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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, January 18 2024

Ten biblical purposes for the sabbath

Many people view the biblical Sabbath day as obsolete, but the Sabbath honors the past (remembering God as our Creator), the present (God as our Redeemer) and the future (anticipating God as our ruler in the Kingdom of God on earth).

God created the Sabbath day as a recurring period of time that ends every week. At the beginning of Genesis, when the Sabbath is established, we find three purposes explained: "And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day …. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Genesis 2:2-3).

1. “God blessed the seventh day” (Genesis 2:3).

The Sabbath is blessed by God, and is intended to be a blessing for humanity, making our lives better, both physically and spiritually; “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord…not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the Lord; and I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, and feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father…” (Isaiah 58:13). See also Isaiah 56:4-7.

2. “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it” (Genesis 2:3).

The second purpose for the Sabbath is its sanctification. This principle is enshrined in the Fourth Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work… For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:8-11). God alone is the source of holiness, (Revelation 15:4) and the only One who can make something holy. Likewise, only God and not man can nullify what He previously declared holy.

3. “And on the seventh day…He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Genesis 2:2-3).

The third purpose of the Sabbath found in Genesis is that it’s a day of rest. The Hebrew word shabath, meaning “rest,” is used here for the first time. In Exodus 31:17 God explains: “It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.” Similarly, God wants us to be refreshed and recuperate from our labors on the Sabbath: “Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female servant and the stranger may be refreshed” (Exodus 23:12).

Sabbath keeping is emphasized throughout the Bible and Jesus Christ kept God’s Sabbaths, as Luke 4:16 shows: “So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.”

4. “It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever” (Exodus 31:17).

A fourth purpose of the Sabbath is as a covenant sign between God and His people. It is the only one of the Ten Commandments singled out as a sign or a marker: “Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever” (Exodus 31:16-17).

The Hebrew word oth, here translated “sign,” means “a signal as a flag, beacon, monument” (Strong’s Greek and Hebrew Dictionary, No. H266). Just as a flag identifies a people, and a beacon draws attention and a monument points to a special place, person or occurrence, so God set the Sabbath as a sign to identify His people. It is a perpetual covenant or lifelong agreement and relationship between God and the person who keeps the Sabbath.

5. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy...For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them...” (Exodus 20:8-11).

The fifth purpose of the Sabbath is as a reminder of God as our Creator and Maker, who brought into existence all we see around us—including ourselves! Too many people take God’s creation and the things that sustain and delight us for granted. Psalm 92, a hymn dedicated to the Sabbath, proclaims:“O Lord, how great are Your works! Your thoughts are very deep. A senseless man does not know, nor does a fool understand this” (verses 5-6).

6. “And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5:15).

The sixth purpose of the Sabbath is about redemption, the paying of a ransom for a slave. This is a key biblical concept dealing with physical and spiritual salvation. God is not only our Creator, but also mankind’s Redeemer, making salvation possible through His Son’s sacrifice and releasing us from spiritual slavery.

God began His plan of salvation with one nation, Israel, but has now extended redemption to all peoples who respond to Him; “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29).

7. “Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation” (Leviticus 23:3).

The seventh purpose of the Sabbath is as an appointed time to gather together for worship.God calls the Sabbath one of His Feasts “which you shall proclaim at their appointed times” (Leviticus 23:4). The term “appointed times” in Hebrew means setting a date to meet, just as today we have an “appointment” with a doctor. It is important to note it is God who sets up the appointment and sends out the invitation.

8. “‘The feasts of the Lord, which you shall proclaim to be holy convocations, these are My feasts. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation” (Leviticus 23:2-3).

The eighth purpose of the Sabbath is to fellowship with others. The term “convocation” means a commanded assembly. So, when possible, we are to meet together on the Sabbath and not remain alone on that day. Hebrews 10:24-25 highlights the importance of fellowship: “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

9. “One Sabbath day as Jesus was teaching in a synagogue….” (Luke 13:10).

The ninth purpose for the Sabbath is to receive instruction from God’s Word. Jesus taught on the Sabbath day, and so did the Apostle Paul: “After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth… And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks… And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (Acts 18:1, 4, 11). Assuming Paul taught “every Sabbath” this would mean he taught more than eighty Sabbaths while at Corinth.

10. “So that there is still a Sabbath-keeping for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9).

A tenth purpose for the Sabbath is as a reminder of the glorious future rest and restoration of the earth. In the book of Hebrews, one of the arguments made for the Hebrew Christians to remain faithful in the Church was for them to remember the coming Kingdom of God, which the Sabbath portrays: “ So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience” (Hebrews 4:9-11).

As mentioned in the introduction, observing the Sabbath is a reminder of the past as we honor God for His Creation. It reminds us in the present of God as our great Redeemer, and it looks to the future as we anticipate the coming millennial reign of the Kingdom of God on earth—with Jesus Christ as King of Kings.