The Sabbath Issue

Chapter 1: The Origin of the Sabbath

The legal observance of the Sabbath BEGINS with Moses. There is NO COMMAND to keep the Sabbath before Moses or any record of anyone keeping the Sabbath before Moses - that’s why it was such an effective sign of Israel’s special Covenant with God. 

Genesis 2:2-3 tells us it was an Ordinance based on Creation Week: “On the 7th day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the 7th day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the 7th day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”

However this only talks about what God did, not what man should do on the 7th day. God ceased from His work of Creation having completed it. There is no Ordinance or Command here of a rest-day for man. That only came in with Moses. The key word: ‘shabbat’ not used. If the Sabbath Rest was a command from the beginning it would have been for all peoples, but there is no record of it in any historical documents. Neither does it appear in the Noahic or Abrahamic Covenants. There is no record of its practice from Adam to Moses (e.g. in Job) by the Patriarchs, whereas such things as circumcision, sacrifices, tithing, and marriage are recorded. Surely something so important would get a mention somewhere! If it was for all peoples from the beginning, then God could not have used it as a special sign between Himself and Israel, which He did as we shall see. Finally, even if it were an Ordinance from Creation, that would not necessarily make it obligatory, as a law for all peoples (e.g: Marriage, instituted from Creation, is voluntary). 

Nehemiah 9:14 confirms Sabbath Observance began with Moses: 
You made known to them Your holy Sabbath and commanded them precepts, statutes and laws, by the hand of Moses.”

The first occurrence of the word ‘Shabbat’ (from ‘rest’, cessation) and the concept of man resting on the 7th day of the week is found in the story of the MANNA in Exodus 16:23-30. They were not to collect it on the 7th Day because it was a Sabbath (Day of Rest). 

God used the temporary provision of Manna to train Israel according to Deuteronomy 8:3: “So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with Manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD(Matthew 4:4).” He trained them to trust God daily for their provision of natural food, just as we should trust Him daily for our spiritual food, and feed on His Word daily just as they collected fresh Manna each morning. 

God also used the manna to train them in Sabbath Observance. In Exodus 16 (before the Law was given at Sinai) after being told to only collect enough Manna for each day and discovering that any that they kept for the next day would go off, on the 6th day they were told to gather twice as much bread, enough to see them through two days. Then Moses explained why: “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord” (Exodus 16:23a). The full description is used, because this was a new thing: ‘tomorrow is a rest of a holy Sabbath.’ No definite article is used implying it was unknown before. God was using the Manna to start training them in Sabbath Observance. 

Exodus 16:23b,24: “Bake what you will bake today (Friday), and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning (the Sabbath).” So they laid it up till morning, as Moses commanded and it did not stink, nor were there any worms in it (as had happened on the other days). Then Moses said, “Eat that today, for today is a Sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the 7th day, the Sabbath, there will be none.” 

God was teaching them that the Sabbath was special, marking it out as holy, preparing them for the full Sabbath Commandment, that He would give them a few weeks later in the Law at Mt. Sinai.

Exodus 16:27,28: “Now it happened that some of the people went out on the 7th day to gather, but they found none. And the LORD said to Moses, “How long do you refuse to keep My Commandments and My Laws?” 

The fact that so many disobeyed and tried to gather Manna on the Sabbath implies they were not accustomed to simply resting on that day. God was having to train them in a new lifestyle. 

Exodus 16:29,30: “See! For the LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the 6th day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the 7th day.” So the people rested on the 7th day.” 

They were told to rest at home on the Sabbath. The only prohibition at this point was not to gather manna on the Sabbath. This was a preparation for the total prohibition from all labour under the Law of Moses given soon after.

*Strict Sabbath Observance was an essential part of the Law of Moses and the Covenant God made with Israel at Mt. Sinai. Before Moses, there is no evidence or record that the Sabbath was observed by Israel or any other nation, and certainly no evidence it was legally binding. Strict Sabbath observance began with Moses. The Sabbath Law was given to Israel at the time of the Exodus. 

*The Mosaic (Old) Covenant (Exodus 20 - Deuteronomy 28:68) was a Covenant that was made specifically between GOD and the nation of ISRAEL, after the Exodus, with Moses representing Israel. Thus it did not even involve Gentiles or the Church.

Exodus 19:3-8: “Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the Mountain (Sinai), saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you (Israel) on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My Covenant, then you (Israel) shall be a special treasure to Me above all peoples; for all the earth is Mine. And you(Israel) shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy (special, set apart) nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” So Moses came and called for the elders of the people (of Israel), and laid before them all these words which the LORD commanded him. Then all the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do.” So Moses brought back the words of the people (of Israel) to the LORD.”


*THE LAW was given to ISRAEL, not to the Gentiles or the Church, and one of its purposes was to separate Israel as holy.

Israel was to be made a holy nation, special, separate, set apart and distinct from all the other nations.

Deuteronomy 4:7-8: “What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?”

Psalm 147:19,20“He has revealed His word to Jacob, His laws and decrees to Israel. He has done this for no other nation; they do not know his Laws. Praise the LORD.”

Malachi 4:4: "Remember the Law of My servant Moses, the decrees and laws that I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.” 

The Old Covenant: Within the Covenant Provision was the Law of Moses, which contained 613 Commandments, as well as the provision of Sacrificial System of Blood for the covering for sin (Leviticus 17:11). It also provided the basis for Israel’s Justice System, establishing it as a Theocracy. As such there were a number of crimes that incurred the death penalty (whereas before then, only murder carried the penalty of capital punishment). This Covenant was temporal in nature with animal sacrifices and worship ceremonies that were typological of the New Covenant in Christ. It was also conditional in nature, with blessings for obedience and cursings for disobedience.

*The Sabbath Command was also given great emphasis to Israel by being included within the 10 Commandments:

Exodus 20:8-11: "Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy (sacred and special - different from the other days). 6 days you shall labour and do all your work, but the 7th day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in 6 days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the 7th day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” 

The command is to ‘keep it holy’, special and distinct from other days, by a complete cessation from work. The penalty for profaning the Sabbath (to treat it as any other ordinary day) was death! The original emphasis was on RESTING at home, rather than on corporate worship, because God rested on the 7th day (Exodus 20:11). It was about staying at home and resting and receiving spiritual renewal through meditating on God as Creator, Provider and Deliverer (Exodus 16:29). This would include family worship. 

Corporate worship however was originally just at the Feasts. Synagogue worship on the Sabbath only came in from the time of the Babylonian Captivity, and Jesus honoured it as a local gathering together for worship on the Sabbath is quite consistent with the Sabbath Law, as long as it did not require too much travelling. However, REST is the essential idea of the Sabbath, rather than corporate worship, which is confirmed by the very meaning of the word ‘Shabbat’ (sabbath) which means to cease from work and rest.

Prohibitions on the Sabbath included: no labour (Exodus 20:8-11), no collecting manna (Exodus 16:23-30), no travel (Exodus 16:29), no kindling of fire (Exodus 35:3), no gathering wood (Numbers 15:32), no burden bearing (Jeremiah 17:21-27), no trading (Amos 8:5), and no marketing or trading (Nehemiah 10:31, 13:15,19). 

In Exodus 20:8-11, the Creation Week is made the basis for the Sabbath Command to Israel, for the Shabbat is linked to the 7th day of Creation when God rested from His work of Creation: “For in 6 days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the 7th day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (v10,11). Thus man’s keeping of the Sabbath signified him entering into God’s completed work, and therefore entering into God’s Rest by faith.

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