What does the Sabbath mean to you? Christ in the Sabbath will take you on a “Sabbath tour” of the Bible. You’ll explore the themes of Shabbat (Hebrew for Sabbath) and rest in both Old and New Testament and then discover what it has meant to Jews and Christians for centuries. Rabbinical comments and a variety of traditions provide clarity and credibility to the study of Sabbath. While this volume does not resolve all the differences among Christians concerning the place of the Sabbath today, the journey undertaken in this book will help you in forming your own conclusions—or inspire you to continue exploring the meaning and significance behind the Sabbath.
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Christ in the Sabbath
By Rich Robinson
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2014 Rich Robinson
All rights reserved.
What's in a Day?
Many of the Old Testament festivals are given several names in Scripture, Each name is meant to capture a particular aspect of that festival. The Sabbath, however, is known only by one name: Sabbath in English, and Shabbat in Hebrew (pronounced to rhyme with "a cot").
The name Shabbat derives from a Hebrew verb, shavat, which means "to cease." It is used seventy-three times in the Old Testament in verses such as these:
As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease [shavat]. (Genesis 8:22)
Then Pharaoh said, "Look, the people of the land are now numerous, and you are stopping [shavat] them (literally, making them cease) from working." (Exodus 5:5)
For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast. On the first day remove the yeast from your houses (literally, make the yeast in your houses cease [shavat]), for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel. (Exodus 12:15)
Shabbat is therefore a day of ceasing, a day when things stop. Though the word is not found until Exodus 16:23, the concept is found as early as Genesis 2:2–3:
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested (lit. ceased, shavat) from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested [shavat] from all the work of creating that he had done.
Shavat is commonly translated as "rested" in these verses, but a more accurate meaning would be that God ceased His work. After all, the God of the universe doesn't need to rest as do His creatures!
The word shabbat is commonly used by Jewish people, including those who do not speak Hebrew, to refer to the Sabbath day. You may also hear the word shabbat pronounced as shabbos (rhymes roughly with "mob us") by older Jews. This is the pronunciation in Yiddish, which in past generations was the language of most Jews of Eastern European origin.
A word related to shabbat is the Hebrew term shabbaton (rhyming approximately with "bob a tone").
Besides the weekly seventh-day Sabbath, the opening and closing days of certain Old Testament festivals are also times when things cease or stop. Shabbaton is used in the Bible specifically for those "stop days" during Rosh Hashanah (the Feast of Trumpets) and Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles).
How does shabbaton differ from shabbat? According to the biblical text, on shabbat no work at all may be done, but on a shabbaton only laborious work is prohibited. The specific difference between "any" work and "laborious" work was later delineated in Jewish law; the Scripture itself provides little detail on the differences.
Unlike shabbat, the word shabbaton has not retained its original meaning. Today, outside the land of Israel, shabbaton refers to a Sabbath weekend retreat, typically sponsored by a youth group or synagogue. In Israel, however, shabbaton refers to a sabbatical from one's regular work.
The two words are sometimes combined in Scripture to make the phrase shabbat shabbaton. When shabbaton is added to shahbat, it gives added emphasis—as TV cooking host Emeril used to say, "it brings it up a notch." So shabbat shabbaton could be paraphrased as "the Sabbath rest of all Sabbath rests," calling for the highest degree of "ceasing." This combination phrase is used when referring to Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement, on which no work may be done) and sometimes is also applied to the weekly Sabbath.
The Seventh Day
If the Sabbath is the day of ceasing, what exactly stops on that day? Many people would probably answer, "Work is what stops." While that is true, to leave things there is to miss the positive emphasis of the Sabbath day. In order to appreciate the beauty of the Sabbath, we have to go back to creation itself.
People commonly speak of the "seven days of creation." Yet as we read through Genesis 1, it becomes clear that God actually did His creative work in six days. The seventh day was different—not a day of creative activity but a day when the work of creating ceased.
In the account of creation (Genesis 1:1–2:3), the words create and make each occur seven times. In Genesis 2:2–3, the phrase seventh day is used three times, each time within a seven-word phrase. The repetition of these "sevens" underscores through literary artistry the wholeness and completeness of the creation.
When creation was completed, God did not merely stop working, as though He were a factory worker punching out at five o'clock. He did something far more positive, as Genesis 2:1–3 describes:
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested (lit. ceased, shavat) from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested [shavat] from all the work of creating that he had done.
In these verses we find three interrelated concepts: (1) the seventh day; (2) cessation from work; and (3) the sanctification of the seventh day ("made it holy"), meaning to set it apart. God not only ceased His creating on the seventh day, but He blessed the seventh day and made it holy. Having brought His creation to its intended goal, God set the day apart for Himself. Moreover, when God gives a blessing elsewhere in Scripture, He gives it to people or animals. Blessing the Sabbath day is a unique exception, emphasizing the special character of the day.
The descriptions of the first six days all end with, "And there was evening, and there was morning—the (first, second, etc.) day." The seventh day is the only one that does not conclude that way. It is not said of the seventh day that there was evening, and there was morning. Because of this, the seventh day appears to be an endless day that was never meant to come to a close.
So God sanctifies the seventh day (Genesis 2:3), and there follows the description of life in the Garden of Eden before the fall of Adam and Eve. The seventh day is therefore the context of life in the garden; it is the setting for humanity. It is not simply a negative "rest from work," since work was not laborious in Eden. For Adam and Eve before they sinned against God, the seventh day was life lived under God's blessing and in fellowship with Him and with each other.
In essence, "Sabbath" is the condition characterizing life in Eden.
Had Adam and Eve not sinned, their life and fellowship with God would still be ongoing—an eternal Sabbath day.
Life in the Garden
What characterized the fellowship between God and mankind in the Garden of Eden? To put it another way, what did an eternal "Sabbath life" look like for Adam and Eve? What did their experience tell us about God's intentions for humanity?
The very existence of Eden, as well as the fact that Adam and Eve found themselves living in such an environment, depended solely on God. God planted the garden, and He put the man there:
Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.... The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (Genesis 2:8, 15)
Just as newborn children have done nothing to deserve their entrance into the world, so Adam and Eve did nothing to deserve either their very existence or their surroundings. These things were bestowed out of God's love; they were divine gifts.
There is a well-known prayer in Jewish tradition called the Shehecheyanu. In English, the prayer is:
Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has kept us alive, and has sustained us, and has enabled us to reach this season.
This prayer thanks God for the gifts of life and sustenance. It is often recited when a Jewish holiday begins, when someone observes a Jewish ritual for the first time, or even for any first-time event such as the first snowfall of the year. Creation was full of "firsts"! In our imagination we can picture Adam and Eve reciting the Shehecheyanu prayer in gratitude for their lives and for the sustenance the Lord provided for them in Eden.
All of us need a purpose and goals toward which to strive. So it was in Eden, where the purpose of Adam and Eve was not simply to worship God by praising Him and singing songs. God gave them tasks to do:
God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground." (Genesis 1:28)
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (Genesis 2:15)
These tasks have sometimes been misunderstood. This was not free rein to selfishly dominate the environment. Rather, Adam and Eve were to bring both the garden and the world outside the garden under God's rule. Yet Eden was not the extent of the world. Genesis 2:8 tells us that the garden was planted "in the east, in Eden," implying that there was more to the world than Eden alone.
But in its character Eden was a place separate from the rest of the world, and Adam and Eve were the gardeners. Eden was the model for what the entire world could become, and humanity was meant to be the vehicle to accomplish that. This original task of stewarding the garden is sometimes called the "creation mandate."
Although we are not told in detail what this creation mandate entailed, the fact that God entrusted humanity with such a responsibility suggests we were made to lead active and purposeful lives. Since the fall, work has become laborious. But in and of itself, work is something good that has been part of human life since the beginning.
Life with God
Some years ago, a book called Life Is with People was published about Jewish life in the Eastern European shtetlach (villages). The book became something of a classic; its title was designed to convey the intense sense of community experienced by the inhabitants of those villages.
People were made to be with other people, as is made clear in the creation account. In a delightful story (Genesis 2:18–24), Adam pages through God's animal catalogue, inventing names for each creature. Yet by the end, he is still one of a kind. His need for companionship is met only when God creates Eve.
Important as other people are, underlying that is the need for a foundational relationship with God. And so we find that even though God is omnipresent, He dwells in Eden in a special way. The garden is the place where God walks with Adam "in the cool of the day" (Genesis 3:8). Life with God meant, among other things, that He was personally present with His people.
Out of the Garden
No sooner do we read the account of creation than we find Adam and Eve making choices that ripped them asunder from God—and affected us, their descendants, as well. Humanity is expelled from Eden, its entrance now perpetually guarded by cherubim and a fiery sword.
No longer will people experience life as a never-ending Sabbath. That, at least, is the disheartening ending of Genesis 3.
Yet God's judgment is tempered with mercy. In His grace, He immediately turns His attention to redeeming humanity, a subject that will occupy the rest of the Bible. Despite the absence of an eternal Sabbath, God will institute a weekly Sabbath that reminds His people of Eden and simultaneously shows them the way back to life with God. There is yet hope!CHAPTER 2
The Sabbath in the Old Testament
Israel's Learning Curve
According to Genesis 1, God ceased from His work of creation on the seventh day. Yet the word sabbath is not found until the story of the manna in Exodus 16.
That chapter comes in the story of how God redeemed Israel from four hundred years of Egyptian slavery. As He leads them through the desert to the promised land of Canaan, He miraculously provides food for the entire nation. This becomes an opportunity not just to provide for Israel's physical needs but for their spiritual formation. In Exodus 16, God instructs Israel in this way: "I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions." If anyone saved some manna for the next day, it spoiled and became full of maggots.
But it was different on the sixth and seventh days: On the sixth day, they gathered twice as much—two omers for each person—and the leaders of the community came and reported this to Moses. He said to them, "This is what the LORD commanded: 'Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath [shabbaton shabbat kodesh] to the Lord. So hake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.'" So they saved it until morning, as Moses commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it. "Eat it today," Moses said, "because today is a sabbath [shabbat] to the Lord. You will not find any of it on the ground today. Six days you are to gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath [shabbat], there will not be any."
Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. Then the Lord said to Moses, "How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions? Bear in mind that the Lord has given you the Sabbath [ha-shabbat]; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where they are on the seventh day; no one is to go out." So the people rested [shavat] on the seventh day.
This story is revealing of human nature: tell people to not do something, and they will usually do it! There is however a deeper aspect to this account than just a psychological one.
In a pedagogical move no doubt designed to teach what trusting God was all about, the Lord instructs the Israelites to gather the manna each day, but to not save any for the following day (verses 4, 19). Those who tried to second-guess God by leaving leftovers for the next day found their lack of trust rewarded with spoiled, inedible manna.
Then God changes gears with a different set of instructions—they are to gather twice as much on the sixth day (verse 5, carried out in verse 22). From our vantage point, we may say, "Aha! That is because the seventh day will be the Sabbath." But Israel at this point knows nothing about the Sabbath; God does not explain about the Sabbath until verse 23. Obeying God was a matter of trust, even in the absence of an explanation. And once again, those who second-guessed God's instructions and went looking for manna on the Sabbath found nothing to gather.
With these instructions, God has Israel on a learning curve: Will they trust Him or not (verses 4, 28)? There is an element of education, what today is often called spiritual formation, in this arrangement. After four hundred years of brutal Egyptian slavery, Israel now needs to learn to trust God, to obey not a taskmaster with whip in hand, but an invisible God who works miracles of grace—if only they will trust Him. We might reasonably ask why it was so hard for Israel to trust God when they had been used to obeying orders from Egyptian taskmasters for four hundred years. Part of the answer is certainly that obeying a taskmaster with a threatening whip in his hand had little to do with trust and everything to do with fear. In learning to build a relationship based on trust, Israel found itself in uncharted territory. The people would not learn trust overnight.
Not until verse 23 of Exodus 16 does God reveal the reason for the change of command on the sixth day: the seventh day is a Sabbath! There is freedom on this day within God's boundaries: "Bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil." As one commentator put it, on the seventh day "God gives them a double portion of bread, but he demands a different way of life."
Excerpted from Christ in the Sabbath by Rich Robinson. Copyright © 2014 Rich Robinson. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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Table of Contents
1 What's in a Day? 19
2 The Sabbath in tile Old Testament 29
3 More on the Sabbath Prior to Christ 55
4 Sabbath, in the Time of Jesus 77
5 Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath 87
6 The Sabbath in Acts and the Letters 111
7 The Sabbath in Hebrews: A Brief History of Rest 121
8 Sabbath in the Jewish Community 133
9 Sabbath and Sunday in Church History 155
10 The Sabbath and Contemporary Christians 183
11 Taking a Sabbath Today 195
Epilogue: Sabbath in the Future-Final Fulfillment 207
Appendix A An Erev Shabbat Service 215
Appendix B Tabernacle and Creation 225
Appendix C A Brief History of the Sabbatical Year 233
Appendix D List of the Thirty-Nine Prohibited Sabbath Labors 239
Appendix E A Song about the Benefits of a Sabbath Rest 243
For Further Reading 247