Did God give the Sabbath on Mount Sinai for the Jews only and not for Christians? If so, then the commandment “You shall not steal” as well as the others were only for the Jews. All of these commandments would be Jewish if the Sabbath is Jewish. The Bible says, “The Sabbath was made for man.” Mark 2:27
1. What was the regulation in Israel during their wilderness journey regarding breaking the Sabbath?
“But the person who does anything presumptuously, whether he is native-born or a stranger, that one brings reproach on the Lord, and he shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord, and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be upon him.” Numbers 15:30, 31
NOTE: The marginal reference for “presumptuously” reads with a “high hand.” And it has the meaning of knowingly, obstinately, or defiantly. This way of dealing with those who broke the law applied to any of the commandments. At this time Israel was a theocracy which means the church and the government were one and God was the direct ruler. Hence, moral as well as civil violations were punished directly. This helps us to see God’s attitude toward sin and what the ultimate judgement on sin will be.
2. Was Sabbath breaking as serious as breaking any of the other commandments?
“Now while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation. They put him under guard, because it had not been explained what should be done to him. Then the Lord said to Moses, “The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” So, as the Lord commanded Moses, all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him with stones, and he died.” Numbers 15:32-36
NOTE: It was not merely for gathering sticks on the Sabbath that the man was punished; it was “because he has despised the word of the Lord” Numbers 15:31. His gathering of the sticks showed his contempt for God. Moses, however, put the man in a “ward” until a decision should be made. Much was at stake. Would the Sabbath take its place with the other commandments? God gave the decision. The Sabbath was as important as the other commandments. What a lesson for us! May we never speak lightly of or defiantly break God’s Sabbath.
3. For what did Ezekiel say God had given the Sabbath?
“Therefore I made them go out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. And I gave them My statutes and showed them My judgements, ‘which, if a man does, he shall live by them.’ Moreover I also gave them My Sabbaths, to be a sign between them and Me, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them.” Ezekiel 20:10-12
NOTE: There is great significance in Ezekiel’s statement that the Sabbath is a sign of sanctification. Breaking the Sabbath is a symptom which reveals an attitude toward all the commandments. It is a rejection of or rebellion against God. The proper observance of it is the sign of obedience to God.
4. What was the reason Judah was taken into captivity for seventy years?
“Thus says the Lord: “Take heed to yourselves, and bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; nor carry a burden out of your houses on the Sabbath day, nor do any work, but hallow the Sabbath day, as I commanded your fathers. But they did not obey nor incline their ear, but made their neck stiff, that they might not hear nor receive instruction. “And it shall be, if you heed Me carefully,” says the Lord, “to bring no burden through the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but hallow the Sabbath day, to do no work in it, then shall enter the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, accompanied by the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this city shall remain forever. And they shall come from the cities of Judah and from the places around Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin and from the lowland, from the mountains and from the South, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings and incense, bringing sacrifices of praise to the house of the Lord. “But if you will not heed Me to hallow the Sabbath day, such as not carrying a burden when entering the gates of Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, then I will kindle a fire in its gates, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.”’” Jeremiah 17:21-27.
5. Subsequent to their return from Assyrian-Babylonian captivity, what was the attitude of God’s people toward the Sabbath?
“In those days I saw people in Judah treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and loading donkeys with wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them about the day on which they were selling provisions. Men of Tyre dwelt there also, who brought in fish and all kinds of goods, and sold them on the Sabbath to the children of Judah, and in Jerusalem. Then I contended with the nobles of Judah, and said to them, “What evil thing is this that you do, by which you profane the Sabbath day? Did not your fathers do thus, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Yet you bring added wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.” So it was, at the gates of Jerusalem, as it began to be dark before the Sabbath, that I commanded the gates to be shut, and charged that they must not be opened till after the Sabbath. Then I posted some of my servants at the gates, so that no burdens would be brought in on the Sabbath day. Now the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares lodged outside Jerusalem once or twice. Then I warned them, and said to them, “Why do you spend the night around the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you!” From that time on they came no more on the Sabbath. 22 And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should go and guard the gates, to sanctify the Sabbath day. Remember me, O my God, concerning this also, and spare me according to the greatness of Your mercy!” Nehemiah 13:15-22
NOTE: Nehemiah did not force those outside the walls to keep the Sabbath. He simply exerted his responsibility to keep them away and to let them know they could not do business in the city on God’s holy day. Forced Sabbathkeeping is never after God’s order. Since it is a sign of sanctification, without a life of holiness the Sabbath is an empty ceremony that can never substitute for genuine sanctification.
After the Babylonian captivity was over the Jews began to realise that their failure to keep the Sabbath had been one of the causes of their calamities. So after Nehemiah’s time no more did they make the Sabbath a common working day. But their mistake now was as seriously fatal as their former mistake. They began to consider the Sabbath a means of salvation instead of a sign of sanctification. The Sabbath is of little value without the reality of holiness.