Return to main index

D1. Resting from Work & Assembling on the Weekly Sabbath    [Make a Comment]

We are to rest, refrain from work, and conduct a holy convocation on the weekly Sabbath.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed is He):

Genesis 2:2-3
On the seventh day God was finished with his work which he had made, so he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. God blessed the seventh day and separated it as holy; because on that day God rested from all his work which he had created, so that it itself could produce.

Exodus 20:8-11 (Maimonides RN320; Meir MN6; Chinuch C32)
Remember the day, Shabbat, to set it apart for God. You have six days to labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat for ADONAI your God. On it, you are not to do any kind of work - not you, your son or your daughter, not your male or female slave, not your livestock, and not the foreigner staying with you inside the gates to your property. For in six days, ADONAI made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. This is why ADONAI blessed the day, Shabbat, and separated it for himself.

Exodus 23:12 (Meir MP20; Chinuch C85)
For six days, you are to work. But on the seventh day, you are to rest, so that your ox and donkey can rest, and your slave-girl's son and the foreigner be renewed.

Exodus 31:12-17
ADONAI said to Moshe, "Tell the people of Isra'el, 'You are to observe my Shabbats; for this is a sign between me and you through all your generations; so that you will know that I am ADONAI, who sets you apart for me. Therefore you are to keep my Shabbat, because it is set apart for you. Everyone who treats it as ordinary must be put to death; for whoever does any work on it is to be cut off from his people. On six days work will get done; but the seventh day is Shabbat, for complete rest, set apart for ADONAI. Whoever does any work on the day of Shabbat must be put to death. The people of Isra'el are to keep the Shabbat, to observe Shabbat through all their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the people of Isra'el forever; for in six days ADONAI made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day he stopped working and rested.'

Exodus 34:21 (Maimonides RP154)
Six days you will work, but on the seventh day you are to rest - even in plowing time and harvest season you are to rest.

Leviticus 19:1-3
ADONAI said to Moshe, "Speak to the entire community of Isra'el; tell them, 'You people are to be holy because I, ADONAI your God, am holy. Every one of you is to revere his father and mother, and you are to keep my Shabbats; I am ADONAI your God." (See also, Leviticus 19:30 and 26:2).

Leviticus 23:3 (Maimonides RP154)
Work is to be done on six days; but the seventh day is a Shabbat of complete rest, a holy convocation; you are not to do any kind of work; it is a Shabbat for ADONAI, even in your homes.

Deuteronomy 5:12-15
Observe the day of Shabbat, to set it apart as holy, as ADONAI your God ordered you to do. You have six days to labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat for ADONAI your God. On it you are not to do any kind of work - not you, your son or your daughter, not your male or female slave, not your ox, your donkey or any of your other livestock, and not the foreigner staying with you inside the gates to your property - so that your male and female servants can rest just as you do. You are to remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and ADONAI your God brought you out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore ADONAI your God has ordered you to keep the day of Shabbat.

Isaiah 56:1-7
Here is what ADONAI says: "Observe justice, do what is right, for my salvation is close to coming, my righteousness to being revealed. Happy is the person who does this, anyone who grasps it firmly, who keeps Shabbat and does not profane it, and keeps himself from doing any evil. A foreigner joining ADONAI should not say, 'ADONAI will separate me from his people'; likewise the eunuch should not say, 'I am only a dried-up tree.'" For here is what ADONAI says: "As for the eunuchs who keep my Shabbats, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant: in my house, within my walls, I will give them power and a name greater than sons and daughters; I will give him an everlasting name that will not be cut off. And the foreigners who join themselves to ADONAI to serve him, to love the name of ADONAI, and to be his workers, all who keep Shabbat and do not profane it, and hold fast to my covenant, I will bring them to my holy mountain and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples."

Isaiah 58:13-14
If you hold back your foot on Shabbat from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call Shabbat a delight, ADONAI's holy day, worth honoring; then honor it by not doing your usual things or pursuing your interests or speaking about them. If you do, you will find delight in ADONAI - I will make you ride on the heights of the land and feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Ya'akov, for the mouth of ADONAI has spoken.

Isaiah 66:23-24
Every month on Rosh-Hodesh and every week on Shabbat, everyone living will come to worship in my presence," says ADONAI. As they leave, they will look on the corpses of the people who rebelled against me. For their worm will never die, and their fire will never be quenched; but they will be abhorrent to all humanity." ["Every month on Rosh-Hodesh and every week on Shabbat, everyone living will come to worship in my presence," says ADONAI.]

Luke 6:6-10
On another Shabbat, when Yeshua had gone into the synagogue and was teaching, a man was there who had a shriveled hand. The Torah-teachers and P'rushim watched Yeshua carefully to see if he would heal on Shabbat, so that they could accuse him of something. But he knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, "Come up and stand where we can see you!" He got up and stood there. Then Yeshua said to them, "I ask you now: what is permitted on Shabbat? Doing good or doing evil? Saving life or destroying it?" Then, after looking around at all of them, he said to the man, "Hold out your hand." As he held it out, his hand was restored.

Luke 13:10-17
Yeshua was teaching in one of the synagogues on Shabbat. A woman came up who had a spirit which had crippled her for eighteen years; she was bent double and unable to stand erect at all. On seeing her, Yeshua called her and said to her, "Lady, you have been set free from your weakness!" He put his hands on her, and at once she stood upright and began to glorify God. But the president of the synagogue, indignant that Yeshua had healed on Shabbat, spoke up and said to the congregation, "There are six days in the week for working; so come during those days to be healed, not on Shabbat!" However, the Lord answered him, "You hypocrites! Each one of you on Shabbat - don't you unloose your ox or your donkey from the stall and lead him off to drink? This woman is a daughter of Avraham, and the Adversary kept her tied up for eighteen years! Shouldn't she be freed from this bondage on Shabbat?" By these words, Yeshua put to shame the people who opposed him; but the rest of the crowd were happy about all the wonderful things that were taking place through him.

Luke 14:1-6
One Shabbat Yeshua went to eat in the home of one of the leading P'rushim, and they were watching him closely. In front of him was a man whose body was swollen with fluid. Yeshua spoke up and asked the Torah experts and P'rushim, "Does the Torah allow healing on Shabbat or not?" But they said nothing. So, taking hold of him, he healed him and sent him away. To them he said, "Which of you, if a son or an ox falls into a well, will hesitate to haul him out on Shabbat?" And to these things they could give no answer.

Hebrews 4:2-11
... for Good News has also been proclaimed to us, just as it was to them. But the message they heard didn't do them any good, because those who heard it did not combine it with trust. For it is we who have trusted who enter the rest. It is just as he said, "And in my anger, I swore that they would not enter my rest." He swore this even though his works have been in existence since the founding of the universe. For there is a place where it is said, concerning the seventh day, "And God rested on the seventh day from all his works." And once more, our present text says, "They will not enter my rest." Therefore, since it still remains for some to enter it, and those who received the Good News earlier did not enter, he again fixes a certain day, "Today," saying through David, so long afterwards, in the text already given, "Today, if you hear God's voice, don't harden your hearts." For if Y'hoshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later of another "day." So there remains a Shabbat-keeping for God's people. For the one who has entered God's rest has also rested from his own works, as God did from his. Therefore, let us do our best to enter that rest; so that no one will fall short because of the same kind of disobedience.

The Sabbath was first described in Genesis 2:2-3 as the seventh day that God rested, and declared holy, following the six days of creation. Later, God commanded the Israelites to keep the Sabbath as a day to rest, refrain from work, and conduct a holy convocation (Leviticus 23:3)1. He also made the Sabbath applicable to Gentiles - not as a commandment - but as a source of blessing (Isaiah 56:1-7). My belief is, therefore, that keeping the seventh day Sabbath is law for the Jew, and blessing for the Gentile. Conversely, not to keep the Sabbath is sin for the Jew and a blessing lost for the Gentile. In the New Covenant Scriptures, Hebrews 4:1-11 compares "Sabbath rest" with "spiritual rest" that is received through having faith in Messiah Yeshua; that, of course, is applicable to Jew and non-Jew alike.

Since rest is the cessation of work, it is important to know the kind of work that is prohibited on the Sabbath. Exodus 23:12 provides part of the answer, for if we are to work six days of the week and rest on the seventh, the work referred to must be ordinary work of the kind we engage in for our livelihood and sustenance2. This would seem to mean that, on the Sabbath, carpentry is forbidden for the carpenter and cooking is forbidden for the cook, leaving open the possibility that such activities might be engaged in by persons who do them for pure enjoyment or recreation. Some would say that it is not so, because Isaiah 58:13-14 prohibits our pursuing personal interests on the Sabbath. I do not interpret the Scripture that way; I believe it is warning us away from pursuing interests that are at odds with God's interests and from doing usual things that would detract from making the Sabbath day special. So, for example, if immersing ourselves in outdoor nature adds to our Shabbat shalom, the fact that we find it interesting and pleasurable should not render it a prohibited activity. On the other hand, we should probably not use the Sabbath to continue our methodical study of birds that we began earlier in the week (restful though it may be) because then we would not be treating the day as special. Such decisions are personal and should be resolved through communion with the Holy Spirit.

I would be remiss not to mention that the Rabbinical understanding of what constitutes work includes things that are creative, the reason being that when God rested on the seventh day, He rested from "creating". That is why the rabbis forbid Sabbath activities that include writing, composing, and making fire by merely rotating the gas jet on a stove; making fire is considered creative. It is also why the Pharisees in the First Century objected to Yeshua healing on the Sabbath (see Luke supra); healing and performing miracles was considered creative, and therefore a violation of the Sabbath (healing to save a life has always been permitted as an exception).

Messianic Judaism follows Yeshua's example in desiring to see healings and other miracles occur on the Sabbath, and we therefore have no hesitation in "laying on of hands" and praying for healing. Nor do we hesitate to write down godly inspirations we may receive, or do other things to make the Sabbath a delight rather than a burden. When God looked over what He had made, declared it "good" and later gave us a Sabbath of rest as well, He was not supposing that we were engaged in creating things the previous six days and therefore needed to stop. He was summoning us to a day of rest in Him by reflecting on His Creation and affirmatively seeking His power for restoration. We consider that any small creativity we may exhibit on the Sabbath (so long as it is not our usual work) is an appropriate reflection of Him, and a reminder that we were created in His image.

There is a category of ordinary work that is clearly not forbidden on the Sabbath. It is work that is ministerial, because it is analogous to the work of the cohanim who were required to conduct Sabbath sacrifices in the Temple as part of their priestly duties. Modern Judaism is split on works of compassion - i.e. works that heal or maintain safety, but there is uniform agreement that working to save a life is permitted. A rare category of work that is permitted on the Sabbath is work that must be undertaken so as not to violate another commandment of God. Thus a mohel is permitted to circumcise on the eighth day after the birth of a Jewish boy even if it falls on a Shabbat. These exceptions to the Mitzvah are generally accepted within Messianic Judaism and Judaism broadly; other possible exceptions need to be discerned through prayerfully seeking guidance from the Ruach HaKodesh.

Abstaining from work on the Sabbath is not only an act of obedience - it is an act of faith for, by so doing, we are trusting that God will provide for us. An example of this is found in Exodus 16:22-30, where the Israelites had to trust God to provide them with food during the time they were not allowed to gather manna on Shabbat.

Daniel C. Juster
The issue of Sabbath is paradoxical for Gentiles:

  1. The Sabbath, as a day of rest on the seventh day, is never enjoined upon Gentiles in the New Covenant. Rabbinical Judaism defined it as part of Jewish-specific law, and part of God's Covenant with Israel - not universal law which is required of all people (i.e. the Noachide laws).
  2. The Sabbath principle is enjoined upon all, at least as a "rest of faith". (Hebrews 4:2-11).
  3. The passages in Isaiah 56 and 66 indicate a more universal observance in the Age to Come than in the Mosaic age. Isaiah 56 may only be referring to Gentiles who are called to live among the Jewish people, but Isaiah 66 may well imply a world-wide Sabbath day.
  4. In the light of the passages in Isaiah, it is certainly appropriate for Gentiles to keep one day in seven as unto the Lord when it is practically possible within their cultures (remember that there was no seven day week in the Roman world at the time the N.T. was being written). While it is appropriate for Gentiles in Messiah to take the seventh day as their day of rest (and possibly as an eschatological sign of the Age to Come), this does not mean that all Christian Congregations ought to gather for worship on Saturday. Sunday celebrations of the day of Resurrection are certainly appropriate and there is, in this age, a choice to make this the day of rest also, or to add Sabbath rest on the seventh day to the corporate gathering on Sunday, or move the Christian gathering to the seventh day and treat it as a day of rest as well. What is culturally feasible and best is an important factor in the choice, and is within the purview of New Covenant liberty.

Commentators:
Maimonides comments very little. HaChinuch states that the underlying meaning of the mitzvah to not work on the Sabbath is to refrain from the work of our normal occupations. In our rest, we are to remember each day of the creation of the world as well as the miracle of Israel's exodus from Egypt. HaChinuch and Meir state that the sages list 39 activities that are prohibited on the Sabbath (Shab. 73a); these are intended as a fence around the Torah. Of the three commentators, Meir is the only one who states that it is forbidden for a Jew to ask a Gentile to do work in his behalf on the Sabbath, and he also states that doing work on the Sabbath is permitted if it is to save a human life. None of the traditional mitzvot addresses the requirement of Leviticus 23:3 that the Sabbath should be a day of "holy convocation."


1. See also, Isaiah 66:23-24 and Hebrews 10:24-25.

2. The Orthodox Rabbinical community goes beyond this by adhering to a complex set of rules and a list of prohibited activities that are derived from Talmud (Shab. 75a)


NCLA: JMm JFm KMm KFm GMr GFr

Return to main index