Many ask, "How should I keep the Sabbath?" This article gives you the principles that will enable you to observe God's Sabbath as He intended.
Jesus Christ said, "Since the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27). He didn't say it was made for the Jew, but for man — for all human beings everywhere on earth. The Sabbath was made for man, it was made when man was made — during creation week. Read the account in Genesis 2:2-3: "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 had created and made." In Exodus 20:8-11, we read God's instruction about the Sabbath — the fourth of God's Ten Commandments: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it shalt shall do no 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 the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and hallowed it."
Sabbath a Special Sign
The Sabbath is very special to God. It is a memorial of creation — a special sign — identifying God as Creator and those who keep it as His people. Notice Exodus 31:14-17: "Ye shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy unto 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 forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed." Throughout much of their history, God's people, ancient Israel, rebelled against God and failed to observe the Sabbath. They ignored and trampled all over it. Notice: "Moreover I also gave them My Sabbaths... But the house of Israel rebelled against Me in the wilderness... and my Sabbaths they greatly polluted..." (Ezekiel 20:12-13). Because of this sin, the 10 tribes of the House of Israel went into captivity and lost their identity. They became known as gentiles because they forgot God's Sabbath!
Jews Punished for Sabbath-Breaking
God warned the people of Jerusalem that if they did not keep His Sabbath holy, He would destroy the city: "But if you will not heed 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" (Jer. 17:27). The people did not listen. They continued to break the Sabbath. The result was the sacking and destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans, and the captivity of its citizens (Jer. 52:12-30). After a number of years God brought some of the Jews back to Jerusalem. The people rebuilt the city and acknowledged the Sabbath. But even then, many began to break the Sabbath. Nehemiah "contended with the nobles of Judah, and said to them, 'What evil thing is this that you do, and profane the Sabbath day? Did not your fathers thus, and did not our God bring all this evil upon us, and upon this city? yet you bring more wrath upon Israel by profaning the Sabbath'" (Neh. 13:17-18).
Men Make Sabbath a Burden
Upon receiving Nehemiah's correction, most of the people repented and began observing God's Sabbath. However, human nature has a tendency to go to extremes. After the death of Nehemiah, religionists in their zeal to keep the Sabbath holy began to legislate in minute detail what a person could and could not do on the Sabbath. By contrast, God had given the people basic spiritual principles to apply in various situations. "Not good enough," said the Pharisees, the leading religious party. "The people don't have the knowledge, understanding and wisdom to do that. We must tell the people what they may do and what they may not do." The Pharisees did just that. They established 39 main categories of prohibited work alone. This was done to effect a norm for Sabbath observance that would be universal. Speaking of the rabbis who enacted these rules, Rabbi Solomon Goldman in his book A Guide to the Sabbath says on page 28: "Uniformity, they believed, could be achieved, not by the enunciation of general principles, but by sharp and detailed demarcation of the areas of what is forbidden and what is permitted, by prescribing even " for the remote contingency, by governing the apparently trivial circumstances of daily life and by strict definition of terms. Life itself, they felt, 'consists of a multitude of minimals.'" However pure their motives and desirable their objectives, the rabbis by their strict legislation caused the Sabbath to become an institution of itself. They made the Sabbath a burden, not a blessing for man as God designed it.
Sabbath Made to Serve Man
Christ said the Sabbath was made for you (Mark 2:27). You were not made for the Sabbath. It was made for you, to help you, to enable you to live a happier and more abundant life. It was not made to be a burden. God did not intend for a human being to so fret and worry about breaking the Sabbath that he would fear to do anything on that day. That is why this article is not an encyclopedic compilation of do's and don'ts for every possible situation that might arise on a Sabbath day. Our Creator knew that we would need a period of rest from our normal duties every seventh day. Each of us tends to become overly absorbed in our daily cares during the week. God foresaw this. He set aside the Sabbath as a time when we can completely forget our routine work. Then we can spend more time on those activities that help us better understand our relationship with God. From the very beginning, God intended His Sabbath to be a day of joy and delight, a special day of blessing and happiness!
What Does It Mean to "Rest"?
God is concerned with two overall aspects of your life on the Sabbath. First, he wants your time to be free from responsibilities and activities. Secondly, he wants your mind free from thinking about those daily responsibilities and activities. This makes you free to properly worship God on this day. Certainly we can physically rest more on the Sabbath. But the main emphasis is to rest from your normal toil and activities on this day. You should serve God with your mind on the Sabbath. Those who can't or don't control their minds call the Sabbath "bondage." They eagerly wait for the end of the Sabbath so they can be about their ways and pleasures, which they have been thinking about all day anyway. Once you are able, on the Sabbath, to get your mind and thoughts on God's purpose and God's ways, you will find out what a real delight and joy the Sabbath is. "Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord" (Isa. 58:14). How do you accomplish this? Devote the additional free Sabbath time you have to extra Bible study, extra prayer and extra meditation. This is the one day of the week when you don't have to worry about getting to the job, making payments, building fences, working out schedules, cleaning house. Remember, we are to take care of all our responsibilities during the rest of the week. But the Sabbath is free time — free from all your daily cares and worries — free to be completely absorbed in God and His Word.
Notice God's positive instruction about the Sabbath: "If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath [that is, don't trample on it], from doing your pleasure on My holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable, and shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, nor finding your own pleasure, nor speaking your own words, then you shall delight yourself in the Lord" (Isa. 58:13-14). Let's understand the principle of Isaiah 58:13-14. What does "your ways," " your pleasure," "your words" mean? 1. Your ways. This means course of life, mode of action — that is, your employment, enterprises, finances, the serious business of making a livelihood. You should not involve yourself in working at what you normally do during the week — those things by which you feed, clothe and care for yourself physically. This includes working around the house, sewing, cleaning, washing the car — all the things that pertain to your physical maintenance during the normal course of the week. 2. Your pleasure. Forsaking one's pleasure does not mean that the Sabbath is to be a rigorous day of abstinence. The principle is that we should avoid having our mind, time and energy taken up in hobbies, sports and pleasure seeking. The Sabbath was not designed for activities such as hunting, fishing, golfing, movies, television, boating — those things that take up our leisure time. This would also include the many time-consuming hobbies such as ham radio, woodworking and stamp collecting, etc. 3. Your words. This is the spiritual application of the first two principles. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matt. 12:34). We talk about what we are thinking. Our words show what is going on in our minds and hearts. This is obviously the most difficult of all! We may cease doing our ways and our pleasures, but it is much more difficult to cease thinking or talking about them. Here, again, we shouldn't become "Pharisaical" about this. It doesn't mean you can't mention or discuss "physical" things. There is no such regulation as: "You may not spend more than 30 seconds talking about cars on the Sabbath." You simply apply the principle by putting your mind on the positive purposes for which the Sabbath was made.
Sabbath Begins at Sunset
In order to keep the Sabbath your mind, walk time you are leaving for holy, we need to know when it occurs. Man begins his days at midnight. But God's days begin and end at sunset. Notice Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31. In every case the evening precedes the morning. Furthermore, God Almighty commands us to celebrate His holy time from "evening to evening" (Lev. 23:32). That is, from sunset to sunset. Look at any basic calendar. You will see that Sunday is the first day of the week, and that Saturday is the seventh day of the week. The weekly cycle has not been broken since man was created. For further information on this important point, read our free booklets Has Time Been Lost? God's Sabbath is the seventh day, which is called "Saturday" in the regular calendar. And since God's days begin at sunset, you should keep God's Sabbath beginning Friday evening at sunset and ending Saturday evening at sunset. The approximate time of the sunset may be found in most newspapers, in the weather forecast section. If this information is not available, the sunset may be determined by observing the light as it diminishes before the twilight approaches. Or, if you can see the sun, you would begin to observe the Sabbath when the sun is ready to fade away over the horizon.
Prepare for the Sabbath
In order that we may have our minds free from last-minute duties on the Sabbath, God has commanded that we prepare for it the day before. Exodus 16:23-25 shows that we should do our heavy cooking, roasting, boiling, etc., on the preparation day prior to the Sabbath. God does not want us to clutter up His Sabbath with long hours of cooking. Does that mean we cannot eat a fine, sumptuous meal on the Sabbath? Not at all. The Sabbath is a feast day. But it does mean we should plan ahead. Let's say we want to prepare a nice roast for the Sabbath. But this may require cooking it for two or three hours. What should we do? Here is one way to handle the situation: Cook it on Friday until it is almost but not completely done. Then on the Sabbath you can simply warm it up. In this way the time involved will be kept down to a minimum on the Sabbath, and the roast will not be dry. The same holds true for any kind of baking. Baked goods can be prepared ahead of time, kept in the refrigerator and brought out to be eaten on the Sabbath. Elaborate salads and dressings should be prepared separately ahead of time and saved until the Sabbath. There are some things which cannot or need not be done before the Sabbath. Obviously we would not normally fry or scramble an egg on Friday, store it in the deep freeze and then thaw it out and eat it Sabbath morning. One word of caution though, concerning the preparation day. It is only one day. Don't make the mistake of leaving daily duties — such as housecleaning, baking, cooking, grocery shopping, house repairs, car washing, etc. — until the preparation day before the Sabbath. Do this and you will find the Sabbath may be a day of total collapse rather than a peaceful day of rest and relaxation with enough energy to communicate with God! Friday is a day that prepares us for the Sabbath, not a day to catch up on what we should have been doing all week. By using the preparation day properly we will be able to enter the Sabbath in a spirit of rejoicing and worship toward God. Now let us briefly, discuss some specific questions which arise in regard to the Sabbath.
Fire on the Sabbath
Many wonder about Exodus 35:3. Should a fire be kindled on the Sabbath day? If not, how can one prepare a simple meal? What about people in very cold climates? Can't they build a fire to keep warm? Let's notice Exodus 35:3 and its context. This scripture says: "Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations on the Sabbath day." The original Hebrew word for "kindle" means to prepare a consuming flame, a flame that would devour — that is, a fire! The question is why mention such a fire in connection with the Sabbath? Read the context of chapter 35 and you will see. The Israelites were building the tabernacle and needed a fire large enough to work metal. The Israelites were so zealous for building the tabernacle, that Moses had to tell them to stop bringing unneeded materials for its construction. And God knew that if He did not stop them, the Israelites would work right through the Sabbath on the tabernacle. This was not a cooking or household heating fire. This had nothing to do with personal cooking — with turning on your kitchen stove. It was an industrial fire. On the other hand, fires of the proper type were commanded by God to be kept burning. Notice Leviticus 6:13: "The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar, it shall never go out." Here a sacrificial fire (from which the priests in the wilderness cooked their meat) remained burning on the Sabbath. In Exodus 35:3 God was not referring to a cooking, sacrificial or personal heating fire — but rather, a fire which is used for work that should be done only on the other six week days. It is certainly permissible to light a fire for heat in wintry weather or to warm up food.
What about travelling on the Sabbath? Some people are confused about the meaning of "a Sabbath day's journey" in Acts 1:12. This was a custom and tradition of the Jews. It is not a Biblical command. The rabbis tried to legislate exactly how far a person could legally walk on the Sabbath. The distance they arrived at was 2,000 cubits, which is about three quarters of a mile. Anyone who travelled more than this distance on the Sabbath became guilty of breaking the Sabbath in their eyes. But God never legislated on this point. There is no special command anywhere in the Bible defining travel on the Sabbath. However, one shouldn't walk or drive so far on the Sabbath as to become unduly tired or have his worship of God interfered with. As far as God is concerned, taking a refreshing walk is fine so long as it doesn't turn into a "hike." Driving to a nearby park to enjoy a relaxing family picnic is fine so long as it doesn't turn into a long trip. The questions you need to ask yourself are these: "Why do I want to travel on the Sabbath? Do I need to travel on the Sabbath? Is it to worship and glorify God? Will this travelling help me to keep God's Sabbath holy? Or is it merely for such pleasure-seeking which will deprive me of the ability to properly worship God?" You will have to ask and answer these questions for yourself, and act accordingly. It is not wrong to have a picnic lunch with the family or friends on the Sabbath. This could be a beneficial diversion and a relaxation. However, our thoughts should be centered on God — His ways, His purpose, His creation — on this day.
From time to time unconverted friends and relatives may come to visit on the Sabbath. What should be done? There are no hard and fast rules. Again, every set of circumstances is different. We must learn to use wisdom in each case. If visitors are old friends or relatives from out of town who have travelled some distance to visit you, then be as hospitable as possible. Invite them in. Let your light shine. If visitors are neighbors or in-town relatives, be hospitable and friendly. However, if certain individuals make it a practice of visiting you on the Sabbath, it might be best to tactfully tell the people involved that you believe Saturday is God's Sabbath, and ask if you could get together with them some other time. Every situation requires a different answer. You simply have to act with wisdom as the problem arises. Of course, if you are living a Christian life, the chances are close friends, neighbors and relatives already know you keep the Sabbath.
Instruct Your Children
The Sabbath affords a wonderful opportunity for you to train and teach your children. God inspired Solomon to write: "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6). This command would certainly apply to teaching your child to keep the Sabbath. However, you should remember that even sweet little children are self-centered. They understandably lack the comprehension to keep God's Law as an adult. With this principle in mind, encourage older children to study some profitable books, or to play quiet, subdued and educational games. It is all right for young children to play quietly on the Sabbath. But they should be taught to rest from their routine work or boisterous play on the Sabbath. They should be instructed in a kind and straightforward manner that the seventh day is holy to their heavenly Father, and that they can show their love for Him by refraining from their usual play on that day. Your children should be taught these things gradually and only as their age makes it possible for them to understand. If trained properly from infancy, a ten- or twelve-year-old child should have enough respect for God's Sabbath that he does not spend his time reading "funny books" or watching TV programs on that day. At first, keeping the Sabbath may seem strange to your children. They may be annoyed at not being able to do the things they used to on that day. But you as a parent can do a lot to offset any such resentment. Make sure you spend time with your children — especially if they are young. Walk with them. Talk with them. Have a family Bible study. Read them stories from the Bible. Encourage them to ask questions about God or the Sabbath. There are many things you can do on the Sabbath that will appeal to your children if you will only think about it. A family picnic, a walk in the woods or park, or merely around the block. If you really follow through with this principle, it won't be long before your children begin to associate the Sabbath with family togetherness.
Don't Push Your Family
When God begins to open a person's mind to His truth, one of the biggest problems to be wary of is trying to cram that knowledge down the throats of others. DON'T MAKE THIS MISTAKE! Christ tells us to let our light shine (Matt. 5:16). That is what we should do. Set the right example. If your husband or wife is uninterested, don't force God's truth upon him or her. If you do, you will soon find relations between you and your mate strained. Only God can open a person's mind and lead him or her to understand the importance of the Sabbath (John 6:44, 65). You should keep the Sabbath, but don't preach to other members of the family. You should certainly tell them, if they ask, why you don't do certain things on the Sabbath. But let it go at that. Be very careful when dealing with your children — especially teen-agers. By the time a youngster reaches his teens, he has a personality and a mind of his own. If he has been used to participating in various sports and other activities on the Sabbath, or in his mind just having "fun," and all of a sudden you announce one day that he can't do such and such on the Sabbath (Saturday to him), he is liable to feel that you are unreasonably curtailing his freedom, and he may resent it. Some teen-agers go right along with their parents, and there is no problem. Other teens rebel. You need to size up your teen-agers. You need to understand them: how they think, what they like and dislike, what their needs are and what is really precious to them. Then you need to ask God for wisdom, understanding, insight, to know how to approach your teen-agers with the subject of the Sabbath. Any decisions about their Sabbath conduct and activities should be made very carefully and with wise counsel. Also show them the positive side of God's way. Make God's Way the fun way of life — the kind of fun that's fun today and next year — with NO kickbacks. In other words make God's way so attractive to your teen-agers that this world's ways will lose a lot of their appeal to them. You need to really love and work with your children. Don't be an ironfisted autocrat who lays down the law, and woe be to the one who dares to disobey. Rather, be a loving parent. Show real concern for your children. Children and teen-agers must have confidence in their parents. Put the accent on building this confidence. For further help in properly working with children and teen-agers, read our FREE book, The Plain Truth About Child Rearing. Also request our free reprint which discusses the above subject in greater detail. It's called "Should You Try to Convert Others?" Send for your copy so you can study the valuable principles on this problem.
Farmers have special questions concerning the Sabbath. For example, is it all right to care for livestock on the Sabbath? Christ showed very clearly that feeding and watering stock is necessary on the Sabbath and permissible (Luke 13:15). The same principle holds true for milking cows. However, if you are spending an excessive amount of time caring for dairy cattle or livestock on the Sabbath, then you should either learn to better organize your work or cut down the number. God does not want us to be slaves to our occupation, What about the sale of farm produce the Sabbath? Amos 8:5 and Nehemiah 13:15-19 show that We should not transact any business on the Sabbath. To avoid this problem, you should make this fact known tactfully. But if your neighbor is in real need of food, it wouldn't be wrong to give it to him. This brings up another problem. What if a neighbor has an emergency and asks to borrow one of your tools on the Sabbath? In this case it is an "ox in the ditch" situation and it would be all right to lend it to him. On the other extreme, suppose a neighbor habitually wants to borrow some item from you on the Sabbath? If he is that close a neighbor, he certainly should be aware of your Convictions. If not, you could respectfully tell him the Sabbath is holy to you, and that you don't normally loan out your tools on that day. There are, of course, any number of situations between these two extremes. They should be handled with love, concern, wisdom and with the overall purpose of the Sabbath in mind.
What do you do when an emergency arises on the Sabbath? Christ said: "Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day?" (Luke 14:5.) Many misunderstand this statement. Some may wonder if their job is an ox in the ditch when they are required to work on the Sabbath in an emergency situation. The principle of the ox in the ditch applies to genuine emergencies like personal injuries, burning houses, power failures, accidents and other occurrences (natural disasters — tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.) which would entail injury, loss of life or personal property. It is not an ox in the ditch situation when the boss asks someone to work on a Sabbath because of some inconvenience. Neither does the principle apply to those who "push their own ox into the ditch" by acquiring or keeping a job where they know they will be required to work on the Sabbath each week, or by "putting off" work which should have been done during the week. Nor does it include harvesting or plowing on the Sabbath — even if there has been bad weather or machinery breakdowns during the week. God says, "Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing [better translated, "plowing" — see Strong's Exhaustive Concordance] time and in harvest thou shalt rest" (Exodus 34:21).
Procuring Food on the Sabbath
In Matthew 12:1-5 Christ clearly showed that it is not wrong to procure food on the Sabbath if one is without food and is hungry. If for some reason you are caught away from home on the Sabbath, it is not wrong to eat a meal in a restaurant or cafeteria. Some people living in today's gigantic metropolises do not have cooking facilities. There would be nothing wrong for such people to buy a meal on the Sabbath. Perhaps one should also consider moving to an apartment which does have cooking facilities.
Dishes on the Sabbath
Some women have wondered if it is all right to wash dishes on the Sabbath. God does not specifically state how many dishes we may wash on the Sabbath. Washing dishes is an everyday physical act that could detract from the Sabbath. Some women simply rinse, neatly stack and cover soiled dishes and utensils, waiting until after the Sabbath to give them a final washing. Others use paper plates, and thus avoid some of the problem. Still, if necessary, it is not wrong to wash dishes or utensils on the Sabbath. Time spent at this task should be kept to a minimum. God does not want us to clutter up His Sabbath by spending a lot of time washing dishes or doing other household chores. But that doesn't mean that you should leave the house in shambles! Again, use wisdom. Do what is necessary. But don't get involved in housework.
Television and Radio
Often a person will ask if he can watch television or listen to the radio on the Sabbath. This is another area where God does not specifically legislate. But the principle is clear. God's Sabbath is holy. Most television programs consist of sports events, movies, variety shows or other such programs. They do not help you in any way to keep God's Sabbath holy. Therefore you should not be spending valuable time on God's Sabbath watching television. The same holds true for radio programs. There can be exceptions, however. It is not wrong to listen to a particularly good news broadcast on the Sabbath. Also from time to time some special documentaries showing prophecy being fulfilled are broadcast on the Sabbath. But be sure you do not use such liberty as license to keep the television or radio on for an excessive amount of time — thus breaking the Sabbath. If you yearn to watch television on the Sabbath, it is a clear indication that your mind is on the pleasures of this world. A certain amount of relaxing, subdued, enjoyable background music can add to the Sabbath atmosphere, and help make it a delight. But listening to secular music for sheer entertainment to while away the Sabbath is a sin. What pleases God is our participating in singing songs and psalms of praise to Him especially on the Sabbath.
Enjoy God's Sabbath
As you can readily see, multitudes of questions could arise about keeping the Sabbath. However, most of those questions can be easily answered if we keep in mind the basic purpose of the Sabbath day. REMEMBER! The Sabbath is God's day the day He made holy. It is not only a day of physical rest and relaxation from the toil of the week, but it is also a spiritual BLESSING. It is a day that renews our bond with God. Use God's Sabbath! Use wisdom in observing it! Be BALANCED in your approach to the Sabbath. Be neither hypocritical, self-righteous, Pharisaical; nor haphazard, sloppy, unmindful. So KEEP HOLY the day God made holy! REJOICE in the blessings and opportunities that the Sabbath afford, and remember that it is an identifying sign of direct relationship between you and your Creator.
Assembling on the Sabbath
There is one further point about the Sabbath. We read in Leviticus 23:3 that the Sabbath includes a "holy convocation" — or rendered more clearly — a "commanded assembly." See also Hebrews 10:25 for the same New Testament teaching. That is, we are commanded to assemble with God's people to hear God's ministers expound His Word on this day. This is another reason why God does not want us preoccupied with our daily routine during the Sabbath. But it is not enough to just assemble with any religious body; it must be GOD'S body of believers. One must find where God's true Church is meeting. For those who do not understand this principle or do not know where God's true Church is, we urgently advise you to read our FREE reprint "Should You Join a Church?" and also our FREE booklet A True History of the True Church. We also offer you other services to help you understand what God's Church is and to aid you in answering any questions you may have. For example you may request your free subscription to TOMORROW'S WORLD, a magazine of Biblical understanding published under the supervision of the Graduate School of Theology of Ambassador College.