Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sabbath (The Real Meaning of Sabbath and Sunday, Part-1)

SABBATH (Heb. shabbat, "repose," i.e., "cessation" from exertion; Grk. sabbaton). The name Sabbath is applied to various great festivals but principally and usually to the seventh day of the week, the strict observance of which is enforced not merely in the general Mosaic code but also in the Ten Commandments.

The account of the creation states that God "rested on the seventh day" (Gen.2:2). The assertion that the Sabbath rest was a Babylonian as well as a Hebrew institution and the inference that the Hebrews may have borrowed the idea from the Babylonians requires some ingenuity to demonstrate. By way of answer the following should be noted:

(1). The Babylonians paid special attention to the nineteenth day as well as those that were multiples of seven; they called only the fifteenth day shabatum.
(2). The Babylonian tablets call the seventh day "an evil day" or "an unlucky day," whereas Scripture describes it as "a holy day."
(3). The Babylonians placed prohibitions only on the "king," "seer," and "the physician," whereas the OT makes the Sabbath binding on all.
(4). There was no cessation of business activity on Babylonian special days.
(5). Though Babylonians had special regard for days that were multiples of seven, those days rarely ever fell on the seventh day of the week in their lunar calendar and thus were not equivalent to the Hebrew Sabbath.

The Jewish Sabbath was distinctive and was treated at length in the Bible. The Sabbath was of divine institution and is so declared in passages where ceasing to create is called "resting" (Gen 2:3; Ex 20:11; 31:17). The blessing and sanctifying of the seventh day have regard, no doubt, to the Sabbath, which Israel, as the people of God, was afterward to keep; but we are not to suppose that the theocratic (Jewish) Sabbath was thus early instituted. The Sabbath was instituted by Moses. It is in Ex 16:23-29 that we find the first indisputable institution of the day, as one given to and to be kept by the children of Israel. Shortly afterward it was reenacted in the fourth commandment. Many of the rabbis date its first institution from the incident recorded in Ex 15:25.
This, however, seems to lack foundation. We are not on sure ground until we come to the unmistakable institution in chap. 16, in connection with the gathering of manna. The opinion of Grotius is probably correct, that the day was already known, and in some measure observed as holy, but that the rule of abstinence from work was first given then, and shortly afterward more explicitly imposed in the fourth commandment.

The Sabbath was a means of binding together more closely the chosen people and keeping them apart from the rest of mankind. Two reasons are given for its observance in Israel-God's resting on the seventh day of creation (Ex 20:8-11; 31:16-17) and Israel's having been a "slave in the land of Egypt" and having been brought "out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm" (Deut 5:15). "These are not the subjects of Sabbath celebration; indeed, the Sabbath has no one event as the subject of its observance, but is only the day which Israel is called to sanctify to the Lord its God, because God blessed and hallowed the day at the creation by resting on it. The completion of creation, the rest of God, is His blessedness in the contemplation of the finished work, the satisfaction of God in His work, which overflows in blessing upon His creatures.

This blessedness was lost to the world through the Fall, but not forever, for, through redemption, divine mercy will restore it. The rest of God is the goal which the whole creation is destined to reach. To guide to this goal, the Sabbath was enjoined by way of compensation for the losses which accrue to man under the curse of sin, from that heavy, oppressive labor which draws him from God. Thus the Sabbath was hallowed, i.e., separated from other days of the week to be a holy day for man, by putting the blessing of his rest on the rest of this day. The return of this blessed and hallowed day is to be to him a perpetual reminder and enjoyment of the divine rest. This significance of the Sabbath explains why its keeping through all future generations of Israel is called a perpetual covenant and a sign between Jehovah and the children of Israel forever (Ex 31:17)" (Keil, Arch., 2:2 ff.).

According to Mosaic law the Sabbath was observed:
(1). By cessation from labor (Ex 20:10). The idea of work is not more precisely defined in the law, except that the kindling of fire for cooking is expressly forbidden (35:3), and the gathering of wood is treated as a transgression (Num 15:32-36); wherefore it is evident that work, in its widest sense, was to cease. "Accordingly, it was quite in keeping with the law when not only labor, such as burden-bearing (Jer 17:21-27), but traveling, as forbidden by Ex 16:29, and trading (Amos 8:5) were to cease on the Sabbath, and when Nehemiah, to prevent marketing on this day, ordered the closing of the gates" (Neh 10:31; 13:15,19).

(2). By a holy assembly, the doubling of the daily offering by two lambs of the first year, with the corresponding meat and drink offerings (Num 28:9-10) and the providing of new bread of the Presence in the Holy Place (Lev 24:8). Thus the Sabbath was to Israel a "day of . . . gladness" (Num 10:10; cf. Hos 2:11), "a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable" (Isa 58:13).

From such passages it will appear that the essence of Sabbath observance is placed in the most unconditional and all-embracing self-denial, the renunciation of the whole natural being and natural desires, the most unconditional dedication to God (see Isa 56:2; Ezek 20:12,21). The object of this cessation from labor and coming together in holy convocation was to give man an opportunity to engage in such mental and spiritual exercises as would tend to the quickening of soul and spirit and the strengthening of spiritual life. In this higher sense it is evident that our Lord meant that "the Sabbath was made for man" (Mark 2:27).

According to Ezekiel (Ezek.20:12,20) the Sabbath was to be a sign between Jehovah and Israel, "that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them." That is, "that Jehovah was sanctifying them-viz., by the Sabbath rest-as a refreshing and elevation of the mind, in which Israel was to have a foretaste of that blessed resting from all works to which the people of God was ultimately to attain" (Keil, Com., ad loc.).

The penalty of defiling the Sabbath was death (Ex.31:15; cf. Num.15:32-36). But if the law of the Sabbath was broken through ignorance or mistake, pardon was extended after the presentation of a sin offering. At times the Jews dispensed with the extreme severity of the law (Isai.56:2; Ezek.20:16; 22:8; Lam.2:6; Neh.13:16); indeed, the legal observance of the Sabbath seems never to have been rigorously enforced until after the Exile. See Lord's Day; Sunday; Synagogue.

The Sabbath commemorates God's creation rest. It marks a finished creation. After Sinai it was a day of legal obligation. The Sabbath is mentioned often in the book of Acts in connection with the Jews. In the rest of the NT it occurs but twice (Col.2:16; Heb.4:4). In these passages the Sabbath is set forth not as a day to be observed but as typical of the present rest into which the believer entered when he "also rested [ceased] from his works" (v.10) and trusted Christ.

Contrast to the First Day of the Week. As the Sabbath commemorates God's creation rest, the first day speaks of Christ's resurrection. The seventh day marks God's creative rest. On the first day Christ was unceasingly active. The seventh day commemorates a finished creation, the first day a finished redemption. In the present dispensation of grace Sunday perpetuates the truth that one-seventh of one's time belongs to God. In every other particular there is contrast.

FOR FURTHER REFERENCE:- J. Orr, The Sabbath Scripturally and Practically Considered (1886); C. L. Feinberg, The Sabbath and the Lord's Day (1952); R. T. Beckwith and W. Stott, This Is the Day (1978); N. Turner, Christian Words (1980), pp. 388-89. (from The New Unger's Bible Dictionary. Originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright (c) 1988.)



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