Lamentations 2:6). Ezekiel amplifies these same sentiments in Ezekiel 20:13, 16, 21, 24, 22:8, 26, 23:38.
With the Temple’s destruction went the sacrificial system and thus went all that was tied into it such as the Feast and Festivals2. Also, when we read Numbers 28:9-10, we see that a component of the weekly Sabbath was to provide a sacrifice. This capability was now gone.
Years later, after the people return from Babylonian captivity, they wanted a relationship with their savior, God. They probably had time to reflect on the consequences they just survived, Babylon (2 Kings 17:13, Jeremiah 18:11, 35:15). Returning to Israel, the people fasted and confessed their sins acknowledging that their disobedience (Nehemiah 9:29-30). The people that “…separated themselves from the pagan people of the land in order to obey the Law of God…” (Nehemiah 10:29) gave a vow. Why didn’t all of Israel give this vow? History tells us that only 5%3 returned from Babylon. Also, before Babylon was the Assyrian captivity where ten of the twelve tribes were lost (2 Kings 15:29, 17:23, 1 Chronicles 5:26, Ezekiel 39:23). These events diminished Israel only allowing a tiny fraction to remain. Much like our society today, only a small remnant is willing to follow God’s Law (Torah). In this vow the people promised to;
“… “live by God’s Torah, given by Moshe the servant of God, and will perform and obey all the mitzvot, rulings and laws of Adonai our Lord.” (Nehemiah 10:30).
Vow to Keep Sabbath:
In this vow they mentioned many things that they would do through the Levitical Priests and the Temple. Sadly, these regulations cannot be meet today because of the Temple’s current state. But, importantly, they did commit to honoring the Sabbath, adding to this that they would not purchase on this Holy day (Nehemiah 10:31). Chapters 9 and 10 of Nehemiah take on the form of a Teshuva4 which is a Jewish way of repentance. These are the corresponding steps5:
Step 1 – Regret. Realize the extent of the damage (Neh. 9:1, 37).
Step 2 – Cessation. Immediately stop the harmful action (Neh. 10:30)
Step 3 – Confession. Admit it and ask for forgiveness (Neh. 9:2-3, 26-36).
Step 4 – Resolution. Commitment to not repeat it in the future (Neh. 10:29-38).
The Sabbath started off as something given as a sign between God and His people but was retracted out of disobedience. So as part of Teshuva or repentance in order to reestablish a relationship with the Maker, His people vowed to keep His Sabbath. Again and again the Tanakh tells us that this is a sign that keeps us connected to God (Exodus 31:13-17, Ezekiel 20:12, 20). Also although many of the laws in Exodus chapters 20 through 24 cannot be kept (either because we are not in the land or because of the Temple), to honor the Sabbath is one of His Ten Commandment and the only commandment we are required to remember (Exodus 20:8). As stated by Isaiah keeping the Sabbath for everyone (Isaiah 56:2, 6, 13). Also, in our future, the Temple will be reclaimed and Sabbath sacrifices will happen again (Ezekiel 46:4,5).
- Judaism 101: Shabbat.” Judaism 101: Shabbat. Accessed July 29, 2016. http://www.jewfaq.org/shabbat.htm.
- Jackson, William J. “Are We To Do The Feast and Festival?” Center for Tanakh Based Studies. July 27, 2016. Accessed July 30, 2016. https://center-for-tanakh-based-studies.com/2016/07/27/are-we-to-do-the-feast-and-festival/.
- Jackson, William J. “Why The Second Temple Did Not Work.” Center for Tanakh Based Studies. April 28, 2016. Accessed July 30, 2016. https://center-for-tanakh-based-studies.com/2016/04/28/why-the-second-temple-did-not-work/.
- Jacobs, Louis, Rabbi. “Teshuvah, or Repentance.” My Jewish Learning. Accessed July 31, 2016. http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/repentance/2/.
- Simmons, Shraga, Rabbi. “Teshuva: Dry Cleaning for the Soul.” Aishcom. Accessed July 31, 2016. http://www.aish.com/h/hh/gar/atonement/48954551.html.
- “Nehemiah Bible Timeline.” Nehemiah Bible Timeline. Accessed July 30, 2016. http://biblehub.com/timeline/nehemiah/1.htm.