THOU SHALT KEEP THE SABBATH DAY HOLY. (Part Five)
. . . it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days. Matthew 12:12
The question we are left with is whether the commandment to keep the sabbath day holy applies to us today, and, if it does, how do we keep the commandment?
Let’s back up and read again a charge given by Moses to the Children of Israel and then the sabbath day commandment itself:
“The Lord spoke those words – those and no more – to your whole congregation at the mountain.” Exodus 5:10. “Be careful then to do as the Lord has commanded you. Do not turn to the right or the left.” Exodus 5:29
“Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days shall you labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; you shall not do any work — you, your son or your daughter, your male or your female slave, your ox or your ass, or any of your cattle, or the stranger in your settlements, so that your male and female slaves may rest as you do. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God freed you with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the sabbath day.”
In the commandment there is the charge to keep the sabbath holy; for you and your family to do no work, nor are you to require anyone else, including strangers and slaves, or even animals, to do any work on the sabbath day. The third charge is to remember that the Israelites had been slaves and that God had made them free. Those three things and no more.
Jesus and His disciples were always sabbath keepers, but their enemies put forth that they were sabbath breakers, mostly because Jesus often healed on the sabbath. It was in answer to one such charge that Jesus said: “Wherefore, it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.” On another occasion He declared: “ . . . the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: therefore the Son of man is also Lord of the sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28). If Jesus is Lord of the sabbath then Christians must be under the sabbath law.
After the death of Moses, the Israelites soon encumbered sabbath day observance with rules and ideas far beyond those three simple thoughts. Of course there are always questions: Who feeds the chickens and milks the cows? Who does such essential chores and cleans up after the children and the sick? Apparently those matters did have to be clarified, and so “rules” were made. This led to such sensible things as being able to “pull your ox out of the mire” on the sabbath. It also led to many things that seem inconsequential to us in our day but which are still debated in many fundamentalist circles. Which is the real sabbath, Saturday or Sunday? How many steps may one walk on the sabbath? Is flipping on a light switch work? What is carrying a burden? May one drive a car? Depending on the religion one follows, the questions – and answers – seem endless.
So what are you and I to do? The “essentials” have multiplied so much in our time. We still must “heal” on the sabbath, so hospitals and health care people are on duty. Communications must run. The list can be extended. Some people just cannot have their sabbaths free from “work.”
So how do we keep the sabbath day holy? For our family the answer is to make things simple. As much as possible we attend church on the sabbath; we don’t go to movies or other entertainments; we don’t participate in or attend sporting events; unless we are traveling we don’t eat out so others don’t have to work for us; we do no shopping on the sabbath, unless it’s an unavoidable emergency; we try to study the scriptures and just keep things as simple as possible. In short we attempt to devote our time to God. To do well on the sabbath.
I have met people who must work on Saturday or Sunday so they set aside another day as their sabbath. I think God would honor such a commitment. Another good friend studies and prays each morning of the week for at least an hour and feels she keeps the sabbath all week. I can’t say she’s wrong.
Each of us Is faced with the sabbath day challenge if we wish to return to the laws of God.
These are the three charges to Israel: Keep the sabbath holy, require no labor from anyone on the sabbath and remember you were a slave so you know where your liberty comes from. The basic premise of God’s laws is to “proclaim liberty throughout all the land.” (Lev. 25:10). There are Jewish commentaries that indicate only free people are capable of redemption and that is why the Israelites had to be removed from slavery in Egypt. That third requirement of the law, to remember you were a slave, means that sabbath day worship and liberty are somehow inextricably connected.
We can be slaves to many things in this life. Maybe what we need to remember as part of our sabbath is that truth, which comes from God, is what sets us free. Is that part of the link between the sabbath and liberty? This is a matter I have not fully been able to understand, but I feel that it is true and someday someone will be able to explain it.
If we develop faith that the sabbath is made for man as a blessing, then the day will come when we will ” . . . call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honorable.” (Isaiah 58:13).
How and why was the sabbath made for you and me?