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The Sabbath: is it required and on which day?

Exodus 20:8-11
“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 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 male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 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.

The Israelites

There are those who say the Sabbath was a commandment given for the Israelites only.

Exodus 31:13-17
“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. “‘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. 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. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath,celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. 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 rested and was refreshed.’”

However, Paul stated in Romans 9:6 “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel”, and in Romans 2:28 “A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly”. Therefore, Gentiles who have believed the promise would be counted among the Israelites, or God’s chosen people.

Notwithstanding, does Scripture specifically state that the Gentiles were to observe the Sabbath?

Isaiah 55:2-3, 6-8
Blessed is the one who does this—the person who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keeps their hands from doing any evil.” Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.”

And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant—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.” The Sovereign Lord declares—he who gathers the exiles of Israel: “I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.”

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,

Much of Isaiah is written as what the Lord said. It refers to the New Covenant being prophesied. So if God is speaking of His salvation within these passages, including the Gentiles, would this include the new covenant He’s speaking of?

Isaiah 56:8
The Sovereign Lord declares— he who gathers the exiles of Israel: “I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.”

Old Covenant

The big debate is whether or not the new covenant replaced the old one. So if “God is not a man, that he should lie” (Numbers 23:19), how do we explain the following?

Exodus 31:16
The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant.

But Hebrews tells us the old covenant is obsolete.:

Hebrew 8:13
By calling this covenant “new,”he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

What does it mean that Jesus fulfilled the law?

Matthew 5:17
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

Going back to Genesis, we see Abraham born in Genesis 11, while the Israelites aren’t commanded anything of the Sabbath until Exodus 20.

So now we turn to Galatians to get our answer as to why the Sabbath, a lasting covenant, could be obsolete.

Galatians 3:16-18
The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

Disobedience of the Sabbath was punishable by death, but Christ took that punishment.

Romans 8:2-3
because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.

What did Jesus say of the Ten Commandments, including the fourth Commandment?

Matthew 5:17-20
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus speaks of “these” commands and says that our righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees. “These commands” suggest they were commands He was referring to at that time. What were these commands?

Matthew 5:21-22, 28, 31…
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment…
…anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart…
…anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery…

When the rich man asked “what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” Jesus did not mention the Sabbath as one of the Commandments, but instead He began listing commands like those commands in Matthew 5 above.

Matthew 19:18-19
Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”

New Testament

The Old Testament told us how we were counted as righteous.

Deuteronomy 6:25
And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.”

The New Testament defines a new righteousness.

Romans 10:4
Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.

Romans 1:17
For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Romans 4:13
It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.

Romans 3:21
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.

The Sabbath

Are we to keep the Sabbath? If we were, would Jesus have made it clear? There were some things that He did make clear.

John 4:24
God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

Is the Sabbath an act of worship? According to Scripture, it is a heart turned toward God that is worship. He said He never desired sacrifice and offering but to love Him with all our soul, strength and mind.

We can certainly obey the Sabbath without once truly thinking of God, and therefore never truly have worshipped Him.

Why the Sabbath? Why should we reserve just one day of the week to worship and put God first?

The Pharisees were good at keeping the Sabbath. They were so wrapped up in the Sabbath law of Leviticus 23:3, which said You are not to do any work.

Work: activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.

They were so wrapped up that they accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath by doing something good in healing the sick on that day. They accused the disciples of breaking the Sabbath as well.

Mark 2:23-26
One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

Here were the Pharisees trying to use the law against Jesus by making the act of the disciples feeding themselves to be work. They focused on the letter of the law, not the intent, on obedience out of fear or ritual, not out of love, in order to use it against Jesus and His disciples by pointing out how they didn’t strictly conform to the legalistic system.

2 Corinthians 3:6
He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

Romans 8:3-4
For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Colossians 2:16-17
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

What is the Sabbath?

In the New Testament Paul speaks of the Sabbath rest.

Hebrews 4:4-10
For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.” And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.” Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.

Going back to the original command in Exodus 20:8-11, God said through Moses that God created everything in six days and on the seventh day He rested.

And Jesus said of the Sabbath:

Mark 2:27
Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

What might Jesus have meant by this statement?  We know our human bodies need rest, so could this be what Jesus was referring to, since the commandment was given in conjunction with telling us that God rested on the seventh day?

So God says to remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy. As shown by Jesus’ words, it would seem that He was telling us that God did not intend the Sabbath to be a day that we don’t cook or feed ourselves or not heal and help others.

There is another portion of the commandments in Isaiah about fasting, just before the command on keeping the Sabbath:

Isaiah 58:3‭-‬7‭
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

God seems to frown on fasting as a ritual, just as Jesus seemed to frown on the Sabbath as a ritual. So perhaps keeping the Sabbath isn’t associated with going to church on a certain day or doing absolutely nothing.


Rather than wonder whether we should keep Sabbath, perhaps it’s better to ask WHY we keep it. Does God expect our worship or just rote obedience as a way into Heaven?

Acts 8:18‭-‬21
When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.

Perhaps this is what Jesus meant.

Matthew 15:9
They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’

John 4:23

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.

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