Shabbat Day of Rest

Any discussion of the Biblical feasts, or holidays should start with Shabbat.  It is not only the first mentioned in the chronology of Leviticus 23, but it also comes first in importance.  It so important that God saw fit to include it in the Ten commandments, and set it apart as one of His “appointments” not just once a year, as with the other feasts, but once every week.  Looking at scriptures that mention Shabbat will point out the keys to observance of this important appointment with the Lord.

Leviticus 23:1-3:
The LORD said to Moses,  [2] “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘These are my appointed  feasts, the appointed feasts of the LORD, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies.    [3] ” ‘There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly.  You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the LORD.

Exodus 20:8-11:
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  [9] Six days you shall labor and do all your work,  [10] but the seventh 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.  [11] For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

“Shabbat” means rest.  This is the central element of this feast, and is one of the actions we must take in order to properly observe it.  In His infinite wisdom, God told us to take time out to recharge ourselves, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Jewish tradition says that as God presented the commandments, He told Moses:  “I have a precious gift stored away in my treasures for you, and its name is Shabbat.  I desire to give this gift to Israel.  Go and inform them of it.” (Talmud:  Shab. 10b)  We are so busy with our schedules crammed full that it is hard to accept this gift by fitting in a time of rest.  God understands this…that left to our own devices we would keep going and going until we burned out and were of no use to anyone.  God, who made us from the dust of the earth, knows that rest is necessary for us to function at our most creative, enthusiastic, healthy, and spiritually sound, peak.  In the flesh there is always “one more thing to do”, but when we give in to that pitfall of “busyness” we fall for one of Satan’s traps (b.u.s.y. = being under Satan’s yoke).  Our forefathers recognized this when they said:  “More than the Jews have preserved Shabbat, Shabbat has preserved the Jews.”  This is one of God’s blessings to His people that has allowed them to rise to the top in countless fields of endeavor, in spite of persecution.  Obeying the Sabbath laws has also kept the Jewish people as a readily identifiable entity for God’s use.  Yeshua recognized the gift of Shabbat when He said:

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.  (Mark 2:27)

He summarized the commandments with:

Matthew 22:37-40:
Yeshua replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  [38] This is the first and greatest commandment.  [39] And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  [40] All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The first three of the Ten Commandments deal with our vertical relationship with God.  Obeying them shows that we love Him with our whole being.   The Last six deal with our horizontal relationship with our fellow man.  The fourth, the Sabbath commandment, is the hinge which binds our love for God and man together.  When we separate our common, or work days from the holy day, we express our love and gratefulness to the Lord.  We love our Heavenly Father and want to please Him by our obedience.  Honoring Shabbat acknowledges Him as the  creator of the universe.

Genesis 2:3:
And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that He had done.

The fourth commandment also allows us to express our love for others since we are to let our sons, daughter, servants, and strangers join in our rest.  We can demonstrate weekly that we love them as we do ourselves.   So the Sabbath rest is for everyone.  When Yeshua declared that it was made for man, He used a word that translates into a generic term for humanity, both Jew and Gentile alike.  This idea is made clear in Isaiah.

Isaiah 56:2-7
[6] And
foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant– [7] these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.  Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

Another key element in Shabbat observance  taken from commandment number four states:  “remember…”  implying that of all the Ten Commandments this is the one that is most likely to be ignored and forgotten.  Its inclusion on God’s “top ten” list, and the unique preface preclude any right to ignore Shabbat if we are to say the other nine commandments are still valid.  God recognizes that it would be easy for man to ignore this commandment, especially in today’s culture, since it is the only one with no threat of civil punishment or loss of reputation.  In this sense observing Shabbat can serve as a true test of obedience, motivated only by a desire to please God in all things.

In the B’rit HaDasha (New Covenant) the Ten Commandments are transformed into ten promises we are to believe and embrace when the Ruach HaKodesh speaks to our hearts.  This can be understood when we look at the Hebrew.  Words for a command such as “lo tinaf”, “don’t commit adultery”, can be interpreted as a future tense promise of “you won’t commit adultery”.  In the same way, when God’s  law is written on our hearts, we won’t want to disobey them since our new nature will want to please our Heavenly Father.

This doesn’t give us liberty to do away with God’s express statute…as believers in the Messiah we have the same need to honor the clear distinction between the common week days and the Sabbath day set aside for God.  It’s just that now this commandment is written on our hearts instead of tablets of stone.  Shabbat observance is not legalism; we are not attempting to earn our salvation by this, but rather to show that because we are redeemed, we now have a desire to please God by honoring what He has established.

Another purpose of Shabbat is that it is to serve as a sign:

Exodus 31:12-17:
Then the LORD said to Moses,  [13] “Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths.  This  will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the  LORD, who makes you holy.”

[14] ” ‘Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to  death; whoever does any work on that day must be cut off from his people.  [15] For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any   work on the Sabbath day must be put to death.  [16] The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath,  celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant.  [17] It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the  seventh day he abstained from work and rested.’ “

The Hebrew word for “sign” indicates a pledge or a token of what is promised.  God gave us certain promises, and Shabbat is a visible token of His commitment to keep His promises.  This is a picture of ancient agreements between a king and a lesser nation.  The king would have his own sign engraved in the middle of the agreement as a guarantee the he would keep his part of the covenant.  God had already made agreements with Abraham and his descendants years before.  Now, in Exodus, in the midst of a legal document, God reminds His people that He intends to remain their God and has called them to be set apart from the nations.  It is His doing and for His purposes.  Leviticus 26 mentions keeping Shabbat in connection with blessings to come from obedience, as well as curses from disobedience.

Leviticus 26:2-4
” ‘Observe my Sabbaths and have reverence for my sanctuary. I am the LORD.  [3] ” ‘If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands,  [4] I will send you rain in its season, and  the ground will yield its crops and the trees of the field their fruit.

Leviticus 26:27-28
” ‘If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me,  [28] then in  my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over.  He spoke through Isaiah promising joy and calling Shabbat a delight.

Isaiah 58:13-14
“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’S holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, [14] then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”  The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

For all believers, Shabbat is a picture of how God has blessed us; it should be a joy and delight for us.  He also connects it with His deliverance:

Deut. 5:15
Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.

Just as the nation of Israel was redeemed from bondage in Egypt where they had no rest, we as believers are redeemed from bondage to sin.

Leviticus 26:13
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.

Yeshua set us free from that slave labor…He is Lord of the Sabbath, and it is through Him that we find our rest.

Matthew 12:8
“For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”  Shabbat is a picture of our life as believers in Messiah:

Hebrews 4:9-10
“So there remains a Shabbat-keeping for God’s people. For the one who has entered God’s rest has also rested from his own works, as God did from His.”  (JNT)

Just as the redeemed Israelites wanted to return to Egypt, our fleshly desire to be constantly “doing” pulls us to put aside the Sabbath rest in exchange for worldly behavior. We are called to a faith walk that includes trusting God that six days of labor each week is sufficient to accomplish what needs to be done.  We need a weekly reminder of this.  We gather together in assembly on that day to thank Him for the rest He has given us from the world and its sin.  The early believers in Yeshua understood this and continued to honor Shabbat:

Luke 23:56
Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.

Worshipping Him on Shabbat lets our minds and hearts and spirits be refreshed and renewed from a week of worldly turmoil.

How do we honor God’s command by keeping the Sabbath holy?  Are we free to interpret our own meaning of holiness?  There is no specific list in scripture covering all the do’s and don’ts for this special day.  The Jewish sages and rabbis developed a long list of restrictions and Sabbath regulations to deal with every imaginable situation.  Their aim was to put such a hedge around the Sabbath commandment that no violation of holiness could ever take place.  They understood from warnings in scripture how failure to honor God on this day resulted in devastation.  The prophets have said that Sabbath keeping was an indication of the Israel’s spiritual condition.

Ezekiel 20:13
” ‘Yet the people of Israel rebelled against me in the desert. They did not follow my decrees but rejected my laws–although the man who obeys them will live by them–and they utterly desecrated my
Sabbaths.   So I said I would pour out my wrath on them and destroy them in the desert.”

Jeremiah 17:27
But if you do not obey me to keep the Sabbath day holy by not carrying any load as you come through the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle an unquenchable fire in the gates of Jerusalem that will consume her fortresses.’ “

Some went too far in their interpretations.  The Essenes, for example, went so far as to forbid certain bathroom functions on the Sabbath. Another example in modern times is the prohibition to push the buttons that make an elevator start and stop, so in many hotels in Israel Shabbat elevators run up and down, automatically stopping at all floors.  Other man-made restrictions put more of a burden than a blessing on keeping the Sabbath, losing sight of the blessing of joy and delight.  Going to the opposite extreme in the name of liberty can be equally unproductive. “Resting” does not necessarily mean just enjoying our favorite sport or entertainment.  Remember the words of Isaiah:

Isaiah 58:13
“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from
doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’S holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words…”

When we wrestle with what is proper and holy, verses what is not, we need to ask the Ruach Ha Kodesh to show us how to stay in balance. Genuine needs for health and well-being overrule restrictions that would have us not lift a finger to help others.  This is well illustrated when Yeshua healed on the Sabbath.

Mark 3:4
Then Yeshua asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?”

Matthew 12:12
“..Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”


Shabbat In The Home

There are many personal ways to keep Shabbat in our homes.  Knowing the traditional elements and their symbolism can help to decide which to incorporate in our home life.

The first step is preparation.  This idea is so important that Friday became known as “preparation day”.

Luke 23:54
It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.

The preparation involves special foods, organizing the Sabbath artifacts, cleaning, and most of all, arranging our schedules for prayer and time together.

The Sabbath officially begins at dusk, and traditionally is ushered in by lighting at least two candles.  By rabbinical interpretation this should take place eighteen minutes before sunset so that the “work” of kindling a fire will not actually take place on Shabbat.  Although anyone may do this, it is usually the woman who lights the candles, a reminder that Eve, the first woman, extinguished the light of eternal life by disobeying God. However, believers can remember that God chose another woman, Miriam, to give birth to the “light of the world”, Yeshua.  Candles remind us of ancient days when lamps were lit in the house to give light in the evening.  On Friday nights the lamps were lit before sundown and left burning. Often the house would have but two rooms, thus a light for each.  Our two candles also symbolize the two injunctions for Shabbat: “remember” and “observe”.  We can also use them to remind us to thank God for “creation” and “redemption”.   They are also a picture of the
two-fold nature of God’s promise to Abraham:

Genesis 12:2
… I will bless you;  …and you will be a blessing to many others.

While at least two are used, some people use more.  There can be a candle for each family member, or small pairs for young daughters. Perhaps candlelight for each room.

After candle lighting comes the “kiddush”, the cup of sanctification.  Wine or grape juice can be used.  The man of the house usually says the blessing, takes a sip, and then passes the cup to all the family members.  This symbolizes spreading the joy of Shabbat, since wine has been associated with joy and life in Judaism.  For believers we have a weekly reminder of the shed blood of Yeshua for our redemption.

Following the kiddush is the “ha motzie”, blessing the challah, or bread.  Challah is often in the form of two braided loaves.  When God provided manna for the Children of Israel, He sent a double portion of Friday and none on Saturday so they would not have the labor of gathering on Shabbat.  We also remember that God provided Yeshua, born in the town called “Bet Lechem”, “house of bread”, and that He explained to us:

John 6:48-50
” I am the bread of life.  [49] Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died.  [50] But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die.”

The challah is usually covered with a cloth, a symbol of the dew that was on the ground when the Israelites woke each morning.  God’s love is fresh to us each day, just as the dew.

While some people slice the challah, in the home it is traditionally passed around whole, with each person breaking off their own piece.  In Judaism there is the eternal hope for peace, and a knife, representing an instrument of war is not used on the challah.  This is to remind us of the future promise of Isaiah:

Isaiah 2:4
“They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”

When we each break off our own piece we remember that our “daily bread” does not come from man, but from God alone to each one of us.

The Sabbath officially closes when three stars become visible in the evening sky.  This can be a family activity enjoyed in anticipation of the closing ceremony for Shabbat, “Havdalah”.  Havdallah means “separation”, and officially begins the new week.  Just as the holiness of Shabbat is ushered into the home with a ceremony, so it should have an official closing as a means of making a distinction between what is holy and what is worldly.  The blessings and scriptures read at this time extend this idea of separation to the distinction of light from the dark, followers of God from the heathen, and God’s high moral standards from man’s corruption.

Havdallah uses the elements of wine and candles, but in a different form than Shabbat.  When the wine is poured, it is allowed to overflow the cup, a symbol of God’s overflowing blessing to us.  It also shows the fullness and completion of our week, and the hope that the week to come would also overflow with blessings.  Wine was often costly in ancient Israel, so a house where it flowed like water was regarded as truly blessed.  As believers we can see this as a reminder of Messiah’s blood poured out for us.

After the wine blessing a box of fragrant spices, or “bessamim” is blessed and passed around.  This ritual started around the second century B.C.E. to compensate for the gloom at Shabbat’s departure.  The sweet fragrance of the spices would leave a lasting aroma of Shabbat in the often harsh week to follow.  Today we can use bessamim to remind us of the incense burned when the high priest ministered in Temple times, and of the One High Priest ministering for us in heaven today.  When incense was burned in the holy of holies it was a symbol of our prayers being a fragrant aroma as they ascended to God.

The candle used for Havdallah is braided with multiple wicks.  For a family this can be a symbol of their serving the Lord in unity. This “torch” provides more light than an ordinary candle, and so is a symbol of God’s wisdom and illumination.  As believers we can use it to remember the light of Messiah that blots out the darkness of sin.

To close the Havdallah ceremony the candle is put out in wine. Traditionally this has meant the end of the light and joy of Shabbat, but we can also see it as Yeshua’s light and blood mixing together, a reminder of His atonement for us to carry into the coming week.

As the Sabbath was opened at dusk with greetings of “Shabbat shalom!”, now we close with “Shavuah tov!”, “May the week ahead be good!”