The word, “Sabbath” may stir up mental images of stern looking, old-fashioned, religious people who are strict and ridged in their ways. Or you may call to mind the blue laws that used to prohibit commerce on Sundays, resulting in most stores being closed one day a week.
But the Sabbath is simply a weekly day set apart for rest and worship.
Genesis records that God began the Sabbath principle by resting on the seventh day of creation and declaring it holy (Genesis 2:3-4). It was formalized in the Ten Commandments and work was forbidden on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11). The Sabbath was also declared to be a sign of the covenant between God and his people, the Israelites (Exodus 31:13-17) and was regarded as a reminder of their deliverance from Egyptian bondage (Deuteronomy 5:12-15). It was observed from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. The penalty for violating Sabbath regulations was ostracization or death (Exodus 31:14).
The Israelites were also instructed to observe special Sabbaths that coincided with annual festivals, the Day of Atonement being one (Leviticus 23:32). There was even a sabbatical year observed in which the ground was allowed to rest and the fields remained un-tilled and un-harvested to the benefit of the poor and the “beasts of the field” (Exodus 23:10-11). Interestingly, the regulations on the Sabbath year also granted freedom to slaves and the relaxation of debts (Exodus 21: 2-6, Deuteronomy 15: 1-6), similar to The Year of Jubilee.
The Old Testament teaching was exact. Keep the Sabbath because God declared it holy and a day of rest. Let the land rest every seventh year for the benefit of the poor and the animals. Forgive the debts you hold against people. Remember how I brought you out of Egypt. To keep the Sabbath as outlined in the Old Testament took discipline, preparation, and faith. It goes against human nature since we are not usually able to be disciplined for very long, put thinks off to last minute, like to feel self-sufficient, and want to get all we can.
Since the Puritans, most Christians (English-speaking Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox) equated The Lord’s Day (Sunday) with the Sabbath as a commemoration of Christ’s resurrection which took place on Sunday. Most other religions also have holy days and declared times for rest and reflection.
Jesus and his disciples repeatedly violated Sabbath regulations. His disciples picked grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-2) and he healed a man on the Sabbath (Matthew 12: 9-11; Like 13:10-17; Luke 14:1-6). He claimed himself to be the Lord of the Sabbath, saying he desired mercy over sacrifice (Matthew 9:13). He declared, The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27).
Jesus changed everything. He broke the shackles of extreme Sabbath requirements and put it in perspective. We don’t find him saying, “Forget about the Sabbath. It was a bad idea.” We do find him saying and illustrating that it is more important for someone to keep from starving than fulfilling a religious regulation. It is more important to respond to human need than to feel super pious. Human beings are more important than religious regulations.
He opposed extreme meticulous and ultimately hurtful insensitivity in keeping the Sabbath, but we don’t find him denying the validly of setting aside a day of the week for rest and reflection.
The concept of the five-day work week and the weekend was born when labor unions in America attempted accommodate the Jewish Sabbath in a New England cotton mill. Henry Ford adopted the concept in 1926. It spread rapidly through Europe and has been very recently adopted in China. So, now much of the world has two days off every week. Now you know the origins of the modern work week.
The Sabbath principle is simply taking one day a week for rest and reflection. How does that work in modern life?