Part 2 Preview: The article, Understanding the Sabbath Commandment, further elaborates on this salvational issue. While this was originally written to “shepherd” (a poor choice of words) long time “Church of God Sabbatarians, as the opening statements indicate, anyone wanting to obey the Ten Commandments would benefit from this.
I have presented these obvious illustrations to make one point: when we are commanded not to do “any work” on the Sabbath, then that has nothing to do with either the physical or the mental energy we are permitted to expend. It is an instruction to stop doing those things that are motivated by our needs and desires on the other six days of the week. Instead, we are to do those things which help us to have contact with God and which enable us to understand God’s ways more fully. We are to do those things that will please God, that show God we want to think the way He does.
The Sabbath commandment is not “a confinement”! It is not “a restriction” of some kind: like being “restrained” in a state of inactivity for 24 hours. The Sabbath commandment gives us freedom: freedom from the shackles of this world and its “god,” freedom to renew, to strengthen and to confirm contact with and bonding to the mind of Almighty God.
So the point is that on the Sabbath we should seek to do those things that will please God.
Let’s note another principle that applies to the Sabbath.
We have already seen that the focus in Genesis 2:2-3 was that God stopped doing something on the Sabbath day; the verb used in those verses is “shabath.” But we have also seen that in the statement of the commandment the point is made that God “rested” from His work; the verb used there being “nuwach.”
Thus the Sabbath is clearly intended to be a rest day!
It is to give us the opportunity to be refreshed. It is to provide a break from our everyday routines.
his does not mean that “resting” is to be taken to the extreme, seeking a state of total and complete inactivity for 24 hours. It is obviously understood that under normal circumstances all “vigorous” activities are to be avoided. But there is nothing wrong with walking on the Sabbath, for example, even though that is also a form of activity.
A pleasant walk, an interesting study of some part of the Bible, enjoyable conversations with family and friends, pleasant and relaxing meals: these can all be a part of “resting.” Seeking closer contact with God through private and intense prayer can have a restful effect, an opportunity to unburden our minds.
Freedom from the duties and responsibilities and the worries of the other days of the week likewise has a restful effect: provided we can also free our minds from those things.
Let’s notice another important principle.
You know about the time when Jesus Christ and His disciples walked through the wheat fields on the Sabbath day. The account is recorded in Matthew 12, Mark 2 and Luke 6. Notice the account in Matthew 12:
At that time Jesus went on the Sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. (Matthew 12:1)
Here is the situation:
Here is how the Pharisees responded:
But when the Pharisees saw [it], they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the Sabbath day. (Matthew 12:2)
That is an utterly ridiculous and untrue accusation! It was not “unlawful” at all, as far as the laws of God are concerned, to pluck an ear of grain or an apple or a pear or a fig on the Sabbath for the purpose of eating that fruit or that grain.
By no stretch of the imagination were the disciples “working.” Any claim to that effect is absurd!! Plucking an ear of wheat or two while walking along the road is not what God means by “work,” any more than taking an apple out of your refrigerator is “work.”
Don’t fall for the definitions and the arguments of the Pharisees! Plucking something edible off any plant so that you may eat it right then and there is most assuredly not what God means by “work” when He tells us that we are not to do any “work” on the Sabbath. It is no more “work” than placing some food on the table, on conveying such food from your plate into your mouth, or peeling an orange or a pineapple, or slicing some roast beef, or spreading some butter onto a piece of bread. None of these things are what God means by “work”!
The average lady is going to expend far more energy, and certainly more time, on combing her hair on a Sabbath morning than any of those disciples spent on plucking a few ears of wheat and then rubbing the grains in the palms of their hands (“harvesting” and “winnowing” by the standards of the Pharisees!) as they continued to walk with Jesus Christ through those fields.
So understand the following:
It is not a matter that: “the Sabbath commandment forbids all work, but that certain ‘work’ is exempted from this prohibition. And therefore it is permissible to do certain ‘work’.”
Rather, the point really is that: “the Sabbath commandment forbids all work, but certain activities God simply does not consider to be ‘work’. Such activities include, but are not limited to, the process of eating and taking care of personal hygiene: even though those activities may require us to expend a few calories of energy.”
God is not concerned about whether the food we consume on a Sabbath is taken out of a fridge or out of a tin or off a shelf or plucked off a tree or pulled out of the ground. God is not concerned about whether we eat an apple directly off the tree, or whether we first take the trouble to wash the apple, or whether we eat a carrot that we have pulled out of the ground. None of these activities have anything to do with what God means by “work.”
A foolish argument that has often been presented goes like this:
Christ did not deny that what the disciples were doing was indeed “work.” Therefore we can assume that the Pharisees were correct in their accusation that the disciples were in fact guilty of having done some ‘work’- etc.
Why on earth should Jesus Christ have allowed Himself to be dragged into some stupid argument about their absurd standard of what constituted “work”? The Pharisees’ ideas about what amounts to “work” were ridiculous to the extreme! Their views of “work” included things like: if you carried more than the weight of one dried fig, then you were “carrying a burden” on the Sabbath; if your house caught fire on the Sabbath, you were not permitted to “carry” your clothes out of the house, but if you quickly put on the extra layers of clothing then you could take them out of the house on your person because you were “wearing” them, take them off, run inside and quickly “put on” some more clothes to save from the flames, etc. For more of these illogical pharisaical ideas about what constituted “work,” check the “Torah-she b’al-Peh,” the “Oral Law,” better known as “the Talmud.” None of these ideas have anything to do with “the law of God.”
There was no point in trying to reason with the Pharisees about their irrational ideas about work. That would only have produced further arguments. So instead Jesus Christ focused on two specific examples for which the Pharisees would not have an answer; the two things being:
1) something David did in an emergency when he was hungry;
2) the physical rituals the priests performed on the Sabbath.
The implied reasoning is as follows:
1) If God did not disapprove of David eating bread that was ceremoniously reserved for the priest’s family, then why would God disapprove of hungry men plucking a few ears of wheat in order to have something to eat?
2) If God permits the priests to work hard physically on the Sabbath (killing and preparing sacrifices was hard work!), then why would God object to a man pulling out an ear of wheat in order to have something to eat?
The first example focused on what God allows when a person is hungry; the second example focused on the amount of physical work God allows (when the reasons are valid!) on the Sabbath. Compared to both examples what the disciples had done was so insignificant that there was nothing the Pharisees could really have said!
And when we understand the lessons from both of these examples, then we should understand the conclusion that Jesus Christ then presented. This is recorded in Mark’s account. Notice:
And he said unto them, the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath: (Mark 2:27)
It is helpful to keep in mind that this is a conclusion that Jesus Christ drew from the two examples He had cited in connection with the incident at hand. This statement means:
1) God created the Sabbath as a specific benefit for man.
2) Without human life the Sabbath has no meaning.
3) This is a statement of priorities; the existence of mankind is more important than the Sabbath.
4) The Sabbath was created to provide a service for human life; the Sabbath is a means towards an end.
5) The Pharisees had their priorities mixed up; they viewed the Sabbath as more important than the human existence; to them the Sabbath was an end in itself.
6) The same principle applies to all of God’s laws; they were all created for us to benefit from; none of them are an end in themselves.
7) The two comparative examples Jesus Christ referred to illustrate this principle.
So this very important principle is:
The Sabbath was specifically made for man to benefit from, to enhance man’s existence!
When we understand this principle and its application, then we should be able to understand that there was no point in arguing with the Pharisees about whether pulling an ear of wheat out of the ground was work or was not work. Whether it was work or not was not really important!! Even if it had indeed been work, which it was not, it still would have been perfectly acceptable to God in view of the men being hungry.
Now this principle (“the Sabbath was made for man”) should also tell us that it is certainly acceptable to take care of genuine emergencies on the Sabbath. It should also make clear that the principle of the Sabbath law is absolute, but the application is conditional on circumstances, as I explained earlier. In other words:
“We are not to do any work on the Sabbath” means:
We should not devote any time and energy to writing a business report; but we may spend a similar amount of time and energy studying the Bible. It means we should not drive our car as a taxi for making money; but we may spend the same amount of time driving our car to and from church services. A teacher should not prepare his next biology lecture on the Sabbath; but a minister may spend the same amount of time and research in preparing a sermon. A butcher should not cut up an ox or a sheep that he had purchased at the abattoir; but the priests at the Temple were required to kill and to cut up animals on the Sabbath.
Sabbath keeping is designed to enhance our existence; and sometimes that may involve the expenditure of a certain amount of energy on the part of some people.
This leads us to the next principle.
People are familiar with this phrase, though the biblical phrase usually is “an ox in a pit.”
This principle was actually mentioned by Christ on two separate occasions. The first occasion was when Christ healed a man who had a withered hand. This statement is only recorded by Matthew in his account; Mark and Luke omit this statement. The accounts are found in Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6 and Luke 6:6-11. Here is the statement in Matthew’s account.
“And he said unto them, what man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the Sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift [it] out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days. (Matthew 12:11-12)
The second account is only recorded by Luke, in Luke 14:1-6. This involved a man who suffered from dropsy (edema) and took place in the home of a Pharisee. Notice what Christ said:
And answered them, saying, which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the Sabbath day? And they could not answer him again to these things. (Luke 14:5-6)
So notice the following things about these two situations:
1) Both cases involved Jesus Christ healing someone who was sick and who was suffering.
2) Christ’s statements make clear that the Pharisees themselves were also already prepared to deal with certain emergencies on the Sabbath. So they were willing to expend some energy under certain emergency conditions. The animal was a part of their wealth and possessions: if the animal died, then they would have suffered a loss. So their motivation was to a degree selfish. And because they were prepared to take care of such “wealth-preserving” emergencies, therefore “they could not answer Him.” In their own minds they had reconciled that such emergency actions on their part were not really work.
3) In neither case did Jesus Christ actually “do any real work”; He simply spoke and the people were healed (in the case of Luke 14:4 it doesn’t tell us exactly what Christ did). There really was no “working” involved, unless someone would argue that Jesus Christ’s four words “stretch forth your hand” (Matthew 12:13) amounted to “work.”
Don’t be confused by arguments from omission, i.e. arguing from what is not said. Some people argue as follows: “Christ did not deny that He was working when He healed people. Therefore it is clear that He agreed that He did in fact perform some work when He healed people.”
There are thousands of other things Christ also “did not say.” They don’t prove anything. He didn’t have to say: “What I am doing is not really work.” Why should He: to get into some long argument about what constitutes ‘work’?
The point is that healing usually involves the forgiveness of sins, and forgiving sins is certainly not what God had in mind by the word “work” in the commandment. When Jesus Christ healed people, no work was needed from Him at any time (making some mud and anointing the eyes of a blind man wasn’t really what God means by work either). But when we human beings try to heal people (i.e. try to help restore their health), then on our part it very often will involve work. But simply because it takes work when we are involved in “healing” someone, this does not mean that we should evaluate the healings Christ performed from our perspective-He simply didn’t do the things we would do in our efforts to heal someone.
4) In the account in Matthew chapter 12 Jesus Christ made very clear that “it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath days.” However, people have also taken this statement out of context and applied it to any number of situations that it should not be applied to.
So understand the following:
It is lawful to do well on the Sabbath” is not a freestanding and totally independent statement!
This is where people sometimes lack discernment, and they reason: “It is certainly within the law of God for me to do this or that activity on the Sabbath because I am actually helping some other people.” Or they say: “I am providing an essential service.”
You should be “helping people” on the other six days of the week as well. “Helping people” is most assuredly not the criterion in deciding whether something is “lawful” or not. On the Sabbath you should not be going out and looking for opportunities to get involved in activities which in some way “help” other people. Look for those opportunities on the other six days!
The point of Christ’s statement is this:
In the case of an emergency on the Sabbath it is certainly lawful to do good!
But you are not supposed to be going out and looking for “good” things to do on the Sabbath, and neither are you to go out looking for emergencies. The main principle of Sabbath-keeping tells us to cease from doing things! The main principle tells us to rest from the things we do on the other days!
However, when we are unexpectedly confronted by emergencies on the Sabbath, then it is most assuredly lawful to do good. The “doing good” is in response to an ox in the ditch.
So how should we apply this principle of an ox in the ditch? Here are some guidelines for you to consider.
A) Your job is never an ox in the ditch. Your job (whether it involves physical labor or not) is the thing you are first and foremost to cease from on the Sabbath. Yes certainly, there may at times even be genuine emergencies at your place of work; but that’s not where the “doing good” applies: unless there has been an accident at your place of work and you are well located for taking someone to a hospital, or emergency help of that kind.
B) Every single ox in the ditch that you are forced to deal with should teach you something. When the Sabbath is over you fence off that particular ditch, so no animals can fall into it in future. There are plenty of other ditches that are left to confront you. It is highly likely that all of us will at times make the wrong decision: and we will have learned that in future we will handle that particular ox in the ditch in a different way. Often that will involve certain situations where we had a vested interest, where we wanted something, or we wanted to get somewhere or take part in something. Once we acknowledge our own selfish motive in justifying the activity, then character growth can take place-we will have learned something and our convictions have been strengthened.
C) Prudent people, who look ahead and anticipate where there could be potential problems and then take evasive actions, will certainly face far fewer “ox in the ditch” situations than those people who go through life without looking ahead, blissfully unaware of the potential situations that could arise for them. Generally, predictable situations that arise for us on the Sabbath are not really an ox in the ditch; we should have taken some evasive action before the Sabbath started, though that may not be possible in all cases. At any rate, we are supposed to learn from each “crisis” situation we face. There is a lesson somewhere for people who are frequently faced by ox in the ditch situations.
D) Generally dealing with ox in the ditch situations should only involve a very short time! In Christ’s own examples here the healings took no more than a few seconds: just as long as it takes to say the four words “stretch forth your hand.” While there may be exceptions (e.g. helping with disaster relief after an earthquake), dealing with most genuine emergencies or acts of compassion should not require several hours of your time. The immediate emergency is taken care of and the rest is seen to after the Sabbath. In fact, often we’ll find that many things can actually wait until after the Sabbath. Keep in mind that the decisions you make in these situations will mold your character.
E) We must distinguish between “genuine needs” and “personal wants.” You may want the newspaper on a Saturday morning, and so you reason: “God tells me to watch world events; therefore it is okay for me to go out and buy a paper.” But the paper you go and buy is not a need, it is only one of your particular “wants.” You already know that very little in that newspaper is devoted to really watching world events-it is mainly the local gossip that is dramatized to appeal to the readers’ desire to want to know about these things.
F) Once you have decided that some emergency is indeed an ox in the ditch for you, then do whatever you can do whole-heartedly. Don’t agree to help out in some way, but then give your help reluctantly. That is not right! If you are only helping reluctantly, it indicates that you are probably compromising your conscience-you wish you weren’t there or didn’t have to do what you are doing. Either don’t get involved in something, or help the best way you possibly can to take care of the immediate problem; but don’t get involved reluctantly and don’t compromise your own convictions.
G) Jesus Christ did not go out looking for opportunities to heal (i.e. “to do good”) on the Sabbath, but simply dealt with each situation as it confronted Him. And then it generally was a brief episode that on His part usually only involved speaking a few words. For us this ox in the ditch situations will usually involve more than just speaking a few words; we are usually called upon to perform certain actions.
While we should do our best in these cases once we have decided to get involved, we should also keep in mind that this is an exception, an emergency, a one-off situation. We should not lose our overall focus that the Sabbath should, as a general thing, be governed by the previously mentioned principles-it is to be primarily a day on which we cease doing the things we do on the other days, a day on which we rest from our normal weekly activities. Emergencies are to be the exceptions in our Sabbath-keeping routines.
So-when you are faced with an emergency situation, you go ahead and make a decision, and then act on it whole-heartedly. Have confidence in the decision you have made. Never consent to engage in an activity about which you have some doubts in your own mind. Yes, you are likely to at times allow something that later, once you have gone through that particular ox in the ditch situation, you will in future avoid. That’s part of the learning process. It is through experience that we internalize the Sabbath commandment into our lives and into our characters. But never let the fear of failure prevent you from making a decision and then acting on it.
At other times we may later come to the point where we are “less strict” on ourselves: where we will allow activities that we would have rejected out of hand in previous years. A correct grasp of all the principles involved in “an ox in the ditch” simply takes time, and experiences on both sides of center will help us to come to a sound understanding. We will learn from having sometimes been “too strict” and at other times “too liberal.” It takes practical experiences to correctly apply these principles in future situations.
That should basically cover the ox in the ditch principle. So let’s move on to other principles that apply to the Sabbath.
Specific Activities That Are Identified in the Bible
The Bible refers to specific activities. We have already seen that on the Sabbath God does not want us to seek our own pleasures or our own ways or to speak our own words (Isaiah 58: 13-14). Let’s notice a few other things.
Buying and selling: In the time of Ezra and Nehemiah a colony of Jews had returned from the Babylonian captivity to the area of Jerusalem. They were surrounded by gentile people, many of whom were Babylonians who had been settled there by an Assyrian king, who did not observe the Sabbath. Nehemiah was the civil governor who had been appointed by the Persian authorities. So notice this comment in Nehemiah chapter 10:31:
And [if] the people of the land bring ware or any victuals on the Sabbath day to sell, [that] we would not buy it of them on the Sabbath, or on the holy day: and [that] we would leave the seventh year, and the exaction of every debt. (Nehemiah 10:31)
So we see that they clearly perceived that the Sabbath day is not the time for buying and selling.
A few chapters later we have another reference to the Sabbath days.
“In those days saw I in Judah [some] treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all [manner of] burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day: and I testified [against them] in the day wherein they sold victuals. There dwelt men of Tyre also therein, which brought fish, and all manner of ware, and sold on the Sabbath unto the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said unto them, what evil thing [is] this that ye do, and profane the Sabbath day? (Nehemiah 13:15-17)
The picture we see here is very much like our modern cities today: all the shops are open on a Saturday. The focus is that trade was going on as usual. Notice that Nehemiah referred to shopping on the Sabbath as an “evil thing,” something which “profaned” (the Hebrew means: to pollute or make common) the Sabbath day.
Since he was in charge, Nehemiah decided to simply close the gates of the city before the Sabbath started. Notice:
And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the Sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the Sabbath: and [some] of my servants set I at the gates, [that] there should no burden be brought in on the Sabbath day. (Nehemiah 13:19)
So Nehemiah enforced a ban on buying and selling on the Sabbath. He closed the gates of the city. By the way, this is not some kind of tacit approval that “guard duty” is okay to perform on the Sabbath. Nehemiah was faced with an “ox in the ditch,” and so he whole-heartedly enforced the ban on selling in Jerusalem. The emergency required that for three weeks or so, as a temporary measure, some of his men stood guard duty beside the closed city gates. That was the best way to ensure that the Sabbath would not be defiled by these gentile traders coming in to sell their goods. The motive for the “guard duty” was to ensure proper Sabbath-keeping.
So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice. Then I testified against them, and said unto them, why lodge ye about the wall? If ye do [so] again, I will lay hands on you. From that time forth came they no [more] on the Sabbath. (Nehemiah 13:20-21)
It is clear that to Nehemiah not allowing any shopping on the Sabbath was an important issue! But for us shopping is such an integral part of our modern societies, something we are virtually dependent on, that in many cases we find it hard to picture a situation where no shopping of any kind would be possible at all. And thus many of us can immediately think of a flood of “what about ...?” questions. What about eating out so that the wife has less work in the kitchen? What about buying petrol (gas) for the car on the way to church services? What about buying food supplies you have run out of? What about—etc.
One caution I would mention here is this: don’t necessarily rely on modern precedents to tell you what you may do and what you should not do in this regard. It is one thing to have a biblical precedent to base your decisions on. It is another thing altogether to say: “When Mr. X was my pastor in New York or in London or in Vancouver ten years ago I know that he frequently did this or that on the Sabbath; therefore I know that it is also okay for me to do this now”. Don’t follow an example of what type of shopping is acceptable on the Sabbath simply because you know that someone else is doing that or has done that.
It is a fallacy to want to find categories of shopping that are acceptable for the Sabbath. That approach is looking for carte blanche approval for our actions, as long as we stay within the confines of that “category” (e.g. eating out on the Sabbath). Every single situation that will potentially involve buying and selling on the Sabbath should really be evaluated on its own merits, its own circumstances. And yes, in our modern societies with our modern lifestyles of traveling long distances to services, etc. there will on occasion be situations where we decide to buy something on the Sabbath for a number of different reasons. And making wise decisions, discerning which decision would be most pleasing to God under each set of circumstances, is what will help to shape our character.
While there may be exceptions, as a general thing we should strive to avoid buying on the Sabbath as much as we are able to do so. Instead of viewing potential buying and selling situations as falling into specific categories, view each situation on its own merits, making an individual decision for each case as it arises. When David ate the shewbread on one single specific occasion that did not give him carte blanche approval to again eat the shewbread in the future. Eating the shewbread had simply been an emergency measure. That’s the way to view shopping on the Sabbath-as an emergency measure in other than “normal” circumstances. Under “normal” circumstances we should in our minds view shopping on the Sabbath as did God’s servant Nehemiah.
That then brings us to the next point.
Preparing for the Sabbath: When God had brought Israel out of Egypt, He led them through the wilderness down to Sinai. On the way down to Sinai God started to provide manna and quails for food for the people of Israel. In this way God also clearly identified the Sabbath to the people, by providing manna for six days and not on the Sabbath days.
And so in Exodus chapter 16 we find the very first instructions regarding the Sabbath (back in Genesis we have the example of what God did, but without any specific “you shall ...” instructions for mankind). Notice the account there.
When they came to the wilderness of Sin, the people complained about not having food (verse 3). God replied that He would send bread from heaven (verse 4). Then God instructed that on the sixth day they were to gather twice as much manna as on the other days, to provide enough food for the Sabbath (verse 5).
This was God’s initial instruction to the people to prepare for the Sabbath, as far as food was concerned.
So the people started to gather manna (verse 17). Then Moses instructed that they were not to keep any manna over to the next day (verse 19). Some people did not listen and the manna they kept over spoiled and “stank” (verse 20). This was a clear indication that this food supply needed to be replenished on a daily basis, something the people came to understand very quickly.
On the sixth day the people then gathered a double portion, as they had been instructed to do (verse 22). Moses then elaborated on the instruction to prepare the food for the Sabbath on the Friday. Notice verse 23:
And he said unto them, This [is that] which the LORD hath said, To morrow [is] the rest of the holy Sabbath unto the LORD: bake [that] which ye will bake [to day], and seethe (i.e. boil) that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over (i.e. of the manna) lay up for you to be kept until the morning. (Exodus 16:23)
This is the key instruction in the Bible regarding “preparing” for the Sabbath!
The rest of chapter 16 shows that there was no manna on the ground on the Sabbath, and that the people of Israel ate manna as their staple food for 40 years. However, they also ate quails at times, and at times they would have slaughtered some of their animals and eaten them.
The preparing Moses referred to is summarized by three words: bake, boil, store up. The “storing up” referred to procuring the food supplies (in their case gathering it from the ground every morning). The equivalent for us today is to go and buy the food we think we will need for the Sabbath. Thus we have the principle of “shopping in advance.”
The “baking” and “cooking” referred to preparing and processing the food available to be in the state in which they wanted to eat it (baked or cooked as opposed to raw). Keep in mind that the staple food God provided for them (manna) was perfectly good for eating “raw.” The options of baking or cooking it were merely available to provide some variety.
Further, keep in mind that for the Israelites in the wilderness, basically living in tents, to bake and to cook would have been a major operation, something that would have required several hours at the very least: starting with first having to find the wood to make the fire in order to cook or to bake. They would have cooked on open campfires, which is a very time-consuming procedure. Thus Moses’ instruction to cook and bake on the Friday the things they wanted to eat on the Sabbath saved several hours of potential efforts at preparing food on the Sabbath.
It was a matter of doing in advance the time-consuming things as far as the preparation of food was concerned; it was not a matter of worrying about every single minute that might be involved in putting the food on the table on the Sabbath. God, through Moses, was not focusing on every last possible physical activity in serving the food on the Sabbath: it was a matter of addressing the big issues: cook and bake those things that you can cook and bake in advance. Don’t worry about the little things that take a minute or two to prepare for eating-God is not counting minutes. When all the cooking and baking was done in advance, then for the Israelites the overwhelming portion of the preparation of food had been taken care of.
The application for us in this age is as follows:
1) Plan ahead for the Sabbath meals. Don’t be caught unprepared. Make sure you have all the ingredients you feel you are likely to want to use. Think ahead about those items where your supplies are likely to run out.
2) Then plan the meals in such a way that the major work actually can be done in advance. This requires some planning, rather than assuming that everything must be prepared at the last minute.
3) Then actually do most of the work on the Friday. Very many things can in fact be done in advance-vegetables can be washed and chopped, desserts can be made, fresh bread can be baked, etc. Fruits and many vegetables can be eaten raw. A roast can be cooked in advance and then sliced when it is cold, and eaten as cold roast beef on the Sabbath. A stew can be prepared on the Friday. Pizzas can be almost completely made in advance and stored un-baked in the fridge (certain fresh ingredients can be stored separately until it is time to bake the pizzas). There are many options.
4) Then, on the Sabbath, the activities that are required to “complete” the preparation of the food and then to serve that food will be minimal. And that is what God intended with the instructions He gave through Moses- that the actual time spent in preparing and serving food would be drastically reduced from what would normally be the case on the other days of the week. It is not that no time at all is spent with preparing food (e.g. slicing bread, cutting a pineapple, heating what has been prepared, etc.) and then serving it; it is that this time has been very greatly reduced!
While Moses said nothing to the Israelites about also “cleaning out their tents” in preparation for the Sabbath, the principle of preparing clearly goes beyond the matter of just preparing food. Back then their tents may not have required any special preparation for the Sabbath. With our modern way of life preparing for the Sabbath would also include things like cleaning our homes on a Friday, preparing our clothes for the Sabbath and filling up our cars to ensure we have sufficient fuel to drive to Church services. Any planning ahead that can help to eliminate, or at least to minimize, some of the needed mundane actions on our part on the Sabbath would be included in this principle of “preparing for the Sabbath.” That would leave us more time to engage in the actions God would like us to focus on for the Sabbath day.
Desirable activities for the Sabbath: Now let’s look at some of the activities we should now have more time for on the Sabbath, as a result of minimizing the more mundane things. That would include things like:
1) Time to attend Church services. The Sabbath is called “a holy convocation” in Leviticus 23:3. That means it is an assembly that has been called on the authority of God (thus: “holy”). Jesus Christ attended Sabbath services in the synagogues during His ministry, and later the Apostle Paul did the same thing. Paul also admonished us as follows:
Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some [is]; but exhorting [one another]: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. (Hebrews 10:25)
So the Sabbath is a time to attend services and to fellowship with other Christians. That is the day Jesus Christ said He is the “Lord” of (Mark 2:28). The purpose for attending services is to be taught and instructed from the Word of God. Physically attending somewhere is not an end in itself; it is to serve a purpose.
It follows that there is no benefit in attending services with a Church that you are convinced is teaching heresies, as is the case with the Worldwide Church of God at this point in time. Attending somewhere, where you know in advance the truth of the Bible is going to be twisted and distorted, defeats the purpose of the Sabbath.
2) More time to devote to personal prayer and Bible study. The Sabbath is God’s time, and we ought to spend some of that time seeking a closer contact with God. Many of us easily short-change prayer and Bible study in the course of the week. If that has been the case for us, then it is especially important to spend extra time in these activities on the Sabbath. Prayer and personal Bible study is our lifeline to God and we should strive to never neglect them.
3) For those of us who have small children, the Sabbath is also very appropriate to spend time teaching our children about God and about the Bible. Even though the Church has over the years developed various programs in this area, it is still primarily a parental responsibility to do this teaching. The Church may be able to provide us with some helpful materials, but we parents will have to do the actual teaching. And that requires time.
4) Having fulfilled our own responsibilities (see the above three points), the Sabbath is also an opportunity to fellowship with other Christians. That could be on the Friday evening over a meal or before or after Church services on the Saturday. This ties in with what we read in Malachi-that “they that feared the LORD spoke often one to another” (Malachi 3:16).
5) While we are focusing on what we should or might do on the Sabbath, we should not lose sight of the fact that it is also intended to be a time when we rest from all our other activities. It is to provide us with the opportunity to be refreshed.
6) That time for “resting” need not only consist of perhaps some extra sleep (many of us easily go a little short on the sleep we may need during the course of the week) or some relaxed sitting around in a family context; that can also include some very relaxing walks in gardens and parks and similar areas of natural beauty. There is a definite therapeutic benefit from being in a natural environment, away from the man-made environment so many of us live in from day to day. Recall that Jesus Christ was walking through the wheat fields when His disciples ate a few grains of wheat on the Sabbath. Exposure to God’s creation can be very restful. Even if technically the walking may burn up a few calories of energy, that is certainly not what God meant by refraining from “work” on the Sabbath.
The above points are not meant to be an exhaustive list of possible activities for the Sabbath, but merely an indication of some of the scope available to us, as well as certain priority considerations we should keep in mind.
Now let’s look at exactly when the Sabbath should be observed.
It is generally understood that the Sabbath goes from Friday sunset until Saturday sunset. A few years ago the Worldwide Church of God tried to confuse this point by claiming that the days go not from sunset to sunset, but rather from darkness to darkness. The ulterior motive behind that claim by the leadership of WCG was to justify changing the teaching about when the Passover lambs were killed originally in Egypt before the exodus. Shifting the start and the end of the day from sunset to darkness was the pivotal point around which the claim that the lambs were killed at the end of the 14th day was built, since the phrase “between the two evenings” very unambiguously refers to the time of dusk-between sunset and darkness. Without the claim that the day starts and ends at the point of darkness they found it impossible to support their claim of a Passover sacrifice at the end of the 14th day.
[Comment: The Pharisees introduced the custom of killing the Passover lambs in the late afternoon before sunset. To justify this, they claimed that the “first evening” refers to the time when the sun “begins to descend” and that the “second evening” refers to “the real sunset.” This custom is mentioned by Josephus in “The Jewish Wars” in vi, 9, #3. This explanation is obviously based on the ulterior motive of justifying their own custom. There is no biblical support for referring to any time prior to sunset as “evening.” This becomes clear when we look at the Hebrew word for “evening.”]
In Genesis chapter 1 we are told six times that “the evening and the morning ...” was the first day, was the second day, etc. In this regard Genesis 1:5 is quite clear. With the corresponding Hebrew nouns in parenthesis, this verse reads:
And God called the light (“owr”) Day (“yom”), and the darkness (“choshek”) he called Night (“layil”). And the evening (“ereb”) and the morning (“boqer”) were the first day (“yom”). (Genesis 1:5)
First of all, we can see that the word “yom” is used with two meanings: it refers to the daylight part of the 24-hour period, and it also refers to the whole 24-hour period (i.e. day and night together). Prior to sunset it is still “yom”. In English we use the word “day” with these same two meanings as well.
Next, in the first part of this verse God distinctly delineates between the daylight part and the darkness part of a 24-hour period. Each part has a distinct name. The next part of this verse then defines a day: it starts with “the evening” and it is then followed by “the morning.”
The Hebrew noun “ereb” (i.e. “evening”) is derived from the verb “arab,” which means, “to grow dark.” This root verb “arab” is used, for example, in Isaiah 24:11:
[There is] a crying for wine in the streets; all joy is darkened, (“arab”) the mirth of the land is gone. (Isaiah 24:11)
So the Hebrew noun “ereb” refers to the time “when it grows dark.” That is the time after sunset that we call “dusk.” In other words, “the evening” is the period of transition between “the light” and “the darkness.”
In the New Testament we see that the Jews understood that at sunset the Sabbath ends. In Luke chapter 4 we have an account of Christ teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum (verses 31-37), from where Christ then went to Simon Peter’s house (verse 38-39). Then verse 40 tells us:
Now when the sun was setting, all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto him; and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them. (Luke 4:40)
Notice carefully! This is a description of what the people there did. They felt it was not right to bring sick people for healing on the Sabbath. Therefore they waited until “the sun was setting,” and then they brought all their sick people to Jesus Christ. From this verse it is quite clear that the Jews there in Capernaum clearly understood that the Sabbath started and ended with sunset, or with “the evening.”
Back in the Old Testament we also have a clear statement in Leviticus chapter 23:
... from even (“ereb”) unto even (“ereb”) shall you celebrate (“shabath”) your Sabbath (“shabbath”) (Leviticus 23:32). (This is in the context of the instructions for the Day of Atonement, and we’ll look at the whole verse in a moment.)
Here we have a clear statement about the start and the end of a Sabbath. Notice:
Exactly when is “the evening”: at the start or at the end of the day? The answer is: at both! It depends on the context in which you use the word “evening.” It is the same as with the word “yom” (i.e. “day”): it is the context that tells you whether it refers to the daylight part only or whether it refers to a whole 24-hour period.
We have the same situation when we say that a day goes “from sunset to sunset.” The question then is: is sunset at the start of the day or at the end of the day? And the answer is also: at both! It is the context that will tell us whether sunset is used to refer to the start of one day, or whether it refers to the end of one day.
Most of the time we tend to focus on the fact that the day starts with “the evening.” And that is correct! But the expression “from even unto even” makes equally clear that the day also ends with “the evening.” This is something we sometimes overlook. Just think about the expression “from even unto even.”
This brings us to Leviticus 23:32, which people sometimes find a little confusing. Notice the whole verse:
It [shall be] unto you a Sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth [day] of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your Sabbath. (Leviticus 23:32)
Verses 26-32 of this chapter are devoted to a discussion of the Day of Atonement. Now obviously, Moses, under direct inspiration from God, was not recording a clear contradiction in these seven verses. In verse 27 God clearly spelled out when Atonement is to be.
Also on the tenth [day] of this seventh month [there shall be] a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD. (Leviticus 23:27)
Thus there is no question but that the Day of Atonement is on the 10th day of the 7th month. That is quite clear. So the question is: then why does verse 32 say, “in the ninth day, from even unto even”?
The answer is that this “even” is a reference to the end of the day!
This verse defines Atonement as going from the end of the ninth day until the end of the tenth day. If verse 32 had stated: in the tenth day, from even unto even, “then Atonement would effectively have been defined as going from the beginning of the 10th day until the beginning of the 11th day: taking the word “even” (“ereb”) as referring to the beginning of the day.
Now Atonement is different from the other days in that it involves fasting. And the fasting doesn’t really only start at the beginning of the 10th day; it really has to start some little while (at least!) before the end of the ninth day. We have to stop eating and drinking before the ninth day ends: that is what Leviticus 23:32 points out to us.
Verse 32 is simply a more precise way of stating the point of verse 27. The whole tenth day is defined as going from the end of the ninth day until the end of the tenth day.
The problem for some people arises because they attempt to limit the word “even” to referring only to the start of the day. But the expression “from even unto even” makes clear that it can refer to either the start or the end of the day, even as in English we could say that a day goes “from midnight to midnight,” and “midnight” can be counted as the start or the end of the day.
So the Sabbath is observed from sunset to sunset.
And that about covers the things I wanted to mention about Sabbath-keeping. God made the Sabbath holy, and we are instructed to keep it holy. Instead of giving us a long list of things we can do and another list of things we cannot do, God has given us principles, which He expects us to apply. Learning to discern those principles and then correctly and wisely applying them to every situation that may confront us on the Sabbath is one of the ways in which godly character is developed in our lives. Observing the Sabbath as God intended is in itself a learning process.
So let’s determine to continue keeping the Sabbath holy.
When is Sunset in your U.S. Zip Code? Click the sunset. (U.S. Naval Observatory Site)
For several years I have posted a selection of Frank’s many articles, (naturally, the ones I really liked) which were only available to those on his email list. Other sites posted some of his other articles. Now, since I believe early 2005, he has his own web site. I always post links.