DO WE HAVE THE OBLIGATION TO KEEP SATURDAYS AS SABBATHS?
The fourth commandment of the Decalogue of Moses, declares:
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a Sabbath to YHWH your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.
11For in six days YHWH made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore, YHWH blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
From the beginning of Christianity, there has always been the opinion that this command must be kept, under the penalty of committing grave sin against God (Matthew 5:17-19), while most Christians hold that none of the commands are binding for Christians, except the spiritual principle behind them (Galatians 2:21).
What does the Bible truly teach about it?
WHAT IS A SABBATH?
The word Sabbath, or Shabbat, derives from the Hebrew SHABATH ( שָׁבַת), meaning ‘Day of Rest’, and it is said in Scripture to derived from the time of Creation, of how GOD finished all creation in six days, and rested on the ‘Seventh Day’:
“So, God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it, God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”
The Bible, in the two places that this Law in initially mentioned, either Genesis 2:1-3 or Exodus 20:8-11, does not specify a particular day to be considered the ‘Seventh Day’ of Rest, because it does not explain which day of the week is the first one. It just calls Day of Rest, the seventh of an initial cycle, whenever this ‘first day’ may be. In time, through tradition, the Jews considered the ‘seventh day’ to be Saturday, since their week starts on a Sunday; but in modern calendars, the working week starts on Mondays, making the Seventh Day, Sundays, not Saturdays.
But apart from being an obligatory day of rest, nothing else the Bible commands about it, except to ‘keep it holy’, meaning, as special as any religious feast day. From this idea of ‘Holy Rest’, the custom of congregating to celebrate public worship, it came, on Saturdays for the Jews, and on Sundays for Christians, who also, some of them in the East, still keep these two days as ‘Holy’.
WAS THE SABBATH KEPT BEFORE MOSES?
The Bible does not mention anything about the keeping of the Sabbath prior to the Mosaic Law.
Even the mention in Genesis 2:1-3 comes as a retrospective view, from the time of Moses, indicating that the people of Israel at the time may have had a custom to maintain it (See the expression ‘Remember the Sabbath’ – v.8), but never as an obligatory law. It is only from the time of Moses that this practice takes the form of a command, and not before, as the total absence of mentioning any kind of Sabbath is recorded in the Torah prior to Moses.
WHAT WAS THE PURPOSE OF THE SABBATH?
Judging by a textual study of the Torah about the institution of the Sabbath, it can be clearly seen that it was never given as a devotional command, like the animal sacrifices, or circumcision; but as a practical measure to preserve the rightful period or rest and recovery needed by all living creatures, be humans or animals (v.10).
It was not even given as a day of worship, since worship in Israel was daily, even on the Sabbaths, but never restricted to these days (Numbers 28:9-10).
All it was demanded and expected on all Sabbaths, was that all living creatures, either humans, Jewish or not, and all animals, should rest by stopping all non-vital labor, and use this time of rest, to recover physically, and spend time with family and friends, without neglecting their daily worship and meditation on the Word of God.
Any other requirement, either to choose it as the main day of worship, or to stop activities in an exaggerated manner like the Jews do, to the extreme of not even pressing a button in an elevator, ALL of them are human additions to the godly command, which our Lord JESUS rejected as hypocrisy (Luke 14:5).
WHAT SHOULD BE OUR ATTITUDE TOWARDS THE SABBATH
Lord Jesus said:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. 18For I tell you truly, until heaven and earth pass away, not a single jot, not a stroke of a pen, will disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
JESUS did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it on our behalf. ONLY HE accomplished a total and perfect fulfilment of the Mosaic Law, not only in the TEN COMMANDMENTS, but also in all the other ceremonial and civil laws given to Israel, that depicted in temporal human terms, the eternal righteous personality of GOD. That is why it is only through JESUS’ righteousness that we can achieve salvation, through imputation of the Redeemer’s saintliness on the repentant sinner through faith and devotion towards Him.
So, in that sense, the words of JESUS ‘until everything is accomplished’ became reality, but not only that. JESUS fulfilled the Law on our behalf, so through Him, we can be counted righteous before the FATHER, through faith, BUT the Law, as moral principles, still in force, because they reflect the eternal righteousness of GOD.
So, the use of graven images was allowed, but idolatry remained forbidden (1Corinthians 10:14)
Adultery’s prohibition was extended to the adulterous desire, and not only to the actual action of infidelity (Matthew 5:28).
The religious keeping of the Sabbath was abolished, but the command to reserve one day of rest a week still remains (Colossians 2:16); and so on.
The Sabbath as a religious day of rest, it has been abolished, as all other rigorous keeping of the Jewish Law (The Ten Commandments were given to the Jews, but expected from all humans). They were all lifted under the Dispensation of Grace (Romans 8:3; 11:6; Galatians 5:4; Acts 13:39).
But the principle to keep a Day of Rest, or Sabbath, still remains, regardless whether is the first day, the middle day or the last day of the week, but it must be within every seven-day cycle, as GOD measures time (Genesis 2:1-3).
It can be kept from 6pm until the next 6pm of the following day, in the old manner of the Jews; or from midnight to midnight as we are accustomed in modern times, but it must be kept.
Regardless of public days of communal worship, the reason to keep a Sabbath is to free all living creatures from the slavery of work, and for humans to regain time for themselves, to dedicate time to their families, reflection and rest. A respite from our Heavenly Father in his love for us.
To avoid this, will be to denigrate our humanity towards the service of wealth or otherwise, and to deprive our animals and land from the rightful period of rest, which GOD has also granted to them.