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Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of YHWH1 thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days YHWH made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore YHWH blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it. (Exodus 20:8-11)2
The Seventh-Day Sabbath
Controversy and Division
Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as YHWH thy God hath commanded thee…. And remember that thou [the nation of Israel] wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that YHWH thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore YHWH thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)
God’s people are probably divided more over the Fourth Commandment than all of the other nine commandments put together. It is tragic that this commandment which was given to bless man is so often used to alienate Christians.
The divisions over this commandment, almost without exception, have to do with the timing of the weekly Sabbath. More than ninety-five percent of the material that I have accumulated on the Fourth Commandment address when the Sabbath is to be kept. There are advocates for Friday, Saturday, Sunday, a rotating Sabbath or any day one chooses and most of them make a plausible argument for their case. There are proponents for sunset to sunset, midnight to midnight, dawn to dawn and noon to noon. There are twenty different possible combinations from these options, and if each of these combinations were represented by a group insisting that theirs was the only correct interpretation (as most of them do), we would end up with twenty assemblies of Christians condemning each other as apostates. With this in mind, it is doubtful that another voice on the timing of the Sabbath would make a difference in bringing unanimity to this issue. Consequently, this article will be devoted to how the Fourth Commandment should be kept rather than when it should be kept.
This should not be misconstrued to mean that the timing of the Sabbath is unimportant. It is important, and it behooves everyone who believes that the Fourth Commandment is a part of Yahweh’s New Covenant to determine when the Sabbath should be observed. However, until Yahweh clarifies His perfect will as to the timing of His Sabbath and we all understand it the same, the days and hours must be approached from a Romans 14 perspective, that is, as a matter of personal conscience.
Although the commandment to keep the Sabbath is not optional, we must stop judging our brethren on their heartfelt beliefs about its timing. Nearly all Christians regardless of what camp they are in have arrived at their diverse positions in the same manner. Desiring to please Yahweh, they went to His Word seeking His will. However, because we all approach God’s Word with finite limitations at different levels of human incompetency we have not all arrived at the same conclusions.
It is true that there are people who approach God’s Word to further their own agenda and one should beware of such people. However, not everyone who has arrived at a conclusion different from our own has done so because they are dishonest. Therefore, when it has been determined that a fellow Christian believes what he does as a result of his devotion to Yahweh, then we must respond differently to him than we would to someone who has proven himself to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The sincere Christian should be accepted even as Yeshua3 accepts him. He should not be despised or ostracized for his beliefs. Instead of being torn down, he should be edified:
Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations…. Who art thou that judgest another man's servant? To his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand…. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind…. For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord…. But why dost thou judge thy brother? Or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ…. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way…. For he that in these things serveth Christ is acceptable to God, and approved of men. Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another. (Romans 14:1-19)
The timing of the Sabbath is important. However, our individual interpretations of the timing may not be as important as we think they are and thus, should not be made a test of fellowship.
An Old and New Covenant Commandment
In the first giving of the law, the reason provided by Moses for keeping the seventh-day Sabbath was that, after creating the universe, Yahweh Himself rested on the seventh day. This is essentially a repeat of what is found in Genesis 2:
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made. (Genesis 2:1-3)
All creation stands today as a testimony to Yahweh’s creative act as it has in days past. Included in the creation week was Yahweh’s Sabbath rest after completing His six days of work. Genesis 1:14 declares that the "lights in the firmament of the heaven … divide the day from the night" and are "for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years." However, the seven-day week, unlike the day, month and year, has no astronomical basis. We observe a seven-day week simply because our Creator did so first. With this being true, the seventh-day Sabbath remains as much a part of the testimony to Yahweh’s creation under the New Covenant as it did under the Mosaic Covenant.
Furthermore, the Sabbath is to be a perpetual sign between Yahweh and the Israelites throughout their generations:
…YHWH spake unto Moses, … Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am YHWH that doth sanctify you. …Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days YHWH made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed. (Exodus 31:12-17)
Yahweh’s covenants with the Israelites did not end with the cessation of the Mosaic Covenant. The New Covenant, likewise, was made with Israelites:
Behold, the days come, saith YHWH, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt…. But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, saith YHWH, I will put my law [including the Fourth Commandment] in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts…. Thus saith YHWH, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon…. If those ordinances depart from before me … then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me for ever. …If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel … saith YHWH. (Jeremiah 31:31-37)
The Prophet Isaiah also tells us that Sabbath observance would be a part of the new heavens and the new earth:
…as the new heavens and the new earth … shall remain before me, saith YHWH, so shall your [the Israelites’] seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith YHWH. (Isaiah 66:22-23)
The new heavens and the new earth represent the Kingdom Age. Whether a person’s eschatology dictates that the Kingdom is already existing or is yet sometime in the future, it still places the Kingdom and thus Sabbath observance in the New Covenant dispensation. Moreover, because the Sabbath commandment was given to bless and benefit man, it would be a cruel god who would take away from His servants what is best for them. If YHWH has removed the Fourth Commandment from His New Covenant as some Christians teach, He would be guilty of promoting slave labor, precisely what He forbade in Deuteronomy 5:14.
From the perspective of the Ten Commandments, the Fourth Commandment is one-tenth of the Law. Actually, there is more scripture devoted to the Fourth Commandment than any of the other nine, and while the Fourth Commandment is never repeated verbatim in the New Testament, there is more dialogue in the four Gospels addressing it than any of the others.
Yeshua declared in Matthew 22:40 that "on these two [greatest] commandments hang all the law." (Matthew 22:40) From the second greatest commandment, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," hang the last six commandments, beginning with "Honour thy father and thy mother" and ending with "Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s [possessions]." From the greatest commandment, "Thou shalt love YHWH thy God with all thy heart, … soul, and … mind," hang the first four commandments, beginning with "Thou shalt have no other gods before [Yahweh]" and ending with "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." In other words, a person’s love for Yahweh is incomplete who is not observing the Fourth Commandment in commemoration of Yahweh as the creator and sustainer of life.
Someone may ask: "How does Sabbath keeping demonstrate love for Yahweh?" The love of money or wealth probably replaces love for Yahweh more than anything else in the hearts of most men. For the love of money man often sets aside the Sabbath. A man who keeps his business open or works seven days a week rather than only six days has the potential of making that much more money, or so he thinks. Consequently, the man who forfeits the extra money in order to keep the Sabbath demonstrates that he loves Yahweh more than he does wealth. As it is with tithing, prosperity is promised when we observe the Sabbath, not when we neglect it:
If thou turn away thy foot … from doing thy pleasure on my … sabbath…. Then … I [Yahweh] will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father…. (Isaiah 58:13-14)
…if ye … hallow the sabbath day, to do no work therein; then shall there enter into the gates of this city kings and princes sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they, and their princes, the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: and this city shall remain for ever. And they shall come … bringing burnt offerings, and sacrifices, and meat offerings, and incense, and bringing sacrifices of praise, unto the house of YHWH. But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the sabbath day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched. (Jeremiah 17:24-27)
Fourth Commandment transgression is a particularly heinous crime against Yahweh’s moral nature as are all capital crimes. Because Yahweh’s moral nature has not changed, it follows that Yahweh’s laws have not changed either. Thus, Sabbath desecration is still a sin in God’s sight the same as is murder, adultery, homosexuality and all other capital crimes.
In Malachi 3 we are warned that it is sinful to rob Yahweh of His tithes. Sabbath observance, in a sense, is a type of a tithe, a "tithe" of our time dedicated to rest, worship and the study of God’s Word. Moreover, the Sabbath reminds us of our accountability to Yahweh as our creator and redeemer. The Fourth Commandment points us to the true and living God. Thus when the Sabbath is observed in the proper spirit, idolatry cannot exist.
Fourth Commandment Regulations
Regrettably many people view the seventh-day Sabbath and its regulations as infringement rather than liberation. If a person views Yahweh as a tyrant who desires to enslave His people then, indeed, the Sabbath regulations, along with the rest of Yahweh’s law, become oppressive. On the other hand, if a person’s perspective of Yahweh is one of a loving father who looks out for His children and who requires from them only what is best for them, then these regulations are liberating. The Apostle John advocates the latter perspective:
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments [including the Fourth Commandment] are not grievous. (1 John 5:3)
Although there are specific regulations associated with the Sabbath, a person should be careful that he does not approach the Sabbath with just the regulations in mind. John Calvin suggested that God’s Sabbaths are polluted when they are rendered to a series of observances. 4 Under the New Covenant we keep Yahweh’s laws not because we are forced to, but because we desire to as a result of our love for Yahweh and our fellow man. Moreover, Yeshua made it clear that "the sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath." (Mark 2:27)
Attention to Six Days of Labor
It is often overlooked that six days of labor are as much a part of the Fourth Commandment as is the seventh day of rest:
Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work. (Exodus 20:9)
Labor is commanded, if for no other reason, than society cannot function properly without it. In fact, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church that in a Christian society anyone unwilling to work is not permitted to eat:
…if anyone will not work, neither let him eat. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Yeshua [the] Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12 NASV)
Implementation of this indispensable requisite of the Fourth Commandment would do away with the need for most of America’s current welfare programs. Everyone is required to work before they can sabbath and before they can eat.
Abstention from Labor, Occupation and Business
…the seventh day is the sabbath of YHWH thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. (Exodus 20:10)
Like Yahweh, we need rest from our labors. The English word "sabbath" is translated from the Hebrew word "shabbath." James Strong translates both "shabbath" and its root word "shabath":
shabbath (shab-bawth') … intermission, i.e. (specifically) the Sabbath.5
shabath (shaw-bath'); a primitive root; to repose, i.e. desist from exertion; used in many implied relations (causative, figurative or specific).6
From these definitions and the commandment itself, it is obvious that the Sabbath is to be a cessation from labor for all classes of people and livestock. This seventh-day intermission is for the purpose of rest and refreshment:
Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of thy handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed. (Exodus 23:12)
Many people think that they cannot afford to take off one out of every seven days. The opposite is true. It has been medically and scientifically proven that man’s biological rhythms are based on a seven-day week, and that he functions best when he rests one day out of seven. It has also been demonstrated that if a person goes too long without taking sabbaths that it results in physical, emotional and spiritual deficiencies and sometimes complete breakdowns. While on earth, even the Son of God demonstrated the necessity for rest:
…he [Yeshua] said unto them [the twelve apostles], Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while: for there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat. (Mark 6:31)
The Hebrew word "melakah" translated "work" in Exodus 20 could have also been rendered "business" or "occupation," as it is found represented in Psalm 107:23 and Jonah 1:8. Therefore, Exodus 20:10 could have also been translated: "in it [the Sabbath] thou shalt not do any business," or "in it thou shall cease from your occupations."
The man who broke the Fourth Commandment in Numbers 15, at the best, had not prepared adequately for the Sabbath. What was more likely the case, he gathered sticks on the Sabbath as a business venture for the purpose of selling them. Which ever it was, it was a serious Sabbath transgression to Yahweh:
…while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day…. And YHWH said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death…. (Numbers 15:32-36)
Sabbath cessation from work includes prohibitions against food preparation and unnecessary travel:
Then said YHWH unto Moses, Behold, I will rain bread [manna] from heaven for you; and the people [of Israel] shall go out and gather a certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no. …on the sixth day they shall prepare that which they bring in; and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily…. And he [Moses] said unto them, This is that which YHWH hath said, To morrow is the rest of the holy sabbath unto YHWH: bake that which ye will bake to day, and seethe that ye will seethe; and that which remaineth over lay up for you to be kept until the morning. …abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. So the people rested on the seventh day. (Exodus 16:4-30)
Moses … said unto them [the congregation of Israel], These are the words which YHWH hath commanded, that ye should do them. Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day…. Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day. (Exodus 35:1-3)
The restriction against kindling a fire was probably associated with food preparation, which was to be completed on the sixth day.
In verse 29 of Exodus 16, the command was given to "abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day." This was not meant to be taken literally because in Ezekiel 46:1-3 the prince and the people were commanded to worship at the temple on the Sabbath. Consequently, the Israelites in Exodus 16 were being admonished to remain home rather than going out and gathering provisions or doing business. In modern terms, we should do what shopping has to be done before the Sabbath begins so that the same is not required on the Sabbath.
The Bible does refer to a "sabbath day’s journey":
Then returned they [the disciples] unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day's journey. (Acts 1:12)
A "sabbath day’s journey" before and at the time of Yeshua was generally considered two thousand cubits or approximately two-thirds of a mile. This was the estimated distance from the outside perimeter of the camp of Israel in the wilderness to the tabernacle and back. The average human’s walking gate is three miles per hour. Thus, it would have taken the average Israelite a total of fourteen minutes to travel the distance required for Sabbath services at the tent of meeting.
Although, the "sabbath day’s journey" is not mentioned anywhere in the Pentateuch, it is probably a fair representation of what the Israelites practiced in that day. However, times have changed and with them the means of travel. People seldom walk long distances and beasts of burden are no longer used in our automated culture. Consequently, there is virtually no work involved in traveling for man or beast, except possibly for long distance travel. Our places of worship are often at greater distances as well. As a result, it is safe to conclude that a sabbath-day’s journey has lengthened for modern man. As a rule of thumb, for church services and ministerial work the distance should be extended to whatever is required. If on an unavoidable trip on the Sabbath, the distance should be limited to the point of weariness.
Farmers might be inclined to think that during their planting and harvesting seasons their work would be exempt. This is not true:
"You shall work six days, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during plowing time and harvest you shall rest". (Exodus 34:21 NASV)
In other words, even during these pressing times Yahweh wants us to trust in and obey Him. After all it is God who provides the sunshine and rain to begin with. Farmers and non-farmers alike would probably experience far less problems in their agricultural operations and businesses if they would trust Yahweh and observe the Sabbath.
Constraint from Buying and Selling
Constraint from buying or selling is included in the prohibition against doing business on the Sabbath:
Abstinence from One's Own Pleasure
…the rest of the people [of Israel] … and all they that had separated themselves … unto the law of God … entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God's law … to observe and do all the commandments of YHWH our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes…. And if the people of the land bring ware or any victuals on the sabbath day to sell, that we would not buy it of them on the sabbath…. (Nehemiah 10:28-31)
In those days saw I [Nehemiah] in Judah some treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses … and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals…. And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut, and charged that they should not be opened till after the sabbath: and some of my servants set I at the gates, that there should no burden be brought in on the sabbath day. So the merchants and sellers of all kind of ware lodged without Jerusalem once or twice. Then I testified against them, and said … If ye do so again, I will lay hands on you…. And I commanded the Levites … that they should come and keep [guard] the gates, to sanctify the sabbath day…. (Nehemiah 13:15-22)
The Sabbath, as a holy day dedicated to Yahweh, should also be one in which we refrain from doing our own pleasure:
If thou turn away thy foot … from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of YHWH, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: Then shalt thou delight thyself in YHWH; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of YHWH hath spoken it. (Isaiah 58:13-14)
Instead of involving ourselves in what pleases us, the Sabbath is to be a day devoted to what pleases Yahweh. This is the meaning of Exodus 20:8, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." The inspiring story of Eric Liddel, who went to the 1924 Olympics as one of the world’s premier runners, is a stirring example of this kind of dedication to Yahweh. Mr. Liddel was unwilling to run on the day he considered the Sabbath, and he would not justify doing so even for a gold medal in the Olympics. Had he done so, the Olympics rather than Yahweh would have become the "god" that determined his morality.
Old Testament passages that employ the Hebrew word "chephets" translated "pleasure" in Isaiah 58:13 provide us with some clues as to some of what pleases Yahweh. In the following two passages "chephets" is translated "delight":
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of YHWH, and in His law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2 NASV)
Great are the works of YHWH; they are studied by all who delight in them. (Psalm 111:2 NASV)
When seeking what pleases Yahweh, the law and the work of Yahweh are some of what a Christian should involve himself with on the Sabbath.
Attention to Worship
The Sabbath is a sacred day and as such should be devoted to worship:
Six days shall work be done: but the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation; ye shall do no work therein…. (Leviticus 23:3)
The phrase "holy convocation" means a sacred public meeting. Strong’s Concordance defines the two Hebrew words "qodesh" and "miqra" translated "holy" and "convocation":
qodesh (ko'-desh) … a sacred place or thing….7
miqra' (mik-raw') … something called out, i.e. a public meeting….8
The Prophet Ezekiel comments upon this type of Sabbath meeting:
Thus saith the Lord YHWH; the gate of the inner court that looketh toward the east shall be shut the six working days; but on the sabbath it shall be opened, and in the day of the new moon…. And the prince shall enter by the way of the porch of that gate without … and the priests shall prepare his burnt offering and his peace offerings, and he shall worship at the threshold of the gate…. Likewise the people of the land shall worship at the door of this gate before YHWH in the sabbaths and in the new moons. (Ezekiel 46:1-3)
Although under the New Covenant animal sacrifices are no longer required; this passage, nevertheless, sets the precedent for worship services on the Sabbath.
Psalm 92, known as "A Psalm, A Song for the Sabbath Day," provides a glimpse of what a Sabbath service should consist of:
It is a good thing to give thanks unto YHWH, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most High: To shew forth thy lovingkindness in the morning …. (Psalm 92:1-2)
Prayers of thanksgiving, songs of praise and declarations of Yahweh’s goodness should all be a part of our Sabbath services.
The following are the principle elements of the Fourth Commandment:
- Attention to six days of labor
Fourth Commandment Exemptions
- Abstention from labor, occupation and business
- Constraint from buying and selling
- Abstention from one’s own pleasure
- Attention to worship
The previous five regulations are general guidelines for Sabbath observance. However, there are lawful exemptions from these Sabbath requirements.
From reading the law it is quite obvious that under the Old Covenant system of worship, the work of the Levitical priests and laymen was an exception to these Sabbath requirements. In fact, the Sabbath was often the priests most arduous day and yet they were innocent of Fourth Commandment infraction:
…he [Yeshua] said unto them [the Pharisees], … have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless? (Matthew 12:3-5)
The same holds true for the Levitical priest’s New Covenant counterparts such as evangelists, pastors and teachers. While their labor may not be physical; nevertheless, because of sermon preparation, preaching the Word and other ministerial duties, the Sabbath is often their most strenuous day as well. Consequently, ministerial work is an exempt area of work or occupation.
Health Care and Related Services
Health care and related services are also exempt from the usual Sabbath regulations:
…he [Yeshua] entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand…. And he saith unto them [the Pharisees], Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? To save life, or to kill? But they held their peace. And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand … and his hand was restored…. (Mark 3:1-5)
This account sets the criterion for doctors, nurses, and employees of hospitals, emergency units, ambulance services, fire stations, emergency telephone services, energy services and some food services. They, too, are exempt from the usual Sabbath restrictions. Nevertheless, for those who work on the Sabbath in these areas of exemption, another day should be set aside on which to observe a substitute sabbath day. Biblical precedent for this practice is found in an Old Testament account pertaining to Passover observance. For those, who for one reason or another, were unable to celebrate the Passover on its designated day, an alternate day was set aside so that they would be able to fulfill their responsibilities concerning the Passover:
Deeds of Compassion
…YHWH spake unto Moses … saying, Let the children of Israel also keep the passover at his appointed season. In the fourteenth day of this month [Abib], at even, ye shall keep it in his appointed season…. And there were certain men, who were defiled by the dead body of a man, that they could not keep the passover on that day…. And YHWH spake unto Moses, saying, …If any man of you or of your posterity shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the passover unto YHWH. The fourteenth day of the second month at even they shall keep it…. (Numbers 9:1-11)
Although physical exertion may be involved, deeds of compassion are likewise exempt from Sabbath limitations:
…he [Yeshua] said unto them [the Pharisees], What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days. (Matthew 12:11-12)
If your neighbor’s cattle are out on the road, do not wait for the Sabbath to end to lend him a helping hand. If you are travelling to worship services and someone’s vehicle is broken down along side of the road, do not leave him stranded with the excuse that it is the Sabbath and you have to get to church. Stop and be a good Samaritan, knowing that lending your neighbor a helping hand on the Sabbath does not violate the Fourth Commandment. Failing to assist a needy neighbor, however, transgresses the second greatest commandment of loving your neighbor as yourself.
Deeds of compassion include care of animals:
The Lord then answered him [a synagogue official], and said … doth not each one of you [Judahite Israelites] on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? (Luke 13:15)
Nevertheless, with the exception of emergencies and milking cows, most animal needs can be taken care of just prior to the commencement of the Sabbath, and they will remain in fine condition until the Sabbath has concluded.
Deeds of compassion in and of themselves are not always necessarily pleasing to Yahweh. John Calvin pointed out the "the Sabbath is violated even by good works, so long as we regard them as our own."9 What is done on the Sabbath should always be done unto Yahweh. In fact, this should be a Christian’s approach to life all seven days of the week:
…whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men. (Colossians 3:23)
Warfare is another exempt area from the usual Sabbath restrictions. Although this exception is not specifically addressed in the Pentateuch, the book of Joshua demonstrates this war-exemption. In the seventh chapter of Joshua, Yahweh provided a great victory for the Israelites over the city of Jericho. He did so, among other things, by having Joshua send his army to march around the city seven days without abeyance, that is, without a Sabbath break.
A Sabbath intermission during certain acts of warfare would be foolishness at the best and, in some cases, suicide. The Popular and Critical Bible Commentary comments on the consequence of King Ptolemy’s surprise attack on Jerusalem on the Sabbath:
After the death of Alexander [the Great] at Babylon (B.C. 324), Ptolemy [King of Egypt] surprised Jerusalem on the Sabbath day, when the Jews would not fight, plundered the city, and carried away a great number of the inhabitants to Egypt….10
A similar tragedy occurred during the Maccabean Wars in 167 BC:
…when it was told the [Syrian] king’s [Antiochus Epiphanies’] servants, and the host that was at Jerusalem, in the city of David, that certain [Judahite] men, who had broken the king’s commandment, were gone down into the secret places in the wilderness, they pursued after them … and made war against them on the sabbath day.… Howbeit they [those who had fled from the Syrian king] answered them not, neither cast they a stone at them, nor stopped the places where they lay hid; but said, Let us die all in our innocency: heaven and earth shall testify for us, that ye put us to death wrongfully. So they [the king’s servants] rose up against them [the Judahites] in battle on the sabbath, and they slew them, with their wives and children, and their cattle, to the number of a thousand people.11
Those sacrifices were unnecessary, and they were not required by Yahweh as demonstrated by the battle of Jericho. As a consequence of the aforementioned tragedy, Mattathias Maccabeus and his comrades decreed to fight on the Sabbath when it was necessary to defend their lives or the lives of their brethren:
At that time therefore they [Mattathias and his friends] decreed, saying, Whosoever shall come to make battle with us on the sabbath day, we will fight against him; neither will we die all, as our brethren that were murdered in the secret places.12
Essential purchases for the previous exemptions are also excluded from Sabbath prohibitions. For example, gasoline purchases for ambulances, Flight For Life vehicles and fire trucks are excused. The same would hold true for purchases associated with ministerial obligations, deeds of compassion or warfare. Nevertheless, most Sabbath purchases can be eliminated with a little forethought and planning. It is a simple matter to purchase gas the day before and in most cases, items for deeds of compassion and food for travel can be planned in advance so that no Sabbath purchases are necessary. When these items are purchased on the Sabbath, it means that a gas station or grocery store or drug store must be open to accommodate them. In order to stay in business, that business must pay its employees to remain open all day. They cannot afford to stay open exclusively on the off chance that someone might need an item of emergency or good deed. Most fire stations, Flight For Life vehicles, and other emergency vehicles have their own gas storage. Warfare items are purchased by contract and stored for later use. Regular medical supplies can be stored at home. Ministerial items can be purchased in advance and stored also. This narrows the issue down to those who for convenience sake purchase on the Sabbath rather than planning ahead. One exception would be emergency drugs and medical needs, and these, in most instances, could be purchased from hospitals that serve medical needs on the Sabbath.
The Captivity Exemption
Any discussion concerning Sabbath exemptions would be incomplete without considering the exception for those in captivity. It is highly unlikely that when Israel was in the Egyptian, Assyrian and Babylonian captivities that their captors provided them with regular sabbaths. In fact when Moses went to deliver the Israelites from their Egyptian taskmasters, "sabbathing" was one of the things that concerned Pharaoh:
…Moses and Aaron … said to Pharaoh, "Thus says YHWH, … 'Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness.'" …But the king of Egypt said to them, "Moses and Aaron, why do you draw the people away from their work? Get back to your labors!" Again Pharaoh said, "Look, the people of the land are now many, and you would have them cease from their labors!" (Exodus 5:1-5 NASV)
The English word "cease" is translated from the Hebrew word "shabath." In other words, Pharaoh was not about to give his slaves a sabbath rest from their labors. This appears to be at least one reason why, before entering Canaan land, Moses told the Israelites to "remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt … therefore YHWH your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day." (Deuteronomy 5:15)
Did Yahweh hold these captive Israelites accountable for Sabbath desecration when it was out of their control in the same way He did when it was in their power to keep it? If He had held them accountable, the Israelites would have never gotten out of captivity.
Our present political climate must be taken into consideration as well. Depending upon a person’s occupation, his employer may or may not force him to work on the Sabbath. In some instances, it is either work on the Sabbath or lose your means of subsistence. In such cases what should a Christian do? There is no stock answer to this question. Probably the best choice would be to do everything in a person’s power to locate other employment that allows for Sabbath observance. However, under the current non-Christian civil body politic when Sabbath observance is not permitted, an exception is provided for those who have little or no choice in the matter:
…if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. (1 Timothy 5:8)
This is a greater law, like that for emergency medical treatment, which comes into play in such situations as the one previously described. When a person has the choice to either keep the Sabbath or to feed his family, the latter takes precedence. This is known as a work of necessity. Christians in this kind of situation should treat the Sabbath the same as those who work in other areas of exemption, observing the Sabbath on an alternate day.
If Christian Israel, applying Yahweh’s law on both an individual and societal level, were in control of the government, life would be unequivocally different from the present situation. Many questions regarding the Sabbath would be automatically eliminated because if Yahweh’s laws were the law of the land, these situations simply would not exist. For example, there would be no such thing as an employer of a non-exempt business or industry forcing his employees to work on the Sabbath.
A person must be careful that he does not use these areas of exemption as excuses for doing his own desires on the Sabbath rather than what Yahweh would have him do. Living under a system governed by love and freedom, as we do under the Christian Covenant, comes with pitfalls. The Apostle Paul warned us of these snares in Galatians 5. On one hand, Paul admonished that our freedom should be maintained and protected:
Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. (Galatians 5:1)
On the other hand, Paul warned of the snares that accompany freedom:
…brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to [opportunity for NASV] the flesh, but by love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)
Jude warned of the same trap:
…certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus [the] Christ. (Jude 1:4 NASV)
In a state of freedom a person can find himself justifying or giving license to what is actually transgressions of the law. One definition for "licentiousness" is "free from moral restraint." Another word for "moral restraint" is "law." Noah Webster’s first edition of his American Dictionary of the English Language defines "licentious" and "licentiousness":
LICENTIOUS … Using license; indulging freedom to excess; unrestrained by law or morality….
LICENTIOUSNESS … With excess of liberty; contempt of the just restraints of law, morality and decorum.13
In other words, licentiousness is liberation from law or giving license to do what the law forbids. Consequently, licentiousness is what today’s antinomian (anti-law) ministers are preaching. Not only are they turning "the grace of our God into licentiousness," but they are consequently denying "our only Master and Lord Yeshua" as well. This would also be true for anyone attempting to use some exemption for the Sabbath to justify a non-exempt act.
Yeshua’s declaration that "the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" is also often used in an attempt to give license to do that which is unlawful. However, Yeshua was not declaring that the Sabbath regulations were at fault, but rather that the Pharisees’ application of the regulations was in error. The Pharisees made man subservient to the law rather than the law to man. Their approach left no room whatsoever for exceptions, whereas Yahweh allows lawful exemptions.
A Christian should ask himself: Am I exempting a particular act or myself for my own benefit, pleasure or profit, or am I doing so for the sake of Yahweh and/or my fellow man? There are some vague areas related to Sabbath observance. Nevertheless, whatever is done with the Sabbath should be done unto Yahweh in order to bring glory and honor to Him and His name.
Fourth Commandment Statutes
Many Christians are unaware that there are other sabbaths mentioned in the Bible in addition to the seventh-day Sabbath. The following examples are only two of the numerous instances where multiple Sabbaths are cited:
Ye shall keep my sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary: I am YHWH. (Leviticus 19:30)
I am YHWH your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; and hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am YHWH your God. (Ezekiel 20:19-20)
Just as over 95% of the material that I have accumulated on the Fourth Commandment is devoted to the timing of the Sabbath, the same is true pertaining to the seventh-day Sabbath. In other words, less than 5% of the material that I possess on the Fourth Commandment is dedicated to the other sabbaths.
There are three other classifications of sabbaths mentioned in the Bible. The seventh-day Sabbath occurs most frequently. The remaining sabbaths will be addressed in succession of decreasing frequency.
The Annual Sabbaths / The Feasts
Although it is not a very well known fact, the seventh-day Sabbath is identified as one of the Feasts:
…YHWH spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel … concerning the feasts of YHWH, which ye shall proclaim to be holy convocations, even these are my feasts. …the seventh day is the sabbath of rest, an holy convocation…. These are the feasts of YHWH, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their seasons. (Leviticus 23:1-4)
The reason that the seventh-day Sabbath is mentioned first in this dialogue concerning the Feasts is because it is the primary commandment upon which the other feasts or sabbaths or statutes hang. The remainder of Leviticus 23 is dedicated to the following feasts or festivals: Passover/Unleavened Bread (verses 4-8), First Fruits (verses 9-14), Weeks/Pentecost (verses 15-22), Trumpets (verse 23-25), Atonement (verse 26-32) and Booths or Tabernacles/Ingathering (verses 33-36 and 39-44).
Further evidence that the Feasts are sabbaths is found in the fact that they are identified as "holy convocations" like the seventh-day Sabbath. It is also specified that no work or business is to be done on the high sabbaths of these annual Feasts. Thus, in addition to being festivals or holidays, they are rest periods or sabbaths unto Yahweh.
Every type and shadow or requirement of these Feasts is not imposed under the New Covenant. For example, Yeshua is our Passover lamb and has already been sacrificed – 1 Corinthians 5:7. Consequently we are no longer required to sacrifice a literal lamb. Likewise, New Covenant Christians are no longer required to remove literal leaven from their homes during Unleavened Bread. This is fulfilled when Christians address and repent of the sin in their lives – 1 Corinthians 5:1-8. Nevertheless, under the Christian Covenant we should observe these sabbaths in commemoration of Yahweh’s great deliverances and blessings both past, present and future. We should look to the past in celebration of our Israelite history and heritage,14 to the present in celebration of our redemption and to the future in celebration of our ultimate victory and deliverance in Yeshua. These feasts are no less important for contemporary Israelites than is the 4th of July for modern Americans.
If America were living under Yahweh’s law system, in addition to the seventh-day Sabbath, we would commemorate three special national holidays or annual sabbaths in holy convocation. We would celebrate Passover/Unleavened Bread for eight days, Weeks/Pentecost on the fiftieth day, seven weeks after the Feast of First Fruits, and Tabernacles/Ingathering for eight days. We would also celebrate First Fruits for one day, trumpets for one day and Atonement for one day.
The Seventh-Year Sabbath / The Land Rest / The Year of Release
There are three principal elements to the seventh-year sabbath, also known as the Sabbatical Year – land rest, debt remission and servant release.
The first principle aspect of the seventh-year sabbath requires that all agricultural land be rested or lay fallow every seventh year:
…YHWH spake unto Moses … saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, … the land [shall] keep a sabbath unto YHWH. Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof; but in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for YHWH: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard. That which groweth of its own accord of thy harvest thou shalt not reap, neither gather the grapes of thy vine undressed: for it is a year of rest unto the land. And the sabbath of the land shall be meat for you; for thee, and for thy servant, and for thy maid, and for thy hired servant, and for thy stranger that sojourneth with thee, and for thy cattle, and for the beast that are in thy land, shall all the increase thereof be meat. (Leviticus 25:1-7)
It is a well-established agricultural fact that resting the land every seven years is best for the soil and that much-improved crops result from doing so. This biblical practice also greatly reduces the need for pesticides and herbicides. Yet, today this practice is almost unheard of in America. One of the reasons for this is because America is also transgressing Yahweh’s prohibitions against usury, or interest banking:
Thou shalt not lend upon usury [interest] to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury. (Deuteronomy 23:19)
America’s ungodly economic system alone makes it nearly impossible for most farmers to give their land a one in seven year sabbath. Any farmer in debt who would let his land lay fallow for one year would be unlikely to make that year’s payment to the usurers and would then lose his land to his "friendly" neighborhood banker. Disobedience always has its consequences. In this case, if a farmer obeys Yahweh and sabbaths his land, he risks losing his land because of usury. On the other hand, if he disobeys Yahweh in order to retain possession of his land, he risks falling under the judgment of Yahweh.
Violation of the Sabbatical Year’s land rest is such a serious transgression that it is specifically listed as one of the sins that resulted in the Israelites being conquered and removed from the land:
…I [Yahweh] … will chastise you [Israelites] seven times for your sins. …I will scatter you among the heathen … and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste. Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies' land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths. As long as it lieth desolate it shall rest; because it did not rest in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it. (Leviticus 26:28-35)
The land sabbath was disregarded seventy times by the house of Judah. Consequently, those Israelites were sentenced to seventy years in Babylonian captivity:
…the wrath of YHWH arose against his people [because of the house of Judah’s disobedience], till there was no remedy. Therefore he brought upon them [Nebuchadnezzar] the king of the Chaldees … he gave them all into his hand…. And them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon; where they [the remnant of the house of Judah] were servants to him and his sons … until the land [of Israel] had enjoyed her sabbaths: for as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfil threescore and ten years. (2 Chronicles 36:16-21)
If American farmers would trust Yahweh enough to rest the land in the seventh year as He commanded, Yahweh promises a bumper crop on the sixth year, enough to provide for the seventh, eighth and ninth years:
Wherefore ye shall do my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; and ye shall dwell in the land in safety…. And if ye shall say, What shall we eat the seventh year? Behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our increase: Then I [YHWH] will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years. And ye shall sow the eighth year, and eat yet of old fruit until the ninth year; until her [the eighth year’s] fruits come in ye shall eat of the old store. (Leviticus 25:18-22)
The volunteer crop of the seventh year is to be given to the poor and needy and what remains is to be left for the animals:
…six years thou shalt sow thy land, and shalt gather in the fruits thereof: But the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie still; that the poor of thy people may eat: and what they leave the beasts of the field shall eat. In like manner thou shalt deal with thy vineyard, and with thy oliveyard. (Exodus 23:10-11)
In order for there to be a volunteer crop in the seventh year, farmers must also stop breaking Yahweh’s anti-hybridization laws:
Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed…. (Leviticus 19:19)
Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with divers seeds: lest the fruit of thy seed which thou hast sown, and the fruit of thy vineyard, be defiled. (Deuteronomy 22:9)
Only non-hybrid, open-pollinated seed will produce volunteer crops large enough to feed the needy as well as the animals during the seventh, eighth and ninth years. Such seed will also restore nutritional value to our foods and health to our nation.
The second principal aspect of the seventh-year sabbath concerns the remission of debts:
At the end of every seven years thou shalt make a release…. Every creditor that lendeth ought unto his neighbour shall release it … it is called YHWH’s release…. If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren … thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need…. Beware that there be not a thought in thy wicked heart, saying, The seventh year, the year of release, is at hand … and thou givest him nought…. (Deuteronomy 15:1-11)
Some people teach that this is simply a one-year moratorium on debt. In other words, during the Sabbatical Year, collection of debts is suspended until the sabbatical year ends. Those who hold this position maintain that if debt is totally cancelled every seventh year, including the forty-ninth year, there would be no debt to cancel on the fiftieth or jubilee year. However, this argument is based on the assumption that the fiftieth-year release applies to the same type of debt remitted on the seventh year. This is not accurate. In To Heal A Nation, Dr. J. Franklin Snook commented on the difference between the debts remitted on the seventh and fiftieth years:
The sabbath principle also applies to the Jubilee year, which occurs after every seventh seven-year period – that is, the fiftieth year. On the 49th year all debts are cancelled as on each seventh year, but on the 50th, or Jubilee year all land that has been sold (actually leased) during the previous 49 years reverts to the original family who possessed it. In other words, land is not sold in perpetuity but is leased until the year of Jubilee.15
The correct interpretation for the seventh-year release is a cancellation of all public and private debts with the exception that land could be retained by a person leasing it until the year of Jubilee. If the seventh-year sabbath required only a moratorium on debt there would then have been no reason for the Jews to have created an unlawful loophole for the purpose of getting around this revocation as described in The Standard Jewish Encyclopedia:
PROSBUL [Gk. "for the court"]: A special form of legal document annulling the cancellation of debts during the Sabbatical year enjoyed by biblical precept. Scripture warns against refusing to lend to the needy because of the approaching Sabbatical year cancellation (Deut. 15). Nevertheless, the tendency prevailed not to make loans as the Sabbatical year approached, and [Rabbi] Hillel therefore issued an enactment whereby a lender would not lose his money despite the Sabbatical year if he made a declaration in writing to the court in the following manner: " I hereby make known to you, judges of this place, that I wish to be able to collect all debts due to me at any time I may desire."16
If today’s politicians were truly sincere about balancing the budget they would champion a return to Yahweh’s laws including the seventh-year sabbath and its cancellation of debt. In fact, this is the only way that America’s budget will ever be balanced. As the record demonstrates, all other legislation passed for the purpose of balancing the budget has been but a "band-aid" at best. It is interesting that although America’s current legislators do not have the right solution, they often use seven years as their time frame for balancing the budget.
Today’s ungodly, usurious economic system only compounds the problem year after year. Under Yahweh’s system the budget would never be unbalanced for more than six years. Inflation and recessions would all but disappear. A person can only imagine the prosperity that would be enjoyed under such a system. In fact, Yahweh promises that if we obey His laws that we would never experience a deficit, and that rather than being the greatest debtor nation as America is today, we would be the greatest lending nation as America was in the past when she more closely adhered to Yahweh’s laws:
…if thou carefully hearken unto the voice of YHWH thy God, to observe to do all these commandments YHWH [will bless] … thee … and thou shalt lend unto many nations, but thou shalt not borrow…. (Deuteronomy 15:5-6)
Under America’s current economic system, the gap between the rich and the poor only widens. In contrast, Yahweh’s system reduces the disparity between these two groups:
…there shall be no poor among you … if only you listen obediently to the voice of YHWH your God, to observe carefully all this commandment [concerning the Sabbatical Year] which I am commanding you today. (Deuteronomy 15:4-5 NASV)
This is not to say that there will not be any poor in the land:
…the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land. (Deuteronomy 15:11)
The poor will not disappear completely; however the needy will be scarcer when Yahweh’s monetary laws are followed than when following man’s economic system. This same Sabbatical Year principle pertaining to the poor is addressed in the New Testament:
…whoso hath this world's goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? (1 John 3:17)
The year of release is specifically for the poor in the land. It does not apply to financial penalties incurred by criminals as the result of judgment for crime. It also does not apply to loans to foreigners:
…this is the manner of the release: Every creditor that lendeth ought unto his neighbour shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbour, or of his brother…. Of a foreigner thou mayest exact it again…. Deuteronomy 15:2-3)
The same exception is made for usury:
Thou shalt not lend upon usury [interest] to thy brother; usury of money, usury of victuals, usury of any thing that is lent upon usury: Unto a stranger thou mayest lend upon usury…. (Deuteronomy 23:19-20)
The third principal aspect of the Sabbatical Year concerns the release of indentured servants:
…if thy brother, an Hebrew man, or an Hebrew woman, be sold unto thee, and serve thee six years; then in the seventh year thou shalt let him go free from thee. And when thou sendest him out free from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress…. It shall not seem hard unto thee, when thou sendest him away free from thee; for he hath been worth a double hired servant to thee, in serving thee six years: and YHWH thy God shall bless thee in all that thou doest. (Deuteronomy 15:12-18)
This further demonstrates that the seventh-year sabbath is a cancellation of debt rather than simply a suspension of debt. If servants were to be set totally free only every fifty years, many servants would never experience freedom because many would die before having this opportunity.
Indentureship is for the purpose of assisting someone who has no other way of surviving than to sell himself into temporary servitude. One or two years of such service will not always suffice to alleviate someone’s financial plight. Consequently, an indentured servant is to be released at the end of the seventh year of his service rather than during the Sabbatical Year, unless, of course, they occur at the same time. Deuteronomy 15:12-18 is essentially a repeat of what is stated in Exodus 21:2-6. However, Exodus 21 does not say anything about the Sabbatical Year.
Severance pay was probably derived from the practice described in Deuteronomy 15. Servants are not to be sent away empty-handed, but rather the landowner or employer is to give them a generous gift upon their release in the seventh year of their service. In other words, this is to be a bonus according to the bounty that the landowner or employer reaped as a result of his servant’s assistance. This relationship between master and servant is briefly addressed in the New Testament:
Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 4:1)
…they [servants] that have believing masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit….(1 Timothy 6:2)
As a part of the seventh-year sabbath, a holy convocation is to be observed during the Feast of Tabernacles at which time the law of Yahweh is to be read to the people:
…Moses commanded them, … At the end of every seven years, in … the year of release, in the feast of tabernacles … thou shalt read this [Yahweh’s] law before all Israel…. Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear YHWH your God, and observe to do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 31:10-12)
In other words, in order to properly observe the Sabbatical Year the Feast of Tabernacles must likewise be celebrated.
The Fiftieth-Year Sabbath / The Land Reversion / The Year of Jubilee
Every fiftieth year is also to be a one-year sabbath. This is known as the year of Jubilee:
…thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years. Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land. And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you…. (Leviticus 25:8-10)
The Jubilee year is to commence with the blowing of the trumpet on the Day of Atonement. Therefore, when the fiftieth-year sabbath is reinstated, the Feasts must be restored as well.
In addition to letting the land lay fallow during the fiftieth year,17 all land is to be returned to the family of its original owner. In other words, land is never to be permanently sold:
In the year of this jubilee ye shall return every man unto his possession. (Leviticus 25:13)
Under America’s current form of government, if you are either unable to make your usurious loan payment or pay your taxes, your "friendly" banker or "Big Brother" confiscates your property. Under Yahweh’s law system such theft would never occur because Yahweh owns all of the land:
The land shall not be sold [or confiscated] for ever: for the land is mine [Yahweh’s]…. (Leviticus 25:23)
Therein is found the reason why the land is not to be taxed. The power to tax something proves ownership. Land does not rightfully belong to any government but rather to Yahweh and to whom Yahweh or His government apportions it.
Most farmers and landowners are under the mistaken notion that the government steals their land when the sheriff and his deputies show up and physically removes them from their homesteads. However, the land was initially stolen from them when the government fraudulently legislated to tax their land, and the people unwittingly, or under duress, allowed the government to get away with it. Current "owners" are only temporary tenants to be extricated at the whim of the government. The response to our legislators should have been the same as Naboth’s when King Ahab wanted to confiscate his vineyard:
…Naboth said to Ahab, YHWH forbid it me, that I should give the inheritance of my fathers unto thee. (1 Kings 21:3)
Yahweh neither abdicated His ownership nor His eminent domain. Consequently, such governments are thieves and are stealing from God. Yahweh never intended governments to be landowners. Under the Mosaic Covenant, the Levites were the government administrators and as such they were not permitted to own land, except for homes within their cities and the attached land or suburbs:
Command the children of Israel, that they give unto the Levites … cities to dwell in; and ye shall give also unto the Levites suburbs for the cities round about them. And the cities shall they have to dwell in; and the suburbs of them shall be for their cattle, and for their goods, and for all their beasts. And the suburbs of the cities, which ye shall give unto the Levites, shall reach from the wall of the city and outward a thousand cubits round about…. So all the cities which ye shall give to the Levites shall be forty and eight cities: them shall ye give with their suburbs. (Numbers 35:2-7)
Government has the duty of protecting the public and their property instead of taxing them and confiscating their possessions.
The land ultimately belongs to Yahweh. It is never to permanently change hands and in the year of Jubilee it is to return to the family of the original occupants with the exception of houses or lands within city limits:
…if a man sell a dwelling house in a walled city, then he may redeem it within a whole year after it is sold; within a full year may he redeem it. And if it be not redeemed within the space of a full year, then the house that is in the walled city shall be established for ever to him that bought it throughout his generations: it shall not go out [be returned] in the jubilee. (Leviticus 25:29-30)
This exception, however, did not apply to properties within city limits that belonged to the Levites:
Notwithstanding the cities of the Levites, and the houses of the cities of their possession, may the Levites redeem at any time. And if a man purchase of the Levites, then the house that was sold, and the city of his possession, shall go out in the year of jubile: for the houses of the cities of the Levites are their possession among the children of Israel. But the field of the suburbs of their cities may not be sold; for it is their [the Levites’] perpetual possession. (Leviticus 25:32-34)
The year of Jubilee is also a year of family reunions in which every man is to return to his family on the homestead:
…it [the fiftieth year] shall be a jubilee unto you … and ye shall return every man unto his family. (Leviticus 25:10)
During each Jubilee year on the Day of Atonement each of us should be reminded of our own atonement or release from our debts owed to Yahweh. Thus, we should also forgive those whom we have anything against. C. D. Gingsburg takes us back in time concerning this Jubilee annulment of debts:
On the close of the great Day of Atonement, when the Hebrews realised [sic] that they had peace of mind, that their heavenly Father had annulled their sins, and that they had become re-united to Him through His forgiving mercy, every Israelite was called upon to proclaim throughout the land, by nine blasts of the cornet, that he too had given the soil rest, [and] that he had freed every encumbered family estate, and that he had given liberty to every slave, who was now to rejoin his kindred. Inasmuch as God has forgiven his debts, he also is to forgive his debtors.18
Yahweh’s law system promotes freedom and prosperity for all and the Fourth Commandment plays an integral part in accomplishing this.
Fourth Commandment Judgment
Blatant Fourth Commandment transgression demands the death penalty:
Speak thou … unto the children of Israel, saying…. Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to YHWH: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. (Exodus 31:13-15)
…while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. …YHWH said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp…. (Numbers 15:32-36)
Because the Sabbath is important enough to Yahweh to make transgression of the Fourth Commandment a capital crime, it should likewise be important enough to Yahweh’s people to hallow the Sabbath.
The Kingdom Sabbath
Anything written on the Sabbath would be grossly incomplete that did not mention the ultimate sabbath made possible through Yeshua the Christ and His atoning blood sacrifice and resurrection from the grave:
…if Joshua had given them [the nation of Israel] rest [in Canaan], He [Yahweh] would not have spoken of another day after that. There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:8-11 NASV)
Although, neither the Sabbath nor rest is mentioned, this is the same thing that the author of Hebrews addressed in chapters 11 and 12:
By faith Abraham … looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God…. Therefore sprang there even of one [Abraham] … so many [descendants] as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable. These all died in faith, not having received the promises…. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God … hath prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:8-16)
…ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, … to the general assembly and church of the firstborn … and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling. (Hebrews 12:22-24)
Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem and the church of the firstborn, among other things, are all referring to essentially the same thing, the kingdom of Yahweh:
Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. (Hebrews 12:28)
It is in the kingdom of Yahweh here on earth, made possible through Yeshua, that our final and complete rest is to be found. The present state of affairs here in America demonstrates that a new land in and of itself does not make this possible. There is only true peace and true rest for the people of Yahweh when they are resting in Yeshua in His kingdom, made possible by the implementation of Yahweh’s commandments, statutes and judgments:
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I [Yeshua] will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
Rousas J. Rushdoony made the following Sabbath comparison:
The pattern of the sabbath is God’s creation rest; the goal of the sabbath is man’s redemption rest.19
Our individual rest or sabbath in Yeshua can and should be experienced corporately when as a nation we apply Yahweh’s laws to every sphere of life here on earth, which will result in His will being done here on earth as it is in heaven. It is in this corporate relationship with Yahweh that His rest or Sabbath is enjoyed in the optimum, and it is in this kingdom experience that the yoke of oppression is completely eliminated:
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined…. For thou [Yahweh] hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian…. For unto us [the nation of Israel] a child [Yeshua] is born … and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of Yahweh of hosts will perform this. (Isaiah 9:2-7)
Unfortunately, the Sabbath can only be observed in a limited fashion individually or as a church body. Many aspects of the Sabbath can never be fully experienced and the blessings cannot be fully realized until we implement the Fourth Commandment and its statutes on a national basis. However, for this national kingdom sabbath to be finally experienced, it must begin with individual commitments wherein we make Yeshua Lord, Savior and King of our lives:
Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. For we which have believed [repented and been baptized for the remission of sins – Mark 16:15-16, Acts 2:36-41] do enter into rest…. Again, … as it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts. Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief. (Hebrews 4:1-11)
A copy of this article is available in MS Word in a zipped file and can be downloaded HERE.
1. Yahweh is the personal Hebrew name of the God of the Bible. Where the Tetragrammaton "YHWH" (the four Hebrew characters that represent the personal name of God) has been incorrectly rendered as "the LORD" or "GOD" in Scripture, the author has taken the liberty to correct these passages and insert "YHWH."
2. All scripture is quoted from the King James Version unless otherwise noted.
3. "Yeshua" is the English transliteration of our Savior’s Hebrew name and is preferred by the author.
4. John Calvin, Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses in the Form of a Harmony (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1981) Volume II, p. 435.
5. James Strong, "Dictionary of the Hebrew Bible," The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990) p. 112.
6. Strong, p. 112.
7. Strong, p. 102.
8. Strong, p. 71.
9. John Calvin, Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses in the Form of a Harmony (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1950) Volume II, p. 436, quoted by Rousas John Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1973) Volume 1, p. 153.
10. Samuel Fallows, editor, The Popular and Critical Bible Commentary and Scriptural Dictionary (Chicago, IL: Howard-Severance Company, 1909) Volume II, p. 931.
11. 1 Maccabees 2:31-38.
12. 1 Maccabees 2:41.
13. Noah Webster, "LICENTIOUS" and "LICENTIOUSNESS," American Dictionary of the English Language, 1828 edition reprinted (San Francisco, CA: The Foundation for American Christian Education, 1967).
14. God’s Covenant People: Yesterday, Today and Forever, a 465-page book written by Evangelist Ted R. Weiland, provides a documented dissertation regarding the identity of Israel and today’s Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, Scandinavian, Celtic and kindred peoples. A copy may be ordered from Mission to Israel Ministries, PO Box 248, Scottsbluff, Nebraska 69363. Suggested donation: hardcover - $23.00, soft cover - $14.00.
15. Dr. J. Franklin Snook, To Heal A Nation (Salem, OR: J. Franklin Snook, 1977) p. 46.
16. "PROSBUL," The Standard Jewish Encyclopedia (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1966) p. 1547.
17. Because the forty-ninth year is to be a seventh-year sabbath, the land would actually lay fallow for two consecutive years every forty-ninth and fiftieth year.
18. C. D. Ginsburg, "Leviticus," Ellicott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan) Volume I, p. 454, quoted by Rousas John Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1973) Volume 1, p. 141.
19. Rousas John Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1973) Volume 1, p. 128.