The Sabbath

Chapter One

God rested on the seventh day. For six days God created, then He ceased working and rested.[1] This is a central part of the opening revelation of God to Moses in Genesis.

            Sabbath, in the Hebrew transliterated[2] shabbat, means rest or cease from labor. It is not as though God became tired after creating the universe, but that His resting points to something above and beyond the normal idea of resting. The Sabbath is perhaps the most important key in understanding the Jewish holidays; in fact, as we shall see, it occupies the center of each of the holidays.

            In Leviticus chapter 23, situated before the listing and descriptions of the holidays or feasts, is the following vital introduction.

Leviticus 23:1-2

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, These are the appointed feasts of the LORD that you shall proclaim as holy convocations; they are my appointed feasts.”  

Notes on the passage:

One. The word LORD, all capital letters, indicates that the covenant name for God is in the Hebrew text, that name which God gave to Moses as His actual name (see Exodus 3:1-15). It may be transliterated Yahweh, and its pronunciation cannot be known for certain. Attempts at arriving at the meaning of this covenant name of God include but are not limited to “I am that I am,” “I am the only one,” “I am being,” and “I am the unnamable one.”

Two. Moses is the author of the material, originally.

Three. The feasts are directly appointed, determined, authorized, and established by God; they are not of human origin.

Four. The feasts are holy—special and not ordinary.

Five. The feasts are occasions for the gathering of the people of Israel. A synonym for convocation would be assembly. 

 Leviticus 23:3

Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the LORD in all your dwelling places.

Working is normative then and is to be followed by a day of rest. God worked, or created, six days, and then there was a day of rest—this is the pattern. That day of rest, the Sabbath, is therefore special; it is solemn, holy, and set aside, and on it there was to be a gathering of the people of God.

Although by Jesus’ day, the Sabbath came to be tied to a day of worship for

the Jewish people (synagogue attendance and Scripture reading), the primary

purpose of the Sabbath is rest. Although there are still debates in the

church about what day a believer should worship, most arguing for Sunday as

that day, the debates are grounded in a flawed view of the nature and

purpose of the Sabbath. The Mosaic Sabbath was intended as a weekly

reprieve (so to speak) from the curse in Genesis 3, and as a foretaste of

the Messianic Sabbath to come. Thus, believers are free to choose the day

on which they worship, whether that be on a Friday, a Saturday, or a

Sunday–or even a Tuesday. The day of worship, however, should not be

confounded with the Sabbath. Many believers have mistakenly argued that

Sunday is the new Christian Sabbath (the Lord’s Day), and that believers

must worship on Sunday (although nowhere does it say in Scripture that the

Lord’s Day is a new Sabbath). Others insist that the Sabbath is still on

Saturday, and believers must worship on Saturday. But both positions miss

the point of the biblical Sabbath (a one day rest anticipating an eternal

rest), and the clear statement of Paul in Romans 14:5: “One person esteems

one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be

fully convinced in his own mind.”

The Biblical Sabbath

The Sabbath began on Friday at sunset. It lasted until sunset of the next day, Saturday. The Sabbath was the last day of the week. Six days of work were followed or concluded by one day of rest—exactly the formula for the creation in Genesis chapter one.

On the Sabbath no work was to be done, and to ensure that no work would be done on the Sabbath, traditions were developed by Jewish rabbinical scholars over the centuries; these would sometimes be called the traditions of the elders (see Matthew 15:1-9 and Mark 7:1-8). The Sabbath became overrun by rules and regulations never intended by God, and were almost impossible for the ordinary person to carry out. Much of the conflict Jesus had with the religious authorities of His day had to do with Sabbath observance.

Some Christians still observe the actual biblical Sabbath as their special day of worship, but the majority of Christians began to worship on Sunday, the first day of the Jewish work week. This change may be because the resurrection occurred on a Sunday and also because Jewish believers in Jesus began to be excluded from attending synagogues. Sunday, the first day of the week became known, very early on, as the Lord’s Day (see John 20:19; Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 16:2; Revelation 1:10). This however is an historical observation. However, Jesus fulfilled the intention of the Sabbath.

Rest as a view into the nature of salvation

God revealed to Moses that Adam was to take care of the home created for him—the Garden of Eden. All that was necessary for life was in that garden. After The Fall, that willful disobedience to a clear command of God, Adam and Eve were evicted from their home, cut off from fellowship with their God, and were forced to toil, to labor painfully, for their survival. Everything had changed.

            Rest was where God was. God was present in the garden and walked and talked with the first humans created in His image, which probably means that the Creator God actually entered into intelligent communion or fellowship with His creation.

 Rest is always where God is. God was present in the Tabernacle in the wilderness and wherever it traveled before later residing in the temple in Jerusalem, and He dwelt in the place of worship that God directed Moses to build, in the inner most holy place, the Holy of Holies. Away from God there was no rest, only work and labor instead.

The Sabbath—an historical, dramatic, prophecy

Embedded then in the story of rest and work is the story of salvation. God created the Sabbath for His people, and He was present with them. When that paradise was lost, God worked, with the emphasis on worked, so His chosen people would be able to enjoy His rest and cease from their work.

            Long before God’s plan could be fully understood by anyone He put into place the very heart of the nature of salvation—resting in the work of God. The people of God were promised in the creation of the Sabbath itself that there would be a resting. The writer of Hebrews, chapter 4 verses 9 and 10, describes this:

So, then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.


David Baron wrote in Types, Psalms and Prophecies, “The weekly Sabbath was appointed by God as a prophecy and pledge” (page 6). The weekly rest was a reprieve from the bitter effects of the curse described in Genesis 3:17-19. Adam would now find that to survive required hard work and the ground would not easily yield its fruit. A weekly rest would be necessary. There would then be instilled into human beings a desire for something more, something lost—a resting from hard labor.

True rest would and could only come when the curse would be lifted from the whole of creation. The Mosaic Sabbath was a temporary reprieve, but only the Messiah Himself, the seed of the woman, would restore the rest that was lost. (see Genesis 5:29) So it is all the more interesting that Jesus would proclaim, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

            In the description of the feasts or holidays appointed for the people of Israel by God, the Sabbath holds center stage. There was an actual Sabbath day to be observed, but it pointed to something more, a restoration of the rest Adam and Eve had enjoyed in the presence of God. There would always be a Sabbath for God’s chosen people, and the weekly observance continually pointed to it.

[1]Varying views of the nature of God’s creative act are held. Whatever view one might have will not substantially alter or negate the fundamental underlying concept that God rested or ceased from working (creating), and the Sabbath as a concept entered into the human experience and understanding.

[2] A transliteration is the rendering or spelling of a word with the letters of one language in place of another. In this case, the corresponding English letters are used in place of Hebrew letters, in order to assist in pronouncing the Hebrew words.

Leave a Reply