Both the Jews and early Christians regarded the Sabbath as a type or symbol of the world to come.
—William Trollpe, Analecta Theologica (1842)

The Origin of the Sabbath

Unlike the day, the month, and the year, the seven-day week has no basis in the apparent motion of the sun or moon. Its origin is divine. God ordained it at the beginning of the world. He worked for six days, creating, shaping, and massaging the Earth. Then, by example, He set the seventh day apart as a day of rest. Genesis says that God “blessed the seventh day and sanctified it”. God’s blessing here does more than speak polite words… it actually transforms reality. By God’s decree, the seventh day of the week became a blessing, and by example, God invited man, made in His image, to share that blessing. The seventh day was both a picture of God’s rest and a foretaste of it.

A Sign of Freedom

We have no explicit record of how God’s people observed the seventh day before the Exodus. Obviously, during Israel’s enslavement, the Hebrew people had no time off for rest or worship as they were slaves. But when God redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt, He firmly established the seventh day as a day of rest for His freed people. He called that day, perhaps for the first time, His Sabbath (Neh. 9:14). The word means cessation or rest. The Sabbath was initially tied to God’s provision of manna in the wilderness (Ex. 16). God gave Israel manna from heaven five days a week and a double portion on the sixth day. For five days the people were to gather just enough for that day’s needs, but on the sixth day, they were to gather enough for two days. There was to be no food gathering or any other kind of servile work on the Sabbath. His people were to rest and worship as free men and women.

The Fourth Commandment

When God delivered His law from Mt. Sinai, He enshrined the Sabbath and the seven-day week in the Fourth Commandment:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it (Exodus 20:8-11).

God made the Sabbath the seal of His covenant with Israel, and He defined and structured it with additional legislation (Ex. 31:12-17; 35:2-3). And, any high-handed violation of the Sabbath merited death according to the text. God added other “rests” both annual festivals and sabbath years—to further elaborate and reinforce the meaning of the weekly Sabbath (Lev. 23; 25).

The weekly Sabbath was both a feast to God as well as a solemn assembly (Lev. 23:2). It was a day for God’s people to rest from their labors, celebrate His goodness, and meet together to hear His word. The Law forbade any sort of commercial activity on the Sabbath, but works of mercy, healing, and salvation were always appropriate (Matt. 12:1-14). The Sabbath was supposed to be a blessing and delight to God’s people, not an insufferable burden.

The Sociology of the Sabbath

Religious rituals necessarily shape the assumptions, perspectives, and cultural habits of the people who observe them. God intended no less for Israel when He gave them His Sabbath. The Sabbath was structure, discipline, type, and object lesson all in one.

First, the Sabbath reminded God’s people that their lives were not their own. Their labors, productivity, and time all belonged to God. All of life is inevitably religious. The Sabbath was not a token 24 hours for God, but a confession that every hour, every moment, in a man’s life belongs to His Creator. What’s more, the Sabbath commemorated the original creation. It’d important to note that Israel’s celebration of the Sabbath was an explicit rejection of the evolutionary pantheism of the ancient world and a profession of faith in the sovereign God who made all things in six calendar days.

Second, the weekly Sabbath conditioned Israel to the concept of linear time. For the Egyptians, time was eternal and history was static. Eternity was incarnated in the reigning pharaoh and the Egyptian State and was celebrated in the yearly resurrection of Osiris. Babylon, Sumer, and Assyria had similar conceptions of time. So did Greece and Rome.

The eternal cycles of Nature, celebrated in the festivals of the nation’s respective dying-and-rising gods, always turned time back on itself and mired human culture in the stagnation of the eternal present. But for Israel, six days of labor marched toward rest, celebration, and fellowship with God. Certainly there were patterns and cycles within history—every week had its Sabbath—yet the promise of God’s patterns and cycles could move man forward ethically as well as culturally. A people who have met with God and heard His law expounded over a thousand Sabbaths probably should be bearing fruit in their culture.

Third, the Sabbath taught Israel to look forward (don’t miss the metaphor here!) to the week’s end. As a child looks forward to Christmas or a struggling student to the summer with no school, Israel looked forward to the Sabbath days and the sabbath years. Israel developed a psychology and an eschatology of hope through the sabbath. This seems rather simple to us, but the concepts was revolutionary in the ancient world.

Fourth, Sabbath-keeping disciplined Israel to a regular pattern of work and worship. God’s people learned, one week at a time, to work first and rest later. But in order to maintain and enjoy this pattern, they would have to plan and schedule their work load. For instance, they couldn’t gather firewood on the Sabbath; it had to be done in advance (Num. 15:32-36). They had to do a great many things during the six workdays—or put those things off into the next week—so that they could celebrate the Sabbath properly. Sabbath-keeping, then, was a primer in self-denial and delayed self-gratification.

Fifth, the Sabbath fostered community. There could be no synagogue hopping or shopping in ancient Israel. Each family assembled with its immediate neighbors to hear God’s law, to confess their common faith, and to offer up prayers for one another. This weekly fellowship promoted accountability within the community and across the boundaries of economic and social class. The Sabbath was a constant reminder that communion with God and men was to be structured by God’s covenant law.

Sixth, the Sabbath law established a holiday (holy day) for slaves, servants, and laborers bound by contract. They were to receive what Israel never received in Egypt… a day for rest and worship. God’s law of rest trumped all human demands for a seven-day workweek. The sociological and psychological implications of this dimension of the Sabbath law are profound. On the Sabbath all men met on equal footing before the heavenly throne of Yahweh. On the Sabbath day, all men were free.

Seventh, the Sabbath pictured the rest and peace of the world to come, the age of Messiah ( Mic. 4:1-7; Isa. 65:17-25 and 66:22-24). It foreshadowed the victory of God’s kingdom within history and beyond history. It spoke to God’s people of an eschatology of victory. David’s “Psalm for the Sabbath Day” expressed this positive note in these words:

When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed for ever: but thou, LORD, art most high for evermore. For, lo, thine enemies, O LORD, for, lo, thine enemies shall perish; all the workers of iniquity shall be scattered. But my horn shalt thou exalt like the horn of an unicorn: I shall be anointed with fresh oil (Ps. 92:7-10).

For David, the Sabbath was a celebration of God’s victories on Earth and within history.

The Lord’s Day

The advent of the Messiah transformed the way God’s people worship. In Christ, God’s covenant with His people died and rose again. The resurrection of Christ inaugurated a new creation, and many of the externals of covenant worship changed dramatically.

The risen Christ came to His disciples, not on the seventh-day Sabbath, but on the first day of the week (Luke 24). After His ascension, He poured out His Spirit on the first day of the week (Acts 2). The early Church assembled to “break bread” on that same day (Acts 20:7). The Book of Revelation shows us that Christ continues to manifest His glory to His churches on the Lord’s Day, what we call Sunday (Rev. 1). By His resurrection, Jesus changed the pattern of worship from 6-1 into 1-6. But the week remains, and so does a day set apart for worship and fellowship with God.

Through the ages, the Church has been divided on how far the Sabbath regulations of the Old Covenant ought to govern the observance of the Lord’s Day. Whatever the outcome of that debate, there is a Lord’s Day, and it carries with it the very promises of God. Unlike the Old Testament Sabbath, it testifies to advent of God’s kingdom, to a Messiah who has already come. Like the original Sabbath, it is designed to transform our mindset and lifestyle. But even more than that, it is designed to transform our society and our culture.

Conclusion

During the French Revolution, the revolutionary government, crazy-eyed over the decimal system, tried to replace the biblical week with a ten-day week. Each “week” ended with a secular holiday. Napoleon, after taking power, swept the innovations away and restored the traditional calendar. Beginning in 1929, Soviet officials experimented with both a five-day and a six-day week. The experiment failed. Both the French and Soviet revisions of the calendar were thoroughly religious rejections of the Christian concept of time and rest in favor of secular humanism’s version of the same.

Time keeping is always a religious activity. Our rationale for marking time and our methods of keeping time grow out of our religious presuppositions and ultimate commitments. The seven-day week points back to the six-day creation. The Lord’s Day testifies to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Where keeping track of time, as well as “resting,” is concerned, religious neutrality is never an option. It can never be. Our hopes, our rests and our calendars will always be shaped by someone’s religion. The only question is… whose?

For Further Reading:

Francis Nigel Lee, The Covenantal Sabbath: The Weekly Sabbath Scripturally and Historically Considered (Lord’s Day Observance Society, 1969)

Gary North, The Sinai Strategy, Economics and the Ten Commandments (Tyler, TX: The Institute for Christian Economics, 1986).

9 Comments

  • Avatar
    sabbathstillcounts Posted June 5, 2011 8:58 pm

    Your article was fairly good until you got to the point that it had been changed to Sunday. You obviously have to study the subject more and stop listening to the Pharisses and Sadducees of our time. Hebrews chapter 4 clearly says “For if Jesus had given them rest would he not have spoken of another day, therefore there remains a rest (Sabbath) to the people of God”. Also read the rest of the bible why you are at it and learn that the Sabbath still remains in effect. Remember he set that day aside and made it holy so that you will know that he is the one and only God. Well if you’re celebrating a different day than you are celebrating a different God. Think about it, it’s quite clear. Read Isiah chapter 66 where God talks about keeping his Sabbath obviously in the future. Well if we kept it in the past and keep it in the future then what makes you think we shouldn’t keep it now. Read the history of the church if you can’t handle the bible. It was the church (Catholic) and the Emporer Constatine that changed the Sabbath in the year 321 AD to get more of the Sun worshipping people in their church and to try to seperate themselves from the Jews. It’s a simple concept but you better get it right after all James said that if you break one commandment then you’re breaking them all. Everyone please stop listening to the brainwashed pulpits and start reading the scriptures for yourself, YOUR salvation does depend on it.

  • Avatar
    grizzer Posted June 6, 2011 12:08 am

    I appreciate the passion behind both versions, but in my opinion, as a mater of shear logic, it is impossible to know if our Saturday or Sunday even falls on the actual “Sabbath” of the history of the the rest day of God so long ago. Since calendards, records etc. have been changed or lost since the day God rested from his creative work, for all we know the actual “Sabbath” falls on our Wednesday. I’m not sure it could even be stated for a certainty that our current Sunday falls on the day of Jesus’s resurection. You see, in my opinion, it’s not the actual day (since there is no way of knowing what day it should actually be) but the principle of the Sabbath that is important. A day of rest to be kept holy. A day for believers to gather and worship. Jesus alway approached the law as a matter of principle. He said “you have heard it said you shall not commit adultery, but I say if you lust after a women you have already commited adultery with her in your heart.” It’s not the letter, it’s the principle, it’s what is in your heart that God is concerned with.

    Now sabbathstillcounts, I hope that what I hear you saying in your last two sentences (“It’s a simple concept but you better get it right after all James said that if you break one commandment then you’re breaking them all. Everyone please stop listening to the brainwashed pulpits and start reading the scriptures for yourself, YOUR salvation does depend on it.”) doesn’t mean that you are saying that you must keep all the commandments to be saved. If that were so, then none would be saved. Remember, “there is none rightous, no not one” and “we are saved by grace, and that not of ourselves, it is a gift of God lest anyone should boast”. Only by faith in Christ, his sacrifice, his rightousness and his grace are we saved.

    May the Love of Christ be with you all,

    Grizzer

    • Avatar
      kkoglin Posted June 6, 2011 7:34 am

      Well said!

  • Avatar
    questioner Posted June 9, 2011 12:43 pm

    By what or whose authority was the change made from the seventh day to the first day? Jesus didn’t say to change it, as quoted in Hebrews 4 above.

    We know very clearly from history how the Sabbath was changed but what is the rationale for changing it? People have invented many conflicting and different reasons for why it was changed but only one reason fits with history. The big question is “on what basis do we mere humans alter the commandments of God without His consent?”, because that is exactly what happened.

    So it’s impossible to know which day is the seventh? The Jews know and have always known. Remember the Sabbath is the day before Easter Sunday.

    So it’s not the actual day but the principle? Which day, seventh or first, is closer to the original principle? We know that Jesus actually finished His work of salvation on the 6th day and rested in the grave on the Sabbath. The Sabbath was instituted as a memorial for the work God had completed, not the work He had begun. Jesus used the same principle.

    “There is none righteous, no not one” is the problem not the solution. You are not saved by keeping them but we have two options with all ten commandments–you can either break them or you can keep them. Which would God rather you do? Jesus said “If you love Me, keep my commandments”. We are saved by grace through faith. If it’s possible to keep Sunday, it’s possible to keep Sabbath. Remember Abraham? He believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness. Faith is believing God. God said “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy…”. Revelation 14 says “Here are they that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus”. In the end times, the saints have no problem keeping God’s commandments.

    Blessings to all,
    Questioner

  • Avatar
    Doc Posted June 12, 2011 9:14 pm

    I have kept the seventh day sabbath my entire life. I was raised as a Seventh Day Adventist and what you say is true. Actually the Romans changed the day not to be associated with the Jewish people. This can be easily verified by a little study. Might I suggest looking at the website ellenwhite.com. Check out the online books. The first to read is the Great Controversy and also the Desire of Ages. They are both spectacular.
    God Bless,

    Doc

  • Avatar
    Shepherd Posted June 23, 2011 3:32 pm

    Shalom brothers and sisters!
    In the number of days from beginning to end, who is to say that what is called Saturday or called Sunday by modern man would really be the seventh day from Genesis 1:1. Certainly, Adam didn’t name or order days that way at all … the Word says, He rested on the seventh day. So start from scratch or not, but one out of seven must be kept in His honor!
    So, if you are interested in making good on the Sabbath thus preserving the seventh each week, but cannot decide which particular day would really had been the seventh from the beginning! Perhaps you can at least shut down all the electric power at your home at least one seventh of every week which would be about 3.43 hours each and every day. Then you’ll have minutes credited your seventh day of rest account every week. No internet & no TV you know … keep it Holy!
    There is no God, but God!
    Shalom!!

  • Avatar
    Blessed day Posted June 23, 2011 5:21 pm

    God made the Sabbath day at creation, Jesus kept it, and it is still kept by a minority of people. No word was given in the Bible to change it. Man “thought to change it”. According to the Bible, it will be kept in Heaven. We are not saved by keeping it, as Jesus saved us by His death. But, it is a commandment (law) for all time and all people. His law will not change “one jot or tittle” (in the Bible). Once we know the truth, it is our responsibility to follow it and obey God. God bless you all. According to Bible prophecy, we shall hear more about the Sabbath and its keepers as time goes on–there will be laws and it will be quite interesting, to say the least! Have faith.

  • Avatar
    danvii Posted June 27, 2011 12:50 pm

    There are several major misconceptions and misinterpretations of biblical truths that mainstream Christianity has embraced and Sabbathkeeping is one of them. (The other main ones are the true state of the dead and the doctrine of eternal “hell” punishment). It is most interesting that the only one of the ten commandments that begins with the word “Remember” most have forgotten and as Blessed Day states only a minority of people (and Christians) keep it. I am also a Seventh Day Adventest being converted after learning the truth about this very important bible teaching and would urge anyone and everyone who is a sincere seeker of truth to prayerfully and carefully study out these teachings while praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead you. You will be blessed. The 7th day Sabbath has a MAJOR part in end-time events just before the return of Christ. Yes, we are saved by grace and cannot gain salvation by our own works but our works and obedience to the commandments of God are a result of our saving relationship with Jesus and His grace, not a legalistic path to eternity.

  • Avatar
    Priscilla Posted October 8, 2016 4:41 pm

    God has control of everything. He would not set a day that he himself rested and set apart. That he wrote into the 10 commandments with his own finger in stone not paper and detailed. And then some how would get lost in time or changed. Christ said he is Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8). That he did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). He warned us to pray that our flight would not be in winter or the Sabbath (Matthew 24:20). In Revelation it says the saints keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus (Revelation 14:12) and those who keep God’s commandments will have the right to the tree of life (Revelation 22:14). The only commandment which starts with the word remember is the one about the Sabbath. And there is not one verse in the bible that says the Sabbath was changed from Saturday to Sunday. It’s not what we think or feel, it’s what the bible says. God, Jesus, the disciples, and all of God’s people kept the Sabbath. From Friday at sunset unto Saturday at sunset. The Sabbath identifies the God who created the earth, the heavens, the waters, and everything. Which is also part of the 3 angels message in Revelation 14:7 Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.
    Exodus 20: 8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
    9 Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
    10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates:
    11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

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