As we learned in Part 1 of our series on the Sabbath, the Sabbath was established by God personally in the first few books of the Bible (Genesis 2:1-3, Exodus 20:11). It is in passages like these that drive home to the reader the immense yet beautiful importance of the Sabbath to God who gave it. Yet God did not stop at "ye shall keep My Sabbaths" or "ye shall do no work thereon." It is my belief that the God of the Bible is infinite: omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. As such, God cares with an infinite amount of care about you and me, how we live, how we treat one another, how we treat ourselves, how we eat, how we dress, how we pray, how we work and conduct business, etc. God is infinitely caring. He really cares a lot. As such, could God have punished people for breaking rules they didn't know existed? This is why God not only gave the Sabbath but also gave us guidelines to determine whether we are keeping the Sabbath or not, whether we are within the realm of its blessings or not, whether we are keeping it holy or not.
These guidelines are by no means designed to imprison man in an endless list of rules and regulations. God takes no pleasure in frivolity, vanity, or meaninglessness. Rather, everything He gave us is there for a reason - and a good reason at that! Every word of God originally comes from the mind of God, so when things don't make sense to us humans, we have to remember that we are dealing with the mind of God here! It's not something humans are meant to grasp without challenge, otherwise we ourselves would be God. So even sometimes when we don't understand God's reasons, we need to trust that He is acting only for our good. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28, NIV).
God knew these challenges, doubts, and confusions would exist, so He makes a point to remind us that "my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9, NIV). In fact, in terms of the different types of commandments (mishpatim/ judgments, eidot/ memorials, and chukim/suprarational), the chukim are the ones that have no logical basis for doing them. They must be accepted by faith alone because while they do not violate logic, they do transcend logic because we cannot logically deduce them from nature. So with this in mind, let's begin by seeing what God says in the Bible about the Sabbath.
There are some biblical basics that are fundamental to cover in order to understand the basics of Sabbath observance. Some of the passages in the Bible list general commandments such where at other times very specific commandments are issued. Since the Sabbath is mentioned over 100 times in the Bible, I will list each verse by their category rather than citing them verbatim. This way, the article will not be tediously long but the reader will stay have the ability to look up each verse if so desired at their convenience. (One thing I would like to note before we review the commandments, there are many times when the holidays are called Sabbaths and the Land of Israel itself was supposed to observe Sabbath years and Jubilee years. I have not included these in the list below).
An article about commandments would be incomplete without briefly addressing the punishments associated with violations. While it is certainly not the most pleasant of topics, it is nonetheless important to provide seekers of the truth a full and fair survey of the information.
Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. 15 For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death (Exodus 31:14-15).
For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a day of sabbath rest to the Lord. Whoever does any work on it is to be put to death (Exodus 35:2).
This above scenario involves a man collecting sticks on the Sabbath. He is promptly arrested and brought to jail. The question then arises - did this man violate the Sabbath? We feel that he did, but we can't quite put our finger on which commandment he violated so we're not sure if the court can put him to death, because if we put to death a man without actually having violated something, that would be unjust! Moses, Aaron, and the assembly of the elders (Exodus 24:9) have difficulty determining if the man transgressed or not, so they consult God directly. How does God rule, as a judge, in this case? God tells Moses that the man did indeed sin. However, by what standard did God determine this? Which commandment did God say the man violated? Among the Sabbath references I listed above, there is no explicit command to abstain from gathering sticks. So again, how did the man transgress? What God is teaching here is that there are commandments not explicitly listed as "Sabbath prohibitions" that are nonetheless Sabbath prohibitions. These are referred to as the thirty-nine works, or melachot in Hebrew. These thirty-nine melachot are Sabbath prohibitions found within the Bible but they are not explicitly listed as "Sabbath prohibitions" as clearly as the other commandments are. Because of this, I have designated a special section in this article to discuss just these.
Marking Material Curtains
The Tabernacle's Final Touches