The Purpose of the Sabbath

Ted Noel

Why did God create the Sabbath? It had to serve some purpose. All of the other commands He gave served an apparent purpose. Certainly the Sabbath is no exception. Our first clue is in Genesis 2:1-3.

1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts.
2 And by the seventh day God completed His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.
3 Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

Clearly, God did not need to rest! He doesn’t get tired. Isaiah 40:28

28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth Does not become weary or tired.Since God does not need to rest, why should he? Perhaps he is giving us an example to follow.

This becomes more clear in Exodus 20:8-11.8

8 “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
9 “Six days you shall labor and do all your work,
10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you.
11 “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

God’s job is to be the Creator. It is his occupation. On the Sabbath he rested from his occupation. We have been given an example of the purpose of the Sabbath: rest. In verse 9, the word “labor” (Hebrew `abad ), means “to work for another, serve another by labor”. The word “work” (Hebrew m@la’kah ), means “occupation, work, business”. The Sabbath is a time to rest from the daily rigors of earning a living. It does not mean that we are to do no physical activity. Jesus clearly taught that many activities were perfectly legitimate on the Sabbath:

  • Doing good (healing) Mark 3:4, Luke 6:9
  • Tending to emergencies (a sheep or an ox in a well) Matthew 12:12, Luke 14:5
  • Sabbath services by clergy (Priests break the Sabbath and are blameless) Matthew 12:5
  • Necessities (watering livestock) Luke 13:15

The principle is that the Sabbath is a restorative rest. Works of restoration and redemption are perfectly proper on God’s holy day.

As Jesus says of the Sabbath, in Mark 2:27, (translated literally):

27 “The Sabbath was created on account of man, and not man on account of the Sabbath.”

God added to the importance to the Sabbath. Exodus 20:11 points out that the Sabbath is a memorial of Creation. Exodus 31:16-18

16 ‘So the sons of Israel shall observe the sabbath, to celebrate the sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.’
17 “It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed.”
18 And when He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.

Not only was it a memorial, is was a “perpetual covenant” and a “sign” between God and his people. In Revelation 11:19 we have a scene at the final judgment.

19 And the temple of God was opened in heaven, and there was seen in his temple the ark of his testament:

Hebrews 9:1-4 remind us of what is contained in the ark.

1 Then verily the first covenant had also ordinances of divine service, and a worldly sanctuary.
2 For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary.
3 And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all;
4 Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant;

Of interest is that the tablets on which God wrote the Ten Commandments are present in heaven. There is no indication that any part of them has been cut out, so we must understand that the fourth, Sabbath, is included in heaven. As I said in the beginning of this study, anything provided for us while we were sinless will be there for us when we are again sinless. This is definitely a “perpetual” covenant.

It should again be noted that the Ten Commandments were written by God’s own hand on the tables of stone. This first person authorship should not be discounted. If God gives a command, only God can revoke it. As one wag put it, they are the Ten Commandments, not the Ten Suggestions.

When God wrote the commandments with His own finger, no misunderstanding was possible. He wrote down EXACTLY what laws He wanted us to observe. Such an emphatic divine command requires that a similarly emphatic divine command be given for its negation. In political terms, only God can repeal a law which God created.

Verse 17 makes an interesting point about the Sabbath being a sign: “It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever”. Certain apologists will say that the sign is between God and Israel, not between God and His church. Yet at the same time they happily point out Galatians 3:29 regarding the covenant made between Abraham and God.

29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

It can’t be both ways. Either the covenant benefits AND obligations apply to spiritual Israel (the church), or neither applies. The Hebrew word `owlam translated “perpetual” clearly carries the meaning of literally forever. It will have no end.

The covenant meaning of the Sabbath is carried further in Ezekiel 20:12 and 20.

12 “And also I gave them My sabbaths to be a sign between Me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them.

20 ‘And sanctify My sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between Me and you, that you may know that I am the LORD your God.’

The Sabbath is not only a covenant, with obligations and benefits, it is a sign of the covenant, showing that God is Israel’s God, who sanctifies them. This is, of course, only possible since he is the Creator. One other significance is attached to the Sabbath. In Deuteronomy 5:15

15 ‘And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day.

It is a memorial of freedom from slavery. The Sabbath rest gives us freedom from the slavery to daily work. Lest I seem pedantic, let me step aside to remind us that the Sabbath was to be a blessing, not a curse. Isaiah 56:1-7 and 58:13-14

1 Thus says the LORD, “Preserve justice, and do righteousness, For My salvation is about to come And My righteousness to be revealed.
2 “How blessed is the man who does this, And the son of man who takes hold of it; Who keeps from profaning the sabbath, And keeps his hand from doing any evil.”
3 Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from His people.” Neither let the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
4 For thus says the LORD, “To the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths, And choose what pleases Me, And hold fast My covenant,
5 To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial, And a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off.
6 “Also the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, To minister to Him, and to love the name of the LORD, To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath, And holds fast My covenant;
7 Even those I will bring to My holy mountain, And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples. ”

13 “If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot From doing your own pleasure on My holy day, And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, And shall honor it, desisting from your own ways, From seeking your own pleasure, And speaking your own word,
14 Then you will take delight in the LORD, And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. “